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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 5:1. Times and seasons.—The one is the even, continuous flow of the river, the other is the cataract. Seasons we may represent as epochs. Our Lord in the same words refused to gratify the curiosity of His followers (Acts 1:7).
1 Thessalonians 5:2. For yourselves know perfectly.—The adverb here is the same as in Ephesians 5:15 (A.V. “circumspectly,” R.V. “carefully”). It is used five times only in the New Testament. The translations are interesting—Matthew 2:8 : A.V. “diligently,” R.V. “carefully.” Luke 1:3 : R.V. “accurately.” Acts 18:25 (like Matthew 2:8). Perhaps the Thessalonians had asked for precise information. “The apostle replies, with a touch of gentle irony, “You already know precisely that nothing precise on the subject can be known—that the great day will steal upon the world like a thief in the night” (Findlay).
1 Thessalonians 5:3. For when they shall say.—R.V. “when they are saying.” No matter at what hour they say, “Peace and security,” like the voice of the watchman crying, “All’s well.” Then sudden destruction.—The word for “sudden” is only found again at Luke 21:34 in the New Testament. It is really unforeseen. As travail.—In the simile there is the suggestion that the day cannot be far off though not exactly known.
1 Thessalonians 5:5. Children of light.—Quite an Oriental expression. The kings of Egypt called themselves “children of the sun.” So these of a better sun.
1 Thessalonians 5:6. Let us watch and be sober.—Ever on the alert as men who live in hourly expectation of their Lord’s arrival. It is precisely they who maintain the preparedness of spirit who are calm when the midnight cry rings out, “The bridegroom cometh.”
1 Thessalonians 5:7. They that be drunken are drunken in the night.—The explanation is given in our Lord’s words—“because their deeds are evil”: as though darkness could veil the loss of self-respect.
1 Thessalonians 5:9. For God hath not appointed us to wrath.—The inevitable sequence of a life of sensual gratification. The very severest forms of expression for wrath fell from the gentlest lips concerning the servant who falls to gluttony and drunkenness because his lord does not appear at the expected hour (Luke 12:45-46).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
The Attitude of the Church towards the Second Coming of Christ.
The book that records the first advent of the Redeemer closes, anticipating, desiring, beseeching the second—“Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” The revelation concerning that second coming is distinct and emphatic; but the exact period, when the event will happen, is wrapped in uncertainty. As when we ascend a winding river some well-known landmark appears to alter its position, seeming now distant, now near—so, at different points on the circuitous stream of life, the familiar subject of the second Advent reveals itself as a near or remote event. “It is plain,” says Archer Butler, “that that period which is distant in one scheme of things may be near in another, where events are on a vaster scale and move in a mightier orbit. That which is a whole life to the ephemera is but a day to the man; that which in the brief succession of authentic human history is counted as remote, is but a single page in the volume of the heavenly records. The coming of Christ may be distant as measured on the scale of human life, but may be ‘near,’ and ‘at hand,’ and ‘at the door,’ when the interval of the two advents is compared, not merely with the four thousand years which were but its preparation, but with the line of infinite ages which it is itself preparing.” The uncertainty of the time of the second Advent and its stupendous issues define the attitude of the Church.
I. It is an attitude of expectancy.—
1. The time of the second coming is uncertain. “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you” (1 Thessalonians 5:1). A gentle hint that all questions on that subject were unnecessary, as there was nothing more to be revealed. The untamable curiosity and reckless daring of man tempt him to pry into secrets with which he has nothing to do and to dogmatise on subjects of which he knows the least. Many have been fanatical enough to fix the day of the Lord’s coming. For a time there has been a local excitement; the day has come and gone; the world has moved on as before, and the prophetic enthusiasts have exposed themselves to scorn and ridicule. “Of that day and hour knoweth no man” (Mark 13:32). This uncertainty is a perpetual stimulant to the people of God to exercise the ennobling virtues of hope, of watchfulness, of fidelity, of humility, of earnest inquiry, and of reverential awe.
2. The second coming will be sudden.—“For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3). The thief not only gives no notice of his approach, but takes every possible care to conceal his designs. The discovery of the mischief he has wrought takes place when it is too late. The prudent will take every precaution to avoid surprise and to baffle the subtlety and sharpness of the marauder. That which is sinful and unlawful in itself affords a resemblance to express an important truth and to admonish to duty. There is nothing more certain than that the Lord will come; nothing more uncertain when He will come; and both the one and the other should keep His people in an attitude of prayerful expectation and moral preparedness. Faith breeds fear; the more earnestly we believe, the more we tremble at the divine threatenings. Unbelief lulls the soul into false security. What a dreadful awakening will that be, when the thunder of God’s wrath shall suddenly burst from the hitherto tranquil heavens!
3. The second coming will be terrible to the wicked.—“And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). Wicked men are never more secure than when destruction is nearest, never nearer destruction than when they are most secure. The swearer may be seized while the oath is burning on his tongue, the drunkard engulfed in judgment while the cup is trembling between his lips. The other day a certain suspension bridge was crowded with pleasure seekers; the slender erection, yielding under the unwonted strain, broke in two, and in a moment precipitated numbers into the river rolling below and into a watery grave. Not less fragile is the confidence on which the unbelieving rest; and more terrible still will be the catastrophe that will suddenly overtake them. The destruction of the wicked—of all their joy, of all they most prized in this life—will be sudden, painful, inevitable. Now there is peace, for mercy reigns; but when the great day comes there will be nothing but indignation and wrath, tribulation, and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil (Romans 2:8-9).
