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Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

1 Thessalonians 5

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Verse 1

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.

But of the times and the seasons, brethren: Paul is continuing his discussion of the second coming of Christ but with a different purpose and emphasis. In the previous chapter his concern was to offer reassurance concerning deceased Christians. Here, he offers admonition to the living. It is possible Paul’s comments are in response to a question from the Thessalonians. It may be, as Stott says, "They thought they could most easily get ready for Christ’s coming in judgment if they could know when he would arrive. It was naive, to be sure, but perfectly understandable" (108). "Times" and "seasons" are two words that are descriptive of two different aspects of time. By using both of them, the apostle evidently intends to say there was no need at all to discuss the time of the Lord’s coming.

ye have no need that I write unto you: There was no need to write about the time of the Lord’s coming because Paul has already taught the Thessalonians all there is to know about this subject. The coming of the Lord is a certainty. The time of that coming is uncertain. There is nothing else to say. "Those who watch do not need to be told when the hour will come, for they are always ready" (Bengel, as quoted in Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown 391). "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).

Verse 2

For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.

For yourselves know perfectly: Paul’s teaching on this subject has been thorough and complete. Any additional comments would be redundant. "Perfectly" may carry the meaning of accurately here as it does in other passages. Nothing can keep speculators from attempting to set dates for the Lord’s return. Yet as Hogg and Vine say:

attempts to fix future dates can only be made in disobedience to the word of the Lord, Who said, ’of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only,’ Matthew 24:36, and, after His resurrection, ’it is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father hath set within His own authority,’ Acts I. 7 (150).

that the day of the Lord: This expression borrowed from the Old Testament refers to a time of judgment. In Paul’s view, the second coming of Christ and the judgment of all men would occur simultaneously.

so cometh as a thief in the night: This figure should not be made to mean more than the apostle intends. "The unexpectedness of the coming of the thief, and the unpreparedness of those to whom he comes, are the essential elements in the figure" (Hogg and Vine 154). A thief does not give advance notice of the precise time when he will come to ravage your property. Nor has the Lord ever given precise information about the date of His return. Indeed, as already noted, He says He is not privy to that information, it being kept exclusively by the Father (Matthew 24:36). Everywhere in scripture, the coming of the Lord is said to be both sudden and unexpected.

No truth seems to have been more clearly and fully taught than that the Son of man would come when not looked for by the world. Yet there is no scriptural question upon which men bestow more attention, and no question that they seek more earnestly to determine. The time has often been set, and as often proved a mistake. Only by a righteous and pure life can one be ready for his coming. We should not only be ready for him, but should love his appearing and desire earnestly the day of his coming (Lipscomb 63).

While those who hold to the premillennial doctrine do not share identical beliefs, they generally affirm that there will be a "rapture," or catching away of the church followed by a seven year period at the end of which the Lord and His saints will return. In response to that theory, Fields says:

It is difficult to imagine how the day of the Lord could come as a thief if only seven years before that day every eye had seen the Lord, and all the saints had been taken out of the earth, and a great shout and the trumpet of God had been heard, and a period of great tribulation had followed (131).

Verse 3

For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.

For when they shall say: There is a significant change in pronouns here. As Paul discussed the Christian hope in the preceding chapter, he uses the pronouns "we" and "you." Now he changes to "they" and "them." There is a clear implication that Christians will not be involved in the "sudden destruction."

Peace and safety: Hendriksen calls attention to "the combination of suddenness and unpreparedness" suggested in these verses. The lost will maintain a false sense of security right up to the end. So long as they can delude themselves into thinking all is peaceful and all is safe, they will see no need to prepare for the cataclysmic events that will signal the end of time. They shall say one thing. They shall experience quite another.

then sudden destruction cometh upon them: We should not misunderstand the apostle as indicating the lost will be annihilated. "Destruction" here has reference to the eternal separation from God mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9. "This word...means, not the destruction of being, but of well being, not annihilation, the putting an end to the existence of a person or thing, but its ruin so far as the purpose of its existence is concerned" (Hogg and Vine 156).

