Roughly 25% of the book of 1 Thessalonians is dedicated to the subject of end-times related events. We find a large portion of that 25% here in the opening ten verses of 1 Thessalonians chapter five. That section begins with the following message…
“But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2).
This reference to “the times” is a shorthand way of referring to a historic timeline of events. The “seasons” are associated with the individual characteristics of a given age. For instance, we might associate the 18th and 19th centuries (“the times”) with the first Industrial Revolution (or “the season”) that characterized that age. We often combine these two ideas whenever we speak of “the signs of the times” to describe a quality or characteristic of a particular time period.
There are only two other references to “times and seasons” in the Biblical Scriptures. The first occurs in the book of the prophet Daniel…
“…Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, And light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:20-22).
The other Biblical reference to “times and seasons” appears in Acts 1:6-7 where Jesus answered the following question from His disciples: “…they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.’”
We can glean some important insights from these references. First, we can say that God ultimately orchestrates the events of human history (“…He changes the times and the seasons“). And while God may elect to reveal “…deep and secret things,” He has sovereignly declined to provide us with a detailed timeline of end-time events (“…It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority“).
Nevertheless, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 provides us with a significant descriptive element in the form of a phrase that is rich with Biblical significance: “…the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.” We’ll take a closer look at this reference to “…the day of the Lord” next.
“Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 NET).
The “day of the Lord” is a phrase that merits close attention for it is a term appears with considerable frequency in the pages of the Scriptures. For instance, this phrase is used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe God’s wrath (Isaiah 13:9), God’s judgment (as we’ll see next in 1 Thessalonians 5:3), a time of destruction (Joel 1:15), and a day of recompense for those who have done wrong (Obadiah 1:15).
The prophet Joel also described the day of the Lord as “great and very terrible” in Joel 2:11. However, Joel was not alone in this characterization, for the Old Testament prophets Ezekiel, Amos, Zephaniah, and Malachi associate the “day of the Lord” with similar words like, “doom,” “darkness,” “trouble and distress,” and “dreadful.”
Here in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, the day of the Lord is associated with the events that will accompany Jesus’ return. Three commentators provide some additional insight into the use of this important term…
“The prominent idea associated with that Day in the Old Testament, and in this passage as well, is that of ‘judgment’ and destruction upon the enemies of God. This stands in striking contrast to the previous passage (4:13–18), where the emphasis was hope and resurrection. The difference of course is one of focus; it depends upon whether believers or unbelievers are in view.” (1)
“In the OT the writers saw two ages, an evil age and a coming age of righteousness, the age of the Spirit. God would intervene in history through His Messiah to set up this new age. This event was known as the ‘Day of the Lord.’ Notice that NT writers attribute this to Christ. His first coming, the Incarnation, was foretold in many OT texts. The Jews did not expect a divine person, just a divine intervention. The two comings of the Messiah, one as suffering servant and savior, one as Judge and Lord, were not obvious to OT people.” (2)
“Christ has already passed through the judgment of the day of the Lord for believers, so they need not fear His return (Heb. 9:27, 28). Unbelievers, however, will feel the wrath of God when the day of the Lord is consummated at the second coming of Christ.” (3)
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2480). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
(2) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 5:2 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07B_05.html
(3) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2138). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“About the times and the seasons: Brothers, you do not need anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 HCSB).
There are two references from 1 Thessalonians 5:2 that also appear within the New Testament epistle of 2 Peter…
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).
In this context, the “day of the Lord” refers to the eventual dissolution of what we would call “the universe” or “space.” We also find similar expressions of this idea in the book of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 65:17) and the New Testament book of Revelation (Revelation 21:1). Although this may seem disconcerting, these future realities should prompt us to make good, God-honoring choices in the present.
You see, the Apostle Peter goes on to ask (and answer) an important question in the following verse of 2 Peter chapter three. In view of the fact that everything we now possess will ultimately be dissolved, Peter arrived at an appropriate conclusion under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives” (2 Peter 3:11 NIV).
In another sense, “the day of the Lord” arrives in an untold number of human lives every day. For instance, we might say the day of the Lord occurs whenever someone passes from this life into eternity. For some, that day arrives “like a thief in the night” in the form of an untimely passing. In those instances, the day of the Lord did not represent a far-off future event. Instead, it became the day when someone was unexpectedly called to stand before his or her Creator with no further opportunity to go back and undo the choices of life.
It’s often been said that the key to eternity is not to be ready when, but to be ready whenever– and as the Biblical book of Romans tells us, “If you openly admit by your own mouth that Jesus Christ is the Lord, and if you believe in your own heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 Phillips). Therefore, “Knowing how to live in preparation for the Lord’s return is more important than knowing the timing of His return (Acts 1:6–7).“ (1)
See related discussion beginning here
(1) Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (1 Th 5:1). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
“For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
The God-inspired books of the Old Testament provide us with a great deal of spiritual insight, sometimes in surprising or unexpected ways. Consider the passage from 1 Thessalonians 5:3 quoted above and the Old Testament link identified by the following commentators…
“Just as false prophets of old fraudulently forecast a bright future, in spite of the imminence of God’s judgment (Jer 6:14; 8:11; 14:13, 14; La 2:14; Eze 13:10, 16; Mic 3:5), so they will again in future days just before the final Day of the Lord destruction.” (1)
“While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety’ This was the message of the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day (cf. Jer. 6:14; 8:11,28). Human life and society will appear normal before God’s intervention (cf. Matt. 24:37-38; Luke 17:26-27). They will not be expecting the Messiah.” (2)
These references illustrate the Old Testament’s value in helping us understand New Testament passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:3. Nevertheless, it is important to pray for God’s wisdom and discernment in seeking to understand and apply this portion of Scripture.
For instance, those with a strong interest in Biblical prophecy may wish to consider the cautionary message offered by the following source: “Unlike some modern students of prophecy, Paul refuses to speculate. Instead, he reminds them that the Day of the Lord will come unannounced. For those who are not in Christ, it will be completely unexpected and not particularly welcome.” (3)
Our final commentator offers the perspective of an earlier generation in identifying the positive and negative truths behind this passage. While the language of this quote reflects the parlance of a former time, the following observations are just as applicable today as they were in the 18th century when these words were first published…
“Christ’s coming will be terrible to the ungodly. Their destruction will overtake them while they dream of happiness, and please themselves with vain amusements. There will be no means to escape the terror or the punishment of that day. This day will be a happy day to the righteous. They are not in darkness; they are the children of the light. It is the happy condition of all true Christians.
But how many are speaking peace and safety to themselves, over whose heads utter destruction is hovering! Let us endeavour to awaken ourselves and each other, and guard against our spiritual enemies.” (4)
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Th 5:3). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(2) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 5:3 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07B_05.html
(3) Brower, K. E. “3. The Day of the Lord (5:1-5)” In Asbury Bible Commentary. 1101. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1992.
(4) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary [5:1-5] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=52&c=5
“But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:4).
“Light” is a Biblical metaphor that is often used to represent God’s nature or those behaviors that correspond with His character. Perhaps the clearest expression of that idea is found in the New Testament epistle of 1 John…
“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).
Jesus also made use of this concept when He said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). In addition, Jesus adopted this idea for His disciples to apply on a personal level…
“The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness” (Luke 11:34-35).
In comparison, the Biblical equivalent of “darkness” is often used to represent evil, falsehood, or inequity…
“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).
In contrast to the God of light, the Scriptures identify Satan and his associated behaviors with the concept of darkness. One source summarizes these concepts in the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:4…
“He repeats that the coming of the day will be sudden. It will come like a thief in the night. But he also insists that that is no reason why a man should be caught unawares. It is only the man who lives in the dark and whose deeds are evil who will be caught unprepared. The Christian lives in the light and no matter when that day comes, if he is watchful and sober, it will find him ready.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. “1 Thessalonians 5:1-11”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-thessalonians-5.html
“You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
As mentioned previously, the word ‘light” is often used to represent truth, goodness, and integrity in a Biblical context. On the other hand, “darkness” is commonly used to describe the qualities of spiritual insensitivity, immorality, ungodliness, or the consequences that accompany inappropriate behavior. In fact, the Scriptures employ this word-picture in a surprising variety of ways. For instance…
“But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble” (Proverbs 4:19 NIV).
“You false prophets! You who lead his people astray! You who cry ‘Peace’ to those who give you food and threaten those who will not pay! This is God’s message to you: ‘The night will close about you and cut off all your visions; darkness will cover you with never a word from God. The sun will go down upon you, and your day will end’” (Micah 3:5-6 TLB).
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:1-5 KJV).
“Stop forming inappropriate relationships with unbelievers. Can right and wrong be partners? Can light have anything in common with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14 GW).
