1 Thessalonians 5: 12 - 22
“The mark of true Christian faith is that it changes everything you do and say.” Believers who go regularly to church and profess to believe the Bible often seem to go along with practices of the world around them with hardly any thought that what they are doing is unbiblical and really wrong. They lie without hesitation. They evade paying their bills. They cheat on their taxes. They ignore needy people. They fail to keep appointments. They freeload shamelessly. They lose their tempers. They grow critical and caustic. They desert their mates. If the apostle Paul were here he would be very concerned about this. To him, the mark of true Christian faith is that it changes everything you do and say. It affects every area of your life.
The Christian faith is no faith at all if it is not practiced. Our text today is where the rubber meets the road. If you look at it, you will find that it consists of 16 short staccato commands - 16 exercises for body building. They keep a church strong and healthy.
There are basically 4 divisions to these 16 exercises. The first 3 deal with the church and its leaders. The next 4 with the leaders and the congregation. The next 5 cover believers and their relationships. The last 4 apply to believers and spiritual gifts.
A. The Church and Its Leaders v. 12, 13
Leaders are people from the congregation, who work among the congregation, who stand over the congregation, challenging believers to grow in Christ. They are part of us, they work among us and they have authority over us. Paul lays down 3 commands for us to follow regarding our leaders:
1. Respect them v. 12
2. Hold them in high regard v. 13b
3. Live at peace with them v. 13b
3 words or phrases here—and each one is important. “Respect” literally means to “know” your leaders. It means to recognize them for who they are. “Regard” means to hold in the highest possible esteem. Living at peace means just what it sounds like. Do You Know Your Leaders? You need to know them by name. Then you need to pray for them. That’s the highest and best thing you can ever do for those who minister to you and your family. “Have you prayed for your pastor today?” I need the prayers of God’s people. But not only me—all the pastors, all the elders, all the deacons, all the teachers, all the workers—we need your prayers that we might be men and women who are pleasing to God.
Living at peace means you speak highly of them and refuse to criticize them behind their back. Nothing is more evil than gossiping church members who attack their leaders over different forms of social media and communication. More churches have been split by malicious gossip than by all the doctrinal heresies that have ever been invented.
It’s better to leave a church than to stay and attack the leadership. It’s not a sin to leave a church, but it is a sin to stay and sow disunity in the body. Thankfully, we’ve had very little of that here in the years I have been here. For the most part we’ve loved one another and treated each other with respect even if we haven’t always agreed on everything. You don’t have to agree with the leaders on everything, but you do have to respect them for the position God has given them.
B. The Leaders and the Congregation v. 14
Paul considers the duties of the leaders to the people. 4-fold job description for the leaders to follow. “We encourage you, brothers, to straighten out the cantankerous, lend a hand to the spiritual runts, doctor the sickly, and get along with everybody.”
4. Warn the idle v. 14a
“Straighten out the cantankerous.” Military expression - break rank - get out of line - those who are undisciplined and irresponsible.
In the church there are those who are idle, gossips and busybodies. They are unruly, irresponsible and undisciplined. We are to “warn” them - strong word. We are to “put them in mind” - we are to talk some sense into them. It is hard, painful and difficult work.
5. Encourage the timid v. 14b
If the first way is severe, this one is the opposite. Not everyone is unruly. Many are fainthearted. These people are easily discouraged and despondent. They are overwhelmed by stress and burdened with problems. The courage they need, they can’t find. It especially includes those who find the Christian life one continual struggle.
Paul says we are to “encourage” them. That is, we are to put courage into them. We would say it means to find these people and give them a little TLC—Tender Loving Care
6. Help the weak v. 14c
Those without strength - people who are a step beyond being fainthearted. They have completely run out of fuel. They are exhausted, burned out and worn out. They are morally, spiritually and physically drained. They feel as if they cannot go on.
Often these are most easily overlooked. The weak drift in and then drift out and a growing church never sees them. They slip in late, sit toward the back, and slip out as soon as the service is over. They are on the periphery, looking, searching, hurting. The fainthearted were running strong and then were worn out. The weak never really got in the race.
Paul says to “help” them. It means to cling to someone. “Don’t let the weak go. Hold them tight. Don’t let them drift away. Pick them up and carry them along.”
7. Be patient with everyone v. 14d
Lest anyone think that ministry to individuals is easy - this word means to be long-tempered - being tough and durable under pressure. Be slow to anger, slow to give up. Don’t lose your patience as you help others.
2 problems we face whenever we try to help someone else: 1. Many people are slow to respond. 2. Others will refuse our help altogether. When they are slow to respond, we tend to get discouraged. When they refuse our help, we tend to get disgusted. That’s what Paul is warning against.
