—Byron Jay Peters, Sr., Pastor
1 Thessalonians 5:9–11: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
I often feel sorry for pronouns in a biblical text. They’re so tiny and familiar. They often just live in the shadows of the more venerable nouns, charismatic adjectives, and muscular verbs (not to mention those wily conjunctions) that populate biblical sentences. Plus, often “they-R-us” and most of the time we’ve had about enough of ourselves, so we’re happy to not give them a lot of attention.
But here’s a passage that lives or dies by its pronouns. For God has not destined us for wrath…Now, whomever that “us” is, they are not destined for wrath! And it gets better: …but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.That’s literally a life-and-death distinction.
So who is the “us?”
Context is king in biblical interpretation, so let’s back up. All throughout the book Paul addresses the Thessalonians to whom he is writing this letter as “brothers” (i.e., spiritual family in Christ) and in chapter one we see this amazing testimony: 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
Paul and his associates witnessed the unmistakable work of the Holy Spirit bringing new life to some people in pagan Thessalonica. That’s why Paul can start the letter as follows: “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…”
This little passage, tucked into 1 Thessalonians 5, is the sort of passage that is very useful in underscoring the centrality of the church to your assurance of salvation. But you’ll miss it if you overlook the pronouns. The “us” is the church—particular people in a particular times and places bound together in covenant to worship God, nurture one another, and evangelize the world.
Perhaps this is why Cyprian said “You cannot have God as your Father without the church as your mother.” Family! God’s household! Christ’s body! Each week we start our week together, worship God, hear his Word, pray, and teach our children. During the week we’ll gather with others for further “life-on-life” and prayer. We help the weak, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted among us. We band together for things nearly impossible to obey apart from load-sharing (like missions).
Local church membership—mutual vow-taking through honest conversation with others about God’s work in our lives, openness to the love and accountability of other Christians who know us, willingness to put ourselves under word-based authority, is a beautiful and fundamental aspect of our assurance in Christ.
Of whose assurance in Christ? Ah, indeed, the church’s assurance. That is, “ours!”