One commentator develops this idea with the following insight…
“Because believers have been delivered from the domain of darkness, they are taken out of the night of sin and ignorance and put into the light of God. Because Christians are in the light, they should not sleep in spiritual indifference and comfort, but be alert to the spiritual issues around them. They are not to live like the sleeping, darkened people who will be jolted out of their coma by the Day of the Lord (v. 7), but to live alert, balanced, godly lives under control of the truth.” (1)
The person who isn’t careful to walk in the light of God’s Word is always in danger of being overtaken by the darkness. Therefore, this passage should encourage us to prayerfully read the Scriptures each day. As we’re reminded in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is like a lamp that guides my steps, a light that shows the path I should take” (ERV).
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Th 5:6). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6).
1 Thessalonians 5:6 opens a brief section of this letter in which Paul the Apostle encourages his readers to pursue the kind of lives that are “…worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
The first directive found here in 1 Thessalonians 5:6 is “…let us not fall asleep as others do” (Mounce). This may seem confusing as Paul has already used the word “sleep” as a metaphor for death in the previous chapter of this letter. Since it seems obvious that Paul is not referring to the death process in this portion of Scripture, what are we to make of this statement?
To answer this question, we can revisit the importance of context in reading the Biblical Scriptures. We can define the word “context” as “the part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning.” (1) In other words, the Biblical material preceding and following each verse helps determine its meaning.
Although the word “sleep” used in the original language of this passage differs from the word for sleep used earlier in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15, we can identify the proper application for these verses simply by examining their context. In 1 Thessalonians chapter four, the context involved the physical death of a loved one. Here in 1 Thessalonians chapter five, the context involves the need to avoid spiritual and moral indifference.
With this in mind, we might ask why Paul didn’t just say what he meant. For instance, if Paul meant to refer to physical death in 1 Thessalonians chapter four and spiritual indifference in 1 Thessalonians chapter five then why didn’t he do so? In response, we can say that these metaphors help draw out the meaning of a passage and provide us with a fuller, richer understanding of God’s Word.
In addition, these portions of Scripture (and others like them) encourage us to seek God for their meaning and application. Difficult passages and unfamiliar metaphors compel us to seek the Author (and His representatives) for the clarifications necessary to understand and apply a given passage of Scripture. This enables us to develop a close relationship with the Author instead of simply taking the answers from a book.
So while it might have been easier if God had arranged His Word differently, it’s important to remember that “easier” doesn’t always represent the best path to spiritual growth.
(1) The American Heritage Dictionary, third edition
“For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:7-8).
For Paul the Apostle, the metaphors of light, dark, day, and night offered a rich vein of spiritual insight. For instance, night time represented the realm of those who were asleep, a period where they were unconscious to the reality of the world around them. It was also the time when those who sought to deaden their senses through alcohol abuse had ample opportunity to do so.
In contrast, people of the day (or the light) exhibited the characteristics of those who were “…wide awake (alert, watchful, cautious, and on our guard) and… sober (calm, collected, and circumspect)” (AMPC). Paul used these metaphors to illustrate some of the differences between those who seek to follow Christ and those who do not.
This passage also serves to remind us of Jesus’ cautionary message from Matthew chapter twenty-four…
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.
But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:45-51).
We can derive an important spiritual lesson from this portion of Scripture. You see, those who follow Jesus have been entrusted with an obligation to employ their God-given gifts, skills, talents, and opportunities in a sober, dedicated manner. Unlike others who regard their lives as an opportunity for self-indulgence (like the unprofitable servant in the parable quoted above), we can redeem the time by adopting a mindset that views life as an investment on Christ’s behalf.
Those who do so follow Jesus’ personal example as well: “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).
“For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:7-8).
In addition to the metaphors of day and night given to us above, Paul the Apostle was also fond of using military illustrations to effectively communicate with his audience. In this instance, Paul made use of the armor worn by a first-century Roman soldier to illustrate the proper mindset of a God-honoring man or woman. Although Paul referenced similar types of armor in Romans 13:12 and 2 Corinthians 6:7, the New Testament book of Ephesians offers the greatest amount of detail regarding this concept…
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil… Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:11, 13-17).
While the attributes of these pieces of spiritual armor differed slightly in each of these letters, their function remained largely unchanged. For instance, a military breastplate protected a soldier’s heart, lungs, and other vital organs much like a bullet-resistant vest serves to protect a law-enforcement officer today. In a similar manner, the qualities of faithfulness, love, and righteousness offer protection from an enemy attack, just as a breastplate protects a soldier. The unrighteous lack this “breastplate” which inevitably leads to spiritual (and perhaps even physical) harm.
A helmet represents another familiar piece of equipment. In work, athletics, or warfare, a helmet serves to protect one’s ability to think, function, and process information. Since a Christian possesses the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), the “helmet of salvation” offers protection against the things that might harm us in those areas.
As one commentary summarizes, “The helmet and breastplate defend the two vital parts, the head and the heart respectively. ‘With head and heart right, the whole man is right’.” (1)
(1) Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:8”. “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/1-thessalonians-5.html#8
“For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
While the wrath of God is hardly a popular subject, the Biblical book of Romans provides us with a basis for discussing this difficult and uncomfortable topic: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).
This passage identifies three actions that serve to generate God’s wrath: the ungodliness and unrighteousness of human beings who suppress the truth. These behaviors are important in helping us understand the reason behind God’s wrath and why “God did not appoint us to wrath” as mentioned in the passage quoted above.
We can begin with a look at the word ungodliness, a characteristic that is associated with a person who lives without reverence for God. In general, the word “ungodly” is used to describe a mindset of a person who presumes God does not exist. It also serves to identify those who show their disrespect for God in the way they speak or act. In short, “ungodliness” indicates that something is wrong in one’s vertical relationship with his or her Creator.
On the other hand, “unrighteousness” indicates that something is wrong horizontally in one’s relationship with others. As used in the Scriptures, “unrighteousness” refers to injustice, inappropriate conduct towards others, or violations of the law. (1) Unrighteousness is likely to follow ungodliness for once our vertical relationship with God is damaged or marred, then it will surely have an effect on our horizontal relationship with others.
Romans 1:18 goes on to tell us that such individuals “…suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” The word “suppress” literally means “to hold something down.” It’s been said that we can illustrate the use of this word with the image of a sailor who is determined to pilot his or her boat against a current of water. To accomplish this, the sailor must “suppress” or hold back the natural flow of water by forcing the rudder to take the boat in the direction he or she wishes to go instead of the direction of the current.
So what is the “something” that people seek to hold down or suppress? Well, Romans 1:18 describes that “something” as the truth. We should notice that it is not “truth” or “a truth” that serves as the object of this effort- it’s “the truth.” We’ll explore the significance of that little three letter word next.
“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” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 ESV).
In Romans 1:18 we’re told, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness” (NET). We should note that it is not “truth” or “a truth” that some attempt to suppress- it’s “the truth.” So what’s so important about this seemingly insignificant word?
We can address this question with another question: what is the basic, essential, foundational truth about anyone? Well, the basic truth about any human being is that he or she exists. While there may be many things that are true about someone, the primary, fundamental truth about any human being is that he or she exists. With this in mind, we can ask, “What is ‘the truth’ about God?”
Well, the answer to that question is the same as it is for anyone else- God exists, or He “is.” We can illustrate this idea from the account of a conversation between God and Moses, the famous Old Testament patriarch…
“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:13-14 NIV).
“I AM” is an important term because it identifies God as the self-existent, eternal Being. Unlike every member of the human race, there was never a time when God did not exist. As the uncreated, eternal, first cause of creation, only God alone can truly say, “I AM.”
Of course, some may challenge that assertion with the following objection: “We don’t know God exists. Therefore, we are incapable of suppressing that purported truth.” The Scriptures address that challenge in Romans 1:19: “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1: 19 RSV).
The word for “evident” in that passage refers to something that is apparent, clear, or plainly recognized. (1) This indicates that God has personally delivered the evidence for His existence and makes it observable for everyone. We’ll consider the nature of that evidence next.
“For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 HCSB)
Romans 1:19 tells us that God personally delivers the evidence for His existence and allows everyone to see that evidence for themselves. The nature of that evidence is given to us in the following verse…
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20 NIV).
We can associate this “design evidence” with a philosophical assertion known as the Teleological argument for God’s existence. That line of reasoning is expressed in the following manner…
- The existence of a design implies the existence of a designer.
- Creation shows evidence of design.
- Therefore, there is evidence of a designer of creation.
With this in mind, we can say that “creation” (or “nature”) represents a kind of window through which we can see the reality of God’s existence. For instance, every thinking human being is quietly reminded every day that the existence of creation assumes the existence of a Creator. Just as an artist, musician, or craftsman can be known by the existence of his or her work, the reality of the Creator’s existence can be verified by the existence of His work as well.
