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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

1 Thessalonians 5

Analysis Of The Chapter

This chapter consists of two parts:

  1. The continuation of the subject of the coming of the Lord; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; and,
  2. Various practical exhortations.

I. In the first part, the apostle states:

(1)That it was well understood by the Thessalonians that the coming of the Lord would be sudden, and at an unexpected moment,1 Thessalonians 5:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2;

(2)He refers to the effect of his coming on the wicked and the righteous, and says that it would be attended with the sudden and inevitable destruction of the former, 1 Thessalonians 5:3; but that the result of his coming would be far different on the righteous; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11.

The prospect of his coming was fitted to make them watchful and sober, 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8; and his advent would be attended with their certain salvation; 1 Thessalonians 5:9.

II. In the second part of the chapter, he exhorts them to show proper respect for their spiritual teachers and rulers, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; to endeavor to restrain the unruly, to support the feeble, and to evince toward all the spirit of patience and forbearance, 1 Thessalonians 5:14; to manifest a meek and benevolent manner of life, 1 Thessalonians 5:15; to rejoice always, 1 Thessalonians 5:16; to pray constantly, 1 Thessalonians 5:17; to render thanks to God in every situation, 1 Thessalonians 5:18; to cherish the influences of the Holy Ghost on their souls, 1 Thessalonians 5:19; to show respect for all the divine prophetic communications, 1 Thessalonians 5:20; to consider and examine carefully everything submitted to them for belief; to adhere steadfastly to all that was good and true, 1 Thessalonians 5:21; and to avoid the very appearance of evil, 1 Thessalonians 5:22. The Epistle closes with a fervent prayer that God would sanctify them entirely; with an earnest entreaty that they would pray for him; with a command that the Epistle should be read to all the churches, and with the benediction; 1 Thessalonians 5:22-28.

Verse 1

But of the times and the seasons - See the notes, Acts 1:7. The reference here is to the coming of the Lord Jesus, and to the various events connected with his advent; see the close of 1 Thessalonians 4:0.

Ye have no need that I write unto you - That is, they had received all the information on the particular point to which he refers, which it was necessary they should have. He seems to refer particularly to the suddenness of his coming. It is evident from this, as well as from other parts of this Epistle, that this had been, from some cause, a prominent topic which he had dwelt on when he was with them; see the notes on 1 Thessalonians 1:10.

Verse 2

For yourselves know perfectly - That is, they had been fully taught this. There could be no doubt in their minds respecting it.

The day of the Lord so cometh - Of the Lord Jesus - for so the word “Lord” in the New Testament commonly means; see the notes, Acts 1:24. The “day of the Lord” means that day in which he will be manifested, or in which he will be the prominent object in view of the assembled universe.

As a thief in the night - Suddenly and unexpectedly, as a robber breaks into a dwelling. A thief comes without giving any warning, or any indications of his approach. He not only gives none, but he is careful that none shall be given. It is a point with him that, if possible, the man whose house he is about to rob shall have no means of ascertaining his approach until he comes suddenly upon him; compare Matthew 24:37-43 notes; Luke 12:39-40 notes. In this way the Lord Jesus will return to judgment; and this proves that all the attempts to determine the day, the year, or the century when he will come, must be fallacious. He intends that his coming to this world shall be sudden and unexpected, “like that of a thief in the night;” that there shall be no such indications of his approach that it shall not be sudden and unexpected; and that no warning of it shall be given so that people may know the time of his appearing. If this be not the point of the comparison in expressions like this, what is it? Is there anything else in which his coming will resemble that of a thief? And if this be the true point of comparison, how can it be true that people can ascertain when that is to occur? Assuredly, if they can, his coming will not be like that of a thief; comp. notes on Acts 1:7.

Verse 3

For when they shall say, Peace and safety - That is, when the wicked shall say this, for the apostle here refers only to those on whom “sudden destruction” will come; compare Matthew 24:36-42 notes; 2 Peter 3:3-4 notes. It is clear from this:

(1) That when the Lord Jesus shall come the world will not all be converted. There will be some to be “destroyed.” How large this proportion will be, it is impossible now to ascertain. This supposition, however, is not inconsistent with the belief that there will be a general prevalence of the gospel before that period.

(2) The impenitent and wicked world will be sunk in carnal security when he comes. They will regard themselves as safe. They will see no danger. They will give no heed to warning. They will be unprepared for his advent. So it has always been. it seems to be a universal truth in regard to all the visitations of God to wicked people for punishment, that he comes upon them at a time when they are not expecting him, and that they have no faith in the predictions of his advent. So it was in the time of the flood; in the destruction of Sodom Gomorrah, and Jerusalem; in the overthrow of Babylon: so it is when the sinner dies, and so it will be when the Lord Jesus shall return to judge the world. One of the most remarkable facts about the history of man is, that he takes no warning from his Maker; he never changes his plans, or feels any emotion, because his Creator “thunders damnation along his path,” and threatens to destroy him in hell.

