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1 THESS. 5
This chapter continues, significantly, the teaching on the Second Advent, but with a difference of purpose. Whereas in 1 Thessalonians 4 the purpose was reassurance with reference to deceased Christians, in this it is rather an admonition to be ready for the event when it occurs (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). Then follows a paragraph of instructions directed especially to the elders of the church (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22), with the conclusion next, containing the apostolic signature and characteristic greeting (1 Thessalonians 5:23-28).
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that aught be written unto you. (1 Thessalonians 5:1)
Times and seasons ... "This refers to the time and the precise period of our Lord's advent." Kelcy properly discerned the apostle's intent here, the same being that of warning them so to conduct themselves "that they will be ready for the Lord's coming." A very similar line of thought is found in the gospel of Luke (Luke 13:23,24), where is recorded a question by the Lord's followers, thus: "Are there few that be saved?" Instead of answering their question, the Lord thundered the imperative, "Strive to enter in." Of far more importance than speculations as to the final number of the redeemed, Christ's admonition that every man `agonize' in the hope of being among that number shows where the emphasis should be. Some of those Thessalonians were very concerned about the destiny of dead Christians; but, after disposing of that problem, showing that death cannot make the slightest difference in eternal rewards, Paul then thundered the warning that when the Second Advent does occur, vast numbers of earth's population shall be totally unprepared for it, and that even Christians should exercise the utmost diligence to be prepared for Jesus' coming.
Cousins thought that Paul in this verse was reassuring those "who feared they might not be ready"; but this writer believes that it was Paul who feared they might not be ready. This view is based on the fact that there is more of warning than of reassurance in this first paragraph.
 P. J. Gloag, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 21 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 102.
 Raymond C. Kelcy, The Letters of Paul to the Thessalonians (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, Inc., 1968), p. 104.
 Peter E. Cousins, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 496.
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
Know perfectly .... "There had been no special revelation to any of the Thessalonians regarding this; they had not had the privilege of hearing Christ personally while he was upon earth; and, therefore, it may be assumed that Paul here meant that he and Silas and Timothy had fully and carefully instructed them on these things at the time of their conversion.
Day of the Lord so cometh ... "In the Greek, there is no definite article before either `day' or `Lord,' indicating that the expression was stereotyped, having become somewhat as a proper noun." The expression was used extensively in the Old Testament; and Barclay summarized the Old Testament meaning of the expression thus:
(i) It would come suddenly and unexpected, (ii) it would involve a cosmic upheaval in which the universe would be shaken to its very foundations, and (iii) it would be a time when God would bring judgment upon the nations.
The adoption, from the very beginning of Christianity, of this same expression, used in the sense of the day of Jesus Christ, shows how universally the early church accepted Jesus as co-equal with God. Thus, as Gloag put it, "The day of the Lord here means not the destruction of Jerusalem, nor the day of one's death, but the day of the Lord's advent."
The suddenness and unexpectedness of that day were always associated with the prophecies pertaining to it. Lipscomb has a wonderful comment on this thus:
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.
 Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 105.
 William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 205.
 P. J. Gloag, op. cit., p. 102.
 David Lipscomb, Commentary on 1Thessalonians (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1976), p. 63.
When they are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in no wise escape.
When they are saying ... has the equivalent meaning of "When people are saying." Primarily, it is the non-Christian portion of humanity in view, because the thrust of this warning is that Christians may not find themselves surprised by the Lord's coming. As Moffatt expressed it:
While the Day comes suddenly to Christians and unbelievers alike, only the latter are surprised by it. Christians are on the alert, open-eyed; they do not know when it is to come, but they are alive to any signs of its coming.
Peace and safety ... At the precise moment when humanity feels most secure in their rebellious and sinful course against God, and at a time when all of the devices of government and society may have produced the environment in which man may fancy that the peace, prosperity and safety of the whole world have been secured - precisely then shall the Lord descend from heaven with a mighty shout, the voice of the archangel and the trump of God!
Travail upon a woman with child ... A very apt simile is this; for, as Ward noted, "The sudden pain of labor, even when it is expected (and a woman expects labor just as a Christian expects the [@parousia]), it is sudden when it comes."
 J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 979.
 James Moffatt, The Expositor's Greek Testament, Vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 39.
