1 - 4 The Day of the Lord
1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief;
The believers in Thessalonica now know that the believers who are fallen asleep will also be there when the Lord Jesus will come to earth to reign. They know also that thereby the Lord Jesus will descend first Himself, that He will take up all the believers at the same time, that there will be a special encounter in the air and that He will take up all His own to His dwelling place, which is heaven. From that union in the air on, His own will be with Him forever.
V1. After this is determined, Paul can continue his teaching on the coming of the Lord to the earth. Concerning that, it was actually not necessary that he wrote them. They had received the teaching on “the times and the epochs” and enough has been written about that in the Old Testament. ‘Times and epochs’ refer to the earth. The first reference to that is written in Genesis 1 (Gen 1:14), where it clearly appears that it has to do with the earth. The earth is the territory where all prophetic foretelling will be fulfilled.
The church and its rapture is nowhere a subject of the prophecy. That is because the church belongs to heaven. With both ‘times’ and ‘epochs’ a certain period of time is meant. They also are mentioned together in Acts 1:7 (cf. Dan 2:21; Ecc 3:1). They are synonyms that complement one another. However, there is a remarkable difference.
Concerning ‘times’ it is about the duration of time, about something that happens after a course of time. In Greek the word chronos is used. You recognize the word in our word ‘chronometer’, a device to measure how long something has taken. You read in Galatians 4 that when “the fullness of the time” (chronos) had come, God sent forth His Son (Gal 4:4). That means that the Lord Jesus came to earth after the termination of a certain period of time and God had considered it the time to send forth His Son.
Concerning ‘epochs’ it is not about the duration of time, but about what exactly characterizes a certain period of time, about the character of that time. In Greek the word kairos is used here. There was a time wherein man lived without law (Rom 5:13). After a course of time God gave through Moses the law to His people and they lived under the law (Jn 7:19). In “the times of the Gentiles” (Lk 21:24) He allowed the nations to go their own way.
Those different periods of time, that sometimes follow each other and sometimes occur at the same time, have their own characteristic. Every time has made clear who man is and that he fully fails in serving God. All of these different times end up in “the fullness of the times” (the plural form of kairos) (Eph 1:10). That is the time of the millennial kingdom which will be characterized by peace because then the Prince of peace will reign. Then the “times (plural form of ‘kairos’) of refreshing” will come (Acts 3:19).
V2. They were not left with uncertainty about the time that was going to come when the Lord Jesus will come to the earth. They knew “full well” about that. In the same sense Luke uses the word ‘careful’ or ‘accurate’ for his investigation into the history of the Lord Jesus (Lk 1:3). Matthew uses it to indicate how urgently Herod wants to know from the wise men about the star they had seen (Mt 2:7). The Holy Spirit uses it to describe how Apollos taught “the things concerning Jesus” and that Priscilla and Aquila explained to Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:25-26). This is how Paul uses it for his teaching to the Thessalonians. Finally the word ‘careful’ is also used by Paul for the conduct of the believer (Eph 5:15).
Summarized you may say that you ought to examine the Scriptures accurately or carefully, teach the Scriptures accurately and need to be accurate in your obedience to what you have learnt from the Scriptures.
“The day of the Lord” is not only the moment that He comes to judge, but the whole period wherein He is in charge, in contrast to the time wherein man is in charge. That time begins when the church has been caught up. Then He will firstly pour out His judgments over the earth. An exhaustive and impressive description you find in Revelation 6-18. Then the Lord Jesus Himself will come, as you read in Revelation 19, with all His saints to the earth to judge the remainders of the evil (Rev 19:11-21). Afterwards He will establish His kingdom of peace.
If you are looking forward to His coming for the church, He will not come for you “as a thief in the night”. A thief always comes suddenly, unexpected and undesired. The world does not look forward to Him. The unbelievers absolutely do not want to look forward to Him. You notice it when you tell about Him to be coming to judge the world. Then they start to mock (2Pet 3:3-4).
V3. In their audacity they speak about “peace and safety” (cf. Jer 6:14; 8:10-11; 14:13; Eze 13:10,16). They perform this mockery because in their arrogance they trust in their technological achievements and improvement. They think to have everything under control. But behind their tough language – they “are saying”, to encourage themselves – they hide an enormous fear for the future (Lk 21:25-26).
