The Christian’s Hope, Part 15

In this week’s message, THE PURSUIT OF HOLINESS II (1 Thes. 5:16-22), we continued to look at the Lord’s concluding remarks to us in the book of First Thessalonians.

It is in view of all we have been promised prophetically as God’s children to include:

  1. Jesus will come suddenly reuniting us with our lost loved ones “in Christ” (1 Thes. 4:13-18)
  2. He will glorify their and our bodies swallowing death up into life (1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thes. 4:15-17, etc.)
  3. We will be with Him forever (1 Thes. 4:18)
  4. And He will lose none of us (1 Thes. 5:4-11, etc.)

we are called again to live for Him.  While Christ’s promises above to us are certain and will happen in “the twinkling of an eye,” the Lord does not want us as His kids to be sleepwalking when He returns (1 Thes. 4:15; 5:6, 10; 1 Cor. 15:51-52, etc.).  Even though we, as God’s children, are never appointed to wrath (to include the “great tribulation” in front of our world today), there is the possibility Jesus’ return could catch us off-guard (Matt. 24:21-22; 1 Thes. 1:10; 5:1-6, 9-10; Rom. 5:9, etc.).  God tells us these things not to satisfy academic curiosity, but “to change our lives, moving from the pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of holiness” -Dr. Erwin Lutzer.  As with all of God’s Word, prophecy is to motivate us to do what God says (i.e. the “law of Christ”) so we can become more like Jesus (Heb. 12:11; 1 Pet. 1:13-16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Gal. 6:1-5, etc.).  It is there to wake us up (Eph. 2:10, etc.).

The first command we looked at last week from our Lord was to value, esteem, and obey pastors, elders, deacons, etc. He has given to the church and placed “over” us (1 Thes. 5:12-13; Eph 4:11; Heb. 13:17, etc.).  When Christians do this, it “pleases” God and also helps to maintain His peace within the church family (1 Thes. 4:1; 5:13; 2 Cor. 5:9-10; Gal. 5:22; 1 Cor. 14:33, etc.).

A second thing Christ called the entire church to do (and leaders to do first) is to serve one another in love (1 Thes. 5:14-15).  He then identified three groups of people within our fellowships that are in need special attention: the “unruly… fainthearted… [and] weak” (1 Thes. 5:14).  The unruly are to be “warned” so they can wake up and get back on track (BTW this is the same Greek word for “admonished” in verse 12 that pastors and church leaders are to do while teaching the Bible); the fainthearted need to be comforted with God’s truth because they are about to give up; and weak brothers and sisters need to be upheld/lifted up because they have a deeper level of spiritual need and have already given up! (1 Thes. 5:12, 14, etc.).  The Bible shows us pastors and other spiritual leaders “equip” the church with God’s Word so they can do the work (Eph. 4:12) because “the labor of love” needed to meet the all the needs in the church is enormous and must be done by all the body of Christ as a whole for it to be healthy (Eph. 1:3; 4:15-16; 1 Thes. 5:14, etc.). It takes patience to raise a family, and some of the ones struggling the most in the church today may be used the most by God in the future (Eph. 4:32, etc.).  We must also remember to watch our motives giving place to God to accomplish His justice in His timing and way (Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30; Ps. 97:2, etc.).  We are promised, even among Christians, Jesus will set the record straight when He returns for us (1 Cor. 4:5, etc.).

In today’s message God then gave us additional commands for us to apply to our personal and corporate lives:

  1. “Rejoice always” (1 Thes. 5:16).  This command says, “Always rejoice… Be joyful always!”
    • When we remain in sadness and depression, it really breaks a commandment (1 Thes. 5:16; Eph. 5:20, etc.).  In some direction or other we mistrust God- His power, His providence, His forgiveness…  This leads to making us “fainthearted” and “weak” (1 Thes. 5:14), and in need of love from the body of Christ so we can be aroused from our spiritual lethargy (1 Thes. 5:10-11, etc.).  But how can we fulfill this command from God to be joyous?
      • If we rely in our own strength and power, we will utterly fail. This can only spring out of our identity in Christ and the certainty of our hope tomorrow: #1 Jesus is coming for us; #2 God will glorify our bodies; #3 we will be with Him forever; and #4 He will lose none of us!  (1 Thes. 4:13-18; 5:4-11, etc.). 
      • Also, we need to remember this is God’s joy He is sharing with us as His children (John 15:11; Ps. 16:11; Gal. 5:22, etc.).   It is His life, His presence, and an outflow of the Holy Spirit inside of us.  Because of this, God calls us to be continually be filled with the Holy Spirit- every day (Eph. 5:18).  While we are “sealed” and God’s child forever by grace through faith, the filling of the Spirit is not automatic and is needed for us to experience God’s joy in a present-day sense (Eph. 1:13-14; Gal. 5:16, etc.).  To be filled, we have to permit God (with our own free will) to take control of our lives (Rom. 7:18; 12:1-2; Gal. 5:17, etc.).  That is, we do not fill ourselves but we permit the Holy Spirit to fill us (Gal. 5:18, 25, etc.).
        • Joy takes the burden out of service (Neh. 8:10, etc.).  To not run down and fall apart, we need to let Him live through us.  God never fails and He never wearies… (Isa. 40:30-31, etc.).  Also, things not done in the Spirit will not stand the test of God’s holy fire or have any eternal value at all (1 Cor. 3:13-15; Heb. 12:28-29, etc.).
  2. “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thes. 5:17). Other translations read to constantly and never stop praying…
    • The Greek word for “without ceasing” (adialeíptōs) was used of a nagging cough that would not go away.  Obviously, it is impossible to pray every moment of our life- for example when you are sleeping, etc.  God is saying here He wants us to have unbroken fellowship with Him which results in prayer that is constantly reoccurring and not hindered in any way…  That is, we need to ‘keep the receiver off the hook’- sort of speak- coming back to Him always. 
    • In Ephesians 6:18, a parallel verse for this command, we see the Word says we are to pray “always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…”  Once again, we see the key to obeying this command from God is to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).  It is God inside of us the hope of glory who also prays through us “in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18; Rom. Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:26-27, etc.).  To do this we need to have no unconfessed sin, or our prayer life will be damaged and possibly even ruined (e.g. Ps. 66:18 vs. 1 John 1:9).  Ephesians 6:18 continues, “praying always… in the Spirit, being watchful…”  We see here again that the filling of the spirit is the key to keeping this command, helping us to walk in the good works we are made for now which helps us also to be ready/watchful for His return (1 Thes. 4:15-17; 5:6, 10; Matt. 26:41; Mark 14:38, etc.).
  3. “in everything give thanks;” (1 Thes. 5:18a).  While the two previous commands deal with one’s time (“always” and “without ceasing”) this one in verse 18 deals with our circumstances and environment.
    • The circumstances of life may not be good in this fallen world, but when we are filled with the Spirit, we can be thankful in “all things” knowing God sovereignly works out everything ultimately for our “good” as His children (Rom. 8:28; Eph. 5:18, 20; John 4:24, etc.).  Notice here, the Bible says it is NOT THANKS FOR EVERYTHING but thanks “IN EVERYTHING” (1 Thes. 5:18).  GOD IS NOT THE AUTHOR OR SOURCE OF EVIL- EVER.  That is why He sent His Son to die for us so the effects of death and sin could be reversed forever (Gen 2:17; 3:15, 19; Rom. 6:23; John 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:26, etc.).  Instead, the Bible shows us Yahweh/the Lord (the self-existent One) uses wicked things in this world sovereignly for our good (James 1:17; 1 Cor. 14:33; Gen. 1:31; Eph. 1:11, etc.).  Job is an example of this as he blessed the name of the God in spite of his personal tragedies, NOT because of them (Job 1:21, etc.).  Nothing speaks more powerfully of a walk with God than continuous thankfulness (Heb. 13:13-15, etc.).
    • “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes. 5:18b).  When the Bible says, “this is the will of God… for you” it is not talking of good advice or something we could do someday if we wanted to…  and while these three commands (“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing [and] in everything give thanks), do not comprise the entire will of God for us, they are not optional (1 Thes. 4:3; 1 Pet. 2:15; Rom. 12:1-2, etc.).  As His children, children of the Day- children of His kingdom- He wants us to be filled with constant joy, ceaseless prayer and boundless thanks via the Holy Spirit inside of us.  This will keep us alert for His return and walking in the good works He has made us for today.
  4. “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thes. 5:19).  “Quench the Spirit” means to deliberately resist God’s influence in our lives; it is the opposite of being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18-22, Gal. 5:17, etc.).
    • The Greek construction in verse 19 suggests the translation: ‘stop quenching the Spirit,’ and in this way it is very similar to God’s command for us in Ephesians 5:7 which literally reads in the Greek, ‘stop becoming partakers with them.’  
    • The context of the Bible also shows us here this is NOT speaking of losing one’s salvation because God just said he will rapture all of His kids- losing none- “whether [we are] alert [at His return] or asleep” (1 Thes. 5:10 NET).   The Greek word for “asleep” or “sleep” here is katheúdō in chapter 5 meaning a Christian who is NOT alert but sleepwalking in terms of spiritual things.   It is a different Greek word for “sleep” than in chapter 4 which means to die physically.  Here it means to be living independently from God (i.e. quenching the Spirit).  1 Thessalonians 5:6 also clearly shows us this truth in our English translations, “Therefore, let us not sleep [katheúdō], as others do, but let us watch and be sober.” God is warning us here to wake up and be alert today so we will be ready for Him when He comes for us, but either way, once again, we are saved by grace and assured of obtaining “salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” to the uttermost (1 Thes. 5:9; Eph. 2:8-9, etc.).  That is, He will lose none of His children; all will go up with Him and be glorified- saved from wrath through Him (1 Thes. 5:9-11, etc.).
    • The imagery used by Paul of God’s work in our lives is that of a FIRE- a HOLY FIRE of purity, power, light, love and warmth (Isa. 4:4; Acts 2:3; Rev. 4:5, etc.).  Sadly, because the Lord is gracious and does not force Himself on us, the truth remains we can oppose His work in our lives today through our free will.  In this way we can pour water on (i.e. “quench”) His leading in our lives.  It is like a child telling his parents, “No!” even though he knows what he is supposed to do.   This taking control of our own lives is the opposite of being filled with and walking with Him.  One of the fundamental rules of walking with God is that we should not say “no” to the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:25).
