Be the Church

Posted: August 19, 2008 in 1 Thessalonians

It’s interesting what you do when you become a parent. Things you never thought you say all of a sudden start coming out of your mouth. “How many times have I told you to…?” “Don’t make me come over there!” 🙂 Even things like when you drop your kids off with someone else: “I’ll see you soon…be good – be on your very best behavior!”

Paul tackles a LOT at the end of this letter, which somewhat boils down to, “You’ll see the Lord soon…be good! Here’s how.” Keep in mind where we’ve been so far:

  • Ch 1: Thanking God for the church…their work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope…
  • Ch 2: Defending Paul’s character to defend the work of the gospel…
  • Ch 3: Thanking God for their growth & praying for much more…
  • Ch 4: The will of God in our present sanctification & our hope in the future Rapture & Resurrection…
  • Ch 5: What the church is to be doing until that Day of the Blessed Hope (watching, acting sober, etc.)

Paul ends with what might seem at 1st glance to be a rather random series of exhortations. But in context, what we see is Paul continuing in the same vein as the rest of Ch 5. What exactly is the church to be doing when it’s watching for the Lord’s return? What does being sober look like in practical terms? He answers those questions by looking at how we ought to relate to one another both in & out of the Body of Christ – what our attitudes ought to be regarding worship – and the work of God in our lives which enables all this to take place.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 (NKJV)
12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.

A. Paul may not have been there very long, but he was there long enough to help them establish some leadership within the church. It’s unclear what exactly their leadership structure was, but they did have some sort of leadership team (Elders? Pastors? Deacons?). Whatever they were in title/capacity, they had the responsibility of being “over” the church. How was the congregation to respond?

a. Recognize” them: Gk literally means “to see.” The idea is to see them for who God called them to be; to understand God is the one who put them there. Keep in mind that ALL of them were new converts, so they needed to be able to recognize who among them God had called.

i. The pastorate is not a chosen career; it’s a specific calling from the Lord…who is the only One who can equip someone to the task.

ii. Be careful about making the assumption that only pastors have the privilege of “full-time ministry.” Every single person in the Body of Christ is a vocational minister – whatever your occupation may be!

b. Esteem” them: In a superabundant way (very highly), the fellowship was to honor their pastors & elders. Includes both providing for their physical needs and the emotional attachment between congregations & their ministers. Congregations aren’t to hold their pastors apart as somehow “more holy” – but they are to love them in the Lord.

i. BTW – you guys do great here! My family is very loved!

B. Keep in mind this is based on their “labor” and “work.” He who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat (2 Thess 3:10) – and that includes pastors & leaders! It’s not enough to proclaim oneself as a “pastor” and expect the church to honor them (though many attempt to do so!)… Ministers (by definition) minister/ serve the church – and if they’re not willing to labor over it through the Word, prayer, etc, it’s a pretty good indication that they’re probably not called of God…

a. What does the work include? admonishment” – Definitely includes the idea of rebuke, but the word is broader than that. Also includes the idea of warning, exhorting, & instructing. What’s the best way of doing this? By preaching the Word! 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (16) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. []

C. What does being “at peace” have to do with any of this? Contextually, Paul’s still referring to the relationship between pastors/elders and the congregations they serve. If churches need to be told to esteem & love their pastors, then there’s certainly the possibility that there might be animosity between them because of some of the admonishment pastors had to do. Thus Paul tells them to be at peace with each other.

a. This would also go the other way! Pastors/leaders SERVE the flock of God; they don’t LORD over them. There’s no reason for any sort of the dictatorial it’s-all-about-me attitude that can sometimes crop up.

14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.

A. Paul turns his attention from the church leaders to the rest of the church body. 4 exhortations to body ministry:

a. Warn the “unruly”: military term referring to someone who breaks ranks…could also be translated “idle.” Those who are acting asleep & drunk (vs 7) & not like Christians called by God need to be lovingly admonished & exhorted to walk as children of the light.

b. Comfort the fainthearted”: literally “little-souled” – those who would want to quit during trials… [] We’re to come alongside them & help them endure…

c. Uphold the weak”: speaking of being weak in the faith. Referred in Romans 14 & 1 Cor 8 as those prone to legalism because of their lack of understanding of grace. Those who are more mature are to help others grow stronger…

d. Be patient with all”: Whomever we work alongside in the church, we are to be patient! We were all once the weak or faint-hearted & we had to grow in maturity. Praise God for those in the church who helped us grow! Now we have the privilege & responsibility of helping others do the same.

15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.

