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In contrast to the new revelation Paul gives at the end of ch. 4, he now tells them in ch. 5 that "of the times and seasons" there was no need to write, for this was a matter of which they were well aware. They knew perfectly that the day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night. No doubt Paul had touched on this subject when with them; but even if he had not done so, yet the Old Testament abounds in its information as to "the day of the Lord." This "Day" will come upon the whole world unexpectedly and unwelcome. Not so the coming of the Lord Jesus for His saints, for this will be both expected and gladly welcomed. But the world will know nothing of this except the sudden bewildering fact that hosts of believers have disappeared from earth. It would seem, however, that this startling event will engross them. Following the rapture of the saints to glory "the times and seasons" will resume their course and the seventieth week of Daniel 9:27 will begin. Before the first 3 %2 years are finished anarchy will erupt, and a state of world-wide convulsion, with resulting awful apprehensions of men. But the beast ofRevelation 13:1-10; Revelation 13:1-10 will, by help of Satanic power, restore a semblance of unity and order that will be so successful that he will become the object of admiring worship. "All the world wondered after the beast" (Revelation 13:3). It is then that men will say "Peace and safety," thinking that they have found the supreme leader who is able to maintain the peace for which the world has vainly struggled over the centuries. But this is the apex of the world's idolatry and will actually begin the worst trouble the world has ever seen: "then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." There will be no avoiding this awesome reaping of the whirlwind; man's pride, having been built up to such a height, will come down with tremendous force.
It is most important for us to observe, in verse 3, that though the world will not escape the "sudden destruction" that is to come, yet even the Great Tribulation will not be merely punishment of the ungodly.
The analogy"travail upon a woman with child" is surely intended to teach us that out of all this anguish God will set fit to bring fruit for His own glory. Multitudes during the tribulation will turn in faith to the Living God, having not previously known the gospel. In this God will be glorified as well as in His holy triumph over evil. Indeed as to Israel, the tribulation will be the travail pains of "a nation ... horn at once" (Isaiah 66:8).
But verse 4 speaks of the brethren, the children of God, in complete contrast to verses 2 and 3. The day of the Lord cannot overtake them as a thief, for they will already have been caught up at the coming of the Lord. In no sense is the believer himself in darkness; he is in the light, though, as in Egypt's plague all around there is "darkness which may be felt." And not only are we "in the light," but our very nature is that of "children of light, and children of the day." New birth has made an infinite difference, so that a great gulf separates us from those who are "of the night" and "of darkness." It would seem that the expression "children of light" has reference to the truth already having taken possession of the heart, though all around may be darkness, while "children of day" connects us with the future day of glory, when we shall be manifested and blessed in our proper sphere. We are not part of the present condition of things at all. The night and the darkness are alien to our nature; we look for the day, for it is our proper element.
Verse 7 is suited exhortation based upon the fact of this great difference existing. Because we are so blessed, therefore we ought not to sleep, as do others, but to watch, and be soberly on guard. Those who are of the night are asleep, unaware of the dangers lurking in the darkness, indifferent to matters of deep importance. Or they may be drunken, intoxicated with pleasure, excitement, vanity to such an extent that they are hopelessly unable to discern or meet the dangers of the night. Watching then is in contrast to sleeping, sobriety contrasted to drunkenness. May we have opened eyes, hearts exercised with godly discretion, able to avoid evil and to cleave to good. For while we are of the day, we do pass through the night of this world, and the breastplate of faith and love is an essential protection against the cold unbelief and hatred that pervades the darkness. And the helmet, the hope of salvation, is how needful too in a world intoxicated with its futile efforts to improve a condition that becomes rapidly worse. We know the answer is the coming of the Lord, and this helmet, the protection of the mind, must not be neglected. Our minds should be set on things above. Of course, this is a hope "both sure and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:19), the anticipation of salvation from the very presence of sin, from the circumstances of this present evil world, at the coming of the Lord. It is the future aspect of salvation and does not in any way affect the fact of present, settled salvation being the possession of the believer now.
