The Latter Epistles – 1 Thessalonians 5

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.  You are all children of the light and children of the day.  We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.  So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.  For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.  And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.  Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
Brothers and sisters, pray for us.  Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss.  I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

  • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 ‘The Coming Tribulation’: “Because the church saints will be removed by the rapture, they will be spared the horrible judgments of the Day of the Lord.  Paul says the church was ‘uninformed’ about the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but believers were already aware of the Day of the Lord (5:1) because it is mentioned multiple times in the Old Testament.  The Thessalonian congregation knew ‘full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night’ (verse 2).
“Most of the Bible’s references to the Day of the Lord have to do with the seven-year tribulation.  There are seven main passages.  This day will come upon the world (Isaiah 2:12-22), will fall upon the wicked ([Isaiah] 13:6-16), will devastate many of the nations of the Middle East (Ezekiel 30:1-9), will affect the vegetation on earth (Joel 1:15-20), will bring ruin to Edom, or present-day southern Jordan (Obadiah 20), will be a time of darkness and distress (Zephaniah 1:14-18), and will come suddenly when the world will be saying ‘peace and safety’ (1 Thessalonians 5:3).”

  • Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Exploring Bible Prophecy from Genesis to Revelation

1 Thessalonians 5:2 ‘Christ will come’: “It will be a great surprise to the wicked.  It will take them by surprise.  Just at that moment when they least expect it, Christ will come, and as the thief comes to destroy and to kill, so will the coming of Christ be the death of their carnal ease – the destruction of their earthly hopes.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 Thessalonians 5:5 ‘children of light’: “In making us children of light, he gave evidence that our appointment was for the light – that through the light of gospel grace we should, by and by, enter into the light of eternal glory.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 Thessalonians 5:6-7 ‘awake and alert’: “We should remain awake, sober, and on alert.  We should never assume that life is simply going on as usual.  We must be aware of what God is doing throughout history, and we must act accordingly.  These signs are given to us in Scripture so that we can be spiritually prepared and not caught unaware…”

  • Ray C. Stedman, Adventuring through the Bible

1 Thessalonians 5:8 ‘breastplate’: “Paul pictured the Christian life in military terms as being a life of soberness (alertness) and proper equipping.  The breastplate covers the vital organs of the body.  Faith is an essential protection against temptations, because it is trust in God’s promise, plan, and truth.  It is unwavering belief in God’s Word that protects us from temptation’s arrows.  Looking at it negatively, it is unbelief that characterizes all sin.  When believers sin, they have believed Satan’s lie.  Love for God is essential, as perfect love for Him yields perfect obedience to Him.  Elsewhere, the warrior’s breastplate has been used to represent righteousness (Is. 59:17; Eph. 6:14).  Faith elsewhere is represented by the soldier’s shield (Eph. 6:16).  The helmet is always associated with salvation in its future aspects (cf. Is. 59:17; Eph. 6:17).  Our future salvation is guaranteed, nothing can take it away (Rom. 13:11).  Paul again combined faith, love, and hope (cf. 1:3).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

1 Thessalonians 5:9 ‘Hell’: “We don’t like to talk about hell, do we?  In intellectual circles the topic of hell is regarded as primitive and foolish.  It’s not logical.  ‘A loving God wouldn’t send people to hell.’  So we dismiss it.
“But to dismiss it is to dismiss a core teaching of Jesus.  The doctrine of hell is not one developed by Paul, Peter, and John.  It is taught by Jesus himself.
“And to dismiss it is to dismiss much more.  It is to dismiss the presence of a loving God and the privilege of a free choice.  Let me explain.
“We are either to love God or not.  He invites us to love him.  He urges us to love him.
“He came that we might love him.  But, in the end, the choice is yours and mine.  To take that choice from each of us, for him to force us to love him, would be less than love.
“God explains the benefits, outlines the promises, and articulates very clearly the consequences.  And then, in the end, he leaves the choice to us.”