      • It is because of this that the Lord here gives us this specific negative command.  He says, do not do this, or more specifically, STOP doing this!  (Gal. 5:25; 1 Cor. 3:1-15, etc.).
    • For those parents out there, “Have you ever told your child to stop doing something?” That is what is going on here.  God is telling us it is “high time” for us to walk as children of the day (which we are) and be alert for His return (1 Thes. 5:4-6, 10; Rom. 13:11, etc.).  Today, God graciously lets us pour water on His work in our lives if we foolishly choose to, but one day that same fire will evaluate our lives at the judgment seat of Christ and there will be no pouring water on it then (1 Cor. 4:5, etc.).  At that time, only what was done in Him through us will last and go into His kingdom (1 Cor. 3:13-15; Heb. 12:28-29; Rev. 1:14; 2:18; 3:18, etc.).  That is why it is best for us to heed His warnings today.
    • When we “quench” God’s Spirit in our lives it makes us sad robbing us of His joy (John 10:10) and it also makes God sad because He wants only what is best for us.  We see this in a parallel verse in the book of Ephesians: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…”  (Eph. 4:30).  This verse is really the same command as 1 Thessalonians 5:19, but in Ephesians we also see God has feelings.  Because of His great love for us, our heavenly Father enters into our pain, and the Word says God can even become sad at times (John 11:35-36, etc.).  But, just like 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, we see a child of God, even when he or she commits such sins, is secure in the Father’s love.  Ephesians 4:30b puts it this way, declaring when we grieve God, we are still “sealed for the day of redemption.” Nothing can separate us from God’s love because Jesus paid it all, and we are saved by grace- a gift from God that is not earned or merited (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 8:31-39, etc.).  Understanding this grace and applying it to our lives will help us avoid quenching and grieving the Holy Spirit today to remain alert for that Day when we stand before Jesus Christ to give an account for our lives at His return (Titus 2:11-14; Heb. 10:25; 1 Cor. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:9-10, etc.).
  5. “Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thes. 5:20-21)
    • The early church after Jesus died and rose from the dead did not have a completed Bible as we do because the New Testament had not yet been written down.  The Word shows us in that time the Lord laid “the foundation” of the church through “the apostles and [New Testament] prophets” (Eph. 2:20).  They explained what the mystery of the church was and provided supernaturally additional revelation via prophecies of what God was going to do in that time (Eph. 3:5, 9-10, etc.).  As such, the first century church in Thessalonica was not to “despise prophecies” from “prophets” and “apostles” in that time but to receive them by faith.  However, they also were to “Test all things,” that is, test to see whether they were listening to a true prophet as the standard for speaking God’s words was one hundred percent accuracy (1 Thes. 5:20-21; Deut. 18:21-22).  If a so-called prophet spoke for God something He did not say, the Bible said he was to be put to death (Deut. 18:20, etc.).  However, with the completed Bible (canon) which is God-breathed, sufficient, authoritative and inerrant, the office of prophet (just like apostles) is no longer being used by God in this era (i.e. God… spoke in time past… by the prophets[but] has in these last days spoken by His Son…” Heb. 1:1-2; John 1:14;Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11a, etc.).
      • If you encounter a church with so-called ‘apostles’ or ‘prophets’ today, RUN! (Jude 3-4, Gal. 2:4, 21; 2 Pet. 1:3; Rev. 22:18-19, etc.)  That is a mark of a cult and something God wants to keep His “children” safe from (Eph. 4:14; 1 Cor. 10:12-14; 1 Pet. 5:8, etc.).   
    • Even though God is not managing the church age today with “prophets” because we have the completed Word of God (i.e. “the foundation” has been laid- Eph. 2:20), we are still called to not “despise prophecies” in the Bible.  Scripture is filled with multiple prophecies about the future and all of them are 100% accurate as they are from the Lord (i.e. 1 Thes. 4:15).  For example, in our chapter today He says we are “not appoint[ed- ordained or purposed] to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes. 5:9).  We are not to despise or disbelieve this, but called to “hold fast” to it (1 Thes. 5:21).  When we believe and apply the Bible in our lives, it strengthens our faith and keeps us alert for Jesus’ return (Rom. 10:17, etc.).
  6. “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thes. 5:22)
    • The Holy Spirit then urges us to stay away from every kind and type of evil. Unlike the “good” in verse 21 which is singular referring to God/His Word, “evil” in verse 22 is plural (Isa. 6:3; John 14:6, 16-18, etc.).  “Every form” in the Greco-Roman period was used to denote ‘class,’ ‘sort,’ and ‘kind’ (1 Thes. 5:22).  God’s Word- the good- will keep us from “every form of evil” and it is the very first thing also the enemy of our souls will attack (Ps. 119:11; Prov. 30:5 vs. Gen. 3:1; 1 Thes. 3:5, etc.).
      • The King James Version reads, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thes. 5:22 KJV), and it is true God wants us to not be around the atmosphere of evil whenever possible (e.g. Eph. 5:3, etc.). But the better translation here might be “form of evil” as it reads in the NKJV because Jesus Himself ate with “sinners and tax collectors” (Mark 2:16; Luke 15:1, etc.).  That is, there were times when our Lord went to ‘notorious sinners,’ the ones most despised by the culture of that day and witnessed to them directly in the darkest places.  We should not live our lives based upon what other people think, as we cannot please everyone around us and people can always find fault with us when they want to (Prov. 29:25, etc.).
    • “Abstain” means to ‘refrain’ or ‘hold oneself off’ from (1 Thes. 4:3; Gal. 5:17; Rom. 12:1-2, etc.).  God commands us here to not become entangled by or with any sin (Gal. 5:1, etc.).  While it is true we should avoid legalism which is also bondage and sin, there are also some forms of evil the Bible does say we should “flee” like sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18); the love of money (1 Tim. 6:9-11); and anything in our life that is causing us to personally fall (1 Cor. 10:14).  Do whatever it takes to avoid it!  Abstain from it!  Set personal hedges up- even if it looks silly to the world around you so you can serve the Lord in His power and might (Eph. 5:18; 6:10-18).  That is not legalism; it is following Jesus.
      • When you fall (and it happens to all His children- 1 Cor. 10:12), do not believe the lie of the enemy that all is lost or you have gone too far.  Claim who you are in Christ and turn from your sin- confess it/ judge it (1 John 1:9; 1 Cor. 11:31-32, etc.).  God is faithful and just to restore your intimate fellowship with Him (He never went anywhere!) and fill you with His Spirit again making you alert and ready for the good works He has called you to (Eph. 2:10; Titus 3:8; Heb. 13:21, etc.).

