The Agora
Bible Commentary
1 Thessalonians

1 2 3 4 5

1 Thessalonians 5

1Th 5:1

Vv 1-3: The time of the Coming

Cp 1Th 5 with Dan 5: the drunken feasting of Belshazzar, leading to an overthrow... while Daniel, dwelling as son of light, is alert and hence spared.

TIMES: Gr "kronos", from which is derived the Engl "chronology." This word refers to time as to its duration (Rev 10:6; Acts 13:18; Luke 4:5), and thus refers to the date of an event (Mat 2:7; Luke 8:29; Acts 3:21; 7:17). Cp Luk 21:24: the times of the Gentiles.

DATES: Gr "kairos" refers to the characteristics of a particular period -- as we might refer to the four "seasons" of a year, or the "seasons" of one's life (Mat 13:30; Acts 14:17; Gal 6:9; Rev 12:12; Luke 4:13). Whereas "times" speaks of the length of the interval before the coming of Christ, "seasons" suggests the suitability of a particular period, with regard to accompanying signs. "Kronos" has to do with quantity, "kairos" with quality -- although the two words may appear together as a general term denoting the period preceding the return of Christ (Acts 1:7).

WE DO NOT NEED TO WRITE TO YOU: Paul appears almost to scold the Thessalonians: 'Why are you even asking anything more about the times and the season? You ought to know enough already about such matters!' Prophetic matters had occupied Paul's teaching while he was with them, and they should now have worked out the implications of his teaching sufficiently so as to answer their own questions. A good teacher knows when students possess adequate information already, and encourages them to make their own applications. So it was in this case. There is perhaps subtle rebuke here of their eagerness in DISCUSSING prophecy to the neglect of PREPARING themselves for the return of Christ. As we see in the next verse, Paul has not told them enough to predict accurately the exact date of Christ's return. NOR DOES HE INTEND TO DO SO NOW. It is possible to take an undue interest in the mechanics -- the facts and figures and timetables -- of fulfilling prophecy, to the exclusion (or denigration) of the CURRENT (and pressing) duties of a disciple of Christ.

1Th 5:2

FOR YOU KNOW VERY WELL: "Akribos" signifies "perfectly" or "accurately" (Luke 1:3; Mat 2:8; Acts 18:25,26). Paul had spent a great deal of time instructing them on these matters. There is a touch of irony, however, in these words of Paul: "You know PERFECTLY -- because I have already taught you -- that you cannot know ACCURATELY when these things will come to pass!" In this Paul is echoing the words of Jesus to his disciples just before his ascension: "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power" (Acts 1:7).

THE DAY OF THE LORD: This phrase means the day of Christ's return (1Co 1:8; 5:5; 2Co 1:14; Phi 1:10). It is also referred to as "the day of judgment" (2Pe 2:9), "the day of wrath" (Rom 2:5), "the day of God" (2Pe 3:12); "the day of Jesus Christ" (Phi 1:6), "that day" (2Th 1:10), "the great day" (Jude 1:6), and "the last day" (John 6:39-54; 11:24; 12:48).

The "day of the Lord" is an Old Testament concept: it was the day when Yahweh would indicate His righteous cause and execute impartial judgment (Amos 5:18; Joel 2:31; Mal 4:5).

WILL COME: Actually, Paul uses the present tense rather than the future: "It comes!" Even now it is imminent! This is not so much to define limits as to chronological time; as it is to emphasize the unexpectedness of Christ's coming: it might be any day. The Lord comes "quickly" (Rev 22:20), yet no one can know when it will be (Mark 13:32).

LIKE A THIEF: In every place where this figure is used, it refers to the condition of the Lord's servants: (a) Mat 24:42-44: "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come... 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 the broken up. Therefore be ye also ready..." (cp Luke 12:35-40); (b) 2Pe 3:9,10: "The Lord is longsuffering... to us-ward... But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night"; (c) Rev 3:3: "If therefore thou (The church at Sardis) shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief..."; (d) Rev 16:15: "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments..."

Paul, far from having his mind on political developments in the last days (important as those matters may be), is actually exhorting in a very pointed fashion against the casual indifference which would characterize many of the household of faith at the time of the Lord's coming. Nowhere else in all of 1Th may it even be suggested that Paul is writing of the state of the nations as such, or of their impending fate. But throughout the letter he is profoundly -- even desperately -- concerned for the well-being of his new converts: how they will stand before the Lord at his coming.

IN THE NIGHT: It is noteworthy how many of the Scriptural lessons on watchfulness are associated with the night, and a visit by night (Mat 24:43; 25:1-13; Mark 13:35; Luke 12:20,35,38; 17:34). Night suggests confusion, disorientation, slumber, and a (false) sense of security -- all appropriate in this context.

