Sunday School Lesson - 1 Thess. 5:12-28 - AWAITING CHRIST'S RETURN
INTRODUCTION: Last week, in 1 Thess. 5:1-11, we heard Paul continue to clarify the apparent confusion among the Thessalonian believers in regard to the timing of Christ's Second Coming. He explained that (1) the "Day of the Lord" had not yet come and (2) would happen at an unexpected time. While they are waiting on this, he warned them that they must be prepared in terms of staying alert, keeping self-control, and making sound decisions. He told them that, as believers, God had equipped them with all the spiritual armor they needed-faith, love, and hope-to protect them from any and all spiritual enemies. Their main job, while they waited, was to encourage and build-up one another and work hard to live unselfish lives evidenced by good work, such as sharing the gospel with an unbelieving world and making new disciples. This week, in 1 Thess. 5:12-28, we'll hear Paul conclude the chapter with further instructions on righteous living as children of the light while they are awaiting Christ's return. Since we are also waiting, these instructions are equally relevant to us.
Read 1 Thess. 5:12-15 - APPRECIATE THOSE IN LEADERSHIP OVER YOU
But we ask you, brothers and sisters, to recognize those who diligently labor among you and are in leadership over you in the Lord, and give you instruction, 13 and that you regard them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. 14 We urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek what is good for one another and for all people.
Note: If you've been around churches for a while, you've probably seen many that have an unhealthy Christian environment. I'm referring to divided churches that are plagued by power struggles and internal strife among the members. The fact of the matter is that we must have a healthy church environment if we hope to attract people to Christ and give them a spiritual atmosphere where they can be nurtured in the faith and made into effective disciples.
v. 12: "But we ask you, brothers and sisters, to recognize those who diligently labor among you and are in leadership over you in the Lord, and give you instruction" - Because Paul brings this up, it suggests that the Thessalonians have a problem with respecting their leadership. These leaders were probably appointed elders who themselves were relatively new believers. Notice that Paul doesn't demand that they respect their leaders but requests them to "recognize" them-to respect them because of the job they willingly undertook and the work they do for the good of the church. The expression "diligently labor among you" implies that these leaders were dependable and hard-working people. The word used for "instruction" (Gk. noutheteo, lit. to warn and correct) means these leaders were empowered to instruct members as to correct Christian behavior and beliefs, which is a necessary job and an essential part of maintaining a healthy Christian community.
v. 13: "and that you regard them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another" - This instruction further hints that there was some chaos in the church due to lack of respect for leaders. As church members, we are duty bound to respect our leaders "because of their work"-the time and effort they must devote to the responsibilities of their job. Whether they have a "good" personality or not (and that's pretty subjective) isn't the issue-If they are competently doing their job, they deserve our whole-hearted respect and support. Living "in peace" pertains to having an attitude that allows us to work and cooperate with one another for the good of the church.
v. 14a: "We urge you, brothers and sisters"- We invite all kinds of people to become a part of our church, and in this verse, Paul gives advise on how to deal with different people in different ways.
v. 14b: "admonish the unruly - The word used for "unruly" (Gk. ataktos) is a military term that literally means to be out of step with the rest of the formation. In practical terms, it refers to an insubordinate person who refuses to be disciplined. For the good of the church, they must be warned and counseled that they must discontinue their disruptive behavior "or else" (i.e., face discipline).
v. 14c: "encourage the fainthearted" - These are people who are discouraged. In Thessalonica they probably had been persecuted for their faith outside the church, in their workplace or neighborhood. They are people who need others to come along-side and build them up...help them feel secure.
v. 14d: "help the weak" - This isn't physical weakness but immaturity in faith. Their problems could be sexual lust, financial irresponsibility, or other factors. Whatever it is, mature Christian should come along-side to help them work through their weakness.
v. 14e: "be patient with everyone" - Do you know anyone in the church who get on your nerves? As a church and out of Christian love, we all must learn to be patient and forgiving of our fellow church members despite the quirks and shortcoming of their personalities-whether or not they deserve it!
v. 15a: "See that no one repays another with evil for evil" - This is an attitude of revenge. As Christian, we don't (1) need to get even or (2) have the last word. Mature Christians do not retaliate against Christians or non-Christians. Mature Christians place justice in the hands of God.
v. 15b: "but always seek what is good for one another and for all people" - This is the other side of the coin on retaliation. Instead of seeking to retaliate against someone, a mature Christian will seek to do "what is good" for them. This isn't intrinsic, but is something we affirmatively decide to do-we demonstrate love to those who dislike us...we demonstrate the character of Christ to them.