II. It is an attitude of vigilance.—
1. This vigilance is enforced on the ground of a moral transformation. “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5). Believers in Christ are delivered from the power of darkness, of spiritual ignorance, of godless profanity, of dark and dangerous security, and translated into the kingdom of light, of truth, of purity, and felicity. They are children of the day when the light shines the brightest, when privileges are more abundant, when opportunities multiply, and responsibility is correspondingly increased. The light of past ages was but the dawn of the effulgent day which now shines upon the world from the gospel sun. Every inquiring and believing soul passes from the dawn to the daylight of experimental truth.
2. This vigilance must be constant.—“Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-7). Let us not, like the drunkards steeped in sottish slumber, be immersed in the deep sleep of sin and unconcern, neglecting duty, and never thinking of a judgment; but let us watch, and, in order to do so effectually, be sober. We are day-people, not night-people; therefore our work ought to be day-work, not night-work; our conduct such as will bear the eye of day, and has no need to hide itself under the veil of night. A strict sobriety is essential to a sleepless vigilance.
III. It is an attitude of militant courage.—“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” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). The Christian has to fight the enemy, as well as watch against him. He is a soldier, and a soldier on sentry. The Christian life is not one of soft, luxurious ease; it is a hard, fierce conflict. The graces of faith, love, and hope constitute the most complete armour of the soul. The breastplate and helmet protect the two most vital parts—the head and the heart. With head and heart right, the whole man is right. Let us keep the head from error and the heart from sinful lust, and we are safe. The best guards against error in religion and viciousness in life are—faith, hope, and charity; these are the virtues that inspire the most enterprising bravery. Drunkards and sluggards never make good soldiers.
IV. It is an attitude of confidence as to the future blessedness of the Church.—
1. This blessedness is divinely provided. “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10). The whole scheme of salvation was divinely conceived and divinely carried out in all its essential details. And, without discussing other methods by which the salvation of the race could be effected, it is sufficient for us to know that the infallible wisdom of God provided that the death of His Son was the most effectual method. Our sins had exposed us to the wrath of God, who had declared death to be the penalty of sin. This death Christ underwent on our behalf, in our stead, and so saved us from it. In every extremity, at every new challenge of the enemy, on each successive field of effort and peril, this is the password and battle-cry of God’s people—Christ died for us.
2. This blessedness consists in a constant fellowship with Christ.—“That whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10). The happiest moments on earth are those spent in the company of the good, reciprocating the noblest ideas and emotions. Christ, by dying for us, has begotten us into a life of ineffable and endless felicity; and “the hope of salvation” enables us to look forward to the period when, released from the sorrows and uncertainties of this changeful life, we shall enjoy the bliss of uninterrupted communion with Jesus.
“The soul to be where Jesus is
Must be for ever blest.”
3. The confidence of inheriting this blessedness encourages mutual edification.—“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). “All Christians indiscriminately are to use these doctrines for mutual exhortation and mutual edification. And so the spirit of the verse will be this: Comfort one another as to this matter, and then, free from the distracting and paralysing influence of vain misgivings, go on edifying one another in all the relations, and by all the means and appliances of your Church fellowship; even as also ye do. Ye do it now, in the midst of your own secret, personal sorrows and depressing fears. But you will be able to do it more effectively, with the clearer views I have now given you of what awaits us all—those sleeping in Jesus, and us who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord” (Lillie).
1. The great event of the future will be the second coming of Christ.
2. That event should be looked for in a spirit of sobriety and vigilance.
3. That event will bring unspeakable felicity to the good and dismay and misery to the wicked.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Thessalonians 5:2. The Day of the Lord—
I. A day which will be in some unique and pre-eminent sense His day.
II. It is the day of judgment.
III. The coming of His day is suggestive of fear.—“As a thief in the night.”
IV. It will come suddenly.
V. Cannot be prevented by any efforts of our own.
VI. We may prepare for the day of judgment by judging ourselves in self-examination.—H. P. Liddon.
1 Thessalonians 5:6. The Pilgrims on the Enchanted Ground.
I. Hopeful keeps awake by goodly counsel and discourse.
II. Ignorance comes up again.—
1. Ignorance explains the ground of his hope.
2. Christian explains what good thoughts are.
3. Ignorance speaks reproachfully about things he knows not.
4. He again falls behind.
III. Christian and Hopeful renew their conversation.—
1. Reflections over the conduct of Ignorance.
2. Why ignorant people stifle conviction.
3. Reasons why some backslide.
IV. Some lessons from this stage.—
1. In times of danger it is wise to recall former experiences.
2. Human philosophy may seem very wise, but the Bible is an unfailing touchstone.—Homiletic Monthly.
I. The season devoted to sleep is one of darkness.—He is in darkness as to God, himself, and the gospel.
II. Sleep is often sought for and obtained by the use of opiates.—These are:
1. The falsehoods of Satan.
2. The pleasures of sense.
3. The fellowship of the world.
III. During sleep the mind is usually occupied with dreams.—The life of the ungodly is one continued dream.
IV. He who is asleep is in a great measure insensible to pain.—
1. The sting of sin is in man’s nature.
2. Through this sleep he feels it not.—Stewart.
1 Thessalonians 5:9-10. Salvation is of God.
I. The choice of God.—
1. It was early.
2. It was free.
II. The work of Christ.—He died as our Substitute.
1. This fact explains His death.
2. Vindicates the justice of God in His death.
3. Displays the love of Christ.
III. The privilege and duty of Christians.—
1. Life in Christ.
2. Life with Christ.
3. In Him and with Him here and hereafter.—G. Brooks.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 5:12. Them which labour among you and are over you in the Lord.—“A clear testimony, from this earliest New Testament writing, to the existence in the Church at the beginning of a ministerial order—a clergy as distinguished from the laity—charged with specific duties and authority. But there is nothing in grammar nor in the nature of the duties specified which would warrant us in distributing these functions amongst distinct orders of Church office” (Ibid.).