Jesus warns: "And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with dissipation and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares" (Luke 21:34). Unawares is the translation of the same word here rendered sudden.

as travail upon a woman with child: "Just as the figure of the thief suggests the unexpected character of the catastrophe, so this suggests its inevitableness" (Hogg and Vine 156). The end-time events will occur as certainly as the pain that accompanies childbearing. Just as the time of the onset of birth pains cannot be predicted with certainty, even so the time of the second coming and its accompanying events cannot be known precisely. This uncertainty is all the more reason for being constantly prepared!

and they shall not escape: Amidst the uncertainty as to the time of these events, there should be no uncertainty as to the scope of their effect. The unprepared are doomed. The grammatical construction is clearly brought out by the Amplified translation: "they shall by no means escape." Advance preparation, not escape, is the only rational way to approach the future. The unprepared can no more escape the wrath to be revealed than could the rich man span the great gulf separating the places of punishment and consolation (Luke 16:26).

Verse 4

But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.

But ye, brethren, are not in darkness: Christians live in the realm of light. This fact has moral as well as mental implications. They have a special knowledge that dispels the darkness of ignorance. They have a purity that dispels the darkness of sin. They have a commitment to truth that dispels the darkness of error.

that that day should overtake you as a thief: One who lives in a constant state of readiness will not be surprised by the coming of the Lord regardless of when it occurs. There may be a suggestion that the thief is so engrossed in his nefarious activities that he is oblivious to the approaching dawn that will expose his misdeeds. Those who fail to maintain a state of vigilance and readiness will similarly be overtaken by the coming of the day of the Lord.

Verse 5

Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: This is an idiomatic expression meaning the children are characterized by light and day. "Children of the day" is probably suggested by the reference in the previous verse to the day of the Lord. They belong to that day that will bring them final victory and will fulfil their purpose for being.

we are not of the night, nor of darkness: These expressions are in contrast to what has just been said. It may have been Paul’s intention to remind his readers they will finally bask in the glory of the day of the Lord while those whose deeds have been of the night (5:7) will be plunged into eternal darkness (Matthew 25:30). It should also be noted that "of darkness points to nature and origin. To belong to darkness is more than to be in darkness" (Vincent, Vol. IV 45).

Verse 6

Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.

Therefore: Paul is now prepared to draw the inescapable conclusion to be logically drawn from what he has just said. And the conclusion is that the children of the Lord are expected to act like the children of the Lord!

let us not sleep: "Sleep" speaks of a kind of moral stupor, an indifference to the demands of righteousness. "Watch ye therefore:" Jesus says, "for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping" (Mark 13:35-36).

as do others: The contrast continues: children of the day versus children of the night; children of light versus children of darkness; Christians versus others (all non-Christians).

but let us watch and be sober: Here are two imperatives, the one requiring mental alertness and the other stressing the need for moral behavior in which there is a conscious effort to live a balanced life, avoiding excess of all kinds. Noting that "sober" has the primary meaning of not being given to excess in drink, Vincent says it passes "into the ethical sense of calm, collected, circumspect" (46).

Verse 7

For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.

For they that sleep sleep in the night: It was literally true in Paul’s day that sleep and drunkenness were nighttime activities. Modern occupations and electrical lighting have obscured these distinctions somewhat. The principle, however, is the same. The difference between the behavior of a Christian and a non-Christian is the difference between night and day.

and they that be drunken are drunken in the night: Daytime drunkenness was a rarity among the Jews (Acts 2:15). "To sleep by day would imply great indolence; to be drunken by day, great shamelessness" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown 391).