 Ronald A. Ward, Commentary on 1,2Thessalonians (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1973), p. 110.
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that day should overtake you as a thief:
Darkness is used here as antithetical to light, and very similarly to the writings of John; these passages refer not to literal darkness and light, but to the state of rebellion against God (darkness) and to the state of obedience (light). Wesley's paraphrase of this is:
But ye members of the church, living in the light, expecting the coming of your Lord (Matthew 25:10) cannot be surprised. Your knowledge and faith lead you to be always ready.
The ASV in this place follows the rendition in KJV and this is good. As Morris said, "The KJV has better manuscript attestation ... the sense of KJV is better."
As a thief ... The Lord himself used this figure; a thief gives no warning of his coming.
 John Wesley, One Volume New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1972), in loco.
 Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentary, 1,2Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956), p. 92.
for ye are all sons of light, and sons of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness;
These Johannine metaphors were known and used by all of the apostles. The uses of "sons" in such a metaphor "indicate close connection or a resemblance, and are a Hebrew idiom." Thus, `Son of God' identified Jesus Christ as having the same nature of God and as existing on an equality with God.
Sons of the day ... means nearly the same as "sons of light," except, as Morris said, "It refers back to 'the day of the Lord,' with all that that means in terms of participation in the triumph of that great day."
Note too that Paul first stated the positive truth of their being sons of light, and sons of day, and then in the negative opposites of being not of the night or of darkness.
 Peter E. Cousins, op. cit., p. 496.
 Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 93.
so then let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober.
Let us not sleep ... This refers to a state of spiritual deadness in which the whole pagan world of that era slumbered. It did not seem so, of course, to them that slept. They were doubtless busy with many exciting and interesting things; but, as regarded the age of debauchery in which they lived and the signal of the summary end of it in the preaching of the good news of Christ; of that they were totally unaware. They slept through it! Only that person who is spiritually aware, having regard to the will of the Creator, and possessing a sharp consciousness of the moral and spiritual state of humanity - only such a person is truly awake. The person thus awake is heeding Paul's admonition here to "watch and be sober."
For extended discussion of "Sleep" in the spiritual sense, see my Commentary on Romans, pp. 458-460.
For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that are drunken are drunken in the night.
There is no need to hunt metaphors here. These words are "not to be taken metaphorically, but as a simple statement of fact - what occurs in ordinary experience." Immorality, drunkenness and debaucheries of every kind are practiced principally at night. Long before the Christian era, the association of drunkenness with night was so universally accepted that when Peter defended the apostles against a charge of being filled with new wine on Pentecost, he appealed to a universally accepted truth, "These are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day" (Acts 2:15). There has always been something about wickedness which makes it inappropriate to indulge in it in the daytime. Night is the time for the deeds of darkness. George Elliott has a beautiful passage on this, quoted by Moffatt:
There are few of us who are not rather ashamed of our sins and follies as we look on the blessed morning sunlight, which comes to us like a bright-winged angel beckoning to us to quit the old path of vanity that stretches its dreary length behind us.
 P. J. Gloag, op. cit., p. 103.
 James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 40.
But let us, since we are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.
For extended comment on Paul's famed triad of "faith, hope and love," see under 1 Thessalonians 1:3, above. Amazingly, Paul here switched metaphors in the middle of a train of thought, a style characteristic of the blessed apostle and absolutely impossible of forgery or imitation. Only Paul could have done a thing like this. As Paul was familiar with military operations, it would appear that his mention of "watch and be sober" triggered the thought of an armed sentry; and, as the "armor of God" metaphor was a favorite of his, he immediately combined it with the prime virtues of faith, hope and love. The fullest development of the metaphor is in Ephesians 6:13ff.
For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
Appointed us not unto wrath ... Although the wrath of God was not elaborated in this paragraph, it is the background against which every line of it is written. Some are appointed unto wrath, namely, the rebellious and sinful enemies of God and all righteousness; and a prerequisite of salvation is an awareness of its opposite. Morris' comment on this is:
Whoever thinks he can smile at God's wrath will never praise him eternally for his grace. One of the things that gave salvation so full a meaning to New Testament Christians was that they were sure of the wrath of God and knew that Christ had rescued them from a terrible fate.