"If the owner of the house had known in what hr the thief would come..." (Mat 24:43). Christ is portrayed often -- he even portrays himself -- as a "thief" in the New Testament, in connection with his Second Coming (Mat 24:42-44; Luk 12:39,40; 1Th 5:2,4,6; 2Pe 3:10; Rev 3:3; 16:15). This may seem extraordinary, since stealing is a sin, and a "thief" therefore must be a sinner -- and how could Christ be a sinner? (A similar question might be asked: how could Christ compare himself to a serpent: John 3:14; Num 21:7-9? But that's another story!) However, there is one instance when a "thief" is not committing a crime, and that is when he is simply reclaiming (by stealth or surprise) what is rightfully his (cp David and his men, who followed the Amalekites and retrieved their kidnapped families and stolen goods: 1Sa 30!). And that seems to be exactly the point in these NT instances also: Christ when he returns will be merely taking back what is rightfully his! The true "thieves" will be seen to be those servants who ate his bread and drank his wine and enjoyed themselves in leisurely consuming that which belonged to their Master (see the parable in Mat 24:48-51 and Luk 12:45-47). Their mistake -- and it was a crucial one -- was in forgetting they were mere stewards or caretakers, and instead supposing that all their Master's properties belonged to them, and acting accordingly! So, if we are to be sure that Christ does not come as a "thief" to us, we must not act as "thieves" ourselves now, stealing from him what is rightfully his. We must remember that all we possess really belongs to the One who is our true Lord and Master; that we merely hold it all in trust, to be used to serve him.

1Th 5:3

There are a number of striking parallels between this section of 1Th and the Olivet prophecy. When following up these parallels, it may be clearly seen that "peace and safety" directly corresponds to the words of the evil servant: "My Lord delays his coming" (Mat 24:48). Paul is alluding to the heedless householder of Christ's parable, persuading himself that he is at peace and his goods in safety (cp Rev 3:17: "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing"). Here is an attitude of self-satisfaction and complacency thoroughly incompatible with an alert watchfulness. But when he least expects it, ruin overtakes him in the person of a thief digging through the walls of his house and spoiling his goods (Rev 3:17 again: "and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked").

PEOPLE: That is, Christ's own unprepared servants (TofE 51,52).

PEACE AND SAFETY: That is, "my Lord delays his coming" (Mat 24:48).

DESTRUCTION... SUDDENLY: "House broken up... cut him asunder" (Mat 24:43,51). The startling nature of the disaster is further emphasized by the use of the unusual adjective rendered "sudden." Elsewhere in the NT it is found only in Luke 21:34: "And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares."

The word for "destruction" occurs also in 2Th 1:9: they "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord."

PAINS ON A PREGNANT WOMAN: "The beginning of sorrow (travail)"... (Mat 24:8). A pregnant woman knows that her travail is inevitable; she knows roughly when it is coming; but she is still often taken unawares!

This is a common Biblical figure of speech (Psa 48:6; Isa 13:8; 26:17; 37:3; Jer 6:24; 22:23; Mic 4:9). The Greek "odino" signifies labor in childbirth, and is also used metaphorically of labor in Gal 4:19; Mat 24:8; Mark 13:8; Rev 12:2. At first glance this verse seems to picture childbearing as a terrifying, death-like experience, with the imminent prospect of "destruction." But this is reading too much into the text. The points of comparison between the "destruction" and childbirth are as to TIME and CERTAINTY. This destruction will come "suddenly", without warning, just as labor may begin unexpectedly. Once begun, the birth pangs will intensify in strength and frequency -- with no prospect of deliverance or postponement -- "and they shall not escape!" The coming of Christ, with its attendant judgments, can by no means be put off to a "more convenient season."

More generally, perhaps, RR writes: "Peace and safety. The world has been sounding this cry during all its troubles and blood-stained history. After every war, there is to be everlasting peace; and every war is a 'guarantee' of the general repose. Notably is this the case in our own day, when the world is armed to the teeth, as it never was before, and trembling in the uncertain balance of peace or war. Notwithstanding the most unpromising situation of things, every potentate, statesman, diplomatist, politician, and newspaper writer talks complacently of peace as a thing to be secured. 'Peace' has been on their lips while war is in their hearts, and the heedless throng, anxious only about business, have caught up the strain. The saints are not of those who cry Peace and safety, except to such as fear God and keep His commandments" (SC 133).

1Th 5:4

Vv 4-11: Be ready for his Coming.

BUT YOU, BROTHERS, ARE NOT IN DARKNESS: "Skotos" describes the absence of light in a physical sense (Mat 27:45; John 6:17), and also in intellectual (Rom 2:19; Eph 4:18) moral (Mat 6:23; 1Jo 1:6) and spiritual senses (Luke 1:79; Acts 26:18). The world in its present condition is a world of darkness (John 1:5; 8:12; 12:35), a reflection of the powers that dominate it (Luke 22:53; Col 1:13). Darkness also suggests the grave and the punishment of rejection from the presence of Christ (Mat 8:12; 2Pe 2:17). All that is indicated by darkness is hauntingly expressed in the Poetic imagery of John, when he records that Judas left the "light" of Christ in the upper room... "and he went immediately out... and it was night" (John 13:30).

SO THAT THIS DAY SHOULD SURPRISE YOU LIKE A THIEF: Cp, of course, v 2. The "thief-like" advent is not so much to the unheeding world as to the "brothers", that is, the saints, who are unprepared. The coming of Christ SHOULD not surprise any believers, but it WILL surprise some: Rev 3:3; 16:15; 2Pe 3:9,10.

What IS the point of Paul's simile "as a thief" in regard to believers at the return of Christ? When a burglar has broken into a house and slipped away with all the money and the choicest items of wealth it contains, the householder suddenly awakes to the fact that what he deemed to be his most treasured possessions are gone forever. For those who are not prepared to meet their Master, his coming will be most unexpected and most unwelcome. It will bring a day of acute self-awareness, as though they awake from a dream. Things will have been turned upside-down, and nothing can be "put right" again! Everything that once seemed so important will be suddenly both useless and meaningless, as though it had been stolen by a thief: cars, clothes, homes, bank accounts, hobbies, entertainments -- all vanished! And he who was perhaps put second, or even ignored at times, will be all-important.