Verse 8

But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

But let us, who are of the day, be sober: The exhortation to sobriety is repeated from verse 6. The call to vigilance that pervades this passage perhaps reminds Paul of a soldier on guard duty, fully attired, and in a state of watchfulness. By easy transition, Paul sees an analogy here between the armor worn by a soldier and that required for a vigilant Christian soldier.

putting on: The grammar of this verse points to "a decisive, once-for-all step" (Morris 99). The idea is that one should put his armor on and keep it on. The armor is donned at the time one becomes a Christian. The armor is more fully described in Ephesians 6, but here the apostle is concerned only with the "breastplate" and the "helmet" used to defend the two most vital parts of the anatomy, the heart and the head. "The head needs to be kept from error, the heart from sin" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown 391).

the breastplate of faith and love: The details differ, but Paul uses this same analogy in other passages (Romans 13:12-13; Ephesians 6:13-17).

and for a helmet, the hope of salvation: In Paul’s view there are no greater Christian attributes than faith, love, and hope (1 Corinthians 13:13). He never tires of joining them in the same passage (Romans 5:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 1:3).

Verse 9

For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,

For God hath not appointed us to wrath: The popular mind has been so conditioned to think of the love of God that it finds it difficult to accept the notion of the wrath of God. However, both love and wrath are divine attributes. One writer has the following to say about God’s wrath:

What Paul means by the wrath of the totality of the divine reaction to sin. Everything that man’s rebellion against the moral order brings upon him--suffering for his body, hardening for his heart, blinding for his faculty of inward vision--is included in that reaction (Stewart 219).

It is not God’s purpose that His people should be subject to His unyielding and punitive opposition to evil. This verse serves as a further reminder that the saved owe their salvation to the divine initiative. It is God who has and has not appointed. God’s appointment is neither arbitrary nor universal, man’s willing acceptance and obedience being required to make it effective.

but to obtain salvation: Salvation is viewed in scripture as past, present, and future. It involves deliverance from the penalty, power, and presence of sin. The "salvation" of which this verse speaks is salvation in the broadest sense of the term. Commentators frequently obscure the meaning of this verse because of a bias that all human activity is ruled out by saving grace. The King James translators are correct in using the word "obtain" here. The truth taught throughout scripture is that man acquires salvation by a voluntary submission to the divine requirements. The means of acquiring salvation is what Paul calls the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5; Romans 16:25-26). "He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Hebrews 5:9).

Those who obtain this salvation and glory do so according to the appointment and calling of God, indeed, cp.1.4, but only on condition of willing response to that appointment and call (Hogg and Vine 167).

by our Lord Jesus Christ: Lest there should be any tendency to feel that one’s salvation is based on individual merit because one has met God’s conditions for salvation, Paul hastens to dispel that notion. Even the actions that are required and the conditions that must be met would be of no value apart from "our Lord Jesus Christ." We acquire salvation in the limited sense that we comply with the conditions upon which it is proffered. He acquired (purchased) the church and our salvation by the shedding of his blood (Acts 20:28).

Verse 10

Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.

Who died for us: At the heart of gospel preaching is the death of "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). This was Paul’s message everywhere (1:9-10; 1 Corinthians 2:2). "He died our death that we might live his life" (Stott 114).

whether we wake or sleep: Paul has already noted that at the coming of the Lord there will be some Christians still living while others will have fallen asleep. Physical life and physical death are under consideration here.

we should live together with him: As Robertson notes, this phrase covers "all of life (now and hereafter)" (36). But whether alive or dead; whether on earth or with the Lord; whether now or then; whether in the body or out of the body, "we should live together with him." "For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s" (Romans 14:8).

Verse 11

Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.

Wherefore comfort yourselves together: Because of the natural tendency to grow weary in well-doing, there is ever the need for mutual encouragement.

and edify one another: The metaphor of house building is used here. The words spoken in public assemblies and in private conversations should have as their goal the building up of the church. Christians are construction engineers, not a demolition crew. The responsibility is mutual. Each Christian can contribute something toward the "increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16).

It is not enough merely to refrain from saying what will discourage or damage another, or from practicing what will offend another, or from doing what may tempt another. The mandate is to do what will help the spiritual life and growth of fellow-Christians (Coffman 65).

even as also ye do: Always tactful and complimentary where possible, Paul commends the Thessalonians for their ongoing efforts toward mutual encouragement and edification.

