This is a Bible study on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-28.

Source: The Outlook, 1980. 4 pages.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-28 - Exhortations and Conclusion

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-28

The Apostle is coming to the close of this first epistle to the Thessalonian church but he still has many things to say to them. When we consider the volume of work accomplished by this man, we often wonder how he found the time to write to so many churches and individuals. In these verses we seem to have an indication of the press on his time. The exhortations come in terse language — he does not seem to have the time to explain himself more fully. As a result, each brief statement contains a world of thought. One has to be acquainted with his other writings to be able to understand what he has in mind in each one of these short sentences.

"Rejoice Always"🔗

First of all he counsels them to rejoice always. This sounds like an ideal which is far beyond the grasp of most people. How can one rejoice at all times? There are so many experiences in life which remove all joy. Even the Scriptures inform us that there is a time to be glad and also a time to mourn. Yet, it is not an optimist who is totally out of touch with reality who is speaking here. He himself had had many difficult and frightening experiences. Be­sides, it is the Spirit of God Who is speaking through him. It is, therefore, a command that we are always to rejoice. How is this possible? The Thessalonian Christians will be able to understand him. They had left the service of idols — which gave no joy whatso­ever — and had become members of the body of Christ. That is sufficient reason to rejoice continu­ally! They now had a comfort which they had not deemed possible in their former manner of life. The future too was safe and they would enjoy future bliss such as they had not dreamt of. But, if this is then so natural for a believer, why does he have to give this exhortation? This is not difficult to under­stand because, although we have reason to rejoice at all times, we don't do it. Paul makes it clear to them (and to us) that there is no place for an unhappy Christian — no, that is a contradiction in terms. They must heed this admonition too to be true wit­nesses to the grace of God.

"Pray without Ceasing"🔗

Beside rejoicing at all times, they must also pray without ceasing. Every believer realizes the impor­tance of prayer in the life of a Christian and we have our stated times for prayer, but how can we pray without stopping? Does not this same author empha­size the need of diligent work on the part of be­lievers? How can one then spend all his time in prayer? His view of life does not permit one to be­come a monk! He does not counsel them to be en­gaged in formal prayer all the time, but their whole life must be a prayer! Their communion with their God must be unbroken. Only when the whole life is a prayer will they be able to rejoice always.

"In Everything Give Thanks"🔗

They are also called to give thanks in everything. Again, it is the kind of statement which seems to ask the impossible. There are so many experiences in the life of a believer for which he prays God that they may be removed. How then can he be thankful for all the varied experiences sent him? Even the un­believer does not find it too difficult to be thankful for prosperity, if he would only know where it came from. The believer's thanksgiving is different. He looks on all the things his God has sent him in His wisdom and realizes that these things have not come by chance. God has a purpose and his child seeks to view all his experiences in the light of the purpose of God. He must know that all things are "subservient to his salvation" and he gives thanks. Therefore this same writer can speak in other places of rejoicing in tribulation, etc.

"The Will of God"🔗

He has exhorted them to the above three things because that is the will of God in Christ Jesus to them. God has their welfare in mind. Not only must they become children of God, they must also learn to live as His children. It is again emphasized that these are not the Apostle's feelings or thoughts, but that it is a revelation of the will of God!

"Quench not the Spirit"🔗

He now comes with an exhortation which sounds even more impossible than the former ones. He says: "Quench not the Spirit." How would puny man ever be able to quench the Almighty Spirit? But, this is New Testament language with a history. In Ephe­sians 4:30 he speaks of grieving the Spirit. Stephen accused the Jews of always resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51). To grieve or to resist the Spirit does not seem to be as strong as to quench the Spirit. These terms must be taken together to come to a proper understanding of them. We grieve the Spirit when­ever we sin. We resist Him when we do not follow the way He has clearly indicated to us. But, to quench the Spirit is to oppose the Spirit in His work­ing. This is most dangerous. The promptings of the Spirit must be followed. The Spirit is to be honored in all His work. If there is a quenching of the Spirit or His work, the spiritual blessings promised them will no longer come to them. The Spirit works cease­lessly to accomplish the work of Christ in the be­liever. This work must not be opposed.

"Despise not Prophesyings"🔗

In this connection he warns them not to despise prophesyings. It seemed to be much more important to many in the early church if someone was able to speak in tongues or to heal someone's body dramati­cally than if he were able to prophesy. The prophet is the servant of the Spirit as well as those who have the other gifts. If people despise the prophesying, they are quenching the spirit. Whenever the Apos­tle speaks of the gifts given to members of the early church he also mentions the gift to prophesy. This was important in the life of the church of that day because the revelation had not yet been completed. The prophet is one who speaks the word of God. This is the original meaning of the term used. Whether he foretells the future is incidental. Chris­tians cannot do without this word which may come to members of the church at that time. Do not de­spise this prophesying.