"But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My Lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mat 24:28-51).

Those who speak (or, even more to the point, those who act) as though they are indifferent to the Lord's coming (cp 2Pe 3:4 -- "Where is the promise of his coming?") are within the church, and not its critics on the outside! Of course, no "responsible" believer ever denies the second coming in so many words; not a few deny faith in it, sadly, by their actions (or inactions?).

The "peace and safety" attitude of the ecclesia in the last days would seem to echo the attitude of another group of God's people, the nation of Israel, at several "crossroads" of their history: (1) Amos castigates those Jews -- he characterizes the women as well-fed "heifers" (Amo 4:1, RSV) -- who oppress the poor and crush the needy, who takes bribes and afflict the just (Amo 5:11,12), who are "at ease in Zion" (Amo 6:1), lying upon ivory beds and indulging in fine food and sweet music (Amo 6:4-6). They ostensibly "desire the day of the LORD" (Amo 5:18), but when it comes it will be -- for them -- "the day of... darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?" (Amo 5:18-20). (2) Jeremiah likewise berates the leaders of his people, who have "healed" their hurt "slightly", saying, "Peace, peace" when there is no peace (Jer 6:14), because of their unrepented-of abominations (Jer 6:15). The same charge is repeated (Jer 8:11), with the warning "in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the LORD" (Jer 8:13). (3) Micah also attacks the pseudo-"prophets" "that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and (hypocritically) cry, Peace" (Mic 3:5). (4) And Ezekiel (Eze 13:10) speaks of those who "seduce" the people, speaking of "peace", meanwhile daubing their defense walls with untempered mortar ("white wash" -- RSV, cp Mat 23:27; Acts 23:3) -- a certain forerunner of "sudden destruction!"

It is evident, therefore, that "peace and safety" as they are meant in 1Th 5 cannot refer to the international political conditions preceding the return of Christ. Joel, by contrast, does tell us (and many other scriptures confirm the picture) that the last days will witness unprecedented preparation for war (Joel 3:9,10).

It may be suggested that awesome warmongering might reasonably be accompanied (as it has been to some already) by ludicrous posturings of "peace." But such proclamations are not to be believed by any of those who are in distress and perplexity, whose hearts are failing them for fear (Luke 21:25-27). Even so, such a condition in the world around us should not be postulated on the basis of a passage (1Th 5) that deals throughout with believers and their attitude towards the second coming.

1Th 5:5

YOU ARE ALL SONS OF THE LIGHT: The "all" gives reassurance that none need be excluded from the blessings implied; even those with uncertainties about the details of Christ's coming (1Th 4:11,12) or those who are "weak" (1Th 5:14) may take heart.

In Hebrew idiom, to be the "child" or "son" of a certain characteristic or quality means to exemplify it. A "child of light" is one who has experienced a complete transformation through the "light." In this way is the phrase used elsewhere: "While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light" (John 12:36); "for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light" (Luke 16:8); "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light" (Eph 5:8).

The condition of being in Christ is continually associated with light (Mat 5:14,16; John 3:21; 8:12; Acts 26:18; Col 1:12; 1Pe 2:9, 1Jo 1:7).

The true followers of Christ are "sons of the day" -- even though the "day" has not officially arrived. That "day of the Lord" has cast its radiance ahead with the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and especially with his sacrificial work. We must remember, and endeavor, to live in that "day", and to exemplify all its qualities, EVEN NOW. In no other way may a people ever become prepared to enter into the glories of that future inheritance, when it does indeed arrive!

SONS OF... LIGHT... DAY: In the parallels with the mount Olivet prophecy, cp the wise virgins (Mat 25:1-13).

1Th 5:6

LET US NOT BE LIKE OTHERS: As in 1Th 4:13, the "others which have no hope." And, as in 1Th 4:5: "the Gentiles which know not God." "Sleep" is natural enough for the "children of darkness" and the "children of this world", but it is entirely out of place for the children of light.

WHO ARE ASLEEP: Parallel with Olivet prophecy: "They all [the virgins] slumbered and slept" (Mat 25:5).

The "sleep" of carelessness and indifference, not the "sleep" of literal death (1Th 4:13-15). It is as though Paul were exhorting the Thessalonians: "Let US not say, 'Peace and safety'" (v 3). It is entirely possible for the "children of light" to relapse into the condition of being "children of darkness!" (Cp the lesson of Luke 12:39; Mat 24:43; 25:5; and Mark 13:35;36.)

ALERT: "Watch therefore" (Mat 24:42; 25:13).

The Thessalonians were not to be in a state of spiritual insensibility, but they were to be mentally alert and watchful. "Watch" (Greek "gregores") is used of the attentiveness of a mind bent on receiving instruction (Pro 8:34, LXX) or an answer to prayer (Col 4:2). Believers are to "watch" for the return of the Lord (Mark 13:35-37; Mat 24:42; 25:13), and in the meantime also to "watch" for spiritual dangers (Acts 20:31; 1Co 1:13; Rev 3:2,3). Though the Thessalonians were, if anything, too "watchful" to the point of neglecting other duties (1Th 4:11,12; 2Th 3:6-15), they were not to cease watching altogether.

SELF-CONTROLLED: Or "sober": Ct "eat and drink with the drunken" (Mat 24:49).

