Since Jesus saved me when I was 19 years old, I have spent more than half of my life as a Christian. Over the years, I have seen so many Christians with only head knowledge of the Bible, but not knowing how to display the changes Christ brings into our lives in our relationship with others at church. And today we are tackling this issue. In the end, it is the work of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s saving power that transform how we live by His Word. In today’s passage, we will learn about our church life in terms of its leadership, its love, and its worship as a congregation. So let us pray and let the Spirit transform our lives from this book.
1) Behaviour toward leaders and concerns on the idle, timid, and weak
1 Thessalonians 5:12 to the end of the letter is filled with instructions for the congregation regarding practical church life matters. The first instruction involves the relationship between the congregation and its leaders. Paul called the congregation of Thessalonica to acknowledge “those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord”. The verb ‘acknowledge’ can be translated as recognise, respect, appreciate, honour your leaders, whether they are pastoral team, bible study leaders, elders, or youth leaders who give their time and energy to serve the church. Spiritual leadership is difficult and weighted with responsibility. They engage in hard work. They care for the congregation, and they admonish the congregation. To admonish means to warn or reprove someone firmly. This task deals with pointing out faults or mistakes, errors in individuals or the community. Those who perform this task take on a challenging responsibility, and they are to be respected and honoured. More than only teaching God’s Word to the people, leaders are also to point out wrongs, sins, and failures in their people and congregation’s lives. This is not a favourite task, but it is essential to believers and the church’s health. Because the leaders are performing good work for Christ and his people. This deserves our respect and love. The basis for this love is their work. And how can we honour our church leaders, who have been nurturing you all these years? Express your appreciation, tell them how you have been helped by their leadership and teaching, and thank them for their ministry in your life. The leaders need and deserve your support and love. So love them and respect them.
Other than toward the leaders, the Scripture commands us “to live in peace with each other”. Keep the peace is the key to maintain a healthy church. To live in peace means living in harmony with others. If we cannot keep the peace with each other, the conflict can hurt ourselves and other persons and hurt the church. People outside the church notice such things and stay away. As written in Romans 12:17-18, Paul says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
I have heard of a church in the past with people not getting on with each other in peace, and the leadership team volunteers had a big argument. In the end, the church splits into two with many members leaving because they were hurt by the disunity in the church. I do not want to see that ever happens in this church. When we serve one another, always seek unity and peace with each other, and forgiving one another. It is the only way to build up the church together, as one body of Christ.
Then in verse 14, Paul gives us another warning, “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15)
Paul deals with three types of people in the Thessalonians church who presented different concerns for him. He spoke about the idle, the timid, and the weak.
Firstly, the idle was to be warned: Some Christians in Paul’s day were so certain of the coming of Christ that they became lazy in their daily living. People who neglect their daily duty and live in idleness, they don’t work at the expense of others. This can make their parents grief. They do not have physical or psychological issues to hinder them from working. Still, if they lived in idleness, it was the community that had to support them. It was the community’s reputation that was endangered by their irregular way of life. Some Christians might think, Jesus seems so long in his Second Coming, and life keeps rolling along at a predictable clip. We might become idle in our Christian responsibilities. Too absorbed in the daily routine, we fail to use our gifts, time, and lives for others and for the church. Instead, the Scripture tells us to stop being idle and make the best use of our time to serve God in our short lifetime. Don’t waste your youth and time. Years go pass day-by-day. Before you know it you will be an old person. So don’t waste your youth in idleness.
Secondly, the timid were to be encouraged: Sometimes, people had become discouraged, perhaps depressed. Many Christians I have known who had a hard life. They may have felt this way because of difficult circumstances, or because they despaired living up the high standards of the Christian faith. These people needed to be helped, not warned. They needed to hear, “You can do it”. Do you know any brothers and sisters in Christ who are depressed and timid, not moving forward from spiritual growth, fear of not being good enough to be a Christian or thinking themselves not godly enough to serve God? Encouraging them. They are children of God, washed clean from sins through Jesus’ blood on the cross. They are worthy of following Jesus and serving at church because God does not look at what we do, but what Christ has done for us on the cross. We are imputed with Christ’s righteousness, and therefore, a new creation ready in service in God’s Kingdom. Let them hear that they can do it by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the timid may not be great, but, with encouragement, they can be developed and make a valuable contribution to communal well-being of the church.