Verse 12

And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;

And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you: This exhortation seems to have as its purpose the recognizing and acknowledging of the divinely authorized leadership in the congregation. Rebellion against scripturally constituted leadership has from earliest times been a problem in the church (Acts 20:30). Morris’ comments are especially helpful here:

The three following participles are preceded by a common article which indicates that it is one group of persons and not three that is in mind. This points to elders, who alone would exercise the triple function (103).

Stott concurs in this conclusion:

Notice now how Paul describes local church leaders. He uses three expressions in verse 12. Since these are participles, introduced by a single definite article, it is evident that the same people are in mind, although they are portrayed from three distinct perspectives (119)

Stott also identifies these leaders as elders, pastors, overseers, or bishops. Special respect and appreciation are due those under-shepherds who are engaged in the arduous task of watching for men’s souls.

and are over you: That statement has reference to those who exercise spiritual authority. It is a call to submission to the divinely constituted government of the church.

in the Lord: While some spiritual leaders have presumed by virtue of their spiritual office to exercise political authority outside the church, "These words...limit the scope of the authority of the elders to the spiritual concerns of the saints" (Hogg and Vine 179).

and admonish you: Admonition is a mutual responsibility incumbent upon every child of God, but it is the special duty of the elders. Admonition combines both instruction and warning.

Verse 13

And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.

And to esteem them very highly: Elders must never be "lord’s over God’s heritage" (1 Peter 5:2). They are under shepherds and must always exercise their leadership responsibilities with humility. Elders, however, are due the very highest respect, a fact underscored by Paul’s use of a word that means "beyond-exceeding-abundantly" (G. G. Findlay, as quoted by Morris 104). On that same page, Morris makes the further observation, "Good leaders need good followers." Nothing diminishes a leader’s effectiveness more than carping criticism and obstructionism among those he seeks to lead.

in love: "Love is to govern the attitude of the saints toward their leaders. However much it may be needed, admonition will provoke resentment and rebellion where the heart is not submissive to the word of the Lord" (Hogg and Vine 180).

for their work’s sake: The elders work hard, and all members of the body should support them in their work. The respect due the elders is not based on personal merit but on the work they do. The eldership must never be viewed as easy. It is a "work," tiresome, wearisome, exhausting, often thankless, work!

And be at peace among yourselves: Each Christian bears some responsibility for "maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). This duty is better brought out by the New International Version: "Live in peace with each other."

Verse 14

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly: Paul now turns from the special responsibilities of "them that labor among you" to the general duties of all the brethren. He speaks specifically about the needs of the idle, the timid, and the anemic. The word translated "warn" here and "admonish" in verse 12 "denotes the word of admonition which is designed to correct while not provoking or embittering" (Morris 103, quoted from J. Behm). "Unruly" is a military term meaning to break ranks. The noun form appears only here in the New Testament, although the verb and adverb forms also appear in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7; 2 Thessalonians 3:11. This word was customarily used among the Greeks to refer to idleness and the context shows that to be the meaning here. As Moffatt notes, "the particular form of insubordination at Thessalonica was idleness" (41). Vincent agrees and sees "unruly" as "probably referring to the idlers and busybodies described" in 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:11 (49). The comment of Hogg and Vine is especially helpful:

Without rulers no church is properly constituted, cp. Acts 20:17, Philippians 1:1, et. al., without godly rule no church can prosper, and without godly submission to rule no church can maintain effectual fellowship or be efficient in service (182).

comfort the feebleminded: "Feebleminded" refers to those lacking in courage, not to those suffering from mental defect. They are on the verge of losing heart, dropping out, quitting. The cause of their timidity is not specified. It may be they have "become weary in well-doing." Some may have become discouraged by the incessant persecution. Others are surely disheartened by the loss of loved ones (4:13-18). Because of the many sources of discouragement, "comfort" (encouragement) would always be a necessity.

support the weak: "Weak" is descriptive of a spiritual rather than a physical condition (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8). To "support" such an one would be to give him the assurance that he is not alone and that his brethren will stand by him and bolster him when his courage wavers.

be patient toward all men: The instructions concerning specific groups is now followed by an admonition concerning "all men." Christians must be longsuffering as opposed to short-tempered toward all men, not just their fellow-Christians.

