Prior to the shelter in place orders, we had been studying 1 Thessalonians in youth group. In this post, we’ll wrap up our study of this letter.
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 with your family.
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
25 Brothers, pray for us.
26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 (ESV)
Paul concludes 1 Thessalonians with a series of exhortations to the Thessalonian church. While this passage may seem like a list of miscellaneous advice, it gives us a glimpse into how the Good News of Jesus should infuse all of life. Through the Gospel, the Thessalonians had experienced a complete transformation of who they were and how they lived, turning from idolaters into worshipers of the true and living God (1 Th. 1:9). In his concluding exhortations, Paul instructs the Thessalonians on how they are to continue growing as a people set apart for God.
Let’s break down Paul’s exhortations into three general areas. As we go through them, consider how God may be calling you to obey him in these areas.
Esteeming Spiritual Leaders
God has placed certain people in our lives to be “over” us in the Lord (v.12). This includes pastors, elders, deacons, and others who serve, but it also extends to parents and spouses. These ministers are to work hard in admonishing us in the Gospel. In response, we are to “esteem” them in love (v.13).
Discuss: Are we esteeming those whom God has appointed to counsel us and care for us spiritually (pastors, elders, deacons, parents, etc.)? Are we teachable? Do we ask for prayer? Or are we taking a “lone ranger” approach to our faith?
Be at Peace
Last week, we talked about the false peace that comes from being in the darkness. As Christians, we have a peace that comes from God, a peace grounded in the hope of salvation (1 Th. 5:8). But it is also a peace that must be practiced. In verse 13, Paul says that we are to be at peace “among yourselves.” In this sense, peace cannot only be individual. If we are quite secure in our own selves, but not at peace with family members and others in the church, then we don’t really have the peace that Paul is talking about.
This means that we can’t just sweep sin under the rug. To have genuine peace, we must deal with genuine problems. Thus, Paul writes, “we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (v.14).
Notice that Paul is not only writing to the pastors, but to all the believers. While none of us is able counsel everyone, all of us can bring godly counsel to someone in our lives. Sometimes, what a person needs to hear is a firm but encouraging word. Other times, what they need is help or comfort. Always, we are to address one another in love and patience. Another way of saying this is that we are to do good to all (v. 15).
Discuss: Are you at peace with your family and the people in your church? Is there someone you need to admonish? Is there someone you need to cheer up? Is there someone who needs your help? In this time, how can you be seeking the good of your parents, your children, or your siblings with whom you live?
Paul says that we should “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (v.16). In his commentary on 1 Thessalonians, F. F. Bruce writes, “To ‘pray without ceasing’ does not mean that every other activity must be dropped for the sake of prayer but that every activity must be carried on in a spirit of prayer.” In other words, Paul is not to say that we should never do anything else except rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Rather, rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving ought to be infused into everything that we do. These are foundational attitudes that we bring to all of life.
This kind of godly cheerfulness, prayer, and gratitude is possible only when we are grounded in what God has already done for us and what he will do for us. Gratitude is the response to God’s gift of life and salvation. Prayer recognizes that we depend upon God for all things. And we rejoice as we remember that “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:9).
Discuss: When do you find it hard to rejoice? To pray? To give thanks?
Listening to God
Paul’s last exhortations have to do with paying attention to God. “Do not quench the Spirit,” he says, “Do not despise prophecies” (vv.19-20). We should not ignore what God may be saying to us through those who proclaim his Word. Neither should we starve ourselves of our own personal reading of the Bible.
Nevertheless, we do not accept every voice, but we are to “test everything” carefully (v.21). In Deuteronomy, God commanded Israel to ignore any so-called prophet who enticed them to leave the Lord and serve other gods (Dt. 13:2-3). In the same way, we must test all things against the standard of God’s Word. We should hold fast to all that God’s Word reveals as good, true, and just, but we should refrain from all forms of evil.
Discuss: What voices are you listening to (music, news, etc.)? What images do you allow into your imagination (books, TV, etc.)? What sources do you trust for how you should think and feel about God, yourself, and the world?
Look back again at Paul’s exhortations and notice how often he says “all” or “always” or something similar. As we mentioned earlier, Paul is not giving us a list of random tips about life. When Paul first arrived in Thessalonica, he proclaimed the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Thessalonians believed this message with "full conviction," and as a result, they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Th. 1:9-10). Once idol worshipers, the Thessalonians experienced a total transformation in who they were and how they lived. The Gospel transforms all of life. It is like yeast that works its way through the whole lump of dough.
We are reminded of this in Paul’s concluding benediction: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:23). To be “sanctified” means to be set apart for God. Every aspect of ourselves and our lives is being set apart for him. There is no isolation of the ordinary from the supernatural, no separation between the spiritual and physical. All of it belongs to Christ.
Discuss: Why should the Good News of Jesus’s death and resurrection impact all of life? As Christians, we often “compartmentalize” the Gospel instead of letting it infuse all our living. Why do we do that?