Studies in 1 Thessalonians
Tom Bentley, Ballymena, N. Ireland
CHAPTER 5. 1-28.
THE WORD CONFIRMING THE SANCTIFIED
1. 5. 1-11 THE ARRIVAL OF FINAL SALVATION
2. 5. 12-22 THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF FAITHFUL SERVICE
3. 5. 23-27 THE ATTAINMENT OF FULL SANCTIFICATION
4. 5. 28 BENEDICTION
5. 1-3 Effects Upon the World
Terms of prophetic significance:
'times', orderings . . . periods . . . quantity of the time,
'seasons', occurrence . . . portends . . . quality of the time.
Thief-like character of the prophetic day:
by the Prophet, Joel 2. 1-11;
by the Lord Jesus, Matthew 24;
by the Apostle, 2 Thessalonians 2. 1-12.
Treachery of the prophetic delusion:
Falsity of peace, Jeremiah 6. 14; Ezekiel 13. 10.
Travail of prophetic destruction:
'Thief', denoting the unexpectedness of the event.
'Woman', denoting the inevitableness of the event.
5. 4-11 Expectation of the Sons.
v. 4 The Radiancy of Sonship.
vv. 5-6 The Responsibility of Sonship.
vv. 7-8 The Resources of Sonship.
vv. 9-10The Rewards of Sonship.
v. 11 The Renewal of Sonship.
5. 12-22 Evidence among the Saints.
vv. 12-13 The Elders Acknowledged.
vv. 14-15 The Elders Advised.
vv. 16-22 The Elders Addressed.
vv. 25-26 The Elders Adjured.
5. 23-24 Exercises for the Assembly.
v. 23 The Glory of the Person Emphasized.
The Goal of the Preservation Expressed.
The Greatness of the Power Exerted.
The Glory of the Presence Expected.
The Grace of the Promise Experienced.
The Day of the Lord. The God of Peace. The Lord Jesus Christ.
Salvation – through our Lord Jesus Christ, v. 9.
Consummation – The Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, v. 23.
Benediction – The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, v. 28.
The following words are unique to this chapter:
v. 13, 'beyond all measure'.
v. 14, 'disorderly'.
v. 14, 'fainthearted'.
v. 23, ‘wholly'.
v. 23, 'blamelessly'.
v. 27, 'adjure'.
The Arrival of Final Salvation vv. 1-11
Verses 1-3 The Effects upon the World
Verse 1 Terms of Prophetic Significance, 'times and seasons'.
The times and the seasons is an idiomatic expression, the first word denoting 'orderings' hence measured times affirming quantity, the second word indicating 'occurrences' hence marked times confirming quality. In Daniel 2. 21 the expression denotes God’s sovereignty in changing them, while in Acts 1. 7, the secrecy in communicating them; but here it is the significance of the character that marks them. The Thessalonians, having been duly instructed by Paul concerning future events, did not require further elaboration on these terms. They knew the next event in the prophetic calendar was the rapture, which would initiate the working out of the plan of God for the ages. An intimate knowledge of the Scriptures preserves us from the senseless setting of dates regarding the return of the Lord Jesus. Any recent or former enterprise on this matter has been proved to be totally bereft of either reality or authority. A book on the coming of the Lord, which received wide circulation carried the title, The Times of the Signs in which the writer advanced with 'convincing' authority that the Lord Jesus would come in 1999. I wonder how he feels right now, not to speak of those who possibly absorbed the idea he advanced, and believed it.
Verse 2 The Thief-like Character of the Prophetic Day, 'The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night'. It would be useful to trace the nineteen occurrences of the 'Day of the Lord' in the Old Testament. There is no time measurement given to the Day of the Lord, only the context can determine its longevity and then only general assessments of time can be made. The thief-like character of the day is posed so as to indicate its 'unexpectedness' and hence the unpreparedness of those upon whom it will come. The figure occurs frequently in the New Testament, Matt. 24. 42-43; Luke 12. 33, 39; 2 Pet. 3. 10; Rev. 3. 3; 16. 15. Note that the use of the figure in Revelation 3. 3 is in a different context to what we are considering here. Many expositors are unsure as to the coverage of this expression, however we strongly advise a careful examination of its use in the Scriptures and likely you will agree that the term reaches from the Tribulation and right through the Millennial reign of Christ. The form of Paul’s words must touch our hearts and force us to ask, 'Do we know perfectly all that is to be known about the Day of the Lord?' 'Know' in this verse is the word for absolute knowledge, oida, and then the word 'perfectly' translates the word akribos, meaning 'accurately’, 'exactly’. This is most commendable for those who were only ten months in Christ.
