1 Thessalonians 1:2-4 by Robert Dean
When an old-fashion teakettle whistles, we need to turn down the heat. The same is true when we find pressures building up in our lives and we feel ready to blow. Listen to this lesson to learn how to handle the adversities of life from a Biblical framework. See the importance of practicing the basic habits that lead to spiritual growth. Move on to advanced spiritual practices and discover the importance of grace orientation so that even in the most tense situations in life we can have peace and calmness as we express our gratitude to God.

Grace Orientation: Foundational Spiritual Skill
1 Thessalonians 1:2–4
1 Thessalonians Lesson #004
July 16, 2013

In the next few verses we see Paul's emphasis in prayer. First we focus on his gratitude. Gratitude is so fundamental to the Christian life and we all need to work at being more grateful. If we work at things we are thankful for, as opposed to things that aren't quite working out, it has a tremendous impact on our mental attitude. We need to focus on the goodness of God's grace in our lives and the abundance that He has given us.

When we review the life of the apostle Paul he is going through extremely negative circumstances—a lot of rejection, hostility, opposition, etc. We don't get a lot of the details here but in 2 Corinthians Paul talks about in detail many of the ways he has been arrested, beaten with rods and whipped, thrown in jail. Most of these incidents are not identified in the book of Acts and we can only surmise as to when they took place. A lot of this was energized by opposition from Paul's own people.

Paul is not talking about some abstract theology but is focusing on how thankful he is for those who have responded to the gospel. 1 Thessalonians 1:2 NASB "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention {of you} in our prayers; [3] constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, [4] knowing, brethren beloved by God, {His} choice of you."

Gratitude is directly related to grace orientation. Grace orientation is a tag phrase that we use in order to summarize one of the most significant doctrines in Scripture, i.e. an understanding that all that we have and who we are is really just given to us from God. We think of it primarily in terms of the gospel, the good news of salvation, that what we have in salvation is a free gift from God and so we just accept that and we don't have to do anything to earn or deserve it. It isn't free because it cost something—the death of Christ on the cross where there would be a legal separation between the Father and the Son as God the Father poured out or imputed to the Son the sins of the world. So grace is something we think of theologically, and it is also a word because of its overuse has become too familiar to many people and we tend to lose sight of the significance of grace. Some people even talk about earning grace, but that violates the basic meaning of grace. Grace means to be given something freely with no strings attached. So there are no conditions placed upon the giving of the gift. Understanding grace is essential to developing gratitude.

Now we want to review the concept of the stress busters or spiritual skills. What is meant by stress busters is that stress is something that comes into our lives, not as a result of something internal, but as a result of external pressures. Today we live in a much more stressful society than even thirty years ago and external pressure consistently increases upon us and it is easy for us to see how this generates a lot of mental attitude sins—anxiety, worry, concern. Sometimes we are not even consciously aware of that but these things are percolating inside of our minds, and at the same time all of a sudden someone says something to us and we are irritable and we snap, become angry, short-tempered, simply because so much is going on. But we have to train ourselves spiritually to refocus and think of things in terms of God's plan and God's provision.

That takes a mental attitude focus and the development of self-control, which is the fruit of the Spirit, and it takes place over time. The only person that can make that happen is us. We have to take the time to be disciplined, to focus on this and think this through. There are a lot of different tools that we can use to do that but we need to focus on this and not just sort of put our spiritual mind in a neutral gear and just drift through events. We need to actively engage with what is happening around us so that we can think of how to respond to circumstances from a biblical framework.

This also ratchets up the intensity in a sense for every believer. You just can't get away with being the kind of Christian that turns up at church to listen to the Word of God once a week anymore. Just as everything else in life has become more intense and demanding to handle that intensity and those demands we have to ratchet up our personal commitment to study and apply the Word of God. We just can't get by with coasting spiritually anymore. When we look at what is happening in our culture we really have to be actively engaged in our culture in ways we haven't been required to for years. Many of us have just coasted in terms of the responsibilities of citizenship.

We can be irresponsible about that and ignore these things but when we do that we know that things fall apart. We have to pay attention. At the foundation of this is understanding grace, because grace relates to so many areas of application. In fact, all of the more advanced spiritual skills we will talk about seem to be predicated on understanding grace. This is such a foundational skill.