Romans 1:20 tells us that this evidence is so clear that human beings are literally “without excuse.” This means that no one will ever be able to truthfully claim that he or she was unaware of the Creator’s existence. While many are undoubtedly uncomfortable with the idea of a Creator, no one will ever be able to truthfully assert that the evidence didn’t exist.
This is important in light of what comes next…
“Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they became utter fools instead” (Romans 1:21-22 NLT).
When it comes to rejecting the truth of God’s existence, the Scriptures indicate that everything ultimately comes down to a single motivating factor: people don’t acknowledge God’s existence because they really don’t want to. In other words, this rejection is volitional, not evidential. We’ll consider the objective behind that response next.
“God did not appoint us to wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us in order that whether we are awake or asleep we might live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 Wuest).
While it is comforting to know that God has not appointed us to wrath, it’s important to know why God’s wrath exists at all. Romans 1:18-21 provides us with the answer to that question…
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18-21).
Though many seek to justify their unbelief in a variety of ways, there is one motive that serves as the foundation for all others: “…even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks…” (NAS). The New Testament Gospel of John employs the metaphors of light and darkness to explain why…
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19 NIV).
These passages uncover an important truth. If we are able to convince ourselves that God doesn’t exist, then we are free to live however we wish without regard for the intent of the One who created us. The problem is that we must deliberately suppress the testimony of a creation that proclaims the existence of God in order to live in a way that presumes He doesn’t exist. This is what ultimately prompts us to “suppress the truth is unrighteousness” according to Romans 1:18.
One commentary completes our brief look at this topic with the following summation…
“God’s purpose is salvation, not wrath. The choice of verbs in v.9 is significant. In using ‘appoint,’ Paul indicates that God did not intend wrath for his creation. ‘To receive’ implies that humans must accept God’s salvation. His purpose will be fulfilled, but humans have the choice to accept the free and undeserved gift or to maintain their arrogant independence from God.
There is a paradox between God’s purposes and human choice. But two things are clear. First, God does not force persons to follow him. Second, ‘a predestination to wrath that operated independently of the responsible action of mankind in sinning and rejecting the gospel is as unthinkable as a predestination to salvation that overrules human responsibility or makes it ultimately of no account by operating through it.’” (1)
(1) Brower, K. E. “4. Watchfulness and Armor (5:6-10)” In Asbury Bible Commentary. 1102. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1992.
“Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Whenever the word “therefore” appears within the pages of God’s Word, we would do well to pay attention to the portion of Scripture that immediately follows. You see, this word indicates that a Biblical author is ready to summarize the content of a previous section and present us with an appropriate response. Here in 1 Thessalonians chapter five, the word “therefore” marks a transition from the doctrinal teachings that characterized the initial verses of this chapter to a series of practical applications.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 contains the first of a series of nineteen directives that continue through verse twenty-two of this chapter. That list begins with the following instruction: “…encourage each other and strengthen one another” (GW). One of the more obvious means of implementing this directive involves the act of comforting and identifying with those who are going through difficulties that parallel our own life experiences.
The New Testament epistle of 2 Corinthians builds upon this idea when it tells us, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
We can also comfort others through the quality of our relationships with them. While personality clashes, misunderstandings, and differences of opinion will always exist, we should prayerfully seek to be the kind of people who typify the message of Philemon 1:7: “Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people” (NLT).
A final area of encouragement and comfort involves our ability to edify those spiritual leaders, teachers, counselors, mentors, and advisors who exert a positive impact upon our lives. As mentioned earlier in our look at 1 Thessalonians chapter two, a genuine spiritual leader derives a great deal of encouragement from the knowledge that others have grown in Christ as a result of his or her efforts. We can encourage such leaders by living the kind of lives that bring to mind the following words from 3 John 1:4: “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (HCSB).
The next two verses of 1 Thessalonians chapter five will provide us with an opportunity to examine this area in greater detail.
“And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
While there were many good and commendable things to report concerning the young church at Thessalonica, there are indications that there were a few concerns left for Paul the Apostle to address. The first of those concerns might be found here in verse twelve: “Brothers and sisters, we ask you to respect those who are working with you, leading you, and instructing you” (CEB).
You see, there is a subtle but noticeable shift in Paul’s message within this verse. For instance, Paul began this chapter by saying, “…concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you” (emphasis added). But here now in verse twelve, notice that the “I” has changed to “we” in his message to the church: “…we urge you, brethren” (emphasis added).
Remember that Paul had earlier dispatched a trusted associate named Timothy to check on the members of the Thessalonian congregation. Although Timothy returned to Paul with a positive report, perhaps he felt that some within their fellowship had failed to demonstrate the proper level of respect for their spiritual leaders. While there is a degree of speculation in this inference, it would help to explain this joint expression of concern.
In addition, it’s likely that the Thessalonian leadership was rather young and/or inexperienced. If Paul followed the practice of ordaining church leaders prior to his departure from Thessalonica (as mentioned in Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5), it may account for his gentle reminder and expression of support for these leaders.
In a larger sense, this passage directs us to consider the call to leadership within the church. While oversight positions are important and necessary, a title is less significant than the evidence of God’s calling upon one’s life. In general, people exhibit God’s call to leadership by doing the things that identify them as leaders even if they don’t possess a title. One pastoral minister wisely offers the following counsel in this regard…
“Don’t be quick to give yourself a title. I think that when people have to tell me what their gifts are, I am a little suspicious. If God is working through you, people will see what God is doing, you won’t have to publicize it.” (1)
(1) Rich Cathers, Revelation 1-2 [2:20] http://www.calvaryfullerton.org/Bstudy/66%20Rev/2001/66Rev01-02.htm
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
While the passage above is only two verses long, it offers an extraordinary amount of practical information that reveals God’s will for interacting with church leaders. While it may be easy to critique the idiosyncrasies, personality traits, or perceived shortcomings of a spiritual leader, this passage should make us stop and think before doing so.
For instance, consider the Biblical qualifications for pastoral ministers as found within the New Testament book of 1 Timothy…
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:2-7).
We should keep these stringent qualifications in mind whenever we are tempted to criticize those who serve within a pastoral ministry. In addition to communicating the Word of God, we should also consider the staggering variety of issues that clergy members must address as representatives of Christ. These include (but are certainly not limited to)…
- Health-related concerns of every kind.
- Matters related to death and the grieving process.
- Marital, family, and single-parent issues, including infidelity, abandonment, child and spousal abuse, elder-care, extended-family relationships, and parenting concerns.
- Addictive and self-destructive behaviors.
- Suicides and attempted suicides.
- Legal, financial, and employment-related concerns.
- Ministering to those who are institutionalized or cannot leave their homes.
- Interacting with governmental authorities, including those that are indifferent, averse, or openly hostile to Christianity.
These are the types of issues that pastoral leaders must face with courage, strength, care, wisdom, compassion. and spiritual discernment. Therefore, we would do well to measure our assessment of church leaders through the lens of Jesus’ message from the Sermon on the Mount…
“… you will be judged by the way you criticise others, and the measure you give will be the measure you receive” (Matthew 7:2 Phillips).
“Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NLT).
Since many spiritual leaders are content to serve with a minimum of fanfare, we may fail to grasp the immense responsibility that accompanies a pastoral ministry. Unfortunately, many clergy members tend to be recognized by those outside the church only under the following conditions:
- When they’ve experienced a moral failing.
- When they’ve made a foolish decision.
- When many thousands will watch or gather to hear them speak.
However, there are untold numbers of other church leaders who are quietly and effectively serving as Jesus’ representatives without praise, recognition, or attention. (1) Because of this, those who are quick to criticize a clergy member may fail to recognize and appreciate the challenges that face a church leader in every phase of ministry.
For instance, a minister may question God’s calling if it seems their work is bearing little fruit. If the ministry is large or expanding, the leader will be challenged to grow along with it. The need for adequate financial support is another common concern for many clergy members. In addition, a ministerial leader must always be careful to ensure that others are treated in a manner that reflects well upon Christ, even if it means suppressing what he or she might like to say.
Another important challenge for church leaders involves the need to interact responsibly with subordinates or people who are attracted to those who hold a position of authority and power. As the old adage reminds us, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Nevertheless, the greatest source of discouragement for a pastoral leader often comes in the form of a person who has broken his or her promises or betrayed that leader in some way. In fact, Paul the Apostle spoke of his own experience in that area when he told the church at Corinth that he had often been “…in perils among false brethren” (2 Corinthians 11:26). We can define such “false brethren” as those who wrongfully identify as Christians or genuine believers who represent themselves as something they’re not.
These unfortunate realities present a constant concern for the minister. For these reasons, our time is often better spent praying for our spiritual leaders than seeking to criticize them.
(1) At least in this life.