Verse 3 The Treachery of Prophetic Delusion. The falsity of peace is a subject often handled by God’s mouthpieces, see Jer. 6. 14; Ezek. 13. 10. The words Paul uses denote the expressions of those that sense a security without God and without the guidance and directive of His word. Deluded by their sense of peace and security that is totally unreal, they feel content within their circumscribed world from which they have excluded God completely. Now Paul changes the picture and also the pronouns, which is most essential for the reader to observe. We are looking at the Travail of Prophetic Destruction. The figure moves from a thief coming, which we have seen denotes something unexpected, to a ‘travail’ that signifies something inevitable and unavoidable. Note the balance in the word of God, a thief never sends signals of his arrival, but a woman in travail has every possible sign that the birth is inevitable. It has been pointed out above that Paul changes the pronouns, by this it is vital to observe the change from the ‘ye’ of verse 1 and the ‘yourselves’ of verse 2, to the ‘they’ of verse 3. Obviously the ‘ye’ and the ‘yourselves’ are those who are identified as ‘brethren’ throughout this great letter.
Verses 4-11 The Expectation of Sons
Verse 4 The Radiancy of Sonship. Having noticed the change in the pronouns as above, the apostle’s 'but' makes a valued distinction too, confirming what we have already noted. Observe also the emphatic nature of Paul’s 'but ye brethren’, in opposition to the careless ones in the previous verse. Darkness as a subject is vast, so rather than enumerate its occurrences or differentiate in its uses, let us note simply that the darkness here is distinctly 'prophetical’. Thank God we are not in prophetical darkness, because if we have grasped the truth of sonship in this present order of God, we know our future and what is ahead. Lightfoot adopts a plural rendering of the word ‘thief’ and suggests the saints of God will not find that Day overtaking them as thieves. This, to my mind, alters the metaphor too drastically, seeing we have in verse 2, the 'Day of the Lord', coming as a thief.
Verses 5-7 The Responsibility of Sonship
Verse 5 'Ye are all the children of light and children of the day' – and therefore not surprised. Unfortunately the AV omits the word 'for' (see the RV and JND), which is from gar, an expressive conjunction, adding extra weight to the fact that the church will not be touched nor seized upon by the Great Tribulation. The Hebrew idiom confirms that a 'son of' shares his 'father’s' nature, which sense is maintained in New Testament Greek (cf. Luke 16. 8; Eph. 5. 8). Therefore when believers are spoken of as 'sons of light’ (NB. the word huioi, translated as 'children' is actually, 'sons'), the meaning is that 'light' is their distinctive characteristic. It is also true that we are 'in light' but this is more than that. The remainder of the verse changes from the second to the first person, 'We are not of the night, nor of darkness’. Paul identifies himself with the recipients of his letter and so prepares the way for the exhortation which follows. But observe that the definite article before 'night’ is not in the Greek text. This qualifies the noun or the subject which makes clear that we are not 'of' the night. Believers have no part in the kingdom of darkness nor of the night. Similar constructions appear in the words of the Lord when He speaks of His own being 'in' the world but not 'of' the world.
Verse 6 Two words introduce this verse but the AV translates only one. They are ara and oun 'accordingly' and 'therefore' respectively (cf Rom. 5. 18 ; 7. 3, 25; 8. 12; 10. 16, 12. 18, as examples). They are inferential particles and by their presence in the text they make the exhortation more emphatic. In other words, we are obliged to act strictly according to the dictates of our place and position in light and not be found sleeping. The word 'sleep' katheudo (22 times in the New Testament) is not the same as the word 'sleep', koimamai, in 4.13ff. To sleep means to be morally and spiritually insensitive. Metaphorically the word simply implies 'to yield to sloth and sin’. In speaking of others the apostle means 'the others’, that is the totality of those who are in alienation from God, defined as being (a) in utter hopelessness, 4. 13, and (b), in total unconsciousness, 5. 6. To the night belongs sleep and under cover of the night men gave way to dissipation and all that goes with it. But the believer, not being of the night, but of the day, has the double duty of watchfulness and sobriety. The former denotes activity the latter decides attitude. Paul is echoing the warning of the Saviour who enjoined, (a) watchfulnes,. Matthew 25. 13; Mark 13. 33, 34, 35, 37, and (b), sobriety, Luke 21. 34.
Verse 7 The whole of this verse is to be taken literally and is never at any time or place to be the mode of a believer’s living or license. But while the apostle writes these words in their literal sense, they are wholly true metaphorically for it is by this the message of the previous verse is explained. Unconsciousness (sleep) and drunkenness (sin) can have no place with the sons of the day; these things belong to the night of ignorance and unenlightenment.
Verse 8 The Resources of Sonship
The Christian mode of living is not composed of or governed by a burdensome code of regulations. Paul in his epistles makes use of his own metaphor to give a general rule of guidance, e.g., Col. 3. 1, If ye then be risen with Christ – act in accordance with your risen life; Eph. 3. 15; 4. 1, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named . . . walk worthy of the vocation; Gal. 4. 31; 5. 1, We are of the free . . . stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free.
