Final Exhortations and Conclusion — Now that the Thessalonians can relax concerning the dead, Paul admonished them to concentrate on godly living. This includes respecting their elders and each other, among other things.
12-13 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
- Respect those who labor … admonish you. The young Thessalonian community was not adequately appreciating and respecting its leaders.
- Are over you. The Greek term proistēmi here means “rule, direct, be at the head of,” and would refer to the elders in the church.
- The work of elders is summarized in a three-fold description:
- Working to the point of exhaustion.
- Literally standing by the flock to lead them in the way of righteousness.
- Instructing in the truths of God’s word.
- The three participles used here represent three functions of the same group, not three distinct functioning groups. Grammatically this is shown by the single article governing all three and unifying them into a single concept.
- Esteem them very highly in love. The believers (and we) are to think rightly and lovingly of their elders, not because of charm or personality, but because they work for the Chief Shepherd as His special servants.
- Cf how Peter instructs elders in 1Pt 5:1-4. I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
- The author of Hebrews includes similar commands in his letter.
- Heb 13:7. Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
- Heb 13:17. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
- Be at peace among yourselves.
- This may suggest (though not necessarily) that there were tensions within the community.
- It may also suggest, due to its context, that there were ill feelings toward the elders for some reason.
14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
- Idle (Grk ataktos, “undisciplined, insubordinate”). Some Thessalonians were shirking their responsibility to work.
- 1Th 4:9-12. Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
- 2Th 3:6-15. We command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
- Fainthearted. Due to persecution or the unexpected deaths.
- 1Th 3:4. When we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.
- See also 1Th 4:13-5:11 regarding the fear as a result of the unexpected deaths.
- Weak. Either those with weak consciences (see 1Co 8–9), those rattled by the ongoing persecution, or those anxious about the day of the Lord (1Th 5:1–11).
15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
- The fear and stress that has plagued the church in Thessalonica can cause tempers to run short. In these cases, the whole community has the responsibility for seeing that no member repays evil for evil.
- The natural tendency to retaliate and inflict injury for a wrong suffered is forbidden, no matter what the injury.
- Mt 5:38-42. You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
- Ro 12:17-21. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
- 1Pt 2:18-23. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
In verses 16-22 Paul gives foundational principles for a sound spiritual life.
Paul now gives an easy-to-remember 3×3 list of commands.
- Three things to do: rejoice, pray, and give thanks. We are to do each of these not just once or once in a while; these are to be characteristic of our lives all the time.
- Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.
- Three things to avoid: quenching the Holy Spirit, despising prophesies, and doing evil. As with the three things to do, the avoidance of these three is also to be practiced continually and characteristic of our lives.
- It can also be observed that the three things to do are responsibilities to oneself or to one’s personal relationship with God, where the three things to avoid are responsibilities to public worship.
16 Rejoice always,
- Joy in Paul’s letters is a basic mark of the Christian and a fruit of the Spirit. It is often associated with the firm hope of the Christian.
- Ro 14:17. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
- Gal 5:22-23. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
- Ro 5:1-5. Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
- Ro 12:12. Rejoice in hope.
- Joy is appropriate at all times. This is especially evident in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi which he wrote while in prison in Rome.
- Php 2:17-18. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
- Php 3:1. Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.
- Php 4:4. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
- Peter also puts it very well.
- 1Pt 1:8-9. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
17 pray without ceasing,
- Pray without ceasing suggests a mental attitude of prayerfulness, continual personal fellowship with God, and consciousness of being in his presence throughout each day.
- What this doesn’t mean is to pray repetitiously or continually without a break.
- Mt 6:7-8 [Jesus speaking]. When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
- We are to pray persistently, regularly, and fervently.
- Eph 6:18. …praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
- Php 4:6. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
- Col 4:2. Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
- Col 4:12. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.
- Mt 9:37-38. Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
- See also Jesus expounding on the Lord’s Prayer in Lk 11:1-13.
- See also Jesus’ Parable of the Persistent Widow in Lk 18:1-8.
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
- Give thanks. Christians are to be marked by thanksgiving.
- Eph 5:4. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
- Col 2:6-7. As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
- Col 3:15-17 [three times]. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
- Col 4:2. Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
- Thanklessness is a trait of non-believers.
- Ro 1:21 [writing about ungodly and unrighteous men]. Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
- 2Ti 3:1-5. Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
- For this is the will of God. This probably refers to all of v16–18.