1 Thessalonians 5:13. And to esteem them very highly in love.—R.V. “exceeding highly”—the same Greek adverb as in 1 Thessalonians 3:10, the strongest intensive possible to the language. So deep and warm should be the affection uniting pastors and their flocks. Their appreciation is not to be a cold esteem (Ibid.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
The Treatment due to the Ministerial Office.
An excessive modesty prevents many ministers from calling attention to the sacred office they hold, and to the respect in which it should ever be regarded by those over whom they have the oversight. Such a modesty is inexcusable. To say nothing of the contempt with which the world looks upon the ministerial office, there are thousands within the Church who are utterly ignorant of its duties and awful responsibilities, and who have but vague, distorted notions of their duty towards the men who first led them to Christ, and who have been instructing them in the truths for years. Let not the minister hesitate, even at the risk of being thought egotistical, to speak on this subject, and enforce the New Testament teaching. The apostle was not withheld by any false sense of modesty from pointing out, with all emphasis and authority, the obligations of the Church towards those who minister in the word and doctrine. Observe:—
I. The distinctive duties belonging to the ministerial office.—
1. To labour. “Them which labour among you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12), even unto weariness, as the verb signifies. The work of the faithful minister is no sinecure; it taxes all the powers of the brain and muscle. It is a work demanding prolonged and earnest study, intense feeling, and ceaseless toil.
2. To rule.—“And are over you in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:12). The minister is not simply a sort of popular delegate or hired agent, bound to receive the instructions, execute the wishes, and flatter the humours of his constituents. He is, indeed, the servant, in the proper sense of that word, but not the slave and tool of the Church. The right to speak and act in the name of Christ carries with it an aspect of pre-eminence and authority, and the same is implied in the very names that designate the ministerial office—as pastors, or shepherds, teachers, bishops, or overseers. On the other hand, the impressiveness of sacerdotal assumption is checked and limited by the words, “In the Lord.” The minister is to rule only in the Lord, recognising the joint union of himself and his Church with the Lord, and the principles and polity by which the Church of Christ is to be governed.
3. To admonish.—“And admonish you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12). These words also qualify the nature of the rulership. It must not be a despotic lording it over God’s heritage, issuing commands with absolute and arbitrary authority, and enforcing those commands, if not instantly obeyed, with terrifying anathemas. No; he is to rule by the force of moral suasion—by instruction, admonition, advice, warning. The verb means to put in mind. To gain obedience to the right, precept must be repeatedly enforced in all the varied forms of reproof, rebuke, and exhortation.
II. The treatment due to the ministerial office.—
1. An intelligent acknowledgment of its character. Think of its divine appointment, its solemn responsibilities, its important work, its exhausting anxieties, its special perils. Whatever the ministers seem to you, they are the eyes of the Church and the mouth of God. Acknowledge them; sympathise with and help them; give credit to their message; they watch and pray; they study and take pains for your sake.
2. A superlative, loving regard.—“Esteem them very highly in love” (1 Thessalonians 5:13). The adverb is particularly forcible, signifying super-exceedingly, more than exceedingly. There is a hint here to thousands in the Church at the present day, which it is hoped they will have the grace to act upon. The profound reverence and esteem to be shown to the ministerial office is to be regulated, not by fear, but by love. The hard-working, devoted, and faithful minister is worthy of all honour and affection.
3. The true ground of this considerate treatment.—“For their work’s sake” (1 Thessalonians 5:13). Love them for your own sake; you have life and comfort by them. Honour them for their office’ sake; they are your fathers; they have begotten you in Christ; they are the stewards of God’s house, and the dispensers of His mysteries. Honour and love them for God’s sake; He has sent them and put His word in their mouth. To love a minister is not much, except his work be that which draws out affection. He who can say, “I love a minister because he teacheth me to know God, because he informs me of duty, and reproves my declensions and backslidings”—he is the man who has satisfaction in his love.
III. An important exhortation.—“And be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:13). Not simply be at peace with your pastor, but among yourselves. You are all the children of God. God is a God of peace. Discord, contention, and unquietness are fit only for the children of the devil. Live in godly unity as becometh the children of peace. This is a duty frequently enjoined (Hebrews 12:14; James 3:0; Psalms 141:0). Let there be peace especially between the minister and his flock—no rivalry between ministers, no disputings and contentions among the people. There can be no prosperity where peace is absent.
1. The minister is accountable to God for his fidelity.
2. The people can never profit under the minister they have not learned to respect.
3. Peace is an essential condition of success in Christian work.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. A Public Ministry—
I. Is ordained by God.—“Over you in the Lord.”
II. Has clearly defined duties.—
1. To labour.
2. To govern.
3. To admonish.
III. Should be highly esteemed.—“Esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.”
1 Thessalonians 5:13. “And be at peace among yourselves.” Church Concord—
I. Possible only where there is mutual peace.
II. It is the duty of every member of the Church to promote harmony.
III. Peace with God is the condition of peace with each other.
IV. Discord in a Church mars the usefulness of the best ministry.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 5:14. Warn them that are unruly.—R.V. “admonish the disorderly.” Every Church knows these characters—men who will break through all restraint. Comfort the feebleminded.—R.V. “encourage the faint-hearted.” In 1 Thessalonians 2:11 we have met the verb before. The feeble-minded would have been scarcely worth the pity of the philosophers with whom alone the great-souled man was supreme. The comfort in that teaching, for the hour when the strong shall be as tow, was very scanty and inadequate. Support the weak.—So be like the Lord who “upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down” (Psalms 145:14). Be patient toward all men.—R.V. “longsuffering.” It is the very opposite of what we mean by being “short-tempered.”
1 Thessalonians 5:15. Evil for evil.—A quid pro quo, similar in kind and in quantity perhaps, but retaliation delights in interest.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 5:14-15
A Group of Christian Precepts.
