1 Thessalonians 5:1. The apostle having described the coming of Christ to raise the dead, judge the world, and carry the righteous with him to heaven, does not quit the awful subject, but proceeds in this chapter to foretel the terror which his appearance will occasion to the unrighteous, and the punishment which he will then inflict on them: a circumstance this which merits the reader’s attention, because it proves that, in describing Christ’s second coming, the apostle had some further end in view besides that of comforting the Thessalonians under the death of their relations. But of the times — As if he had said, I have been warning you that the solemn day of universal judgment will certainly come, and have been endeavouring to lead your minds to those views of it which must be consolatory to every true believer; but concerning the precise period of time when this grand event, which will close the economy of providence, shall take place; or of the seasons — Which God hath appointed for the accomplishment of his promises and predictions, preparatory thereto; you have no need that I write unto you — No occasion to know these things particularly, since the general knowledge thereof is sufficient to render you watchful, and to excite you to make preparation for them. It is probable that, when he was with them, he had repeated to them Christ’s injunction to watch, because at such an hour as men think not, the Son of man cometh, Matthew 24:44. By making this observation, the apostle represses that vain curiosity which is natural to mankind, who, not content with the knowledge of things useful, indulge an immoderate desire of searching into things which, because the discovery of them would be hurtful, God hath determined to conceal.
1 Thessalonians 5:2-3. For yourselves know perfectly — It being a matter plainly revealed both by Christ and his apostles; that the day of the Lord — That great decisive day, to which our eyes and hearts are so much directed; so cometh as a thief in the night — Cometh suddenly and unexpectedly; and will occasion the greatest consternation to the ungodly. This comparison is used by our Lord himself to illustrate the unexpectedness of his coming, Matthew 24:43. It is used by St. Peter also, 2 Peter 3:10; see likewise Revelation 3:3. The ancients, from this comparison, and from the parable of the virgins, fancying that Christ’s coming to judgment would be in the night, instituted their vigils, in order that at his coming he might find them watching. But the true meaning of the comparison is, that, like the coming of a thief in the night, on those who are asleep and unarmed, the coming of Christ will be unexpected, and full of terror to the wicked; without determining whether it will be in the daytime or in the night. For when they — The men of the world; shall say — Shall promise to one another; peace and safety — And shall fear no evil of any kind; then sudden destruction cometh upon them — And a destruction of the most terrible kind; as travail upon a woman with child — “Nothing can be conceived more forcible to represent the anguish and torment of the wicked, occasioned by the stinging of their own consciences, and by the horrid fears which shall be excited in them, when they find themselves over-taken by the judgment, than to compare it to the pains of child- bearing.” And they shall not escape — Condemnation and punishment at that terrible day. See 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9.
1 Thessalonians 5:4-6. But ye, brethren, are not — As formerly; in darkness — In a state of gross ignorance respecting these and all other divine things; that that awful day — Or the day of death, introductory thereto; should overtake you as a thief — Should surprise you in an unprepared state. Ye are all children of the light and of the day — Ye are blest with the bright day of the gospel, which gives you full information respecting these and all other matters that concern your salvation; and he that commanded light to shine out of darkness hath shined into your hearts; enduing you with divine knowledge, and the light of living, saving faith. We are not of the night — Of heathenism or of Judaism, destitute of gospel light, and of the information which the gospel gives, particularly respecting a future and eternal state; and neither are we, though surrounded with the light of a gospel-day, in darkness — Through unbelief and blindness of mind, God having inspired us with the faith of his operation, and opened the eyes of our understanding. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others — Who are not favoured with our advantages: let us not continue in a state of insensibility and carnal security respecting these things, as if we neither looked for death, the resurrection of the dead, nor a future judgment: having all our spiritual senses closed, and carelessly resting in lukewarmness, sloth, and indolence: but let us watch and be sober — Or, let us awake and be watchful, as some render γρηγορωμεν και νηφωμεν. Let us awake to a deep sense of the absolute certainty and infinite importance of these awful discoveries, and by continual sobriety, and a temperate use of God’s creatures, of all earthly things, and especially by walking continually in the light of truth and grace, and therefore in universal holiness and righteousness, let us stand constantly prepared for the awful scenes which await us, and which we must assuredly pass through.