There is a natural progression, linear and circuitous, in v16-18.
- Joy is the natural state of the true Christian. This comes from knowing the truth of Jesus’ worldview and being chosen for salvation by God.
- Intimately related to constant joy is incessant prayer.
- Having taken our requests to God, we are thankful in all circumstances, knowing that our great God is sovereign and that he loves us completely.
- This thanksgiving returns us to even more joy.
19 Do not quench the Spirit.
- This can also be rendered, stop quenching the Spirit.
- The manner in which the Thessalonians were quenching the Holy Spirit is not completely clear, but it may be specified in the next verse or two—despising prophesies.
- In any event, it is sin which quenches the fire of God’s Spirit.
- Believers are also instructed not to grieve the Holy Spirit.
- Eph 4:30. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
20-22 Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
- Do not despise prophecies. Or, stop despising prophesies. The Thessalonian believers were to be open to the disclosure of God’s will through fellow Christians exercising the gift of prophecy.
- The Thessalonians apparently despised manifestations of prophecy and hence were cutting off a valuable source of encouragement and extinguishing the Spirit’s fire (v19).
- It’s possible that the gift of prophesy had been abused, so the elders put a stop to prophesies altogether. In that case, this command from Paul may have been directed primarily at the elders.
- It should be noted that this phrase can refer to spoken revelation from God, but most often refers to the written word of Scripture.
- John MacArthur said that the prophesies of Scripture are “authoritative messages from God, given through a well-recognized spokesman for God that, because of their divine origin, are not the be treated lightly. When God’s Word is preached or read, it is to be received with great seriousness.”
- See some additional thoughts on prophesies in the Final Notes below.
- Test everything. Rather than rejecting prophecies outright on the basis of inferior prophetic words, the Thessalonians need to weigh prophecies to distinguish the true from the false.
- Tests presumably include the prophecy’s…
- Conformity with authoritative revelation
- Value for edification
- Evaluation by those with spiritual discernment
- Paul would later give instruction regarding the operation of prophecy in the church in his first letter to the church in Corinth.
- 1Co 14:29-33. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
- We are always to examine the preached word carefully.
- Ac 17:11 [writing about the Berean Jews]. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
- What is good. In context, this refers to prophecies that pass the test. What is found to be good is to be embraced as what it is: the Word of God.
- What is found to be evil, i.e. unbiblical, during the testing, is to be avoided and shunned.
23-24 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
- Just as the first half of the letter ended with a pastoral prayer that the Thessalonians be marked by holiness at the second coming of Christ (3:11–13), this half does too. When comparing these two passages, you can see many similarities, however, here (5:23-24) Paul adds reassurance.
- 1Th 3:11-13. Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
- After concluding the exhortations above, Paul makes it clear that it is not within human power to be sanctified in all these ways. Only God can separate us from sin to holiness completely.
- God of peace. God initiated the reconciliation of Christians with himself and is now at peace with them.
- This is a term of warfare, not a fuzzy feeling of being free from trouble. Mankind has been at war with God (and he with them) since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. God has written up the terms of peace and people must surrender and accept those terms.
- Cf 1Co 5:19-20. In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
- Spirit and soul and body represent the entirety of human nature.
- It seems unlikely that this is a division of human nature into body, soul, and spirit, where “spirit” and “soul” would refer to different parts; more likely Paul is simply using several terms for emphasis. For similar ways of expressing the totality of human nature, take a look at these passages.
- Mt 10:28. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
- Mk 12:30. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
- 1Co 7:34. The unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit.
- He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. There is no need for the Thessalonians (or us) to worry about whether they (or we) will be sufficiently holy and blameless at the coming of the Lord. God is faithful, and he will surely make it happen! Amen!
25 Brothers, pray for us.
- Paul depended on his converts’ spiritual support. So now he asks for a continuing place in their prayers (cf v17, “pray without ceasing”).
- There is good textual support that “also” be added to the end of this verse, the thought being to pray for Paul and his companions in addition to others they pray for.
- Brothers and sisters, pray for us too.
- Brothers, pray for us also.
26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
- Holy kiss. A symbol of close fellowship in the culture of that time and place.
- Ac 20:36-37. When Paul had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him.
- Ro 16:16. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
- 1Co 16:20. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
- 2Co 13:12. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
- 1Pt 5:14. Greet one another with the kiss of love.