The supernatural character of Christianity is not less apparent in the purity and loftiness of the morality it inculcates, than in the superiority of the truths it reveals. It is intensely practical in its teaching and aim. It is not like a glow of light that irradiates the external character for a time; it is an inward radiance that cannot help making itself visible in the outer life. It is not a sentiment; it is a principle. The moral precepts of Christianity can be appreciated and obeyed only by the soul that has become thoroughly possessed by the Christian spirit. Each precept in these verses may be fittingly used as the homiletical heading of a distinct paragraph.
I. Warn them that are unruly.—The unruly are those who, like disorderly soldiers, break their ranks, and become idle, dissolute, and worthless in their lives. This disorderliness was a besetting sin of the primitive Churches, not excepting the Thessalonian. Many of them, entertaining false ideas about the nearness of Christ’s second coming, became indifferent to the ordinary work of life, and sank into listlessness and apathy, and even worse. Says the proverb, “An idle brain is the devil’s workshop,” and when a man is not diligently employed in some healthy and vigorous occupation, he is apt, notwithstanding his Christian profession, to become an instrument of evil and a disturber of the Church, the peace of which he is pledged to maintain. It is difficult to pin some people down to do a bit of fair and honest work. They are full of schemes and suggestions for other people to carry out; they lay down the line of conduct with the utmost precision, but never themselves illustrate the easiness or difficulty of keeping on the line; they make laws and regulations which they never dream of observing themselves, and are for ever finding fault that other people do not observe them. These are the restless gipsies of the Church, the pests of every Christian community into which they intrude, the mischief-makers and busybodies in other people’s matters. Warn such. Admonish gently at first, putting them in mind of their duty. It is the fault of many to limit admonitions to gross and grievous sins; but in these cases warning often comes too late. If admonition in the earlier stage is not effectual, then proceed to sharper and more faithful reproof. If that is unavailing, besitate not to take more summary measures—separate yourselves from their society.
II. Comfort the feeble-minded.—More correctly—encourage the faint-hearted. The reference is not to the intellectually weak, but to such as faint in the day of adversity, or are ready to fall away before the prospect of persecution and suffering (1 Thessalonians 2:14), or who are disheartened and desponding in consequence of the loss of friends (1 Thessalonians 4:13). It may also include those who are perplexed with constant doubt and apprehension as to their spiritual condition, and who through fear are all their lifetime subject to bondage. There are some people so weighed down with a sense of modesty as to incapacitate them from using the abilities they certainly possess, though underneath all this modesty there may be the pride of thinking themselves better able to judge of themselves and their abilities than anybody else. Others, again, are so oppressed with the inveteracy of sin, that they despair of gaining the victory over it, and give up all endeavours. These need encouraging with the promises of God, and with the lessons and examples furnished by experience. Heart-courage is what the faint-hearted require.
III. Support the weak.—A man may be weak in judgment or weak in practice. There may be lack of information as to certain great truths necessary to be believed and stoutly maintained, or lack of capacity in clearly understanding and grasping those truths. Such was the condition of many in the apostle’s day, who, not apprehending the complete abrogation of the Mosaic law, and thinking they were still conscientiously bound to observe ordinances, were weak in faith. Some linger for years in the misty borderland between doubt and certainty, with all its enfeebling and poisonous malaria—ever learning, but never coming to a knowledge of the truth. Defective faith implies defective practice. Support such with the moral influence of our sympathy, our prayers, our counsel, our example. While not countenancing their sins, we may bear or prop them up by judiciously commending in them that which is good, by not too severely condemning them in the practice of things indifferent (1 Corinthians 9:20), and by striving to rectify their errors with all gentleness and fidelity.
IV. Be patient toward all men.—Not only toward the weak, the fainthearted, and the disorderly, but toward all men—the most wayward and perverse, the bitterest enemies and persecutors. Consider the patience of God towards ourselves, while for years we refused His calls and despised His admonitions; and let us strive to imitate His longsuffering and kindness. Lack of present success is no warrant to any to cease from obvious duties, and leave things to drift into hopeless entanglement and ruin. The triumphs of genius in art, science, and literature are triumphs of patience.
V. See that none renders evil for evil unto any man.—Retaliation betrays a weak, ignoble, and cruel disposition. Pagan morality went so far as to forbid only the unprovoked injuring of others, and it is not without noble examples of the exercise of a spirit of forgiveness.
“Exalted Socrates, divinely brave,
Injured he fell, and dying, he forgave;
Too noble for revenge, which still we find
The weakest frailty of a feeble mind.”
The Jews prostituted to purposes of private revenge the laws which were intended to administer equitable retributions between man and man. It is Christianity alone that teaches man to bear personal injuries without retaliation. “Hath any wronged thee?” says Quarles; “be bravely avenged—slight it, and the work is begun; forgive it, and it is finished. He is below himself that is not above an injury.” Public wrongs the public law will avenge; and the final recompense for all wrong, private and public, must be left to the infallible Judge of all (Romans 12:19-20).
VI. But ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and to all men.—The noblest retaliation is that of good for evil. In the worst character there is some element of goodness, that may call out the desire to do good towards it. Our beneficence should be as large as an enemy’s malice (Matthew 5:44-45). That which is good is not always that which is pleasing to the objects of our benevolence, nor is it always pleasing to ourselves. Goodness should be sought for its own sake, and sought with increasing earnestness and perseverance, as the hunter seeks his prey. It is the great aim and business of life. Goodness is essentially diffusive; it delights in multiplying itself in others. It is undeterred by provocation; it conquers the most virulent opposition.
1. The preceptive morality of Christianity is a signal evidence of its transcendent glory.
2. Practice is more potent than precept.
3. The Christian spirit is the root of genuine goodness.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The Secret of a Happy Life.
