1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
Stephen Caswell © 2000
Wild Geese Flying formation
Wildlife biologists tell us that a flock of geese, by flying in a " V " formation, actually add at least 71 percent more flying range than if each bird were on its own. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an updraught for the bird immediately following it. Left to itself, the lone goose experiences drag and resistance that causes it to tire quickly. When the lead bird in the formation tires, it simply rotates back in the wing and another goose flies the point.
The same is true in the Church. If we work together and follow the leaders then we can accomplish much more. Paul has concluded his teaching on the rapture and the second coming of Christ. As he draws his letter to a close Paul gives a number of commands relating to family life in the church. The Thessalonian Church was a young fellowship and may have needed correction in some of these areas. Since the church was young the leadership was probably also young. So Paul addresses the issue of how a believer should conduct ones self in the family. This seems to fall into the following three categories.
I. Family Leadership
In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 we read: And we urge you, brethren, to recognise 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.
a. Recognise the Leaders
Paul urges the brethren to recognise or respect the leadership. Paul says three things about the leaders ministry within the church in verse 12.
First Paul says to recognise... those who labour among you
The idea that this presents is one of toil and hard work. The leaders of the church devote themselves to the spiritual growth of the church. They make sacrifices willingly so the church will grow and become more Christlike. Therefore Paul encourages the Thessalonians to recognise these spiritual leaders. The Church should give them respect because of their faithfulness to God. They are human just like everyone else, and they need your encouragement and prayers.
Secondly recognise .... they are over you in the Lord
God has given this responsibility to them. They did not seek it, but are fulfilling a divine call. The spiritual leaders of the church are constantly under attack from the evil one. The temptations and conflicts they face are greater than what others face since Satan sees them as a greater threat to his plans. They bear much of the burden alone. The pastor and leaders of the church often bear problems of some members alone. So we should remember to encourage them and thank them for their ministry to us. Hebrews 13:17 says this: Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
Thirdly recognise ... they admonish you in the Lord
Paul says that the leaders of the church are God's spokesmen. They preach and teach the flock concerning His word. The word admonish carries the idea of warning, putting something right. The pastor's responsibility is to be serious when preaching the word, so that his advice and admonition will cause people to put things right and live as they should. Their lives example their message. Hebrews 13:7 says this: Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. We are to follow the pastors preaching and practice. We are to obey them since they speak the word that God has entrusted to them.
b. Regard the Leaders
and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves.
Paul also urges them, to esteem the leaders highly in love. This means we must hold them in the highest regard. Paul gives the reason for such respect and love, for their work's sake. Pastors and church leaders are involved in a ministry of the highest calling. They have devoted their lives to God's service and therefore should receive admiration and respect. They are ministering to people and seeking to lead the local fellowship as God's representatives. Paul closes his instructions regarding the leadership by saying to be at peace among yourselves. This normally follows if there is respect for the leadership. Where there is division and strife in a church usually there is a lack of respect for God's appointed leaders.
Do you recognise your leaders and give them a word of encouragement? Do you esteem highly the leaders God has given to the church here? Do you love them because of the high calling they have been given? Do you obey them, knowing they must give an account for you to God? Do you support them, and pray for them?
II. Family Partnership
1 Thessalonians 5:14-16 Paul says this: Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.
Rejoice always. In these two verses Paul gives six commands concerning our relationships within the family. Now we exhort you, brethren,
a. warn those who are unruly,
Perhaps you have heard the saying " That person is a law unto himself! " This phrase refers to those who are careless, or out of line. This term was used of a soldier who wouldn't march in time. He was out step with the rest of the company. Paul is not saying that there is no room for individual giftedness or personality. But rather he is addressing those areas of the Christian life where we have but only one standard. Believers are individuals, but all of us are to be conformed to the image of Christ.
b. comfort the fainthearted,
This command refers to those who struggle in the trials that come our way in the Christian life. Some believers have greater faith than others do, but that does not make them superior. Those who are stronger need to encourage the fainthearted and assure them that God has allowed these trials for their own good. That God's purpose in such trials is to produce a stronger faith in them.
c. uphold the weak,
The word uphold here means to stand opposite someone to sustain them. Who is being referred to as the weak? Paul is not identifying physical weakness, but spiritual weakness. In Romans chapters 14 and 15, Paul uses the same terms when he discusses appropriate conduct in grey areas. There are things in the Christian life that are not black or white. These are grey areas. Areas that the Bible is silent about. At Rome there were certain believers who believed that Christians should observe the Jewish holy days. There were some who believed it was wrong for them to eat meat since a lot of the meat sold in the market place had been sacrificed to idols. Paul refers to these Christians as weak brothers because their conscience did not allow them the freedom in these areas.
