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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

1 Thessalonians 5

Verse 15

THE GOLDEN RULE

‘See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.’

1 Thessalonians 5:15

The Apostle is writing to the Thessalonian converts some very practical rules as to their manner of life as Christians. We do not know how long it was since they had accepted the message of the new and glorious life which he had brought them, but we do know that he considered them not fully established in the faith and practice of the religion of Christ, or he would certainly not have given them such elementary counsel and commandment as we find in our text. For it is the old, old golden rule over again, the basis of all the teaching of his Master and ours.

I. Have we advanced?—But what shall we say of ourselves after nineteen hundred years of Christianity? Can we say with any truth that we have advanced farther or as far as those new disciples of St. Paul? For if we have professed, if we indeed know and love and live out the will of our Master, why is it still necessary to be ever insisting on the obligation of carrying out this fundamental law of human life as Christ intended it to be lived? It seems to me sometimes that we are going backwards—not merely looking backwards but actually going backwards.

II. Rendering evil.—We see men in the struggle for wealth caring little what happens to their neighbour if only they can have what they seek; we see and know of hearts being crushed everywhere, and we know that even religion takes no note of the fact, but preaches tamely, as though we were on the high road to the millennium. We read, too, accounts of men and women exerting all their God-given powers, not for the purpose of doing good, but of bringing sorrow and despair on those who have never wronged them! Are we, then, to blame the teachings of Jesus Christ for not mitigating the cruelty and sorrow in the world? Can it really be said that such a course of conduct is utterly impossible in God’s own world?

III. Back to the teaching of Christ.—Do you believe it would be a calamity if, instead of the false and hollow system under which we exist at the present moment, the teachings of Christ in their literal entirety, and the results which flow from those teachings, were set up in its place? In short, if love reigned instead of hate, unselfishness instead of greed and covetousness, peace instead of war—would it not be gain rather than loss, for, at all events, the majority of mankind? But I fear that even if Christ Himself were to come among us again, He would meet with no better reception than was accorded Him in Jerusalem long ago. We, also, most of us, at least, should call Him a dreamer and enthusiast; an unpractical theorist; and the Sermon on the Mount would be listened to with the wonder which changes to sarcasm. The nearer we approach to Him, the nobler we are, the gentler we are, the kindlier we are. For He it is, the Light of the World, Who alone reveals to us the truth which makes life—even our life here on earth—glorious, and the prospect of the Eternal life bright with no earthly radiance.

—Rev. A. C. Vully de Candole.

Illustration

‘I do not find in the gospel that Jesus tells us to inquire the circumstances of the person to whom we give voluntarily or who asks of us. In fact, it appears to me that He emphatically forbids us to judge any one in any matter whatever. When shall we who call ourselves Christians cease to juggle with and try to obscure and hide and explain away the plain teaching of Jesus Christ? There are people who say that it would be “harmful and mischievous” to try and do as Christ says. In a word, we are assured that while the gospels contain a very beautiful theory of life, it is a theory that cannot be applied to existing affairs without producing disaster.’

Verse 17

A CHRISTIAN’S DUTY

‘Pray without ceasing.’

1 Thessalonians 5:17

How shall we use this help to holiness so that we may be able to get a tighter grasp of this sanctity that God has put within our reach? How shall we pray?

I. We must pray with preparation.—We must not go into the audience-chamber of God with lips unprepared, or hearts not made ready. Before thou prayest prepare thyself.

II. Pray with reverence.—Before we pray let us realise what prayer means; before we begin to speak to God let us realise that it is God to Whom we are about to speak; that it is God Who is listening to us, the Holy God, ready to hear and answer the prayers of us who are so sinful. Will there then be need to tell us to be reverent? ‘Put off thy shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.’

III. We must pray with faith.—Not, I mean, believing that God will answer our prayers in the way that we look for them, not that He will give us exactly the blessings we ask for, that is not faith; but the perfect trust in God’s wisdom and love that He hears our prayers, that he answers our prayers not according to our ignorance in asking, but according to His great wisdom Who gives us what we ask. According to thy faith shall it be done.