Grace orientation begins by understanding that everything that we are and have comes from God. Nothing that we have is something we deserve. We may have worked hard studied hard, and done certain things; but ultimately it is God who blesses, God who gives the reward. He is the one to enhance things. God has a plan and God works, and it is our responsibility to develop every facet of potential that He has given us because it has been delegated to us as believers. Everything comes from God.

Form different Scriptures we see that there are different levels of spiritual growth. There is spiritual infancy, spiritual adolescence and spiritual maturity. There are a lot of lessons that can be learned from just observing how we grow socially, emotionally, mentally apart from a spiritual aspect. It takes time. We watch someone growing up between birth and the time they are twelve or thirteen and we see that life can be fairly simple and naïve. They are just beginning to flex their muscles, beginning to grow, beginning to learn and explore different areas of life. That is characteristic of spiritual childhood. We often make mistakes but if we are in a healthy family then that provides a measure of protection and guidance for us so that as we learn through failure it is not devastating.

As we go through spiritual childhood there are five basic skills that we have to learn. We have to build a habit, a practice in the Christian life—develop habits and self-discipline. One of these is in the area of confession of sin. Confession of sin is a recovery tool for when we fail. That's all it is. Confession of sin doesn't move us forward in the Christian. It isn't something that is a get-out-of-jail-free card so we can break the law every time we want to because we are not going to have to go to jail. Some people get the idea that that is how confession works. And frankly, we have all used it that way at some point in our Christian life. This is typical of immaturity. An immature person, a young child that is given freedom as he is learning is often using it in irresponsible ways. We can't prevent that. Legalism wants to come along and say you can't do that and try to impose restrictions. But we never really learn to accept responsibility and to move forward when we don't have opportunities to fail. Opportunities to fail are often the key to developing personal responsibility.

But confession gives us the tool for recovery. It doesn't erase negative consequences. It doesn't mean that if I commit certain sins or acts that they don't have negative consequences. Often they do. When we have a permissive or licentious view toward sin then that helps us develop sin habits and sin patterns that often plague us later on in our spiritual life.

But what we have to do once we recover is what the Bible calls walking by the Spirit. Walking by the Spirit means that we have to stay in fellowship—"having fellowship," which emphasizes enjoying that ongoing rapport and relationship with God. We need to build our relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We need to walk in greater intimacy with them, and that is what these phrases emphasize. Jesus said we are to abide in Him. Paul said we are to walk by means of the Spirit. Another term often associated with this is the term "filling by the Spirit," which as we have studied means to have our soul filled up with the Word of God by the Holy Spirit. But that happens when we are abiding in Christ, when we are walking by the Spirit, when we are in that position of intimacy and rapport with God.

But as soon as we sin, just like a disobedient child, that harmony, that rapport with the Father is broken and we have to do something to correct the situation so that we can go back to a positive growth-oriented position. Confession comes in. Beyond that as we are going to walk by the Spirit we ask the question: How do we do that? What are the tools to help me walk by the Spirit? And walking is an important image that we have because the word peripateo in the Greek means to take one step at a time. It is a motor skill. A lot of things are going on when we are walking. When we watch an infant learning to walk he has to really focus and think about maintaining balance. He wobbles a little bit, takes the weight off one foot and begins to lift it up and move it forward, and then transfer the weight back to that foot, taking weight off the first foot, backing it up and then moving it forward. It takes some time to develop that. When the child is six years of age it is not very difficult.

What are the things we do that move us forward? The next step is the faith-rest drill. 2 Peter 1:3, 4 NASB "seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of {the} divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust." The way we realize in our life the many blessings that God has given us is because this verse tells us that God has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness. How do we implement them in our lives? By means of "His magnificent promises." So we have to understand those promises and learn to claim them, and learn to walk in light of the truths of God's Word. That is what we call the faith-rest drill. That is the tag line to remember that. It is emphasizing faith because we are believing a promise, believing a statement in Scripture to be true, and then we are resting or relying upon that.

