By Shirley Rutland

(Most Scripture taken from the ESV)

--Paul concludes his Teaching/Exhortation & Orthopraxy--"putting into practice;" and ends with Closing Encouragements and a Benediction of Blessing on the Church. Contrast tone with that of Corinthian letters.

--Paul, Silas & Timothy had just encouraged the church over the Return of our Lord (outlined beautifully by Diane last week) and now turns to final exhortations focusing on Church Life--SO many gems in here--and SO applicable for us today!

I. (Read v. 12-13) This being a new church, Paul rightly emphasizes the need for respect for their leaders, most likely this refers to the elders. It is apparent that Paul approved of this church's leadership, thus his call for the body's respect. 3 points:

A. Respect--also means 'Recognize" those who are in authority over them and doing 'the work' among them:

1.) Those who lead are the ones who serve... their service is more than a Title. Jesus being their example (Matt 20:25-28--"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority among them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Paul acknowledges these dedicated leaders by their work of service.

2.) Those who are 'Over you'--Meaning as a shepherd over the sheep. With authority comes much responsibility.

3.) Those who 'admonish'--also means "caution or reprove gently, or warn." Good leaders will speak the Truth in love, confronting evil for the protection of the flock. They are the 'gatekeepers' to keep out false doctrines--not just there to give a therapeutic, self-help message--which could be a temptation when under persecution--or avoid controversy and just preach the "feel-good" stuff. NOT what Paul means here!

B. Esteem highly in love--the Greek indicates a very strong language of abounding, or super-abounding esteem and love (Guzik.) How can we do this for our leaders? Pastors, Teachers, Children’s & Youth Ministry leaders, etc. PRAY for them and their families (with responsibility comes temptations and Satanic attacks) and support them with words of encouragement, helps and acts of service. More on that later.

C. Be at Peace--meaning submitted to the Spirit. An excellent way to esteem and love our leaders! Beware of murmuring and gossip that causes dissention. (Paul also to the Romans in Rom 12:18--"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." And there's Prov 15:1--"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.")

II. (Read v. 14-15) Continued Exhortations for Body Life:

A. Admonishing the Idle, or Unruly, Out of Order--reiterating what was said back in Ch 4:11-12--to "live quietly. mind your own affairs and work..." As we look to the Lord's coming, we are not to be hand-wringing busybodies as we wait--wasting time on trivial things (we all have those 'vortexes' we can get sucked into!) We are to be evil-restrainers, salt & light to a lost and dying world, that others may be saved. We need to be "preparing our minds for action, and being sober-minded, set[ting] our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (I Pet 1:13) We are to "not be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewal of our minds." (Rom 12:2) We are to "let no corrupting talk come out of our mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." (Eph 4:29) Last, Eph 5:15-16--"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil." We need to pray daily to dedicate our time to the Lord--and ask for that empowering of His Spirit to enable us to stay focused on what HE would have us to be doing, in the spheres of influence he's given us!

B. Encourage the Fainthearted--also meaning, the Timid, Anxious, or Feebleminded--David Guzik: " Those who are literally, 'small-souled.' By nature or experience they tend to be timid and lack courage. They need comfort--in the sense of assisting strength--to be brought to them." Especially in challenging times, these ones are not to be "left behind," so to speak. And we've all been there, I suspect. I have!

C. Help, or Support the Weak--Could be "Those suffering under temptations to lapse into immorality, as in I Thessalonians 4:2-8" (D. Guzik) Or those hung up on non-doctrinal issues--in those days, eating meat sacrificed to idols, Jewish traditions, etc. Understand that everyone in the body comes to the Lord from a different situation and grows at a different rate. We are not to do or say or post things that could 'stumble' a weaker brother or sister by causing them to lapse back into sin--or by putting unnecessary requirements on them over amoral issues (Rom 14:1-3, "As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him." Also, Rom 15:1, "We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.") A common theme for Paul--the "building up" of others in the faith--should be the goal--as opposed to the building up of our selves.