Nevertheless Paul told the strong believers not to place a stumbling block before the weaker brothers. And he also charged the weaker brother not to despise the stronger brother for his freedom. But rather they were to respect each other and be totally convinced of their own actions. The same is true today, there are believers who observe a number of rules and regulations that they feel before God are necessary. Yet other believers do not feel the same obligation. But we are not to judge or look down on people who see grey areas differently to us. Rather we are to uphold them.
d. be patient with all.
This fourth command is over the previous three. For only when believers exercise patience can they relate to one another properly. Particularly when people see things differently like in the case of the weaker brother. Or when someone is unruly it is very easy to blow your top. But what is required is patience. And when we seek to comfort the fainthearted, patience again is needed.
e. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.
This command deals with our motives. Paul commands the Thessalonians here to never repay evil for evil. But rather they should pursue what is good for themselves and for all. God uses difficult circumstances in our life to develop character. And this often means going through difficult times and being treated wrongly by both believers and non Christians.
To develop photographs, the film must first be taken into a dark-room. Only after the chemicals have done their work is it safe to expose the negatives to light and produce the final prints. The light, which would have destroyed the film, now brings out its beauty. God takes us through darkroom experiences to develop our spiritual life. As we pass through trial, sorrow, frustration, and disappointment, the image of Christ is produced in us. Then we are ready to be displayed in the light. Too often we blame people or circumstances for our dark tunnels of despair and frustration. Although they may be the secondary causes, we need to realise that the hand of the heavenly Father momentarily shades the light of our pathway. He graciously takes us through such experiences because He wants to provide us with the benefits of the darkness. In Romans 12:21 we read this: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. By doing this, we may win our enemy over, and lead him to the Lord. And even if he doesn't change we are leaving vengeance with the Lord who will repay in due time.
f. Rejoice always,
Joy is the ingredient that transforms the Christian life from a duty to a delight. Every Church has its problems, and none of us are yet perfect. The perfect church is in heaven. But Christ has given us His joy now, whilst we are on earth. We have much to rejoice over when we take time to consider God's blessings to us. Solomon spoke very wisely when he wrote this in the Book of Proverbs: Proverbs 17:22 A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones. So far Paul has instructed the family concerning the Leadership and Partnership. His instructions have included love for the leaders, patience and peace with in the fellowship and now joy in everything. These are all part of the fruit of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.
Are you involved in the family partnership? Are you supporting the fainthearted. Are you upholding the weak? Are you patient in your relationships with the brethren? Do you return good for evil? Is your life marked by joy, peace, patience and Love?
III. Family Worship
Paul now addresses the way that the family communicates to God. These apply both privately and publicly, but always should be seen as worship. The first two commands relate to our communication with God. The following command relate God's communication to us.
a. Prayer Paul's first command is given in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: Pray without ceasing
Paul emphasised the importance of prayer in all his epistles. He prayed often for the churches and some of these prayers are recorded for us in the Bible. Verse 23 records Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians. Verse 25 records Paul's request for their prayers. But what does it mean to pray without ceasing? Does it mean we pray continuously night and day? I don't think that's what Paul had in mind. I believe that Paul meant we should be in such a close relationship with God, that we can simply pray at different times during the day. It would be like ringing someone on the phone but not hanging up when you finished your conversation. Instead you both leave the phone off the hook, and then later on in the day you just pick up the conversation where you left off. You see the connection is still in place. There are so many things we need to pray for, and this can be accomplished by praying through out the day. Daniel was a busy man and yet he prayed three times a day. I think most of us are too busy not to pray!
b. Praise The next command is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: in everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Thanksgiving or praise is an important part of the life of a believer and in the life of the church. When God answers our prayers we should be grateful and give Him the praise. When troubles or difficulties come we should thank Him for them, and the lessons He wants to teach us through them. Job's attitude was to praise God for both adversity and blessings.
c. Power The command given in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 is: Do not quench the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is often referred to as a flame in the New Testament. Therefore it is important that we do not quench or put out His work. The Spirit illumines the mind, warms the heart, and empowers peoples spirits. The Holy Spirit guides the believer and the Church into God's will. He gives life to the body of Christ, and apart from the working of the Spirit we can do nothing for God. Rather as God's Spirit works through us then He uses us to work for God. So we need to be careful to keep in step with the Spirit, rather than thinking He should follow us.
The next command relates to how God communicates with us. through:
d. Preaching These next three commands relate to this. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 says: Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
In the early Church, God gave certain men the gift of prophecy. They would speak an inspired message. Sometimes they would predict the future. But this special enabling was only for a limited period of time. Very little of the New Testament had been written at that time. And there would have only been limited copies of the Old Testament available. So the Lord enabled these prophets to proclaim His message for the church. But the churches were to test these prophecies with what they knew was right and with the Scriptures that they did have. 1 Corinthians 14:29 sheds some light here: Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. It would seem that the Thessalonians may have been despising the ministry of the Lord through His prophets.
Therefore Paul admonishes them not to despise prophecies, but rather to test them and to hold on to the good and to reject the bad, along with any form of evil. The Berean believers are a good example for us to follow. In Acts 17:11 we read: Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
This is a good example for us all to follow. In the New Testament times they would hold up pottery to the sun to see if there were any cracks in the piece. You see potters would fill them in with wax and glaze over it to hide the crack. If you brought such a jar it wasn't long before it started to leak and you lose your jar full of water. But if you held the pottery up to the light you could see if it had been filled with wax or not. The light exposed the cover up. We should check what is preached in the light of Scripture to see that it is correct. If something seems wrong, talk to the preacher afterwards. Don't just accept something you hear in the pulpit because the preacher says it is right, study the Scriptures to see if it is indeed correct.
Paul's Prayer In verse 23 we have Paul's prayer:
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.
Paul's desire and prayer for the Thessalonians was that God would sanctify them completely. And that He would preserve their whole spirit, soul and body blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. What an encouragement this would have been to the Thessalonians. To know that Paul had such a concern for them. That he prayed for God's sanctifying work to be completed in their lives. Paul's earnest desire was to see these believers grow to maturity. The believers at Thessalonica had a part to play in this. [optative mood] It was important that they cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He performs this sanctifying work. Paul's desire was in tune with God's will but that did not guarantee its fulfilment now. The phrase spirit / soul and body speaks of our whole being, which is made up these three parts. Paul's desire is that God would sanctify every area of their lives. Some believers resist the Spirit's prompting and will not allow Him to change them. Verse 24 is a promise that God will certainly complete His good work; He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.
Paul closes with the promise that God would be faithful to complete His work. God's work wasn't dependant on the Thessalonians. God will accomplish His perfect will at the Lord's return. Philippians 1:6 says this: being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
But wouldn't it be better to cooperate with God's Spirit now, and become more Christlike now? I trust you will allow the Spirit to sanctify you whilst we serve the Lord here and now.
Is prayer a priority in your life? Will you make it a priority to pray more? Do you give thanks to the Lord in everything? Or do you doubt God's love when things go wrong? Do you thank the Lord for answered prayers and His many blessings? What priority do you place on sitting under the word of God? Do you respect the word of God when it is preached? Do you test preaching with the Bible? Are you allowing the Lord to sanctify you in your daily living? Or are you resisting His work?
1. Family Leadership
Do you recognise the leaders that God has given the church here? Do you esteem them highly in love because of the high calling they have received? Do you pray for them and encourage them? Do you obey them?
II. Family Partnership
Is your life full of joy? Do you challenge the unruly brother in love? Do you support the weaker brother? Do you encourage the fainthearted? These needs in the fellowship can be met by all of us. We are all to be involved within the family. Are you?
III. Family Worship
Is prayer a priority in your life? Do you pray earnestly for others? Do you give thanks to God in all circumstances? Do you quench the Spirit's work in your life? Do you treat preaching with contempt? Do you test what is preached with the Bible? Are you allowing God to sanctify your life now?
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.