Therefore the exhortation is simple. You are children of the day, act as men can only act who are of the day and not of the night. Here is yet another occasion for the reader to note Paul’s threesomes. Already the ones here used have appeared in 1. 3. They are linked with the breastplate and the helmet, figures of soldiery, which Paul will enlarge upon in greater detail in his letter to the Ephesians. It may be Paul envisages the soldier in active service, garbed in armour and prepared for battle, with which he has had more than a passing acquaintance, and will have as time goes on. Very likely it is so, but one feels he is really drawing from the figures of the word as used by the Spirit of God in an earlier day. Would Isaiah 59. 17 not provide the imagery? Clearly, Paul has in view the provision God has made for both heart and mind to be securely protected. The heart is to be awake and the mind is to be alert. This would preserve from any form of sleep (unconsciousness) or of sin (drunkenness). Faith here denotes Dependence while love suggests Devotion. Hope signifies Deliverance. The Christian’s defense is sure for he is sufficiently guarded by the three virtues of faith, love and hope.
Verses 9-10 The Rewards of Sonship
Verse 9 The word etheto is here translated 'appointed’; cf. Acts 13. 47; 1 Tim. 1. 12; 2. 7; 2 Tim. 1. 11; 1 Pet. 2. 8, and being in the middle voice it represents the subject as acting in its own interest. The actual meaning is that God in His own interests and for His own pleasure has decreed that we shall escape the outpouring of His wrath during the Great Tribulation. This is the third use of the word orgee, 'wrath’, in the epistle, see 1. 10; 2. 16, denoting the severe judgement of God which is destined to fall in these days. The Lord Jesus refers to this in His Mount Olivet discourse as recorded in Matthew 24 and 25. Paul declares the saints as avoiding wrath but in the next expression they are viewed as acquiring salvation. 'Obtaining' is peripoieesis, 'possession', see Eph. 1. 14; 2 Thess. 2. 14; Heb. 10. 39; 1 Pet. 2. 9. It means to 'possess one’s own property’. In our participation in the rapture we are actually realizing our own Godordained possession, given to us from the Lord in His sovereign way and will for us. This remarkable aspect of salvation appears again as a reason for thanksgiving to which Paul gives expression in 2 Thessalonians 2. 13. Nor can we ever forget the absolute reliability of this activity on our behalf. It depends wholly upon the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the divine instrument by which this mighty accomplishment is realized; it is 'through', dia, that is, right through, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 10 Who died for us' is the only doctrinal reference to the death of Christ in the epistle, cf. 4. 14. The word 'for' is translating the word huper, 'on behalf of’, 'instead of’, therefore it has a vicarious and a substitutionary significance. In other manuscripts huper is replaced by peri, 'concerning’. Both these words are used with regard to the death of the Lord Jesus. Peri, in Matt. 26. 28; Rom. 8. 3; 1 John 2. 2; 4. 10; 1 Pet. 3. 18, huper, in Rom. 5. 6; 8. 32; 14. 15; 1 Cor. 15. 3; 2 Cor. 5. 14, 15; Gal. 1. 4; 2. 20; Eph. 5. 25; 1 Tim. 2. 6; Heb. 10. 12. The difference between the two words is slight, which at times makes them appear to be almost interchangeable, see 2 Thess. 3. 1, peri with Rom. 10. 1, huper. Also Matt. 26. 28, peri, with Mark 14. 24, Luke 22. 20 huper. Having already noticed the change of the word 'sleep’, koimamai, 4. 10, to katheudo, used in verse 5, we must maintain the state as remaining the same in this verse. Hence the term 'whether we wake or sleep' is not referring to what is physical as in 4. 13, but is defining a moral, or if you will a spiritual, condition. Not that Paul is allowing for latitudinarianism, but he is making clear that our spiritual condition is not the ground of our being raptured. We are not being taken to heaven at the rapture because we are watching and not sleeping – the very opposite. What is taking us to heaven is the work of Christ. Our coming out of heaven with Him later will reveal the measure of our faithfulness down here. 'We should live together with him’, confirms that our togetherness with Christ is a great subject. Here we are viewed as living eternally together with Him, in a oneness nothing or no one shall ever dissolve. The words are emphatically placed in the construction so as to confirm our unending closeness to the One, who said, 'That where I am there ye may be also', John 14. 3.
