When the New Testament writers, led by the Holy Spirit, ended their letters to churches or people, their closings often offer the final concerns and instructions. These are the final directions for the church to pay attention to as he closes the letter. Paul’s concern in these final instructions is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
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. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV)
The whole letter to these Thessalonians has been about placing their eyes of the coming of Jesus Christ. They were to live their lives in the light of eternity. Be ready for his coming. He is coming like a thief in the night and knowing that he is coming means that we must live our lives differently now. So let us look at some of the final instructions Paul gives to these Christians to encourage to be blameless when the Lord Jesus returns.
Attitudes and Actions Toward Your Spiritual Leaders (5:12-13)
Paul’s final instructions begin with the attitude they must have toward their spiritual leaders. Paul says we must respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you. This is a wide group of leaders. Those who work among you, those who are over you, and those who admonish you are to be respected. The word means to regard them favorably. Spiritual leadership is difficult and a weighty responsibility. It is often a thankless work and honor needs to be given. Paul says to regard them favorably and esteem them highly (5:13). You are not as fortunate as I am to watch how our shepherds have handled some very difficult situations over the past few years. They love this flock and have handled some very large challenges, conflicts, and sins. I want you to know how much they love you and are working very hard for your good. Paul says that they deserve our respect. They deserve for us to regard them favorably and esteem them highly.
Notice that he says right after that to be at peace among themselves. This seems to give us a picture of the problem. It is a problem that is as old as the people of Israel in Egypt. Think about how many times various people within Israel rebelled against God’s leaders. It happened many times. It happens from Moses’ own brother and sister. We have this natural desire to rebel against leadership. They are not doing a good job. I know more. I could do better. They do not know what they are doing. They are making mistakes. I submit to you that all of those statements could be true. But those things do not matter. We are called to esteem our spiritual leaders of this church highly and regard them favorably because of their work (5:13). So be at peace with them (cf. Hebrews 13:17). Do not be divisive. Do not be a problem. The leaders are serving you and working for you. They are not working for themselves. They should have our high regard because of the work they do, not because they do the work perfectly, because they will not do the work perfectly. There is to be a wonderful relationship between the leaders and the flock that is not the flock rebelling against the elders nor the elders telling the flock what to do. We have a relationship together because we are living in the light of eternity. We are working together.
Attitudes and Actions Toward One Another (5:14-15)
The next paragraph describes how we are to act toward one another when living in the light of eternity and the knowledge of Christ’s return. We noticed in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 that these Christians were being idle and not minding their own affairs. So now the idle and unruly are warned. What I want us to see is that we have a role in warning each other. Paul is writing to the Thessalonian Christians tell them to warn those who are disorderly.
Second, encourage the fainthearted. Encourage the discouraged. We have spoken a few times this year about how we are to be encouragers of each other. Closely tied to this idea is the next command to help the weak. People can be fragile in the faith. They can be susceptible to sin. They can be struggling with sin and struggling to obey God. Encourage them and help them. Come along side of them and help them along.
Third, be patient with them all. We probably all need to hear this. It is easy to grow impatient with those who are weak in the faith. It is easy to become frustrated with those who seem to always be struggling with sin. I have seen this before in a church where there was complaint regarding an individual who kept coming forward in confession of his sins. Why doesn’t he just stop sinning! It sounds so easy when we are talking about others. But we need to be patient. Keep working with the sheep who are willing to be worked with. We do not give up on those who are not giving up on God, though they are struggling. We never give up on those who continue to struggle for Christ. But once that struggle is no longer fought, the person has willfully determined to be unruly.
Fourth, do not repay evil for evil. We seek to do good to one another. We will always do good to each other even when we have been hurt or have had evil done to us. We do not respond with evil. We do not respond with maliciousness. We do not hurt others and do not respond in the way they have treated us.
Here is something I want us to think about: a normal church is going to have all of these in its midst. There are going to be people who are rebelling against God. There are going to be people who are discouraged. There are going to be people who are weak in faith. There are going to be people that hurt us and do evil to us. Here is what Paul says to do: warn them, be patient, and do good. Warn those who are walking away from God. Help and encourage those who are struggling. Be patient with all of these different people. Do good to them and not evil, no matter what they have done to you. We do this because we want to be blameless at our Lord’s coming.