"Nephos" literally signifies the absence of strong drink or other intoxicants. The drunk person has lost control of his own faculties and is out of touch with reality, but the "sober" person is thoroughly in control of himself, and thoroughly cognizant of the world around him. No doubt literal sobriety is an essential aspect of a believer's life (Rom 13:12,13; 1Pe 4:3,4), but Paul must certainly refer here to the avoidance of any kind of excess that would stifle sensitivity to God's revelation and purpose. One excess to which some Thessalonian believers had fallen prey was an undue agitation about the "last days" and their involvement therein (2Th 3:6-15).

1Th 5:7

FOR THOSE WHO SLEEP, SLEEP AT NIGHT, AND THOSE WHO GET DRUNK, GET DRUNK AT NIGHT: Two kinds of activity are particularly appropriate for those who live in a perpetual state of "night": "sleep" and "drunkenness." Drunkenness during the daytime was regarded as even more reprehensible than night-time revelry (Isa 5:11; Acts 2:15; 2Pe 2:13).

1Th 5:8

PUTTING ON FAITH AND LOVE AS A BREASTPLATE: The metaphors of putting on clothing (Gal 3:27; Eph 4:24; Col 3;10,12) and of military service (Rom 6:13; 7:23; 1Co 9:7; 1Ti 1:18; 2Ti 2:3; 4:7) are both common for Paul. The two metaphors are combined in his concept of the "armor" of a believer (Rom 13:12; 2Co 6:7; 10:4; Eph 6:13-17). Underlying the NT usage is Isa 59:17, where it says of God himself: "He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon His head."

THE HOPE OF SALVATION AS A HELMET: The breastplate and the helmet are the most important items in a suit of armor, covering as they do the vitals. Paul has in mind here the defensive elements of a warrior's preparation. In like manner, "faith, hope, and love" (1Th 1:3) are the three essential features of true Christianity, and the three cardinal virtues -- by which the believer may be protected from apostasy.

1Th 5:9

FOR GOD DID NOT APPOINT US TO SUFFER WRATH: As noted in 1Th 1:10 (and cp 1Th 2:16), "wrath" ("orge") is practically a technical designation of the period just before Christ's Kingdom on the earth, when God will bring upon the world a series of unprecedented distresses and calamities (Mat 24:21; Luke 21:23; Rev 6:16,17). But the saints will be delivered from such "wrath." They are entitled to wear the "helmet" of salvation (v 9) because God has appointed it.

Olivet parallel: "Appoint him his portion with the hypocrites" (Mat 24:51).

BUT TO RECEIVE SALVATION: Although salvation may be obtained or won (the word suggests an active effort of acquisition: cp 2Th 2:14), this is not to suggest that any man may "earn" it by his own works. That salvation is after all a free gift is stressed by the modifying phrase: "through our Lord Jesus Christ." But nevertheless man must in faith take some initiative to bring himself to the place (ie, the "mercy seat") where the gift will be conferred. The salvation by grace which God gives to man is not awarded independent of the action of that man, any more than God's wrath comes upon any man independent of his own choice.

OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST: The full title is distinctly impressive, and suggestive of the work accomplished by both the Father (who conferred the title) and the Son (who accepted and exalted it).

1Th 5:10

HE DIED FOR US: "For" ("huper") denotes an act done with reference to others. Jesus was identified with all men, and his sacrifice has the potential for procuring salvation for all men who accept him in faith. It is a fundamental principle that Jesus died on behalf of, but not instead of, believers, he was an example, but not a substitute. The simple statement that Christ "died for us" -- the only explicit reference to the atonement in both Paul's Thessalonian letters - is amplified by such passages as: (a) "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom 3:23-26). (b) "For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living" (Rom 14:9). (c) "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (2Co 5:14,15). (d) "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2Co 5:19-21). (e) "Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father" (Gal 1:3,4).

It is true that the doctrine of the cross receives scant attention in Paul's letters to the Thessalonian ecclesia, but this may well be because it was so amply demonstrated to them during his initial preaching there (Acts 17:2;3).

WHETHER WE ARE AWAKE OR ASLEEP, WE MAY LIVE TOGETHER WITH HIM: This must certainly mean, "whether we are alive or dead" at Christ's coming. Earlier Paul has considered wakefulness and sleep as equivalents of moral states (5:6), respectively, of the children of light and the children of darkness (v 5). Now he returns to the thoughts, and the symbolism, of 4:13-18. The "sleep" here is the death state of those who are "in Jesus" (4:14). "Katheudo" ("sleep") is used in this symbolic sense in Mat 9:24 and Mark 5:39. Death is nothing but a passing inconvenience for those who have been promised life together with Jesus.

1Th 5:11

THEREFORE ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER: Repeating the phrase of 1Th 4:18. "Parakaleo" (the common word for comfort and exhortation: 1Th 3:2,7; 4:18) means literally to call alongside, or figuratively to encourage and strengthen.

AND BUILD EACH OTHER UP: The foundation and the progress of a Christian life -- either individually or in this case collectively ("one another") -- is likened by Jesus to the process of building a house (Mat 7:24-27; Luke 14:28). Those who assist in the growth of the one Body of Christ are accounted as wise and profitable builders (1Co 3:9-12; 8:1; 14:3,4; Col 2:7; cp the figure in Eph 2:21; 4:12,16,29; 2Co 12:19; 13:10; 1Pe 2:5,7).

JUST AS IN FACT YOU ARE DOING: Paul is quick to acknowledge progress along this line. Yet at the same time he also looks forward to even greater attainments (cp 1Th 4:1,10).

1Th 5:12

Vv 12-22: Final exhortations.

Vv 12,13: Recognition of leaders.