Verse 11. The Renewal of Sonship
Verse 11 This verse acts as a summary of the section beginning with 5. 1, see 4. 18. 'Comfort' is parakaleite, from parakaleo, which at times is translated 'exhorting’, 'comforting' or 'encouraging’. Here is actually a command from the apostle, for the word is in the present imperative, which denotes not only a doing but also a continuance of the action. What a necessary word for all of us today, just to conform to what the Spirit does and what the Saviour does, for are they not the personalized form of the verb Paul is using? We know they are paracletes – those who comfort? With the plural form of the verb employed we reach out to the fact that all believers are involved in this cordial and perpetual exercise of ministering spiritual comfort. There is in the term used by the writer a reciprocal function, meaning that each Thessalonian saint was to receive a spiritual enrichment from the other as together they entered into the imminent return of the Lord. 'And edify one another, even as ye do’, signifies an unceasing building up of one another as you are continually doing. 'Edify’, translates oikodomeo, 'to build a house’, 'to erect a building’. Paul is urging assured progress as would be evident from a building being raised, as the result of patient consistent labour. Again we cannot afford to miss the fact that the word is in the imperative, indicating that Paul urges the building up of the saints to be an ongoing process, so that all in the assembly at Thessalonica may be strengthened and encouraged. In assemblies worldwide there is a great need to heed this closing exhortation of this most important paragraph. At all times whether in public convocations or in private conversation we ought to take advantage of this privilege of being mutually edified in view of the Saviour’s soon return. We all know that it is easier to break up than to build up.
The Accomplishment of Faithful Service, verses 12-22
Earlier in the studies we observed:
1. 1-10. The External Activity of the Assembly;
4. 1-12. The Individual Piety of the Assembly;
5. 12-22. The Internal Harmony of the Assembly.
That this may be truly realized in the life and testimony of the assembly at Thessalonica Paul exhorts the saints (1) To Recognize Spiritual Leadership.
Verses 12-13 The Elders Acknowledged
Paul is addressing the assembly apart from its elders as he advises the company regarding two very important issues with respect to leadership in the assembly: (i). 'to know', v. 12; (ii). 'to esteem', v. 13. The word in the text for 'know' is taken from the word that defines 'absolute knowledge', oida. Hence the spiritual exercise is urged 'to know fully’, meaning, 'to regard’, 'to respect' those who lead the saints. This is a purely spiritual exercise, possible only to the spiritual. Those, however, who take the lead have their clearly defined responsibility as discerned in the words, 'them which labour among you’, or 'those who are labouring’. 'Labour' is taken from the word kopiao, meaning to labour to the point of weariness.
Then we have to note that being a participle it involves continuous action. The person who leads the saints of God in any locality has the responsibility for work that involves wearisome effort and toil. 'And are over you’, translates kai proistemenous humon, literally, 'who are placed before you’. Care has to be exercised that this privilege is neither misappropriated nor misapplied. Some elders think that they have absolute authority and some have even said, ‘even if we are wrong, we are right and must be obeyed’. If an elder has authority it is delegated authority and is subject to conformity to the word of God. In Matthew 20. 25, Mark 10. 42 and Luke 22. 25, the Lord Jesus uses the word 'over' which is never used in the epistles regarding the authority delegated to elders. It is worth noting that Matthew records the Lord saying, 'But it shall not be so among you’. That is, there is no such position amongst the saints of God. But Luke has it differently, for he always emphasizes the moral connotation, and records the Lord Jesus as saying, 'But ye shall not be so’. From this clear statement, we learn there is no such person amongst the saints of God envisaged by the Lord Jesus. The words, 'in the Lord' remove the possibility that the apostle is thinking about any form of rule outside the framework of the assembly. The precious term here before us confirms the sphere of the rules, it is in the place where He, our blessed Lord Jesus, exercises sovereign Lordship. It would also serve to endorse the fact that the elder is not the subject of human appointment, nor the candidate of an election. 'And admonish you’, indicates that the elders in an assembly are responsible for the spiritual mentality of the assembly. The word which is translated 'admonish', noutheteo, is only used by Paul. It appears in the account of his ministry to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20. 31, and is composed of two words namely, nous, 'mind' and tithemi, 'to put’.
Though the characteristic nature of the exhortations that close this epistle are brief and parenthetic in character, we must not conclude that the Thessalonians saints were embroiled in a crisis of fellowship. Often this concept is raised when the apostle presents such hortatory points of practical concern. For example when Paul urges in his epistle to the Ephesians, 'Let him that stole steal no more’, it is wrong to assume the assembly was experiencing a flood of robberies. The composition of assembly life is so complex that the saints of God always stand in need of such exhortative ministry the like of which Paul is providing here. He presents the service and devoted activity of the leaders under three participles, each of which is introduced by a single definite article. Kopiontas, 'labour’, proistamenous, 'are over you’, vouthetountas, 'admonish’. Evidently Paul is affirming that these operations come from a single group of persons, hence the definite article preceding each of these words. The fact also that they are in the present tense denotes this was nothing sporadic but a work consistently implemented by those responsible.