Verse 15

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

See that none render evil for evil unto any man: Morris makes an interesting comment on this verse:

Not only has each one a responsibility for his own conduct, the whole community has a responsibility for each of its members. This applies to leaders, but also to others; every Christian must give attention to the conduct of the whole group (106).

The divine dynamic that empowers the Christian faith is never more evident than when the natural inclination to retaliate gives way to the supernatural ability to render good for evil.

but ever: The word "ever" may be translated alway. It refers to "a rule to which there is not any exception, and for defection from which no excuse can be valid" (Hogg and Vine 185).

follow that which is good: Not only should the Christian not seek retribution for wrongs, he has the positive duty to be "actively friendly in the face of hostility" (Morris 106). And our goodness is not restricted to the fellowship of the faithful. The duty imposed by this verse applies "among yourselves." There is, at the same time, a concomitant duty "to all men." "Follow" is much too tame in translating the original. It really means to pursue vigorously and is often translated persecute. This strong term emphasizes the duty to do good, being associated in scripture with love (1 Corinthians 14:1); righteousness (1 Timothy 6:11); and peace (Hebrews 12:14).

Thus the word has in it not merely the idea of the direction in which the believer is to move, but also of the earnestness with which he should pursue the object set before him (Hogg and Vine 185).

both among yourselves, and to all men: "Thus God’s ideal for His children is that contact with them should leave every man the better, and no man the worse, in soul, body, or circumstances" (Hogg and Vine 186).

Verse 16

Rejoice evermore.

Christian joy is independent of circumstances and may be manifested in the midst of pain, persecution, or privation. One would think that joy and suffering are incompatible. Yet the two are blended in the life of the apostle, and he counsels the Thessalonians to make room for both in their lives. A French theologian once observed, "Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God." Morris notes:

The various derivatives of joy occur with startling frequency throughout the New Testament. The word for ’grace’, for example, is from this root, as are one of the words for ’to forgive’, one for ’to give thanks’, and another for ’gifts of the Spirit’. New Testament Christianity is permeated with the spirit of holy joy (107).

Verse 17

Pray without ceasing.

Pray: "Prayer is a comprehensive term covering every form of reverent address to God. Its main elements are thanksgiving, in which the supply of past need is acknowledged, and supplication, in which present need is declared" (Hogg and Vine 188).

without ceasing: The impossibility of spending all of one’s time on one’s knees articulating one’s needs has caused some perplexity about the meaning of this verse. As Lightfoot points out, however, "It is not in the moving of the lips, but in the elevation of the heart to God, that the essence of prayer consists" (81). So long as we live in constant awareness of our dependence on God and are conscious of His presence, we will remain in that prayerful state that is herein enjoined. There can be no intermission or extended periods of prayerlessness.

Verse 18

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

In every thing give thanks: Note that Paul admonishes us to give thanks "in every thing," not for every thing. To give thanks for sin or other matters clearly outside the will of God would not be appropriate. On the other hand, blessings in disguise often come to us. Paul is encouraging Christians to look for the good in the circumstances that surround them. We must "maintain the good habit of frequent prayers" (Coffman 68).

for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you: Morris thinks this clause covers all three injunctions just given. It is God’s will that we rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Stott concurs but applies the injunctions to public worship:

It is God’s will, as expressed and seen in Jesus Christ, whenever his people meet together for worship, and whatever their feelings and circumstances may be, that there should be rejoicing in him, praying to him and giving him thanks for his mercies (126).

"God’s will is the believer’s law" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown 392). Vincent believes the word "will" is used here "in the sense of requirement" (49).