NOW WE ASK YOU, BROTHERS: The same phrase employed in 1Th 4:1 to introduce an exhortation. An appeal rather than an authoritative command.

TO RESPECT THOSE: That is, to "appreciate" those who labor among you. It is not occupying a "position", but laboring, that should win respect from others, as well as from Christ (Mat 24:46). The New Testament letters contain several such exhortations to respect for leaders who work on behalf of the house of God (1Co 16:18; Heb 13:7,17; 1Ti 5:7).

WHO WORK HARD AMONG YOU: The first of three designations of one class of people -- the structure of the Greek bears this out: not three distinct classes of leaders, but one class who serve in three ways.

"Work" signifies toil or wearisome effort. It is similar to the "labor of love" mentioned in 1Th 1:3. These were brethren who had literally made themselves weary in the service of the ecclesia. It we take Paul as an example of this class, we realize that he wearied himself on behalf of the Thessalonians in both spiritual ministrations (cp 1Co 15:10; Gal 4:11, Phi 2:16; Col 1:29; 1Ti 4:10) and in earning his daily bread so as not to be chargeable to them (1Th 2:9). The second of these would be of primary exhortational value to the misguided "leisure class" in Thessalonica (cp 1Th 4:11; 2Th 3:6-15).

WHO ARE OVER YOU IN THE LORD: Literally, those who "preside" over you. The word seems to combine the ideas of leading, protecting, and caring for. In Rom 12:8 a similar word ("he that ruleth") occurs in the context of sharing one's material resources and showing mercy -- what we might refer to as the treasurer. The feminine of the same root occurs in 16:2, where Phoebe is called a "succourer" (a "great help": NIV). Related words occur quite often in Paul's "pastoral letters", in describing those who look after their own households (1Ti 3:4,5,12), promote good works (Tit 3:8,14), and act as "elders" in the church (1Ti 5:17).

AND WHO ADMONISH YOU: The Greek "noutheto" means literally to put into one's mind, or to train by word. It is often used with reference to those who are going -- or are in danger of going -- astray. It is used exclusively by Paul in his letters and spoken word (Acts 20:31; Rom 15:14; 1Co 4:14; Col 1:28; 3:16). In the Thessalonian letters, it also occurs in 1:5:14 and 11:3:15.

1Th 5:13

HOLD THEM IN THE HIGHEST REGARD IN LOVE BECAUSE OF THEIR WORK: "The highest" is "super-abundantly" (another expression recalling the bubbling hot springs near the city, a word of enthusiasm and exuberance -- cp notes, 1Th 3:10,12; 4:1,10). The leaders in the Thessalonian ecclesia were to receive respect and love not because of their status, nor because of any personal attachments, nor even because of any of their intellectual or even moral attainments. There was to be no cult of "hero-worship" in Thessalonica. Instead, they were to be highly esteemed (and even loved) for their work's sake. This would imply two different considerations: the work they did should earn respect; and furthermore respect should be given them so as to HELP them in their work.

LIVE IN PEACE WITH EACH OTHER: A quotation of, or at any rate a reference to, the words of Jesus (Mark 9:50). The proper respect for elders would help to check any tendency toward confusion, unrest, or even anarchy. The call for peace is common in the letters to the NT ecclesias (Rom 12:18; 14:19; 1Co 14:33; 2Co 13:11; Eph 4:3; Col 3:15; 2Ti 2:22; Heb 12:14; James 3:18) -- and also the related exhortation to be of one mind (Rom 12:16; 15:5; 2Co 13:11; Phi 2:2; 4:2). Possibly arguments about alternative prophetic interpretations (1:4:13-18; 5:1-3; 11:2:1-5), as well as about internal ecclesial discipline and authority (1:4:11; 11:3:6-15), were straining the bonds of fellowship and love in Thessalonica.

1Th 5:14

Vv 14-22: Various duties.

WARN THOSE WHO ARE IDLE: "Warn" is the same word as "admonish" in v 12. "Idle" is the Greek "ataktous": without order or discipline. This and related words are always used in the NT with reference to the Thessalonians (cp 2Th 3:6,7,11), who, for all their commendable traits, were evidently a very disorderly group. The word is a military term, describing those who are out of line, or not at their post, or who will not or cannot keep in their ranks. The specific type of disorderly conduct Paul has in mind is almost certainly a refusal to work, and a tendency to gossip and trouble-making, while imposing on the generosity of others.

ENCOURAGE: "Paramuthion" (cp 1Th 2:11n).

TIMID: Paul's exhortation to "comfort the feeble-minded" (1Th 5:14, KJV) may suggest to the modern mind a condescending attitude to the dim-witted. Not so! "Oligopsuchos" (lit little of soul) is best illustrated by examples from the LXX: "Of a contrite spirit" (Isa 57:15). It describes the "anguish of spirit" of Israelites in Egyptian bondage (Exo 6:9). Other versions have: "faint-hearted" (RSV, NEB), "despondent", or "frightened". In context, this may describe those who were troubled over their brethren who had died in Jesus (1Th 4:13), and confused about the "coming of Christ" (1Th 5:1-11), or those who felt themselves unable to stand up to persecutions (1Th 1:6; 2:11-16).

The sort of encouragement or comfort Paul had in mind for such faint-hearted ones was not the false heartiness satirized by James: "Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled" (James 2:16). It was instead a practical help, and especially a practical encouragement based on a knowledge of God and His promises. Those who are timid and fearful must be given real reasons to be strong in faith; such reasons come from the word of God, and the living examples of others.