Sudden destruction - Destruction that was unforeseen (αἰφνίδιος aiphnidios) or unexpected. The word here rendered “sudden,” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, except in Luke 21:34, “Lest that day come upon you unawares.” The word rendered “destruction” - ὄλεθρος olethros - occurs in the New Testament only here and in 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2Th 1:9; 1 Timothy 6:9, in all of which places it is correctly translated destruction. The word destruction is familiar to us. It means, properly, demolition; pulling down; the annihilation of the form of anything, or that form of parts which constitutes it what it is; as the destruction of grass by eating; of a forest by cutting down the trees; of life by murder; of the soul by consigning it to misery. It does not necessarily mean annihilation - for a house or city is not annihilated which is pulled down or burnt; a forest is not annihilated which is cut down; and a man is not annihilated whose character and happiness are destroyed. In regard to the destruction here referred to, we may remark:

(1)It will be after the return of the Lord Jesus to judgment; and hence it is not true that the wicked experience all the punishment which they ever will in the present life;

(2)That it seems fairly implied that the destruction which they will then suffer will not be annihilation, but will be connected with conscious existence; and,

(3)That they will then be cut off from life and hope and salvation.

How can the solemn affirmation that they will be “destroyed suddenly,” be consistent with the belief that all people will be saved? Is it the same thing to be destroyed and to be saved? Does the Lord Jesus, when he speaks of the salvation of his people, say that he comes to destroy them?

As travail upon a woman with child - This expression is sometimes used to denote great consternation, as in Psalms 48:6; Jeremiah 6:24; Micah 4:9-10; great pain, as Isaiah 53:11; Jeremiah 4:31; John 16:21; or the suddenness with which anything occurs; Jeremiah 13:21. It seems here to be used to denote two things; first, that the coming of the Lord to a wicked world will be sudden; and, secondly, that it will be an event of the most distressing and overwhelming nature.

And they shall not escape - That is, the destruction, or punishment. They calculated on impunity, but now the time will have come when none of these refuges will avail them, and no rocks will cover them from the “wrath to come.”

Verse 4

But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief - The allusion here is to the manner in which a thief or robber accomplishes his purpose. He comes in the night, when people are asleep. So, says the apostle, the Lord will come to the wicked. They are like those who are asleep when the thief comes upon them. But it is not so with Christians. They are, in relation to the coming of the day of the Lord, as people are who are awake when the robber comes. They could see his approach, and could prepare for it, so that it would not take them by surprise.

Verse 5

Ye are all the children of light - All who are Christians. The phrase” children of light” is a Hebraism, meaning that they were the enlightened children of God.

And the children of the day - Who live as if light always shone round about them. The meaning is, that in reference to the coming of the Lord they are as people would be in reference to the coming of a thief, if there were no night and no necessity of slumber. They would always be wakeful and active, and it would be impossible to come upon them by surprise. Christians are always to be wakeful and vigilant; they are so to expect the coming of the Redeemer, that he will not find them off their guard, and will not come upon them by surprise.

Verse 6

Therefore let us no sleep, as do others - As the wicked world does; compare notes, Matthew 25:5.

But let us watch - That is, for the coming of the Lord. Let us regard it as an event which is certainly to occur, and which may occur at any moment; notes, Matthew 25:13.

And be sober - The word here used (νήφω nēphō) is rendered sober in 1 Thessalonians 5:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:8; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 5:8; and watch in 2 Timothy 4:5, and 1 Peter 4:7. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. It properly means, to be temperate or abstinent, especially in respect to wine. Joseph. Jewish Wars, 5. 5, 7; Xenophon, Cyr. 7. 5, 20; and then it is used in a more general sense, as meaning to be sober-minded, watchful, circumspect. In this passage there is an allusion to the fact that persons not only sleep in the night, but that they are frequently drunken in the night also. The idea is, that the Lord Jesus, when he comes, will find the wicked sunk not only in carnal security, but in sinful indulgences, and that those who are Christians ought not only to be awake and to watch as in the day-time, but to be temperate. They ought to be like persons engaged in the sober, honest, and appropriate employments of the day, and not like those who waste their days in sleep, and their nights in revelry.

A man who expects soon to see the Son of God coming to judgment, ought to be a sober man. No one would wish to be summoned from a scene of dissipation to his bar. And who would wish to be called there from the ball-room; from the theater; from the scene of brilliant worldly amusemet? The most frivolous votary of the world; the most accomplished and flattered and joyous patron of the ball-room; the most richly-dressed and admired daughter of vanity, would tremble at the thought of being summoned from those brilliant halls, where pleasure is now found, to the judgment bar. They would wish to have at least a little time that they might prepare for so solemn a scene. But if so, as this event may at any moment occur, why should they not be habitually sober-minded? Why should they not aim to be always in that state of mind which they know would be appropriate to meet him? Especially should Christians live with such vigilance and soberness as to be always prepared to meet the Son of God. What Christian can think it appropriate for him to go up to meet his Saviour from the theater, the ballroom, or the brilliant worldly party? A Christian ought always so to live that the coming of the Son of God in the clouds of heaven would not excite the least alarm.

Verse 7

For they that sleep, sleep in the night - Night is the time for sleep. The day is the time for action, and in the light of day people should be employed. Night and sleep are made for each other, and so are the day and active employment. The meaning here is, that it is in accordance with the character of those who are of the night, that is, sinners, to be sunk in stupidity and carnal security, as if they were asleep; but for the children of the day, that is, for Christians, it is no more appropriate to be inactive than it is for people to sleep in the daytime. “It is not to be wondered at that wicked people are negligent and are given to vice, for they are ignorant of the will of God. Negligence in doing right, and corrupt morals, usually accompany ignorance.” Rosenmuller.