Verse 19

Quench not the Spirit:

"Quench" is descriptive of putting out a fire. The association of fire and the Holy Spirit in scripture would cause the apostle to think of any impediment to the Spirit’s work as an attempt to extinguish the fire. Although he does not specify how one might quench the Spirit, it would seem that such would be the result if Christians practiced the things earlier prohibited--discouragement, laziness, and immorality.

Verse 20

Despise not prophesyings.

To "despise" prophesyings would be to treat them with contempt. Any authentic utterance from God must be respected. As Jesus says in Luke 10:16, "He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth me, and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me." "Prophesyings" are those messages from God which address our need for "exhortation, edification, and comfort" (1 Corinthians 14:3). Coffman says, "There is no need to understand this as a reference to charismatic gifts of the primitive era before the NT was written. It is well known that Paul often used the word in the sense of teaching the holy scriptures" (70-71).

This view is shared by John Calvin: "By the term ’prophesying’ I do not understand the gift of foretelling the future, but the science of interpreting Scripture" (quoted by P. J. Gloag, Pulpit Commentary 105).

Verse 21

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

Prove all things: "Prove" is from a root meaning crucible or furnace and hints at the severity of the test that should be applied to any teaching we hear. This is a warning against the kind of gullibility that assumes that anyone claiming to have a message from God is speaking the truth. There is always a responsibility to "test (prove or try) the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1 NIV). We must not be "taken in" by those who are transformed into "ministers of righteousness" but who, in reality, are the servants of Satan. We must not fall prey to some perverted gospel (Galatians 1:8-10).

In the Apostolic Age, the means of testing those things that purported to come from God existed in those who had been endowed with "the discerning of spirits" (1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 John 4:1). "Another sure test, which we also have, is, to try the professed revelation whether it accords with Scripture, as the noble Bereans did (Isaiah 8:20; Acts 17:11; Galatians 1:8-9)" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown 392).

After noting that Paul does not provide guidance here on how to evaluate the teaching to which we are exposed, Stott proposes a series of tests that can be applied to teachers. Among the tests are the following:

First, the scriptures themselves. "Like the inhabitants of Berea, we are to ’examine the Scriptures’ to see if what any Christian teacher says is true."

Second, the divine-human person of Jesus. "This is how we are to discern between the true and the false: "Every spirit (i.e. prophet claiming inspiration) that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God."

Third, the gospel of God’s free and saving grace through Christ. "Anybody who perverts this gospel (whether preacher, prophet, apostle or even angel) deserves to be eternally condemned."

Fourth, the character of the speaker. "When Jesus told us ’Watch out for false prophets’, warning us that they are wolves disguised as sheep, he added: ’By their fruit you will recognize them’."

Finally, the degree to which what is said "edifies," that is, builds up and benefits, the church. "An authentic prophetic message will ’strengthen, encourage and comfort’ the hearers, ’edify the church’, bring a conviction of sin and an awareness of God, and be conducive to peace and order, and above all to love" (128).

hold fast that which is good: It is never enough to ascertain what the truth is. Truth, once discovered, must be applied and must never be abandoned.

Verse 22

Abstain from all appearance of evil.

Abstain: There may be a play on words here. The apostle says "hold on" to the good; "hold off" the evil. The focus in the preceding verses is on teaching and the need to discern between what is true and what is false. The scope of the prohibition contained in this verse, however, goes beyond teaching to practices as well. After citing several passages in which the word "abstain" is used to refer to bad conduct, Vine and Hogg say its usage in the present verse "is not to be understood of evil teaching only, but of evil practices as well" (200).

from all appearance of evil: Evil comes in many guises. It is not enough to avoid evil in one form. The Christian is obliged to avoid every kind of evil. The watch word is hold to that which is good and avoid every kind of evil. This verse has often been the basis for a misunderstanding of the identity of evil. The fact that something appears evil does not make it so. To the Pharisees, the healing of the blind man on the sabbath appeared evil. It was, however, really unmitigated good. Vincent’s comment on the meaning of "appearance" is helpful: "It never has the sense of semblance. Moreover, it is impossible to abstain from everything that looks like evil" (51). Since this admonition applies to every form of evil, it applies to evil teaching as well as evil practices.

