1 THESSALONIANS 5:16-18
BRIEF RECAP: We have meditated on various topics the past few weeks: The recognition of and relationship to spiritual leaders and their congregations, as well, as the relationship of believers among themselves. Everything that we have learned in those studies reflects our new life in Christ and how that manifests itself in our varied life circumstances and surroundings. This study is no different! It is so because all of these verses (5:12-22) are part of a larger context, one that is about life within the church. As meaningful as the relationship is between a congregation and its leaders, so is the relationship that we share as the “body of Christ.”
Intro: As Paul continues his letter, he gives a few more imperatives or commands for these Thessalonian believers to follow. Let’s take a (1)SOS here. The New Testament is written in various moods, most noticeably, the Indicative and Imperative moods. When we read our Bible, we will notice that we are being told about things that happened, and we have those things that occurred explained to us. This form of writing is the indicative mood, the expressing or explaining of the word of God. Often, most noticeably in the Epistles, when the explaining or narrating certain things ends, commands follow. This mode of writing is the Imperative mood.
So, what is going on? Simply this: The writer, based on all that he has just explained, wants his readers to apply the truth’s taught, so he starts writing in the imperative to give application to his readers.
These are not the only moods that we find in the New Testament. The Exclamative and interrogative are used as well. Both the element of emotion and the probing analytical and rhetorical questions we witness, in conjunction with the indicative and imperative, are to instruct us in the will of our God!
Interestingly, we find in our letter that the first three chapters are written in the indicative, and only in Chapter four do we begin to see commands being given. Out of the sixteen imperatives that Paul gives from chapter four onward, most of them arise in these verses that we have been meditating on in previous weeks (5: 11,13-22, 25, 26)!
FOCUS ONE: Back to our study. In the verses before us (16-18), Paul gives his readers three exhortations:
- Rejoice always
- Pray without ceasing
- Give thanks in everything
“You also became imitators of us and the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1:6). In expressing his thankfulness for these believers (1:2), Paul mentions their joy of the Holy Spirit at the time of their salvation. This joy was upon them in the midst of the “tribulation” they were experiencing due to trusting in Christ. Paul credits the Holy Spirit for the delight they have. That makes good sense, right?
Joy is a work or fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Even in Isaiah 61:10, the prophet writes of rejoicing in God for this very same thing, salvation! Often we misplace our joy, or worse still, confuse it with our definition of happiness. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, BUT rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Christians are to be joy-filled people. We are to “rejoice always” in what God has accomplished for us in Christ. Situations in our lives will change, effecting our mood. In one day we can experience happiness, sorrow, anger, etc., all depending on the circumstances we are facing. But, regardless of our situations, our joy remains the same! When we understand that our joy does not hinge on our ever-changing conditions in life, but in our redemption in Jesus Christ, which doesn’t change, we will find that our lives, minds, and hearts are affected and changed forever with a “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8)!
FOCUS TWO: What does the Apostle mean when he says “pray without ceasing?” Does he mean that Christians are to be in a constant, formal, and audible prayer mode their whole lives? Would that even be possible? Obviously not.
The idea or thought Paul is conveying is relatively simple. He wants his readers to know that they need to live their lives in constant dependence on their Father in heaven. They are to bring all their cares, burdens, anxieties, hopes, and dreams before Him in prayer. Why? Because He cares for them and is the only one who can provide for them ideally concerning all their needs (Philippians 4:6-7; James 1:17).
There is no sound argument regarding this verse that would substantiate the idea of unending repetition in our prayer lives. Jesus Himself spoke against such a thing in Matthew 6:7; Then giving His disciples an example to follow. In contrast to such a thought, we are to be a people that pray persistently (Luke 11:1-13) and regularly (Ephesians 6:19).
FOCUS THREE: Thank-less-ness is a characteristic of unbelievers (Romans 1:21), not redeemed Christians! Does that mean that we should be thankful for the horrific personal tragedy that happened in our lives or in the life of someone we love? Should we celebrate the terrible misfortunes of others? No, obviously not. Instead, we ought to be people who are diligently and intentionally looking for the good in the midst of the bad in the middle of our ever-changing circumstances. There is always something good or some good reasons to be thankful, even if they are a bit hard to see at first.
Perhaps you have been praying for a loved one for many years to come to Christ. However, year after year, you witnessed their hearts getting colder to the gospel. In despair over their soul, you cried out to God to do whatever it takes to bring that dear one to repentant faith. He answered your prayer.
You now find yourself in the emergency room, waiting, worrying. Days go by, even weeks, the healing and recovering process are brutal. Not much to be thankful for here, you think to yourself. But what you didn’t know was that one of the caregivers was praying for your loved one. A friend was reading the Bible to him/her when they visited. And your loving Father in heaven was working through these difficult, painful circumstances to bring this dear one to repentance.
Ultimately, through this experience, your loved one repents, and his/her life is changed forever because of Christ. Your prayers were answered! Sometimes it’s hard to see the good when things are so bad. Keep looking. The Lord promises it’s there (Romans 8:28)!
Dear Christian, when we join this appeal with the previous two, rejoicing and praying, they give us a biblical roadmap for victorious Christian living!
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
- 1. Turn in your Bible to Philippians 1. Read through the chapter and find where Paul ends writing in the indicative (simple statements of fact) and begins writing in the imperative (commands or exhortations). Look at some other Epistles and do the same. This exercise will help you in your application of the truths taught.
- 2. What other scriptures can you locate that teach on these three topics: Prayer, Joy, and thankfulness? Write them down and meditate on where your strengths and weaknesses are. Spend time in prayer asking our Father in heaven to help you “excel still more” (4:1)!
- 3. Think of an example in your own life when you felt nothing good was going on in your situation. How might understanding these three commands (rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and thankfulness) help you get through the next hard or bleak period in your life?
- 4. What do Philippians 1:6 and 2:12b-13 teach us regarding our personal sanctification?
- Who begun the work in us?
- Who will complete it?
- Who is responsible to “work it out” (play it out) their salvation?
- By who’s strength and will working within us is this even possible?
- Based on these facts, would you say personal holiness is a passive act on our part or a partnership with God as we live out in our lives what He has implanted within us?
- How might this truth help you the next time things seem to go wrong?
- (1) Step Outside Study