“Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other. Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.” – 1 Thes 5:12-22
It’s really easy to read through the book of Thessalonians, and just gloss over this small passage just before Paul wraps the letter up. At first glance, it may seem like all of this stuff is just thrown in because it really didn’t fit anywhere else in this letter. What seems here like a jumbled mess of random “good stuff to remember” is actually quite a recipe for the life we seek. Paul covers many areas of our lives from dealing with leaders to living with peers, neighbors and even ourselves. When you take all of his instruction here and knead it into your life, you’ll find that the result is savory.
In verses 12 & 13, he speaks of honoring leaders in the Church over your spiritual life. The life of a Pastor is filled with sacrifices and challenges that most wouldn’t understand or even think about. By seeking to make their lives a little easier by serving them in whatever way the Lord is leading you, your effort goes a long way. Whether it’s simply tidying up after services, transporting the elderly and others who don’t have a ride to even taking some of the ministerial burdens off of them by leading others how you can, it all helps. He ends this verse saying live peacefully with each other. Just as parents in a household of fighting children can’t get anything done, a church with a feuding congregation makes the leader’s lives harder and stifles spiritual growth.
Paul follows up in verses 14 & 15 with how we need to be responsible towards each other as fellow members of the body of Christ. There’s too much work to be done to sit around and do nothing for others and the Lord. Being physically and spiritually lazy doesn’t have a place in the lives of believers according to Paul here. We’re also to be an encouragement to those who are timid. In other words, there are other believers who may be right on the verge of wanting to do something, but for reasons of shyness or worry, they can’t seem to take that first step. We’re to be the ones who discern between those who “just can’t” (weak & timid) and those who “just won’t” (lazy) and help motivate or encourage them as needed.
We then move on to verses 16 through 18 which covers an attitude change on our part that results in a fresh new perspective on life. The three areas that Paul tells us to look at are tied together and affect our lives in a deep way every day. He tells that we’re to always be joyful, always be praying and always be thankful. It’s difficult to be happy when situations don’t go your way. That’s because as a former pastor of mine used to say “Happiness is based on happenings.” Our joy is rooted in Christ and it can’t be shaken. The simple fact that we know that even though what’s happening isn’t good if we’re in God’s will he will work things out for our good and His glory. We’re also told to always be in prayer. If we’re focused on ourselves, we won’t have any reason to be in communication with God in our daily lives. Finally, he tells us to always be thankful. It too is difficult to be thankful when bad things happen to us or those we love. However, Paul didn’t say “Be thankful in circumstances that work out for you.” On a deeper level, we have to recognize that God is sovereign over our lives and if we’re living in his will it is for our good. These 3 areas… joy, prayer, and thankfulness… are not natural to the carnal, “flesh” side of us. It’s so much easier to be selfish, but Paul calls us to a higher standard here. By adopting his commands into our lives, we will begin to see others with a new perspective… we’ll start to see other people how God sees them. The funny thing is that when we’re doing God’s will and in communication with him through prayer, it’s a lot easier to be joyful and thankful!
Finally, verses 19 through 22 are concerning how we’re to handle spiritual matters that come into our life. The first warning that Paul gives is to not stifle and quench the Holy Spirit. Just as you would quench a fire to put it out, you can quench the Holy Spirit when you ignore the gifts, talents, callings, and commands he puts into your heart. When we stifle the growth of the Holy Spirit in us, we’re robbing the church and other believers to help them as we’re to do in the verses just before these. Next, we’re told to not scoff at prophecies, but rather test everything that is said. It’s dangerous territory to write off anything that God is telling you either through scripture or a messenger from him, be it a friend, a pastor or someone on the internet, television or radio. We’re not to be so naive that we believe everything that everyone says, so we have to take what they say and match it up with God’s written Word. Additionally, 1 Corinthians 14:3 says “But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them.” Does what they’re saying match up to this? Finally, Paul ends this passage with a seemingly simple directive to “Hold onto what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.” If only doing it was as easy as saying it. This is where following everything listed before here, and being in God’s word daily pays dividends. The Lord will reveal to you places in your life that are evil to Him and replace them with things that are good.
In just a few words, Paul covers a lot of territory in dealing with other people and ourselves in day-to-day life. His words here are direct and straight to the point. There’s really no wiggle room with how we’re to conduct ourselves, but when we follow his commands our lives will be all the richer for it. By doing this, we can be a better witness and a more effective member of the body of Christ.