Paul’s Short Commands for the Christian Life (Part 2)
1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
Truth Taught- God gives us eight imperatives to strengthen our walk with Him through Jesus Christ.
In this short section, just six verses, we have God giving us eight imperative commands to strengthen our walk with Christ. If we are to mature and be a healthy Christian these eight commands are very worthy of our consideration and application today.
How is your spiritual health? Are you growing as a Christian? Are you walking in Christ more and more each day? I pray we would all consider these imperatives and by grace seek to live them out each day to the glory of God and for our good.
Last time, we looked at the imperatives concerning how we live with and respond to one another in the context of the local Church. We saw that God is honored as we show respect to Church leaders, counsel other believers with appropriate biblical approaches, namely, admonishing, encouraging, and helping one another. So, we could categorize last week’s text how we respond biblically to people in the church.
Today, we will see how we are to relate biblically to God. How are we to be oriented toward God with our lives? How can we live a Godward life? These imperatives fix our spiritual compass, as it were, to dead north or right on God. These imperatives are not just things we do but things we do that flow from a life focused on God.
I want to pause here just a moment and say that sometimes if we are not where we need to be spiritually we shouldn’t sit around waiting until we feel like doing these things but sometimes we simply need to do them and in doing them we will meet God in a special way. What I’m saying is sometimes we just need to obey and do the things God commands whether we feel like it or not and once we begin doing them God will meet us and bless us for our obedience even if we are not entirely whole hearted in our doing them.
I desire to always be excited about God’s Word most of the time…I desire to be the man in Psalm 1 most of the time…
Psalm 1:1–3 (ESV)
1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
What should we do in the situation when we may not desire the things of God like we should?
Here’s an example, sometimes I’m tired perhaps and just don’t feel like reading the Bible. I begin to read anyway. God works and I read something that is exactly what I needed for that day. If I lived based on feelings I would have missed what God had for me. So my desire and joy in God’s Word is restored. Here, God gives us a battle plan to remain Godward in our focus and life.
1 Thessalonians 5:16–22 (ESV)
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
This trilogy of commands, which may seem, at first, three separate commands, are actually interrelated and build on each other.
God commands us to always be joyful. This is an imperative that really means be joyful in times of struggle and trial. Non-Christians can be joyful when happy times come upon them but only the Christian and crazy people can be joyful during times of affliction. This rejoicing is not in life’s circumstances because if they were going to drive our rejoicing then we could never rejoice always. No, to rejoice always means we must have something admirable and consistent that is rejoice worthy. To dissect rejoicing is to discover that it is a sincere emotion or response to something worthy of joy. We cannot make our self joyful when there is nothing worthy of our rejoicing. So, it cannot be our circumstances because they forever are changing. To always be rejoicing means we have something that is joy worthy and this must always be worthy of joy.
We are given the secret to this continual rejoicing in Philippians 4.
Philippians 4:4–7 (ESV)
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Our circumstances change, life is a mixture of good times, trials, and everything in between. Only God is rejoice-worthy all the time. Only God is the sure foundation of always rejoicing. He is worthy always because He never changes. The Godward life is always in a state on some level of rejoicing in Christ. Even on our worse day we can rejoice for all Christ is and has done for us.
If we are to obey the command to rejoice always, we must seek God’s power to do so through prayer. Our prayer seeks the things from God that will cause our rejoicing that is continual.
Psalm 90:14 (ESV)
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
The Godward life is always in a state of prayer. What I mean here and what Paul means here is that we are always living our lives in dependence on God. Praying without ceasing means that there is a spirit of dependence that should saturate all we do. This is the very spirit and essence of prayer. So, even when we are not speaking consciously to God, there is a deep, abiding dependence on him that is woven into the heart of faith. In that sense, we “pray” or have the spirit of prayer continuously.
Praying without ceasing also means praying repeatedly and often. I base this on the use of the word “without ceasing” (adialeiptos) in Romans 1:9, where Paul says,
Romans 1:9–10 (ESV)
9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.
Now we can be sure that Paul did not mention the Romans every minute of his prayers. He prayed about many other things. But he mentioned them over and over and often. So “without ceasing” doesn’t mean that verbally or mentally we have to be speaking prayers every minute of the day. But we should pray over and over and often. Our default mental state should be: “O God . . .”
Praying without ceasing also means not giving up on prayer. Don’t ever come to a point in your life where you cease to pray at all. Don’t abandon the God of hope and say, “There’s no use praying.” Go on praying. Don’t cease.
It also seems here that in context as we pray without ceasing that an ongoing topic of our prayers should be, God give me a spirit of rejoicing always in You and Your will for my life. Make me eternally happy in You!. God I repent of the idols I have sought happiness in and through. They have all failed miserably. Make me joyful in You alone!
Thankfulness should be a character trait of every believer. We should keep in mind here that while we may not be thankful for all circumstances because some may, in fact, be circumstances that are sinful but we are called to be thankful in all circumstances. This may not seem like a big difference but what Paul wants us to see is that we can rejoice and be thankful in the midst of any circumstance. Again circumstances vary but God is always the same…
Psalm 103:1–5 (ESV)
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
God’s will for His people is that we are a people who are rejoicing, praying and thanking Him continually.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
Here, God’s desire for all of us is that we use for our spiritual good the tools He has given us for our growth and maturity as Christians.
He’s given us His Spirit to help guide us into truth. When we read God’s Word we must be praying that God’s Spirit will give us truth and understanding.
Psalm 119:18 (ESV)
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law.
Psalm 119:36 (ESV)
36 Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
In both verses, the psalmist prays that God would give him the ability to see and understand His Word. If God doesn’t help us we will not understand and apply His Word properly.
We are to read, listen to and obey God’s prophetic Word. Here is where some of our charismatic friends take the wrong road. This is not speaking of some hidden or private prophecy but simply is speaking of God’s Word in its various forms, whether read or spoken to us.
When we read God’s Word there is a real sense in which we interpret what we read. We interpret it, often through our personal experiences and knowledge. Sometimes, our interpretation may not be right. So, we are called to test everything to make sure what we believe about it is correct.
Here is an example of a verse that is probably miss-interpreted more than it is interpreted correctly.
Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
This verse is taken out of context and ripped out of a paragraph. This is about what to do when a brother or sister in your church sins against you. This paragraph begins in Matthew 18:15-19 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Notice that this is about church discipline and that if two or three of the witnesses (v 16) agree on the matter, then Jesus is also in agreement with them. This verse has been misquoted to mean that you don’t need church but if there are “two or three…gathered in [Jesus’] name, there [He] is.” The reason that is wrong is if you are born again, Jesus is already with you and you don’t need two or three others to join you in order for Him to be with you. Matthew 18:20 is also taken out of context when people claim that if two or three are gathered then whatever they ask “it will be done for them by [the] Father.” God may or may not answer that prayer the way you want Him to depending upon whether it’s the will of God or not, but it’s not a hard, fast rule that just by having 2 or 3 people getting together, only then will Jesus be there or whatever we ask for God will grant.
How can so many Christians be wrong when they read this text? They come to it with wrong presuppositions and already formed agendas. They are not part of a church that practices discipline so their views are already flawed when they approach the passage.
We are called to care enough about truth that we seek to discern fact from fiction. Beloved there is a lot of fiction out there that claims to be truth. We must evaluate what we are told or what we read. We must care about truth and seek proper understanding. We cannot think that Christianity is made up of different ideas and all have the same credence. Those who call themselves Christians but do not believe orthodox Christian truths are not actually Christians at all.
God commands us to test everything so that we are not taken in by a false doctrine that could, in fact, jeopardize our very souls.
We are called to rejoice, pray and give thanks always.
We are called to listen to and obey God’s Word, testing all things that call themselves truth.
I pray we are growing in all these things for God’s glory.
John Stott, The Gospel and the End of Time
1 and 2 Thessalonians by Robert Cara
1 and 2 Thessalonians by G K Beale
1 and 2 Thessalonians by Leon Morris
1 and 2 Thessalonians by FF Bruce
1 and 2 Thessalonians by G L Green