  • Max Lucado, And the Angels were Silent

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 ‘recognition of leaders’: “The blessed hope of Christ’s return did not make Paul a visionary.  To wait for the Parousia for him meant to be about the Master’s business.  It meant to build the church, as Paul puts it in verse 11.  However, without responsible leadership and respect for such leadership, the church will not develop very well.  And so Paul asks his readers ‘to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you’ (5:12).”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 ‘we exhort you’: “Paul has discussed how the pastors are to serve the people and how the people are to respond to the pastors (vv. 12, 13).  In these verses, he presents how the people are to treat each other in the fellowship of the church.  The ‘unruly,’ those out of line, must be warned and taught to get back in line.  The ‘fainthearted,’ those in fear and doubt, must be encouraged and made bold.  The ‘weak,’ those without spiritual and moral strength, must be held up firmly.  Patience, forgiveness, and acts of goodness must prevail between all the people.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

1 Thessalonians 5:17 ‘pray continually’: “The more we pray, the more we rejoice.  Prayer gives a channel to the pent-up sorrows of the soul; they flow away, and in their place streams of sacred delight pour into the heart.  At the same time the more rejoicing, the more praying.  When the heart is in a quiet condition and full of joy in the Lord, then also will it be sure to draw near to the Lord in worship.  Holy joy and prayer act and react on each other.  Observe, however, what immediately follows in the text: ‘Give thanks in everything.’  When joy and prayer are married, their firstborn child is gratitude.  When we joy in God for what we have and believingly pray to him for more, then our souls thank him both in the enjoyment of what we have and in the prospect of what is yet to come.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 ‘testing doctrine’: “If, on the other hand, we agree to let the Word of God decide what is and is not the religion of Christ, an inspired pattern is established for us and we are saved from tragic and costly errors concerning this all-important matter.
“Once this standard is acknowledged it is not too difficult to test a given doctrine or practice to determine whether it is of God or not.  We have only to compare everything that professes to be New Testament Christianity with the New Testament itself.  ‘To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them’ (Isaiah 8:20).
“Every activity now being carried on in the name of Christ must meet the last supreme test: Does it have biblical authority back of it?  Is it according to the letter and the spirit of the Scripture?  Is its spiritual content divinely given?  That it succeeds proves nothing.  That it is popular proves less.  Where are the proofs of its heavenly birth?  Where are its scriptural credentials?  What assurance does it give that it represents the operation of the Holy Spirit in the divine plan of the ages? These questions demand satisfactory answers.
“No one should object to an honest examination of his work in the pure light of Scripture.  No honest man will shrink from the light, nor will he defend beliefs and practices that cannot be justified by the test of truth.  Rather he will eagerly seek to build according to the pattern shown him in the mount.
“‘Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock’ (Matthew 7:24-25).
“Are we today building on the rock?  Upon the answer hangs our little all.  We had better be sure.”

  • A. W. Tozer, The Price of Neglect

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ‘Christ Will Complete the Believers’: “Paul concludes the letter with a desire, a wish, that God Himself may sanctify these believers, and that He may preserve them completely ‘without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).  The word ‘may’ indicates the Greek optative mood, which shows a desire on the apostle’s part.  While he is not necessarily indicating this as a prayer, it could be considered close to that.  ‘The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ can only mean the rapture of the church.  Paul desires that the Lord continually do His sanctifying work in believers to bring about maturity up until the time Jesus returns for His own (4:13-18).”

  • Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Exploring Bible Prophecy from Genesis to Revelation

1 Thessalonians 5:26 ‘a friendly greeting – culture specific’: “Give one another a hearty shake of the hands.  That is the Western interpretation of the Eastern form.  Outward forms differ.  The inward sense abides the same.  Let brotherly love continue in a hearty friendliness among yourselves.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

My Thoughts

I think the N. T. Wright comment of last week is a bit of an exaggeration to make his point that the “meeting Jesus in the air” could be a metaphor.  As the thief in the night and woman in labor pains could also be taken literally, but one says “like” and one says “as” denoting metaphor where you do not have that verbiage in the previous chapter with the description of the rapture.  Yet, this is mechanics.  The metaphors both illustrate that God may have His plan, but we are not privy to it.  Probably the most significant “sign” that the end of the world is coming next Thursday is that a prophecy of such a nature is wrong.  A thief does not send you a note that he is coming next Thursday, nor does a woman necessarily go into labor on the due date.  Thus, a prophecy regarding a specific date is probably fallacious, other than, sooner or later, one day will be THE day.  Yet, I will not complain if Jesus does not meet me in the air but gives me a hug once He reaches the ground, just as long as I am with my Savior.

And what is the point of these metaphors?  To continue looking for Jesus’ return, to keep our focus on Jesus, to remain prepared.