Read 1 Thess. 5:16-24 - IN EVERYTHING GIVE THANKS
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit, 20 do not utterly reject prophecies, 21 but examine everything; hold firmly to that which is good, 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will do it.
v. 16: "Rejoice always" - This is the shortest verse in the Greek NT and one of the hardest to consistently obey. The Holy Spirit commands us to rejoice-"always"-which literally includes even the worst of times, e.g., Paul rejoiced in prison in and even while on trial facing a death penalty. True joy isn't based on circumstances but on assurance in the work and person of Jesus Christ. An attitude of joy during hardships is one of the things that distinguish Christians from the rest of the world.
v. 17: "pray without ceasing" - This isn't constant, every waking minute prayer but a regular, planned, and organized prayer life. We should pray whenever we're thankful, when uncertain or under stress, when we need wisdom or strength, etc. This would include our planned daily prayers, plus prayers prompted by random events, good or bad, as we move through each new day. It's an ongoing conversation with God in which we do our best to keep God "tuned-in" to our life and our thoughts as we go through each day. This is a vitally important dynamic in the Christian life.
v. 18a: "in everything give thanks" - Did you notice Paul said "everything"? We can do this because God is sovereign. He controls prosperity and adversity in our lives. This teaches us that we must trust God for everything, good or bad, that happens to us in life and know it is for a purpose. This is easy to say but harder to do. It requires contemplation and a lot of willpower. I'm still working on it!
v. 18b: for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" - "for" incorporates all three commands: So , we must rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks because it's the "will of God for" us "in Christ Jesus." And notice that these commands aren't a product of human wisdom but part of God's plan for you and me.
v. 19: "Do not quench the Spirit" - Here, Paul is using "Spirit" in the corporate sense, as the power network that connects all believers together as a body in the local church. Some Christians extinguish-i.e., "quench"-the flame of the Spirit in their lives by not yielding to the Spirit's conviction of sin in their lives. When they do this, they are quite literally throwing cold water on God's work in their church. Rebellion against a church's leadership is a good example of how the Spirit's ministry can be quenched in a particular church. Have you seen this in a church? I have.
v. 20: "do not utterly reject prophecies" - As used here, the term "prophecies" can refer to a spoken revelation from God, but most often refers to the written word of Scripture. What Paul is saying-i.e., "do not utterly reject"-is that believers should be open to the disclosure of God's will through fellow believers, as opposed to rejecting it out of hand. Scholars suggest that the Paul said this because the Thessalonians were apparently hostile to any expression of prophecy and by doing it, were cutting off a source of encouragement and thereby quenching the Spirit's fire. (Note: The gift of prophecy remains controversial among evangelical churches, concerning both the nature and duration of the gift. Many reputable commentators hold that New Testament prophecy was a special, temporary gift that ended with the completion of the NT Canon [i.e., 27 books from Matthew to Revelation]; in any case, however, this gift was still valid when Paul wrote this letter).
v. 21: "but examine everything; hold firmly to that which is good" - When Paul commanded the Thessalonians not to reject prophecies, he wasn't telling them to believe any religious nonsense that might come their way. No, he tells them to "examine"-put to the test-" everything." The church leadership (pastor-elders-deacons) would be the most likely examiners in this instance. Here are ten standard test criteria: (1) Does the message exalt Christ? (2) Is it consistent with Scripture? (3) Does it build-up the church? (4) Does it pronounce judgment on sin? (5) Does it emphasize the grace of God? (6) Does it produce Godly fruits? (7) If it foretells the future, did it come true? (8) Does the alleged prophet seek financial gain? (9) Does the alleged prophet have a godly character? And (10) To whom is the alleged prophet accountable and How so?
v. 22: "abstain from every form of evil" - This is very broad. The word "form" can be something that is out in the open to see or it can be a kind of something or other. The word "abstain" means to hold your self away from something. We must be very careful-keep our spiritual radar up-because the devil is infinitely clever in re-packaging forms of evil to make them look (key word) beautiful and harmless. So, how can we avoid evil? Well, we can start by not going to evil places, not engaging in evil entertainment, or entangling our lives with evil people. This is why wisdom and discernment are so important in the Christian life. Ps. 1:1 states: "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers." Finally, conviction by the Holy Spirit is the surest safeguard; if you prayerfully listen, it will in some way tell you: Abstain!
v. 23a: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely" - First, we must understand that God isn't asking us to attain the impossible-to become perfect in this life. As we learned two weeks ago, progressive sanctification (Gk. hagiazo, lit. to make holy) is the process of spiritual learning and application that takes place over a believer's lifespan. As the "God of peace," God will equip us over time to become the people He wants us to be, and if we allow His Holy Spirit to work in us, Paul adds that God will "sanctify you entirely." The word "you" here is plural, meaning that God can and will sanctify the entire congregation of a church. This is how we became a mature and unified church.