This fear will appear to be not unfounded. However, when people who are being honest about that, are told about the only way for hope, they suddenly prefer to believe that it is altogether not that bad at all. Then they rather drown out their feelings of fear with their imagination of peace that they have made their own. The destruction will suddenly overtake them. They will lose everything what life meant to them. This sudden destruction will come down from heaven, when the Lord Jesus appears to judge all evil, but also earlier all the introductory judgments after the rapture of the church.
There will be no way of escape from this judgment. Verse 3 concludes with a threat regarding that. Nobody will escape from his or her judgment. God knows perfectly and detailed what each person has thought and done. He will deliver the convincing proof of it, so that everyone who falls under His judgment will have to acknowledge the righteousness of it. Every injustice that has been done will be punished righteously. You, and every other believer, may know that Christ bore the judgment over the injustice that has been done. The unrepentant sinners will have to bear the judgment themselves, because they have refused to choose the way that would lead them to salvation.
The comparison with “the labor pains upon a woman with child” indicates that it is about a time of sorrow and pain. That’s what will happen to the unbelievers when the Lord Jesus starts with His judgments. There will be no way of escape for them, just like a pregnant woman does not escape the labor pains. For the sorely afflicted believers at that time the encouraging prospect of new life after sorrows is attached to that (cf. Mic 4:9-10). The faith may know that God is sending these labor pains, so that fruit will appear for Him from the earth.
V4. With this verse a series of sharp contrasts starts, introduced by the words “but you”. They clarify the difference between the believers who will be caught up and the unbelievers who will be left behind on earth. The believers are sons of the light and sons of the day, which stands against the night and the darkness; believers are alert and are sober, which stands against sleeping and being drunk; the believers are destined for salvation and not for wrath.
In the word “brethren” again the hearty bond of the apostle with the Thessalonians is resonated. He desires to reach their heart. After picturing the coming ‘day of the Lord’ to them and the terrors that will accompany this day regarding the unbelievers, he now encourages them.
They are not in darkness in which sphere every kind of light is missing. The light of God had irradiated them and therefore they were informed of His plans. Owing to that they were prepared and that day was not going to overtake them like a thief. Because of the teaching that they have received, first orally and now through this letter, they knew that they would have been taken away from the earth when that day comes.
Now read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4 again.
Reflection: What can you already tell about God’s act towards the world? Have you already been occupied with exploring this ‘accurately’?
5 - 11 Be Alert and Sober
5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of [the] day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
V5. The day of the Lord was not going to overtake them. That does not mean that they are ready for the moment when that day comes, but that they would not be on earth anymore when he comes. You also may know that you will not have to go through the great tribulation. This is the conclusion that the Thessalonians (including you) are allowed to draw, because they are all, without exception, “sons of light and sons of day”. In the Bible a person is a son when he or she bears the character of something or when that very thing characterizes him or her. In that way the Bible speaks of “Sons of Thunder” (Mk 3:17) and “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36).
Here Paul speaks about your position as a believer. It is really very encouraging when you think about that. Just think about it: for the sake of the gospel you have been drawn from an atmosphere of darkness and brought into God’s miraculous atmosphere of light (1Pet 2:9). You came into God’s light as a sinner. That light convicted you (2Cor 4:6). That brought you to conversion. Now you are walking in the light (1Jn 1:7) and therefore the light is within you yourself. You became a son of light, which means that the light is now visible in your life. A son radiates the features of his Father. Isn’t this relation with the Father an awesome thing? Although you live in the world that lies in the darkness, you yourself are not in the darkness, but you are “light in the Lord” (Eph 5:7-8).
For the world, the day of the Lord means judgment, but for you it means a period of unprecedented peace. That peace is not to be seen yet around you, but it has been given to you already in your heart. You know what is awaiting you, what is going to happen. The night is the opposite of the day, like darkness stands towards light. You are not of the night. You do not belong to a lifestyle anymore in which there is no room for God. The ‘nightlife’ is over for you. You can also apply that to all kinds of activities that you were doing secretly. Your whole life is now transparent to everyone. You have nothing to hide anymore, do you?