Verse 13 The saints are advised in their respect for their leaders in two additional ways. They are to esteem them 'very highly’, and to hold them 'in love’. 'Very highly' translates a word, which infers 'exceedingly, overflowing all bounds’, while 'in love' stresses the manner in which the leaders are to be held in respect. This esteem is not on the basis of either gift or position, but solely on the point of work and the manner in which the leadership performs the ministry. There is nothing formal here, it is actual and based solely on love that flows freely from its divine Source, even the Holy Spirit of God, Rom. 5. 5. The remainder of this verse stands independently of the preceding, vv. 12-13a, and the following exhortations. Let us view it as a bridge between the spiritually strong of vv. 12-13a, and the spiritually weak of vv. 14-15. Observe that the significant calls for peace in these passages, cf. Mark. 9. 50; 2 Cor. 13. 11; Phil. 4. 7, 9, follow the same kind of syntactical independence as does this emphatic appeal for peace. Once again Paul uses the imperative, which denotes it is obligatory, not optional. Added to this is the present tense of the verb, indicating to the observant reader that the action is ongoing. It means, 'keep on living in peace’. 'Among yourselves’, is providing the Thessalonians with the most expected form of fellowship in testimony the Lord would desire, a unity undisturbed, undiminished and undefiled.
The apostle now specifies the need, (2) To Stabilize Spiritual Living.
Verses 14-15 The Elders Advised
Verse 14 Paul recognizes the need for those who take the lead to assert their authority in the way he advised. The word 'warn' is the word 'admonish' as in verse 12. Again, Paul uses the present imperative leaving the reader in no doubt as to its obligatory and perpetual action. The word 'unruly' translates ataktos, only used here in the New Testament. It specifies a disorderliness comparable to a soldier leaving the ranks while on parade. The expectancy is that any soldier who is under command to hold to his place in the ranks does so without exception. Those in the testimony of a God-ordered assembly are surely responsible to hold rank and not to disrupt the order of such by an act that would undermine the dignity of the order the Lord demands and deserves.
The person envisaged here is one who has lost rank. The next case Paul mentions is of one who has obviously lost heart. He is to be 'encouraged' or 'comforted’, the word paramutheomai means 'to encourage’, or 'to console', see John 11. 19, 31. 'Little souled' is possibly the simplest way of explaining 'fainthearted' which translates oligopsuchos, appearing only here in the New Testament. The former instance is one who has to be pushed back into line, but here the pressure comes from behind. This individual has to be pushed forward. One is governed by temerity, the other by timidity. Though the exhortation in Acts 20. 35 signifies a material poverty, Paul is here speaking of a spiritual weakness. The person has lost stamina. The verb used here is seen in Luke 16. 13 and as here stresses the need to 'hold on to’, 'support', is the sense, for this person requires someone on whom to lean. Believers should know how vital is the ministry of keeping close to one another for mutual support. Many feel a sense of loss when called to stand, as it were, alone. The fourth exhortation indicates possibly someone who has lost his temper and those dealing with the case, must be sure that they do not lose theirs. The exhortation is, 'be patient’. Its basic sense is, 'to be long-tempered', Matt. 18. 26, 29; Luke 18. 7. Notice how inclusive this appeal is 'towards all’. Often we prejudice the cause by preference. Some are shown patience but others are not.
Verse 15 The exercised reader must surely be touched by the impending demand of each of these exhortations as Paul uses the imperative each time. Again the word 'see' is the present imperative of the verb horao. Paul is calling for constant vigilance, lest in an unwatchful moment the action here condemned is effected. The Christian is called upon to cancel any thought of retaliation. To render evil for evil is bestial. To render evil for good is demonical. To render good for good is natural, but to render good for evil is spiritual. Paul now urges the Thessalonian believers to 'always follow after that which is good’. Again, it is continuity that Paul is after as he uses the word frequently in his epistles, see Rom. 9. 30, 31; 12. 13; 14. 19; 1 Cor. 14. 1. The use of the adverb 'ever’, or 'alway' registers his emphasis. There is to be no retrogression in the spiritual life of the Christian. This pursuit of good is for 'each other’, and 'for everyone’. The heart of the apostle extends beyond the confines of the Christian circle, as in 3. 12. We, who are the Lord’s, are surely interested in the spiritual and moral good of all. Nor is it merely small acts of kindness, while indeed they are included, but a life of absolute Christian courtesy and cordiality that becomes attractive as an ornament that would induce its beholder to possess.
The Elders Addressed, verses 16-22
Verses 16-18. Energize Spiritual Language
v. 16 Elation of Heart . . . rejoice;
v. 17 Elevation of Heart . . . pray without ceasing;
v. 18 Expression of Heart . . . give thanks.