“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NET).
The parameters given to us here in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 are important to remember whenever we experience conflict with a church leader. For instance, let’s consider a situation where a minister has acted insensitively or failed to meet our expectation in some way. Or perhaps there is a clergy member who holds a different opinion on a debatable issue or minor theological point.
With these scenarios in mind, we should ask if these conflicts permit us to ignore the directive given to us in the passage quoted above. In other words, do such disputes allow us to act disrespectfully or broadcast our differences in a way that serves to undermine a ministry leader? Do those disagreements give us the right to treat the clergy in a way that we do not wish to be treated?
Thankfully, the passage quoted above offers a change of perspective that can help. Notice that the acknowledgement, respect (ESV), and appreciation (GW) given to a ministerial leader is not rooted in the person but in the work that person does: “esteem them most highly in love because of their work” (emphasis added). One commentary expands on this idea with an important observation…
“Some church leaders do not command as much personal respect as others, but Paul taught that all should be held in esteem because of the nature of their responsibilities before God. Not just some respect, but the highest respect is due these leaders, and it is to come from an attitude of affection (in love) for them, again, because of their work, if for no personal reason.” (1)
So even though a title does not automatically elevate someone to a higher level of esteem, this portion of God’s Word instructs us to treat pastoral leaders “…with the highest regard and love because of the work they are doing” (CJB). We can turn once again to the definition of love given to us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to implement this directive in our relationships with church leaders…
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (ESV).
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [1 Thessalonians 5:13]
“Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:13 NIV).
The first-century church embraced those who differed greatly in personality, culture, socio-economic background, and emotional makeup. The same remains true of the modern-day church as well. Therefore, living in peace with those who hail from divergent walks of life continues to present a significant challenge. One commentary alerts us to the importance of this idea in a forthright manner…
“The exhortation ‘be at peace among yourselves’ is no incidental insertion. The number one problem among Christians everywhere is the problem of getting along with each other. Every believer has enough of the flesh in him to divide and wreck any local church. Only as empowered by the Spirit can we develop the love, brokenness, forbearance, kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness that are indispensable for peace. A particular threat to peace which Paul may be warning against is the formation of cliques around human leaders.” (1)
Another source builds upon this warning to avoid dividing into factions…
“Though division is ungodly, it is not wrong to make distinctions between churches and ministers. God has made different churches and different ministries with different callings and characters, because the job of preaching the gospel is too big for any one group. It is one thing to prefer one minister to another, but we cannot divide into cliques behind one minister or another.” (2)
While living in peace with others may seem elusive or unachievable, the peace that God offers through Christ is our model for peace in our interpersonal relationships. Since God has forgiven us in Christ, we ought to follow His good example in seeking peace in our relationships with others. In addition, we should also recognize that we are individually responsible to God and will eventually answer to Him if we do not seek to act upon this admonition to “Live in peace with each other.” As Paul the Apostle wrote to the church at Rome…
“As far as your responsibility goes, live at peace with everyone. Never take vengeance into your own hands, my dear friends: stand back and let God punish if he will. For it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay’.
… these are God’s words: ‘Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head’. Don’t allow yourself to be overpowered with evil. Take the offensive—overpower evil by good!” (Romans 12:18-21 Phillips).
(1) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary 1 Thessalonians 5:13, pg.2042
(2) Guzik, Dave 1 Corinthians 1 – Jesus, the Wisdom of God http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/4601.htm
“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
In continuing the practical instruction that underscores the remainder of 1 Thessalonians chapter five, this verse identifies the proper response to three distinct types of individuals: the disorderly (ASV), the timid (Phillips), and the frail (WYC). Notice that Paul the Apostle exhorts “the brethren” in this passage, a phrase that encompasses “brothers and sisters” or “fellow Christians.” (1) This implies that these instructions are not simply admonitions to church leaders; instead, they apply to every member of the church.
The first person described for us is someone who is irresponsible (HCSB), disorderly (Mounce), or undisciplined (NET). Interestingly, this word carries the following definition in the original language of this passage: “deviating from the prescribed order or rule used in Greek society of those who did not show up for work.” (2) Another source tells us that this word is used in “…describing certain church members who manifested an insubordinate spirit, whether by excitability or officiousness or idleness.” (3) Since Paul will address these individuals at greater length in his follow up letter to the Thessalonian church, we will simply note our responsibility to warn those who exhibit similar behaviors.
In comparison, the fainthearted and weak are to be comforted and supported. Much like a splint or cast that is used to mend, heal, and support a broken bone until it can return to its intended function, this passage identifies our responsibility to strengthen and help those who are in spiritual or emotional need. As they are taught, encouraged, and directed to depend upon Christ, those who are fearful or disheartened can find new strength and eventually become conduits of God’s comfort to those who are facing similar challenges.
The last quality involves “…patience toward all” (NMB). As one source observes, “To be patient with all is perhaps hardest of all, for the last lesson most of us learn is to suffer fools gladly.” (4) Another commentary closes our look at this passage with an important insight regarding patience…
“Patience is to be shown to all, even towards those who actually deserve far worse. ‘Getting even’ is not to be tolerated in the church (see Mt 5:44-48; Lk 6:27-36). Rather the Christian response to wrong, whatever the source, is to try to bring good out of evil. This challenges the spirit of our age in which retaliation is seen as strength and any attempt to return good for evil is seen as weakness.” (5)
(1) NET Bible notes on 1 Thessalonians 1:4 https://netbible.org/bible/1+Thessalonians+1
(2) G813 ataktos http://www.textusreceptusbibles.com/Strongs/52005014/G813
(3) W.E Vine, “Disorderly” Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Rev Terry Kulakowski, Editor [pg. 81]
(4) Barclay, William. “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:14”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-thessalonians-5.html. 1956-1959.
(5) Brower, K. E. “1. Respect for Leaders (5:12-15)” In Asbury Bible Commentary. 1102. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1992.
“See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
Having earlier counseled his readers to “Be at peace among yourselves” (Thessalonians 5:13 ESV), the Apostle Paul will now offer some practical instruction to help us do so in the passage quoted above. We can begin to put these instructions into practice by first defining our terms.
For instance, we can define “evil” as, “the quality of being morally bad or wrong; that which causes harm, misfortune, or destruction, (or) something that is a cause or source of suffering, injury, or destruction.” (1) To this definition, we can add one more: “Evil is the absence of something good that should exist.” In fact, the original language of this verse defines the word “evil” as “…the lack in a person or thing of those qualities which should be possessed.” (2)
So this passage tells us that we should not seek to inflict harm or injury upon those who have inflicted such things upon us. While this goes against our natural desire to strike back at those who have hurt us, our obligation to conduct ourselves in a Christ-like manner does not end in such instances. In fact, this directive also extends to our internal thoughts and attitudes, even in those instances where others seemingly “get what they deserve”…
“Do not rejoice when your enemy meets trouble. Let there be no gladness when he falls— for the Lord may be displeased with you and stop punishing him!” (Proverbs 24:17-18 TLB).
It also mirrors God’s response as well…
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45 ESV).
Finally, this type of mindset follows the example Jesus set for us…
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23 ESV).
We’ll consider how one Biblical personality modeled this kind of response next.
(1) American Heritage Dictionary Of The English Language, Third Edition
(2) G2556 kakos Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for ‘Bad’. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ved/b/bad.html. 1940.
“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:15 NET).
The Old Testament account of Joseph offers an example of a Biblical personality who embodied the message of 1 Thessalonians 5:15. Through an unfortunate turn of events, the Biblical book of Genesis tells us that several of Joseph’s family members seized him and sold him as a slave to a group of traveling merchants. Those merchants later sold Joseph to a man named Potiphar who served as the captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.
Over time, God blessed Joseph and he eventually rose to an important position as Potiphar’s chief of staff. However, Joseph’s rise to prominence also attracted some unwanted attention…
“Now Joseph was well built and handsome. After some time the wife of Joseph’s master began to desire Joseph, and one day she said to him, ‘Have sexual relations with me.’
But Joseph refused and said to her, ‘My master trusts me with everything in his house. He has put me in charge of everything he owns. There is no one in his house greater than I. He has not kept anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How can I do such an evil thing? It is a sin against God.’ The woman talked to Joseph every day, but he refused to have sexual relations with her or even spend time with her” (Genesis 39:6-10 NCV).
We’re later told that Potiphar’s wife retaliated against Joseph for his refusal to engage in a physical relationship with her by entrapping him in a false allegation of sexual assault. That led to a lengthy prison term for Joseph even though he had done nothing wrong. Yet even when Joseph later rose to an even greater position as second-in-command in the nation of Egypt, there is no indication that he ever sought revenge against Potiphar’s wife for her false accusation against him.