HELP THE WEAK: In 1Co 8:9-11; 9:22; and Rom 14:1 this word "weak" refers to those who were weak in faith, given over to a morbid conscientiousness in regard to meats and holidays and the like. "Support" is used elsewhere of holding fast to something (such as sound teaching, in Tit 1:9), or of being closely attached to someone (Mat 6:24; Luke 16:13), so as to support and strengthen.

Paul leaves us in no doubt that there is a place in the church for the "weak", and that the "strong" have a particular responsibility toward them.

BE PATIENT WITH EVERYONE: Dealing with the idle, the cowardly, and the weak (or fastidious) in the Christian fellowship -- on a long-term basis -- can be a great trial to one's patience. Hence Paul counsels us to be patient toward all. Patience or long-suffering ("makrothumeo") is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). It is also a quality of God Himself, who is patient and full of mercy (Exo 34:6; Psa 103:8). As Paul says elsewhere, patience is of the highest order of virtue, because "Love is patient" (1Co 13:4). See also 2Co 6:6; Eph 4.2; Col 1:11; 3:12; 2Ti 3:10.

1Th 5:15

MAKE SURE THAT NOBODY PAYS BACK WRONG FOR WRONG: The commandment of Jesus was to resist not evil (Mat 5-38:48; Luke 6:27-36; cp Pro 25:21). As Paul states here, this command has the widest possible scope: "unto any man" (AV), not just to the brotherhood. Peter recalls the words of Jesus also (1Pe 3:9), with the suggestion that in obeying these words we are following the one who has called us (1Pe 2:19-23). Likewise Paul sets forth this principle as HIS example for life (1Co 4:12,13). Cp also Rom 12:17; Gal 6:10; and 2Pe 1:5-11.

BUT ALWAYS TRY TO BE KIND TO EACH OTHER AND TO EVERYONE ELSE: The teaching of Christ does not simply prohibit retaliation -- it is not fundamentally negative. The teaching of Christ promotes and encourages doing good ("agathan" = being "kind" -- NIV) in return for receiving evil. Returning good for evil must be diligently pursued (the meaning of the word); it must be tirelessly sought after as the goal of a Christian life. "Overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21). This thought occurs in the context along with: "live peaceably with all men" (v 18) and "Avenge not yourselves" (v 19).

1Th 5:16

BE JOYFUL ALWAYS: "Joy" ("chara") is the root word for grace ("charis") and also for thanksgiving ("eucharistia"). Rejoicing (v 16) and giving thanks (v 18) are both forms of prayer (v 17), and these three verses are obviously very much related.

This characteristic theme of the NT may be traced back to the teaching of Jesus on the Mount (Mat 5:10-12). Rejoicing, even in trials, was the typical condition of the early believers (Acts 5:4; 16:25), who, with many reasons to be sorrowful, were yet "always rejoicing" (2Co 12:10). "Rejoice evermore" is the basic underlying theme of Paul's whole letter to the Philippians (Phi 1:18; 2:2,19,28; 3:1; 4:1-4), who were in similar circumstances -- due to trials -- as were the Thessalonians. These, in turn, to whom Paul is now writing had already suffered in joy (1Th 1:6), in following the example of Paul himself (3:9).

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22); it does not develop naturally -- it must be cultivated. As we live in the world, we may find innumerable occasions to be sorrowful -- and all with reason. We cannot rejoice in the Lord by turning a blind eye to our troubles, and those of our neighbors, and acting as though nothing evil, or sad, or troublesome, exists. The only way to achieve true joy is to see clearly the reasons for sorrow, but at the same time to recognize the reality of our blessings, and the glories of our hope: "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us afar more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2Co 4:17,18).

The believer is a new creation, born again through his faith in the sacrifice of Christ. He can forgive because he has been forgiven. He can return good for evil because his Heavenly Father does the same toward him. He can do what otherwise would be unpleasant -- or even impossible -- and do it out of a sense of joy and wonder and thanksgiving, because that which is humanly "impossible" has been achieved for him, in the precious blood of Christ. If a believer does not experience such joy, he would do well to examine his faith.

1Th 5:17

PRAY CONTINUALLY: The believer can rejoice always -- precisely because he is always praying and always giving thanks. This is a common injunction in Paul's writings (v 25; 2Th 3:1; Rom 12:12; Eph 6:18; Col 4:2). A life lived in faith is a continual prayer. Conversation with God does not require fixed locations, set times, or particular postures. Though it is quite impossible for us always to be uttering the words of prayer, it is possible and necessary that we should be always living in the spirit of prayer.

"Everything is worth praying about, if it is worth doing, or even worth thinking about. If you can't pray about it, that's a sure sign not to do it -- it's not part of the godly life. There is no big or small with God. With Him, everything to do with man is very small, so do not think matters have to have a certain degree of 'importance' before they are fit subjects for prayer. Whatever merits our attention at all merits our prayer. We should turn to God in everything, as a small child turns to a parent. The human mind and flesh being what it is, 'self-dependence' is the most fatal folly. Nothing will be right without the direct guidance of God, and the sanctification and consecration of prayer" (GVG).

"Prayer is not a ritual, but a way of life -- a constant conversation with God. Our thoughts include him all the time. We are not limited by time, subject or form. When we rethink things we realize there really is no limit on time for prayer. You can pray anytime of day. You can pray in the car. You can pray while taking a shower. You can pray before than important meeting. You can pray IN that important meeting! There is no limitation on the subject. Is God too busy to be included in even the smallest details of our life? Shouldn't we talk to him about everything. He knows how many hairs there are on our head; so why wouldn't He be concerned for the details of His children's day? It is not like He only has the time for the 'big' things!" (KT).