That resting may involve action. It is not a resting that means pure passivity but it means action. You can trust God all day long that your car is going to be washed or that your yard is going to get mowed. But having prayed about it, having trusted God for it, you still have to engage in some volitional responsibility to get the car washed or get the yard mowed. We have to engage our volition under the authority of God, doing something the way God says to do it. We pray that it will get done and then we perform in our area of responsibility, trusting in God to bring about an increase and to bless that which we have done. In the faith-rest drill rest has to do with that idea of resting in God's provision, in God's promise, and God being the one to provide the benefit, the fruitfulness of the operation. But we still have to do what we are told to do in Scripture.

That involves a lot of different things. We are to pray without ceasing. We have to confess sin; we have to read our Bible. If we don't read our Bible we are going to be a biblically illiterate Christian. It doesn't matter how much doctrine or theology that we know, if we don't know the Bible then there is an incredible weakness in our understanding of truth. Doctrine is built on Scripture. If you build the house without any inspection of the foundation you are susceptible to many problems. This happens to people who learn theology apart from learning the Bible. Knowing the Bible is crucial. How many wonderful things can we learn from the Bible? We have wonderful translations. Granted there are problems in every translation but there are so many wonderful things that we can learn reading through the Scriptures—reading through Proverbs, reading through the Psalms, underlining passages, making notes, being reminded of things. Every Christian should be reading their Bible through at least once a year.     

The building block or sort of basic spiritual skill we are talking about is grace orientation, coming out of 2 Peter 3:18 where Peter closes out his epistle and says that we are to grow by the grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, connecting those two concepts together. We grow by grace. It is the grace of God but we grow as we learn grace because, as we will see, grace is fundamental to humility and to our proper authority orientation to God.

Then we have doctrinal orientation, which is how we align our mind, our thinking, to doctrine. Grace orientation aligns our thinking and our values to grace. Doctrinal orientation aligns our thinking to the grace of God.

Then as we go past that as we begin to grow we develop a personal sense of our eternal destiny. I find that this happens more naturally as we get older. When you are 10, 12, 15, 20, 30 years of age you think 60, 70, 80 is going to be about three centuries down the road and you are never going to get there. So you are living more for the moment rather than for the long-term result. But as we age we naturally begin to think how compressed time is, how fast it goes past, and we need to live for something more than just the moment. In the spiritual life we have to live for eternity because our choices, our actions today impact future things. We know that there is an inheritance for us reserved in heaven which relates to our inheritance or possession that every believer has, but there is also an inheritance that will be distributed at the judgment seat of Christ based on how much we grow in this life. There are potential legacies that some people will never realize because they never developed the capacity to handle them, and so God will not distribute those rewards. Others will grow and mature and God will distribute or bestow those rewards in the Millennial Kingdom and on into eternity. So as we moved from spiritual infancy and living for the day we begin to focus our attention on the long-term goal of what God is producing in our life, and moving us towards that eternal destiny.

Then we get into the more advanced concepts of the spiritual life, living and really developing love. Love—personal love for God the Father and impersonal love for all mankind and occupation with Christ. These three really connect, intersect, and are interdependent. But if we don't understand grace we can't really develop love. Love is grace dependent, and grace is humility dependent. Without humility, no grace; without grace you can really love. Personal love relates for God the Father, relates to the fact that we know who He is. You cannot really love someone you do not know. The only way to know God is to study His Word. As Jesus said, If we love God we keep His commandments. This means you have to know His commandments to know God.

Impersonal love is a funny phrase that a lot of people have trouble with but it simply emphasizes that there doesn't have to be a personal intimacy with someone to show them the love of God in our life, the love of Christ. We don't have to personally have a relationship with them. The love is impersonal, we just don't know of another way to express it. Actually it comes across in one nuance of the use of impersonal is the idea that it doesn't involve a relationship. But it does, it is just not a relationship where we really know the other person very well but we are going to love them despite that because of our relationship with God.

Occupation with Christ is the focus upon who Jesus Christ is and being motivated by that relationship. Hebrews 12:2—we are keeping our focus on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.

The result of this is happiness. We put happiness at the end because this is something that we grow. We share in the happiness of God but James says in James 1:2 that we are to count it all joy when we encounter various trials because the testing of our faith produces endurance. It takes a long to understand that principle of knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance. And the result of knowing that is then the fact that we have this joy that is the result of understand what God does in the midst of testing. So joy and happiness really is a byproduct of our whole life being focused upon who God is, what He has provided for us, and our spiritual maturation.