And they that be drunken, are drunken in the night - The night is devoted by them to revelry and dissipation. It is in accordance with the usual custom in all lands and times, that the night is the usual season for riot and revelry. The leisure, the darkness, the security from observation, and the freedom from the usual toils and cares of life, have caused those hours usually to be selected for indulgence in intemperate eating and drinking. This was probably more particularly the case among the ancients than with us, and much as drunkenness abounded, it was much more rare to see a man intoxicated in the day-time than it is now. To be drunk then in the day-time was regarded as the greatest disgrace. See Polyb. Exc. Leg. 8, and Apul. viii., as quoted by Wetstein; compare Acts 2:15 note; Isaiah 5:11 note. The object of the apostle here is, to exhort Christians to be sober and temperate, and the meaning is, that it is as disgraceful for them to indulge in habits of revelry, as for a man to be drunk in the day-time. The propriety of this exhortation, addressed to Christians, is based on the fact that intoxication was hardly regarded as a crime, and, surrounded as they were with those who freely indulged in drinking to excess, they were then, as they are now, exposed to the danger of disgracing their religion. The actions of Christians ought always to be such that they may be performed in open day and in the view of all the world. Other people seek the cover of the night to perform their deeds; the Christian should do nothing which may not be done under the full blaze of day.

Verse 8

But let us, who are of the day, be sober - Temperate, as people usually are in the daytime.

Putting on the breast-plate of faith and love - This is a favorite comparison of the apostle Paul; see it explained at length in the notes on Ephesians 6:14.

And for an helmet, the hope of salvation - See the notes at Ephesians 6:17.

Verse 9

For God hath not appointed us to wrath - This is designed as an encouragement to effort to secure our salvation. The wish of God is to save us, and therefore we should watch and be sober; we should take to ourselves the whole of the Christian armor, and strive for victory. If he had appointed us to wrath, effort would have been in vain, for we could do nothing but yield to our inevitable destiny. The hope of a final triumph should animate us in our efforts, and cheer us in our struggles with our foes. How much does the hope of victory animate the soldier in battle! When morally certain of success, how his arm is nerved! When everything conspires to favor him, and when he seems to feel that God fights for him, and intends to give him the victory, how his heart exults, and how strong is he in battle! Hence, it was a great point among the ancients, when about entering into battle, to secure evidence that the gods favored them, and meant to give them the victory.

For this purpose they offered sacrifices, and consulted the flight of birds and the entrails of animals; and for this armies were accompanied by soothsayers and priests, that they might interpret any signs which might occur that would be favorable, or to propitiate the favor of the gods by sacrifice. See Homer, passim; Arrian’s Expedition of Alexander, and the classic writers generally. The apostle alludes to something of this kind here. He would excite us to maintain the Christian warfare manfully, by the assurance that God intends that we shall be triumphant. This we are to learn by no conjectures of soothsayers; by no observation of the flight of birds; by no sacrifice which we can make to propitiate his favor, but by the unerring assurance of his holy word. If we are Christians, we know that he intends our salvation, and that victory will be ours; if we are willing to become Christians, we know that the Almighty arm will be stretched out to aid us, and that the “gates of hell” cannot prevent it.

Verse 10

Who died for us - That is, to redeem us. He designed by his death that we should ultimately live with him; and this effect of his death could be secured only as it was an atoning sacrifice.

Whether we wake or sleep - Whether we are found among the living or the dead when he comes. The object here is to show that the one class would have no advantage over the other. This was designed to calm their minds in their trials, and to correct an error which seems to have prevailed in the belief that those who were found alive when he should return would have some priority over those who were dead; see the notes on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Should live together with him - See the notes at John 14:3. The word rendered “together” (ἁμα hama) is not to be regarded as connected with the phrase “with him” - as meaning that he and they would be “together,” but it refers to those who “wake and those who sleep” - those who are alive and those who are dead - meaning that they would be “together” or would be with the Lord “at the same time;” there would be no priority or precedence. Rosenmuller.

Verse 11

Wherefore comfort yourselves - notes, 1 Thessalonians 4:18.

And edify one another - Strive to build up each other, or to establish each other in the faith by these truths; notes, Romans 14:19.

Even as also ye do - Continue to do it. Let nothing intervene to disturb the harmony and consolation which you have been accustomed to derive from these high and holy doctrines.

Verse 12

And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you - Who they were is not mentioned. It is evident, however, that the church was not left without appointed persons to minister to it when its founders should be away. We know that there were presbyters ordained over the church at Ephesus, and over the churches in Crete (Acts 20:17; Titus i. 5), and that there were bishops and deacons at Philippi Philippians 1:1, and there is every reason to believe that similar officers would be appointed in every newly organized church, The word “know” seems to mean that they were not to make themselves strangers to them - to be cold and distant toward them - to be ignorant of their needs, or to be indifferent to them. While a people are not obtrusively to intermeddle with the business of a minister, anymore than they are with that of any other man, yet there are things in regard to him with which they should be acquainted. They should seek to be personally acquainted with him, and make him their confidant and counselor in their spiritual troubles. They should seek his friendship, and endeavor to maintain all proper contact with him. They should not regard him as a distant man, or as a stranger among them. They should so far understand his circumstances as to know what is requisite to make him comfortable, and should be on such terms that they may readily and cheerfully furnish what he needs. And they are to “know” or regard him as their spiritual teacher and ruler; not to be strangers to the place where he preaches the word of life, and not to listen to his admonitions and reproofs as those of a stranger, but as those of a pastor and friend.