IV. Pray with perseverance.—‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened.’ So Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane prays; He prays the same words. Oh, yes, ‘heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’

—Bishop C. J. Ridgeway.

Illustration

‘Prayer is a duty. God is our Creator—prayer is the duty that we owe Him as creatures that bow before Him in awe. God is our King—prayer is the duty that we owe to our King as subjects that draw near to Him in lowly reverence. God is our Father—prayer is the duty that as children we pay to Him as we draw near to Him in love. Prayer is a duty; yes, then every Christian when he prays is a priest going into the audience-chamber of God Himself, and spreading out his hands at the throne of grace, and offering his sacrifice always acceptable to God.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THOUGHTS ABOUT PRAYER

Consider:—

I. What prayer is.—Intercourse between God and man.

II. The dignity of prayer.—It brings us into the very presence of God.

III. The power of prayer.—It can rule the world.

IV. The duty of constancy in prayer.—For supplication must be constant as well as persevering, therefore ‘Pray without ceasing.’

Illustration

‘We began to pray when we were little children, and we must pray on till death comes; and though in the hour of death the man may not be able to hear what is said to him, yet we know he can pray, although he cannot listen, by the movement of his lips. And who shall say that in paradise we shall not pray? What! be taught, be educated in the school of Jesus without wanting to know more! And who shall say that in heaven we shall not pray? for how can we gaze on God in His beauty and not ask that we may know more of God? But prayer is this, not only to do with the whole of life, but it pervades everything in the Christian life. Meditation, fasting, almsgiving, worship, communion, none of these things is possible without prayer; prayer is the first necessary condition of the sustenance of the spiritual life. Nothing can take the place of prayer, no efforts, no communion, no wishes, none of these can be put in the place of prayer, for “Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,” and a prayerless soul is a dead soul.’

Verse 19

QUENCHING THE SPIRIT

‘Quench not the Spirit.’

1 Thessalonians 5:19

Look where we find this injunction. It is in the midst of other injunctions. We are to rejoice evermore. We are to pray without ceasing. We are in everything to give thanks. We are not to despise prophesyings. And we are not to quench the Spirit. Now we may rest assured that the Apostle Paul was not the man to spend his time and energy in warning men against impossible sins.

Let us consider the various ways in which the Spirit may be quenched.

I. The most obvious and certain way to extinguish fire is by pouring water on it, and the most direct way of quenching the Spirit is the commission of sin, and determined resistance to holy influences. Every unholy action, word, purpose, every evil thought encouraged, is like water poured on fire, for these are not so opposed the one to the other as sin to the nature of Him Who is called the Holy Spirit.

II. The Spirit may also be quenched by resistance.—You have been kept for a time from a sin by a sense of its folly, wickedness, and danger. But you persisted in taking your own course. In doing so you deliberately thrust away the Friend Who sought to restrain you from doing yourself injury. By this direct opposition you were quenching the Spirit. But He has not forsaken you, for He is slow to anger and plenteous in mercy.

III. The Spirit may be quenched by worldliness.—Without any direct intention to extinguish a fire, one thing after another may be heaped upon it until it goes out. So the Spirit may be quenched not only by direct opposition, but by worldliness of mind. The thoughts may be so absorbed by things seen and temporal as to leave no time nor inclination to attend to the things which are unseen and eternal.

Illustration

‘There is something worse than pain, and that is the absence of pain. When a man lying on his bed is racked in agony we pity, and we stand by his side, and take his hand, and say, “We hope you may have strength to be patient.” It is far more pitiable next morning when we come, and he says, “This morning, suddenly the pain disappeared, and I am now quite well.” Quite well; with the sunken circle beneath the eye, and death’s pale ensigns upon his cheek. That is the most pitiable of all. Outside the door, when the door is closed upon him, we look at the physician, and he shakes his head. “Yes; mortification has set in.” We thought so. It was the beginning of the end. The absence of religions conviction is the most awful thing in human history. It is the insensibility of the soul. We are capable—take this in, and carry it away with you now—capable of spiritual suicide. It is given to us to refuse the Spirit of God, or to yield to it.’

