Devotional # 183. 3/28/16. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22.
Intro. Two weeks ago we went over the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Devotional # 181) and last week we went over the Tribulation and “the Second Coming” in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (Devotional # 182). In 1 Thessalonians 5:10-11 Paul told us because “our Lord Jesus Christ…died for us” and because we would “live together with Him” forever we should “comfort” and “edify one another.” We will pick up with that same mind-set here and God gives us 18 tasks below!
vv. 12-13. Paul “urges” the brothers (and sisters!) to “recognize” three groups within the church: 1. “Those who labor among you“. The word in the Greek here is kopiao and means to ‘work so hard you become exhausted’ (Source 1). The idea isn’t that you will do things to the point of dropping dead but that God will give you a desire and gift to work really hard for Him. Not sit back and tell others what to do but actually get your hands dirty. What a comforting thing it is to know that there are people in our churches that work this hard for the kingdom! Are you one of them? 2. “Are over you in the Lord“. These are the leadership that God has placed in the individual churches. 3. “And admonish you“. In the Greek this is noutheteo meaning”to caution or reprove gently” (Source 2). These are the people who lovingly, yet truthfully, sometimes gently, sometimes firmly, caution and warn other believers.
What does it mean to “recognize” these people? Paul makes it a little more clear in verse 13, when he says “to esteem them very highly and love for their works sake.” This means to acknowledge and encourage the people you see (or don’t see but know it happens, or hear about). Everyone needs encouragement. By doing this we will be at peace among ourselves.
vv. 14-15. Notice Paul “exhort” people as he’s just told us to “exhort“! And he tells us: 1. “warn those who are unruly”, 2. “comfort the fainthearted”, 3. “uphold the weak”, 4. “be patient with all”, 5. make sure “no one renders evil for evil”, 6. “pursue what is good for yourself” and 7. “pursue what is good…for all.” Let’s look into these:
There are two tasks on here that may be a little uncomfortable or awkward for us: 1. to “warn those who are unruly” and 5. to make sure “no one renders evil for evil”. Both of these have the implication that people within the church will do these things and if you see it or hear about it, then it is your responsibility to make sure it is dealt with. For the vast majority of believers you should not actually approach the people yourself, instead you should mention it to someone in leadership. Notice this absolves you of your duty (other than praying for that person), it makes sure you’re not gossiping to the leader and it doesn’t require you to go tell everyone about it (even in the thin, false veil of a “prayer request” to others). For those actually called by God to confront people in this way, God will be working the ability to “caution or reprove gently” of noutheteo above.
The other five tasks may be difficult to do because your heart may break for people in doing them and you may also have your feelings hurt, but you do them anyway. They are: 2. “comfort the fainthearted”, 3. “uphold the weak”, 4. “be patient with all”, 6. “pursue what is good for yourself” and 7. “pursue what is good…for all.” In order to do these you must be walking with the Lord and desiring His will and not your own. You will become comfortable with the heavy cost of discipleship and you will see the rewards this side of heaven, even though the rewards in heaven will be much greater.
vv. 16-18. Paul gives us the “will of God” on three tasks. As I always say, anytime we hear that something is the “will of God” we better listen up and apply it to our lives! These three are: 1. “rejoice always”; 2. “pray without ceasing” and 3. “in everything give thanks.”
- When I hear “rejoice always” it reminds me of when Paul told us “Rejoice in the Lord always” in Philippians 4:4. In Devotional # 137 we talked about how Paul was coming from a background of stress and pain but always had his hope in Jesus, as we should.
- We have covered God’s famous command of “praying without ceasing” many times. Recently (1 Thessalonians 2:13, Devotional # 178 and 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10, Devotional # 179) we’ve discussed that it actually is possible to talk with God all the time, it takes intentionality and a closer walk with the Lord, but not only is it possible, we should be striving each day to do it!
