Final Instructions from a Spiritual Father (I Thessalonians 5:12-28)
Introduction: God's Will for a Holy Life
An unnamed evangelist from many years ago was accustomed to tell a story of an old farmer by the name of brother Jones, who, in the prayer meetings of his church, would often use this phrase in describing his spiritual life: "Well, I'm not making much progress, but I'm established." One springtime, when the farmer was getting out some logs, his wagon sank in the mud in a soft place in the road and he could not get out. As he sat on top of the logs reviewing the situation, a neighbor who had never accepted the principle of the old man's religious experience came along and greeted him: "Well, Brother Jones, I see you are not making much progress, but you're established."
Contrary to what the old farmer kept saying, those who are "well established in the faith", won't just be stuck. They will be making progress that, over-time is noticed as a real moving toward the goal of becoming holy or set apart for God. And they, in their lives, will continually become more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ. They won't ever be perfect in this sin-cursed body in which we live. However, there will be a gradual yet actual move in the right direction.
In I Thessalonians 5:12-28, the Apostle Paul is finishing up his letter to this young, persecuted church. Throughout the epistle, he has been encouraging them in their struggles as they are leading exemplary lives of faith under harsh conditions. Paul, their spiritual father, along with Silas and Timothy, lead them to the Lord and established this church. Shortly after they did this, Paul and his companions were opposed and run out of town. The Thessalonians remained but were undergoing much opposition. Yet they continued to be faithful and thrived despite what was happening to them.
The Apostle, after learning this from Timothy, wrote this letter of encouragement. John Macarthur, in his Macarthur Study Bible, tells us that he has also:
"Answered some false allegations, comforted the persecuted flock, expressed joy in their faith, reminded them of the importance of moral purity, condemned the sluggard lifestyle, corrected wrong ideas of prophetic events, defused some tensions taking place in the flock and finally is exhorting the church in the basics of Christian living."
These believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are already on the right path toward holiness. Paul is, in this final section of this epistle, giving them some teaching that will help them to continue on the right path which they are already taking. He gives them several ways in which to walk in obedience to the Lord.
I. Walk with Respect Toward Spiritual Leaders (12-13)
The first way that the Apostle talks about of continuing toward holiness is by respecting those who are the spiritual leaders in the church. In walking with respect toward spiritual leadership, it is assumed here that we get to know our shepherds well enough to be sure that they are worthy of that respect. We don't just blindly follow a leader who may be one who will lead us astray. Rather, true spiritual leaders are ones with a love for the Lord and His Word and they care about the flock to whom the Lord has entrusted them.
There is a threefold test here of good spiritual leadership. First, they labor diligently among us. The implication is laboring to the point of exhaustion.
Secondly, they take the leadership role or are overseers. The literal translation of this is that they stand before the flock to lead them in the way of righteousness.
And finally, they instruct in the truths of God's Word.
All of these make them worthy of respect and worthy to follow. The world, as a whole, places no respect upon authority. And sometimes for good reason. Many worldly leaders don't do things that are respectable or godly. However, the Christian world is different in that we respect and follow those who have been placed over us by God and honor them for their service.
II. Walk with Concern for One Another (14-15)
However, not only does a growing Christian walk with respect for their godly leaders who are helping them become all that God would have them to be, but they also walk with concern for their fellow believers in Christ Jesus.
We are to live in peace with one another. Part of this is to warn those who are unruly. We can't allow a few to cause problems with the majority of the people of God.
It is also each of our jobs to comfort the fainthearted, uphold those who are weak and be patient with each other.
We must never render evil for evil to anyone. But always pursue what is good for ourselves and for all. So patience, forgiveness, and acts of goodness should prevail among all that call upon the name of Christ. Once again, the world looks out for number one. True love looks out for the other person.
III. Walking with Joy, Prayer and Thanksgiving (16-18)
Next, Paul moves to a summary of Christian virtues, given in short verses, in order to provide some foundational principles for a sound and successful spiritual life. They include walking in joy, praying and giving thanks.
First we are commanded to rejoice always or walk-in joy always. Joy is one of those virtues that is not based upon circumstances in life. One can be joyful in the midst of troubles of all kinds. Happiness is based on what happens to us. Joy comes from deep inside. It is based upon our relationship with the Lord and the knowledge that He is in control of everything that happens to us. .