When I was in the US Army in Europe during the Cold War, we had readiness drills to prove that we were ready.  Since we were part of NATO, the drill could be initiated by the US Army or by NATO.  All but one drill was announced in the middle of the night or early morning.  The one outlier was called, I am sure, by NATO in the early afternoon on the fourth of July.  It ruined a great many Independence Day celebrations and festivities.  Some of the troops were at their station, sitting in their tanks or whatever, drunk out of their minds.  Some had a hangover from the night before.  I sent a group of my platoon members to find one soldier, an electrician.  He had a German girlfriend, and she had taken him into the Black Forest to meet relatives.  About dusk that day, he called in and the commander released the rest of us to go home as long as the one who was not physically there, just on the phone, dropped what he was doing and checked in.

As I read these warnings regarding Christ’s return, warned by Jesus and the Apostles, they talk about being sober, and my mind immediately goes to the soldiers that were drunk, but they had their hands gripping weapons, nonetheless.  We need to keep our eyes on Jesus.  We need to be prepared.  Becoming more like Jesus must be the most important thing in our lives.

And in becoming more like Jesus, we become sanctified.  How do we do so?  Partly by the rest of Paul’s letter.  There are very few “how to” sections of the Bible.  After all, those “how to” sections can become rules like the Pharisees used to control those around them, and to follow to the letter, feeling better than others.  Yet, the statements in verses 12-15 are of general instruction.  We should support those that work hard.  That could change from one church to the next.  That may be church leaders, but I have often seen church leaders that think their gift is that of leadership and they do nothing.  This instruction is beautifully written, those that work hard.  Then the corollary is mentioned: to warn the idle.  Then we should encourage the disheartened and help the weak.  But in all these instructions, we must remain patient.  That patience may need to be used for each other and for the hard workers, the non-workers, the disheartened and the weak.  Paying back wrong for wrong could be interpreted to not seek vengeance, but to seek peace with our neighbors.

The next paragraph has some of the shortest verses in the Bible.  I recently heard a man preach on these verses as the foundational verses of becoming sanctified.  Basically, we have moved from the previous chapter on corporate things to do to the specific things that each individual must do to be sanctified.

Rejoice!  In the young preacher’s sermon, he defined “rejoice” as giving Joy to … (meaning something or someone else).  What Paul means here is that we give Joy to God in everything, regardless of the situations.  In fact, giving Joy to God in our direst situations could mean “God, thank you that your Glory will come soon, for I do not have to put up with this much longer.”

And while we rejoice, we pray continually.  In doing this, we keep our eyes on Jesus.  Nothing is too big or too small to bring before God, but in praying continually, I have found that my “talking to myself” has morphed into talking to Jesus.  I have this idea or that idea.  And “Jesus?  What do you think of that?”  This continual prayer goes beyond Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (ACTS).  It touches upon simple conversation with the best friend that anyone could ever think of having.  And much of our prayer time should be in thanksgiving.  Yet, in that prayer time, which is all the time, we should keep our options wide open unto the Lord and never quench the Holy Spirit.  If our prayers become us saying “no” to God’s suggestions, we could block God’s Spirit in sharing with us the good things God has in store for us.  But as ideas come to us, those “good things,” we must test those ideas versus the Scriptures.  Thus, we must know the Scriptures.

We must reject evil.  Not reject things that have bad consequences but reject the evil before we even learn of the consequences, like do not drink too much rather than rue the hangover.

And in doing all this, God will sanctify us.

But really, if we truly desire Jesus, all these practical things will become, in time, self-evident.

But as for the holy kiss, customs change from one society to another.  Whatever the symbol for brotherly love should be expressed for one another.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“1. Of all the places you live (at home, work, school, or church), where do you feel the need for more faith, more hope, or more love?  How can the group help you ‘put it on’?
“2. Does the reality of Christ’s return encourage or threaten you?  How so?  How can you be better prepared for that time?
“3. How does this passage help you as you consider your own death?
“1. Of the various commands [vv. 12-28], which ones are most relevant to your church?  Your small group?  You?  Which ones do you feel you are practicing pretty well?  Which one will you work on this week?  Why?  How?
“2. What encouragement do you receive from the God of peace, sanctification, and grace to fulfill these commands?  How has the small group been a help to you in this regard?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

The Serendipity Bible divided 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5 into three sections for group discussion.  The middle section overlaps the end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5 where the rapture and Christ’s return are discussed.  The second half of the first question applies to 1 Thess. 5:8 but could be answered in a discussion of either chapter.

While the second question 1 talks of evaluating ourselves, and my usual response is that others may do a better job, this question is looking at objective commands, to a point.  We may be very joyful.  We may pray a lot.  We may have a rigorous program of writing down every blessing that we can think of and thanking God for it.  But, could we do even better?

And the last question is not applicable if not doing this study in a small group.  Yet, what people do you have that encourage you?

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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