This is all part of what we call stress-busters, spiritual skills. They are skills because we have to work at it, practice it; it comes with effort in time, it is not something that just automatically happens because we have been in Bible class. It comes from implementing the principles that we have learned, stopping and thinking, Okay this is a situation that demands me being gracious, etc. We have to learn to treat people with respect because they are in the image of God. This is part of learning grace orientation.

So what are the components of grace orientation? As we look at the foundational elements the first element that is part of this is humility. Humility is a recognition that we aren't really all that we think we are. We don't deserve all that we think we deserve. We are really not bringing that much to the table. Even if you are more talented and intelligent than others we are really not. And we often have to learn humility the hard way. We come up through school where we are under teachers (where there is discipline). There are parents who provide discipline, then later on there is the military, academics in college, or the hard knocks of the real world where we get a job. After we fail a few times because we think we know it all and haven't learned from our employer, we lose our job or we are reprimanded because of failure, this is enforced humility.

There is also genuine humility. There are times when we just learn this the easy way, so to speak, but we learn that we sort of recognize that we don't have it all together and we need to listen to somebody who does. Enforced humility can develop into genuine humility. Most of us don't have a lot of genuine humility to begin with, but that develops. And it is related to authority orientation. We recognize that God has established authorities over us, and whether we agree with those authorities or not, where we think those authorities are really better than us or not, we have to learn to submit to those authorities.

The best example of this is given in Scripture, in Philippians 2:5-11, which talks about how Jesus who is completely equal to God in all of His abilities and capacities submitted Himself by obedient to the point of going to the cross. That is what humility is. It is obeying the person in authority, even when it costs us a lot.

Because we recognize that sphere of authority and because we have humility we can relax in life. Even in the most tense situations we can have a calm mental attitude. We don't just seize up. That is hard for some people, but it takes practice to claim promises. Again you have to go back to the faith-rest drill concept and you have to memorize promises and principles that you can claim to keep your mind focused on things. There are a lot of different illustrations we can use here. Those which especially come to mind are any kind of athletics and learning to focus and get distractions out of the way, and to break things down into their individual components and then focus on getting each section of that drill or exercise down and put it all together. It takes a lot of time; it doesn't just happen naturally.

This leads to another area: the mastery of the details of life. All of a sudden we realize that all of these details of life we get so consumed with, all of the different aspects of success: in our jobs, making money, having things, being able to travel and go certain places, having certain benchmarks of recognition that comes through academics or military or work. All of these things are just details of life, and when it is all said and done, when we die we are often not in attractive circumstances. It doesn't matter how much we've had, how much we have achieved, it is a very sad reality to go to a nursing home and seeing where we all end up. And then we die; then we go face to face with the Lord. And as believers the only thing we have with us is the capacity we develop as believers. That is what we take with us.

Our physical achievements, our academic achievements, our business achievements are not going to count when we get to heaven. What is going to count is how much we took in the Word of God and applied on a day-to-day basis. This grows out of a grace orientation. Grace orientation means that we recognize that all that we have, all that we are, comes from God, and so we need to be thankful for that. That produces humility. That is the starting point. It is just the basic principle that we find in Proverbs: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That fear of the Lord is another way of talking about grace orientation.

Spiritual skills, as we master them, strengthen our soul. Just another illustration or way of breaking down the components and the mechanics or the processes by which we strengthen our mental attitude, strengthen our soul, focus our thinking and our lives so that we recognize what the real issues in life are. Where we are majoring on the real issues we are focusing on that which has real eternal value and not just on the incidentals and day-to-day things that comes up.

Capacity for genuine gratitude develops from the understanding of salvation and what God has done for us. To some degree there is a validity to the criticism that some churches and some denominations are generally known for preaching the gospel one thousand and one ways. That is done often in a superficial way and every Sunday morning seems to be the same evangelistic package in a number of different stories. When we study salvation again and again and again we look at all different facets: redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, imputation, justification, and regeneration. The more we study the more we realize how totally undeserving any of us are of our salvation. We realize more and more all of the complexities of God's salvation for us.