Which labour among you - There is no reason to suppose, as many have done, that the apostle here refers to different classes of ministers. He rather refers to different parts of the work which the same ministers perform. The first is, that they “labor” - that is, evidently, in preaching the gospel. For the use of the word, see John 4:38, where it occurs twice; 1Co 15:10; 1 Corinthians 16:16. The word is one which properly expresses wearisome toil, and implies that the office of preaching is one that demands constant industry.

And are over you in the Lord - That is, by the appointment of the Lord, or under his direction. They are not absolute sovereigns, but are themselves subject to one who is over them - the Lord Jesus. On the word here rendered “are over you” (προΐσταμένους proistamenous) see the notes on Romans 12:8, where it is translated “ruleth.”

And admonish you - The word here used (νουθετέω noutheteō) is rendered “admonish,” and “admonished,” in Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16; 1Th 5:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:15; and warn, and warning, 1 Corinthians 4:14; Col 1:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:14. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. It means, to put in mind; and then to warn, entreat, exhort. It is a part of the duty of a minister to put his people in mind of the truth; to warn them of danger; to exhort them to perform their duty; to admonish them if they go astray.

Verse 13

And to esteem them very highly in love - To cherish for them an affectionate regard. The office of a minister of religion demands respect. They who are faithful in that office have a claim on the kind regards of their fellow-men. The very nature of the office requires them to do good to others, and there is no benefactor who should be treated with more affectionate regard than he who endeavors to save us from ruin; to impart to us the consolations of the gospel in affliction; and to bring us and our families to heaven.

For their work’s sake - Not primarily as a personal matter, or on their own account, but on account of the work in which they are engaged. It is a work whose only tendency, when rightly performed, is to do good. It injures no man, but contributes to the happiness of all. It promotes intelligence, industry, order, neatness, economy, temperance, chastity, charity, and kindness in this world, and leads to eternal blessedness in the world to come. A man who sincerely devotes himself to such a work has a claim on the kind regards of his fellow-men.

And be at peace among yourselves - See the Mark 9:50 note; Romans 12:18; Romans 14:19 notes.

Verse 14

Now we exhort you, brethren - Margin, “beseech.” This earnest entreaty is evidently addressed to the whole church, and not to the ministers of the gospel only. The duties here enjoined are such as pertain to all Christians in their appropriate spheres, and should not be left to be performed by ministers only.

Warn them - The same word which in 1 Thessalonians 5:12 is rendered “admonish.” It is the duty of every church member, as well as of the ministers of the gospel, affectionately to admonish those whom they know to be living contrary to the requirements of the gospel. One reason why there is so little piety in the church, and why so many professors of religion go astray, is, that the great mass of church members feel no responsibility on this subject. They suppose that it is the duty only of the officers of the church to admonish an erring brother, and hence many become careless and cold and worldly, and no one utters a kind word to them to recall them to a holy walk with God.

That are unruly - Margin, “disorderly.” The word here used (ἄτακτος ataktos), is one which properly means “not keeping the ranks,” as of soldiers; and then irregular, confused, neglectful of duty, disorderly. The reference here is to the members of the church who were irregular in their Christian walk. It is not difficult, in an army, when soldiers get out of the line, or leave their places in the ranks, or are thrown into confusion, to see that little can be accomplished in such a state of irregularity and confusion. As little difficult is it, when the members of a church are out of their places, to see that little can be accomplished in such a state. Many a church is like an army where half the soldiers are out of the line; where there is entire insubordination in the ranks, and where not half of them could be depended on for efficient service in a campaign. Indeed, an army would accomplish little if as large a proportion of it were irregular, idle, remiss, or pursuing their own aims to the neglect of the public interest, as there are members of the church who can never be depended on in accomplishing the great purpose for which it was organized.

Comfort the feeble-minded - The dispirited; the disheartened; the downcast. To do this is also the duty of each church member. There are almost always those who are in this condition, and it is not easy to appreciate the value of a kind word to one in that state. Christians are assailed by temptation; in making efforts to do good they are opposed and become disheartened; in their contests with their spiritual foes they are almost overcome; they walk through shades of spiritual night, and find no comfort. In such circumstances, how consoling is the voice of a friend! How comforting is it to feel that they are not alone! How supporting to be addressed by one who has had the same conflicts, and has triumphed! Every Christian - especially every one who has been long in the service of his Master - has a fund of experience which is the property of the church, and which may be of incalculable value to those who are struggling now amidst many embarrassments along the Christian way. He who has that experience should help a weak and sinking brother; he should make his own experience of the efficacy of religion in his trials and conflicts, the means of sustaining others in their struggles. There is no one who would not reach out his hand to save a child borne down rapid stream; yet how often do experienced and strong men in the Christian faith pass by those who are struggling in the “deep waters, where the proud waves have come over their souls!”

Support the weak - See the notes at Romans 15:1.

Be patient toward all men - See the Greek word here used, explained in the notes on 1 Corinthians 13:4; compare Ephesians 4:2; Galatians 5:22; Colossians 3:12.