To give heed to that which cannot be approved when tested by the Scriptures, the sole repository of Apostolic teaching, Acts 2:42, 2 Timothy 3:15-16, is to submit to influences that must ultimately lower the tone of spiritual life and affect for evil the conduct of the believer (Hogg and Vine 202).

Verse 23

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And the very God of peace: No sooner does Paul speak of human responsibility than he turns to divine enabling. The life of purity described above is impossible in the power of human strength. Thus, Paul reminds us of God’s intervention into the lives of yielded believers whose sanctification would otherwise be impossible. It should also be noted that:

Peace, in the Pauline sense, is not mere calm or tranquility. It is always conceived as based upon reconciliation with God. God is the God of peace only to those who have ceased to be at war with him, and are at one with him. God’s peace is not sentimental but moral (Vincent 52).

sanctify you wholly: The setting apart for divine service can never be half-hearted or partial. We must be sanctified through and through or not at all. It should also be noted that sanctification is not the accomplishment of a moment but a process that will continue throughout life. There is a sense in which the Thessalonians are already sanctified (saints, 3:13), but it is Paul’s prayer that sanctification "might extend to the whole man in every part" (Hogg and Vine 203).

and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body: These words are at the center of an age-long debate about the nature of man. Is he composed of two entities or three? This is one of the verses that suggests man is triune with each entity being distinct and distinguishable from the others. Morris says, however, "Paul is not analyzing the nature of man, but uttering a fervent prayer that the entire man be preserved" (111). On the other hand, Coffman says: "this writer cannot resist the thought that these words do indicate that man, like his Creator, is a trinity. After all, was he not made in the image of God?" (72). Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown have an interesting comment on this verse:

All three, spirit, soul, and body, each in its due place, constitute man ’entire.’ The ’spirit’ links man with the higher intelligence of heaven, and is that highest part of man which is receptive of the quickening Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:47). In the unspiritual, the spirit is so sunk under the lower animal soul (which it ought to keep under), that such are termed ’animal’ (English version, sensual, having merely the body of organized matter, and the soul the immaterial animating essence), having not the Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14; Notes, 15:44, 46-48; John 3:6). The unbeliever shall rise with an animal (soul-animated) body, but not like the believer with a spiritual (spirit-endued) body like Christ’s (Romans 8:11) (392).

Lightfoot says:

The spirit, which is the ruling faculty in man and through which he holds communication with the unseen world--the soul, which is the seat of all his impulses and affections, the center of his personality--the body, which links him to the material world and is the instrument of all his outward deeds--these all the Apostle would have presented perfect and intact in the day of the Lord’s coming (89).

preserved blameless: Pendleton paraphrases the apostle in these words, "May God, who makes peace between himself and mankind, himself prepare you for his judgment-day, making your entire being, in all its threefold nature, fit to be preserved, and wholly above all censure" (27).

unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ: The coming of the Lord is the focal point of this entire letter. Every admonition is given in view of this grand event. As the letter draws to a close, it is appropriate for Paul to express the prayer that his readers will be preserved, not just until the time of the Lord’s return but also through all the cataclysmic events that will occur at His coming.

Verse 24

Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

Faithful is he that calleth you: Everything depends upon the faithfulness of God. Of the manifold promises made to His ancient people, it could be said, "Not one of them failed." "There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass" (Joshua 21:45). His fidelity then is the assurance of his fidelity now. His faithfulness to them is the proof of his faithfulness to us.

who also will do it: The call of God is important. But the call without a proper response and the divine enabling to perform would be virtually useless. Thank God, the Caller is a Performer! Working in us, He will do what He has called us to do.

