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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

1 Thessalonians 5

Verses 1-28

1 Thessalonians 5:4

Some injustice has been done to the Christian creed of immortality as an influence in determining men's conduct Paul preached the imminent advent of Christ and besought his disciples therefore to watch, and we ask ourselves what is the moral value to us of such an admonition. But surely if we are to have any reasons for being virtuous, this is as good as any other. It is just as respectable to believe that we ought to abstain from iniquity because Christ is at hand, and we expect to meet Him, as to abstain from it because by our abstention we shall be healthier or more prosperous. Paul had a dream an absurd dream, let us call it of an immediate millennium, and of the return of his Master surrounded with Divine splendour, judging mankind, and adjusting the balance between good and evil. It was a baseless dream, and the enlightened may call it ridiculous. It is anything but that, it is the very opposite of that Putting aside its temporary mode of expression, it is the hope and the prophecy of all noble hearts, a sign of their inability to concur in the present condition of things.

Mark Rutherford, The Deliverance, pp. 59, 60.

References. V. 4. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 304. V. 5. L. De Beaumont Klein, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 379. V. 6. C S. Home, The Soul's Awakening, p. 143. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii. No. 64; vol. iii. No. 163, and vol. xvii. No. 1022. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 190.

1 Thessalonians 5:8

Faith and love are the coat-of-mail. They cannot be protected by anything external to themselves. Trust in God is its own defence in an age of doubt and temptation. Love to men carries with it an invincible power which is of itself sufficient to overcome harshness and cynicism. All that faith and love require is to be put on. Their vitality depends upon their exercise. If worn daily, they will protect the believing man against indifference to the claims of God and men; they will produce a sensitiveness to God and an alertness to the needs of others which safeguard the soul against the deadly wounds of apathy. To exercise a vigilant faith in God, to practise consideration, unselfish help, and self-sacrifice, these, Paul would suggest, are the one safe attitude for a Christian to assume. Occupied with these, he cannot be surprised or overthrown.

Faith is, in fact, its own security, if it is a living faith. It may and does gain support from the fellowship of those who are like-minded. That is one reason why Paul combines here as elsewhere faith and love. But this brotherhood or fellowship is in its turn an expression of vital faith in God, so that in the last resort it holds time that 'faith is not to be saved by anything that would supersede faith, but only by its faithfulness' (T. H. Green) to the tasks which God reveals to its inner vision. Paul freely recognises the immense help afforded to Christian faith and love by reliable historical tradition, organisation, and definite statements. But he proposes no coat-of-mail for faith. He has absolute confidence in its inherent power of maintaining itself, furnishing its own evidence, and supplying its own vital energy.

James Moffatt.

References. V. 8. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 565. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Thessalonians, p. 198. V. 8-10. Ibid. (4th Series) vol. ii. p. 257. V. 9, 10. N. H. Marshall, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. p. 85. V. 10. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Thessalonians, p. 210. V. 11. Ibid. p. 220. V. 12. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 207. V. 12, 13. F. C. Davies, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 1260. V. 13. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 196.

1 Thessalonians 5:14

Every one should consider himself as entrusted, not only with his own conduct, but with that of others. and as accountable, not only for the duties which he neglects, or the crimes he commits, but for that negligence and irregularity which he may encourage or inculcate.

Dr. Johnson.

References. V. 14. W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 124. A. L. N., Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 287. V. 15. T. Sadler, Sunday Thoughts, p. 52. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 99; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 184.

The Obligation of Joy

1 Thessalonians 5:16

We have our moments of joy, but to rejoice alway is a great and at first sight an impossible demand. And yet you find the Apostle Paul, as in the first letter that has come down to us from his pen, so in the last undisputed letter from his pen, saying to the Philippians, 'Rejoice, and again I say rejoice'. Now, why this insistence upon the obligation of joy? Is it not because the Christian Gospel has furnished us with an enduring ground for joy, so that if anyone ceases to rejoice it is an argument that he has fallen from Christ? Naturally, the question comes to us, How is it to be done? Now, to get the answer to that question we must see how St. Paul himself answered it. It is evident in the third chapter and the third verse of this Epistle to the Philippians that he had an answer, for he there says that 'We are the circumcision, which rejoice in Christ Jesus,' and that at once shows us that he did not think we could find a permanent ground of rejoicing in our own narrow and troubled lives. Life, then, is not to be lived in yourself, but it is to be lived in Christ. Now, to bring this out as clearly as possible, I will call your attention to the ethical aspect, the spiritual aspect, and the cosmic aspect of Christ.