D. Be patient with them all. Eph 4:2-3--"... with all humility, and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Isn't this the hardest with the ones that we are closest with--as in, the ones we live with?! Patience, by the Power of the Spirit! David Guzik, again: "Though different approaches must be taken with different people, Christians must be patient with all. This is because Christianity is shown by its ability to love and help difficult people. We do not look for only 'perfect' people to minister to and minister with." Pray for the Lord to show you how best to minister to the 'difficult' ones in your life... and to examine your heart to determine any ways where you may be the 'difficult' one!

E. Do not repay anyone evil for evil... seek to do good--again, Jesus is our best example--we are to always pursue the good of all, with a heart of forgiveness to others. (Matt 18:21-22--"... Peter came to Him and said, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' And Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'" Jesus follows with the parable of the unforgiving servant in v. 23-35. Also, in Matt 5:23-24, Jesus says to leave your gift at the altar and be reconciled to your brother. He is emphasizing how unforgiveness in our hearts creates a barrier in our relationship with the Lord--how because of His forgiveness for us--to the point of death--we should all the more forgive others. There is a remedy given for dealing with conflict outlined in Matt 18; I encourage you all to read it. Regarding the unrepentant, we are to keep in mind that God is the ultimate judge; we are to defer to the Lord (Rom 12:19, Heb 10:30.) Again, seeking to "build up" the body of Christ for the good of all.

III. (Read v. 16-22) Further Encouragements For Us:

A. Be joyful always! Not fleeting happy emotions--and not only when things are going "well." They weren't for the Thessalonians. Paul had commended the church for their joy: (I Thessalonians 1:6--”.for [they] received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that [they] became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.") James 1:2-4--"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." This joy is not based on one's circumstances but is the work of the Holy Spirit and a witness to the outside world. It's how we can be 'light.' Pray to allow the joy of the Lord be your strength (Nehemiah 8:10)--as it was for Paul.

B. Pray without ceasing--or pray continually! Be in constant communication with the Lord. There are 2 different aspects to this--specific time set aside to focus on the Lord and ongoing communing with the Lord at any time in any place.

1.) Focused prayer time: Jesus did this, when he stepped away to pray in private. He instructs us to "go into [our] room and shut the door and pray to [our] father in secret..."(Matt 6:6) It is not to be an outward show of piety. We need to prioritize time alone to shut out the distractions and seek the Lord and His Word. Consistency is the goal--I know it's hard-- it's been challenging for me in certain seasons of life--but when I have been able to do this (now that kids are mostly out of the house) it has been a blessing and something I look forward to each day. It's OK to start small--even 5 minutes--just keep at it--and ask the Lord's help in expanding your time.

2.) Ongoing conversation with God, in our thoughts or out loud, anywhere, anytime. In those busy seasons, car and shower time! When you find yourself worrying about something, pray... when people come to mind, pray for them!

C. Give thanks in all circumstances--'IN' doesn't necessarily mean 'FOR’ This is God's will--that is, He is in control even when we don't see it. Chuck Smith says... when we have committed our lives to the Lord, we can be assured of His love for us and His working out of a wise plan in our lives, as he is wiser than we are. And He can see in the long term, where all we can see is the short term. {insert Tapestry analogy} (Rom 8:28--"... for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.") Paul had an attitude of thanks in all of his trials as seen in 2 Cor 12:9-10-- "... therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." And one of my personal favorite verses: Phil 4:6-7--"do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Joni Eareckson Tada: "... God isn't asking you to be thankful. He is asking you to give thanks. There's a big difference. One response involves emotions; the other your choices, your decisions about a situation, your intent, your 'step of faith.'" The Thessalonians (and we) needed to be reminded of that eternal perspective--and our gratitude for what He has done for us; that as a result we will be spared the coming wrath, and be with the Lord in eternity. This, by the Power of the Spirit, as we face trials.