A. Goes from internal relationships to external relationships. As the church (born again new creations of God, adopted into His family), how should we deal with non-believers? It only stands to reason it would be different from the world’s expectations…

a. Don’t render “evil for evil”: That’s VASTLY different from the world! The world is told to “look out for #1”… [The Untouchables] – “They pull a knife; you pull a gun. They send one of yours to the hospital; you send one of theirs to the morgue.” That’s a completely foreign thought to Christians! We have no business seeking vengeance because vengeance is the Lord’s – and if He so wanted, He could have sought vengeance against US. Since we were forgiven much, the least we could do is forgive others… (Matt 18, Parable of Servant)

i. Does this mean that Christians aren’t to seek justice when criminally harmed? Don’t forget that God’s minister for justice in this world is the government & legal authorities – they bear the sword (Rom 13). Sometimes justice is deferred till eternity; sometimes it’s swift via the judicial system.

b. Pursue what is good”: Here’s the flip side of the coin. We don’t render evil; we do what is good. It’s one thing not to seek revenge; it’s another to seek how we can show agape love to someone who offended us. [] BTW – that’s not only good for those who are being loved (in spite of their offenses); that’s good for us, too! It helps us model the love and forgiveness our Lord showed us…when we didn’t it in the slightest (Rom 5:8).

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

A. In Ch 4:3, Paul told the church that part of God’s will is for our sanctification…but that’s not all. God’s specific will for our lives includes more than our external behaviors, but also our internal attitudes. And He desires that we would worship Him at all times.

a. Rejoice always”: As we saw in Philippians, we’re not talking about happiness. Happiness is an emotional response to circumstances… Joy is an attitude we can have in spite of our circumstances. Christians ALWAYS have a reason to rejoice in the Lord – because we’ve been saved!

b. Pray without ceasing”: [Hasidic Jews in airport] We’re called to more than that; but not legalistically so. The difference between Christian prayer & other religions is that we don’t have to go to a certain place or say certain words or maintain a certain posture – we simply go to God & His throne of grace boldly in our time of need (Heb 4:16). We need to understand that we are children of God – He has adopted us into His family, so we approach Him as His sons & daughters. [] Is there any place where God isn’t? No – from heaven to the grave, God is there (Ps 139:8) & thus wherever we are, we can go to God in prayer for everything all day long whenever possible…

c. Give thanks” in everything: I’m grateful that Paul doesn’t say, “give thanks FOR everything” (b/c I wouldn’t know how) – he specifically writes, “IN everything, give thanks.” In every situation in which we rejoice, we ought to also give thanks…if for no other reason because we’re not going through it alone. [airport ordeal]

19 Do not quench the Spirit.

A. Too often, this verse is (mis)used to justify all sorts of abuse of spiritual gifts (or what some think they are)… [] The Spirit can be quenched in more ways than simply ignoring the gifts; the Spirit’s work can be quenched when we leave His truth to go follow after the false shenanigans of man!

B. What DOES it mean? Simply to not neglect the ministry of the Holy Spirit within the life of the church. There are many who think that the Holy Spirit is the Christian equivalent to “the force”…He’s far more than that; He’s the 3rd Person of the Trinity! He is just as alive & active today as He was during the days of Creation when He hovered over the face of the waters (Gen 1:2). Thus when we ignore Him, we quench His work.

i. Where the controversy comes in is in what ways the Scripture teaches that the Spirit is active. Every Bible-believing church believes the Spirit has an active ministry; we simply differ on the particulars… [] We believe that ALL the gifts of the Spirit are active and available for the church today at His moving & will…

20 Do not despise prophecies. 21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.

A. In the process of not quenching the Spirit, we need to know how to deal with prophecies given to us by the Spirit… Vs. 20 deals with the cessationists; vs. 21 deals with the charismatic abuse.

B. Don’t despise prophecy: Prophecy within the church is so important that Paul had wished to the Corinthians that he’d rather speak 5 words to the church than 10K in unknown tongues (1 Cor 14:19). Thus we’re not to despise it, but we’re to be grateful for it & receive it when the Lord gives it.

C. Do test prophecy: Just because someone utters the words, “Thus saith the Lord” doesn’t mean it’s true. (Usually an indication to run the opposite direction!) We have a responsibility as a church to test the prophecy we hear according to the Scripture to see if it’s so. Toss the bad; keep the good.

a. How do we know if it’s good? Great definition of prophecy – 1 Corinthians 14:3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. [] We don’t need to look for the fantastic date-setting; simply words from our God to His church…

22 Abstain from every form of evil.

A. Answers a lot of questions before they’re asked. What is it we should do? That which is good… What is it that we shouldn’t do? Anything that even looks like evil…Christians are to keep themselves above reproach.

a. Some take this to mean that Christians should attempt to refrain from ever offending others – but personally that seems to go beyond what Paul’s actually telling the church. Paul’s word in Greek is too strong to be used of mere offenses – the cross of Christ itself is an offense & stumbling block to others (Rom 9:33)…people WILL be offended by us at some point simply because we’re Christians. But we ought not give them reason to be offended through sinful evil actions.