Obtaining of salvation ... "The natural meaning of this is `the acquiring of salvation,' making it (salvation) to some extent to be a matter of human activity," which of course it is! When the apostles exhorted people to "work out" their own salvation, and to "save yourselves" from a perverse generation, such were not idle words but present urgencies. Nor did any of them pause to explain with every mention of what people were to do, that of course man cannot be his own saviour. Our own generation has stressed the latter fact (and it is a fact) to the extent of failure to make it clear to every man that if he desires to be saved there are definitely some things he must do, the same being neither optional, unessential or unnecessary. Such a truth is inherent in what is said in this ninth verse.
Whether we wake or sleep ... Here the meaning is, "whether we live or slumber in the sleep of death" we shall participate in the fellowship of Christ at his coming.
 Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 95.
Wherefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as also ye do.
The responsibility of Christians is to do, practice, say and engage in only those things that contribute constructively to the building up (the figure is that of a building) of fellow Christians. 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.
But we beseech you, brethren, to know them that labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;
In this study, the entire paragraph beginning here and through 1 Thessalonians 5:22 is accepted and explained as Paul's instructions to the elders at Thessalonica. In all the history of true Christianity, there were never any persons appointed "over you in the Lord" except elders of the church; and the mention of this is a definition of the persons addressed. Although some deny it, substantial scholarship supports this opinion:
Certainly, if there were elders in the church at Thessalonica - and it is highly probable that there were - these are meant in 1 Thessalonians 5:12.
They (of 1 Thessalonians 5:12) are no doubt identical with those elsewhere called pastors, elders and bishops.
The probable reference is to the presbyters sometimes called overseers.
It is plain from Acts 14:23 that Paul selected elders to guide the churches he founded, and so in Thessalonica.
Frame rejects this idea, "for we are in the period of informal and voluntary leadership." But elders were appointed from the earliest times (Acts 9:30; 14:23).
It was Paul's custom to organize the churches which he had founded, and to appoint presbyters among them. Although the church at Thessalonica had been so recently founded, yet it had its presbyters.
Scholars who reject such opinions do so upon a priori attitudes which they bring to the consideration. For example, the notion that church government is something that "developed" in the early church, or that Paul was "feeling his way along" in the formulation of his doctrine - these and other such assumptions enter into the rejection of that which is, on the face of it, rather simple truth revealed in the New Testament.
Regarding the duties of the officers in view in this passage, Mason stated:The presbyters are not only organizers, managers of the corporate affairs of their church, but also spiritual guides to give practical advice. These are the two senses in which they "are over you."
 William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 135.
 A. M. Stibbs, New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1160.
 J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 989.
 Peter E. Cousins, op. cit., p. 497.
 Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 98.
 P. J. Gloag, op. cit., p. 104.
 A. J. Mason, Ellicott's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 144.
and to esteem them exceedingly highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves.
This admonition reaches something of a superlative in sacred instructions regarding the esteem and honor to be bestowed upon men, men in possession of the office of the eldership, and charged with the spiritual guidance of a church. This divine order is frequently neglected, but to the hurt of all who do so. True and faithful elders of the church are the most honored men in the New Testament, aside from the holy apostles and prophets themselves. It is not for themselves alone, personally, that this honor and esteem are intended, but as a mark of respect and appreciation for their work, which is the most important on earth.
And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be longsuffering toward all.
While primarily the duty of elders, Paul so phrased this edict as to make it applicable to all "brethren," thus involving every Christian in the need of admonishing, correcting and encouraging others.
The disorderly ... "Originally a military term (for a soldier who fell out of the ranks, or failed to keep step), the term came to be used of idle and careless habits." Regarding the particular disorder which might have been in evidence at Thessalonica, Moffatt has this: "The particular form of insubordination at Thessalonica was idleness." Paul would deal with that effectively in the second epistle to the Thessalonians.
Encourage the fainthearted ... This word is "Feeble minded" in the KJV, but the present-day connotations of that term make the ASV far preferable.
Support the weak ... Where is there an eldership that is not concerned with the "weak"? People who are weak in faith, weak in their commitment, weak in their attendance, weak in their duty of giving, weak in all departments - these are the constant concern of elders, and should be the concern of all Christians.
 Peter E. Cousins, op. cit., p. 497.
 James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 41.
See that none render unto any one evil for evil; but always follow after that which is good, one toward another, and toward all.