- Like some other practices with symbolic meanings that change from culture to culture (such as footwashing, or head covering for wives), a “holy kiss” would not convey the same meaning today that it did in the first century, and in most cultures it would be seriously misunderstood.
- This command is best obeyed by substituting an action that would convey the same meaning in a modern culture (examples would include a handshake, a hug, and a bow, varying by culture).
- There are two possible interpretations of this verse. I’m OK with either one.
- Paul is saying to greet everyone there for him, meaning Paul is sending greetings to all the brothers.
- Paul is commanding that this greeting be characteristic of the close fellowship that the church members are to share with each other.
27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
- The letter was to be read aloud to all community members.
- Public reading was the foundation of spiritual accountability. Once someone hears the truth of God’s word, they are then responsible for that truth. (I believe people are responsible for it regardless, but hearing it adds to their guilt and is the means by which God has chosen to save people.)
- Gal 4:16. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?
- 2Th 3:14. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.
- Public reading in the churches points to the authority of Paul’s letters and also assumes that they were written to be understood by ordinary believers.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
- This customary benediction may have been added in Paul’s own handwriting. It was normal for Paul to use an amanuensis to write the letter and then, for the purpose of authentication, to add a postscript in his own handwriting.
- Ro 16:22. I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.
- 1Co 16:21. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.
- Gal 6:11. See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.
- Col 4:18. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.
- 2Th 3:17. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.
- Phm 19. I, Paul, write this with my own hand.
- Paul built his distinctive farewell around his favorite concept, grace, which replaced the farewell usually found in letters of that time.
- 1 Corinthians. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.
- 2 Corinthians. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
- The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
- Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.
- The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
- Grace be with you.
- 2 Thessalonians. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
- 1 Timothy. Grace be with you.
- 2 Timothy. Grace be with you.
- Grace be with you all.
- The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
- Cf Ac 15:29 for the usual ending of a letter. “Farewell.”
ABOUT “PROPHESIES” as mentioned in v20, I want to try to clear up some possible confusion. There are some who will use this verse to justify the idea that God still gives new revelation to the church and to individuals today. I disagree with that interpretation. It is my belief that the Bible is finished; there’s no more to be added to it. If you use the traditional rules of determining what is scriptural (Must have been written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle, and must have been recognized as inspired by the early church), then there cannot be any new revelation from God.
I believe that the first century church did receive prophesies because the New Testament had not yet been fully written. Once it had been written, prophesies were no longer needed. It’s also possible (though I don’t believe this is the case here) that this is referring to Scripture that had already been written by the time Paul wrote this letter and that the Scripture is what Paul is referring to.
Today the term prophesy is sometimes used to describe proper exposition of Scripture. Obviously the proper exposition of Scripture is what all churches should be doing, but I think using prophesy to describe it is a careless use of the term.
AS A SUMMARY TO FIRST THESSALONIANS, this letter is a very encouraging one. There is very little rebuke here, probably because Paul acknowledges that the believers in Thessalonica are undergoing persecution and are highly stressed about the recent deaths and their lack of knowledge of what happens to those who have died.
As we’ve discussed, the background of this letter is given to us in Ac 17:1-10.
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea.
This brief 3-week stay in Thessalonica took place during Paul’s second missionary journey.
Paul and his companions were forced to flee the city of Thessalonica much sooner than they planned to leave. Paul knew that the church there was very young and had only a brief time of training in the truths of God. Paul had a great desire to get back to them, but he was continuously prevented from returning.
Finally he sent Timothy to find out how they were doing amidst the persecution and trials. Timothy returned with a report from the Thessalonian church and this letter was a result of that report. Paul was greatly encouraged by the new believers’ faith, love, and evangelistic efforts throughout Macedonia and Achaia.
He encourages sexual purity, contrary to their cultural leanings. He also encourages them to lead a quiet and self-supporting life as much as possible.
Paul seeks to put their mind at ease concerning those believers who had died. He assures them that they are OK and safe in Christ; they will not miss out on the final resurrection. He assures them that they who are still living when Christ returns are also OK. The persecution and trials that they are experiencing are normal and are not an indication of God’s lack of favor.
He then goes on to encourage the church not to fear the coming Day of the Lord. He tells them that they know it’s coming, so they won’t be surprised by it when it comes. God has not destined us to wrath!
Paul gives instruction on how to treat their elders and each other. He wants to be sure they understand that God is faithful. He will complete their sanctification.
We should be encouraged as well!