I. The Ethical Aspect of Christ. What is the ethical aspect of Christ? It is that, once in the history of the world, there is the perfect character, the man as man should be; and it means, therefore, that every human being can so fix his thought upon the perfection of human life and conduct that he is able to correct the sorrowful impressions of the world by the ideal in the person of Jesus.

II. The Spiritual Aspect of Christ. This spiritual aspect of Christ means that in Him as He was and as He is, in Him as a working power in the world, you have God fulfilling His purpose among men; and, evidently, the purpose of God is that out of men He should make the sons of God.

III. The Cosmic Aspect of Christ. St. Paul caught a glimpse of it when he tells us that in Christ Jesus the whole creation was made and consists. The idea seems to be that Christ is not only significant for human life, that He is not only the Redeemer of men, but that He is significant for the universe, that He is the Redeemer of this great system of things, and that in Him it all consists because He is the firstborn of all creation, for in Him are all things created, through Him and unto Him are all things. Now, if this cosmic idea of Christ once gets possession of you, see what it means and what it brings to you, because it would signify that Christ is not only the Redeemer of your soul, but is the secret and the meaning in this unmanageable universe which often oppresses you by its magnitude and disturbs you by its unintelligibility.

R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 273.

References. V. 16. T. C. Finlayson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 401. T. D. Barlow, Rays from the Sun of Righteousness, p. 188. V. 16-18. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Thessalonians, p. 229.

Pray Without Ceasing

1 Thessalonians 5:17

St. Basil believed that we may in real truth pray without ceasing. 'Not in syllables, but rather in the intention of the soul and in acts of virtue, which extend to all the life, is the power of prayer.... When thou sittest down to table, pray; when thou takest food, give thanks to Him that gave it thee; when thou supportest thy weakness with wine, remember Him that gave thee that gift to make glad thy heart. When the time of taking food has passed, let not the memory of the merciful Giver pass too. When thou puttest on thy coat, thank Him that gave it thee: and when thy cloak, increase thy love to God, who provided us with garments fit for both winter and summer. Is the day over? Thank Him who gave us the sun for the service of our daily work, and gave another fire to lighten the night and serve the rest of the needs of life. Let night afford other suggestions of prayer. When thou lookest up to heaven, and seest the beauty of the stare, pray to the Lord of all things seen, and adore the all-merciful Artist of the whole, who in wisdom hath made them all. And when thou seest all living things buried in sleep, then again worship Him who even against our will breaks off by sleep the stress of our toil, and, by a short respite, restores our strength.... Thus mayest thou pray without ceasing, not in words, but by the whole conduct of thy life, so uniting thyself to God that thy existence is an unceasing prayer.'

R. Travers Smith, St. Basil the Great, p. 146.

A Christian's Duty

1 Thessalonians 5:17

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'.

1 Thessalonians 5:17

Luther said: 'I have to drive myself on every day to prayer. I count it sufficient if, when I lie down to rest, I can say the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and after that a text or two. Meditating upon these I fall asleep.' E. Kroker, Luther's Tischreden, p. 294, No. 584.

References. V. 17. H. E. Brierley, British Congregationalist, 26th July, 1906, p. 721. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1039. Bishop Creighton, University and Other Sermons, p. 34. J. R. Illingworth, University and Cathedral Sermons, p. 164. T. G. Bonney. Sermons on Some of the Questions of the Day, p. 88. David Smith, Man's Need of God, p. 187. V. 17, 18. J. Keble, Sermons for the Sundays After Trinity, p. 407. V. 17-25. Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 324.