Verse 15

See that none render evil for evil - See the notes on Matthew 5:39, Matthew 5:44. The meaning here is, that we are not to take vengeance; compare notes on Romans 12:17, Romans 12:19. This law is positive, and is universally binding. The moment we feel ourselves acting from a desire to “return evil for evil,” that moment we are acting wrong. It may be right to defend our lives and the lives of our friends; to seek the protection of the law for our persons, reputation, or property, against those who would wrong us; to repel the assaults of calumniators and slanderers, but in no case should the motive be to do them wrong for the evil which they have done us.

But ever follow that which is good - Which is benevolent, kind, just, generous; see the notes, Romans 12:20-21.

Both among yourselves, and to all men - The phrase “to all men,” seems to have been added to avoid the possibility of misconstruction. Some might possibly suppose that this was a good rule to be observed toward those of their own number, but that a greater latitude in avenging injuries might be allowable toward their enemies out of the church. The apostle, therefore, says that the rule is universal. It relates to the pagan, to infidels, sceptics, and persecutors, as well as to the members of the church. To every man we are to do good as we are able - no matter what they do to us. This is the rule which God himself observes toward the evil and unthankful (notes, Matthew 5:45), and is one of the original and beautiful laws of our holy religion.

Verse 16

Rejoice evermore - See the notes on Philippians 3:1; Philippians 4:4.

Verse 17

Pray without ceasing - See the notes on Romans 12:12. The direction here may be fairly construed as meaning:

(1) That we are to be regular and constant in the observance of the stated seasons of prayer. We are to observe the duty of prayer in the closet, in the family, and in the assembly convened to call on the name of the Lord. We are not to allow this duty to be interrupted or intermitted by any trifling cause. We are so to act that it may be said we pray regularly in the closet, in the family, and at the usual seasons when the church prays to which we belong.

(2) We are to maintain an uninterrupted and constant spirit of prayer. We are to be in such a frame of mind as to be ready to pray publicly if requested; and when alone, to improve any moment of leisure which we may have when we feel ourselves strongly inclined to pray. That Christian is in a bad state of mind who has suffered himself, by attention to worldly cares, or by light conversation, or by gaiety and vanity, or by reading an improper book, or by eating or drinking too much, or by late hours at night among the thoughtless and the vain, to be brought into such a condition that he cannot engage in prayer with proper feelings. There has been evil done to the soul if it is not prepared for communion with God at all times, and if it would not find pleasure in approaching his holy throne.

Verse 18

In every thing give thanks - See the Ephesians 5:20 note; Philippians 4:6 note. We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning. Chrysostom, once the archbishop of Constantinople, and then driven into exile, persecuted, and despised, died far away form all the splendors of the capital, and all the comforts and honors which he had enjoyed, uttering his favorite motto - δόξα τῷ Θεῷ πάντων ἕνεκεν doxa tō Theō pantōn heneken - “glory to God for all things.” Bibliotheca Sacra, 1:700. So we may praise God for everything that happens to us under his government. A man owes a debt of obligation to him for anything which will recall him from his wanderings, and which will prepare him for heaven. Are there any dealings of God toward people which do not contemplate such an end? Is a man ever made to drink the cup of affliction when no drop of mercy is intermingled? Is he ever visited with calamity which does not in some way contemplate his own temporal or eternal good! Could we see all, we should see that we are never placed in circumstances in which there is not much for which we should thank God. And when, in his dealings, a cloud seems to cover his face, let us remember the good things without number which we have received, and especially remember that we are in the world of redeeming love, and we shall find enough for which to be thankful.

For this is the will of God - That is, that you should be grateful. This is what God is pleased to require you to perform in the name of the Lord Jesus. In the gift of that Saviour he has laid the foundation for that claim, and he requires that you should not be unmindful of the obligation; see the notes, Hebrews 13:15.

Verse 19

Quench not the Spirit - This language is taken from the way of putting out a fire, and the sense is, we are not to extinguish the influences of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Possibly there may be an allusion here to fire on an altar, which was to be kept constantly burning. This fire may have been regarded as emblematic of devotion, and as denoting that that devotion was never to become extinct. The Holy Spirit is the source of true devotion, and hence the enkindlings of piety in the heart, by the Spirit, are never to be quenched. Fire may be put out by pouring on water; or by covering it with any incombustible substance; or by neglecting to supply fuel. If it is to be made to burn, it must be nourished with proper care and attention. The Holy Spirit, in his influences on the soul, is here compared with fire that might be made to burn more intensely, or that might be extinguished.

In a similar manner the apostle gives this direction to Timothy, “I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up ἀναζωπυρεῖν anazōpurein, kindle up, cause to burn) the gift of God;” 2 Timothy 1:6. Anything that will tend to damp the ardor of piety in the soul; to chill our feelings; to render us cold and lifeless in the service of God, may be regarded as “quenching the Spirit.” Neglect of cultivating the Christian graces, or of prayer, of the Bible, of the sanctuary, of a careful watchfulness over the heart, will do it. Worldliness, vanity, levity, ambition, pride, the love of dress, or indulgence in an improper train of thought, will do it. It is a great rule in religion that all the piety which there is in the soul is the fair result of culture. A man has no more religion than he intends to have; he has no graces of the Spirit which he does not seek; he has no deadness to the world which is not the object of his sincere desire, and which he does not aim to have. Any one, if he will, may make elevated attainments in the divine life; or he may make his religion merely a religion of form, and know little of its power and its consolations.