B. Why? Is it because God’s an eternal killjoy? [] Of course not – God is good…ultimately good! The character of God is the very definition of good. Psalm 107:1 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. (BTW, that’s repeated 10 times the Scriptures!) And because HE is good, His children should reflect Him & be representative of that.

a. We’re not to abstain from evil because we’re inherently so much better than everyone else. We’re to abstain from evil because we KNOW we’re not any better than anyone else – but God has made us new creations…

23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A. I can’t tell you how much I love the fact that vs 23 comes after vs 22. J It’s a high-minded thing to abstain from every form of evil. If were even slightly possible for us to do in our own strength, then Jesus would never have had to go to the cross. [] But now we’re not the same people we were before we got saved. Now we’ve got a new nature in Christ – now we’re being sanctified. Who sanctifies the Christian? God Himself! What a perfect way to close the letter – after exhorting the church to all sort of holy behavior and actions, now we see the empowerment behind it: God!

B. How thoroughly does God sanctify us? Completely! Spirit, soul, body…everything that we are is completely set apart by God for His purpose & His glory. From our physical actions – to our inner thoughts – to even our very being…all set apart by Him in order to proclaim His own goodness and grace and that we might worship Him for all eternity. Glorious!!

C. Until when? Till Jesus’ coming… Are we going to struggle against the flesh? Yes. Are we going to battle temptation? Of course. Does it have an end-date? Absolutely! One day we’re going to see the Lord Jesus face-to-face, and this life-long process of “sanctification” will finally be complete.

24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

A. Will God sanctify you? Absolutely…He’s faithful. We’re not placing our trust in any 5-step plan to “peace in our lives” or some sort of humanistic self-help guide. Our lives change because GOD is the one changing them! It’s His work, and He will never fail.

25 Brethren, pray for us. [Amen! Please pray for me & any pastor you might have.] 26 Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. [common form of greeting] 27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren.

A. Epistle meant to be read by the whole church… Seems to indicate that Paul understood this letter was inspired by God & thus wanted it shared with everyone.

B. There’s no more healthy spiritual practice we can undertake than reading/hearing the word of God! It transforms us from the inside out (Rom 12:2).

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

A. Want to wrap up 1 Thessalonians? Grace. Grace by which we’ve been saved – grace by which we are sanctified – grace by which we wait for the Lord Jesus.

Conclusion:

The Thessalonians had been asking a common question we still hear today: Is the Lord Jesus coming? The answer? YES! Without a doubt, the Lord Jesus is coming for His church! He will receive us to Himself through either resurrection or rapture, we’ll be with Him for all eternity. That truth is assured, and we can count on it.

So then, what is our response to that? We could put on a pretense of spirituality, go sell all our possessions & then wait on a hillside for Jesus to come back…and thus waste time & ignore the Great Commission. Or we could actually BE the church – which is what Paul is exhorting us to do. Love one another – help each other mature in the faith – pursue what is good rejoicing, praying, and being thankful the whole time – testing prophecy – abstaining from evil – and the whole while being sanctified by God. IOW while we are here, we are to be who Christ has called us to be – do what God has called us to do, all through the power of the Holy Spirit and to the glory of God.

There’s one other response someone could have to this…and that’s to ignore it. Ignore the fact that Jesus died and rose again – ignore the fact that He’s returning – ignore the fact that He’s the Son of God that we will all face one day…and on that day that person will have a rude awakening. People often try to put off thinking about eternity until they’re in it; but at that point it’s too late. Today is day of salvation! This is the day the Lord has given you – don’t waste it! Make no mistake, you need to be saved. We’ve all sinned in our thoughts, words, and actions…even one sin every day is well over 23,000 sins by age 65 – and you’ve got to face God on Judgment Day where He’s promised to punish ALL sin.

Here’s the good news: God has already poured out His wrath on Jesus Christ when He hung on the cross. On that day, Jesus took the punishment you & I deserved & He paid the debt we owed in His life’s blood. Then He rose again from death, declaring Himself to be the Son of God & offering everlasting life and forgiveness to all who call upon Him. But you must receive His forgiveness in order to be saved.

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