"Prove All Things"🔗

There may also have been those who claimed they were prophesying while in fact they were not. This may have led many to despise all prophesying. Paul counsels them to prove, to test these things. They were to test the spirits whether they were from God. John counsels his people in like manner (1 John 4:1). The only time test of prophetic utterances is the revelation they have. The prophecies must corres­pond to the rest of revelation and to the words of the Apostles. Believers must compare Scripture with Scripture. Having so tested the words spoken to them, they must hold on to that which is good, i.e., that which has stood the test, and cast away every­thing which does not agree with it. These words have often been taken by themselves and given the meaning "try everything once and then decide what is good and what is bad." That these words cannot have this meaning becomes evident when they are read in the context in which they are found. The con­text must always be taken into consideration in the interpretation of Scripture because we can make Scripture say whatever we please if this is not done.

God's Sanctification🔗

Although the commands which Paul has given to the members of this church are brief, each one covers a large part of the spiritual life they have re­ceived. How are they going to be able to do all the things he has demanded of them? In themselves they will never be able to do it. Therefore he now points them to the source of their strength. He prays that God may sanctify them wholly. The pro­cess of sanctification must go on in their lives. They must be made more holy. This is a process which lasts as long as life itself. They themselves are to cooperate in this process but it is essentially God who causes it to come about. By this sanctification they will be more and more separated from sin and will turn to the living God. Instead of speaking of the Spirit of God, Who works sanctification, he speaks of the God of peace. Peace has been estab­lished between God and the believer through the work of Christ. He will also bring that peace, that calmness into the heart of the believer.

The Whole Person🔗

The Lord is not satisfied with saving "souls." He saves the whole man. This is the thought which Paul now stresses. The whole person is to be kept for Him. His sanctification takes the whole man into ac­count. He has made men, not only souls. The body too will be resurrected. Man is to be kept entire. This is also the emphasis when the writer now speaks of spirit and soul and body. Some have inter­preted these words to mean that the Apostle is here teaching a trichotomy, i.e., that man consists of spirit and soul and body. It becomes clear enough from his other writings that man consists of only soul and body. But here, where all the emphasis falls on the totality of the being of man, he names all three. The whole man is to be preserved without blame till the coming of the Lord. Even more, the sanctification is to be so thorough that it will also be found without blame when God shall judge. That will be the true test. But, sanctification is the work of God. That work is perfect and will be able to stand even in the judgment.

God is Faithful🔗

One of the most difficult matters in the life of the believer is the fear that he may falter in the life of faith when conditions become too difficult for him. To believe in Jesus Christ for salvation is wonderful, but the grind of life may cause him to stumble. In short, will the faith we have professed be able to stand when life becomes difficult? Have no fear, says the Apostle. The God who called them in the first place does not abandon the work He has begun. He who began a good work in you will perfect it unto the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). Here Paul deals with the same subject. He is faithful — He will do it. The fact that He continues what He has begun is a matter of the greatest comfort to every believer. We are not left to ourselves — He will do it.                                                                                                                                                            

Prayers for One Another🔗

The Apostle has informed this church that he re­members them daily in his prayers. It is a great benefit to the members of this church that they may know that Apostolic prayers are sent to the throne of grace for them. This man knows how to pray! But, he feels the need for the prayers of this people for him just as well. Although he is performing a stag­gering amount of work, he knows that he is not able to do it in his own strength. When we hear this great man of God asking for the prayers of his brethren, we see his own childlike faith and his consciousness of his own need. He also is only human! His whole life and labors underscore his own statement: By grace are ye saved!

Christian Greetings🔗

He has come to the end of this epistle. There are problems in this church but the work of God's grace is abundantly evident. These people are very dear to him. All the brethren are to be saluted in the name of Paul. This is to be done according to the custom of the time and place. Here, as elsewhere, he speaks of the holy kiss. This was the natural form which the greeting took among those who were very near to each other. In our western world we are not as demonstrative in our greetings.

An Inspired Letter🔗

The letter which he is hereby sending to them is intended for everyone in the church. These were not mere letters. These letters were part of the revela­tion of God! Paul is fully aware that he is being used by the Spirit of God to make His will known to the church. Those who receive such letters may not deal lightly with them. There seems to have been the fear in his mind that some might purposely absent themselves from the worship service in which this letter was read. He therefore virtually places them under oath that they see to it that every member of the church hears what he has written to them. Some may have feared what the Apostle would have to say about them. These letters were, of course also to be preserved for all future ages. The fact that he emphasizes that everyone is to hear this letter indi­cates that he attributes much more weight to the content of this letter than if it had only been his own production. He is writing the word of God!

He closes with a very brief benediction. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. The grace of their Savior will abide with them. This is not a prayer whose answer must still be awaited, but it is the blessing which he, as an ambassador of Christ, lays upon the church.

Questions for Discussion🔗

  1. The Christian life is often judged by how "seri­ous" a person is. Does this agree with Paul's statement that we should always rejoice? When he gives this statement does that mean that the believer must wear a perpetual smile?

  2. When should we pray? Is it proper to have stated times for prayer? Is more required? Can we pray while we work?

  3. Can a person realistically give thanks for all things? Is our gratitude a measure of our spirit­ual life?

  4. Is the preaching of the word prophetic today? Explain.

  5. What is sanctification? How does it differ from justification? Can we do anything in the area of sanctification or is it all God's work?

  6. Do we hear enough about the perseverance of the saints? Is it important?

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