Verse 20

Despise not prophesyings - On the subject of prophesyings in the early Christian church, see the notes on 1 Corinthians 14:1 ff1 ff. The reference here seems to be to preaching. They were not to undervalue it in comparison with other things. It is possible that in Thessalonica, as appears to have been the case subsequently in Corinth (compare 1 Corinthians 14:19), there were those who regarded the power of working miracles, or of speaking in unknown tongues, as a much more eminent endowment than that of stating the truths of religion in language easily understood. It would not be unnatural that comparisons should be made between these two classes of endowments, much to the disadvantage of the latter; and hence may have arisen this solemn caution not to disregard or despise the ability to make known divine truth in intelligible language. A similar counsel may not be inapplicable to us now. The office of setting forth the truth of God is to be the permanent office in the church; that of speaking foreign languages by miraculous endowment, was to be temporary. But the office of addressing mankind on the great duties of religion, and of publishing salvation, is to be God’s great ordinance for converting the world. It should not be despised, and no man commends his own wisdom who contemns it - for:

(1) It is God’s appointment - the means which he has designated for saving people.

(2) It has too much to entitle it to respect to make it proper to despise or contemn it. There is nothing else that has so much power over mankind as the preaching of the gospel; there is no other institution of heaven or earth among people that is destined to exert so wide and permanent an influence as the Christian ministry.

(3) It is an influence which is wholly good. No man is made the poorer, or the less respectable, or more miserable in life or in death, by following the counsels of a minister of Christ when he makes known the gospel.

(4) He who despises it contemns that which is designed to promote his own welfare, and which is indispensable for his salvation. It remains yet to be shown that any man has promoted his own happiness, or the welfare of his family, by affecting to treat with contempt the instructions of the Christian ministry.

Verse 21

Prove all things - Subject everything submitted to you to be believed to the proper test. The word here used (δοκιμάζετε dokimazete), is one that is properly applicable to metals, referring to the art of the assayer, by which the true nature and value of the metal is tested; see notes, 1 Corinthians 3:13. This trial was usually made by fire. The meaning here is, that they were carefully to examine everything proposed for their belief. They were not to receive it on trust; to take it on assertion; to believe it because it was urged with vehemence, zeal, or plausibility. In the various opinions and doctrines which were submitted to them for adoption, they were to apply the appropriate tests from reason and the word of God, and what they found to be true they were to embrace; what was false they were to reject. Christianity does not require people to disregard their reason, or to be credulous. It does not expect them to believe anything because others say it is so. It does not make it a duty to receive as undoubted truth all that synods and councils have decreed; or all that is advanced by the ministers of religion. It is, more than any other form of religion, the friend of free inquiry, and would lead people everywhere to understand the reason of the opinions which they entertain; compare Acts 17:11-12; 1 Peter 3:15.

Hold fast that which is good - Which is in accordance with reason and the word of God; which is adapted to promote the salvation of the soul and the welfare of society. This is just as much a duty as it is to “prove all things.” A man who has applied the proper tests, and has found out what is truth, is bound to embrace it and to hold it fast. He is not at liberty to throw it away, as if it were valueless; or to treat truth and falsehood alike. It is a duty which he owes to himself and to God to adhere to it firmly, and to suffer the loss of all things rather than to abandon it. There are few more important rules in the New Testament than the one in this passage. It shows what is the true nature of Christianity, and it is a rule whose practical value cannot but be felt constantly in our lives. Other religions require their votaries to receive everything upon trust; Christianity asks us to examine everything.

Error, superstition, bigotry, and fanaticism attempt to repress free discussion, by saying that there are certain things which are too sacred in their nature, or which have been too long held, or which are sanctioned by too many great and holy names, to permit their being subjected to the scrutiny of common eyes, or to be handled by common hands. In opposition to all this, Christianity requires us to examine everything - no matter by whom held; by what councils ordained; by what venerableness of antiquity sustained; or by what sacredness it may be invested. We are to receive no opinion until we are convinced that it is true; we are to be subjected to no pains or penalties for not believing what we do not perceive to be true; we are to be prohibited from examining no opinion which our fellow-men regard as true, and which they seek to make others believe. No popular current in favor of any doctrine; no influence which name and rank and learning can give it, is to commend it to us as certainly worthy of our belief. By whomsoever held, we are to examine it freely before we embrace it; but when we are convinced that it is true, it is to be held, no matter what current of popular opinion or prejudice maybe against it; no matter what ridicule may be poured upon it; and no matter though the belief of it may require us to die a martyr’s death.

Verse 22

Abstain from all appearance of evil - Not only from evil itself, but from that which seems to be wrong. There are many things which are known to be wrong. They are positively forbidden by the laws of heaven, and the world concurs in the sentiment that they are wicked. But there are also many things about which there may be some reasonable doubt. It is not quite easy to determine in the case what is right or wrong. The subject has not been fully examined, or the question of its morality may be so difficult to settle, that the mind may be nearly or quite balanced in regard to it. There are many things which, in themselves, may not appear to us to be positively wrong, but which are so considered by large and respectable portions of the community; and for us to do them would be regarded as inconsistent and improper. There are many things, also, in respect to which there is great variety of sentiment among mankind - where one portion would regard them as proper, and another as improper.

