Paul concludes the letter to the Thessalonians with a benediction and a few more instructions. The preceding verses cover a lot of ground with exhortations and directions for Christian living, but he is not leaving them with a hopelessly difficult task. Dr. Morris writes:
“Paul has been exhorting the Thessalonians to a course of conduct which is impossible in man’s own strength, and he utters a prayer which reminds them of the source of the power which alone would enable them to live in this way.”
In verse 23 he emphasizes that it is God Himself who sanctifies us! Back in verse 18 I pointed to the “why” (God’s will for you in Christ Jesus), and it is also the “how” we can be complete. Note also that Paul refers to the God of Peace. What wonderful assurance: we have access to true peace! Verse 24 should answer any lingering doubt. God is faithful, and He will do it! The word translated as “calls” is actually a present participle (calling) which means God’s call is a continuous activity as He is always inviting us to join Him.
The main focus of Paul’s letter is complete at verse 24, but he does continue with a few more words. Asking for their prayer and that they greet each other as brothers, he strongly directs them to make sure everyone hears his message.
Next week we will pause to reflect on what we have learned from this letter before continuing on to 2 Thessalonians.
At this point in the letter, Paul quickly runs through a list of exhortations. John Stott understands it to be directed to the whole church, writing:
“At first reading one might not think that this section relates to the nature and conduct of public worship. But there are clear indications that this is primarily what Paul had in mind. All the verbs are plural, so that they seem to describe our collective and public, rather than individual and private, Christian duties.”
This perspective does not alter the meaning or value of each instruction to the individual, but it could affect how we apply the lesson. Certainly each action done privately is beneficial. Yet adding the word “together” now works toward building up the body of Christ (His Church).
Simply then (but maybe not so easily): always rejoice(verse 16); unceasingly pray(verse 17); and in everything give thanks(verse 18). Many books have been written on each of these, and we could discuss endlessly “how,” but look at “why” (verse 18): “this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Dr. Morris comments:
“The addition in Christ Jesus is characteristically Pauline. The will is made known in Christ, and it is in Christ that men are given the dynamic that enables them to carry out that divine will.”
Paul continues with two more instructions: don’t quench the Spirit(verse 19) and don’t despise prophecy(verse 20). In the original Greek this is not merely a warning, but a command to cease from doing something. The verb “quench” signifies putting out a fire. In our church, are we guilty of trying to dampen the Spirit, or resenting and resisting the proclamation of truth? If so, then Paul says stop it! He finishes urging discernment (verses 21-22). We are told to “prove” (examine, test) everything, and then “hold on” to the good while abstaining from evil.
Next week to support our church “Global Missions Celebration” we will hear about Samaritan Ministry, and then we should complete I Thessalonians the following week.
This passage begins with a request to “respect” the ones who are laboring, taking the lead, and admonishing. The literal translation is to “know,” but with the sense of to know the worth of, or appreciate the value. This clearly refers to the leadership of the church, but likely also to those who work hard often without public recognition. In verse 13, Paul asks that we esteem them “most exceedingly” in (agape) love. Dr. Morris comments:
They are to be highly esteemed, not for reasons of personal eminence or office, but for their work’s sake. They have been spoken of as laboring in the preceding verse, and it is the duty of the rank and file to do all they can to forward the work. Leaders can never do their best work when they are subject to carping criticism from those who should be their followers.”
Paul continues in verse 14 to encourage three more related actions: “admonish the idle, console the faint-hearted, hold on to the weak.” The “idle” (or unruly) is a military term referring to the soldier who does not stay in the ranks. It was very important in the Roman army for every soldier to know and keep their position in the line of battle. Staying with this illustration, the “faint-hearted” (or timid) would be those tempted to consider abandoning their position. The “weak” could then be those wounded or fallen who need help getting back to their place. This can also be understood as standing your ground as a shield in front of the weak. With all we are to be patient or “longsuffering” (the opposite of short-tempered).
next week: although we did discuss verse 15, I plan to start there as we move toward the end of the chapter.
It is not unusual to hear declarations and debate about the end of the world or the return of Christ. This month I even found a “Post Rapture Survival Guide” in my mailbox. Paul tells the Thessalonians that they already know all they need to know concerning “the times and the seasons.” In verses 2-3 he gives two illustrations (a thief in the night and birth pangs) to say it will come suddenly and that it will be inescapable. The Day of the Lord is clearly understood throughout the Bible as a day of judgement, and in the New Testament the emphasis is on the individual. The world sleeps in darkness thinking they are safe, but their destruction is coming.