The great achievement must ever remain the work of God. When men do all that they are commanded to do (and whoever did that?), the perfection that must be attained prior to entering eternal life is the attainment of God in Christ, not the achievement of any man. ’Unprofitable’ is the word that God has written by the name of every servant; and the marvel of the ages is that God knows how to save even his unworthy servants!" (Coffman 72).

"God not only calls the saints to that complete salvation just described, He Himself will accomplish in them His own call" (Hogg and Vine 212).

Verse 25

Brethren, pray for us.

As great as Paul was, he still felt the need for prayer. He prayed for the brethren. He asked them to reciprocate.

Verse 26

Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.

Little is known about the holy kiss. Kissing as a gesture of good will or friendship and as a greeting to a superior was practiced in several ancient cultures. At the end of the second century, Tertulian speaks of a wife’s greeting brothers in the church in this fashion. By the fourth century, the kiss was limited to persons of the same sex. Perhaps Stott conveys the meaning most clearly when he says:

The form which kissing takes varies considerably from culture to culture. It may involve the use of our hands, arms, mouths, cheeks or noses. Or the custom of our country may be to stand back and bow, without any bodily contact. Yet the apostle’s instruction is clear that when Christians meet each other they should greet each other, and that their verbal greeting should be made stronger, warmer and more personal by a culturally appropriate sign (134).

Hogg and Vine note that Peter speaks of a "kiss of love" in 1 Peter 5:14 and then comment, "The words ’holy’ and ’love’ invest the salutation with character and meaning and save it from mere idle formality and hypocrisy" (214). They also state, "The kiss was a common form of salutation between persons of the same sex. The essential point was that all should be saluted as was customary among equals, there should be no discrimination against the poor, no partiality for the well-to-do" (215).

Verse 27

I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.

I charge you by the Lord: The grammatical construction here seems to mean, "I put you on oath as Christians." Such strong language indicates Paul’s fervent desire that all the saints at Thessalonica have an opportunity to hear his words. Since a personal visit, although passionately desired, is not yet possible, Paul could only communicate with the brethren by letter.

The earnestness of his adjuration implies how solemnly-important he felt this divinely-inspired message to be. Also, as this was the FIRST of the Epistles of the New Testament, he makes this the occasion of a solemn charge, that so its being publicly read should be a sample of what should be done in the case of the others, just as the Pentateuch and the Prophets were publicly read under the Old Testament, and are still read in the synagogue" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown 393).

that this epistle be read unto all: This charge may have led to the adoption of a practice long established in the Jewish synagogues of publicly reading the scriptures. Indeed, the word "read" literally means read aloud. Other passages (1 Timothy 4:13; Revelation 1:3) show this to have been a common practice among the churches. The public reading of this letter would plant the notion in the minds of the auditors that it is just as authoritative as the Old Testament scripture they were accustomed to hearing read.

I cannot leave this section without appending an interesting comment by Stott.

At first reading one might not think that this section relates to the nature and conduct of public worship. But there are clear indications that this is primarily what Paul has in mind. To begin with, all the verbs are plural, so that they seem to describe our collective and public, rather than individual and private, Christian duties. The prophesying of verse 20 is obviously public. The holy kiss of verse 26 presupposes a meeting (you cannot kiss people at a distance!). And verse 27 envisages the reading of the letter when ’all the brothers’ are present. It is this context, then which suggests that the rejoicing, the praying and the thanksgiving of verses 16-18 (like Ephesians 5:19-20 and Colossians 3:15-17) are also meant to be expressed when the congregation assembles (124).

unto all the holy brethren: "The ’all’ includes women and children, and especially those who could not read it themselves (Deuteronomy 31:12; Joshua 8:33-35)" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown 393). They add, "Though these Epistles had difficulties, the laity were all to hear them read (1 Peter 4:11; 2 Peter 3:10; even the very young, 2 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:15)" (393). Hogg and Vine concur, stating, "To all, that is to say, without distinction, limitation, or exception" (216).

Verse 28

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

The apostle has now come full circle in his teaching. He ends this letter where he began it: with "grace."

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". "Contending for the Faith". 1993-2022.