Thankfulness

1 Thessalonians 5:18

The duty of thankfulness is a duty which God Himself has laid upon us. It is a duty that has been hallowed for us by the example of our Lord Himself. 'Having given thanks,' we read, He distributed the loaves to the hungry multitude in the wilderness (John 6:11 ); and similarly, at the institution of the supper, 'He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it' (Luke 22:19 ). It is a duty, moreover, which in our own hearts we cannot but feel to be both right and fitting, in view of the blessings with which on all sides God has surrounded us.

I. Think of the bounties of God's providence. How numerous they are! What self-evident proofs of the lovingkindness and goodness of God! What have we that does not come to us from God? In all that concerns our natural, no less than our spiritual, lives we are dependent upon Him. And, consequently, He demands from us, as He is entitled to do, the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. In saying this I do not, of course, for a moment forget that this thankful spirit may not always be easy. In the struggle with poverty, in the sorrows and trials of life, which fall to the lot of some, it may be hard to find place for a feeling of thankfulness. Even in the darkest lot some streak of light, the herald of the coming day, may be found. 'I am being taught,' said Bishop Hannington, who triumphed over no ordinary difficulties, who never lost heart when most men would have despaired, 'never to be disappointed, but to praise.' Let us only strive to make the best of what we have; let us only look on the bright side even of our disappointments and failures believing that they too will work together for good to them that love God; and gradually we shall find that it is possible in everything to give thanks.

II. In this attitude we are confirmed when, passing from the bounties of God's providence, we think of the exceeding riches of His grace. When man sinned and fell God spared not His own Son, that the work of redemption might be complete. But not to dwell further upon that unspeakable gift of love itself, let us not forget how clearly and how freely the knowledge of that gift is brought within our reach. (1) We have an open Bible. (2) Or what, again, of our weekly day of rest? (3) The Sacraments of His Church.

III. We give God thanks for the promise not only of the life that now is, but also of the life that is to come. 'Some people,' says Mrs. Browning, 'also sigh in thanking God.' The thankfulness which God desires is unrestrained, willing thankfulness, in the very uttering of which we not only gather its true blessing from the past, but are strengthened and encouraged for the future.

G. Milligan, God's Garden, p. 127.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

The last piece of public service which he performed at their [the General Assembly's] request, was examining and approving a sermon which had been lately preached by David Ferguson, minister of Dunfermline. His subscription to this sermon, like everything which proceeded from his mouth or pen about this time, is uncommonly striking. 'John Knox, with my dead hand but glad heart, praising God that of His mercy He leaves such light to His kirk in this desolation.'

McCrie's Life of John Knox.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

We found my father standing before us, erect, his hands clenched in his black hair, his eyes full of misery and amazement, his face white as that of the dead. He frightened us. He saw this, or else his intense will had mastered his agony, for, taking his hands from his head, he said, slowly and gently, 'Let us give thanks,' and turned to a little sofa in the room; there lay our mother dead.... Then were seen in full action his keen, passionate nature, his sense of mental pain, and his supreme will, instant and unsparing, making himself and his terrified household give thanks in the midst of such a desolation and for it.

Dr. John Brown, Horae Subsecivae.

References. V. 18. J. C. Lees, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 316. Alfred Rowland, The Exchanged Crowns, p. 56.

The Fire of the Spirit (for Whit-sunday)

1 Thessalonians 5:19

I. 'Quench not the Spirit.' What is it that you and I generally try to quench, or, as the Greek word may be translated, to extinguish? You say at once it is fire. Is there, then, any connection between the Holy Spirit and fire? Just reflect. Today is Whit-Sunday. If you were in church this morning at the Holy Communion, you must have heard the following passage read as part of the Epistle: 'When the day of Pentecost,' i.e. Whit-Sunday as it is now called, 'was fully come,' the Apostles 'were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it,' i.e. the fire, 'sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost,' or Holy Spirit, 'and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.' Here, then, in the Epistle of today is the Spirit; here, too, is the fire; the Spirit and the fire are most intimately connected. Remember, too, how John the Baptist said of the One mightier than himself Who should come after him, 'He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost,' or Holy Spirit, 'and with fire'.