Verse 21

THE DUTY OF INQUIRY

Prove all things.’

1 Thessalonians 5:21

There was the amplest justification in the history of the Church for these warnings. St. Paul warns the elders of Ephesus ( Acts 20:30) of the peril which false prophets threatened. Later history showed that peril in a much more aggravated form than was known to the Church of apostolic days. Prophets abounded, and came to great honour in the ministry. With the good were found the evil. Occasionally into the ranks of the prophets there crept men who cared exceedingly little for the Spirit of God, but much for wealth, for advancement, for personal power. Then, more than ever, it was seen with what loving foresight our Lord had bidden all ‘beware of false prophets,’ and St. Paul had been moved to warn Thessalonian believers to ‘prove all things.’

St. Paul’s words, in their natural context, had therefore a clear and pertinent meaning for the early Church. But how shall we take the words and apply them to our own day and our own affairs?

I. Where are the prophets?—They are not wholly lacking. It would be a presumptuous limitation of the powers of the Holy Spirit to suggest that He does not as truly direct the speech of some as He did upon the Day of Pentecost. We humbly believe such inspiration to be frequent; it is to be sought and looked for. But the statement of every man who cries ‘Thus saith the Lord’ must bear the test of such proof as the cautions of Christ and of St. Paul would suggest. A deeper conviction of the Holy Spirit’s power may well be sought; preachers would take their preaching more seriously, and hearers might less often drift into bored and listless inattention.

But there is another and a wider application of the same words. There are other pulpits besides those of the churches, and other prophets than those of the ministry.

II. Practically what St. Paul may say to us is, ‘Cultivate an intelligent, reliable judgment in regard to all influence upon life and thought.’ There are reasons why we may extend the area of his advice. Teachers have multiplied who obtain willing pupils within the Christian Church. They are listened to with as much devotion as any ancient hearers gave to any ancient prophet. They deliver themselves upon questions of faith as well as of morals. Their influence is inevitable and must be counted with; but we are responsible for our own subservience to them. They cannot answer for us at the bar of God. We are, indeed, responsible for the effect our words and deeds have upon others; but each must also answer for himself, and himself bear his own burden of punishment.

III. But our responsibility is, of course, limited.—We can only prove and try within the bounds of our own knowledge and capabilities. The old woman in a rustic cottage cannot prove the prophet when he speaks on Biblical archaeology, or the young man of business try the prophet discoursing upon the textual criticism. Beyond our proper range no responsibility is laid upon us by God. But even then, when all allowance has been made, how vast a field remains, as to which from the time we begin to exercise an intelligent judgment, responsibility lies upon us! It covers much of the domain of faith. Men and women move amidst a babel of contradictory statements. You are told by one that a thing is false, by another that it is true, and you have to exercise your judgment upon it. If you shrink from this, you must either fall into the arms of an infallible Church, or drift aimlessly from side to side, or take refuge in utter unbelief. It is very much your business to arrive at a right judgment; you cannot evade the responsibility.

Rev. A. R. Buckland.

Illustration

‘You must have noticed in St. Paul’s epistles two strongly contrasted styles. At one time he gives himself to a long, carefully reasoned, yet, owing to his vehement nature, in parts involved argument. You may find such an argument in the opening chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, or in the well-known chapter, 1 Corinthians 15., in which he discusses the resurrection of the dead. At another time he produces a series of short, pithy sentences, dealing with the details of everyday life among his converts. He speaks to them in the plainest of language, in terms which might be passed from man to man, or from parent to child, and understood by the simplest minds in the Church. You have examples of such a style in Romans 12., in Colossians 3:4., and in the chapter from which my text is taken. St. Paul’s letters, indeed, always most happily combine two things, which not seldom are most unhappily divorced. He both carefully establishes the foundations of the faith, and gives the plainest advice upon Christian conduct. He is not willing that any man should misunderstand or corrupt the faith of his Master; nor yet that any convert should be in doubt as to the moral habit which that faith demands of him.’