Attitudes and Actions You Must Take (5:16-18)
After describing how we look at our leaders as we live in the light of eternity and how we handle each other as we live in the light of eternity, now Paul tells us what we must do as individuals for yourself. In verse 16 Paul begins that we need to rejoice always. Not that we feel happy because we will have pain, hurts, and suffering. But we live with a hope in God and his will in our lives that gives us a deeper joy in the midst of pain and hurt. We have a focus on God being glorified in our lives rather than a focus of avoiding earthly difficulties. We keep our minds on the spiritual riches we possess and the eternal glory to come rather than the present pain or loss. Friends, I do not know how else we get through trials and suffering except that we have joy in our spiritual riches and hope of eternal glory. This is what we rejoice in each day.
Second, pray always. Never give up praying. We need constant communication with God and it is something that we easily forget to do. Who do we talk to the most each day? God needs to be the one we talk to about everything we have going on in life. This command is a wonderful blessing. We do not pray only when we have a problem or need God’s help. God wants you to talk to him all the time. Can you imagine having a parent that only wanted to talk to you and listen to you when you had a problem? It would be a shallow, terrible relationship. We have a relationship with God that we are given access and the right to speak to him always. In fact, God is asking you to pray to him always in all things. Talk to him about anything!
Third, give thanks always. Everything we have is from God and he deserves our gratefulness. Job was thankful for what he had and continued to be thankful during all of his loss. We realize that everything is a blessing from God that is not deserved. We came into the world naked and we will leave the world with nothing. Job understood this and blessed God in all his loss because he understood this. Our eternity perspective will cause us to give thanks always because we see that we have nothing apart from God. He has given us all that we enjoy. He gave you your job, your wealth, your home, your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, and all the other relationships we enjoy. Spurgeon said, “When joy and prayer are married, their firstborn child is gratitude.”
So why do we rejoice always, pray always, and give thanks always? Because this is God’s will for you (5:18). These are the three things God has given us to always do because it is God’s will for us. Living in the light of eternity changes even what we do as individuals in the quiet of our own homes.
Attitudes and Actions Regarding Teaching (5:19-22)
Paul now turns to how they handle the teachings they receive. We need to remember what life in the first century looked like in regards to teaching the gospel. Remember that they did not have a New Testament yet in the early first century. So miraculous spiritual gifts, like prophecy and speaking in different languages, were given when the apostles laid their hands on a Christian (cf. Acts 8:18-19) so that God’s will could be proclaimed and spread.
In verse 19 Paul tells the Christians to not quench the Spirit. Use the spiritual gifts that have been given to you. Use your gifts. Use what God has given to you. Do not despise prophecies. This instruction is interesting because this seems to be a common problem. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians we see that they had done the same thing. They looked down on the gift of prophecy when this gift was God’s message. It was the proclamation of God’s word when God’s word had not yet been written down for all to read. Do not despise the proclamation of God’s word. For us, we extinguish the work of the Spirit by refusing to read the Spirit’s words and letting those words enter our hearts and change our lives.
Then, test everything. Do not believe a message just because someone says they have a message from God. The teaching must be tested. This is still true for us today. Do not believe it because I say it. Believe it because you see it in God’s word. This is one reason why I try to make every point come directly from the word of God. I want you to see it for yourself. I want you to see that these are not my ideas but God’s word. Test everything to make sure that what is taught is God’s word. Once tested, hold fast to it. Hold fast to what is good. Do not walk away from sound teaching. Cling to that which God has defined as good. Abstain from anything that is evil. No evil can be allowed in our lives and in our teachings.
Why does Paul end with this flurry of commands? Because it is his prayer that the Lord will sanctify them completely and that their whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the Lord’s coming. We need to be ready for his coming. These words from God as seen in his word are the means by which God is preparing us to be holy and blameless at his coming. Listen to his words and let them change your life. God is cleaning us up if we will let him do the work. Honor and respect your spiritual leaders because of the work they are doing. Warn those who are turning away from God, encourage the faint, help the week, and be patient with them all. Do good in the face of evil. Rejoice always, pray always, and give thanks always. Do not despise God’s word. Know it and cling to it, testing everything that claims to be from God. If we will do these things we will be found blameless when he returns. Live your life in the light of eternity.