Now if you don’t care and never get involved with others, this doesn’t apply to you. If you only hang around the beautiful, clean, healthy types, you won’t need much patience. But if we get involved with others, patience is our greatest need. Remember what Charlie Brown said: “I love the world. It’s people I can’t stand.” It’s easy to feel that way, so we need a great deal of patience.
C. Believers and Their Relationships v. 15 - 18
4 exercises that cover our relationship with others. These words are exceedingly practical. The first 2 go together, as do the last 3.
8. Don’t seek revenge v. 15a
9. Be kind to everyone v. 15b
These words are revolutionary. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek. If he takes your tunic, give him your cloak. If he compels you to go one mile, go the second mile for free.” This is more than non-retaliation, it is also the Golden Rule in action. Jesus taught us to pro-actively return good to those who have done us evil. For most of us, it will be all we can do not to smack someone in the face. To turn the other cheek is a truly supernatural act.
The next 3 commands speak of our relationship with God.
10. Rejoice always v. 16
11. Pray without ceasing v. 17
12. Give thanks in everything v. 18
“Standing orders” because they always apply to every Christian in every situation - these imperatives are all in the present tense - “continually rejoice, continually pray and continually give thanks.”
This is a great challenge, isn’t it? After all, we would have no problem if the text said – “Rejoice sometimes - Pray occasionally - Give thanks when you feel like it.” In fact, that’s the way most of us live—on the “sometimes, occasionally, when you feel like it” plane of life. How do we rise to the higher level of “always, without ceasing and everything?” I think the answer goes back to believing in the goodness of God all the time.
I do not mean to suggest that this is easy, only that it is absolutely necessary. As hard as it may be to rejoice always, what is your alternative? To give in to despair and anger? If you refuse to give thanks in every situation, you are virtually saying that you know better than God how to run the universe. By giving thanks when we don’t feel like it, we are proclaiming that God’s wisdom is greater than ours.
“In everything give thanks.” How do we do this in a practical sense? 1. Thank him for your blessings. 2. Thank him for how he has helped you in your trials. 3. Thank him for his presence every day. 4. Thank him for his promises for the future. As a Christian, your whole life is to be one great, “Thank you, Lord.” This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
D. Believers and Spiritual Gifts v. 19 - 22
This final section deals with our response to the work of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of spiritual gifts.
13. Don’t stifle the Holy Spirit v. 19
14. Don’t despise the preaching of the Word v. 20
15. Test everything carefully v. 21
16. Hold fast to good, reject every form of evil v. 22
Here we have a balanced approach to the question of supernatural experiences. On the positive side, don’t put out the Spirit’s fire. The Bible uses the symbol of fire to picture the action of the Holy Spirit. Like a blazing fire, the Holy Spirit warms the heart, enlightens the mind and empowers the spirit. When the fire of the Spirit begins to move in a congregation, the results may be so supernatural that some believers may be tempted to “quench” the work of the Spirit.
How might that happen? You might do it by quenching the Spirit’s work in your own life. That happens whenever we say no to God. Perhaps He is calling you to take a step of faith, to follow His guidance, to move out of your comfort zone, to exercise your spiritual gifts in a brand-new way, to demonstrate the reality of forgiveness and reconciliation in a broken relationship. Saying “no” in those situations is like throwing cold water on the fire of the Holy Spirit. Don’t be surprised when your life begins to grow cold.
You might do it by stopping the Spirit’s work in someone else’s life. God made you an absolutely unique creation. He gave you a combination of gifts, talents and abilities that He gave to no one else in all the world. It’s all too easy to become harsh and critical toward others believers who don’t see things exactly as we do. It’s perfectly OK to say that the Holy Spirit may work in your life differently than He may work in my life.
Are we then supposed to accept everything people say and do? The answer is no. To accept everything is to become naive and gullible. Which is why Paul says “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”
Paraphrase - “Be open to the work of the Spirit in the body through various gifted people. Examine everything carefully. Hold on to that which is good and true. Reject everything that is evil or produces evil.” To the grumpy, supercritical believer who is closed to the work of the Spirit, God says, “Be open.” To the gullible, untaught believer easily swayed by the so-called supernatural, God says, “Be careful.” A balanced approach says, “Let the Spirit move freely in your midst and let everyone carefully examine the results.”
We have come to the end of these 16 exercises that will make your soul strong. But I warn you—to live like this is not easy. Without Jesus it is impossible.
By faith day by day—in good times and in bad, in strength and in weakness, in sickness and in health – we are following in the steps of the man who came from heaven. At least we know we’re not alone.
Prayer – “Lord Jesus, this kind of life is not natural. It is not in us to live this way. Yet you came from heaven to show us how to live supernaturally. You showed us how to live and you showed us how to die. May your life flow through us this week so that no matter what happens we may be always rejoicing, continually praying and giving thanks in everything. May our lives might be one loud “Thank you, Lord” for all the world to hear. Amen.”