Happiness is not found in anything external. It is a certain state of the soul when it is filled with the peace of God and lit up with the sunshine of heaven. It is a mockery to talk about cultivating happiness. It is not a potato to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure. “Happiness is a glory shining far down upon us out of heaven. It is a divine dew which the soul, on certain of its summer mornings, feels dropping upon it from the amaranth bloom and golden fruitage of paradise.” An aged divine once gave this advice to a newly married pair: “Don’t try to be happy. Happiness is a shy nymph, and if you chase her, you will never catch her; but just go quietly on and do your duty, and she will come to you.” In these verses we have revealed to us the secret of a happy life.
I. The secret of a happy life is found in the constant and faithful discharge of Christian duties.—
1. It is our duty continually to rejoice. “Rejoice evermore” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). To rejoice is not only a privilege, but a duty; the believer is as much obliged to rejoice as he is to believe. It seems a mockery to direct people to rejoice in the midst of a world of sin, sorrow, and death, and in a Church which is sorely tried; and yet such was the condition of things when these words were penned, and when similar counsel was given to the Philippians (1 Thessalonians 4:4). Religion is never recommended by sour looks, sepulchral tones, and suppressing every external manifestation of gladness. No wonder the Christian is able to rejoice continually, when we remember the inexhaustible sources of joy he possesses in his relations to Christ, to God, and to the Holy Ghost, in the promises of the divine word, and in a loving, beneficent, and holy life. By becoming religious, a man does not lose his joys, but exchanges them—transitory, fading, earthly joys—for joy unspeakable, glorious, and that fadeth not away.
2. It is our duty to pray always.—“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As we are every moment in need, so should we every moment seek help in prayer. The Lord requires not only frequency in prayer, but also unwearied importunity. We must guard against the error of the Euchites, who flourished in the fourth century, and who regarded all other exercises of religion than inward prayer as unnecessary and vain. Live in the spirit of prayer. Let the whole work of life be as prayer offered to God. He who prays the most lives the best. Prayer surrounds the soul with a golden atmosphere, through which is sifted the sunbeams of heavenly joy.
3. It is our duty to be ever grateful.—“In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Prayer should ever be accompanied with thanksgiving. What we may pray for, for that we must give thanks; and whatever is unfit matter for prayer is unfit for thanksgiving. The Christian can meet with nothing in the way of duty that is not a cause for thankfulness, whatever suffering may be entailed. When we think of the ceaseless stream of God’s mercies, we shall have ample reasons for unintermitted thanksgiving.
II. The secret of a happy life is in harmony with the divine will.—“For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). It is the will of God that His people should be rejoicing, praying, and grateful; and this will is revealed by Christ, as declared in His gospel, as received in His Church, and as observed by those in communion with Him. What a revelation is this, not of an arbitrary demand of the impossible state of the affections towards God, but a beautiful and consolatory discovery of the largeness of His love and of the blessed ends for which He has redeemed us in Christ. The will of God supplies constant material for gratitude and praise.
Lessons.—Learn the three indubitable marks of a genuine Christian:
1. To rejoice in the mercy of God.
2. To be fervent in prayer.
3. To give thanks to God in all things.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Thessalonians 5:16. Rejoice Evermore.
I. In the exercise of faith.—
1. In the truths of God.
2. In the promises of God.
II. In the practice of Christian hope.
III. In performing the duty of charity.—Barrow.
1 Thessalonians 5:17. On Self-recollectedness and Ejaculatory Prayer.
I. Mental prayer consists in gathering up the mind from its wanderings, and placing it consciously in the presence of God.
II. In breathing out the mind towards God.
III. Materials for ejaculatory prayer.—
1. Found in daily portions of Scripture.
2. Stated prayer cannot be dispensed with even where ejaculatory prayer is practised.
3. Ejaculatory prayer helpful in striving after a life of sanctity.—E. M. Goulburn.
1 Thessalonians 5:18. The Perpetual Thanksgiving of a Christian Life.
I. Its difficulty.—
1. From our fancied knowledge of life.
2. From our unbelieving distrust of God.
II. Its motive.—God’s will is so revealed in Christ, that, believing in it, we can give thanks in all things.
1. Life the perpetual providence of a Father.
2. That perpetual providence is a discipline of human character.
3. The discipline of life is explained by eternity alone.
III. Its attainment.—It is the gradual result of a life of earnest fellowship with God.—E. L. Hull.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 5:19. Quench not the Spirit.—When there has been excess, and a good has come into disrepute, it is natural to seek to stifle down further manifestations of it. The energy of the Holy Spirit, like Pentecostal flame, is regarded as being capable of extinction.
1 Thessalonians 5:20. Despise not prophesyings.—Do not set down as of no value, prophesyings. The word for “despise” is used of those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and set at nought others (Luke 18:9), and the contemptuous bearing of him who eats flesh with which an idol’s name has been associated, and laughs at the shuddering scruples of the brother who thinks it a dreadful thing to do, and sets him at nought (Romans 14:3-10). The prophesyings at Corinth were such as might easily be contemned (1 Corinthians 14:23).
1 Thessalonians 5:21. Prove all things.—Make trial of all. A sentence fatal to the suppression of inquiry and to credulous faith. It forbids me to accept what is given out as prophecy even, unless it has a self-evidencing power. Hold fast that which is good.—The good here is that which is ethically beautiful. In 1 Thessalonians 5:15 another word points the contrast to the evil return of injury.
1 Thessalonians 5:22. Abstain from all appearance of evil.—Perhaps the best idea of the word rendered “abstain” would be gained by “hold off,” in antithesis to the “hold fast” of 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
Varied Aspects of Spiritual Influence.