- Lastly, it is God’s will that “in everything [we] give thanks.” Again, this is a common mentality we’re told to have. We’ve had a special Thanksgiving Devotional (“Thanksgiving 2015”) but we’ve discussed it in regular Devotionals also (like Devotional # 137) and one that was both the holiday and fit in perfectly with the Scripture for that week (Devotional #112). In order to be thankful all the time we have to start expecting everything to work out perfectly and start to have the mindset that God’s will is good and even if it causes us a little pain we are ultimately blessed. The amount of times that we see this mentioned in the Bible, let alone that God is telling us it’s His will shows how important this is.
vv. 19-22. Now Paul moves into some more “action items”, not necessarily the “will of God” because it doesn’t say it explicitly; yet the Bible tells God’s will to man so these should not be considered “throw away” rules. These are crucial for the Christian to obey: 1. “Do not quench the Spirit”; 2. “do not despise prophesies”; 3. “Test all things” and 4. “Abstain from every form of evil.”
- We’re told not to “quench the Spirit”, but what does that mean? In the Greek “quench” is often used of fire and means to “extinguish” or “suppress” (Source 3). Five times the Bible describes the Holy Spirit as “fire” (Isaiah 4:4; Matthew 3:11-12; Luke 3:16-17, Acts 2:34 and here). Of course the Holy Spirit can never be fully put out but since humans have been given a choice, God has allowed us to hold back the Spirit from working. Often this results in extreme discomfort and shame for the Christian who, in retrospect, wishes they had followed the Holy Spirit’s prompting. We are commanded not to “quench the Spirit” not just for us to receive blessing but because we are holding blessing and even possibly salvation back from others! What an awful thing to do.
- Next, Paul says, “do not despise prophesies”. These “prophesies” can be spoken by God Himself (Acts 11:27, 28, etc.) or His written word (Matthew 13:14, etc.). When the prophecy of God comes from a legitimate and recognized spokesperson for the Lord it is to be taken seriously (Source 4).
- Paul means “Test all things” and when you find “what is good” then “hold fast” to it. I love that Paul tells us to test everything! Don’t just trust blindly. Many people think faith is walking out into the middle of a chasm like Indiana Jones, unable to see the path. Many people think if you are religious then you have to blindly follow a person or a church and do whatever they say. What’s even worse is that many religious people do follow a church or a cult blindly. And yet Paul tells us to “test all things.” If I tell you the Bible says something then look it up, don’t just take my word for it. But I encourage you, if you are going to bring it to correct me (or another believer), please make sure you’re using the Bible to test it and not just giving me someone else’s opinion. Make sure you find “what is good” and right and true. And when you have tested it and know it to be correct – cling to it (“hold fast”) and don’t let anyone steal it from you with fancy words or a sophisticated Powerpoint!
- When you hear “abstain from every form of evil”, what do you think of? There are probably the obvious evils that we avoid but I like that Paul doesn’t give us any wiggle room. “Every form of evil” shows us that evil comes in many forms and if the Bible speaks against it or the Holy Spirit convicts you about an evil then it is your responsibility to run away, hold back from it or do whatever it takes to “abstain.” This can’t be done unless you are relying on the Holy Spirit’s power to give you the strength and self-control to not fall into “every form of evil.” Remember the Holy Spirit gave the power to Jesus to “abstain” from falling into Satan’s temptations in the desert as seen in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13 (see Devotional # 6 for a quick explanation when we covered this in Mark) and to “abstain” from the desire to not be killed on the cross. This very same power also rose Jesus from the grave (as we celebrated yesterday on Resurrection Day 2016) and has been given to us!
Conclusion. I’ve decided to cut chapter 5 early here because I really want to spend some good time on verses 23-28. And actually I’m especially excited to share with you about verse 23 (go read it…what do you think I’m focusing on? Why am I interested in talking about this with you? How does it apply to our everyday lives?)
Anyway, today’s Devotional has been very helpful in showing us a partial (yet hefty list!) of Christian tasks. How can we apply these in our lives? Do not quench the Holy Spirit! Let Him move in your life in personal areas of growth and, when you’re called, to help others mature in the specific ways God has intended for them.
Source 2: noutheteo, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3560&t=KJV
Source 3: sbennymi, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4570&t=KJV
Source 4: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1850.