In fact, Joseph even declined to punish those family members who unjustly sold him into slavery even though it was well within his power to execute them for their actions against him. In these respects, Joseph served as a living example of the attitude given to us here in 1 Thessalonians 5:15: “See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all” (HCSB).
For an in-depth look at Joseph’s life, see Genesis chapter 37 and chapters 39-50 here
“See that none render unto any one evil for evil; but always follow after that which is good, one toward another, and toward all” (1 Thessalonians 5:15 ASV).
In considering this portion of Scripture, it may be helpful to clarify “…what is good for one another and for all” (NET) actually involves. For instance, this passage does not prohibit us from acting in our own best interest when appropriate. However, it does imply that we have an obligation to look beyond our personal interests to the interests of others and respond accordingly. It also means that the agenda of a God-honoring life can no longer be driven exclusively by the question, “what’s best for me?”
This passage also serves to draw our attention to the nature of love as defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. That portion of Scripture tells us that genuine love is not “self-seeking” (NIV) or “self-serving” (NET). In other words, love does not exclusively pursue its own best interests; instead, it chooses to anticipate the needs of others and respond in an appropriate manner.
For example, genuine love seeks to determine what is best for everyone in a given situation and willingly defers to others where necessary. While the circumstances may change from person to person, we can often identify a loving response with the following question: “What is in the best interest of the people who are involved in this situation from God’s perspective?”
Paul the Apostle expanded upon this idea in his Biblical epistle to the Philippian church…
“Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well” (Philippians 2:3-4 NET).
Finally, just as Joseph provided us with a positive embodiment of the mindset advocated here in 1 Thessalonians 5:15, another Old Testament figure named Laban offers a negative example. We first meet Laban in Genesis chapter twenty-four and his life serves an example of what not to do in seeking to pursue what is good for one another and for all.
Whenever Laban saw an opportunity to serve his own interests, he took advantage of that opportunity without concern for who might be hurt or negatively affected by his choices. In fact, Laban’s attitude was probably best summarized by the phrase, “What’s in it for me?” Therefore, we can set the right example in a world of modern-day “Labans” by following this Biblical injunction to “…pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.”
For an in-depth look at Laban’s life, see Genesis chapters 29-31 here
“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:15 ESV).
As we close our look at this verse, it’s important to be conscious of our internal motives as we seek to apply this passage. For instance, it helps to remember that God is aware of any ulterior motive we may possess in choosing a particular course of action. If we seek to maintain the appearance of doing good with a different corresponding motive, we can rest assured that God is fully aware of it.
The Biblical account of Ananias and Sapphira may represent the clearest example of this reality. You see, Ananias and Sapphira were a husband and wife couple who brought a financial offering to the first-century church under false pretenses. It appears their willingness to offer that gift was motivated by a desire to secure praise, honor, and recognition for their “generosity.” However, the Apostle Peter quickly identified the inappropriate nature of their offering and their seemingly noble gesture was shown to be not what it seemed.
Jesus also had an experience with others who came to Him with disguised motives. Once after feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, a group of individuals sought Him out once again. But Jesus, knowing their true motive, said to them, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (John 6:25-26 NIV). Unfortunately, those who were seeking Jesus in this passage seemed to be less interested in Him and more interested in what He could do for them.
These examples demonstrate the need to prayerfully audit our internal motives in a given situation. For instance…
- Are there other agendas hiding behind our words or actions?
- Are we acting selfishly or unselfishly?
- Are we considering the needs of others as well as our own needs?
- Are we seeking to do the right thing or the easy thing?
While others may look upon outward appearances, God looks upon our hearts (see 1 Samuel 16:7). If our motives are good and acceptable before God, then our actions should follow as well. But if not, we should take care that we are not counted among those who are mentioned in the book of the Biblical prophet Isaiah…
“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).
“Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
While it may be easy to rejoice when things are going well, it is often more difficult to understand how we can rejoice amid the hardships, trials, difficulties, and painful situations we encounter in life.
In addressing this question, we can begin with the acknowledgment that real pain may sometimes accompany the events of life. Therefore, we would be ill-advised to ignore the authentic nature of that pain or pretend it doesn’t exist. Nor should we ignore the harsh realities of traumatic life events in seeking to make sense of such things when they occur. Instead, we would be better served to adopt a change of perspective that focuses upon the eternal rather than the temporal.
We’ll talk more about this eternal perspective when we reach 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (CEB). For now, one commentator elaborates upon this passage in the context of the first-century Thessalonian church…
“This is not a sugar-coated call for putting on a happy face in the midst of difficulties. Here is a church that is undergoing severe hardship because of its faith in Christ. God’s will for such a community, both as individuals and as they gather for worship, is that as a matter of first importance they continue to exalt Christ by rejoicing, with him as the focus.” (1)
Even in the midst of sorrow, suffering, or pain, we can still find reason to rejoice in Christ. While the circumstances of life may not give us cause for rejoicing, we can find encouragement in Jesus’ message to us from John 16:33: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world” (NET).
Finally, one scholar addresses the seeming inconsistency that exists between this verse and a portion of Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount…
“PROBLEM: Paul commands us here to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always,’ but Jesus insisted that ‘Blessed are those who mourn’ (Matt. 5:4).
SOLUTION: Properly understood, these are not mutually exclusive. Mourning is the condition and rejoicing is the result of a proper relation to God. It is those who humble themselves whom God lifts up (cf. James 4:10 ). So it is those who mourn in their spirit who will be able to rejoice in their Lord. True sorrow for sin is the antecedent of the consequent joy of salvation.” (2)
(1) Fee, Gordon D., The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, © 2009 Gordon D. Fee, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. pg 214-215
(2) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (p. 483). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
This directive to “pray without ceasing” may seem to conflict with another Biblical teaching from the gospel of Matthew: “…when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:7-8).
To better understand the relationship between these two seemingly divergent passages, we should first consider the difference between “praying without ceasing” and a “vain repetition.” To illustrate this difference, we can use the example of two individuals who are engaged in an ordinary conversation. Just as two people can enjoy an ongoing conversation without repeating themselves, the same is true in our communication with God. Because of this, we can associate a person who prays without ceasing with someone who enjoys a “running conversation” with God in prayer.
On the other hand, Matthew 6:7-8 describes the type of person who believes that he or she can obtain something from God by repeating the same words over and over in prayer. The difference is this: a “vain repetition” represents a habitual prayer that reflects little real emotional, spiritual, or intellectual involvement. A person who prays in this manner is someone who is simply “going through the motions” in his or her prayers. Therefore, we can identify a person who regularly communicates with God in an honest, heartfelt manner as someone who “prays without ceasing.”
Finally, should we be concerned about praying for something more than once as we seek to pray without ceasing? Well, the following incident from Jesus’ life offers an answer to that question…
“Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ …Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words” (Mark 14:32, 37-39).
So in light of Jesus’ example here in the Garden of Gethsemane, we can say that it is appropriate to bring our needs before God in prayer as often as necessary. If we experience the same need today as we did yesterday, we should bring that need before God again to seek His help. We’ll illustrate this idea with a further look at one of Jesus’ parables next.
“pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
As we seek to “pray without ceasing,” some may be concerned with the appropriateness of praying for something more than once. In addition to Jesus’ example in the garden of Gethsemane, we can also look for guidance on this subject in the form of a parable Jesus once shared with His disciples….
“Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: ‘There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’
Then the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8).
In considering this passage, we should remember that a parable represents a brief story that illustrates a spiritual truth or moral lesson. Therefore, this portion of Scripture should provide us with confidence in bringing our needs before God as often as necessary.
We should also be mindful of Jesus’ message from Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (NIV). The word “knock” refers to the plural act of “knocking” on a door in the original language of that passage. This reflects a standard practice for anyone who seeks entry to a place with a closed door.
You see, people rarely knock once when a door is closed to them. Instead, most people knock multiple times so those inside will know that someone desires to enter. In fact, people will often continue to knock at a door until someone answers, especially if they suspect someone is home. In a similar manner, we can say that “God is always home” when we approach Him through faith in Christ. If we have have a need, we should continue to knock in prayer until the door opens to us and the answer arrives.
“in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
1 Thessalonians 5:18 surely ranks among the most difficult passages to apply in all Scripture. In light of the pain and suffering that has marked human history, the command to “give thanks in everything” may seem almost impossible. Does this passage really mean we should give thanks when a senseless tragedy, a ruinous loss, or a horrific occurrence takes place? While such questions are custom-made for internet memes generated by those who wish to reject the possibility of a Creator, there are good answers available for those who seek to discover them.
First, we should acknowledge that it is not possible to “…give thanks in all circumstances” (ESV) without faith. As mentioned earlier, we can define faith as “a belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to His will for one’s life.” (1) Genuine Biblical faith should never be mistaken for “blind faith” or faith in something that has no basis in reality. Instead, real Biblical faith involves a belief in a God who has already proven Himself through the Scriptures.