1Th 5:18

GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES: This does not just mean we should thank God for all enjoyable gifts. We should also thank God for the trials, and even the persecutions, of life, because "all things work together for good" (Rom 8:28). We should give thanks for all things!

Ingratitude is one of the features of those who have rejected the knowledge of God (Rom 1:21). By contrast, the children of God are expected to "abound in thanksgiving" (Col 2:7; 3:15,17; 4:2; Eph 5:4,20; 1Ti 2:1) -- following Paul's example (1Th 1:2; 2:13; Rom 1:8; 1Co 1:4; etc).

FOR THIS IS GOD'S WILL FOR YOU IN CHRIST JESUS: This phrase refers to all of vv 16-18: constant joy, constant prayer, constant thanksgiving. That we should lead lives of ceaseless joy, prayer, and gratitude is not just the desire of God -- it is His purpose, His will. God is concerned not just with our outward, and visible, actions -- but also with our inner, spiritual attitudes: with our personalities and our motives.

1Th 5:19

DO NOT PUT OUT THE SPIRIT'S FIRE: "Put out", or "quench" (AV): the Gr "sbennumi." All other references in the NT are to fire (Mat 12:20; 25:8; Heb 11:34; Mark 9:48). (By comparison, Rom 12:12 and 2Ti 1:6 speak positively of being aglow with the Spirit or of fanning the fire of the Spirit into a flame. And compare, in the OT, Jer 20:9.)

Because of the unruliness, on the part of some, in the use of the Holy Spirit gifts (cp 1Co 14:1-33), the elders at Thessalonica may have banned -- or considered banning -- their exercise. It is clear that the Spirit gifts could be either used or suppressed, at the will of the possessors (1Co 12:32). Must they now be suppressed because of excessive exuberance on the part of some, and in the interests of order (1Co 14:40)? Paul's answer is an emphatic "No!" "Do not extinguish the Spirit" in your midst, and "despise not (the gift of) prophecy" (v 20), you must allow only those manifestations which are genuine and useful (v 21), avoiding all abuses and excesses (v 22). Thus these four verses (19-22) may be seen as a whole.

1Th 5:20

DO NOT TREAT PROPHECIES WITH CONTEMPT: "Prophecy" in the apostolic churches had little if anything to do with "foretelling" the future, but primarily consisted of "forth-telling" divinely-inspired instruction (1Co 14:1-5, 22-25). As such it was not nearly as showy as, but in the long run much more valuable than, the gift of tongues. (In 1Co 14:1 it is ranked in the forefront of all the Holy Spirit, or charismatic, gifts.) Therefore it was especially subject to being pushed into the background and disparaged.

1Th 5:21

TEST EVERYTHING: "Dokimazo": to put to the test, used of the process of testing the genuineness of a coin (cp Rom 12:2), or of other metals (1Pe 1:7). All claimants to the possession of Holy Spirit gifts must be tested and authenticated (1Jo 4:1-3; Rev 2:2; cp 1Ti 4:1). This "discerning" of the Spirit was to be done by other possessors of the Holy Spirit, whose gifts were beyond dispute and whose confirmation of the Spirit's presence could not reasonably be questioned (1Co 12:10; 14:29; cp 2Th 2:2).

HOLD ON TO THE GOOD: Although the primary application may have to do with the use (or otherwise) of the Holy Spirit gifts, this is also a general principle by which truth of every kind may be determined. Even today, the rightness of our beliefs and our conduct must still be tested by the "Spirit-medium" of God's written word. We must not too readily accept some new thing, without first testing it thoroughly by the Scriptures. On the other hand, we must not immediately reject some new suggestion just because it is new -- for in so doing we may well be "quenching (the truth of) the Spirit" (v 19)!

Hold fast: Heb 3:6; 4:14; 10:23; 1Th 5:21; Rev 2:25; 3:11; 1Co 15:2.

1Th 5:22

AVOID EVERY KIND OF EVIL: "Abstain from every form of evil" (RSV). "Eidous" does not signify "appearance" (as in KJV translation), ie that which may be merely an illusion; rather, it signifies form or fashion or shape. "Avoid every evil you can see!"

The KJV has: "Abstain from all appearance of evil." "Corrupt affections indulged in the heart and evil practices allowed in the life will greatly tend to promote fatal errors in the mind; whereas purity of heart and integrity of life will dispose men to receive the truth in love. We should therefore abstain from evil, and all appearances of evil -- from sin, and that which looks like sin, leads to it and borders upon it. He who is not wary of the appearances of sin, who avoids not the temptations and approaches to sin, will not long abstain from the actual commission of sin" (Henry).

Consider the following passages in the context of this verse: 1Th 4:12; Exo 23:7; Isa 33:15; Mat 17:26,27; Rom 12:17; 1Co 8:13; 10:31-33; 2Co 6:3; 8:20,21; Phi 4:8; Jude 1:23.

1Th 5:23

Vv 23-28: Conclusion.

Vv 23,24: Paul's second prayer for the Thessalonians.

MAY GOD HIMSELF, THE GOD OF PEACE, SANCTIFY YOU THROUGH AND THROUGH: One of the loveliest, and most revealing, designations of the Father in all of Scripture is this: "the God of peace." It is one of the most attractive features in Paul's letters (Rom 15:30; 16:20; 2Co 13:11; Phi 4:9; 2Th 3:16; Heb 13:20). These titles and other similar ones (Rom 15:5,13; 2Co 1:3) proclaim the divine attributes in the eloquent fashion of Exodus 34: "The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty" (vv 6,7).