Verse 16 It is the Christian’s privilege to rejoice continually. Paul presses this home to his readers by using the present imperative form of the verb chairo, to rejoice, by which he commands the doing of an act and its continuance. The Thessalonians may have had every reason not to rejoice as they were surrounded by persecution, suffering and sorrow, but Paul lifts them to this high level of Christian experience and exhorts them to keep on rejoicing. Pantote is translated 'evermore' but it is the same word as used in 1. 2, 'always'. Later, this note of rejoicing amidst straightened circumstances appears in Romans 5. 3, see James 1. 2. Joy, then, is a necessary element in Christian character. It must be duly acknowledged that these exercises are not exclusively personal experiences. They are as much, if not more so, related to the corporate expressions that characterize the assembled company of the saints. Here are activities directed to God, but do not miss the fact that, vv. 12-15 and vv. 19-22 present actions toward others. The balance is not only rich, but real.
Verse 17 Paul uses the general word for prayer, proseuchomai, and employs again the present imperative, making it clear that this exercise is part of our spiritual discipline whether individually or corporately, cp. Rom. 12. 12; Phil 4. 6. It is a sin not to pray, 1 Sam. 12. 21. There is a valued divine command in Jeremiah 33. 3, and the One who issued this is known as a God who hears prayer, Ps. 65. 2. Paul uses the same adverbial expression in 2. 1, 'without ceasing'. Constancy in prayer is vital, for the apostle would have us comply with his call for prayer without intermission. Not that we should or could be incessantly offering prayer to God, every moment of our waking hours. The sense is, to maintain a spirit of prayer, and allow it to enter into our whole being. Let us cultivate the practice of the Presence.
Verse 18 Note the order of Paul’s short, staccato commands in this section. First it is 'rejoice', then 'pray', and thirdly 'give thanks'. The apostle places prayer between joy and thanksgiving, for the simple reason that it is constant communion with God which enables us to recognize God’s hand of power and blessing in every department of life. This as a result inspires our sense of joy and compels our spirit of thanksgiving. Paul, himself, lived a life of thanksgiving to God, see Phil. 1. 3; Col. 1. 3 and 1 Thess. 1. 2, and he frequently urged this practice upon the many recipients of his letters, cf. Eph. 5. 30; Col. 3. 17. 'Give thanks' is eucharisteite, present imperative of eucharisteo, ‘to be grateful, to feel thankful’, which again denotes continuous action. It is to be habitual in the Christian’s life, see 1. 2; 2. 13. There are two interesting words for 'will', one denotes a desire which comes from one’s emotions, it is theleema; the other is bouleema which comes form boulomai, and refers to a desire which comes from one’s reason. It is important to observe that in the phrase 'for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you', the word theleema, 'will', has no article, simply because this is not the totality of the will of God that is being addressed. Obviously there are many other issues that comprise the fullness of the divine will, but these three items are essentially a vital part of His will for us. 'In Christ Jesus' indicates the locative sphere in which these exercises are enhanced and empowered by the dynamic that is in the risen Christ. There is divergence of opinion as to the extent of the little word 'this' in the text. Were we to follow the AV punctuation, then the final exhortation of the three is exclusively the will of God in Christ Jesus. However, in the RV and in JND the reading is so punctuated as to enclose all three. This is unbroken joy, unfailing prayer and unceasing thanksgiving.
Verses 19-21. Exercise Spiritual Liberty
v. 19-20. Preventing (Negative), Quench not, Despise not;
v. 21a. Proving (Positive), Prove all things;
v. 21b. Preserving (Positive), Hold fast that which is good.
Verse 19 The Holy Spirit can be resisted, Acts 7. 51, grieved, Eph. 4. 30 and quenched, as here. We can quench the Spirit by doing anything that would hinder His work in ourselves or in others. The absorption of gift in one man would certainly accomplish this in any given company of saints. Hence the absolute need to avoid anything that would comply with what may be termed a one-man ministry. The word 'quench' simply means to repress or to suppress, hence to stifle. The use of the word 'not', makes it clear that it is a present imperative, and signifies the action was already in process.
Though the present imperative might indicate that there could well have been an on-going quenching of the Spirit among the saints at Thessalonica it might not, on the other hand, be so. The exhortation can be understood as being of a preventative nature, rather than curative. In the godly exercise of Spirit-imparted gift there is the requirement stipulated that the gifts, 1 Cor. 12-14; Rom. 12. 6-9, were to be ministered decently, euschemonos, 1 Thess. 4. 12, 'honestly' and in order, kata taxin, 1 Cor. 14. 40. Let us never be indifferent to these notable exhortations in the exercise of spiritual gift.