Paul demands that Christians must stay awake! He calls on “all sons of light and sons of day” to not sleep like the rest, but to “be alert and sober” (diligent and self-controlled). N.T. Wright believes this to be the heart of the paragraph:
“Christians are daytime people, even though the rest of the world is still in the night. Well, says Paul, here you are in the middle of the world’s night – but the spirit of Jesus within you is telling you it’s already daytime. God’s new world has broken in upon the sad, sleepy, drunken and deadly old world. And you belong to the new world, not the old one. You are wide awake long before the full sunrise has dawned. Stay awake, then, because this is God’s new reality, and it will shortly dawn upon the whole world.”
We may not be able to write the date on the calendar, but we know that everyone has an appointment with God. Paul declares (verses 9-10) that Jesus died so that we would not suffer God’s wrath, but instead receive salvation and live together with Him. This paragraph ends with the reminder to encourage (my favorite word parakaleite) and edify each other.
next week: continue chapter five with some final instructions
The timeliness of this passage is undeniable as our church has experienced several funerals in recent weeks. Yes, we do grieve, but not like those who have no hope. We do hold on to the assurance of Christ’s resurrection and the promise of His return, but it is natural to have questions about death. About Paul’s words to the Thessalonians concerning those who are asleep, N. T. Wright explains:
“Paul is not undertaking to say exactly where the dead are, or what state they are in. It is enough to know that they are in God’s care, and that, when Jesus appears again, so will they.”
However, Paul’s statement in verse 14 may suggest an interesting perspective for Christians about death. Dr. Morris writes:
“It is significant that he does not speak of Christ ‘sleeping’ but uses the word died. He died that death which is the wages of sin; and because He endured the full horror implied in that death, He has transformed death for His followers into sleep.”
Jesus did not simply fall asleep. He died and rose again so that we no longer have to experience spiritual death. Our physical death is not the end, but rather just a step toward the future awakening when Christ returns for us. Verses 15-17 then give us a glimpse of what that joyous day will be like.
Chapter 4 ends with the instruction, “comfort one another with these words.” This active exhortation uses the Greek word parakaleite which literally means “call alongside.” We get our English word comfort from the Latin translation con fortus (with strength). How exciting! This is not a weak suggestion to simply soothe our pain, but so much more. It is a strong command to give us strength and courage and hope as we stand together. How wonderful that we are never alone because God is present with us through the Holy Spirit!
next week: begin chapter 5
Turning now to brotherly love (Philadelphia), Paul says he doesn’t need to write (and yet he still does). Why? Because they have been “taught of God.” Dr. Morris calls this “an activity of God within their heart.” Taught what? To love one another (here Paul switches to “agape” love). Paul acknowledges that they have already demonstrated love to all the brothers in all of Macedonia, but he calls them to excel or abound even more.
In verse 11 Paul uses the same word (parangelia) that he used in verse 2 for command. The picture is of an instruction passed down a line of soldiers from a higher authority. They are told to “strive eagerly to be quiet” or “energetically pursue peace.” This apparent paradox of working hard to relax may seem difficult to grasp, but reflecting this week on the example of men like Claude, I believe I get a clearer understanding of achieving real peace. And this peace is what “outsiders” will see in the life lived for God. John Stott summarizes this lesson:
“Christian morality is not primarily rules and regulations, but relationships. It is a wonderfully liberating experience when the desire to please God overtakes the desire to please ourselves, and when love for others displaces self-love.”
next week: finish chapter 4
As Paul moves toward the conclusion of this letter, he exhorts the Thessalonians to continue living the way they had been taught. Perhaps Timothy had observed and reported some issues which could use a reminder from Paul. He is not merely suggesting, but passing along commands from Jesus. Dr. Morris comments about the word for commandments (parangelia):
“it signifies an instruction passed on from one to another, as when a command is passed along a line of soldiers, and it is often used for military orders. It is thus very appropriate for authoritative commands, such as these given by authority of the Lord Jesus.”
Paul chooses strong words here to convey the idea that for the Christian pleasing God is an imperative necessity, and not just a matter of personal choice. As seen in verse 3 and again in verse 7, the purpose is sanctification. Sanctification can be defined as the process to reach the completed state of holiness. Dr. Morris writes:
“From the moment a man believes he becomes set apart for God. This does not mean that he is morally perfect, but that he is given over to God to do His will. Thus a process is begun in which the old ways and the old habits are increasingly done away and replaced with new ways which fit in with the service of God.”
Next week: continuing in chapter 4