V6. By the transition from “you” to “we” Paul identifies himself with his readers in a thoughtful way. What applies to them, also applies to him. He involves himself in the admonition not to sleep, like others do. With “the others” he refers to the unbelievers (see also 1Thes 4:13). After having determined the position, he now speaks about the practice of the believer. If you are a son of day and of light, you ought to walk accordingly. The believers ought to clearly distinguish themselves from the unbelievers by their character and conduct.
The unbelievers “are sleeping”. In that way Paul indicates that these people are totally indifferent towards the spiritual realities. The opposite of that is “to be alert”. That is a condition of spiritual alertness which makes a person not to be caught by surprise at a sudden attack. You find yourself in an alert state. You also ought to be “sober”, which means to be free from intoxicating substances that causes one to have a wrong picture of reality. You should not let yourself to be deceived by impressive arguments, which may cause you to be enthusiastic for a wrong case. Judge a phenomenon soberly, on the basis of the Bible and don’t let yourself to be fooled by deceptions of the enemy.
V7. He who is sleeping is not aware of any approaching disaster. He who is alert, does not only watch for the moves of the enemy, but also looks forward to the coming of the Lord. “To be sleeping” and “being drunk” belong to the night and are works of the darkness. Sleepers have no idea of the morning star and those who are drunk have no attention for it, as intoxicated and numb as they are. Neither can distinguish the time wherein they live. The world is drunk, intoxicated by influences that come from the bottomless pit, where demons live.
Due to modern communication methods, the society is drilled with ideas, influences and lifestyles in an enormously cunning way. People who sit glued to their television set evening by evening, are stealthily subjected to a brainwash. Just only think about the word ‘evolution’. That has entered into the mind of man with great power. Without repentance it cannot be removed from the mind anymore.
V8. The believer runs a great risk to fall prey to this development. But you are not delivered to this development. You are able to cope with it. You cannot do that by your own power. In verse 8 you read which means are at your disposal. First you are pointed again at your position. You are of “day”. Then you are reminded that you have to be “sober”. In that way you are spiritually stable and able to judge the danger rightly.
Afterwards an armor is handed over to you. The description of the armor is derived from Isaiah 59, where the Messiah is represented in an armor (Isa 59:17; cf. Rom 13:12; Eph 6:13-18). It regards therefore an armor tested by the Lord Himself.
The Christian is presented as a soldier, not as one in the place of the parade, but in active service. You find yourself in a warfare. Satan will do his best to undermine your trust in God’s love by targeting your heart with doubt about the love of God on the way that He goes with you. Therefore check whether your “breastplate” is still on the right place. If you have put on your breastplate, which is made of “faith and love”, the attempts of satan will not be successful.
The breastplate protects your heart, from which the springs of life flow (Pro 4:23). You must decide in your heart not to allow the enemy to change your faith, in other words your trust in God, and His love for you into distrust. When he attacks you, you should quote bible verses, e.g. Hebrews 11:1 (Heb 11:1) and 1 John 4:8,16 (1Jn 4:8,16).
The “helmet” protects your head, your mind. The helmet is made of “the hope of salvation”. Satan will try everything to make you think only of here and now, of your job and your holidays, as if everything is okay on earth. His aim is that you do not look forward to the future, to the time that the Lord Jesus comes to bring the full salvation to earth. Just check also if your helmet is still on the right place. Keep showing the enemy that your life is focused on the coming of the Lord Jesus and that you are decided to see all your activities in that light.
You see that your armor consists of three expressions of the Christian life – faith, love and hope – which we also have seen in chapter 1 (1Thes 1:3). There they are the characteristics of the everyday life. Here they are the weapons that keep the enemy at a distance when he approaches you with his guiles and attacks.
V9. God’s wrath is not destined for you because God had not destined you for His wrath. God’s wrath will therefore not strike you. You can be sure about that. Instead you are destined to receive salvation. It regards a salvation of which you do not partake yet. Are you still not saved yet then? You are saved by grace (Eph 2:8). There is no need for you to be unsure about the possibility of still getting perished. Once a person is a child of God, he will remain to be that forever.
