These are notes of a sermon outline, not a full message.
This is an exciting epistle, full of joy and energy. Despite all the persecution they have experienced, the Thessalonian church is thriving and growing and reaching out with the gospel. Sure, Paul has to remind them about the resurrection of the dead when Jesus returns; and he also wants to remind them to work hard, to keep pure, to be alert for Jesus’s coming, but in general things are fine.
So as he concludes, it’s upbeat and encouraging.
This is common with Paul and other letter-writers of his day, to conclude a letter with a brief list of commands or exhortations. “Time is running out, just a little more space on the page, Do this, don’t do that, don’t forget this! We use the Italian word staccato to describe his style. Quick, some important points.
TO THE WHOLE CHURCH: Two commands 12-13a, then in 13b
12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, the believers must practice behaviors that reflect their identity as children of the Father. These must include a holy relationship among members and between members and their leaders, a life of fervent prayer together, and the careful discernment of prophetic messages.
12 to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13a Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Christian leaders, if they are doing what they should be doing, are motivated by love. So you should respect them for that and not cause them trouble. There is a certain personality type that loves to be the troublemaker, but Paul says, don’t be that way.
13b Live in peace with each other. One of the kindest things you can do for the leader of the church is be in peace and love and unity with all the other Christians. Act in such as way “that their work will be a joy, not a burden” (Heb 13:17). Mark 9:50 says “be at peace with each another”; Rom 12:18 says “live in peace with everyone”.
TO THE LEADERS: Six commands – not everyone agrees with this, but I think he turns to the leaders of the church, so I emphasize the word you
14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Idle and disruptive – not working as they should (will turn to a problem in 2 Thess 3); disheartened = “comfort the feebleminded” in the original KJV; NKJV “fainthearted” – not mentally deficient, but discouraged; help the weak. Notice that different people in different circumstances need different things from their leaders: a rebuke, an encouragement, help, instruction, etc. “be patient with everyone” = don’t lose your temper. According to Numbers 20, Moses couldn’t enter the Promised Land because he lost his temper at Meribah and spoke angry words to God’s people – “You rebels!” From the early second century comes a fine statement on how pastors should be patient with all. Ignatius warns Polycarp to “bear with all people, even as the Lord bears with you; endure all in love, just as you now do.… If you love [only the] good disciples, it is no credit to you” (Ign. Pol. 1.2; 2.1).
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. This shows that leaders of the church should intervene when there are divisions. Not only should leaders not be quarrelsome (1 Timothy), they should quell quarrels in the church. But this also applies to outsiders who harass the church – Christians should never take justice into their own hands.
TO THE WHOLE CHURCH: Four more commands, which seem to be given to all the believers. In the synagogue in Paul’s day, some men might lead by teaching and leading the service, the women would watch. Here in a church meeting in Thessalonica, maybe a few dozen people would be there – SPCF would be a very typical church! And Paul assumes that everyone would be participating, because the church is a family. In church everyone participates. We’ll come back to the theme of family in v. 26.
16 Rejoice always – This is no error in the text; even in their times of fierce persecution, Christians are called up to be filled with joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and it is a command, an obligation. As the ancient hymn “Phos Hilaron” says, “You are worthy at all times to be praised by cheerful voices.”
17 pray continually – Or it could be translated as “without ceasing”. Don’t be fatigued, have a life of regular strenuous prayer: “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always” (Ps 105:4).
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Like “rejoice always”, we should be grateful always, not just in the good times.
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. He is not talking about sermons here, but the supernatural gift of prophecy. In Paul’s day it was common. He gives advice to keep them following God’s will – don’t reject prophecy, but don’t believe everything you hear either. There are so-called prophets a mile from here, who every New Year give out a list of prophecies that tell the church members what to do for the year. Often it has to do with giving more money to the church, but sometimes there are general promises, and if you don’t obey, then you are rejecting God. A friend of mine writes an exposé every year, in which he shows that the prophecies are almost never accurate. That’s just what we should do – test everything, reject the bad prophets and their prophecies. In 1 Cor 14:29: “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said” – and perhaps say, “We believe that this did or did not come from God.”
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. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. Some use this verse as proof that an individual is composed of three sections. That is possible. However, the Scriptures in general, and Paul in particular, use strings of nouns to describe the entirety of the human person. For example, Deut 6:5 mentions heart, soul, and strength, yet few scholars argue that it teaches a three-part human nature. Nor does the Lord Jesus (Mark 12:30) mean to say that the “heart, soul, mind, and strength” means we have four parts. For his part, Paul casts the work of sanctification in terms of spirit and body in 2 Cor 7:1 – “let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” Some people go to great lengths to say the soul is this, the spirit does that; but the Bible isn’t quite that clear on the issue. The point is – your whole person must be holy through and through. And it is God alone who makes that possible. Now, on the one hand, we will be completely perfect at the resurrection, when Christ appears; but on the other hand, holiness is our daily duty. We are not perfect now, but we should certainly strive to be.
Request for Prayer:
25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. One of the jobs of the churches is to pray for Paul when he goes on to new works. He is now in Corinth with Silas and Timothy, and one way they can pay him back is to pray for him now.
Greet One Another:
26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. Here it consists of the kissing of people of both sexes. Kissing was hardly normal within the Greco-Roman context. Kissing was a family matter, yet even between married couples, public displays of affection were considered gauche. Within Judaism, kissing was reserved for family members – in the Prodigal Son, the father “ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Or kissing could be between intimate friends, for example, Judas kissed Jesus when he betrayed him. For members of a congregation to kiss one other was not simply a show of affection; it was the affirmation that the church is the true family. It probably was a part of every meeting, something like what we do here in Costa Rica. In the following centuries, the leaders of the church decided that, well, men should kiss men, and women women, because otherwise it could look bad. And “greet ALL of God’s people” means you don’t just show your friends you love them, but everyone.
Read This Letter:
27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. They didn’t have a photocopier or email, so they would take the letter to the small groups of Christians.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Paul concludes Romans and 2 Thessalonians in the same way. Take a look at this: Acts 13:43 – Paul and Barnabas “talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” Because isn’t it God who is the source of divine grace? So how is it that Paul can talk now about the grace of God, and without skipping a beat, about the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ? In the same way, Joel 2:32 says that whoever calls on the name of the Lord (Jehovah) will be saved; but when Paul quotes it he says it’s whoever calls on the name of the Lord Jesus who will be saved. The answer is that to talk about God’s work is to talk about Christ, and to talk about Christ is to talk about God. If Christ is not God, then it is blasphemy to say, as Paul will in 2 Thess 1:2 – “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
It all comes down to the grace of God, doesn’t it? Because we know that God is a God of justice, and that everything he does is right.
2 Thess 1:5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.
“Payback” for them, entry into the kingdom of God for you. And the reason a righteous God can condemn people who have done wicked deeds, yet vindicate other people who have done exactly the same deeds, is only through God’s grace in Christ. As in all of Paul’s letters, that is where 1 Thessalonians takes us.
“Oh, before I conclude let me just say…” 1 Thess 5:12-28 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 15], Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testamento, Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica