First Thessalonians Chapter Five:
Chapter Five Overview:
vv.1-11: The manner of Christ’s return, the nature of His calling, and the contrast between true and false professors of Christ:
vv.1-2: Paul’s reminder to an evidently worried congregation; the Lord’s sudden and unpredictable coming; v.3: Damning delusion of the world anticipated by Paul; v.4: Paul’s confidence in the efficacy of their saving faith; vv.5-7: Gulf between believers and unbelievers; imperatives to believers; description of unbelievers; v.8: Another imperative for believers; we are shielded from sin by faith, love, and the hope of salvation; vv.9-11: God’s appointing of us; Jesus Christ is the means by which God appointed Christians, both dead and alive, to our blessed destiny; crucial Christian duties, and Paul’s purposes for eschatology and soteriology, which is comforting and edifying one another; the Thessalonians were obedient to this imperative, which Paul also reiterates;
vv.12-22: Various important exhortations:
vv.12-13: Paul commands the Thessalonians to recognise and love those who are over them in the Lord, commanding respect for them for the sake of their offices and duties; exhortation to be at peace among themselves; v.14: Exhortation to all on how to deal with three different kinds of believers, and a universal command of patience; v.15: Turn the other cheek, seek what is good, whether among brethren or unbelievers; v.16: A difficult command, to rejoice without respect to circumstance; vv.17-18: Constant prayerfulness and thankfulness commanded, again without respect to circumstance; v.19: The Holy Spirit must be honoured in all things; we must zealously seek His presence in all our doings, and take care not to neglect or offend Him; v.20: To despise the preaching of God’s Word is unacceptable; v.21: Christian diligence in discernment, and acceptance only of truth; v.22: Do not merely abstain from breaking commandments, but strive to never even appear to break them;
vv.23-28: Closing prayer, exhortations, and benediction:
vv.23-24: The inevitability of the sanctification and preservation of the saints; Paul’s faith is not in men to persevere of their own accord or power; God’s salvific grace is effectual unto the end; v.25: Even as Paul prayed for them, he earnestly desired their prayers in return; v.26: Greet the brethren with warm and tender love; v.27: The intended audience, the universal Church; v.28: Benediction.
“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.”
– In stark contrast to the prevailing eschatological theories of this era, there is no change of subject in these two verses from that which came before. Dispensationalism teaches that the rapture is not the Day of the Lord; but that position is errant on this point. We see in ch.4 vv.13-18, Paul teaches on the manner and substance of the next coming of Jesus Christ, and how He will gather every saint, living and dead alike, and bring them with Him. This is also known as the rapture; (ἁρπάζω; harpazo); that is, the catching up. And now in our present text, Paul shifts his focus to the timing of that glorious event. Paul has not changed the subject; he is still teaching on the same event. He says: “But of the times and the seasons, brethren”. It is a very strange notion that Paul would introduce a new subject with the phrase “but of the times and the seasons”, and then further informs them saying: “For yourselves know perfectly…”, before he even tells us what the new subject is. In such a case, Paul changes the subject but writes for twenty-two words before he tells us what that new subject is: “the day of the Lord”. The natural reading of the text is to see these two as one and the same event. He has shifted his focus, but the subject remains the same. The Day of the Lord is that day upon which the wicked are to be gathered for judgement, and then the people of God will be taken to be with Christ; and it will unfold in that order; see Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43. Those who hold to the pre-tribulation rapture must insist that the rapture happens before the Day of the Lord. The great tribulation precedes the judgement of the world; and so, those holding to the pre-tribulation rapture theory must separate the rapture and the Day of the Lord, dividing that one event into two, in order to believe that the Church will not go through the great tribulation. But this notion simply cannot be supported by without eisegeting the Scripture.
Previously Paul told the Thessalonians of a glorious and notable day when they would be caught up together to be with the Lord; and now he says that they have no need to be told “of the times and the seasons”. Unless the subject has changed from that of the last six verses of the previous chapter, the pre-tribulation rapture theory cannot be true; for, as we have already stated, those holding to that theory maintain that the Day of the Lord and the rapture are two separate events; the rapture happening before the great tribulation, and the Day of the Lord happening after it. Not only does this text offer no such warrant, but instead it goes on to refute such an idea. In vv.1-2 we are warned that Christ’s next coming will be sudden and unpredictable. v.3 tells of how the unwatchful (the unconverted) will be destroyed. v.4 reads: “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” It is important to note here that Paul informs the Thessalonians personally of how it shall be when the Day of the Lord comes to pass, and then applies this teaching to them, as if he considered them completely without distinction from the generation of saints who shall be alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord. In other words, Paul did not appear to regard it as impossible for them to go through the great tribulation and remain until the second coming of Christ; and therefore, the application is as much for any generation as for the last one. In vv.5-8 Paul, in light of the coming of the Day of the Lord, warns Christians how they are to continue living; which is exactly what we read in 2 Peter 3:10-12, which is obviously the end of the world. In v.9 we are told that God has appointed us to obtain salvation instead of wrath. In v.10 Paul again speaks of all saints both living and dead, applying this doctrine to them, just as he did in ch.4 vv.13-17. Lastly, in v.11 the apostle charges, just as he did in the last verse of ch.4, that the Thessalonians were to comfort one another with this doctrine; and why then would the Thessalonians be charged to comfort each other with a doctrine that, if they are to be raptured before the tribulation, does not concern them? It is therefore clear that Paul is dealing with the same subject from ch.4 v.13 – ch.5 v.11. The same people are directly addressed; the same application is made; and the same day (singular) is announced. Paul’s teaching from ch.4 vv.13-18 is paralleled by ch.5 v.1-11, because it is the same doctrine being taught upon. We are to be raptured by Jesus Christ, after the great tribulation, on the Day of the Lord. But if that has not been enough to convince some, I hope that this text will be:
“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ [day of the Lord, ESV] is at hand.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2
Here we see our “gathering together unto Him” surrounded by “the Day of Christ (the Day of the Lord)” and “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Not only is there no hint that Paul regarded the gathering of believers unto Christ and the Day of the Lord as two separate events; but there is plenty to say that he regarded them as one and the same day.
It could be posited from our present text, as well as other verses, both in this epistle, and in 2 Thessalonians, that the subject of the Lord’s second coming was something of a worry to the Thessalonians; for Paul says that they had no need that he write to them “of the times and the seasons”, and he also told them in the previous chapter of those same things; yet this chapter is opened by Paul saying: “yourselves know perfectly”. Here Paul is reinforcing the knowledge that they had already been taught by him, and perhaps he would not have reinforced the teaching in this manner if they were not worried. In any case, we learn the importance of teaching the same doctrines as many times as necessary.
As for “Thief in the night”; this term is often used in dispensational thought to mean that the Lord’s coming will be in secret, known only to those for whom He comes; that is to say, the Lord will return, taking His people to be with Him in such a subtle manner as to leave those who do not know the Lord unaware that He had come and gone; though numerous dispensationalists do not apply this phrase in that way. This is yet another dispensational idea that is simply owing to a misinterpretation of Scripture; and there is much in Scripture to refute this idea, and nothing to support it. If we ask the question: “In what way is the Lord’s return like unto a thief in the night?” many theories might be given. But instead let us focus the question, asking “in what way does Scripture specifically liken the Lord’s return to a thief in the night?” The answer is simply that His return will be unexpected and therefore we are to be ever watchful, and those who look not for His coming will be overtaken and destroyed at His coming; and that is all that it means, for that is the Lord’s own definition of the phrase which we read in Matthew 24:42-44. If we demand that the parable’s meaning be expanded to include elements that are absent from the Lord’s own interpretation of His parable (such as unnoticed quietness), then seeing as how we have inserted foreign matter into the explanation of the parable, forcefully extrapolating its elements to be more like a thief than Christ actually expressed; we would completely inconsistent unless we also say that the Lord is also coming with guile to rob that which does not belong to Him, even as a thief in the night. But of course, that is not the case. We must adhere exclusively to what the Word of God actually says if we wish to remain truthful and consistent. The Lord’s return shall be as a thief in the night for the sole reason that: “if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.” (Matthew 24:43).
“For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”
– Paul here does not say “if”, but “when”. There are many more professors of Christianity who speak of earthly peace and safety and give no heed to the many warnings of persecution and tribulation, or the destruction of this world, than there are those who take seriously the Lord’s earnest and loving warnings. Paul here warns that destruction is certainly coming on this world, and many will proclaim a peace that lulls them quietly unto destruction.
There is a contrast in this section of the epistle between those who are watchful, and those who sleep. Only one group will be ready for Christ who comes as a thief in the night. Only one group will have oil in their lanterns, and the other group will be barred from entering into the marriage; see Matthew 25:1-13. Paul here warns expressly that those who speak of “peace and safety” are those upon whom “sudden destruction” comes “as travail upon a woman”, that is, labour pains, which speak of the inevitability and intensity of their suffering; “and they shall not escape”. Paul unmistakably points to the inescapable demise of the unwatchful.
“But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.”
– Notice that this verse is linked to v.3 which declares that sudden destruction will come upon those who are in darkness (unbelievers); whereas our present verse shifts the focus to how it will fare for those who are not in darkness (the brethren), that they shall not be overtaken. Both inevitabilities spoken of in this and in the previous verse will come to pass when “that day” (singular) comes. Still in view is “the day of the Lord”. This again means that the saints and the wicked are to be gathered and brought unto their respective destinies in the same day, all in one momentous event. The “brethren are not in darkness that that day should overtake” them. It is one and the same day on which Christ shall come, first to gather the tares, and then to gather the wheat. Though this does not support the pre-tribulation rapture position, most who hold to it claim that the Day of the Lord is a long period beginning with the tribulation, and stretching all the way through a literal one-thousand-year reign of Christ. This we read in The Ryrie Study Bible’s notes on ch.5 v.2:
“The day of the Lord. An extended period of time, beginning with the Tribulation and including the events of the second coming of Christ and the millennial kingdom on earth… Here Paul focuses on the beginning of that day, which will begin (come) unexpectedly (like a thief in the night).”
And John Walvoord in The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation also agrees:
“Definitions of the word day vary from a specific event, such as a twenty-four-hour day, to an extended period of time stretching all the way from the rapture to the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ. Generally speaking, pretribulationists have identified the day of the Lord as the millennial kingdom, including the judgments that introduce the kingdom. This view was popularized by the 1917 edition of the Scofield Reference Bible… The significant truth revealed here is that the day of the Lord which first inflicts terrible judgments ends with an extended period of blessing on Israel, which will be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom. Based on the Old Testament revelation, the day of the Lord is a time of judgment, culminating in the second coming of Christ, and followed by a time of special divine blessing to be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom.”
This is strange because there is nothing in Scripture that actually declares the Day of the Lord to be anything but one literal day, and yet the same people who hold that it is around one thousand years in duration criticise those who hold to reformed eschatological positions for not taking the Bible literally enough. But it is one day, and one momentous event. We know this because Paul considered the saints to whom he wrote this epistle, and any other saints who were to read it, as all one and the same; with one calling, all being given the same warnings which Paul applied directly to the Thessalonians, indicating that they were to watch no less than any other generation of saints for the imminent return of Christ. This shows us that no generation ought to be able to say that they know they shall see these things come to pass; nor should they be able to say they definitely shall not see them. No generation was ever to know in advance when these things should come to pass. All were to be ever watchful for the imminent return of Christ. And as I have already commented in ch.4 vv.15-17, the last time, or last days, is the Church age, from its dawn unto its close. We are in the very last period of time, and have been since the time of Christ; and so there can be no age or epoch after the final one. And so, dividing a generation of saints from the Church into some post-rapture era so as to maintain the idea that the Church will be raptured before the tribulation is not an exegetical position; it is reading theories into the text.
This verse also shows a contrast between the Christian and the non-Christian. “But ye brethren”. That is, the brethren are universally after one manner, and those who are not brethren are universally after another. We are in the light. The light illuminates our pure minds to take heed to the teachings and commandments of the Lord Jesus and His appointed apostles and prophets, which is entirely contained in His inspired Word, the Bible. The light makes us by nature to be those who earnestly fear the Lord. Even if taught nothing about the suddenness and unpredictability of the Lord’s second coming, we shall not be overtaken by it, because we are in the light and not in darkness. That is to say, we shall be found in repentance and faith no matter when the Lord comes again. We shall not drink with the drunken, nor shall we smite God’s servants; see Matt 24:48-51.
But God would have us to know that the Lord’s coming is unexpected and cannot be predicted by any human teacher, no matter how high his calling is or appears to be. Even the apostles were not taught anything more than what they have committed to us in their inspired writings. Whoever claims to know the hour or the day of Jesus’ coming is either deliberately lying or else sincerely deceived; see Mark 13:32. Be watchful every single day, living as though this very day, even this very moment could be that which the Lord has chosen to make His second and final advent. Only this vigilant attitude is in agreement with the inspired exhortations of the apostles, and of the Lord Himself, to expect His imminent return at all times, in every generation. Be ready, and walk in holiness; see 2 Peter 3.
“Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.”
– Light and darkness are themes expressed much in Scripture, particularly in John’s first epistle, and in his Gospel account. Those who are of the light are enslaved to righteousness; and we delight to do God’s will. Those who are of the darkness are enslaved to sin; and those thus enslaved serve their lusts most willfully; see Psalm 40:8; Romans 6:17-18; Ephesians 2:3; 4:18-19; 1 John 3:9-10. There is no overlap between saint and sinner. There is a gulf fixed between the two, even as that between the rich man and Lazarus; see Luke 16:19-31. The unbelievers will never of themselves be watchful unto coming of the Lord. They would not believe even if one rose from the dead. They hate the light and will not come to it, and love darkness instead (John 3:19-20), and so they must be translated from death unto life; they must be quickened from the dead; (Ephesians 2:1-5). Those who are of the light are distinct from unbelievers in that they do according to the truth, and come to the light, seeking to glorify God openly; see John 3:21. How can such a one be overtaken at the Lord’s coming, being a slothful and unwatchful drunkard who smites his fellow servants? The two are worlds apart, and they are two different creatures, with two irreconcilable natures.
Though our natures are now so different from what they were before we were quickened unto life, yet here we are given imperatives to do according to the new nature that has been given to us by God’s gracious salvation; to watch and be sober, and not to sleep. It is possible to have the new nature and yet, to a degree, walk out of step with it. We have the new nature (2 Corinthians 5:1-17), but the body of sin with its lusts remains (Romans 6:12; 7:17-25). We are to strive to mortify the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). It will not be until we shall see Him that we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2), and we have not yet attained, nor are we yet perfect (Philippians 3:12-14); as we are yet clothed upon by our mortal and vile bodies (Romans 7:23-25; 1 Corinthians 15:53; 2 Corinthians 5:4; Philippians 3:21), which compel us to sin; and so we are exhorted to do according to the will of God, to strive against the flesh and its lusts, and to do according to the nature of the new man; (Ephesians 4:17-32). In Matthew 5:14-16, we learn both that we are the light of the world, and that we are to let our light so shine. The saint is created after a certain nature, and he is to actively and obediently walk according to that nature.
There are those who use these imperatives to say that we can lose our salvation, or that a pattern and tenor of obedience is not inevitable for those born of the Spirit. But these vain theories do not agree with 1 John 3:6-10, or Philippians 2:13. Every day there are Christians who make the great sacrifice for the Lord, laying down their lives for the sake of Christ and His people; whose lack of access to the Bible proves that “it is God which worketh in (us) both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” They know only that Jesus died for them and rose again, and by that saving knowledge, they are saved from their sins, and so walk in righteousness. They are translated from darkness, and so walk in the light. They also know little or nothing of eschatology; and yet, they lay down their necks for His blessed name. And so, they will not be overtaken by the day of the Lord as those who are dead in their sins. But we are still exhorted to walk uprightly. We are given the pattern and specifics of holiness according to which we must walk. To have more access to the knowledge of God in His Word is to bear more responsibility, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…” (Luke 12:48). But it is also a thing most pleasing to God for His people to search His Word where possible, that we might know more how to please and to serve God in truth. It is also a delight to the soul of a Christian to read the Word of God so as to learn more of His Lord’s nature, and to meditate on the God-breathed account of what the Lord has done for His people, both in bearing with and redeeming such undeserving sinners to Himself.
Here also is described the pattern of those who are yet dead in their sins. They sleep and are drunken. This of course is figurative, for not all sinners intoxicate themselves literally, and indeed, almost all people, saved and unsaved alike, sleep in the night, that they might labour in the day. But spiritually speaking, those who reject Christ are on the dark side of the world, and we are on the light side. They are in the night, and we are in the day. They are spiritually drunken on their choice sins, and we are striving to get free from every last vestige of the old man, and to discover and flush out the old intoxicants which we used to drink down like water. We are so different from those who do not know the Lord, which difference the Lord has promised so many times to forge, to maintain, and to perfect in His people; and He has made good on those promises, and will continue to do so until He comes again; see Psalm 89:24-37; Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:38-40; Ezekiel 36:26-27; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 1:6; 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; Hebrews 12:5-11.
Are these promises of a changed heart evident in you? Do you know the Lord? Do you cry with Paul in Romans 7, “O wretched man that I am?” Do you love righteousness, and are you grieved in your own heart when you fail the Lord, and commit sin? All men are grieved and ashamed when they are caught in sin by other men, though even this is something to which they are becoming more and more insensible, glorying in their shame increasingly in this era. But are you like Peter when he had denied the Lord, and the Lord looked directly upon him, causing shame to fill his heart? Do you, when you fail the Lord, resolve all the more to serve Him, knowing that He is more than worthy of your life, and infinitely greater than the pleasures of sin? When you see the overwhelming lack of inherent virtue and goodness in your own heart and life, do you turn from the filthy rags which are your righteousnesses to rely completely, solely, and increasingly upon Jesus Christ? Or are you even aware of the complete lack of virtue in your heart, as every true saint must be who is yet in this world? See Revelation 3:17. These things are fruits of true believers. Are you one of them?
“But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.”
See also Ephesian 6:10-18.
– Again the apostle charges us unto sobriety, to walk in righteousness, and in a manner opposed to that of the ungodly. Here he gives us some specific details as to how to accomplish the upright walk of the saint. It is not that we must walk worthy enough and consistently enough to be saved; but that the hope of salvation, and faith (in Christ and not in self) are as an helmet and a breastplate to us, and they preserve us in holiness; see 2 Peter 1:5-9; Titus 3:4-8. Holiness cannot be accomplished by looking to self, and by resting upon the quality of our works. Anyone who can actually be content with his own works has never come to know the transcendent holiness of God. Isaiah knew of this and became undone (Isaiah 6:5), and John fell at the Christ’s feet as dead; (Revelation 1:17). When a person comes to know the Lord, it becomes impossible to boast of one’s own righteousness. For me to make such vile boasting whilst claiming to know the Lord is to think that God is altogether such a one as myself (Psalm 50:21; cf. Romans 4:2; Ephesians 2:8-9), and such vain professors of religion God will reprove, like the Pharisee in the temple; whereas the tax collector, humbled by the realisation of his own sinful condition which he confessed frankly before the Lord, pleaded for mercy, citing no worthiness in himself as reason for the Lord to justify him; he went down to his house justified rather than the other; see Luke 18:9-14.
Hope in the salvation of the Lord and faith in Him; these things motivate the saint unto holiness. Were it otherwise, the apostle would have told us to look to our own ability to walk worthy of God in order that we might obtain salvation at the last, or keep ourselves within the bounds of salvation. But instead, hope in God and faith in His undeserved promises are the motivations unto holiness to which the inspired apostle calls us. What are you hoping in? What are you relying upon?
It is important to add that it is not that we merely look to Christ and then remain inactive and mute, content to be idle. But as the soldier is nourished by his daily bread and then goes to fight the day’s battle; even so, we rest in and are nourished by looking to the Lord and the free grace of His salvation, and thereby we gain the strength and motivation which we need to fight the good fight, secure in the knowledge that the Lord’s acceptance of us remains ever “in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6), and not in ourselves; “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4)
Note also that these three elements; faith, love, and hope; are those mentioned as being of the utmost importance in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “faith, hope, charity”; charity being the alternate translation of the all-important Greek word “agapē” (αγάπη), which means to do good unto someone, not being primarily a love of the affections, but of the will; often bestowed in spite of hard feelings and grievances; a love of deeds and not merely of half-hearted wellwishing or empty words; see James 2:15-16. This is both a fundamental evidence of genuine conversion (John 13:35), and a way to guard one’s heart from unholiness, love being an essential quality of holiness; “love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10; cf. Matthew 22:36-40).
“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”
– The doctrines of predestination and the atonement are here used of Paul as means to bolster and deepen the immense comfort which we read of in v.8, “the hope of salvation.” Though the Christian faith is not to be against the intellect, seeing as how intellect is an element of God’s mind, and was given to man when He made us in His image; yet there is a way besides neglect in which we abuse this faculty. Our considerations and uses of any given doctrine can often become divorced from the intent or use which Scripture designs for that doctrine. For example, the doctrines of sovereign grace are frequently relegated to the status of mere intellectual curiosity in the hearts of so many people. The correct uses of the doctrines of grace are for humbling the saints, giving them comfort, correcting erroneous approaches to evangelism, or for stirring up worship for the Lord in our hearts. When (as it often happens) we forget the correct uses of doctrines, they become so unfruitful and unprofitable, providing little or nothing of that for which they are given; whether for comfort, edification, rebuke, or whatever it may be. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable…” (2 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, our wise and godly use of doctrine is imperative. Good doctrine is often even the basis of pride in some, because we are prone to glory in our knowledge; see 1 Corinthians 8:1-2. This sad and common situation does not glorify the Lord as it ought.
Do you believe that God has “chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4)? When instructing the brethren of this truth, remember to use it to comfort their souls, to humble them, and to glorify God; as this doctrine is most useful to those important ends.
Our present text also teaches us both the ends of our election, as well as the means. The ends of our election are that we escape wrath, obtain salvation, and live together with the Lord. The means by which we must and will obtain God’s appointed ends for us, is the death of His Son Jesus Christ. Paul again here bolsters a comforting doctrine which he previously stated, that we will all obtain salvation who trust in Christ, or who have trusted in Christ unto death. Saints both living and dead will ever be with the Lord, together.
Paul here also teaches upon the purpose for the atonement. As I have already stated, our use and consideration of doctrine must never be divorced from the purpose which Scripture designs for it. This verse declares the purpose for the death of Jesus Christ, and the identity of those for whom He died. Neither synergism nor Amyraldianism agree with Scripture’s doctrine of the atonement; either in its effects, or its scope. Amyraldianism is simply four-point Calvinism which denies particular redemption. Well known adherents of this teaching include puritan Richard Baxter, and Dr. J.C. Ryle. Despite what some great men of the faith have believed, Scripture teaches that Christ died for us, so that we will escape wrath and live together with Him. In John 10:11,15,26, we learn that Jesus laid down His life for the sheep, and that this group is an exclusive group that absolutely does not include every person in the world. This group is a peculiar people; and that one cannot simply become a sheep by believing is clear in Scripture, seeing as how the permanent lack of faith of those who will enter hell, who are of course not of Christ’s sheep, is due to the fact that Christ did not designate them as His sheep; but instead left them to choose between life and death with their own unregenerate wills. We all by nature hate the light and will not come to it, and for the same reason we love darkness (John 3:19-20), we also receive not the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14), and are enmity against God (Romans 8:7-8). We will never of our own accord come to Christ, but we certainly will if the Father draws us (John 6:37,44). Christ’s sheep hear His voice, and He knows them, and they follow Him; and He gives unto them eternal life (John 10:27-28). It is for the sheep that the Good Shepherd laid down His life, and that for the purpose of giving eternal life unto them. As our present text states:
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.”
“… comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” Here the apostle reiterates the imperatives of comforting and edifying one another, even though in the same sentence he acknowledges their practice of this same thing. The lesson here for us is that we should never presume upon the current godliness of the brethren to continue if its continuance be not encouraged. Presumptuousness is an unwelcome and dangerous thing. Paul here gives recognition of the good practice of these saints. Acknowledging such good things in one another, where appropriate, is comforting and encouraging. But he also reminds the brethren of the fact that it is necessary to continue such good practice, lest a slackness should creep in and take hold.
As mentioned already, Paul had spoken of the coming of Christ in ch.4 vv.13-17, and in v.18 he concludes what he was saying by exhorting the brethren to apply that doctrine to the comfort of one another. Likewise, in ch.5 vv.1-11, Paul again concludes a section of Scripture dealing with the Lord’s second coming by making the same application: “… comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”
“And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.”
– As we have seen before, Paul beseeches these believers. It was his prerogative to command them because he spoke to them with God given apostolic authority; and he was a messenger of the Gospel, commissioned directly and powerfully by the risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is important to note that Paul does in other places use this authority more strictly and severely in dealing with believers whose state was not as holy and decent as that of the Thessalonians; such as Paul’s writing to the Corinthians, and to the Galatians. This shows wisdom and discernment in Paul’s use of his authority, and such ought to be emulated by every office bearer. A sledge hammer is not the best tool to drive a nail. Office bearers must respect this principle, or else rather than bearing the burden of an office to serve the flock, the officer instead becomes the burden which the flock must bear. They are ministers and servants, not tyrants to lord it over their congregation; see Matthew 20:25-28; 1 Peter 5:1-4.
We are to heed this petition: “know them which labour among you”, etc. “Know” here is translated from the Greek word “eido” (εἴδω), which in this verse means: “to have regard for one, cherish, pay attention to”. Just as it has been said in this epistle that the love and service of an elder to his congregation is not to be cold and by constraint; but warm, affectionate, and cheerful; bestowed willingly and not begrudgingly; so our recognition of the elders is likewise to be a warm and affectionate love; not a fearful, rigid and superficial submission to them. Having said that, we are most definitely to reverence their God-given office and authority. God does not want cold love from us, but rather a tender and heartfelt love. How we love one another is a reflection of the love we have for God; see 1 John 3:14-17. The elders and pastors are appointed by Christ to be under-shepherds. Therefore, as he “that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God” (1 Thesslonians 4:8); so, he who rejects an office bearer (assuming the officer is sincerely striving to be faithful to God’s Word) does not merely reject the office bearer, but God who both appointed that office, and in His providence, that office bearer. “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.” (Luke 10:16).
Paul also reminds us that the office bearers “are over you in the Lord,”; and we must respect this. These men may be our dear friends, or else we might have hard feelings against them for personal reasons; but in neither case, are we to have less respect for these men than is due to them for their office’s sake; but we must “esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” It is clear to anyone who is personally close to a godly elder that their work is very difficult. It is also clear to anyone who is knowledgeable of God’s Word that God holds such work and workers in very high regard. We serve Christ when we esteem elders very highly in love for their work’s sake. In so doing, we encourage our ministers, and in turn we assist them in ministering unto our brethren. Now if we are truly born of God, we love the brethren. This therefore is one of many ways in which we can exercise love to the beloved people of God, and in so doing, to God Himself; see 1 Corinthians 16:15-16; Hebrews 13:17.
“And be at peace among yourselves.” This command is both simple and profound, and is often very difficult to practice. What ways come to mind this very moment in which you are not promoting peace among your brethren; or worse, are actively assisting or promoting discord, or hard feelings? In as much as you (through your own fault) are not at peace with the brethren, you are not walking in fellowship with Christ. Inasmuch as you are not seeking peace where there is a want of it, you are not seeking fellowship with Christ. Christ loves His people. One of the greatest ways to love Him, is to cherish whatsoever and whomsoever He loves. He gave His life for His bride. What can you do to emulate Him and give your life for the people of God? Think on this question, search the Scriptures, and let it not slip from your mind until you have an answer. Is this an important question to you?
“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”
– Unruly; feebleminded; weak; and all men. The three categories of people mentioned here require three distinct approaches, though none of those approaches are ever to be without patience. The desired fruits of ministering unto a brother often take much time to grow, as the Lord may will. Ministering without patience is like roughly handling a seedling to force it to grow uprightly. The seedling will be badly damaged without due care and gentleness. How much more ought we to rightly handle the beloved people of God? This verse teaches us some of the specifics of how to deal properly with various types of Christians.
“Warn them that are unruly…” The unruly need warnings. Sometimes this needs more severity, and sometimes less. It is loving to warn the unruly, though this can often offend people; yet even so, we are to warn them. It is loving to warn the unruly, though this can often offend people; yet even so, we are to warn them. The word “unruly” here (ἄτακτος: ataktos) refers to someone who is insubordinate, out of rank, or disorderly. It can also mean: “deviating from the prescribed order or rule.” Most, if not all, congregations have brethren who are so. Warn them. Is their behaviour reminiscent of an unregenerate man? Let that be said in your warning. Are they beginning to talk back to their elders and to show a rebellious streak? Then warn them of that. It is not at all loving to let anyone go on in sin without telling him; no matter how the world or undiscerning Christians might define love. Such so-called love that would not warn a brother in sin is self-interested and not at all loving, as it does not want to deal with controversy when necessary; whereas Christ-like love will suffer in order to restore a brother from their sin unto fellowship with God. It is however important to note that the Greek word for “warn” (νουθετέω: noutheteo), contains an element of gentleness: “to caution or reprove gently”. We are not to bully a brother into submission. However, we are only to be gentle within reason. It might sometimes take a sledge hammer to break a heart of stone; but many resort such heavy handedness on the faint hearted, and often as the first option, or at least too hastily. You must not bully the people of God; but neither should you allow them to remain comfortable in their sin, with warnings so gentle and non-confrontational that the conscience remains untouched with the fear, and urgency to repent, that a rebellious nature warrants. Not all brethren have the same degree of meekness, or the same degree of personal holiness; and to every single regenerate person, the remaining rebelliousness of their heart is a burden to them. Therefore, do not treat them in a manner that forgets this. Tailor your warnings to be as edifying as possible. Do not merely discourage sin, but encourage holiness; and afflict the conscience, whilst reminding those who show penitence and remorse of the immense grace and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. But be diligent to discern between a saint whose unruliness is due to backsliding, and a false professor of religion whose unruliness is the natural fruit of his heart.
“comfort the feebleminded…” This word “comfort” from the Greek Word “paramutheomai” (παραμυθέομαι), was used by Paul previously in this epistle; see note on 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. “Feebleminded” also means “little spirited”, or “faint hearted”. The struggle of such people is different from that of the unruly, and so requires a different approach. The unruly are too stout in heart; but these faint-hearted brethren are perhaps not stout enough. Their hearts are so easily discouraged, and their faith so easily shaken. Brethren in this situation do not need heavy handed discipline; they need very tender care and comfort.
“support the weak…” The word “support” here is from the Greek word “antechomai” (ἀντέχομαι), the meaning of which is very strong, and paints a vivid picture of the intimate and dedicated duty of brethren toward one another. Thayer’s defines this word as follows:
- To hold before or against, hold back, withstand, endure
- To keep one’s self directly opposite to any one, hold to him firmly, cleave to, paying heed to him
It also has the meaning of adhering to something or someone. In English, we have a similar expression: “to stick by someone”. Consider this: Is there a brother or sister whom you know and see regularly, or whom you can reach out to, who is weak in faith, and prone to faltering, or doubt, or misery, or some other upset? Are you adhering to them to bear them up in times of struggle? Or is your heart self-interested, idly turning your eyes and ears from the struggling saint? Cleave to them. Bear them up. God will supply what lack there is in your heart so that you can minister to that saint. Pray for them. Talk to them. Study the Scriptures so that you can have Biblical counsel to bring to them. Let them know that you are committing yourself to their aid, and honour that commitment with reverence before the Lord. If you cannot have any contact with them, bring them before the throne of grace in prayer. Do you doubt that the Lord will help you with such a Christ-like undertaking? God will answer prayer to such an end; see 1 John 5:14-15; cf. James 4:2-3.
“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1)
“See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.”
– Here Paul refers to us taking vengeance as rendering evil for evil. We know that God is not unrighteous who takes vengeance (Romans 3:5-6), yet in this verse vengeance is contrasted with “that which is good”. This tells us that we are not morally equipped (even if born of God’s Spirit), to take vengeance; and that God alone is righteous in judgement. We would not deal out a just recompense. We would exact vengeance with spite and malice in our hearts, and perhaps wickedly delighting in it. But the Lord is pure. Consider also: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19 cf. Deuteronomy 32:35). When we take it into our hands to avenge our own cause, we take what belongs to God, stealing directly from the Lord. If it is unrighteous to rob a hell deserving sinner of what goods he does not deserve to have, how much more unrighteous is it to steal from the Lord? The other side to the folly of man taking vengeance is that, in so doing, we place our faith in self rather than God. “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:” (2 Peter 2:9). Do you believe this?
This command to leave vengeance in God’s hands is very common throughout Scripture, and that because we are so tempted to avenge ourselves. Read Proverbs 20:22, Matthew 5:38-40,43-48; Romans 12:17-21; 1 Peter 3:8-18.
Perhaps this is so frequently commanded because we know that those who do us injustice truly deserve a just recompense, and we feel it. This is not something of which we have mere cognisance; but it is something which we know and feel deeply in our hearts. Examine the strength of passion your heart holds against those who do such injustice against you, or against someone you love. Now try to imagine that not only has God a greater indignation against workers of iniquity than you could ever know; but also, if strict justice were all that the Lord had in His heart and not mercy, what would He have against a wretch like you? David, having sinned so terribly against Uriah and Bathsheba, and having risked bringing judgement upon the entire nation of which he was king, confessed to God in the great penitential Psalm “against thee, thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight…” (Psalm 51:4). You might well have been sinned against; Uriah and Bathsheba certainly were, and greatly so. But however unjust any sin is against a sinner, that injustice is nothing in comparison to what it is against a Holy God. In other words, all sin is ultimately against God. Consider also the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35, and consider also the sums owed both to the master, and to the fellow servant; a colossal ten thousand talents, against a mere one hundred pence. Immense as the difference is between the two sums owed, yet because these sums are finite, they are not to be taken as literal reflections of what is owed to God; for every man owes God an infinite debt which a sinner can never satisfy.
Lastly, knowing the terror of the Lord moves us to persuade men to repent, including those who have persecuted us; see 2 Corinthians 5:11 cf. Matthew 5:44. This is what the terror of the Lord does. Therefore, it is profitable for you to ask yourself, do you know the terror of the Lord? or have you become estranged from it? We should desire justice against the impenitent who die in rebellion against the Lord, for this is right. But while they are alive, we should earnestly desire for them to repent, and to cry out to God for Him to do such a work in them that they repent and believe on Christ. If we know the terror of the Lord, we will be more diligent to persuade men to repent and believe on Christ.
– Note the total lack of qualifications here. The conditions “if” and “when” are completely excluded by the word “evermore”. “Rejoice evermore”; rejoice no matter what. Does your heart groan within you under your current burden? “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” (James 1:2-3). Consider also: “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” (Acts 5:41). Other notable verses include: Matthew 5:10-12, Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 4:16-19. You are not capable of rejoicing in the flesh unless the flesh is gratified in some way. Righteous rejoicing in suffering is something that can only be done in the Spirit. If your rejoicing depends upon things as changeable as the wind, then you will be carried away with every gust, and you will only rejoice in pleasures known to the unregenerate sinner. May your faith and your joy be grounded in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, for He is the Rock upon which our houses must be built, and He is eternally immutable, and is “the same yesterday, to day, and for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8). If your joy is in Him, then it is invincible; no matter what storms and floods beat against you, your joy will not fail. Even in the midst of sadness the child of God can have true joy in Christ; and it is often hardships that push a Christian closest to his God, and therefore closest to his joy.
“Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
– Again, we have unqualified commands given to us. The clauses “without ceasing” and “in everything” remove from us any presumption of when it might be acceptable for us to cease from praying, or giving thanks. “Pray without ceasing” tells us that whether in strength or weakness; joy or sadness; a pleasant, or a painful providence; we must rely upon the strength of the Holy Spirit by prayer, placing our faith in God, not in self or circumstance. In and of ourselves, we lack the sufficient strength to walk worthy of God unto all pleasing. Circumstance does not make up for what weakness is inherent to us, and in many cases, the more pleasant the season of providence, the less we pray, which gives rise to the times of greater difficulty; just like in Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian lay down to sleep in the pleasant arbour, and the scroll fell from his hand; see Psalm 30:6; 119:67.
We also learn from the command: “In every thing give thanks”, that it is God’s infallible opinion that we are never without reason to be thankful to Him, no matter how hard the current wind of providence beats upon us. Have we not been given every spiritual blessing? Are we not seated in heavenly places in Christ? Did He not die and rise again for us? Have we not, even here (little as our lot may be), more good than we deserve? Have we not been given eternal life already? Is God not our portion? Is not Romans 8:28-30 God-breathed and true? We are therefore to be ever thankful.
“for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” It is a relief to the Christian’s heart to know specifics of God’s will. We know that if we pray, with faith, for anything which is according to the will of God, He hears us. That is enough in itself; that God regards our prayers at all. But we also know that we have the petitions we have desired of Him, if we pray in faith according to His will. We know that the will of God is perfect, and we rejoice in the perfection of His will. To pray according to His will, and for His will to be done in our lives, even if He does not grant us everything we ask for; this is a blessing and a privilege that cannot be appreciated enough. See 1 John 5:14-15. So we know that it is pleasing to God that we pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks. It should delight your heart just to consider that here are two definite and straightforward things you can do to delight the heart of the One who loves you, and who died for you, to forgive you.
“Quench not the Spirit.”
– I could neither think to add to nor take anything away from Matthew Poole’s commentary on this verse:
“And, by the figure meiosis, he means, cherish the Spirit. The Spirit is compared to fire, Matthew 3:11; and he came down upon the apostles in the similitude, of tongues of fire, Acts 2:3; but the Spirit himself cannot be quenched; he means it therefore of his gifts and operations; which are either ordinary or extraordinary. Many had extraordinary gifts in the primitive times, of healing, tongues, government, prophecy, &c.; those that had them, without question, should have taken care not, by any fault of their own, to lose them. Especially that of prophecy, which the apostle prefers before all others, 1 Corinthians 14:1, and mentions here in the following verse; and which the apostle exhorted Timothy to stir up in himself, 2 Timothy 1:6, as we stir up the fire to quicken it, so the word αναζωπυρειν imports. The like is required of ministers with respect to their ministerial gifts which are now given. But there are ordinary gifts and operations of the Spirit common to all Christians, as enlightening, quickening, sanctifying, comforting the soul: men by sloth, security, earthy encumbrances, inordinate affections, &c., may abate these operations of the Spirit, which the apostle calls the quenching it: the fire upon the altar was kept always burning by the care of the priests. Fire will go out either by neglecting it, or casting water upon it. By not exercising grace in the duties of religion, or by allowing sin in ourselves, we may quench the Spirit; as appears in David, Psalm 51:10-12. Not that the habits of grace may be totally extinguished in the truly regenerate, yet they may be abated as to degree and lively exercise. Yet those common illuminations and convictions of the Spirit which persons unregenerate, especially such that live under the gospel, do often find, may be totally lost, Hebrews 6:4-6; and we read of God’s Spirit ceasing to strive with the old world, Genesis 6:3, and the scribes and Pharisees resisting the Holy Ghost, Acts 7:51, which were not persons regenerate. He may sometimes strive with men, but not overcome them. And there is a quenching of the Spirit in others as well as ourselves; people may quench it in their ministers by discouraging them, and in one another by bad examples, or reproaching the zeal and forwardness that they see in them.”
“Despise not prophesyings.”
– Isaiah 30:8-15 immediately comes to mind. The hatred of the preaching of the true Word in the heart of sinners is as old as the curse of the fall. There is nothing new under the sun. This modern era of Christendom even has a denomination that was intently and expressly constructed by men and women gathering together to have a “conversation” about what the Bible means to them; that being the abominable “emerging church” movement, which has rejected countless biblical doctrines and has completely apostatised. In Exodus 20:25, Moses and the children of Israel are commanded:
“… if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.”
Christ and His Word is the Rock upon which His church is built. Christ has elements which the wisdom of man’s flesh considers to be rough edges; but we have no authority whatsoever to presume to correct those elements. Christ is the God of terrible and eternal wrath. He is the God of just vengeance. He is the God of sovereign electing grace, saving whom He will, and hardening whom He will. He is the God who commands all men everywhere to repent. He is the God who raised up Pharaoh and cast him down again that He might show His power in him. And He is the God who rained fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah. He is the Rock of offence, and the stone of stumbling. Even so, faith sees God as righteous even when that cannot be comprehended by the flesh. That the flesh cannot comprehend the righteousness of God as it relates to His absolute sovereignty is plain from Romans 9:14-24, wherein two questions are anticipated from the wisdom of men, who think that the God of both sovereign grace and reprobation is unrighteous and illogical. We must walk by faith and not by sight. But the “emerging church” movement, and others like it, and to one degree or another, modern evangelicalism with its synergism and its seeker-sensitive portrayals of God, seek to carve off and polish away many things that they dislike about God; smoothing off what edges they consider to be rough and unpleasant. They are sculpting their own golden calves, and are like the paganism of ancient Rome; each man with a god to his own liking; a pantheon of man shaped idols.
We are not to despise prophesyings, unless they be false; see Psalm 119:104,128. Does the faithful preaching of God’s Word grieve you? Would you prefer it if instead of your pastor expositing Scripture, he would simply tickle your itching ears and only ever tell you what comforts you? If so, then you are likely not saved. You are severely backslidden at best. True preaching can be so difficult to hear at times, but whilst the true Christian might be grieved by it, he also knows that this is not the fault of the preaching, but of his own heart (see Romans 7:16); and he would cut off his right hand and pluck out his eye, if only it would free him from his indwelling sin which he hates. The true Christian values that preaching which exposes the corruptions of his own heart; and he prays for God to search and know him, that his wickedness be exposed; see Psalm 139:23-24. But the unregenerate hypocrite hates such preaching, just as the Pharisees and Sadducees hated the preaching of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 21:45-46; Luke 22:2), and of His disciples (Acts 7; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:16). If you do not on some level love that preaching which grieves you over your indwelling sin, then I fear you are likely not born again; and you should earnestly and immediately seek the Lord while He might be found, that He would deliver you from the love of your soul-destroying sins unto true fellowship with and delight in Him.
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
– The Berean spirit. This verse is a command to do what the Bereans were commended for practicing. The recipients of this epistle are likely the same audience spoken of in Acts 17:11 as being less noble than the Bereans; but whether or not they are precisely the same people is immaterial. This command is extremely important, and very much neglected in this era. In our present verse, the doctrine is given as an imperative, whereas in Acts 17:11 it’s importance and value is underscored indicatively. Speaking of the Bereans:
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
Under the inspiration of God, Luke, the author of the book of Acts, calls the Bereans noble for receiving the Word with all readiness of mind, and for searching the Scriptures daily, to compare the claims of the apostles to what God had already revealed. This is noble. Even to question the truth, in sincerity, so as to believe only what is true, is more noble than to receive idly things which happen to be true. It is not as noble to receive the truth without that readiness of mind; it is merely incidental if what is idly received happens to be true. But the diligence of the Bereans, if put into practice, will keep the saints from errors. But because this principle has been so neglected in this era, much of what calls itself Christianity is so astonishingly far from the truth. That is why we must exhort our brethren to this practice; and also, instruct them to exhort the next generation, and to warn them of the dangers of error and apostasy.
This verse commands us to prove all things. This could also be applied beyond doctrine to include allegations, which we must neither affirm nor reject out of hand. Rebukes also should be considered carefully. Should a brother or sister bring a rebuke against you, do you receive it with all readiness of mind? Or do you become irrational and led by emotion, and act in self-preservation with a lack of humility, and reject what you hear out of hand? Doing so would grieve the brother or sister who in rebuking you may well be sincerely trying to follow Christ, and to love you by bringing you rebukes which might be harder for them to give than for you to receive. If we reject such things out of hand, we will hurt our brethren, grieve the Holy Spirit, reject an opportunity to grow in sanctification, and dishonour the Lord’s sacrifice for our sins. If they are wrong, so be it; and if they are right, accept the rebuke and repent.
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
“Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
– This command is a very far reaching one. There are many things that might have appeared as grey areas were it not for this black and white clarifier. This verse closes off many potential avenues where sin might take hold of us, or of others because of us. In 1 Corinthians 8, we are taught not to lay stumbling blocks in front of anyone, but in particular, those with weak consciences. The example which Paul gave in that chapter was of eating things sacrificed to idols, which was something he considered to be “nothing” (v.4), but “there is not in every man that knowledge… and their conscience being weak is defiled” (v.7) and so Paul instructs us to “take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idols temple, shall not the conscience of him that is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?” (vv.9-11). The implications of the principle laid down on 1 Corinthians 8 are far reaching, having application beyond merely the eating of meat offered to idols. This principle includes anything which fits the same pattern. There are things which are morally neutral which are stumbling blocks to our brethren, which we are to avoid for their sakes; for insofar as we influence a brother to do something which he believes to be wrong in the eyes of God, whether the thing be truly wrong in God’s sight or not, we bear a measure of guilt for the brother’s deed. Therefore, we are to conduct ourselves in a cautious manner so as to preserve our brethren in holiness, as well as ourselves; not behaving in a way that could possibly compel anyone to toy with sin, as it might appear we are guilty of doing. Even in morally neutral things, we are to strive so as to not even to appear to do evil. Though in this precept, those of a legalistic disposition like to indulge themselves by micromanaging the behaviour of others to an unreasonable standard. We must be careful not to let such people exert too much of the burden of their disposition upon others. We are to try to lead every man to a correct understanding of doctrine and practice, especially those who have a lack of knowledge and a weak conscience, and those who use this precept to control the actions of others.
If we shun the very appearance and occasions of evil, this will keep us from so many sins. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). Sometimes, evil comes upon us all of a sudden, but how often do we allow our flesh to walk us into it, deceiving ourselves with our own lusts? See 2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 8:20-21; Philippians 4:8.
On balance, it must be said that this principle can be misapplied; for 1 Corinthians 8 and our present verse might compel a saint to abstain even from morally necessary duties in order to avoid offending someone who has a weak conscience about things which ought to be known and obeyed by the saints. For instance, many do not know that we are to judge sin in our brethren, and in the world, as we see in Matthew 7:1-5; John 7:24; Romans 16:17; Galatians 2:11-14; 6:1 etc.; and so, because of an unlearned Christian’s weak conscience, a more learned saint might avoid the morally necessary duty of reproving sin in an attempt to protect the weaker brother’s conscience; which actually strengthens the brother in unrighteousness rather than saving him from it. In such a case, the weaker brother should be taught from the Word of God, and learn from the godly example of the one reproving iniquity. Though we may have to suspend liberties for the sake of the consciences of others, yet we must do all things which are morally incumbent upon us, even if they are offensive to those who are lacking in knowledge; yet in such a case, we should take care not to give unnecessary offence by the manner in which we perform our duties.
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”
– Firstly, let us consider Paul’s benediction to believers:
“the very God of peace sanctify you wholly”:
Consider God’s pledge in Ezekiel 36:25-27:
“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”
We read something similar in Jeremiah 31:33:
“I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
There are numerous places in Scripture that show that God does a complete work of sanctification that touches every part of every person who is joined to Him under the new covenant. He does not pass over any believer and leave them every bit as ungodly as they were before the new birth. The new birth ensures the sanctification of every single regenerate soul. Consider the following verses from 1 John:
“If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” (ch.2 v.29)
“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (ch.3 v.9)
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” (ch.4 v.7)
“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.” (ch.5 v.1)
“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (ch.5 v.4)
“We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” (ch.5 v.18)
In 1 John, the phrase “born of God” occurs 6 times; “begotten of God” occurs twice; “begotten of Him” and “born of Him” occur once each. For this reason, it is perhaps fair to regard 1 John as the most concise and solemn diagnosis in all of Scripture of the genuineness of one’s own faith, or else that of another professing believer.
In short, those who are born or begotten of God do righteousness (1 John 2:29). They are unable to make sin their practice (ch.3 v.9). They love the brethren (1 John 4:7-13; 5:1). They overcome the world (1 John 5:4). And they do not make a practice of sinning; they keep themselves; and they do not become so ensnared by the wiles of Satan as the world does (1 John 5:18).
These are good things for professing believers to think upon. We can for a time, and to a degree, walk contrary to the new nature that is given to us. But it will not be indefinite; it will not be to the same degree as it was before we were born again; and it will not be without a deepening conviction of sin.
So, for at least two reasons, these things should be solemnly thought upon. Firstly, it has the potential to lead a false professor of Christ to that vital realisation that he is still “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). And secondly, it has the potential to lead a genuine Christian to the point of sincere repentance and confession after which he can no longer continue to live after the flesh.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God… Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.; Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (John 3:3,5-7)
As it is defined by God’s Word, are you born again?
Secondly, we will consider Paul’s petition, which he also declares God will definitely grant:
“I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”
This text is one of the clearest presentations of the doctrine known as the perseverance, or, preservation of the saints. This verse is very similar to ch.3 vv.12-13. God preserves His children. Our continuance in the faith and in the fear of God is not to our glory, but to His alone. If I can lose my salvation then it follows that I can and must, of my own power, preserve myself in all those things which saints must do to be saved; or that I must of my own power and determination improve upon the portion of grace given to me by God. If I can fall away but have not, that means I have grounds for boasting; for if there be two genuine saints who are not mere professors, and one perseveres unto the end, but the other does not, but falls away; then it follows that the one who persevered is, in and of himself, better and more righteous than the other, and so is worthy of a portion of glory for having (with the same portion of grace as that of the other saint) preserved himself unto the end; which perseverance was not wrought by God alone, but ultimately hinged upon the strength and will of the victorious saint. This soteriological system therefore divides the glory of salvation between God and the victorious saint. Synergism is a system of theology that exalts man. Monergism, however, leaves no place whatsoever for man to boast. Do not put your hand to the glory of God presuming to take a share for yourself, but fear God and give praise to Him alone for every good thing, including of course, your perseverance. If your perseverance is not the work of God alone, then you have a portion of your salvation for which you can take credit, which is a synonym for glory. Jonathan Edwards once wisely said:
“You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”
We see the doctrine of the preservation of the saints in Psalm 89:24-37; Jeremiah 32:38-40; John 6:37-44; 10:27-29; Romans 8:28-39; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13-14; Philippians 1:6; 2:13; Jude 24-25. “Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). He is Saviour, and we are nothing but sinners who need to be saved. We have nothing but a need for salvation, and therefore we have nothing to glory in but God, His grace, and the cross of Christ.
Paul here states it as clearly as one could need; God preserves His own people, by His own power, to His own glory. Paul declares to his brethren that God will definitely perform that for which he prayed, and he prayed that God would preserve the Thessalonians “blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God preserves His people. At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, every single person who was ever in Christ will be blameless. Were it otherwise, then we could not say: “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” (v.24).
I have once heard it objected that this promise was written specifically to the Thessalonians, and is not for us. This is nothing but a desperate attempt to flee from the clear teaching of these verses, and an arbitrary caveat to put on what Paul is saying. That lazy hermeneutic could be used to argue with just about any doctrine one wishes to contend against. Such reasoning also ignores the fact that: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). But this cavil is refuted by v.27 of this chapter: “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.” This applies to us all with equal force. Paul prayed that God would preserve all the holy brethren blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and God will absolutely do so. Jesus “is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). He is not granted the ability to save us to the uttermost because we, of ourselves, come to God by Him; for would that interpretation not mean that we enable Christ to be an effectual Saviour, and that He therefore needs our help to fulfill His mission? That is heresy. Hebrews 7:25 teaches that Christ is able to save us to the uttermost “seeing (because) He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” He can save us because of what He does, and not because of what we do. More than that, He actually saves us in spite of what we do. This is consistent with the fact that He alone is the Saviour, and we need salvation.
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)
In our present verses, Paul draws our focus specifically to the faithfulness, calling, and work of God, and not to anything in ourselves; which focus is consistent with the truth that we are not persevering in holiness except that God perfectly and sufficiently preserves us blameless. Soli Deo Gloria.
It is important to note that those who live in the practice of sin are not at all counted blameless in God’s sight. As we have already looked at in our present text, God will definitely sanctify us wholly. God’s preserving of us blameless is something which He does for everyone whom He saves. That He has saved us is manifest in that we walk with a tenor of holiness, and strive to shun sin, which we grow to hate more and more, and ourselves for it; and thereby we do understand increasingly our need for the grace of Jesus Christ, upon whom we grow continuously more dependent; which makes our appreciation for God’s grace to abound more and more. We do not rely upon or appreciate God’s grace perfectly; neither do we grieve over our sins perfectly; nor do we abstain from the practice of evil perfectly. But whatever imperfection remains, this is acknowledged, sorely lamented, and repented of by the true saint; see Psalm 51; Romans 7:14-25; Philippians 3:12-14; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 1:8-10; see also Revelation 3:17.
Speaking of the common phrase “nobody’s perfect”, ’Rabbi’ Duncan said: “that’s the believer’s bed of thorns, that’s the hypocrite’s couch of ease.” Though unattainable in this life, perfection is sought after sincerely by all who are in Christ; see Philippians 3:12-16. The tenor of the Christian life wherein God preserves us by His power and grace is seen in the saint’s sincere striving to please God, whilst depending upon Jesus Christ to justify him from all of his faults and failures, which blemishes he despises, and that more and more as time goes by; and in true joy coming only from fellowship with God; and in growth and progress in holiness, and a growing hatred for sin; as well as growth in the knowledge of God and His Word throughout the months, years, and decades of our pilgrimage. Does this describe you? Pray to God that this will become true of you and clear to you, if you feel that it is not.
But we must remember that, though no saint is morally perfect in this life and has remaining sin and corruption, yet God in our present text promises to sanctify us wholly, and to preserve us blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus. This means that a saint cannot lose his salvation, neither can any retain their love and practice of sin if they be saved.
“Brethren, pray for us.”
– Consider ch.1 v.2: “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;” and the contrast it draws with our present verse. These two verses teach us that there is a need to pray even for those who are so diligent in prayer for us. We are hopelessly weak in and of ourselves and need the power of God for every good work. Prayer is perhaps the chief work of the Christian life, and the Lord Jesus said: “without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5). Does it surprise you that sometimes you cannot so much as pray because of the weakness of your heart and will? Being the most difficult work (despite perhaps appearing to be an easy one), it should not surprise us that sometimes there is little will to pray, and sometimes there is no power and diligence in prayer.
This work is certainly one of the greater works to which we are called in this life, if not the greatest. Without prayer, nothing will have lasting blessing from God. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” (Psalm 127:1-2). Prayer commits us to faith in God; it challenges the intents of our hearts; it reveals sin; it petitions the mighty hand of God to cast down mountains, and to raise up valleys. Prayer takes from us any erroneous notion that we have anything to glory in, “save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). True and reverent prayer humbles us. Prayer overturns nations for Christ’s kingdom, because in answer to it, God empowers evangelism by His Spirit, and He also turns the hearts of kings and all who are in authority. Through prayer, God destroys all the works of the wicked; and through prayer, God rescues His people out of harm’s way.
Paul did not rely upon his own spiritual prowess, but besought the Thessalonians for their prayers. If you think that you are above the need for others to pray for you, then you are sorely mistaken and will soon be corrected of that self-reliant attitude. Self-sufficiency is a fine thing for those of the world; and even an admirable thing. But the man of God is compelled to ask “who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16; cf. 3:5). The apostle was not sufficient for anything by his own estimation; but instead counted his weaknesses as blessings that through them the power of God might be made manifest. And he coveted the prayers of his brethren, whilst remaining constant in prayer for them.
This verse therefore teaches that no man is above the need for prayers to be made for him. What state are they in for whom no one is praying? This is the thing needed for a minister to be empowered. Do you wish you had a better minister? Pray for him. Is he already a great minister? Pray that he would remain so, and grow in grace. Pray for your ministers diligently, for in this you serve the entire congregation, and show that you value the Kingdom of God, and thus show a great gesture of love to the Lord Jesus Christ. In this you also bear your share of what is likely the greatest burden in your congregation; for elders almost always have the weightiest of charges in any given church; bearing with more of the weaknesses of struggling saints, and more of the unruliness of the stubborn, than anyone else. Brethren, pray for your ministers.
Or do you see a lack of godliness in you brethren? Pray for them. And if they are already godly, pray for them to remain so and to abound in their graces. Many are they who complain about the lack of holiness in their ministers or else in their brethren, who upon examination are barely praying for them, if at all. Without seeking God to sanctify the brethren, we bare a portion of the blame for their lack of holiness, for we as members of a local church are to be knit together in the bonds of love; not free to come and go, passing through like a gust of wind. We are to commit ourselves in prayer, love, and service, to one another; and not to be autonomous lone wolves, wavering and doing as we please.
We ought also to pray for those of other congregations; ministers and brethren alike; for their furtherance in sanctification; growth in knowledge of the truth; protection from the evil one; blessing in evangelism; and every other good thing.
“Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.”
– This shows us at least two important things that God would have us to do:
Firstly, God wants us to “greet all the brethren with an holy kiss”. We are not to form little exclusive groups, whether in our own local congregation, or else within the context of the universal Church, in which to confine such warm affections. We are not merely to love and to be kind to those of whom we are most fond, or those with whom we are most comfortable. We are to greet all the brethren.
Secondly, our greetings are not to be cold formalities. Such greetings void of warmth and loving affection expose a lack of love to the Lord; and to fail to love the brethren is to fail to love that which God loves most in all of His creation. The degree to which we love the brethren is a gauge of our love for God.
“We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” (1 John 4:19-21; cf. 1 John 3:14-19).
What you do unto the least of Christ’s people, you do unto Him; and what you decline to do for the least of His saints, you also withhold from Him, which solemn truth we read of in Matthew 25:31-46.
“I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.”
– In Colossians 4:16 Paul charges that the epistle originally sent to the church of the Laodiceans would be read by the Colossians, and he also charged the Colossians to cause their epistle to be read in the church of the Laodiceans.
In our present verse, we see that Paul intended for “all the holy brethren” to read of this epistle. He gave a solemn and weighty charge; “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.” God’s will for this epistle has been fulfilled to this day. Both this directive and that of Colossians 4:16 show that Paul was aware of the authoritativeness of his teachings, and that he was convinced of their value for all the brethren, and not just for the original audience. This also points to the timeless quality, value, sufficiency, and authority of the Word of God. See also 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:16-21. Here then is an opportunity to renew your appreciation for the excellence and value of the Word of God. This epistle is required reading for the saints as it contains the will of God for us, and also vital teachings which we are to believe. This epistle is intended for “all the holy brethren”. The universal Church consists of every man, woman, and child who has true saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and has been joined unto Him in covenant relationship by the grace of God the Father, and the power of the Holy Spirit, through the righteousness and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Every person who is so joined to Jesus Christ is obliged to seek God in His Word; and the Word is to be read unto them in the congregation of the saints.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”
– As noted before in ch.1 v.1, Paul is very bold in pronouncing blessings and grace from God upon the believers, and he is supremely confident that God has neither a lack of love, nor of good intent toward those who believe on His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Paul is completely devoid of any doubt that God loves His people, knowing that He sent His beloved and only begotten Son to die for them.
These closing words of benediction are God-breathed and immutable words, spoken to all the holy brethren. If you hate your sin; fear the Lord; love His law; and depend solely upon Jesus Christ for your salvation; then you can have the utmost confidence that God has worked true saving grace in you, and therefore that these words are for you, from the eternal and almighty God. What can compare with that? “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” These are no words to glance over. They are to be thought upon. Every benediction of Scripture is precious, and they are some of the many things upon which we are to set our minds and our affections; “on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2; cf. Philippians 4:8).
God is here commanding the blessing of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” upon you through His inspired Word. If you are in Christ, then this is the heart of the infinite God toward you; grace! Take this gracious benediction back to Him in prayer, and ask Him to grant you such strong faith in it so as to preserve you in your pilgrimage, and to increase your strength and joy, that you might abundantly show forth His praises and glory. If you doubt your interest in Christ, take this opportunity to reach out to Him in repentance and faith, remembering that God is mighty to save, and that He so abounds in grace that you could never exhaust His supplies. If you will but take hold of His free grace (which is commanded upon the believers at the close of every single Pauline epistle, as well as Hebrews and 1 Peter), in humble penitence and faith, He will give you more than you could ever ask. He is infinitely greater a Saviour than you are a sinner. His grace is infinitely deeper than is the pit of your iniquities. He is gracious far beyond all comprehension. May the Lord cause you to know His blessings, and to be so affected by them that you will live to glorify Him.
Glory be to God.