Verse 23

THREE IN ONE

‘I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

1 Thessalonians 5:23

I want you to think of body, soul, and spirit, three in one, in every child of man, in you and me. And yet each one of us is one.

I. Consider the language of the Apostle.—He speaks of the body, by which he would have us understand the animal life, the life that we share with the beasts, birds, and creeping things; this external form. But, next, St. Paul speaks of the ‘soul.’ What does he mean by that? The soul is the immortal part of our complex humanity; those powers of the man which are natural to him, and not known to be natural to the animals. But, though higher than the mere physical faculties, the faculties of the soul are not the highest or the noblest parts of the nature of man. Accordingly, and with a set purpose, the Apostle speaks of a third element in the constitution of humanity; a very different one, again, and infinitely surpassing the other two, and that is the ‘spirit.’

II. Corresponding to the threefold nature of man there is clearly visible the condition of unity in God, and of Trinity also in Him. We find, and ought not to be surprised to find, in Holy Scripture that three distinct consciousnesses and acts appropriate to each consciousness exist in the Godhead. The Unitarian and the Sabellian maintain that the unity of God consists simply in a unity of person, now expressing Himself in the Father, now in the Son, and now in the Holy Ghost. That is an error; that is heresy. We must believe that in the sense of exercising the power of consciousness and its various attributes, there are three powers of consciousness in which God is made known to us.

(a) He is the author of life, and in this aspect is the Father of all mankind; the Father of even more than mankind—of all creation.

(b) But the exercise of the consciousness of these powers and attributes of the Godhead are most eminently revealed to us in what we call the Person of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And this, not because of the accident of the Fall, an event which happened on one fatal occasion in the long-drawn days of eternity, ‘God … of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds … God of God, very God of very God,’ equal with the Father; as touching the Godhead, Whom the Unitarian considers to be only a divine humanity; we hold to be—not to have been—from all eternity the Humanity of Deity. Had there been in the Divine Being no humanity, I do not know how it would have fared with us. Certainly the redemption is the outcome of this humanity in the Deity. We speak of God’s justice, that is the humanity in the Deity.

(c) And yet Pentecost shows us a more intimate and closer relationship still, through the Third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity; the power and inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Body is controlled by soul, soul by spirit, the spirit by the sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost.

—Dean Maclure.

Illustration

‘It is beyond question that the doctrine of the Trinity is held by many to be so mysterious that, in their minds, it has been held to belong rather to the theologian and not to the everyday Christian. To this the teaching of our Lord’s life gives a clear and explicit contradiction, in the Holy Gospel according to St. John. No wonder the Unitarian has put himself to all kinds of shifts to dispose of this Gospel. I do not marvel that he should have done so, because, if you will read it with ordinary intelligence, you can never forget this, that the Lord Jesus Christ, Who wore your nature and mine for a season, if He asserts anything in that holy Gospel, Jesus asserts concerning Himself positively, the conditions that He was “coeternal and coequal” with the Father. Of the Godhead He assumes everything Himself. And He showed us, after His own departure also, that the Trinity and the coequality of God the Father, and God the Son, pertained also to God the Holy Ghost. The same attributes of Godhead are taken for granted all through the Epistles, and notably in the Revelation of St. John, where the Deity of the Eternal is represented constantly as triune, and invoked in those words in which we pledge God with all solemnity: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty.” ’

Verse 24

WHAT GOD DOES

‘Faithful is He that calleth you, Who also will do it.’

1 Thessalonians 5:24

The reason why most Christians are not so happy as they might be, is this: they are looking for their proofs and encouragements in their own hearts, and not in God. The ultimate appeal, the true logic of the soul, the only resting-place, is here: God is God, and God is true. ‘Faithful is He that calleth you, Who also will do it.’