Thirdly, the weak were to be helped: Like Paul’s time in the first century, there were the spiritually weak in every church. Perhaps they lack knowledge or experience; it could be that they struggle with a particular sin, which continually defeats them; they may lack courage or find it difficult to trust God. They are weak in the faith and need to be helped along the way. We all identify with this group of people at some time or other. In our weakness and inability to conquer sin, we find the power from Christ. Jesus Christ came to earth to help us by sacrificing his life to make the atonement for our sins. Can we who have been so blessed do any less for others in their time of need? What we need to do is to “be patient toward all” as the Scripture says. This is one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. It is a quality of God, who is patient and full of mercy (Psalm 103). This quality of God, who is “patient and full of mercy”, is to be reproduced in each of us who bear the image of God. Remember what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love is patient,” This is an exercise that is especially necessary in us, the leaders, but in this as in other respects they show an example that their brothers and sisters are to follow. Also, Paul urges us in verse 15, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong”. This is the basic Christian teaching from Jesus, as he has spoken in Matthew 5:44-48, “44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Instead of paying back to the wrongs people had done to us, the Scripture tells us to “always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”Do what is good and helpful to others, even do good to those who hate you. Our Christian love is to be shown within the brotherhood in Christ as well as to all the human family. In an ethical sense, our motive in our actions is love, righteousness, peace and holiness. While getting even or exacting, our own sense of justice is a strong human tendency, but Jesus was different. He contradicted just about everything we naturally do. He often began his moral lessons with what ‘you have heard’ and then called for a change. He brought a new way to live. Jesus is the new way of life. Therefore, we, as a Christian community who abide in Christ and entrust our grievances, hardships, and the wrongs we suffer to him, can we live with this command. It is not natural, but it is possible. A renowned preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “even the non-Christian, the man of the world, expects the Christian to be different.” Forgiving our enemies marks a distinctly Christian approach to life, like in the Book of Romans, where Paul called us to live in peace, not to take revenge. He said, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20). “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). And so when he told the Thessalonians to “be kind to each other and to everyone else”, it means everyone both inside and outside the church as we forgive our enemies.
2) Be joyful, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances
After talking about our relationship with others, Paul switch to our inner Christian attitudes. He said, “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) Be joyful always. Christian joy is not bound by circumstances or hindered by difficulties. Joy in the Bible is often coupled with sorrow or suffering. When our sorrow and suffering results from being identified with Christ, the Holy Spirit creates a supernatural joy – wellness of soul that cannot be dampened by adverse situations. We are commanded to be joyful. It is a choice, a deliberate response that focuses on the grace and goodness of God. As Hebrews 12:2-3 states, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Secondly, pray continually. This means we shall never stop praying. Paul was a busy man. He wrote about the Christian’s duty to fulfil daily responsibilities, so this is not a command about speaking non-stop prayers. It refers, however, to the attitude of prayer, or reverence before God. The Christian’s life of righteousness and his approach to relationships and responsibilities should be such that he maintains a constant attitude of being in God’s presence. Such a Christian will pray often and about many things, including requests, praise, and thanksgiving. This command also means that we should never quit praying.
And when we pray, always include thanksgiving. The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. Thanksgiving reveals a person’s trust in the sovereignty of Christ. It recognizes God’s importance in all events as the Giver of all good things. Especially when we give thanks to God when difficult or painful situations invade our life, a thankful spirit pushes us beyond our natural capacities in hard times. We are commanded to be thankful, no matter what happens, is possible only by God’s grace. When we can agree with God that he works all things out for good to those who love him and are committed to obedience, we can thank him.
As it is written in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”Anyone who loves God will give thanks to God constantly in any circumstances. The more we hear a person thanking God, the higher the indication that he put his trust in God’s sovereignty over his life.
3) Spiritual integrity and test everything with spiritual understanding
Then Paul gives us a four-fold warning in verse 19 onwards, “19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)
The first, “Do not quench the Spirit”, Apostle Paul uses the verb “quench” metaphorically, which commonly means “putting out a fire”, it is suppressing of the Holy Spirit or his activity in the congregation, from the negative imperatives in the text, it means that the recipients are being told to stop doing something they have already begun to do. But what is this activity from the Holy Spirit in the church? As the context goes on to make plain, the activity mainly in view here is prophecy. Paul wrote, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt”. In this respect, the Holy Spirit may be quenched when the prophet refuses to utter the message he has been given, or when others try to prevent him from uttering it.