Addendum:  In our 3/17/24 message, I asked what “if” meant citing Galatians 5:25 which reads, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”  Some Bible versions like the HCSB will translate this word as “since” in verse 25 showing the person spoken of there is a child of God possessing the Holy Spirit.  That is probably true and I should have cited Gal. 5:18 instead.  But even when a person uses “since” in verse 25 instead of “if,” we see that free will on the part of the Christian is still shown in that verse as it continues with the words, “LET US also walk in the Spirit” (caps reflect my emphasis).  “Let us” shows volition- free will- on our part.  That is, the filling of the Spirit is not automatic (Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:26, etc.).  

Galatians 5:18 probably would have been a better verse for me to reference the word “if” as showing free will.  God’s Word reads there, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”  The Greek word for “if” is εἰ (the same word as in verse 25) but is agreed upon as being ‘if’ (not ‘since’) by all good translations that I could find.  And the whole context of the book of Galatians shows us a Christian can be brought under bondage by the law again if we do not walk in the Spirit (i.e. Gal. 5:1). Furthermore, the Greek word for “led” in verse 18 is “agō ” meaning to “guide,” and not “pherō” which means to “drive” or force. Clearly, free will is involved here, and both experience and the Bible shows us that a Christian may or may not walk in the Spirit after coming to faith in Jesus: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:16-17).