The salvation that Paul is talking about here, deals with another aspect. Here he is talking about the moment that all believers will partake of the full result of the work of the Lord Jesus. In that particular result we will partake when He has caught up the church and comes back together with the church to the earth in order to reign. We then will have glorified bodies, wherein sin is absent.
V10. In order to make us able to partake of that the Lord Jesus died as our substitute. He freely gave His life, due to which His death became the means in order to obtain these things. Due to His death you may know that you live with Him, not only soon, but now already.
The “awake” and “asleep” that is being dealt with in this context is intended spiritually and refers only to believers. With ‘awake’ you can think of the believers who are alive and with ‘asleep’ of the believers who died or have fallen asleep. Whatever the case, the “living together with Him” is the part of each believer. Death has in no way influence on it.
V11. With a view to the threatening dangers, the attitude of Cain, who said: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9) is not fitting. They had to admonish one another and through the teaching from God’s Word build up one another. Nobody was to withdraw himself from that. They need one another. This is one of the expressions of fellowship which today we also need. They did that. Are we doing that too?
Now read 1 Thessalonians 5:5-11 again.
Reflection: Do you recognize certain dangers in your environment? How does your armor fit?
12 - 14 Appreciation and Care
12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. 14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
V12. In verse 11 Paul made an appeal to admonish one another. Each has a responsibility towards the other. All believers have an equal task therein, which actually is being carried out differently, because each believer differs from the other believer. In order to guide all these differences in the right direction, the Lord has given leaders in the church.
These leaders are not leaders qualified by men. It is nowhere to be found in the Bible that a theological training is necessary for people to be able or to be allowed to be in charge. No, the leaders that are given by the Lord are educated by Himself in His school. That school is the practice of everyday. They will show in their work that they are Christians and be occupied with Bible study in their leisure time. They will lead their family well.
It is asked to appreciate the leaders. That indicates that they are to be recognized. The criteria are simple. In the first place they work “among” (which is in the midst of) the believers (Acts 20:28; 1Pet 5:1). They therefore do not claim a higher place than the other believers. A second characteristic is that they “labor”. Those are hard working believers, who commit themselves to the church and thereby face a lot of suffering.
Then it appears from their leadership that they do that “in the Lord”. That emphasizes that they absolutely submit themselves to the authority of the Lord. They have charge in a way that makes each believer to submit himself to the Lord and not to them.
The final characteristic mentioned here, is that they “give instructions” to the believers. This implies that they put the mind of the believers right when that has been deviated from the Word. Therefore they will ‘train’ the believers in the Word, so that the Word will dwell richly within them (Col 3:16a). In this way the believers will be able to teach and admonish one another (verse 11; Col 3:16b).
Have you been trained spiritually in order to recognize, acknowledge and appreciate such leaders? If you use other criteria, like education, eloquence or the possession of a certain charisma in your judgment, you will not appreciate the leaders given by the Lord. It is not about your taste, but whether you desire in everything to do the will of the Lord. Then you will eagerly be willing to be helped by such leaders. They are familiar with God’s Word and they want to bring your thinking in accordance with it. The recognition of the authority given by the Lord is one of the means to stay on the right course.
V13. If that’s also your desire, you will especially respect them. You will love them because of the work they do. There is not a single word here that could possibly refer to your personal favor. That doesn’t matter either. It demands a spiritual attitude to love them, for giving instructions quickly arouses resistance. To love a person who instructs you to put something right that you do not see well or do not do well, is easier to be said than to be done. If your heart is not submitted to the Word of the Lord, you will not be able to fulfill this order.
Then that will also be the end of the “peace with one another”. There will be dissension and division. The harmony will disappear. The only way to keep peace with one another (Mk 9:50; 2Cor 13:11) is when you are willing to be the least and take the lowest place. Division, quarrels, putting yourselves above others, envy, the love of taking sides are excellent possibilities to make the peace with one another impossible. Love not only recognizes the work of God in the laborer, but also sees the other person in the presence of God. When you consider the other person in this way, your own will shall not be active and the peace with one another will be maintained. It is at the same time the basis to fulfill the order in the next verse.
V14. When there is peace with one another, then there is the right spiritual climate to take care of those who need it. The admonition or exhortation for that, is as necessary now as it was then. Due to the increasing individualism, also in the faith experience, there is hardly any attention given to this admonition, let alone any action accordingly. I hope that you allow yourself to let this appeal to you.