Joy is an emotion that’s acquired by the anticipation, acquisition or even the expectation of something great or wonderful such as the upcoming place that Jesus is preparing for us in Heaven. It could be described as exhilaration, delight, or sheer gladness. The joy that the world holds is not nearly as amazing as biblical joy because biblical joy is also a gift. It is part of the fruit of the Spirit.
Paul also tells us to "pray without ceasing." That doesn't mean that we have to pray 24 hours a day, every second of every minute of every hour. It rather means to pray persistently and regularly. Someone has said: "Pray with the persistence of a hacking cough." We show our dependence upon the Lord by taking everything that is going on in our lives to Him in prayer.
Part of that acknowledgment is thanksgiving. One of the accusations by Paul of the pagan world in the book of Romans is that they "knew God but did not honor Him as God or give thanks." (Romans 1:21). The Christian, however, should be one who knows what God has done for them and freely thanks Him for the blessings that he receives every day. Without God nothing would exist, so all that we have and all that we ever hope to be is because God allows us to have it. So thanksgiving should be a routine aspect of our life as God's children.
IV. Walking While not Quenching the Spirit but Testing all Things (19-22)
A fourth way to walk as a Christian is so as not to quench the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is seen here as a flame that can be doused by sin. We are called the temples of the Spirit and He has sealed us until the day of redemption, meaning the day Christ returns. However, our sins can cause Him to be grieved (Ephesians 4:30) and to step out of the way of our free will. He will never make us do things we don't want to do. So His effectiveness in our lives is curtailed by our stubbornness and refusal to do things HIs way.
On the other hand, we are not to despise true prophetic utterances either. They are the Spirit talking through godly people. Prophetic utterances can refer to a spoken revelation from God. However, it most often is speaking of the written Word of Scripture.
Prophetic utterances are authoritative messages from the Lord from a well-recognized godly spokesman. Since we have the completed Word of God today, they need to be based upon what the Bible tells us and not some supposed "new revelation" from the Lord. But when God's Word is read or preached, it should be taken with complete seriousness.
However, that doesn't mean that we blindly follow everyone who speaks. We are told in verse 21 to examine everything. This is a call for testing and discernment with regard to what we hear someone say about the Word of God. We need to examine the preached Word carefully. And if it is found to be good teaching, we must wholeheartedly embrace it. On the other hand, if what is preached is proven to be evil, it is to be shunned. That is what Paul means when saying: "Abstain from every form of evil." (22).
V. Walk while Praying for the Completed Process of Sanctification in Others (23-28)
The final way to walk is found in Paul's last prayer and his concluding remarks. The great Apostle ends his epistle starting with a prayer for the Thessalonians that they may be preserved until the coming of Christ and may reach the goal of complete sanctification or holiness. We should all be walking, not just to make sure that we are becoming more and more like Christ. We should also care for our fellow-believers as well. He says:
"Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit soul and body be preserved, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will fulfill it." (23-24).
And after setting the example of praying for them, Paul then goes on to ask the Thessalonians to pray for him and his companions Silas and Timothy as well. The truth is that we are all our brother's keeper. We must care about each other's spiritual growth. Not because we want to merely butt into their lives. But because we love them and want the best for them.
As we reach the last 3 verses of this epistle, Paul's focus is on others as well. The Thessalonians are to greet one another with a holy kiss. This is a gesture of affection that refers to a cultural hug and kiss that was to be done righteously in the first century as a way to recognize that fellow believers were brothers and sisters in the Lord. Men did this with other men and women with other women.
Paul then goes on to make sure everyone hears what he had to say by commanding that his letter was read publically. And finally, he wishes for them that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with them.
All of these final wrap-up statements point toward the Apostle's concern for the church and each individual within it. And, if Paul cares for fellow believers like this, then we should as well.
Bishop Usher once said that:
"Sanctification is no less than for a man to be brought to an entire resignation of his own will to the will of God, and to live in the offering up of his heart continually in the flames of love, as a whole burnt-offering to Christ."
A desire for holiness or being like Christ should be something that we pray and strive for every day. We have a great example of a church that was well on their way to achieving this when we read Paul's letter to the Thessalonians. And they were doing this despite the fact that they were undergoing great persecution.
In the 21st century church in America, we have no excuse for not becoming all that God wants us to be. May we all, after the study of this great book, vow to make it our mission in our lives to become all that God would have us to be and encourage others to do the same. Let us live for an audience of one. For, in the end, it is only His opinion that truly matters!
© 2020 Jeff Shirley