None render unto any one evil for evil ... This has no reference whatever to magistrates whose duty it is to mete out punishment to convicted criminals. Rather the teaching here is that Christians must not, in their personal relationships, retaliate in kind against wrong-doers. Christianity was never intended merely for clear days and fair weather. In the bitter experiences of life, the grace of non-retaliation must be honored and cultivated, difficult as it may be to do so.
Paul said almost this same thing in Romans 12:17, under which additional comment on this may be found in my Commentary on Romans, p. 439.
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward.
Rejoice always ... Few things about the New Testament are more remarkable than this continual stress on joy." The whole of the letter to the Philippians is dominated by it, and extensive attention to it was given in the commentary on that epistle.
Pray without ceasing ... This cannot mean the constant and unintermittent utterance of petitions to God, but means "maintain the good habit of frequent prayers."
In everything give thanks ... For an entire sermon on this text, see in my Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, under Philippians 4:6.
These brief, hammer-blow admonitions carry the full authority of apostolic power and have been greatly honored and appreciated in all generations since they appeared. Barclay spoke of them as "a chain of jewels of good advice." Moffatt declared that "To comment adequately upon these diamond drops would be to outline a history of the Christian experience in its highest levels." Here in bas-relief, chiseled into the granite face of history, are these mighty virtues of the "new man" in Christ Jesus, without whom the world would never have survived as long as it has.
 Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 101.
 William Barclay, op. cit., p. 206.
 James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 41.
Quench not the Spirit;
The word for "quench" was used of putting out a fire, and the thought is that the child of God should not put out the sacred fire within. This verse is parallel with the following:
Many are weak and sickly among you, and some sleep (1 Corinthians 11:30).
The last state is become worse than the first (2 Peter 2:20,21).
There is a sin unto death (1 John 5:16).
It is impossible to renew them (Hebrews 6:4-6).
She that giveth herself to pleasure is dead while she lives (1 Timothy 5:6).
Whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin (Mark 3:29).
In all seven of the references cited, the unpardonable sin is in view.
Regarding quenching the Spirit: The reference here is most certainly to the earnest of the Holy Spirit given to every Christian upon his obedience to the gospel of Christ (Acts 2:38f and Ephesians 1:13). Just as fire may be smothered by an element such as earth or water, so the spirit of God may be quenched in people's hearts by things which the Spirit cannot abide. The cares, riches and pleasures of life choke out the word and quench the Spirit. The blessed fire can be put out by the cold drizzle of worldliness, by the heavy blanket of selfishness, or by the companionship of evil people. The negligent student of the holy scriptures can let the fire go out. The stormy winds of false doctrine can blow it out!
Of all the outrageous interpretations of this place, the prize must go to them who see the passage as an admonition not to discourage charismatic gifts, namely, tongue-speaking! Ward's comment is, "The church would have been harmed by the discouragement of men with gifts of spontaneous utterance!" It is too bad Paul did not know that, for he did everything that even an apostle could do to stop it altogether down at Corinth. Besides, the word here is not "discourage" but "quench," which means to put out altogether. Cousins is doubtless correct in the opinion that "The emphasis is ethical, a warning against conduct which might stifle the Spirit's operation." For a list of the seven sins that people may commit against the Holy Spirit, see under Ephesians 4:30 in my Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.
For discussion of the Sin against the Holy Spirit, from the viewpoint of its being "an eternal sin," see my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 173-175. Any sin that quenches the Spirit of God in Christian hearts is the eternal and unpardonable sin. The soul draws back from the contemplation of so terrible a disaster as that. Oh child of God, keep the holy fire alive. As the vestal virgins in the ancient Roman temple guarded the sacred flame with their lives and constant devotion, let Christians tend the sacred token of heaven that burns in their souls. In Atlanta, Georgia, there is a burning street lamp, the flame of which dates back to the Civil War, a link with the past which that community has faithfully guarded for over a century. How much more should people who have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit guard against those evils which continually threaten to quench his blessed presence in their hearts!
 Ronald A. Ward, op. cit., p. 117.
 Peter E. Cousins, op. cit., p. 497.
despise not prophesyings; prove all things; hold fast that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.