D. Do not quench the Spirit. "quench" in Scripture typically used to note putting out a fire or a lamp. Here is the only time it is used metaphorically--which makes sense, given the Holy Spirit is frequently imaged as a fire or flame (Guzik.) The work of the Spirit is quenched by the lack of love--by bitterness, unforgiveness, jealousy, etc. and the 'desires of the flesh,' as in continuing knowingly in sin (Gal 5:16-21) The opposites of the fruit of the Spirit (v. 22-23) which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We who belong to Jesus have crucified the flesh and are to live by the Spirit (v. 24-25) and not quench or grieve the Spirit.

E. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything--meaning distinguish between the true and the false: discernment is key! (Pray.) We need to be aware of and learn about prophetic events that have been fulfilled and future ones yet to be--it blesses us! (Rev 1:3--"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.") 'Not despising' also means that we do recognize the spiritual gift of prophecy--and that the Lord can give prophetic words through believers today--but we need to be 'Bereans' (Acts 17:11--Paul had spent time in Berea after his time in Thessalonica) about what we hear, weighing the context in which it's given and praying and asking for confirmation, if the word is given for us personally. There is the temptation for date-setting and being too specific in the predictions of future events prophesied in the Word... especially as we see all the "stage setting" going on around us. But we are warned against going beyond what is stated in Scripture (more on this in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, which we will cover in the next few weeks.)

F. Hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil-- Prov. 3:7 says, "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil." Holy living is the work of the Spirit in us--we are enabled by His power to have victory over sin. (Paul really fleshes this out in Romans.) Phil 4:8--"... whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." We need to pray for the ability to avoid even the appearances of evil in our words (what we post!) and actions. Are we being a good witness in the "building up" in the messages we are portraying? Are we stumbling anyone?

IV. (Read v. 23-24) Closing and Blessing--Sanctify, meaning "set apart." Completely (holoeleis, holos--whole; entire. Telos: end) “Through and through." Spirit, soul, and body--there are different interpretations on these aspects of our nature. Time doesn't allow us to explore each further, as Scripture also refers our "heart, soul, mind, and strength" (Mark 12:30) and "body and spirit" (I Cor 7:34); and in some passages 'soul' and 'spirit' seem to be used interchangeably. The bottom line is that our entire persons, as embodied beings, are to be set apart and kept blameless for Christ's return--a work of the Holy Spirit, who testifies to our spirits that we are God's children, adopted into His family (Rom 8:16) Our physical bodies are the temples in which His Spirit dwells--and which will be renewed/transformed at the Rapture--at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 23.)

--He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it-- D. Guzik: "In all that Paul told the church to do in 1 Thessalonians 4 & 5, he never intended that they do it in their own power. More Christians are defeated on account of self-reliance than on account of Satanic attack! It is only by the Power of the Spirit that they (we) can do these things." Having begun a good work in us, He will continue it... (Phil 1:6.) We can take that to the bank!

V. (Read v. 25-28) Closing and Orders--Pray for us--the church's prayers for their leaders are coveted! (Spurgeon: "As officers in Christ's army, we are the special target of the hostility of men and devils; they watch for our faltering and work to trip us at the heels... You do not look to us but to our Master for spiritual blessings, and yet how many times has He given those blessings through His ministers; ask then, again and again, that we may be the earthen vessels into which the Lord may put the treasure of the Gospel... pray for us.")

Greet with a holy kiss--A common, greeting, like a handshake, still to this day in some regions of the world.

I put you under oath... to have this letter read... Paul and Co. wanted them to prioritize the reading of this letter of encouragement!

Grace... be with you--Starts and ends the epistles with this benediction, sometimes with other blessings (peace, etc.) listed as well. Denotes their prayer for God's unmerited favor and bestowal of love and acceptance to them (and us) based on Who God Is and What Jesus Has Done (Guzik.)