In the natural world the greater law of distribution is manifested in the infinite variety that appears in the midst of an unchanging and inflexible uniformity. And in the Church of God what varied gifts, graces, and attainments are found in its members. No two are precisely alike. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; and the multiplicity and variety of endowments are intended to be exercised for one grand and definite purpose (Ephesians 4:12-13). By grouping together the precepts contained in these verses we have suggested to us the varied aspects of spiritual influence. Observe:—
I. The fervency of spiritual influence.—
1. The influence of the Spirit is represented under the emblem of fire. “Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Fire purifies the gold of its dross, enlightens by its splendour the eyes of the beholder, and raises the temperature of the Christian life. The person inspired is borne along, as it were, with spiritual ardour (Acts 18:25; Romans 12:11). Timothy is directed to rekindle or keep up the fire (2 Timothy 1:6). Christian baptism is baptism “with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Matthew 4:11). The descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost was in tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). The Spirit, as fire, bestows both the light of knowledge and the fervour of love.
2. The influence of the Spirit may be quenched by denying the personality and Godhead of the Spirit, by depreciating the necessity of and restraining the fervour of His presence in Christian work; by ignoring special reference to Him in prayer; by stifling the voice of conscience; by neglect of religious ordinances; by conformity to the world; by unsanctified use of past afflictions. The gifts of the Spirit, with all His holy operations, must be fervently and diligently cherished within us.
II. The instructiveness of spiritual influence.—“Despise not prophesyings” (1 Thessalonians 5:20). The word “prophesying” in the New Testament signifies not only the prediction of future events, but the instructions of men inspired by the Holy Ghost, teaching Christian doctrines, revealing or explaining mysteries, exhorting to duties, consoling the sorrowing and afflicted. It is what we understand by preaching. It is not so much the prediction of events that are future, as it is the proclamation of duty that is instant. However exalted the believer may be in spiritual experience, however rich in faith and charity, it is still his duty to attend to preaching. “Despise not prophesying.” Like many a negative in the Bible, it means a very decided positive in the opposite direction. Despise it not by exalting reason above revelation. Despise it not by identifying true religion with the weakness, oddities, and eccentric notions of good but ignorant men. Despise it not by denying its beneficent teachings, spurning its wise counsels, and neglecting its faithful warnings. “Where there is no prophecy the people perish. He that despiseth it shall be despised of the Lord; he shall be cast into darkness, because he would not delight in the light (Acts 13:41; Proverbs 1:24-31).
III. The possible abuse of spiritual influence.—“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Error is never so dangerous as when it is the alloy of truth. Pure error is seen through at once and rejected; but error mixed with truth makes use of the truth as a pioneer for it, and gets introduction where otherwise it would have none. Poison is all the more dangerous when mixed up with food—error is never so likely to do mischief as when it comes to us under the pretensions and patronage of that which is true. Hence the importance of testing every pretender to spiritual illumination—as the goldsmith tests the gold and discovers the amount of alloy in it. “Beloved,” says St. John, “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” There are certain fundamental truths that are beyond all necessity of testing, and which transcend the powers of human reason to fully comprehend. The direction is addressed to the Church, to those who possess the Spirit by whose help the test is applied. The utterances of the Spirit may be tested in their relation to the glory of Jesus, and by the influence of the truths uttered upon the moral and spiritual life of the teacher and his followers. Having proved the truth, hold fast that which is good, as with both hands and against all who would forcibly wrest it from you. When you have tried and found out the truth, be constant and settled in it. A wavering-minded man is unstable in all his ways:—
“Seize upon truth wherever ’tis found,
Among her friends, among her foes,
On Christian or on heathen ground,
The flower’s divine where’er it grows—
Refuse the prickles and assume the rose.”
IV. The sensitiveness of spiritual influence.—“Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Nothing will sooner quench the fire of the Spirit in the believer than sin. Therefore is he exhorted to abstain, to hold aloof from every species of evil; not only from that which is really and in itself evil, but also from that which has the shape or semblance of evil. Not what we are, but what we appear, determines the world’s judgment of us. Our usefulness in the world is very much dependent on appearances. Our abhorrence of evil, both in doctrine and practice, must be so decided as to avoid the very show of it in either. He makes conscience of no sin that makes not conscience of all; and he is in danger of the greatest who allows himself in the least. “By shunning evil things,” says Bernard, “we provide for conscience; by avoiding ill, shows we safeguard our fame.” The believer has need of a sound judgment, a sensitive conscience, and an ever-wakeful vigilance. To sanction evil in any form is to dim the lustre and stifle the operation of spiritual influence. “Know nought but truth, feel nought but love, will nought but bliss, do nought but righteousness. All things are known in heaven ere aimed at on earth.”
1. The mightiest influence in the universe is spiritual.
2. Increase of spiritual influence is dependent on uprightness of life.
3. The best spiritual gifts should be eagerly sought.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Thessalonians 5:19. Quench not the Spirit.
I. The mode of the Spirit’s operation is likened unto that of fire.—
1. Fire of unrest. When the Spirit convinces of sin.
2. Fire of purification. When the Spirit burns up evil within.
3. Fire of consecration. When the Spirit dwells within as a mighty impelling force.
II. It is in our power to quench the Holy Fire.
III. The ways in which men quench the Spirit.—
1. By continuing in known sin.
2. By indulging in a light, frivolous spirit.
3. By refusing to believe in anything they cannot see or touch. 4. By allowing worldly affairs to absorb the affections.
5. By neglecting religious duties.
6. By not exercising the gifts already bestowed.—Local Preacher’s Treasury.
1 Thessalonians 5:20. Despise not Prophesyings—
I. Because they are the sayings of God.
II. They are the grand appointed means of our salvation.
III. Because we greatly need them.
IV. We grieve the Spirit of God thereby.
V. It is the sure way of contracting a habit of despising divine things in general.
VI. It lays stumbling-blocks in the way of others.
VII. Those who despise destroy themselves.—E. Hare.
Abuse of Public Worship.