Three groups are specifically mentioned and as a fourth group there is a word with regard to everyone. It is important that each group gets the specific care that is necessary for that particular group. Therefore you are not to comfort the unruly and instruct the weak.
The first ones who need attention are “the unruly”. Those are the ones who ‘are out of line’, people who deny their responsibility as Christians. They launch, with some degree of regularity, proposals which do not come forth from the Scripture, but from their own meditations. When these proposals are being discussed, it doesn’t make the believers come closer to the Lord and to one another, but on the contrary cause tension and distance. Also their attitude may be unruly, for instance by systematically not working and forsaking the meetings of believers. They respond rebelliously to justified orders.
However, Christians who walk unruly are often active in other things, which may cause them to show a wrong picture of what a Christian is. They must be reprimanded or corrected for this disorderly conduct, so that they may behave themselves normally and orderly again. Then they will be able to bear a good testimony again of Christ after Whom they call themselves.
Then we have “the fainthearted”. Those are Christians who in bad times quickly lose heart. They get discouraged as soon as they are being criticized, they fear persecution, are worried about the future, feel to be failing in following the Lord. You must never abandon them. That could be an extra blow for them, which may cause them to become desperate and to totally give up following the Lord. Encourage them, give them a pep-talk. Tell them that tests serve to strengthen the faith. They need compassion and understanding and good teaching.
For this task you may look upon the Lord Jesus. He has perfectly dealt with the fainthearted. You find that in a striking way in Isaiah 42. You recognize the fainthearted in “the bruised reed” and “the dimly burning wick” which are mentioned there (Isa 42:3).
In the ‘bruised reed’ you can see the broken heart, a heart which is trampled-on by a rough treatment. The danger is that they not only in the world but also in the church are being considered to be of no use. But the Lord is able to make a pipe organ out of this bruised reed or a measuring reed for the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:15).
The ‘dimly burning (or: smoking) wick’ hardly emits any light and warmth and is neither able to light the other one. Sometimes love burns that weakly in the heart that He alone Who knows all things also knows that there is absolutely still a spark of love present. In that way He could change Peter’s heart in seven weeks from an almost extinguished flame into a fire that put three thousand souls on fire on the Day of Pentecost.
“The fainthearted” are the powerless ones. Some believers are weak because they do not know the will of God. Others do not have the courage to trust in God. Still others do not have the power to resist against certain needs of the body. There are also those who cannot break out of a certain way of thinking and therefore feel themselves weak in their testimony.
The fainthearted are often weak through wrong teachings from God’s Word. They have the idea that they must fulfill certain conditions, in order to feel to be accepted by God. Show them from God’s Word that they have been made pleasing in the Beloved (Eph 1:6) and make them feel it. You can make God’s love tangible for them by putting your arm around them and by supporting them in their being a Christian.
You finally get the order to be “patient with everyone”. This is an appeal to keep your patience, your self-control with each of the previous groups. That is actually important. By losing your patience, you lose your unruly brother, your fainthearted brother and your weak brother. And that is not the intention. In taking care you should go for the full profit, which is that in the life of your brother, in whatever state of mind he is, the Lord Jesus regains the central place.
Now read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14 again.
Reflection: In which way do you give substance to these verses?
15 - 18 Rejoice, Pray, Give Thanks
15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
V15. Do you know the temptation to repay the evil that has been done to you, with evil? In that case you are no exception. It is in our blood to respond like that. Therefore it is not for no reason that we must see to it that this does not happen. It means that you should be alert that you would not unexpectedly still do any harm to another, because he or she has done harm to you. It could easily happen in a reflex, an almost automatic response.
If you used to live under the law, people could sympathize with you. It is even written in the law as a regulation that the other has to be repaid with the same coin, although you are not allowed to do it by yourself, but it has to be done by the judge (Exo 21:24). But you now belong to Christ and such a way of acting does not fit with Him as He now is (Mt 5:38-39). In that case it doesn’t matter whether the other is a believer or an unbeliever. The Thessalonians were suffering under the persecution by faithless compatriots and experienced a lot of harm from them. But they were not to strike back out of vengeance and retaliation (Rom 12:19-21; 1Pet 3:9). Responding in that way would reveal the spirit of Lamech (Gen 4:23-24).