I. ‘The calling’—what is it?—Every ‘call’ of God, when rightly interpreted, means either ‘Come to Me!’ or,’ Come nearer to Me!’ or, ‘Come back to Me!’ And every one of us has one or another of these ‘calls’ at this moment. But sometimes a ‘call’ takes a more definite shape. It is a ‘call’ to some specific work. Three things should generally combine to make that ‘call.’ A ‘call’ from the Holy Ghost within you; a ‘call’ of Providence; and a ‘call’ of the Church. If those three unite, the ‘call’ is real and probably imperative.

II. To what is God ‘faithful’?

( a) To you: ‘I will never leave you, or forsake you.’

( b) To His own work: ‘He Which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.’

( c) To His own Word: ‘His Word continueth ever.’

( d) To His covenant: ‘My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips.’

( e) And that beautiful ‘Nevertheless.’ ‘Nevertheless My loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail.’

( f) And to Himself: ‘I am the Lord, I change not.’

III. And what will He do with us?—Everything. Everything. He will be to you the very God of peace. ‘And the very God of peace will sanctify you wholly; and your whole spirit and soul and body shall be preserved blameless until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Is not it everything? ‘Faithful is He that calleth you, Who also will do it.’ Grand words! Too grand for the faithless one to ask; but not too grand for the Faithful One to do.

Rev. James Vaughan.

Illustration

‘If any one should think that this text is unpractical, and that it might lead to spiritual pride or carelessness, let him remember where it comes; after what a long list of most minute commands and duties. And then let him look into his own heart, and he will find this, that the more confident we are at the beginning that we shall succeed, the better we always do everything. And he will fully feel how rightly it adjusts the whole subject. We are to “forgive,” to “rejoice,” to “pray,” and “praise”; never to “quench,” never to “despise” the Spirit’s work; to “prove,” to “hold fast,” to “abstain from all appearance of evil,” to be “holy,” “perfect,” and “blameless.” But all the while, when we have done it all—we are laid in the dust, while it is our faithful God, and only He, Who did it all.’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

PERSEVERANCE

Do what? It is explained in the verse before: ‘I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ That is, that they may persevere. The Apostle prays that God may preserve them blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Faithful is He that calleth you, Who also will do it’; He will give them the gift of perseverance.

I. It would be absolutely unnecessary for St. Paul to pray that the gift of perseverance might be given to his converts if any such theory were true as that, once saved always saved. It is perfectly obvious that if once saved always saved, if St. Paul had believed that, then he certainly would not have prayed that their salvation might go on, that they might have the gift of perseverance.

II. The gift of perseverance is not the same as perseverance in us; the gift of perseverance is a power given to us by God in order that there may come out in us the fruit of perseverance. They are two distinct things; sometimes the gift of perseverance has been spoken of as passive perseverance; while the result in us is spoken of as active perseverance. We must not analyse too much in that direction. The gift of perseverance is that power given to us by God to enable us to bring out in our lives the power of perseverance.

III. By what means or conditions, by what inner conditions, shall we best keep the gift of perseverance that God gives us?

( a) The first is said to be fidelity to grace; our being faithful to the grace that God gives us.

( b) The next is the following the impulses of grace in our action, in our heart, in our affections; the allowing our heart to play upon those things which God’s grace points out as fit subjects for our regard, our love, our devotion.

And the third thing meant by fidelity to grace is this: the being faithful to the action of the Holy Spirit in our will.

All these things affect our conduct. The first points out what we ought to do; the second what we ought to like; the third what we ought to resolve upon and fulfil.

—Rev. R. J. Wilson.

Illustration

‘We must meditate frequently on the follies of those who began so well and ended so badly. You can think of them in the Bible; think of Balaam the seer, and his miserable end; you can think of Solomon, the wisest man, led into sin through sensuality; you can think of Judas, once an innocent boy, with those gifts and graces and capacities which our Lord saw were such as fitted him to become an Apostle, and yet forfeiting everything through the sin of covetousness; or think of Demas, who endured all the hardships of Paul’s missionary life, and then deserted because he loved this present world. There are plenty of subjects through which we can bring home to our minds that however well we may have begun, still there is the risk of losing this precious gift of perseverance.’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

THE CALL TO MISSIONARY SERVICE*

The words of praise pass into a demand for service—the pilgrim’s psalm into the apostolic counsel. We look upon all that God has done, in spite of our wilfulness and weakness, and we cry, ‘From strength to strength.’ We look upon all that rises before us incomplete and unattempted, and, in spite of our misgivings and failures, our cry comes back to us, changed and yet the same, ‘Faithful is He that calleth.’

