I had the following published in the religion column of our local paper, though they changed my fun title into something pedestrian. This was adapted from a previous blog post, ”In.”
In First Thessalonians chapter four, Paul discusses behavior and growing in separation to the Lord. For many—Christians and non-Christians—following rules and behaving is the whole of religion. But Paul starts with a phrase, easily overlooked, that provides vital context for what follows: “We ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus….” (1 Thess. 4:1). In other words, “in Jesus” is where the whole discussion of behavior centers.
By “in” we cannot just understand someone in a room with which he has no connection; a room which someone can wander in and out of; a room which someone occupies but is essentially separate from. “In” must be understood as a branch *in* a tree—connected by fibers and the flow of sap. “In” can also be understood by anatomy. My hand or eye is *in* my body—sharing tissue, blood flow, nutrients.
When Paul encourages certain behaviors, he is speaking about a living connection to Jesus and each other.
Too often, we read passages about behavior as things required of us; things we must do on our own, separate from God, to keep Him happy. We convert new covenant statements into old covenant commandments. Instead of hearing Paul describe the result of our living union with Jesus, we hear, “Thou shalt not commit sexual immorality. Thou shalt have self-control. Thou shalt love others. Thou shalt provide for yourself and not burden your neighbors.”