After the instruction of what you ought not do, you now hear what you ought to: seek after which is good. And always do so, not for just once, but in all cases. And not just a weak attempt, but to seek after it with the input of all the power you have. To seek after has something to do with perseverance. A lot of problems could have been prevented or overcome if we always would have sought after that which is good. Then you do not seek to harm anyone spiritually or wound him physically, but you on the contrary would want to be of use.
You want to be of profit to the other person, so that the contact with you delivers something of permanent value. The other refers again to both the believer – which is enclosed in “for one another” – and the unbeliever – which is enclosed in “for all people”. It is God’s desire for His children that each contact that they have with another person, will be a blessing to that other person concerning his spirit, soul and body. A gentle word or gesture and a helping hand may soften the sorrow of the other, may give courage and strength and work feelings of gratitude. This attitude requires self-denial, but in that way you then look like the Lord Jesus.
V16. After Paul had addressed their attitude, care and effort towards others, he tells them what personally should characterize them. The characteristics are joy (verse 16), prayer (verse 17) and giving thanks (verse 18).
“Rejoice always.” ‘Always’ means at any time and whatever the circumstances. There is always a reason to rejoice. Even tribulation and tests are a cause to rejoice (Jam 1:2). You do not rejoice in miserable circumstances, but while you are in it, you rejoice in the Lord (Psa 34:2; Phil 4:4). When you look up to the Lord and think of Him, there comes joy. He stands above the circumstances. He absolutely knows what to do when you sometimes don’t know how to continue life.
Joy belongs to the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). The Lord Jesus speaks about “My joy”, which He wants to be in you, so that you may know full joy (Jn 15:11). That joy is your part when you abide in His commandments, which is when you do what He says in His Word.
Therefore joy is not a feeling of ecstasy, but happens by having fellowship with Him. I know of Christians who say that you should silence sorrowful and hurtful experiences by praise. The Bible does not know that kind of joy. What Paul says would be more helpful to you: “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2Cor 6:10). Sorrow finds its cause in the temporary things, joy finds its cause in eternal things and is therefore not to be muted.
V17. The fact that a Christian is not insensitive to misery and need, appears from the second characteristic, the prayer. Because of the ever present need, the command is: “Pray without ceasing.” The Lord Jesus strongly encourages us to do that (Lk 18:1-7). You can pray for your own needs and you can pray for what others need. You can pray to the Father (Eph 3:14) and you can pray to the Son (Acts 7:59). You read nowhere about a prayer to the Holy Spirit.
You are allowed to pray everywhere. There are no special buildings for the Christian where he should go to be able to pray. When you are in a place where you do not feel free to pray, you should ask yourself whether you are in the right place. You are allowed to pray during all your activities, like Nehemiah did (Neh 2:4). When you are engaged with things that cause you to be hindered to pray, it may possibly be that you are engaged with wrong things. From God’s side the access to the throne of grace is never closed. You may freely go there (Heb 4:16). He is always ready to listen to you.
Do you see how many exhortations there are for you to pray without ceasing? Praying should be like breathing, you do it without realizing it, but you notice it immediately when you stop breathing for a moment. The point is that you as a child of God, live by a conduct of prayer. The Lord Jesus is also in this characteristic the perfect Model (Psa 109:4). He always lived in conscious fellowship with God when on earth, wherever He was and whatever the circumstances He found Himself in. In this you may follow Him.
V18. You were called to rejoice always and to pray without ceasing. Now you hear the exhortation: “In everything give thanks.” When you just for a while think about everything that God has given you, then you will see more and more reasons to give thanks. Can you mention something that you have not received from Him? You will not find it with the people of the world. They will, in case they are polite, indeed say ‘thank you’ when they receive something. But there is no gratitude with them towards God.
Everything that the modern, autonomous man possesses is gained by him by working hard for it or by his thought of being entitled to it. It is possible that he has worked hard for it, but he does not consider Him to Whom he owes the power and capacity.