There are things, also, where, whatever may be our motive, we may be certain that our conduct will be regarded as improper. A great variety of subjects, such as those pertaining to dress, amusements, the opera, the ball-room, games of chance and hazard, and various practices in the transaction of business, come under this general class; which, though on the supposition that they cannot be proved to be in themselves positively wrong or forbidden, have much the “appearance” of evil, and will be so interpreted by others. The safe and proper rule is to lean always to the side of virtue. In these instances it may be certain that there will be no sin committed by abstaining; there may be by indulgence. No command of God, or of propriety, will be violated if we decline complying with these customs; but on the other hand we may wound the cause of religion by yielding to what possibly is a mere temptation. No one ever does injury or wrong by abstaining from the pleasures of the ball-room, the theater, or a glass of wine; who can indulge in them without, in the view of large and respectable portions of the community, doing that which has the “appearance” at least of “evil?”

Verse 23

And the very God of peace - The God who gives peace or happiness; compare notes, Romans 1:7.

Sanctify you - See the notes at John 17:17.

Wholly - ὁλοτελεῖς holoteleis. In every part; completely. It is always proper to pray that God would make his people entirely holy. A prayer for perfect sanctification, however, should not be adduced as a proof that it is in fact attained in the present life.

Your whole spirit and soul and body - There is an allusion here, doubtless, to the popular opinion in regard to what constitutes man. We have a body; we have animal life and instincts in common with the inferior creation; and we have also a rational and immortal soul. This distinction is one that appears to the mass of people to be true, and the apostle speaks of it in the language commonly employed by mankind. At the same time, no one can demonstrate that it is not founded in truth. The body we see, and there can be no difference of opinion in regard to its existence. The “soul” (ἡ ψυκὴ hē psuchē - psyche), the vital principle, the animal life, or the seat of the senses, desires, affections, appetites, we have in common with other animals. It pertains to the nature of the animal creation, though more perfect in some animals than in others, but is in all distinct from the soul as the seat of conscience, and as capable of moral agency.

See the use of the word in Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; Luke 12:20; Acts 20:10; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 8:9, et al. In the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy this was distinguished from the higher rational nature ὁ νοῦς, τὸ πνεῦμα ho nous, to pneuma as this last belonged to man alone. This “psyche” (ψυχὴ psuchē) “soul.” or life, it is commonly supposed, becomes extinct at death. It is so connected with the bodily organization, that when the tissues of the animal frame cease their functions, this ceases also. This was not, however, the opinion of the ancient Greeks. Homer uses the term to denote that which leaves the body with the breath, as escaping from the ἕρκος ὀδοντων herkos odontōn - “the fence or sept of thy teeth” - and as also passing out through a wound. - This ψυχή psuchē - “psyche” - continued to exist in Hades, and was supposed to have a definite form there, but could not be seized by the hands.

Ody. 2:207. See “Passow,” 2; compare Prof. Bush, Anasta. pp. 72, 73. Though this word, however, denotes the vital principle or the animal life, in man it may be connected with morals - just as the body may be - for it is a part of himself in his present organization, and whatever may be true in regard to the inferior creation, it is his duty to bring his whole nature under law, or so to control it that it may not be an occasion of sin. Hence the apostle prays that the “whole body and soul” - or animal nature - may be made holy. This distinction between the animal life and the mind of man (the “anima” and “animus,” the ψυχὴ psuchē and the πνεῦμα pneuma), was often made by the ancient philosophers. See Plato, Timae. p. 1048, A. Nemesius, de Nat. Hom. 1 Cited Glyca, p. 70; Lucretius, 3:94; 116, 131; Juvenal, 15:146; Cicero, de Divinat. 129, as quoted by Wetstein in loc. A similar view prevailed also among the Jews. rabbi Isaac (Zohar in Lev. fol. 29, 2), says, “Worthy are the righteous in this world and the world to come, for lo, they are all holy; their body is holy, their soul is holy, their spirit and their breath is holy.” Whether the apostle meant to sanction this view, or merely to speak in common and popular language, may indeed be questioned, but there seems to be a foundation for the language in the nature of man. The word here rendered “spirit” (πνεῦμα pneuma), refers to the intellectual or higher nature of man; that which is the seat of reason, of conscience, and of responsibility. This is immortal. It has no necessary connection with the body, as animal life or the psyche (ψυχὴ psuchē) has, and consequently will be unaffected by death. It is this which distinguishes man from the brute creation; this which allies him with higher intelligences around the throne of God.

Be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ - The apostle does not intimate here that either the body or the vital principle will be admitted to heaven, or will be found in a future state of being, whatever may be the truth on that subject. The prayer is, that they might be entirely holy, and be kept from transgression, until the Lord Jesus should come; that is, until he should come either to remove them by death, or to wind up the affairs of this lower world; see the notes on 1 Thessalonians 1:10. By his praying that the “body and the soul” - meaning here the animal nature, the seat of the affections and passions - might be kept holy, there is reference to the fact that, connected as they are with a rational and accountable soul, they may be the occasion of sin. The same natural propensities; the same excitability of passion; the same affections which in a brute would involve no responsibility, and have nothing moral in their character, may be a very different thing in man, who is placed under a moral law, and who is bound to restrain and govern all his passions by a reference to that law, and to his higher nature. For a cur to snarl and growl; for a lion to roar and rage; for a hyena to be fierce and untameable; for a serpent to hiss and bite, and for the ostrich to leave her eggs without concern Job 39:14, involves no blame, no guilt for them, for they are not accountable; but for man to evince the same temper, and the same want of affection, does involve guilt, for he has a higher nature, and all these things should be subject to the law which God has imposed on him as a moral and accountable being. As these things may, therefore, in man be the occasion of sin, and ought to be subdued, there was a fitness in praying that they might be “preserved blameless” to the coming of the Saviour; compare the notes on 1 Corinthians 9:27.