Despise not prophesyings ... There is no need to understand this as a reference to charismatic gifts of the primitive era before the New Testament was written. It is well known that Paul often used the word in the sense of teaching the holy scriptures. Calvin and many other noted expositors construed it in this way. Calvin said, "By the term `prophesying' I do not understand the gift of foretelling the future, but the science of interpreting Scripture."  In this light, therefore, "proving all things" and "holding fast to that which is good" would be exemplified by the ancient Bereans who "searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). Even today, in finding the difference between what is true and what is false, there is no substitute for searching the word of the Lord. Some commentators find a reference here to money-changers biting coins to see if they were good; but this is fanciful, being founded on variant meanings of Greek terms which Paul used.
Abstain from every form of evil ... Despite the traditional usage of this verse (as in the KJV) to warn against "the appearance of evil," the actual meaning, in this context, is that, having tested what is true and false, the believer should cling to the true and abstain from the false.
And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"Peace" in this verse and "grace" a little later in 1 Thessalonians 5:28 are another variant, along with the instance in Ephesians, of Paul's varying the formula of "grace and peace." Here it is "peace and grace."
Sanctify you wholly ... Despite the "setting apart" unto God that takes place in one's conversion (faith, repentance and baptism) into Christ, the sanctification in this verse refers to the continuation of the sanctification that is begun at the beginning of the Christian life. The word "wholly" indicates that it is a perfected or completed state of sanctification that Paul desired the Thessalonians to possess.
Spirit and soul and body ... Despite the prevalent opinions to the effect that Paul used these words loosely and that man is not a triple being, 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? Spirit and soul are often confused, but as Ward pointed out, "Through the Holy Spirit man's mind has been quickened, and Paul called such a quickened mind "spirit." This view seems correct, and thus we have man as a creature of mind, soul and body, the mind standing for the intellect, the soul for his spiritual nature, and the body for his physical being. The three institutions in every society appointed to minister in these three separate categories (the mental hospital, the penitentiary, and the hospital of joint and bone diseases) clearly prove man's triple nature.
Be preserved entire, without blame ... The summation of the effect of salvation of people will be their presentation "without blame" before the throne of the glory of God. This can be only by the saved being presented "in Christ" (Colossians 1:28), and as being fully identified with Christ, in Christ and as Christ, and by no means in their own identity as perfect souls.
Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it.
The great achievement must ever remain the work of God. When people 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 ages is that God knows how to save even his unworthy servants!
Brethren, pray for us. Salute all the brethren with a holy kiss. I adjure you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Despite its brevity, this apostolic benediction and signature contains some very important teaching.
Brethren, pray for us ... Despite being a giant of prayer himself, Paul always felt the need of the prayer of others; and the more one prays the more he feels such a need.
Salute all the brethren with a holy kiss ... This has been frequently commented upon in this series in the several other places where the apostle issues such a command. As Cousins noted:
Kissing was a normal mode of greeting friends and became a sign of the mutual affection within the Christian brotherhood. Later it continued (to the present day in some liturgies) as a ritual observance. In the West today, even the most conservative are content to substitute the handshake.
That this epistle be read unto all the brethren ... As a considerable portion of this epistle was directed to the elders at Thessalonica, Paul, by this powerful, even blunt, adjuration served notice upon them that the epistle did not belong to the elders, but to the church. They were to be selective neither in the matter of what was read nor the individuals to whom it was read. One cannot resist the conviction that these words were written prophetically with regard to the times which, soon after the decease of the apostles, resulted in the officialdom in Christianity taking over the scriptures and arrogating to themselves the sole right, either of reading or of interpretation.
Furthermore, in some of the ancient versions (from whence the same error in the KJV), the passage was perverted to read "all the holy brethren," this device making a discrimination to the effect that only the holy brethren were to hear it read. Presumably, this was then interpreted to mean that only the orders of the religious should read it; and thus the common man was robbed of his access to this epistle and to all the word of God. William Tyndale was burned at the stake for challenging such a conception.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you ... With these noble and characteristic words, Paul closed this beautiful and instructive epistle. Every line of it is a gem. It is rich with some of the most inspiring and comforting passages in all the Bible, and the voice of this letter is frequently sounded over the graves of the righteous in all generations. Fittingly, this final brief paragraph presents the Christian's right to know, his right to read and understand the word of God. O Lord, blessed is thy holy word. Amen.
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30