Salvation is very simple: Christ died for your sins. But to break that down it can become very complex when we realize that He did so very much for us. That is what is so humbling: to realize that God cared so much for us that He did this. There was nothing in us desirable for Him other than we were His creatures and He loved us in such a way that He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins.

This leads us to express our gratitude. Psalm 118:21 NASB "I shall give thanks to You, for You have answered me, And You have become my salvation." Read through the Psalms, there are some wonderful psalms of thanksgiving, expressing gratitude to God for all the way in which He worked in the lives of David, worked in the lives of the other psalmists, worked in the lives of Israel. Keep a list. Think about all the things for which you are grateful. Then look through some of the prayers in the Scriptures. What are some of the great saints and patriarchs of the Old Testament thankful for. How do they express that?

As we learn about our salvation more and more gratitude expands towards God in direct proportion to the doctrine assimilated in our soul. When we understand what God has done for us the right response is that it should humble us, and as it does our gratitude toward Him increases so that we are just so grateful for every single day that God gives us breath to serve Him, and that that is why we are here—to serve Him. This develops as we understand doctrine. 

Gratitude begins with making doctrine the first priority in our life. And by doctrine we mean not only the teaching of Scripture in terms of the basic theological principles related to God and man and life. It also relates to how to live in light of all this. It is the policies and procedures that we are to implement every single day in our life.

Psalm 138:3 NASB "I will bow down toward Your holy temple And give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth …" So thanks is caused by an understanding of God's chesed, His faithful, loyal love, and His truth. Understanding the truth of God's Word generates thankfulness. We should be so thankful that we have this revelation, this information given to us in Scripture. "…For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name." Look at the emphasis of the Word of God in terms of developing thankfulness!

There is a broad progression here. We are motivated by "You loving kindness and Your truth." Why? Because "Thy Word [which informs us of truth] is magnified according to all of Your name [character]." Gratitude, therefore, is directed toward God and begins with an understanding of salvation developed though our understanding of God's character.

There is a progression here. We never get enough. We reach plateaus in every area of life where we are on a kind of holding pattern. We are still assimilating what we have learned and getting ready for the next stage. The trouble is too many people want to camp out at the plateaus and stay there rather than pressing on to the next achievement, the next advance, overcoming the next obstacle. We can never learn enough about God's Word. We have to begin. The more we learn the more grateful we should be.

Gratitude, then, is directed toward God and becomes a barometer, a metric for our capacity for fellowship with God. If we think our capacity for gratitude and our expressions of gratitude really isn't that much then that is a metric for us. We need to get it back in order, to focus more upon the Lord and to recognize that arrogance is having a greater role in our life than we are willing to admit. Gratitude is a great metric for evaluating our own fellowship and our own spiritual growth, and it becomes a basis then for developing real happiness and joy in life.

Psalm 7:17 NASB "I will give thanks to the LORD according to His righteousness …" That means I have to have some kind of understanding of God's righteousness and its expression objectively in God's character and objectively in creation, and to give thanks for it. "… And will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High." Singing praise is an expansion here in the text of giving thanks. We give praise to God. That is what we do in the psalms that we sing. There is specificity in the things that we are praising God for.

Psalm 97:12 NASB "Be glad in the LORD, you righteous ones, And give thanks to His holy name."

1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB "in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

Ephesians 5:20 NASB "always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." That pretty much includes every way in which we can express the details of life around us. We need to give thanks for it and in it, whatever those circumstances are. 

Colossians 2:7 NASB " …{and} overflowing with gratitude."

Colossians 1:12 NASB "giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light."

So for inner happiness, tranquility, stability and contentment Bible doctrine, the teaching of the Scripture, must be more important than we are. We have to get out of ourselves; we have to quit being so self-centered and narcissistic. The only way we can do this is to work our way through the mastering of these spiritual skills.

The first enemy of gratitude is arrogance. The arrogance skills are being self-centered, self-absorbed and self-indulgent. We are constantly trying to justify and defend ourselves: 'Well I'm doing it right. You know, if you just knew my circumstances. You misunderstood where I'm coming from.' We justify, and this just leads to self-deception where we have lost all objectivity toward life and we can't understand truth for what it is. These skills reinforce and support one another.