And of course the future is settled. God's appointment for the believer is totally opposite that of the unbeliever. As to men generally, Hebrews 9:27 declares, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." Such an appointment means no hope whatever, but eternal doom - it is an appointment to wrath. But that of the believer is just as positively and unchangeably an appointment to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. Though saved by grace through faith now, yet we look for salvation in its fullest, purest manifestation at the coming of the Lord.
Thank God this is an appointment we shall not miss, for it is based upon the perfection of the work of the Lord Jesus, "Who died for us." It is He who has borne the wrath of God on our account, and this exempts us fully from the wrath we deserved. Consequently at the coming of the Lord "whether we wake," that is, are still alive on earth, "or sleep," that is, have died in Christ, yet there is no doubt in either case that we shall live together with Him. This would of course refer back to ch. 4:16, 17, and verse 11 would have a direct connection with ch. 4:18. How precious indeed is the basis we have for encouraging ourselves together and building up one another. We are surely provided with every necessary incentive. But the apostle adds, "even as also ye do." It was their practice, yet the admonition was needful. Is it not true that those who are the most diligent are the most ready to acknowledge the need of admonition?
More specific exhortation now begins in verse 12. While nothing is said of anyone in any official position, the saints are urged to recognize those who labored in the Lord and who took the lead in the assembly. Devotion to the work of the Lord and moral qualifications for leading the saints were things not to be ignored. Elders are not mentioned in the epistle, possibly because, all the saints having been only recently converted, none had yet gained the experience and Christian maturity suited to this. But there was preserving guards for the young assembly, and faithful laborers were to be esteemed very highly in love, not simply as personal attachment but "for their work's sake." And among all saints, they were to be at peace. This is simply being true to proper spiritual character rather than submission to officially appointed leaders.
Verse 14 shows that though generally fresh and fervent in faith, yet among the Thessalonians there were those disorderly, who required stern admonition lest this should progress to more serious proportions, but rather that this attitude should be changed. Sad to say this evidently did not correct the condition, for in the second epistle (ch. 3) he has much more to say of those who walked disorderly and requires yet more severe measures with them - that is, "withdraw yourselves" from them - not as an enemy, but withholding fellowship that might be taken in any way as implying approval. Love is always to dictate these disciplinary measures, but is not to be weak and lax when such need is present. The warning must be given first, however, before the more stern "withdrawal."
But a different attitude is to be shown to "the feebleminded" or "fainthearted," as the New Translation reads. Such require encouragement, which we must be always prepared to give with cheerful willingness. "The weak" have need of support. For this I am certainly my brother's keeper, and if God has given strength to one, it is to be willingly shared with others. We may be sure our sharing in this will not decrease our own strength, but the opposite. And after all this, patience is still to be shown to all. If we should ask, "Are there not times when patience should end?" the answer is simply, "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord" (James 5:7). This we must deeply take to heart.
Verse 15. The Thessalonians did suffer evil from the world around, but as their Master, they were not to return it. This we need as a constant reminder, for the flesh too quickly resents unfair treatment. But to return evil for evil only makes me the same as my persecutor and untrue to my Christian character. We may find it even more of a test if treated badly by a child of God, but of course the same applies. He must answer for his conduct, no doubt, but I must answer for mine. To have the heart set on good is the real preservative here. If it is so, I shall be loathe to do evil, no matter what the provocation.
But more. Though in tribulation, there could yet be a positive rejoicing, not intermittently but evermore, consistently, which is really only normal when the Lord Jesus Himself is the Object of our joy. And prayer too is to be as constant. At all times the heart may be lifted up to God, so real a habit that every occasion of need, of difficulty, or of distress will find us voluntarily and immediately crying to Him from the heart. This too is to he attended with thanksgiving "in everything." We cannot of course give thanks for what is sinful, but in the midst of whatever evil or good this thankful spirit is to be ours. The importance of this is pressed upon us in the fact of its being "the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." If we are honest in saying we desire the will of God, then here it is, and no excuse can be accepted for lack of giving of thanks.