For example, in Amos 2:12 in the Old Testament, the people of Israel are condemned because they commanded the prophets and said, “You shall not prophesy”. When the prophetic gift is exercised in the church, the utterance must be received seriously and not be ignored. The prophet or preacher in the church was the spokesman of the risen Christ. The prophetic charisma by the Spirit goes back ultimately to Christ, the revelation of the Father. Old puritans in the 16th century called preaching prophecy, highlighting the aspect of communicating God’s Word. Therefore, a specially high authority is attached to this gift, and preaching plays a prophetic role in the life of the church. The warning that prophecy must not be depreciated but heard with respect due to the Spirit whose voice is communicated through the prophet or preacher. Prophesying helps in building up of the church.
Those who were prophets in the Old and New Testament are connected to the written Word of God. The prophets speak. Those words become Scripture, like Apostle Paul or Peter or John or any other biblical writers in the Bible. But we could call our gifts and ministries “prophetic” in a sense that we are part of the work of the gospel in preaching and prophesying, that is, communicating God’s Word from the Bible accurately to the congregation.
We know that a certain type of prophecy becomes the Word of God. Prophets speak, and those words become Scripture. We also know there is a type of prophecy that has to be tested and compared with the Word of God. That is what Paul is teaching here; he said, thirdly, “but test them all”. There is a distinction between a standing authority that is unchangeable Word of God and other prophecies that must be tested. If we are talking about our brothers and sisters from the charismatic tradition, we must acknowledge that Apostle Paul here commands that we test prophecy. Those pastors and Christian must ensure that their words are in submission to the Word of God, and those words need to be tested and proved by God’s Word. Any charismatic traditions that do not submit to God’s Word as the final authority do not follow Paul’s commands.
When we make statements about the Christian faith that have to be tested against the Word of God, and if they do not measure up to the Scriptures, that could be harmful to our faith and become heresy. Hence godly advice and counsel must be tested through God’s Word. It does not matter whether we are talking about sermons or counsel about life or friends at work who say, “God told me to tell you…” All of it must be tested by God’s Word.
Finally, “hold on to what is good and every kind of evil”. If we receive counsel that is good and is in line with Scripture, we should “hold fast” to it. If the counsel is harmful and not in line with Scripture, we should reject it. This is crucial regarding preaching and teaching God’s Word. The preaching and teaching from the pulpit, in youth talk or youth group, in Bible Studies, or children ministry must be scriptural, bible-based teaching that we can refer back to God’s Word.
4) The God of peace who sanctifies us
After Paul explained to Thessalonians church about the life of the congregation in regards to its leadership, its love, and its worship. Throughout this letter, he has addressed our doctrine and our life, what we believe and how we live.
Our life of faith grows and trusts the Lord, our life of love that serves those in the church, and our life of hope that is confident in the future and knows that this life of faith, love and hope is not an accident. The life of the church is formed by God in the context of the gospel. Faith, love and hope are possible because of God’s promise, as Paul concludes in verse 23, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
Whatever God calls us to do, in terms of being obedient or loving one another, in terms of our relationships, work and business practice, or sexual purity, all those commands included under what it means to live a life that pleases God. And all of these must first of all be rooted in the gospel. If we do not get that, our whole life will be one of frustration. Paul came into Thessalonica with the gospel message, and he did not have the time to stay there and teach them all he intended, but Paul had confidence in God. God would continue to work and transform these Christians, and God has promised he will continue that work in our lives as well. When Paul wants to encourage us, he ties everything back to the gospel and explains in verse 24, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
So let us be confident that God will keep his promises. God is faithful, and he will finish what he started.
And let us finish by reminding of our response to his Word today:
- Be self-controlled; disciplined living is a mark of the Spirit in our lives.
- Studying prophecy is good, but it is better to live in obedience to the prophetic Word of God.
- We are to live with habits, character, and purposes that can withstand the glare of daylight exposure—the scrutiny of God. We are not to live a dark life, hidden in its intentions or practices.
- Show respect for your Christian leaders and parents.
- Trust God to do his part in our sanctification & growth as we do our part.
And this conclude today’s passage. We will start a new series on 2 Thessalonians next week.