Next, we must recognize that God is in control of all things. If God were not in control of all things, He would be little more than a cinematic superhero- a being with extraordinary abilities but nothing more. As one scholar often observed, “If there is even one maverick molecule in the universe—one molecule running loose outside the scope of God’s sovereign ordination—we cannot have the slightest confidence that any promise God has ever made about the future will come to pass.” (2)
Finally, it is essential to acknowledge that God loves us and has our best interests in mind even in the midst of a tragedy. In the words of another Pastoral commentator, “Sometimes the circumstances of my life do not indicate that God loves me. From my vantage point it looks like tragedy. This is because I can only see in part and I only know in part.” (3)
With these things in mind, we can say that God uses such things to reflect His eternal purpose for our lives. As Paul the Apostle counseled the New Testament-era church at Rome…
“all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
“The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
We’ll consider another aspect of this passage that can help us maintain the right perspective on these questions next.
(1) “Faith” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
(2) Sproul, R. C. (2012). Does God Control Everything? (First edition, Vol. 14, p. 36). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(3) Chuck Smith, Sermon Notes for Ephesians 5:20 https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/SermonNotes_Eph/Eph_56.cfm
“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV).
One commentator helps us understand and apply 1 Thessalonians 5:18 in the context of eternal life…
“…how can an all-powerful, all-loving God allow evil to persist? An ancient form of the problem is sometimes attributed to Epicurus:
‘Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?’
…One important consideration we must consider when evaluating the potentially exculpatory nature of evil is the nature of life, particularly if, as Christians believe, life extends beyond the grave.
Evil and suffering are typically experienced and understood within the context of one’s life. For thirty-five years an atheist, I thought of my life as a ‘line segment’ spanning two points: my birth and my death. I hoped for a life (a ‘line segment’) of approximately ninety years. In the context of this span of time, if I had developed cancer in my forties, I would have been angered by the amount of time stolen from me as I battled the disease. In fact, if I had been diagnosed with a terminal disease at that age, I would have been outraged to be deprived of fifty percent of the life I expected.
If theism is true, however, and we are more than mere material beings, life is not a line segment. Life is, instead, a ray stretching from the point of our birth, passing through the point of our physical death, and extending to an eternal life beyond the grave.
Now consider any experience of evil, pain or suffering in the context of an eternal life… Our experience and understanding of pain and evil must be contextualized within eternity, not within our temporality. Whatever our experience here in our earthly life, no matter how difficult or painful it may be, must be seen through the lens of forever. As our eternal experience stretches beyond our struggles in this life, our temporal suffering will become an ever-shrinking percentage of our consciousness. The anguish we may have experienced on earth will be long outdistanced by the bliss we’ll experience in eternity…
If the Christian worldview is true, evil must be assessed through the lens of eternity, not through the limited perspective of our mortal lives. And eternity changes everything.” (1)
(1) J. Warner Wallace, Can An Understanding of Eternal Life Change the Way We See Evil? https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/can-an-understanding-of-eternal-life-change-the-way-we-see-evil/
“Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
The next two exhortations from 1 Thessalonians chapter five address our interaction with the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the triune Godhead. (1) The Holy Spirit is identified as the “parakletos” in the original language of the New Testament, a word that captures the image of a counselor, ally, helper, advocate, strengthener, advisor, and supporter. (2)
On the other hand, the word “quench” conveys the image of a fire that has been extinguished or suppressed. Just as a blacksmith might lower the temperature of a red-hot piece of iron by plunging it into a pool of water, so it appears that we can move to extinguish or suppress the Spirit’s work as well. While any attempt to quench the Spirit’s work will never thwart God’s ultimate intent, it is still unwise to place ourselves on the wrong side of His agenda.
One means of quenching the Spirit involves an attempt to dissuade a person who exhibits God’s empowerment from pursuing a work that is supported by the Scriptures. While no human being is ever completely prepared to fulfill God’s calling, we can quench the Spirit when we allow other motives or interests to suppress the evidence of God’s direction in someone’s life.
One source summarizes this point with the following comment: “When the Holy Spirit is clearly using a Christian in a ministry to which He has called him, he should be encouraged and assisted, not criticized and hindered, assuming, of course, that it is really the Spirit’s work and not of the flesh. The best test for this, of course, is fidelity to the Scriptures (Isaiah 8:20).” (3)
Another avenue by which we might quench the Spirit’s work involves our words, actions, and internal attitudes. The New Testament epistle to the Ephesians offers some examples…
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:30-32).
As mentioned earlier, we should not intentionally seek to injure others when conflicts arise in our relationships. Instead, we should seek to “Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:13 ESV) and thus avoid quenching the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
(1) See the discussion regarding the Person and nature of the Holy Spirit beginning here
(2) G3875 parakletos Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g3875
(3) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes 1 Thessalonians 5:19 https://www.icr.org/books/defenders/8007
“Do not despise prophecies” (1 Thessalonians 5:20).
A genuine “prophet” can be identified as someone who possesses the ability to provide God’s direction as prompted by the Holy Spirit. We might also define a legitimate prophet as someone who conveys divinely-initiated information concerning a particular situation or future event. This is a valid spiritual office as evidenced by the numerous prophets who appear within the Old Testament Scriptures as well as a few who are mentioned in the pages of the New Testament as well.
Of course, the spiritual gift of prophecy remains the subject of great controversy within the church today. In considering the potential validity of this gift in the post-New Testament era, we can begin with the observation that no modern-day “prophecy” can ever carry the same authority as the God-inspired Biblical Scriptures. Instead, a statement that claims to be prophetic must be fully aligned with clear Biblical teaching. If not, we can confidently say that such a message does not originate with the Holy Spirit.
We can find another potential concern in the tendency of some to preface various statements with the words, “The Lord told me,” “The Lord spoke to me,” “God put it on my heart,” or other similar phrases. While God can certainly provide us with direction, the issue is that we may not consider the ramifications of such statements.
You see, a phrase such as ”The Lord led me…” represents a prophetic statement because it implies that God Himself is the direct source of whatever follows. If we subsequently go on to misrepresent the Lord in any way when prefacing our statements in this manner (no matter how sincere or well-intentioned we may be), we risk violating the Scriptural tenet found in Proverbs 30:6: ”Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar” (NIV).
Instead, it might be preferable to say, ”I believe the Lord has told me such-and-such…” or, ‘‘I feel that God has spoken to me…” or, “I think God is leading me to do this or that.” Such statements recognize that we are imperfect human beings who sometimes make mistakes (even honest ones) in humbly seeking to hear from God.
Modern church history is inundated with spiritual predictions and “prophecies” that have failed to come to pass. In light of these things, it is perhaps best to associate the function of a prophetic gift in a modern-day church with a person who is prompted by the Holy Spirit to bring a fresh application of Biblical truth to a circumstance or situation.
An earlier version of this study originally appeared here
“Do not treat prophecies with contempt” (1 Thessalonians 5:20 NET).
Those who purport to offer extra-Biblical “prophecies” would do well to consider God’s warning through the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel…
“Then the Lord’s message came to me: Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to the prophets who prophesy from their imagination: ‘Listen to the Lord’s message! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit but have seen nothing!
Your prophets have become like jackals among the ruins, O Israel. You have not gone up in the breaks in the wall, nor repaired a wall for the house of Israel that it would stand strong in the battle on the day of the Lord. They see delusion and their omens are a lie. They say, ‘The Lord declares,’ though the Lord has not sent them; yet they expect their word to be confirmed. Have you not seen a false vision and announced a lying omen when you say, ‘The Lord declares,’ although I myself never spoke?
Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because you have spoken false words and forecast delusion, look, I am against you, declares the Sovereign Lord.
…This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to those who sew bands on all their wrists and make headbands for heads of every size to entrap people’s lives! Will you entrap my people’s lives, yet preserve your own lives? You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and scraps of bread. You have put to death people who should not die and kept alive those who should not live by your lies to my people, who listen to lies!
Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Take note that I am against your wristbands with which you entrap people’s lives like birds. I will tear them from your arms and will release the people’s lives, which you hunt like birds. I will tear off your headbands and rescue my people from your power; they will no longer be prey in your hands. Then you will know that I am the Lord.
This is because you have disheartened the righteous person with lies (although I have not grieved him), and because you have encouraged the wicked person not to turn from his evil conduct and preserve his life. Therefore you will no longer see false visions and practice divination. I will rescue my people from your power, and you will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 13:1-8, 18-23 NET).
The following verse from 1 Thessalonians chapter five –1 Thessalonians 5:21– is an important verse that can help us separate truth from falsehood in this area. We’ll take a look at that passage next.
“Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
1 Thessalonians 5:21 offers a brief but effective means of guarding against spiritual deception: “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (RV). This passage reminds us that we should evaluate the teachings, ideas, and beliefs we encounter against the Scriptures to verify their truthfulness and accuracy. This is especially true of any “Christian” group or organization that derives its primary teachings from sources other than the sixty-six books of the Biblical Scriptures.
However, this does not only apply to religious organizations that promote unbiblical beliefs. This same idea holds true on an individual level as well. You see, it is not uncommon to encounter intelligent and accomplished individuals who hold deceptive or self-serving spiritual views. An incident involving an Old Testament leader named Nehemiah illustrates this unfortunate reality…
“Later I went to visit Shemaiah son of Delaiah and grandson of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home. He said, ‘Let us meet together inside the Temple of God and bolt the doors shut. Your enemies are coming to kill you tonight.’ But I replied, ‘Should someone in my position run from danger? Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life? No, I won’t do it!’
I realized that God had not spoken to him, but that he had uttered this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. They were hoping to intimidate me and make me sin. Then they would be able to accuse and discredit me” (Nehemiah 6:10-13 NLT).
So it seems that Shemaiah had a reputation as a religious person who possessed the ability to speak prophetically. However, Nehemiah quickly determined that he was not what he appeared to be. The clue that alerted Nehemiah to this unfortunate truth was the fact that this alleged prophet suggested a course of action that was contrary to God’s Word. A genuine, God-honoring prophet would never have suggested such a thing.
In reality, two of Nehemiah’s adversaries named Tobiah and Sanballat had hired Shemaiah for one purpose: to persuade Nehemiah into making an ill-advised decision that would damage his reputation and advance their agenda. This meant Shemaiah held an ulterior motive that involved making money under the guise of spirituality. In a similar manner, there may be any number of other religious hucksters who advocate spiritual beliefs that effectively disguise other motives today.
We can protect against these and other spiritual dangers by following the counsel of 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “…examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (NASB).
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 KJV).
While it is one thing to respond to a belief that is clearly unbiblical, it may be more difficult to address someone who has wandered into an area of false doctrine. While two people of good conscience may respectfully disagree on a non-essential element of the Christian faith, we should remember that it is possible for anyone (even a God-ordained leader) to fall into error if they fail to test their beliefs against God’s Word.
Perhaps the best example of this unfortunate reality is found in the conduct of Nadab and Abihu, two men who were commissioned by God to serve as part of the spiritual leadership for the nation of Israel (Exodus 28:1). They were also among a group of men who personally saw God and even enjoyed a meal in His presence (see Exodus 24:9-11).
Yet despite these things, Nadab and Abihu chose to pursue a course of action that was clearly contrary to God’s direction. That decision cost them their lives (Leviticus 10:1-5). Their example reminds us that no one is immune to falling into spiritual error. Therefore, we should not neglect our responsibility to “…examine all things; hold fast to what is good” (NET).
Its also important to remember that a person, group, or organization that redefines Jesus as someone other than the Person described within the Scriptures is not teaching the truth about Christ. You see, the “Jesus” promoted by some religious groups may not be the same Jesus who appears within the Bible. For instance, they may identify Jesus as a created being or someone who attained the so-called “christ consciousness” or a person who can simply help others find success in life. This explains why it is important to remember the counsel of 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
Finally, we may increase our susceptibility to deception if we choose to accept a spiritual teaching or phenomena without first verifying its Biblical legitimacy. The New Testament book of 1 John expands on this idea when it tells us…
“Dearly loved friends, don’t always believe everything you hear just because someone says it is a message from God: test it first to see if it really is” (1 John 4:1 TLB).
In light of these things, we would do well to follow the example of the people in the first-century town of Berea and their response to Paul the Apostle’s teaching: “…They were very willing to receive God’s message, and every day they carefully examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11 GW).
“But examine all things; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 NET).
Three commentators offer brief but valuable insights into 1 Thessalonians 5:21 as we close our look at this portion of Scripture…
“…In context this could refer to church leaders, spiritual gifts, a spiritual message, (or) doctrine. The word (dokimazo) implies ‘to test with a view toward approval’ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:10; 14:29; 1 John 4:1ff.). Some things appear spiritual but actually are not (cf. Matt. 7:21-23; Col. 2:16-23).” (1)
“The idea is that, while they should not hinder someone who is genuinely working for God, neither should they be gullible and accept anyone who claims to be religious.” (2)
“This call for careful testing and discernment is in response to the command of v. 20. One is never to downgrade the proclamation of God’s Word, but to examine the preached word carefully (cf. Ac 17:10, 11). What is found to be ‘good’ is to be wholeheartedly embraced. What is ‘evil’ or unbiblical is to be shunned.” (3)
As mentioned earlier, this passage should encourage us to prayerfully study the Scriptures to ensure that a teaching, a doctrine, or spiritual belief corresponds with God’s Word. As another source reminds us, “The temptation to put the ideas of men on an equal footing with the Word of God is still present.” (4)
This is a message that bears repeating, especially in light of the Apostle Peter’s warning concerning those “…who will secretly introduce destructive heresies” (NASB) in 2 Peter 2:1-3. It’s not that such heresies remain hidden from view; on the contrary, those who promote such beliefs often do so openly. The issue is that their destructive nature is frequently disguised by a veneer of spirituality. Such heresies are destructive in the sense that they misrepresent the truth about God and undermine our ability to establish and maintain a genuine relationship with God in Christ.
Remember that the Scriptures consistently warn us regarding such dangers. Paul the Apostle’s cautionary message to the church at Rome offers another example…
“Brothers and sisters, I urge you to watch out for those people who create divisions and who make others fall away from the Christian faith by teaching doctrine that is not the same as you have learned. Stay away from them. People like these are not serving Christ our Lord. They are serving their own desires. By their smooth talk and flattering words they deceive unsuspecting people” (Romans 16:17-18 GW).
Therefore, we should remain diligent and “Test all things; hold fast what is good.”
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, 1 Thessalonians 5:21 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07B_05.html
(2) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2482). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
(3) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Th 5:21). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(4) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [1 Thessalonians 5:20]
“Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
In the original language of this verse, the word “abstain” involves “holding off” from taking action. (1) The word “form” signifies an external shape or appearance. (2) Therefore, we can say that this passage relates to our internal choices and external responses. Although we may desire to follow a particular course of action, this portion of Scripture reminds us that we should ask an important question before acting on that desire: “How will this appear to others?”
Of course, people make decisions based upon appearances every day. The question is, “What standard governs those decisions?” For instance, people often base their decisions upon the way they expect a peer group to respond. However, it is more important to ask, “Does this appearance honor God?” before we consider how others might respond.
For example, we can largely “Abstain from every form of evil” with a few simple questions…
- If I choose this course of action, is anything good likely to come from it from God’s perspective? Although God can certainly bring good from a poor decision, that does not grant us a license to make inappropriate choices. If nothing good is likely to come from a particular course of action then we would do well to avoid it- it’s probably evil.
- Does this set a good example for others? If it sets a poor example for others to follow, we should avoid it- it’s probably evil.
- How does this reflect upon Christ? If it reflects poorly upon Jesus, then we would be wise to avoid it- it’s probably evil.
Another commentator offers an alternate approach to this passage…
“…in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul is specifically talking about truth-claims— prophecies, doctrines, spiritual principles. Verse 22 is actually the last in a series of closely related commands: ‘Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil’ (vv. 21–22).
The Apostle is not urging the Thessalonians to try a little bit of everything, eat the meat, and spit out the bones. I’ve heard people use that expression in a way that minimizes the grave danger of heresy and alternative gospels. The idea here is the polar opposite. Paul is instructing the church to turn away completely from false prophets and purveyors of novel doctrines—to repudiate them altogether.
…Paul’s point is not that we should abstain from morally neutral activities that might look bad to overscrupulous people. He is saying that whatever is evil in character must be shunned no matter what form it takes—even if the false teacher comes disguised as an angel of light or claims to be a brother seeking peace and unity.” (3)
(1) G567 apechomai https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g567
(3) John MacArthur, Shun Evil Teaching, Tabletalk pg. 44 September 2014
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
The word “spirit” carries a wide variety of meanings depending on its context. For example, we might associate this word with things like enthusiasm, fortitude, or ambition. It might refer to a supernatural apparition or a ghost. Or perhaps it might to alcohol or other type of flammable liquid.
When used in a Biblical context, the word “spirit” finds it’s origin in the Old Testament Hebrew word “ruach” and the New Testament Greek word “pneuma.” In fact, a remnant of the word “pneuma” still exists today in the form of the word “pneumatic” as it relates to an automotive tire, air tool, or gas.