v. 23b: "and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete" - The goal of sanctification is to be "complete" in every part of our being, i.e., "spirit, soul and body," as individual believers and as a church.
v. 23c: "without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" - This is the end result of the process: to be "without blame." While this doesn't imply perfection, it pictures a church of faithful believers who are striving daily to live and serve in a manner that pleases God. Paul's mission is to help these Christians and the churches they represent to be found without fault when Jesus returns.
v. 24: "Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will do it" - Becoming holy and blameless (v. 23) is something we can't achieve on own, but God is faithful and will use His Spirit to work these miracles in our lives, and we need to do our part by living godly, faithful, and fruitful lives.
Read 1 Thess. 5:25-28 - FINAL WORDS
25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. 27 I put you under oath by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. 28 May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
v. 25: "Brothers and sisters, pray for us" - When Paul says "pray," he mean continuing, effectual prayer. He understood-and so should we-that we aren't sufficient in ourselves to do God's work. No one can do God's work without covering it in prayer. It's part of our Christian job description.
v. 26: "Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss" - In the First Century, the "holy kiss" was a gesture of brotherhood (and sisterhood) and form of greeting between members of the same sex, consisting of a "peck" on the cheek, not on the mouth. It signified affection, not passion.
v. 27: "I put you under oath by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters" - This is very important because most early church members could not read. In saying this, Paul is ordering the Thessalonian leaders read all of the letter to every single member of the church. Most likely, it was more than reading and included explanation and exposition of the text. Remember that Paul's letters were the Word of God, and it was vital for these persecuted Christians to hear it.
v. 28: "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" - An apt ending, because there was nothing these Thessalonians believers needed more than "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" to strengthen them and ensure the survival of their church.
APPLICATION-Prescriptions for a healthy church:
1. Respect for church leadership is essential to the health of individual believers as well as the church as a whole. Church leadership isn't a popularity contest. Church leaders-pastors, deacons, committee members-deserve our respect because of the work they do for the good of the church.
2. The health of a church requires members to obey the spiritual authority of church leaders over them. There is no such thing as a perfect church. It's inevitable that some people will do things they shouldn't be doing or will fail to do things they should be doing. It might relate to sin in their life or spiritual immaturity. This means there will be times when the behavior of a church member necessitates correction, and in some cases, discipline. When this happens, it's a leader's job to correct those who need guidance with love, understanding, patience, and consideration.
3. The joy, prayers, and thanksgiving of church members all work to uplift the health of the church. For us, joy isn't based on circumstances but on assurance in the work and person of Jesus Christ. We pray, effectually and daily, because we understand that we can't do God's work without covering it in prayer. And we are able to be thankful even in adversity because we trust God for the outcome.
4. "Quenching" the Spirit can destroy the health of a church. When church members engage in behavior that "quenches" the Spirit, they are quite literally throwing cold water on God's work in their church. Rebellion against the church's leadership by individuals or factions is one example of something that can tear a church apart.
5. Abstaining from evil on a personal level protects the health of our church on the corporate level. On a practical level, the best away to avoid evil is to stay away from it. Avoiding evil involves making a conscious decision not to go to evil places, not engage in evil entertainment, and not entangle our lives with evil people. Equally important, if we allow ourselves to be tempted by sin, the Holy will convict us to stay away from it and show the means of escape.
6. Sanctification on a personal level improves the health of our church on a corporate level. This is a life-long process of spiritual learning and growth that turns us into mature believers. While It doesn't imply perfection, it does mean that as individuals and as a body, we are striving together day-by-day to live godly, faithful, and fruitful lives in a way that attracts people to Christ and gives them a healthy spiritual atmosphere where they can be nurtured in the faith and made into disciples.
PRAYER: Dear God in heaven, thank You so much for this church. Thank you that you've given us this wonderful building where we can congregate, worship, and have good fellowship with one another. At the same time, as Paul reminds us this morning-having a healthy church is not something that we can for granted-not ever. It requires a conscious effort that includes everyone. As Paul tells us, how we conduct ourselves on an individual level is absolutely vital to the continuing health of our church on a corporate level. We need to be mindful of this responsibility every time we walk through the doors of this building. No matter what's going on in the world outside, we need to be doing our best inside this church. We need to do this so that we will be a light to those who are outside watching us. Help each of us, Father, to be better, not just at showing love to our fellow church members, but to any stranger who walks through our doors. Help us to be known as a church that loves people. And I ask these things in the name of our precious Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, AMEN.