Verse 20 This being the earliest of Paul’s epistles it is understood that the gift of prophecy was still practised. It was by this divinely established means the mind and will of God was known. However, since the last apostle died there has been no such communication from God. Any claim to such is not only spurious but is totally injurious to the completeness and fullness of the word of God as we have it today. With the completion of the canon of Scripture, prophecy as a gift passed away, 1 Cor. 13. 8, 9. To despise the ministry of the word of God is both serious and sad. It is difficult to conceive that such a healthy company of saints as the Thessalonians should be thus addressed. Could it be that the problem lay in the fact that they were not willing to listen to the ministry from the brethren that were their own fellow believers? There is no doubt but they would welcome Paul, 3. 6, but would they be as keen were it just a local brother ministering the Lord or preaching the gospel? Often the visiting brother has more audience and ear than the local minister of the word does, which is sad but true.
Verse 21 Now there are positives before us. 'Prove all things’ has a comparable call in 1 John 4. 1. Some translations with good reason add de, 'but’, see RVMargin. The 'but' forms a strong link with verse 20. While the Thessalonians were to be careful not to 'despise prophesyings' they were to exercise a healthy spiritual and intellectual discernment. 'Prove’ is taken from the present imperative of the verb dokimanzo, 'to try’, 'to test in order to approve’. Often our reaction to the ministry of the word of God is indecisive. Rarely do we take time to review it and to make sure that what we have heard is according to the mind of God as revealed in His word. We, having the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures, possess an even greater responsibility. But do we exercise the privilege and evaluate the ministry? 'Hold fast that which is good’, is our obligation. When we have made sure it has been of God, we are to keep on holding fast to that which is good. 'Good’ here is that which is intrinsically good, as it is the word kalon. (See verse 15 where agathos, 'good' is used it stands for what is good or beneficial in effect).
Verse 22 Revitalize Spiritual Life
'Abstain’, is taken from the word apechesthe, being the present imperative middle of the verb apecho, 'to hold back’, 'to keep away from’, as in 4. 3, the saints were told to keep away from sexual immorality, see Acts 15. 20. The use of the middle voice makes manifest the heart of the apostle, for he is indicating it is in the spiritual interest of the Thessalonians that they obey his injunction. 'From all appearance of evil’, which is clear enough as long as we understand the word for 'appearance', eidous, is not used in a superficial way. Paul is not attempting to draw a contrast between appearance and substance. Having already exhorted the saints to test everything, he follows this up by urging them to hold fast to the good and abstain from every sort or kind of evil. 'Evil' translates the word panerou, denoting that which is pernicious, and all that is in active opposition to the good, see Matt. 5. 37, where it is used of Satan, and Luke 7. 21, of demons.
From verse 12 the list of exhortations is extensive, involving the saints in the very essentials of Christian living, testimony and activity. How are these to be brought into practical and evident display in the assembly corporately, and into the lives of the saints personally? Doubtless they knew the warmth of apostolic affection and the width of Paul’s intention. Yet the point would be reached where the saints, being anxious to obey the commands of God, and to be Spirit-led, must truly be left in the hands of God who alone can preserve and keep to the end, that He alone may be glorified, Matt. 5. 16. That is just what Paul does now as he breaks into his second prayer exercise in this epistle.
The Attainment of Full Sanctification, verses 23-27.
Verses 23-24. Assembly Sanctification. It’s a Holy Company.
Verse 23 Paul presents five prayers in the Thessalonian corpus, 1 Thess. 3. 11-13; 5. 23-24; 2 Thess. 1. 11-12; 2. 16-17; 3. 16. The prayers of Paul offer a wholesome area of meditation as they are not only excellent, but exemplary. Like the disciples, we still say, 'Lord, teach us to pray’. Note the following from them:-
The Glory of the Person Emphasized. It is 'the God of peace’. In the second epistle, 3. 16, the Lord Jesus is addressed as the Lord of peace. This is indicative of the theme and teaching of the epistle. The AV unfortunately omits the word 'himself', see RV, which by its position in the text offers emphasis as in 3. 11 and 4. 16. The reader will be well rewarded to examine all the references to the title 'the God of peace' as used through the New Testament. While the title indicates that our God preserves from discord, here the apostle is surely stressing that in 'well-being' God provides for His people, which has brought His own into an undisturbed relationship that can never be dissolved. In view of all that He is in Himself as a Person and all He has in purpose for us. Paul invokes divine power for sanctification in its most complete concept. 'Sanctify' is hagiasai, which expresses a wish for the future, as it is the active optative of hagiazo, 'to set apart'. It is certainly God’s will and work to sanctify His People, but this must be matched by the saints’ willingness to know their lives transformed. 'Wholly' translates the compound holoteleis, which signifies the doing of something completely, holos, and maintaining it right through to the end, telos. Only through Him can the saints be kept until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Goal of the Preservation Expressed. 'And I pray God, that your whole spirit, soul and body, be preserved blameless’. 'Whole' is another compound word derived from holos, 'whole’, and kleros, 'allotment or compound’, serving to endorse the completeness of the action. The preserving power of God alone can accomplish this. The compound of our lives must be kept by His power, clean and clear of defilement, seen or unseen. Some folks have a nicely trimmed and well-attended garden at the front, but the back is often otherwise, simply because it is not readily seen. Are our lives like this? It is of use to note that the word holoteleis, 'wholly', as above is quantitative, while hotolkleron is qualitative. Man is not only material, he is also immaterial. Here are the constituent parts of his being: the spirit, which gives us God-consciousness; the soul, which give us self-consciousness; and the body which gives us world or senseconsciousness, Gen. 2. 7 ; Heb. 4. 12. Therefore the contextual sense of the sanctification Paul is advancing, is not one of degree but of dimension, it extends to and through the whole being.