In the light of these passages it is possible, I think, to interpret my text as follows: The Holy Spirit is as fire; He descends upon human nature; He glows in human hearts; do not quench, do not extinguish the fire of the Spirit; rather fan it into such a flame that it may penetrate and illuminate all your lives.

'Quench not the Spirit.'

It is the solemn responsibility of man that he can either fan or quench, as he will, the Spirit of God.

II. The fire of the Spirit burns in societies as well as individuals; yet there, too, the fire may be fanned or it may be quenched. Upon the pages of Christian history are inscribed as in letters of gold the high resolves which men and women, acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, have solemnly formed and deliberately executed for the amelioration of the world.

III. There is yet a third atmosphere in which the Holy Spirit burns as a fire, and in which He may be fanned or quenched by the operation of human lives. I speak of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

There is a movement for drawing the forces of Christendom too long sundered and too often opposed nearer together. It is the policy of Christian Reunion. It is authoritatively commended to the interest and intercession of the Church on this Sunday. It cannot but be dear to the heart of Him who prayed for His disciples that they might be one even as He and His Father in heaven were one.

Bishop Welldon, The Gospel in a Great City, p. 129.

Suppressed Vocations

1 Thessalonians 5:19

One of the saddest chapters in the chequered history of the Church is that which recites the tragedy of suppressed vocations a chapter, alas! still unfinished. A suppressed vocation involves an arrest of benign purifying revival within the Church, and a humiliating postponement of God's merciful purpose towards the world.

I. The gifts and callings of our fellow-believers are often sterilised by the frigid censorious tempers which creep into church life. Criticism has important services to fulfil, for it tests principles, sifts out sagacious from unprofitable methods, tunes to more perfect music the speech through which men are swayed; but when criticism dominates the heart, and becomes a pitiless and gagging censorship, it works untold mischief. Every church is a storehouse of unknown aptitudes and endowments. Great apostleships may slumber in some of the commonplace souls around us, ungrown helpers of human need and healers of social sores are at our side, young men and maidens encircle us, in whom the Divine Spirit has already quickened the earnest and promise of fitness for the work the new century is bringing; and if we could only make our church life brotherly, electric, intensely stimulating, these dawning gifts and potencies would come to perfection in a far higher ratio than in the past.

II. A temper of covert and unconfessed envy often leads men to disparage the gifts of others, and to put stumbling-blocks in the path of their enterprise Tempers of envy and ambition, of jealousy and strife, of insolent prerogative and self-vaunting power, not only quench the sacred light within our own souls, but obscure gifts and oppose vocations in the elect souls through whom the Spirit seeks to illuminate and sanctify the world.

III. It is to be feared that gifts and callings which come down from above are sometimes stifled by the high-handedness and misrule of those who account themselves lords over God's heritage. The work of the Spirit may be thwarted by the pride of officialism or by the exigencies which arise in the pursuit of party schemes. Next to his personal salvation, the thing most precious to a Christian believer is the vocation he has received from God. And it should be precious to others also, for it is only by 'that which every joint supplieth, through the effectual working in every part,' that the best ideals of edification and prosperity are reached.

1 Thessalonians 5:19

The great malady of the soul is cold.

De Tocqueville.

1 Thessalonians 5:19

Who does not know this temper of the man of the world? that worst enemy of the world? His inexhaustible patience of abuses that only torment others; his apologetic word for beliefs that may perhaps not be so precisely true as one might wish, and institutions that are not altogether so useful as some might think possible; his cordiality towards progress and improvement in a general way, and his coldness or antipathy to each progressive proposal in particular; his pygmy hope that life will one day become somewhat better, punily shivering by the side of his gigantic conviction that it might well be infinitely worse.

John Morley's Voltaire, pp. 12, 13.

