Scripture and the Church

1 Thessalonians 5: Concise, Weighty Exhortations

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
In First Thessalonians 5 beginning at verse 16, the Holy Spirit through Paul gives a series of concise but weighty exhortations to Christians regarding prayer, life, the Word of God, discernment, and evil.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part four of a series. Read part three.

In First Thessalonians 5 beginning at verse 16, the Holy Spirit through Paul gives a series of concise but weighty exhortations to Christians regarding prayer, life, the Word of God, discernment, and evil.

Having commended the Thessalonian believers for their genuine embrace of the truth, their faithful and fervent witness for Christ, and their perseverance in the face of persecution; and having exhorted them to correct problems of lingering immorality from their former lives, laziness in daily living, and misunderstandings concerning the Second Coming of Christ, the Apostle Paul concludes his first letter to them with an additional series of very short but very weighty exhortations.

Rejoicing, Unceasing, Thankful Prayer

First, Paul gives exhortations regarding prayer in chapter 5 beginning at verse 16:

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

In the original Greek this is one continuous, connected set of thoughts. The idea is that all prayer must have all three elements. "Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks" - Why? - This is God's will for every believer. He desires for us to reflect with rejoicing upon all that is ours in Christ. He desires for us to be continually before His throne through the intercession of our great Advocate. He desires that in bringing before Him all that is on our hearts, we do so with gratitude for who He is, what He has already done for us, and what He has promised without fail to do for us in the future.

What reasons did these believers have to rejoice? Paul has named several.

They had reason to rejoice in their deliverance from paganism:

You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1:9)

They had reason to rejoice in the power of the Word of God:

You received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. (2:13)

They had reason to rejoice in the fact that Christ is coming again, as he explains to them in detail at the end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5. Those who have gone before us are the dead in Christ, Paul tells them. They are with Christ. You can rejoice, he tells them, that those dear friends and loved ones are safe with Christ forever. You need have no doubt or question as to their present or future state.

The Thessalonian Christians had reason to rejoice in their deliverance from judgment:

God did not appoint us to wrath [that is, to Hell, to damnation] but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we are awake and watching or we are sleeping in Jesus, we should live together with Him. (5:9-10)

Rejoice in this, Paul tells them. This should be our attitude as we come before God through Christ in prayer. We should constantly rejoice in the fact that we are no longer under condemnation, that we have passed from death to life.

Live Life in the Spirit

In addition to all of these exhortations regarding prayer, in chapter 5 verse 19 Paul gives them an exhortation regarding life:

Do not quench the Spirit.

Literally, do not throw water upon the fire of the Spirit. Did you know that we can do that? We do it by not heeding all of the warnings that the Holy Spirit through Paul gives us in this epistle. We throw water on the fire of the Spirit by remaining uninstructed in the truth. We throw water on the fire of the Spirit by remaining complacent in our sins. Christian, you are the temple of the Holy Spirit. As Paul told the church at Ephesus, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you are sealed for the day of redemption" (4:30).

The Word of God and Its Proclamation

And then Paul goes on to give the Thessalonian believers an exhortation regarding the Word of God:

Do not despise prophecies. (5:20)

This is a short but very rich statement in the original language. Literally, Paul is saying this: Do not treat any authoritative Word from God as something you can simply take or leave at your own whim. Do not treat the Word of God itself like that. And do not treat the faithful proclamation of the Word of God like that. Take it in. Take it seriously. Take it to heart. This is your spiritual meat and drink. This is for the building up of your souls.

Scripture-Driven Discernment

Paul next gives a companion exhortation regarding discernment:

Prove [literally, test] all things; hold fast to that which is good. (5:21)

Literally, prove the genuineness of all things. The wording is very emphatic and urgent here. Paul is saying this: Get possession of that which is spiritually good, and hold onto it for dear life. Do not let go of it. We find a similar exhortation, using the same word translated "prove" above, in 1 John 4:1 where it is translated "test" -

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Scrupulous Avoidance of Evil

Finally, Paul gives this very weighty exhortation regarding evil to people who lived in daily close contact with both Jewish legalism and pagan darkness:

Abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22) 

Recall, from our first article in this series, that the Thessalonian Christians lived in a city where every kind of false religion, every kind of pagan practice, every kind of worldly philosophy, and every kind of immorality were to be found in abundance. Many forms of evil surrounded them as closely as the air they breathed. The word translated "form" here refers not only to every appearance or instance of evil, but also to every type of evil.

Paul's exhortation speaks of a scrupulous, conscientious, Scripture-driven abstinence from evil. How much our churches lack this in our day. How much we need to take this to heart in our media-saturated age, where evil continually attacks all the senses.


Next: Where Do You Stand?


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