The appeal is to give thanks “in everything” (cf. Eph 5:20). Thereby you can think of ‘in all circumstances’. When you have to face a trial by sickness or by losing your job or having a financial need, you can still fix your eyes on the Lord in those circumstances and give thanks to Him for knowing your difficulties. You will even experience that He comes to you in your difficulties. You will experience His presence in a way that you will never be able to if it was otherwise. You will even automatically give thanks for that. Yet, it is still not about the circumstances working giving thanks, but that you will actively give thanks in those circumstances, for instance that He will never allow that things get out of control.
The Lord wants to teach you to give thanks. You can make it your own by concentrating yourself on it. Just like need teaches us to pray, need also teaches us to give thanks. Only, praying is easier for us to do in that situation than giving thanks.
The Lord Jesus is also the great Example in this. When His whole ministry looked to be in vain, when the cities, in which most of His miracles were done, rejected Him, we hear Him say: “I thank You, Father” (Mt 11:20-26).
Nevertheless, the importance of these three typical expressions of the Christian is again underlined by the addition that this is “the will of God”. It is therefore not an advice without obligation. It is the will of God “in Christ Jesus”, which may probably mean: as you see in Christ Jesus how God’s will is to be done. The Lord Jesus is your life. Therefore it is possible that in your life God’s will becomes visible, like it also became visible in the life of the Lord Jesus, when He was on earth.
Also at this moment that He is in heaven, He is engaged in doing the will of God. You may also look at Him as He is in heaven. He is there for your sake and He is tirelessly making efforts for you there. By looking at Him you will be transformed after His image (2Cor 3:18). Then His power will become visible in your life, because you will live as a joyful, praying and thanks giving Christian.
Now read 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 again.
Reflection: What could you be more joyful about? For what and when could you be praying and giving thanks more?
19 - 28 Final Admonitions
19 Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophetic utterances. 21 But examine everything [carefully]; hold fast to that which is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. 25 Brethren, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. 27 I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
V19. The rejoicing, praying and giving thanks applies to all believers, but it should be or become the practice in each individual life. Now some exhortations follow which regard to the believers collectively and whereby the emphasis lies on not to do something. In the first place the call is: “Do not quench the Spirit.” The word ‘quench’ makes you automatically think of fire (Mt 12:20; Heb 11:34). In Acts 2:3 the coming of the Holy Spirit is related to fire.
The Holy Spirit dwells in each believer. But it is also the intention that the Holy Spirit can use each believer. The believer may be the means through whom the Holy Spirit expresses Himself, through whom He reveals Himself. Each believer has received a gift of grace from the Spirit (1Cor 12:4-11). Those gifts of grace were not given for not to be used. They should be expressed for blessing the fellow believers.
The Spirit is being quenched when the gifts get no room. That can happen when during the meeting of a church everything depends on one person, the reverend or pastor. That also happens when, due to tradition, only certain brothers participate in the service or when the course of the service is being planned. Another effective ‘fire-fighting agent’ is the cold criticizing of the practice of a gift.
There are some more expressions that say something about a certain attitude toward the Holy Spirit. You read about ‘grieving the Holy Spirit’ (Eph 4:30), which refers to your own attitude, when you sin; ‘resisting the Holy Spirit’, which unbelief does when it resists against the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51); ‘blaspheming the Spirit’ (Mt 12:24-32), which the apostate does, who against his own better judgment ascribes the work of the Lord Jesus to satan.
V20. The second word of admonition for the church is: “Do not despise the prophetic utterances.” With ‘prophetic utterances’ is not meant the foretelling or statements about the future. It is about telling things that a man cannot find out by natural means (cf. Mt 26:68). ‘Prophetic utterances’ is about the speaking of God’s Word through which the hearer becomes aware of being in the presence of God.
It has happened more often that a person after hearing God’s Word, said: ‘It looks like the preacher knows me, for he says exactly whom I am and what I have done.’ However, the preacher didn’t know that person at all, but that is the effect of God’s Word on the conscience of a person who hears God’s Word (1Cor 14:3,24-25).
Therefore it certainly is a serious thing when the prophetic utterances are being despised, for it is actually despising God and His Word. Despising also happens when believers give more attention to the way things are said than to the content of what has been said. That is also a way of despising. They do not care about the message of God. I hope that this is not the attitude that you have in the meeting.