I. The offence.—
1. Habitual neglect of public worship.
2. Attendance on public worship in an improper state of mind.
3. Failure to improve public worship for the purposes for which it is intended.
II. Its sin and danger.—
1. It involves contempt of the authority of God.
2. It involves contempt of an institution with which God has specially identified Himself.
3. It involves contempt of one of the appointed means of grace.
4. It involves contempt of our own soul.—G. Brooks.
1 Thessalonians 5:21. Rationalism.
I. Prove all things.—
1. Our own sentiments.
2. The sentiments of others.
II. Hold fast that which is good.—
1. Against the assaults of proud reason.
2. Against the assaults of mad passions.
3. Against the assaults of a menacing world.—Ibid.
Prove all Things.
I. The course of conduct commanded.—“Prove.”
1. By an appeal to the word of God as supreme.
II. The extent to which the course of conduct is to be carried.—“All things.”
1. Things taken for granted to be right.
2. Things wrong.
3. Things doubtful.
III. Some hindrances to the adoption of this course.—
1. Dislike to the trouble it may cause.
2. Fear of the demands which the result may make.
IV. Blessings likely to result from this course.—
1. Activity of mind in matters of religion.
2. A specific acquaintance with the word of God.
3. Legitimate independence of thought.
4. Increasing strength of Christian character.
5. Increase of Christian sagacity.
6. The adorning of the Christian doctrine in the eyes of men.—J. Holmes.
Hold Fast that which is Good.
I. Be well assured of the value and goodness of the possession.
II. Cherish a deep sense of responsibility because you have been led to prove and to be convinced of the good.
III. Be assured that powerful influences will be exerted that you may lose your hold.
IV. Do not allow your convictions of its goodness to be unsettled.
V. Do not take hold of anything which you cannot hold at the same time that you firmly grasp this.
VI. Do not let a little of it go.
VII. Hold it more firmly.
VIII. Regard how others have been affected by the way they have held.
IX. Depend entirely on the grace of God to enable you to do this.—Ibid.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 5:23. Sanctify you wholly.—“Rather—unto completeness. The apostle prays that they may be sanctified to the fullest extent” (Ibid.). Your whole spirit … be preserved blameless.—R.V. “be preserved entire, without blame.” “From the degree of holiness desired we pass to its range, from its intension (as the logicians would say) to its extension” (Ibid.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
A Prayer for Sanctification.
Sanctification is the supreme end of the Christian life, and everything should be made to contribute to the grand result. It is the crown and ornament of all other graces, the perfecting of every moral virtue. The fact that man is capable of so lofty a degree of personal holiness indicates that it is the supreme end for which he ought to live. He misses the glory that is within his reach if he does not attain to it. Sanctification in its radical meaning is simply separation—a separation from what is evil to what is good. It then implies to make holy that which is unholy. It begins in a moral transformation, the regeneration of the heart, and advances to perfection. Observe:—
I. That sanctification is a complete work.—“Sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
1. It affects the intellectual nature of man.—“Your spirit.” It is this that distinguishes truth from falsehood and apprehends the mysteries of religion. If the intellect is sanctified, there is less danger of falling into error and heresy. Enlightened by the Holy Ghost, it enables man to prove all things and to test and judge every aspect of truth.
2. It affects the spiritual nature of man.—“Your soul”—the seat of the affections and will, the passions and appetites. The having the heart in a right or wrong condition makes the difference between the moral and the immoral character. When the heart is sanctified the passions and appetites are kept within due bounds, and the believer is preserved pure from the sinful lusts of the flesh. The same distinction between spirit and soul is made in Hebrews 4:12; and in Titus 1:15 a distinction is made between the intellectual and moral in the terms mind and conscience.
3. It affects the physical nature of man.—“Your body.” The body is the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 4:19), and must be kept pure and blameless—must be kept in temperance, soberness, and chastity; to pollute it with fleshly lusts is to pollute and destroy it (1 Corinthians 3:17). The body, immortalised and glorified, will be the companion of the glorified soul throughout eternity; and the Thessalonians had already been assured that the body was to rise from the grave (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The whole complex nature of man is to be purified. Mere outward decency of conduct is not enough; the inner man, the intellectual, moral, and spiritual faculties must be kept in a state of purity and holiness. He hath sanctity in no part who is not sanctified in every part.
4. It is a necessary fitness to meet Christ at His coming.—“Be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). It is the power of God only that can keep man holy, though the utmost circumspection and vigilance are to be exercised on his part. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”—see Him now as the inner eye of the soul is clarified, and see Him at His coming in power and great glory.
II. That sanctification is a divine work.—
1. The believer is called to sanctification by the God of unswerving fidelity. “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). God is faithful to all His promises of help. Every promise is backed by the whole force of His omnipotence—“who also will do it.” There is nothing greater in the universe than the will of God; it actuates His power and ensures His faithfulness. Entire sanctification is therefore no impossible attainment. God calls, not to mock and disappoint, but to bless.
2. The believer is called to sanctification by the God of peace.—“The very God of peace sanctify you” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Peace and sanctification are inseparable; without holiness there can be no peace. God is the author and giver of peace, and delights in peace. Mr. Howels, of Long Acre chapel, used to say that if he saw two dogs at peace with each other, he saw there “the very God of peace”; that one atom of peace left in a world of war with God is a trace of the lingering mercy and favouring goodness of God. Peace is a reflection of the divine presence on earth. The Thessalonians had been enjoined to cultivate mutual peace and harmony (1 Thessalonians 5:13), and personal holiness had been earnestly recommended (1 Thessalonians 4:3). They are now taught where peace and holiness are to be found. Both are gifts of God. We have need of peace—peace of conscience, peace from the rage and fury of the world, peace and love among those who are of the household of God.
III. That sanctification is obtained by prayer.—The loftiest duty is possible with grace; the least is all but impossible without it. All grace must be sought of God in prayer. The virtue and power of all exhortation and teaching depend on the divine blessing. What God encourages us to seek in prayer is possible of attainment in actual experience. Prayer is the expression of wants we feel. It is the power by which we reach the highest spiritual excellence.