The Greatness of the Power Exerted. The verb used by the apostle, 'be preserved blameless’, has a military connotation, being the passive form of tereo, 'to guard’, 'to take care of’, indicating that the believer is inactive in this process. It is God in His power that does the preserving and the guarding and that until we are brought to eternal glory. That being so, Paul is confident it will be a preserving in keeping with the very character of God, 'blameless', see 2. 10. In that day the saints will be free from censure and hence acceptable to Him who loved us.
The Glory of the Presence Expected. It is 'unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’. The exercise of the apostle is, that from now, right up until the return of the Lord Jesus, we will be preserved blameless. How much we need to co-operate in this! It will be the intimate exercise of all who know Him.
Verse 24. TheGrace of the Promise Experienced. So we learn that 'Faithful is He who calleth you, who also will do it’. Paul concludes his exercise in prayer with this comforting word of assurance. It is uplifting to observe that the ongoing work of God among His own, is highlighted by the tense of the word, 'to call’. Here it is not so much the act of calling, see 1. 4, but the One who calls. Our God being all that He has manifested Himself to be will accomplish and fulfil that which He has initiated with regard to our eternal salvation.
Verse 25. Assembly Sympathy. It’s a Hearty Company. Here for the fourteenth time Paul addresses the assembly as 'brethren’. The word appears eighteen times in the epistle. The saints of God need to be prayed for, and so also do the servants of God, Rom.15. 30-32; Phil. 1. 19; Philem. 19. Paul pleads emphatically for this exercise to be constantly maintained for him, as he did incessantly for them.
Verses 26-27. Assembly Sensitivity. It’s a Happy Company. True fellowship is expressed in a warm, affectionate relationship, which a kiss would naturally imply and clearly indicate. Often social and economic differences, not to speak of racial diversities, deprive many of God’s beloved children of a cordial sense of fellowship, even in an assembly. Can we shake hands with all our brethren at all times? We are all 'beloved of God’, says Jude, 'partakers of a common salvation', so may we preserve the cordiality of the fellowship without partiality and in spite of disparities.
Verse 27. This is a solemn charge and is couched in terms singular to the New Testament. Nowhere else does the word 'charge' occur. 'I charge' is enorkizo, 'to adjure', ' to put under oath'. In the Old Testament this act was forbidden. But here Paul invokes the elders, we presume, to heed the call with such strong intonations that calls for a pledge from the recipients of the letter. The authority for such an adjuration is the Lord Himself. Paul is indicating that should there be any indecision on the part of those responsible, they would be held accountable not to Paul but to the Lord, whom he expects would carry out the judgement were the oath not performed. Naturally, we ask, 'Why did Paul use such demanding language?' Several reasons have been suggested for the solemnity of this charge.
(a) It was his first letter. He was exceedingly anxious that it should have due recognition;
(b) Paul was assured it was of Divine inspiration;
(c) Because of a selectiveness that may well have led to a suppression of part of the epistle. Paul therefore was anxious that the entire epistle be read, but he was also concerned that all the assembly would be present to hear it read. Many can select their self-chosen section of the word to the willful neglect of all truth, and others can equally choose not to be present when the truth is being ministered. Paul is dealing quite thoroughly here with both of these negative elements which sadly, had depleted the strength of the testimony worldwide. Though Paul never employs this appeal again, it is evident that what he applies to this part, he applies to the whole of his apostolic writings.
Verse 28. Assembly Sufficiency. It’s a Healthy Company. The typical conclusion of a letter in ancient times was 'Farewell’, as found in Acts 15. 29. Here Paul adopts a loving benediction, which becomes uniform in his subsequent writings. The most extensive formula is found in 2 Corinthians 13. 14, whereas its abbreviated form is in Colossians 4. 18. What a resource the apostle places before the readers of this epistle. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. On account of His death, and all that He has purposed in His love for us, we can draw freely upon those resources. In Him these are inexhaustible, and not the least of these is grace. Later, Paul will address the Corinthian assembly saying, 'For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich', 2 Cor. 8. 9. Grace amazing, grace abounding and grace availing, are our sole sufficiency for assembly testimony today. May we draw freely upon these stores of supply, daily, devotedly and decisively.