V21. Besides, you are not there as a consumer. Instead of despising you must ‘test’, which means that you should examine what is being said, as it is written: “Let the others pass judgment” (1Cor 14:29). Your standard to do so is not your feelings, but the Word of God. That implies that you must pay close attention and that you should know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. You can leave the chaff behind; you should take the wheat (“the good”) with you and keep it.
Take Ruth as an example. She gleaned in the field of Boaz, beat out what she had gleaned and brought the barley to her mother in law (Rth 2:17-18). You may apply this to a speech you have heard. Take out what has appealed to you and share it with others instead of talking negatively about everything you did not like. That often regards things that have to do with weaknesses in the speech.
It is another thing when people bring wrong doctrines. Then the application is not to be taking out the good things and leaving behind the wrong things. You are to speak about it. First with the person himself, and when he doesn’t want to listen, then also with others (Mt 18:15-20).
V22. Also keep a great distance between yourself and the evil. This evil may be in certain ways of acting, but also in teachings. It can happen in many secret forms. Make sure that you stay far away from it. Don’t be a fellow worker of the evil in any way. Do not spoil your testimony by for instance going to occasions where you do not belong as a Christian, or by saying things that are not supposed to be said by a Christian.
V23. The great purpose of all previous admonitions and appeals is ‘sanctification’. God is working on it as “the God of peace” and gives you the power for it. He wants that each part of your being, which means “spirit and soul and body”, is “entirely” devoted to Him. By your body you express who you are. That is what people see of you. That’s how you make clear to them what your spirit and soul are occupied with. Your soul has to do with your feelings, your emotions, your way of experiencing the things that you hear and see. By your spirit you are able to have a relationship with God and you stand above the animals that have no spirit and therefore have no consciousness of God.
Each of the three ‘parts’ of your human being is a target for the attacks of satan. Paul desires that the God of peace will keep you from coming under the influence of satan. The attacks of satan on your spirit are meant to interrupt your worship and prayer life. His attacks on your soul respond to your desires and emotions. With his attacks on your body he wants to succeed to make you do the wrong thing with your body.
Satan has been up to that from Eden (Gen 3:6). These attacks are still going on. Thereby the world is his firm ally (1Jn 2:16). But there comes an end to his cursed activities at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then there will be no more attacks from satan and the sanctification will be perfect.
V24. Up to that moment we can count on the unwavering faithfulness of God. He has called us to this life in fellowship with Him. He will stand beside us in His faithfulness in bringing into practice what is previously said and bring us safely to the end. He will do what He has promised. What an assurance!
V25. The faithfulness of God is also shown in the support that we can give to one another as brothers and sisters. The most powerful support is that we pray for one another. Paul is asking the Thessalonians to do that for him. He trusted God, but that did not make him independent of his brothers and sisters. He and his companions do not consider themselves as super Christians who can do everything alone and consider the help in prayers of such newly converts to be without meaning. He experienced the bond of love and affection and appreciated their prayers highly.
V26. After his request for their prayers he asked them to pass on his greetings to all brethren. Greetings are expressions of connection. A kiss was the common greeting in that time. It is not a prescription to express connection only in this way. The main point is showing love to those who have received an equally precious faith. Partiality must not happen there – therefore it is said “all” the brethren. The boundaries between the genders should not be crossed with the ‘kiss’ – therefore it says “holy” kiss. Christian love and relationship can also be expressed by a gentle word or a warm handshake.
V27. Not only his greetings go to all believers, also his letter is for all believers. Each believer in Thessalonica, and each believer now, has to hear the contents of the letter. There should not be any distinction. God’s Word is not for a select group, but for each believer. The letter – and that goes for God’s Word in its whole – contains no friendly advice or commendations of a travelling preacher, but you hear the voice of God in it that addresses the heart and conscience.
V28. Paul closes his letter with a desire. It is his desire that you may become aware of the Divine grace that has been shown to you. Then you will undoubtedly live with your eyes fixed on the coming of the Lord Jesus, the main theme of this letter (cf. 1Pet 1:13).
Now read 1 Thessalonians 5:19-28 again.
Reflection: How do you think to respond to all the admonitions mentioned?