The connection between this verse and the following should be well noted. The habit of giving thanks is important if we are to keep from quenching the Spirit. The Spirit of God should certainly be unhindered when He desires to speak through us, yet it is possible that through timidity, or through pride, or through indifference, we may be seriously guilty of quenching His working, as water quenches fire. On the other hand, we may be just as guilty of quenching the Spirit in another, by impatience, or resentment, or by belittling what the Spirit of God may be seeking to bring to our attention by another member of the body of Christ. May we judge unsparingly such selfish, sinful ways and the thoughts that lead to them. The spirit of fresh energy and devotion of a young assembly such as this could be dampened greatly by such things. In Ephesians 5:30 we are told, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." The context here involves our moral character and conduct which, if wrong, hinders the Spirit of God. But in our present chapter, quenching the Spirit is hindering His speaking through us or through others.
There is, of course, a very close connection between verses 19 and 20. To "quench not the Spirit" involves a genuine consideration of others and of that which the Spirit of God may be seeking to say through one or through another. It may be that prophesyings would be the most likely type of ministry to be despised, for this is not teaching to appeal to man's intellect, but whether in the assembly or otherwise, it is that ministry that would speak to the heart and conscience - for edification, exhortation, or encouragement (1 Corinthians 14:3) - and may be searching. Let us never think lightly of this, for it is a continual need for the intellectual, just as for all others. In fact this is the very character of the book we are considering.
But on the other hand we are not to accept anything that is said without subjecting it to the test of the Word of God. We are to "prove all things." However, young in the faith, this was the personal responsibility of every saint. Nothing was to be taken for granted or taken merely on the word of another; Scripture was their one real authority. And what is good we are to hold fast, allowing nothing to slip of the precious truth of God. This too was essential if they were to "avoid every form of evil" U.N. Darby). For evil will assume most attractive and deceiving forms just as readily as more gross forms, and only the heart holding fast what is good will be protected.
How precious in verse 23 to see the name "the God of peace," especially when the turmoil of persecution so oppressed the saints. But He was using this too for their sanctification, their being gradually weaned from the world in all its forms. Paul desires nothing less than complete sanctification, however, which could not be until the coming of the Lord. Yet experience here is intended to lead us more and more in that direction. But the whole man must be included. We are to allow "not a hoof" to be left behind, for it is only right that we should be completely devoted to the pleasure of the Lord. The "spirit" is first mentioned, being the highest entity in man, that which "knoweth the things of a man" (1 Corinthians 2:11), and is therefore connected with the mind, intelligence, conscience, reasoning power. The soul's function is rather that of feelings, desires, passions - good or bad. The body is the marvelous physical instrument in which the spirit and soul manifest themselves. Every part is to be for God as, alas, in our natural sinful state we have been utterly for self. But this preservation of spirit and soul and body in blameless character will also be perfectly fulfilled only at the coming of the Lord. Even death, though it separates spirit and soul from the body, cannot frustrate this blessed purpose of God in preserving the whole man blameless. But the end in view is to give precious character to our present lives, confiding in the faithfulness of Him who will do as He has said. He has called us, and certainly not in vain.
Is it not deeply precious too that the apostle requests the prayers of these newly converted saints? They needed no long experience to pray effectually. Nor did Paul make such a request of the Corinthians, whose history was longer, for there was spiritual exercise in Thessalonica such as was lacking in Corinth. And the affections of the saints for one another are encouraged in proper expressions too, their greeting one another with an holy kiss. In western nations, of course, this is little accepted, yet let us encourage every true expression of holy affection in the Lord between saints.
The importance of the epistle is last of all insisted upon, with a solemn charge that it be read to "all the holy brethren." Surely it is no less vital for us today, nor is the benediction less precious, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen." For it is this grace that is power for a walk with Him in sanctification from this evil world, until we see Him face to face.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26