Peace is a term with more than one implication. It can, for example, describe the new relationship to God into which a man is brought as the result of the sacrifice of Christ (Eph 2:13-17); it can also represent the tranquillity of mind which is the product of true fellowship with God, and which is the companion of joy (1Th 5:16). In the introduction to this letter Paul prays for this "peace" on behalf of his brethren (1Th 1:1), and now in his conclusion he returns to the same prayer. (Note 1Co 14:33, in the context of the proper use of Spirit gifts: "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.")

The linkage in this verse of the words "through and through" ("holoteleis") and "whole" ("holokleros") -- literally, "whole to the end" and "the whole lot" -- is helpful. It indicates that "spirit/soul/body" is intended not so much as three distinct entities (in a scientific sense) but rather as a unit, equivalent to "you" in the first phrase of v 23.

MAY YOUR WHOLE SPIRIT, SOUL AND BODY BE KEPT BLAMELESS: Paul prays that every part of each believer be sanctified (set apart, made holy) absolutely -- not necessarily "unto" (AV) the coming, but more probably "at" (NIV) or "in" (Greek "en") the coming of Christ. (The same phrase occurs in 1Th 3:13, and a similar one in 1Th 2:19.)

Any sharp and absolute distinctions among the three "parts" of a person may be forced. Just as there are no perfectly clear-cut lines of distinction (but rather a fair degree of overlap) among "heart, soul, mind, and strength" in Mark 12:30, or among "heart, soul, and might" in Deu 6:5, so it may be with 1Th 5:23. Paul writes of the whole person, not several artificially separated elements. Nevertheless, some differentiation may be noted: (1) "Spirit'' ("pneuma") is reasonably equivalent to mind (1Co 5:3; 7:34; 2Co 7:1; Phi 1:27), and may in this case denote especially the "mind of the Spirit", the renewed mind of a believer (cp such passages as 1Co 2:14; Heb 4:12; etc). (2) By contrast, "soul" ("psuche") may represent the natural life -- of either a human being or an animal. Even in a man, "psuche" may indicate no more than the baser, natural elements of personality (Luke 2:19,22; 1Co 15:45; 1Pe 1:22; James 3:15; etc). (3) "Body" ("soma") is the physical form and substance. Without a natural "soul" (life), it is only a corpse. With a "soul" (life) but no (renewed) "spirit", it may be an ever-so-intelligent creature -- but it is still, in God's sight, spiritually "dead" (1Ti 5:6; Rom 8:13; Eph 2:1,5)! It is a scriptural teaching that God must be, and will be, glorified in our bodies as well as our minds (4:4; 1Co 6:13-20).


1Th 5:24

THE ONE WHO CALLS YOU IS FAITHFUL AND HE WILL DO IT: Paul adds this brief postscript to assure his readers that the God who called them (1Th 2:12; 4:7) will in fact answer his prayer. It is God's will that His children be sanctified and preserved (cp v 18), and it is in His character to be faithful to that expressed will (1Co 1:9; 2Co 1:18; 2Th 3:3; 2Ti 2:13; 1Jo 1:9; Rev 1:5; 3:14). "He who hath begun a good work in you will also bring in to completion" (Phi 1:6).

1Th 5:25

Vv 25-28: Farewell.

BROTHERS, PRAY FOR US: This is to Paul no mere formality. He has prayed for THEM (1Th 1:2-4n). Now he desperately desires their prayers on his behalf; probably he has in mind a special prayer at the memorial meeting (cp v 27). Such requests for prayer appear in a number of his letters (Rom 15:30-32; 2Co 1:11; Eph 6:19,20; Phi 1:19; Col 4:3,18; 2Th 3:1,2; Phm 1:22). Paul was far from infallible, though a Spirit-guided apostle; he knew that he needed the prayers of the believers as much as they needed his.

1Th 5:26

GREET ALL THE BROTHERS WITH A HOLY KISS: Those who believe in Christ become a family (Mat 12:46-50); the kiss is not a formal greeting, but a common affection among members of the same family. It was to be "holy", or chaste, so as to give no appearance of impropriety. The same practice is referred to also in Rom 16:16; 1Co 16:20; 2Co 13:12; 1Pe 5:14.

1Th 5:27

I CHARGE YOU BEFORE THE LORD TO HAVE THIS LETTER READ TO ALL THE BROTHERS: This implies that the letter was to be read at the general assembly of the church, probably just before the Breaking of Bread. Paul seems especially anxious that all in the church have the letter read to them (his language -- "I charge you" -- is very strong): the most likely reason is that he wanted to be sure that the unruly would hear its contents (v 14).

Paul considers this letter (and presumably he considered his later letters) to be authoritative. In insisting upon their being read to all the brethren he is inaugurating a new feature of worship, and establishing a new form of revelation to add to the variety already evident in the OT (Heb 1:1,2).        

1Th 5:28

THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST BE WITH YOU: Paul concludes as he has begun, with a prayer for grace from the Lord Jesus Christ (1Th 1:1). This is the grace that God offered to the apostle, and to his converts, and lastly to us. This grace leads a man to serve God in simplicity and truth. This grace is also the means by which weak, sinful man may carry forward the work of God in every generation, despite the trials and doubts and fears that he encounters along the way.

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God."
Previous Index