Verse 24

Faithful is he that calleth you - That is, your sanctification after all depends on him, and as he has begun a work of grace in your hearts, you may depend on his faithfulness to complete it; see the 1 Thessalonians 4:3 note; Philippians 1:6 note; 1 Corinthians 1:9 note.

Verse 25

Brethren, pray for us - A request which the apostle often makes; notes on Hebrews 13:18. He was a man of like passions as others: liable to the same temptations; engaged in an arduous work; often called to meet with opposition, and exposed to peril and want, and he especially needed the prayers of the people of God. A minister, surrounded as he is by temptations, is in great danger if he has not the prayers of his people. Without those prayers, he will be likely to accomplish little in the cause of his Master. His own devotions in the sanctuary will be formal and frigid, and the word which he preaches will be likely to come from a cold and heavy heart, and to fall also on cold and heavy hearts. There is no way in which a people can better advance the cause of piety in their own hearts, than by praying much for their minister.

Verse 26

Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss - see the notes on Romans 16:16.

Verse 27

I charge you by the Lord - Margin, “adjure.” Greek, “I put you under oath by the Lord” - ενορκίζω ὑμᾶς τὸν Κύριον enorkizō humas ton Kurion. It is equivalent to binding persons by an oath; see the notes on Matthew 26:63; compare Genesis 21:23-24; Genesis 24:3, Genesis 24:37.

That this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren - To all the church; compare notes on Colossians 4:16. The meaning is, that the Epistle was to be read to the whole church on some occasion. on which it was assembled together. It was not merely designed for the individual or individuals into whose hands it might happen to fall, but as it contained matters of common interest, and was designed for the whole body of believers at Thessalonica, the apostle gives a solemn charge that it should not be suppressed or kept from them. Injunctions of this kind occurring in the Epistles, look as if the apostles regarded themselves as under the influence of inspiration, and as having authority to give infallible instructions to the churches.

Verse 28

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, ... - notes, Romans 16:20.

In regard to the subscription at the close of the Epistle, purporting that it was written from Athens, see the introduction, section 3. These subscriptions are of no authority, and the one here, like several others, is probably wrong.

From the solemn charge in 1 Thessalonians 5:27 that “this epistle should be read to all the holy brethren,” that is, to the church at large, we may infer that it is in accordance with the will of God that all Christians should have free access to the Holy Scriptures. What was the particular reason for this injunction in Thessalonica, is not known, but it is possible that an opinion had begun to prevail even then that the Scriptures were designed to be kept in the hands of the ministers of religion, and that their common perusal was to be prohibited. At all events, whether this opinion prevailed then or not, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the Holy Spirit, by whom this Epistle was dictated, foresaw that the time would come when this doctrine would be defended by cardinals and popes and councils; and that it would be one of the means by which the monstrous fabric of the Papacy would be sustained and perpetuated. It is worthy of remark, also, that the apostle Paul, in his epistles to the Thessalonians, has dwelt more fully on the fact that the great apostasy would occur under the Papacy, and on the characteristics of that grand usurpation over the rights of people, than he has anywhere else in his Epistle; see 2 Thessalonians 2:11. It is no improbable supposition that with reference to that, and to counteract one of its leading dogmas, his mind was supernaturally directed to give this solemn injunction, that the contents of the Epistle which he had written should be communicated without reserve to all the Christian brethren in Thessalonica. In view of this injunction, therefore, at the close of this Epistle, we may remark:

(1) That it is a subject of express divine command that the people should have access to the Holy Scriptures. So important was this considered, that it was deemed necessary to enjoin those who should receive the word of God, under the solemnities of an oath, and by all the force of apostolic authority, to communicate what they had received to others.

(2) This injunction had reference to all the members of the church, for they were all to be made acquainted with the word of God. The command is, indeed, that it he “read” to them, but by parity of reasoning it would follow that it was to be in their hands; that it was to be accessible to them; that it was in no manner to be withheld from them. Probably many of them could not read, but in some way the contents of revelation were to be made known to them - and not by preaching only, but by reading the words of inspiration. No part was to be kept back; nor were they to be denied such access that they could fully understand it; nor was it to be insisted on that there should be an authorized expounder of it. It was presumed that all the members of the church were qualified to understand what had been written to them, and to profit by it. It follows therefore,

(3) That there is great iniquity in all those decisions and laws which are designed to keep the Scriptures from the common people. This is true:

(a)In reference to the Papal communion, and to all the ordinances there which prohibit the free circulation of the Sacred Volume among the people;

(b)It is true of all those laws in slave-holding communities which prohibit slaves from being taught to read the Scriptures; and,

(c)It is true of all the opinions and dogmas which prevail in any community where the right of “private judgment” is denied, and where free access to the volume of inspiration is forbidden.

The richest blessing of heaven to mankind is the Bible; and there is no book ever written so admirably adapted to the common mind, and so fitted to elevate the sunken, the ignorant, and the degraded. There is no more decided enemy of the progress of the human race in intelligence, purity, and freedom, than he who prevents the free circulation of this holy volume; and there is no sincerer friend of the species than he who “causes it to be read by all,” and who contributes to make it accessible to all the families and all the inhabitants of the world.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.