In a larger sense, the word pneuma is used to express the idea of a breeze, a gust of wind, an air current, or the act of breathing. In this respect, the human spirit is invisible and immaterial, much like a current of air. It represents the eternal and non-corporeal part of every human being that remains following the death of his or her physical body. Once that physical separation occurs, the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “…your spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7-8 NCV).
The word used for soul in this passage is the Greek word psuche, a word survives today as the root of such modern-day words as psychology or psychoanalysis. In this context, the soul refers to the human being as an individual personality.
For instance, the soul reflects our individual preferences- that which we like and that which we dislike. In addition, this word carries an emotional component that involves the things we love, hate, or feel indifferent about. The soul also embodies our talents, skills, and abilities- those we were born with and those we have developed. In addition, this word refers to the will, intellect, and all that distinguishes an individual human being from every other human who has ever lived or ever will live. In short, the soul represents the “you” inside your body.
Finally, the “body” is represented by the word soma in the original language of this passage. As one source explains, “It is an indisputable fact that the Greek word for ‘body’ (soma), when used of a person, always means physical body in the New Testament. There are no exceptions to this.” (1) We’ll tie these elements together in the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:23 next.
(1) Ron Rhodes, The Complete Book Of Bible Answers [pg. 133] Copyright © 1997 by Ron Rhodes, Harvest House Publishers
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV).
One Biblical scholar offers some helpful insight concerning the doxology (1) given to us in 1 Thessalonians 5:23…
“This concluding doxology provides additional instruction on the eternal security of the believer. The eternal duration of salvation is a guaranteed reality that rests not upon the shaky faithfulness of believers but upon the unwavering steadfastness of God Himself. It is God’s faithfulness that will bring His eternal purposes for His elect to full completion. God, who calls His elect to Himself in conversion, also calls them to sanctification and glorification, and He never fails to bring this ongoing salvation to pass.” (2)
In another sense, this interaction between spirit, soul, and body involves a daily conflict for those who are in Christ. For instance, the body naturally gravitates towards whatever satisfies its desires without regard to morality or consequence. On the other hand, the spirit seeks to pursue God’s will, a pursuit that often clashes with the body’s desires. The soul is between the two and lives under the constant influence of one or the other to a greater or lesser degree.
Therefore, the soul (the “you” inside your physical body) must consciously decide to live under the control of the God-directed spirit or the body each day. The New Testament book of Galatians illustrates this daily interaction in the following manner: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17 NIV). Paul the Apostle also described this struggle in very personal terms in his letter to the church at Rome.
Nevertheless, one source reminds us of the need to view the spirit, soul, and body as parts of an integrated whole…
“The spirit, soul, and body refer not so much to the distinct parts of a person as to the entire being of a person. This expression is Paul’s way of saying that God must be involved in every aspect of life. It is wrong to think that we can separate the spiritual life from everything else, obeying God only in some ethereal sense or living for him only one day each week. Christ must control all of us, not just a ‘religious’ part…” (3)
(1) A “doxology” is brief hymn or expression of praise for God
(2) Steven J. Lawson. (2006). Foundations of Grace (p. 437). Reformation Trust Publishing
(3) Life Application Study Bible NKJV [1 Thessalonians 5:23] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers
“He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. Brethren, pray for us. Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss” (1 Thessalonians 5:24-26).
We can view this portion of Scripture in terms of three attributes; one belonging to God and two held by the people of God.
The first attribute involves God’s faithfulness. While co-workers, business associates, subordinates, family members, news outlets, governmental leaders, or others may prove untrustworthy, God still remains faithful. In fact, God’s faithfulness is an intrinsic part of His nature for the New Testament epistle of 2 Timothy tells us, “…if we are faithless he always remains faithful. He cannot deny his own nature” (2 Timothy 2:13 Phillips). Unlike those who have proven unworthy of our trust, we can rely upon God to demonstrate His faithfulness even in those periods when the events of life might seem to suggest otherwise.
The second attribute (prayerfulness) belonged to the recipients of this letter: “Brothers and sisters, pray for us too” (NET). Just as Paul the Apostle prayed for the church at Thessalonica, he now asked the Thessalonians to reciprocate in their prayers for him. Although Paul held an important position as an Apostle of Christ, he still felt the need to ask others to pray on his behalf. In fact, Paul made a similar request in several of his Biblical letters…
“Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me” (Romans 15:30).
“meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:3-4).
“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:19).
As we’re reminded in the New Testament epistle of James, “…The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (NIV). With this in mind, we might ask how today’s spiritual leaders might benefit from our prayers. For instance, we might pray for health, strength, wisdom and discernment for a ministerial leader and the opportunity for that person to fulfill his or her calling. If Paul the Apostle humbly asked for prayer from the members of the Thessalonian congregation, how much more might today’s spiritual leaders benefit from our prayers on their behalf?
We’ll consider the third attribute of this passage next.
“He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this. Brothers and sisters, pray for us too. Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss” (1 Thessalonians 5:24-26 NET).
The “kiss” referenced in this passage represented a customary form of greeting in the Biblical era and remains common among many cultures today. Biblical allusions to this form of greeting appear quite frequently within the Scriptures…
“Other references to (this form of greeting) in the New Testament are Rom. 15:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 1 Thess. 5:26, and 1 Peter 5:14. Peter called it the ‘kiss of love’; but it is called the ‘holy kiss’ elsewhere. This form of brotherly greeting, however, existed long before Christianity. Jesus rebuked the Pharisee for withholding the customary kiss of greeting (Luke 7:45), and Judas used it treacherously in the betrayal (Mark 14:44f)…” (1)
This portion of Scripture also offers an opportunity to revisit the concept of “principle vs. practice.” For instance, let’s consider this directive to “Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss” in a 21st century context. Do we violate this Biblical imperative if current-day social or cultural norms prohibit us from greeting one another in this manner? Well, one scholar addresses that question in the following manner…
“…there is a difference between command and culture. The commands of Scripture are absolute—culture is relative. For example, few believe that Jesus’ command to His disciples not to have an extra pair of sandals with them while on an evangelistic tour applies today. And most Christians do not literally ‘Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss’ anymore (1 Thes. 5:26). Nor do they believe that ‘lifting up holy hands in prayer’ is essential to public prayer (1 Tim. 2:8).
There is a principle behind all these commands that is absolute, but the practice is not. What Christians must do is absolute, but how they do it is culturally relative. For example, Christians must greet one another (the what), but how they greet each other will be relative to their respective cultures. In some cultures, as in the NT, it will be with a kiss, in others with a hug, and in still others with a handshake.” (2)
So we should interact with others in a manner that is suited to the culture and the individual. You see, a greeting that makes another person uncomfortable is hardly one that conforms to the idea of a “holy kiss.” In those instances, it would be suitable to use an alternate form of greeting that signifies mutual acceptance and respect.
Portions of this message originally appeared here
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=2co&chapter=013>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
(2) When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserve
“I command you in the name of the Lord to read this letter to all the brothers and sisters. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (1 Thessalonians 5:27-28 NLT).
Unlike those who viewed the acquisition of “secret knowledge” as the path to spiritual enlightenment, Paul the Apostle did not seek to hide the teachings of Christianity from a larger audience in favor of a select few. Instead, Paul told the church at Thessalonica, “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren.”
This seems to have been Paul’s standard practice in his letters to the first-century church. For instance, he told the church at Colosse, “Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16). While Paul might have chosen to limit his message to a few select individuals, he instead made certain to share these teachings directly with all the members of the Thessalonian congregation. That helped limit the potential for misunderstanding (1) and enabled everyone to learn and grow together.
As one source observes, “For all the Christians to hear this, it had to be read in a public meeting—there were not enough copies to circulate. Paul wanted to make sure that everyone had the opportunity to hear his message because he was answering important questions and offering needed encouragement.” (2)
Another commentator summarizes the overall message of 1 Thessalonians with the following insight: “There are two important truths we should learn and apply to our lives from this First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. First, the Lord Jesus is coming back; and secondly, we are to be involved in a labor of love for Him while we watch and wait for His return.” (3)
Finally, this epistle closes with an expression of God’s grace. “Grace” refers to God’s unmerited favor towards undeserving human beings- and its appearance within the closing portion of this letter is significant. Much like an image that is reflected in a mirror, God’s gracious favor towards the church at Thessalonica was reflected in their “…work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Thessalonians 1:3 ASV).
But how did the Christian community at Thessalonica respond to the letter we know today as 1 Thessalonians? Well, the answer to that question will be given to us in our look at the book of 2 Thessalonians.
(1) Unfortunately, this was not entirely successful as we’ll see later in the book of 2 Thessalonians.
(2) Life Application Study Bible NKJV [1 Thessalonians 5:27] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers
(3) Dick Woodward. Mini Bible College Study Booklet #14 Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I and II Thessalonians, I and II Timothy, Titus and Philemon (p. 26).