References. V. 19. S. A. Tipple, The Admiring Guest, p. 151. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 250. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Beading (2nd Series), p. 166. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 301; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 496. V. 21. S. K. Hocking, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 90. J. B. Hastings, ibid. vol. xlviii. p. 333. J. Burnet, Penny Pulpit, No. 1623, p. 33. Archbishop Maclagan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 241. E. J. Hardy, ibid. vol. liv. p. 395, and vol. xlvii. p. 390. A. T. Lyttelton, College and University Sermons, p. 114. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 415; ibid. vol. ix. p. 101; ibid. (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 146. V. 21, 22. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 193. V. 22. J. Eames, Sermons to Boys and Girls, p. 185.

Complete Sanctification

1 Thessalonians 5:23

It may be thought that Paul prayed here for what he was never likely to see; that his ideal of character was altogether too high to be practical. This complete consecration was surely altogether out of the range of these ordinary Thessalonians, who were busy amid the traffic and trade of that great centre of commerce. Paul did not think thus. He did not regard it as at all impossible that men who are fully occupied in ordinary work at home, or in the city, should be sanctified wholly and made blameless unto the coming of the Lord. In fact the New Testament teaching generally goes to show that unless we are being sanctified altogether, we are not being truly sanctified at all. For good Matthew Henry was quite right when he said of true holiness, 'it is symmetry of soul'; and surely that is possible to anyone who is a new creature in Christ Jesus.

I. We will first remind ourselves that in this remarkable phraseology Paul specifically includes the whole nature of man as that which should be, and may be, sanctified. Not only here, but elsewhere in Scripture, a man is spoken of as consisting of body, soul, and spirit; and these three are one, the man himself is one in three.

II. What then is this sanctifying? To 'sanctify' is to set something apart for a holy purpose, so that it may be regarded as holy, and as being profaned if used for a lower purpose. If you would see what it is to be 'sanctified,' look to Jesus. (1) His body was sanctified; for all its powers were used in absolute accordance with the will of God. To be sanctified is to be like Him. (2) Again, the soul is to be sanctified. In other words, your mental powers, your capacities of hoping and loving, are all to be sacred. (3) Similarly with the affections. (4) It may seem strange to speak about sanctifying the spirit; for if that be the highest part of man, it would seem to follow that it is essentially holy. But it is not. We need to be cleansed from secret faults and kept back from presumptuous sins.

III. This complete sanctification is a necessity if we would be conformed to the likeness of our Lord. Any part of our nature may become a channel of temptation unless the whole be sanctified.

IV. But whence is it to come? Our text, especially in the original, where emphasis is strong on 'God Himself,' suggests that it is in Him, not in ourselves, that we have hope.

V. There is a special motive for desiring this hinted at in the text. It is the coming of the Lord Jesus.

A. Rowland, The Burdens of Life, p. 141.

1 Thessalonians 5:23

Exactly in proportion as the Christian religion became less vital, and as the various corruptions which time and Satan brought into it were able to manifest themselves, the person and offices of Christ were less dwelt upon, and the virtues of Christians more.... Gradually as the thoughts of men were withdrawn from their Redeemer, and fixed upon themselves, the virtues began to be squared, and counted, and classified, and put into separate heaps of firsts and seconds; some things being virtuous cardinally, and other things virtuous only north-west. It is very curious to put in close juxtaposition the words of the Apostles and some of the writers of the fifteenth century touching sanctification. For instance, hear first St. Paul to the Thessalonians: '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. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it'. And then the following part of a prayer which I translate from a MS. of the fifteenth century: 'May He (the Holy Spirit) govern the five senses of my body; may He cause me to embrace the Seven Works of Mercy, and piously to believe and observe the Twelve Articles of the Faith and the Ten Commandments of the Law, and defend me from the Seven Mortal Sins, even to the end.'

Ruskin, Stones of Venice (vol. II. § viii).

References. V. 23. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i. p. 227. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 292. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 147; ibid. vol. iv. p. 121; ibid. vol. v. p. 136; ibid. vol. ix. pp. 71, 351. V. 23, 24. J. Keble, Village Sermons on the Baptismal Service, p. 282. V. 25. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 473. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. i. p. 1. Bishop Westcott, The Incarnation and Common Life, p. 3. V. 27. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Thessalonians, p. 237.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-thessalonians-5.html. 1910.