By Dr. Robert E. Picirilli
Much is packed into this concluding part of I Thessalonians. Some call it a “miscellaneous” section because of its many brief exhortations. But there is a pattern. It is a pattern that can be seen in terms of the believer’s relationship to the local church. You will find here the basis for several things in our own church covenant.
First, Paul addresses the subject of respect for Church leaders (vv. 12, 13). Note their three-fold “work”:
- They “labor” among believers. This is often a difficult, toilsome task.
- They are “over” the other believers. This refers to them literally “stand before” them as leaders with responsibility.
- They “admonish” and instruct other believers.
Note also the Christians’ obligations to these leaders. We are to:
- “Know” them. This means we are to respectfully recognize them because of the place they fill. and to
- Esteem them highly in love.” This refers to a loving regard for and honor of them. Notice the connection with the last part of verse 13. Only when leaders lead aright and others follow with respect can there be true peace within the fellowship.
Second, he discusses the obligations within the fellowship (vv 14, 15). No doubt the leaders just referred to will have special responsibility here. However, every believer owes it to every other believer—especially within a local church—to fulfill these duties. There are several of them.
- The unruly must be warned. “Unruly” means disorderly, out of line. The word “warn” here carries the same meaning as “admonish” in verse 12. The disorderly need the instruction that will put them in mind of their behavioral duties.
- The feebleminded must be comforted.“Feebleminded” here is not used in our modern sense. Here it refers to the discouraged, those on the verge of giving up. They need someone to rush to their side and give them encouragement.
- The weak must be supported. “Weak” means spiritually ailing and unhealthy. “Support” literally suggests holding oneself against someone to help hold them up.
- We must be patient with everyone. This means we must be longsuffering. The “all” could include sinners, but the context appears to emphasize the needs of fellow Christians.
Verse 15 sort of sums it all up as seeking to do good to others all the time regardless how they treat us. That definitely applies to sinners as well as saints. Even so, the main point of these verses is clear: we need one another in the Christian life. We are in this together, and will succeed or fail together.
Third, Paul discusses having a constant Christian attitude (vv 16-18). Here he gives three brief commands. Each one has dual emphasis on a continuing experience through both the action of the verb and in the adverbial phrase “all the time.”
- Be rejoicing at all times (v. 16). This is the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament, but it sure isn’t a small truth.
- Be praying “without ceasing” (v. 17). This doesn’t mean every single hour around the clock, but having a regular, continual prayer life.
- Be giving thanks in every circumstance (v. 18) This does not mean to be thankful for everything that happens to you. It means to be continually thankful for God’s goodness and grace that are ours whether or not our present circumstances are pleasant.
Yes, these commands are intended for individuals, but these attitudes are experienced at their best when they are also experienced and manifested in the whole congregation’s life.
Fourth, Paul discusses responding to spiritual manifestations (vv. 19-22). These instructions, too, have special meaning for the ongoing activities of the local body of believers. In Paul’s day, the New Testament was still incomplete; revelations for the church were still being given to prophets. “Spiritual” manifestations, therefore, needed careful testing. This is still true. (See 1 John 4:1.)
The genuine work of the Holy Spirit should not be quenched (v. 19), nor should the prophets’ messages be “despised” (v.20). Instead, spiritual activity should be tested or proven true (v. 21). Those things which test out as good will be held fast (v. 21), but those things which test out as bad will be avoided (v.22).
How do we test the movements and men that ask us to recognize them as sent by God? The answer is certain. We do so by applying the Word of God to their teaching and practice. And it is our duty to do just that before we follow or support something.
Finally, Paul draws the letter to a conclusion (vv. 23-28). He does this in several ways.
- A closing prayer (v. 23) He prays for their entire preservation. His prayer expresses his confidence that the prayer will be answered (v.24).
- He makes three concluding requests. First, he requests prayer for himself and his helpers (v. 25). Second, he requests that they greet each other with brotherly fellowship (v. 26). Third, he requests a public reading of his letter (v.27).
- He finalizes with a benediction that leaves that leaves the believers in the hands of the grace of God (v. 28). We should pray for this always to be true.