1. Cherish the highest ideal of the Christian character.
2. Pray for divine help in its attainment.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Thessalonians 5:23. The Sanctification of the Complete Man.
I. Its meaning.—
1. There is a great trinity of powers—body, soul, and spirit—linking man with three different worlds. The physical, the intellectual, the spiritual.
2. These three ranges of powers become gateways of temptation from three different worlds, and unless they are all consecrated we are never free from danger.
II. Its attainment.—
1. We cannot consecrate ourselves.
2. God preserves the entire sanctification by imparting peace.
III. The motive for endeavouring to attain it.—“Until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1. A day of manifestation when the shadows and unrealities of time will fade in the full morning of eternity.
2. A day of everlasting gatherings.—E. L. Hull.
I. The first power or consciousness in which God is made known to us is as the Father, the author of our being.
II. The second way through which the personality and consciousness of God has been revealed to us is as the Son.
III. A closer and a more enduring relation in which God stands to us is the relation of the Spirit.—It is the graces of the Spirit which harmonise the man and make him one; and that is the end, aim, and object of all the gospel.—F. W. Robertson.
1 Thessalonians 5:24. The Faith of Man and the Faithfulness of God.
I. The highest object of man’s existence is to hold communion with his God.
II. Rightly to believe in Christ is to know and feel this communion.
III. The unalterable faithfulness of God is a fidelity to His own gracious engagement.
IV. The prominent character of God is unshaken stability.
V. God is faithful to His warnings as He is to His promises.—A. Butler.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 5:25-28
I. An important request.—“Brethren, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5:25). The most gifted saints have need of the prayers of God’s people. The great apostle, much as he prayed for himself, did not himself feel independent of the intercessions of others. His large experience of the power of prayer made him only the more anxious to strengthen his personal interest at the throne of grace. The least gifted saint in other respects may be mighty in prayer. Believers are so bound together as to be dependent on one another, and all on the great Head of the Church. The richest inheritance of the anxious minister are the prayers of his people. A praying Church will never have to complain of an insipid and fruitless ministry.
II. A Christian salutation.—“Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss” (1 Thessalonians 5:26). The “kiss of charity” in those days was a token of friendship and goodwill, something equivalent to the shaking of hands in modern times. In the Syrian Church, before communion, each takes his neighbour’s right hand, and gives the salutation, “Peace!” The greeting was “a holy kiss”—pure and chaste, such as one Christian may give to another, and not sin. Christianity is the soul of courtesy. “Forms may change; but the same spirit of brotherly love and cordial recognition of one another, under whatever diversities of temporal circumstances, should ever characterise those who know the love of a common Saviour, and have entered into the communion of saints” (Lillie). Let the love of the heart toward all the brethren be practically manifested in becoming acts of courtesy and goodwill.
III. A solemn direction.—“I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren” (1 Thessalonians 5:27). This first epistle to the Thessalonians is, in point of time, the earliest of all the canonical books of the New Testament; and here is a solemn injunction that it be publicly read to all the people. The Romish Church, if she does not deny, very unwillingly allows the reading of Scripture by the laity. “What Rome forbids under an anathema,” says Bengel, “St. Paul enjoins with an adjuration.” None should be debarred from reading or hearing the word of God. “Women and children are not to be excluded” (Deuteronomy 31:12; Joshua 8:34-35). Lois and Eunice knew the Bible, and taught it to the child Timothy. The Berœans had free access to the sacred volume, and searched it at their pleasure. The public reading of the Holy Scriptures is an important means of edifying the Church; it is enforced by apostolic authority; it familiarises the mind with the greatest truths; it keeps alive the enthusiasm of the Church for aggressive purposes.
IV. A gracious benediction.—“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen” (1 Thessalonians 5:28). The epistle closes, as it began, with blessing. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is the fountain of all the good that has flowed in upon and enriched the human race. The three great features of that grace—pardon, peace, holiness—are clearly elucidated in this epistle. The fountain is inexhaustible. Its streams of blessing are ever available for needy, perishing man.
1. Prayer is an ever-present duty.
2. Christianity hallows all the true courtesies of life.
3. The word of God should be constantly read and studied.
4. The best blessings issue from the inexhaustible grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Thessalonians 5:25. Pray for Us.
I. We greatly need your prayers.—Our state, like yours, is a state of probation. We have uncommon wants. We have a strict account to give.
II. We request your prayers.—
1. You can pray.
2. God will hear you.
III. We may reasonably expect that you will pray for us.—
1. We pray for you.
2. We are labouring for your advantage.
IV. We are warranted to expect it from your own professions.—
1. You profess a high degree, not only of respect, but of love to your preachers.
2. Some of you can scarcely give us any other proof of it.
V. It will be to your advantage to pray for us.—
1. It will prepare your minds for hearing us.
2. This will make us useful to you.
VI. Your prayers will make us more useful to others.
1 Thessalonians 5:27. The Public Reading of the Scriptures.
I. To debar the Lord’s people from acquainting themselves with Scripture is a great sin.—Scripture should be translated into the native tongue of every nation where Christ has a Church, that people may read it, hear it, and be acquainted with it. They ought diligently to improve all helps to acquaint them with the mind of God revealed in Scripture, and look upon their doing so as a duty of greatest importance and weight.
II. Ministers and Church guides should see that the people of their charge be acquainted with Scripture.—Should invite them to read it in secret and in their families, and use their influence that children of both sexes be trained up at schools to read the Lord’s words distinctly in their own native language.
III. Scripture should be publicly read to God’s people assembled together for His worship.—Even though not immediately expounded and applied, the reading of God’s word allows it to speak for itself and impress its own divine authority.—Fergusson.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29