I. He that calleth now with a voice never before more articulate and more inspiring.—Look at what has been openly effected by Christian teaching in India. But those who are best able to judge assure us that its measurable results are but a small part of its total influence on practice and opinion. Dissatisfaction with the old faiths has been deepened by the recognition of a purer ideal of duty. Something has been done to show that a true religion—and man is born religious—must be a spring of moral energy. The gospel is seen to be more than an exotic creed. The rapid organisation of a native ministry has brought it nearer to the hearts of the people, and proved that it is in no sense a peculiar possession of their conquerors.

II. But the time is short, and cannot return.—Never was there an occasion when more seemed to human eyes to be imperilled in the faith, the energy, the devotion of a generation. The conquest of India for Christ is the conquest of Asia for Christ. And the conquest of Asia seems to offer the near vision of the consummation of the Kingdom of God. So God calls us; calls us by the circumstances of national development, calls us by the political conditions of our empire, calls us by our position and character as Englishmen. We must be a missionary people.

III. The experience of the mission field meets, in a word, the necessities of our time of trial.—For what we need now, above all things, is the assurance of a voice of God speaking to us—the sense of a living voice. That voice does, I believe, sound about us in our lanes and cities; but it is often lost in the confused cries of the conflict in which we are engaged. From the distant battlefields of the Faith it comes with a clearer message. Let us only pause to listen, and we shall hear how every region of the globe sends the same witness of thoughts revealed out of many hearts, of wants satisfied, of lives ennobled by the old tidings—old and ever new—of ‘Jesus and the Resurrection.’

—Bishop Westcott.

Illustration

‘We could wish, indeed, that the competition for admission to the apostolic army of missionaries were keener; but what must we feel when we read that at the time when the Church Missionary Society was founded no English clergyman had as yet gone forth as a missionary to either of the continents of Asia or Africa; that for a long period afterwards “the hope of a supply [of clergy] for the work from our own Church was abandoned in despair”; that only after sixteen years two clergymen were willing to accept the charge; that not long before this departure to the work a distinguished writer could say in the foremost Review, that “no man of moderation and good sense could be found to perform it”! We have, I admit, even now given scantily; but we have given, and we are giving, of our best to mission work.’

(FOURTH OUTLINE)

THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD

‘Faithful is He that calleth you, Who also will do it.’

1 Thessalonians 5:24

What is the calling here spoken of? Instance some passages appropriate and illustrative of the expression, e.g. ‘Called to be apostles … saints … with a holy calling … to peace … to His kingdom and glory … to glory and virtue … to the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord … the calling without repentance … the heavenly calling.’

I. The call.—Observe

( a) The goodness of God in calling.

( b) Our great need of being called.

( c) The gracious persisting patience of Him Who calls.

II. The faithfulness of God.

( a) His faithfulness does not alter its own purpose.

( b) His faithfulness does not forget.

( c) His faithfulness does not grow weary, impatient, or angry, because of our slowness, perverseness, many shortcomings, and many sins.

III. The great result.—It is held before our view, as attainable, out of the calling and faithfulness of God, that there shall be complete sanctification—‘preserved blameless in spirit and soul and body unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ There is One, only One, Who can, ‘ Who will do this.’

Verse 28

A GREAT WISH

‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.’

1 Thessalonians 5:28

Here we have brought before us

I. A great Person.—Our Lord Jesus Christ.

II. A great gift.—His grace.

III. A great wish.—May His grace be with you all.

Bishop G. H. Wilkinson.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/1-thessalonians-5.html. 1876.