Paul's Counsel to the Thessalonians
1 Thessalonians 5:14-28
J. R. Miller, 1909
The Bible touches life at every point. While its great principles cover all moral acts in a general way, it descends to particulars in many cases, giving special instructions of great value. The passage noted above contains golden counsels for the common days, and for the common experiences of life.
"We urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle." 1 Thessalonians 5:14. There is a duty of warning others. We may not always speak words of commendation and approval. When Christian people are living in a sinful way, that is, not living in harmony with the divine laws, they are to be admonished. We must make sure, however, that we do this in the spirit of Christ—in love, in order to help and save those we admonish. No duty requires more wisdom and more grace—than that of telling others of their faults.
"Encourage the timid." Then, we should always be encouragers, for there are many timid, faint-hearted people who continually need to be lifted up and helped onward. We should never be discouragers. There are those, too, who are weak and need the strength and support which we can give them. The strong should help the weak. We should bear each other's burdens.
"Be patient with everyone." We are also to be patient towards all, no matter how they may treat us. This is one of the great lessons which Jesus taught in His own life—to bear sweetly and patiently with those who are unkind and injurious. It is not easy—but we are not Christians if we are not trying to live after this law of love.
"Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong." The teaching of Christ also requires us to render always good for evil; never evil for evil. This is a very practical counsel, and it is never easy to follow it. Yet it is an inseparable part of all Christian life. If one strives for the heroic in Christian character, nothing could be more heroic than this! To return love for hate, kindness for injury—is far braver than to be angry and resentful, demanding satisfaction.
"Always pursue what is good for one another." We should always strive after that which is for the good of others, and in all things make this our aim. Anything that would injure or harm another, is absolutely unchristian.
"Rejoice always!" Joy is never to be left out of any scheme of Christian life. We are to rejoice, not now and then only—but always. Even our sorrows should not hush the songs in our hearts. This element of joy, can be only in the life in which Christ lives and rules. There is a difference in people in the matter of joyousness—but true Christian joy is not that which the world gives, nor that which nature inspires—but the joy which conies from the heart of God—and which nothing ever can overcome or destroy.
"Pray without ceasing." Prayer is another essential element in every true Christian life. Not to pray—is not to live at all as a Christian, for prayer is "the Christian's vital breath." The exhortation to pray without ceasing may seem a strange one. It means, however, that our communion with God never need be broken, never should be broken. We cannot always be on our knees; for we have work to do, duties to perform, which we may not neglect, and which are just as sacred as praying. But we may pray at our work, by keeping always close to Christ, so that anywhere, any moment, we can look up into His face and speak to Him and get an answer.
"Give thanks in everything." Thanksgiving should never be lacking in a Christian life. It is not enough to observe one day in the year for 'Thanksgiving', although it is a very beautiful thing to do. Nor is it enough to put a sentence of thanksgiving into our daily prayers, although this also is proper. It is the grateful heart that pleases God, the heart that is always full of praise. There should be a note of thanksgiving running through all our life. Too many of us go to God only with requests, with our burdens, our worries, our troubles; while we but rarely go to Him with any word of thanks. We are not to be thankful only for our prosperities and for the pleasant and agreeable things that come into our days—we are to be thankful, too, for the things that appear to us as adversities.
"Give thanks in everything." That means in the sad days as well as in the glad days, when clouds are in the sky, as well as when the sunshine is pouring everywhere. It is specially said here that this is the will of God for us. This is the way God wants us to live—always giving thanks. A rabbinical teaching says that the highest angel in heaven is the angel of praise. The Christliest note is one that is always keyed to the note of praise and thanksgiving.
"Do not quench the Spirit." It is the glory of our Christian life, that God lives in it. Paul said, "Christ lives in me!" A fire burns in our hearts which is fed from heaven. We live at our best, only when we let this flame burn brightly in us. We are exhorted here, not to quench the Spirit. Fire is quenched by pouring water upon it, or by covering it up so as to exclude the air. The Spirit may be quenched in us by sin, by worldliness, by evil thoughts, by bad passions, by resistance. To quench this heavenly flame, is to put out the light of life, leaving the darkness of death within us. "Do not quench the Spirit."
We are also exhorted not to "despise prophesyings." Prophesyings, in a general way, are divine teachings, the message of God to us. The Bible—is a book of prophesyings. All heavenly instructions, counsels, warnings, from whatever source, may in a sense, be called prophesyings.
We should keep our minds and hearts always wide open to receive the Words of God, and to welcome all divine influences and impressions and inspirations, whether they are spoken by the Spirit of God or by a human friend. "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening," is the true attitude of every believing heart toward the truth, however it is spoken.
"Test all things." Not all voices, however, that speak in this world, are divine voices. Not all words that fall upon our ears, are words from heaven. We should test all things to see whether they are of God or not.
Then we should "Hold fast to what is good." We should judge carefully between genuine and counterfeit coins. Put to the test of truth—all counsels that are given to you. Not all such counsels are from God. It is said by our Master of His sheep, that "they will never follow a stranger; instead they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers." We should make sure that the voice which we hear is our Master's own voice; that it is the voice of one who counsels us wisely, and not the voice of a stranger speaking to us in unheavenly words, to draw us away from the truth.
"Abstain from every form of evil." We are accustomed to think of some violations of God's Word—as only slightly evil; while we imagine that other transgressions are very black in their sinfulness.
Some people appear to think that if we keep ourselves from the worst kinds of evil—that we need not be so watchful against the minor forms of misconduct. They will not lie, nor steal, nor swear, nor do other things which would brand them in the eyes of the community as 'wicked'. But meanwhile they are ungentle, unkind, selfish, bad tempered, and loving the world.
But Paul's exhortation is, "Abstain from every form of evil." We are not to pick out certain sins and condemn these alone as evil, abstaining from them; meanwhile indulging in pet vices and sinful habits of our own. Whatever is wrong in even the slightest way—is to be abstained from. There really are no little sins, no 'little white lies', no slight deviations from right and purity. Even evil thoughts, our Master says, break His commandments!
"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." This prayer for consecration is very comprehensive. It is that we may be sanctified, that is, set apart wholly for God and God's use. We belong to God, for He has bought us with a price, and we should make ourselves altogether God's by keeping ourselves separate from sin, and from the world. It is a prayer that our whole being, spirit, soul and body—shall be kept pure and holy, amid all the world's evil; preserved entire, without blame, until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It may seem impossible for anyone to realize this high ideal of living. It is impossible for us thus to keep ourselves. But the words which follow tell us how it becomes possible. "The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it." We are safe in this world, therefore, when God keeps us—when His sheltering, protecting love enfolds us!