1 Thessalonians 5:7-11. For they that sleep, sleep in the night, &c. — Night is the time for sleep, and they that are guilty of drunkenness, gluttony, and other vices of intemperance, generally choose to hide them under the cover of darkness; and if we were still in the night of heathenish ignorance, and in a state of spiritual blindness and unbelief, our insensibility of divine things, our unwatchfulness, sloth, and indolence would have some excuse: but being of the day — And brought out of darkness into Christian and marvellous light, we have none: let us, therefore, be sober — That is, temperate, chaste, holy, and wakeful, as νηφωμεν signifies; putting on the breast-plate of faith and love — As a defence of the heart, the seat of the passions; and for a helmet — Which will defend the head, the seat of reason; the hope of final, eternal salvation. The breast and head being particularly exposed in battle, and wounds in these parts being extremely dangerous, the ancients carefully defended them by armour, to which the apostle here compares the Christian virtues of faith, love, and hope. In the parallel passage, Ephesians 6:14, the expression, instead of the breast- plate of faith and love, is the breast-plate of righteousness; to show that the righteousness of a Christian consists in faith and love: a breast-plate which, being of a truly heavenly fabric, will, if put on, and not afterward put off, render the heart, the seat of the affections, invulnerable. The apostle’s meaning, stripped of the metaphor, is this: That, to defend our affections against the impressions of outward and sensible objects, nothing is so effectual as faith in Christ, and in the declarations and promises of his gospel, and love to God and man. The head being the seat of those thoughts and imaginations, on which the affections and passions in a great measure depend, it must be of great importance to defend it against the entrance of such thoughts and imaginations as have any tendency to excite bad affections or carnal desires. But for that purpose, nothing is better than to have the head so filled with the glorious hope of the salvation offered to us in the gospel, as to exclude all vain thoughts, imaginations, and expectations whatever. This hope therefore is most properly and elegantly termed the Christian’s helmet. This exhortation to the Thessalonian believers teaches us that the sons of light must not only watch but fight. See note on Ephesians 6:11-18.
For God hath not appointed us to wrath — As he hath the finally impenitent, unbelieving, and disobedient: for the design of God in sending his Son was not to condemn but to save the world; and therefore they who are appointed to wrath, are only such as through impenitence, unbelief, and disobedience, reject him and his gospel; but to obtain salvation — Present and eternal; by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ — Who hath procured it for all true persevering believers, whose faith worketh by love; and will assuredly at length bestow it upon them; of which he hath given us full proof, in that he not only became incarnate, and subjected himself to the infirmities of our flesh, and to the many burdens and sufferings of this mortal life, for our sakes, but even died in ignominy and torture on the cross for us; that whether we wake or sleep, live or die, we should live together with him — In other words, That while we live, and when we die, the life and happiness of our immortal souls should be secure in a union with him, which death itself shall not be able to dissolve. Some interpret the expression, whether we wake or sleep, as signifying, “whether Christ come in the night, when we are sleeping on our beds, or in the day, when we are awake and busy in the pursuit of our common affairs.” But, as Doddridge has properly observed, since sleeping had just before been put for death, it seems more natural to interpret this clause as speaking of the state of believers, whether alive or dead: and then it must be considered as containing a direct proof of the life of the soul while the body is sleeping in the grave. “God forbid,” adds that pious divine, “that any should understand these words as intimating that Christ’s death is intended to secure our salvation, whether we take a watchful care of it or not. Yet, alas! the generality of Christians (so called) live as if that were the genuine and only interpretation.” Wherefore comfort yourselves together — παρακαλειτε αλληλους comfort, or exhort one another, under the various afflictions of life, and edify — εις τον ενα, each the other; in Christian knowledge and holiness, or endeavour to promote the work of grace in one another; even as also I know ye do — How well would it be, if professing Christians in general would emulate the character which the apostle gives to these believers at Thessalonica, if, “entering into each other’s true interests, as Chandler observes, they would banish from their conversation that calumny, slander, folly, and flattery which engross so much of this short transitory life, and by discoursing of things of substantial worth, endeavour to fortify each other against the snares of life, and those innumerable temptations which lie in wait to ruin us. With what comfort should we meet each other at the great day, were we, on that occasion, able to recollect that in general we had managed our conversation to our mutual advantage? For we should then be sensible that in some measure we owe our glory to our concern for, and fidelity to, each other. Besides, the remembrance of this would enlarge the love of the saints to each other in the future state.”
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. We beseech you, brethren, to know — See, mark, take knowledge of them that, 1st, Labour among you — Namely, in the work of the ministry, by preaching, teaching, catechising, visiting the sick, administering the ordinances: 2d, Are over you — Greek, προισταμενους, who preside over you; preventing all irregularities, and keeping order in your assemblies, and taking care that every one exercises his office, and fulfils his duty properly in the station in which he is placed: and, 3d, Admonish you — Who observe the behaviour of individuals, and give to such as are found faulty the admonitions and reproofs necessary in order to their amendment, and that by particular application to each. Sometimes the same person may perform all these offices; may labour, preside, and admonish the whole flock, as need may be. Sometimes two or more different persons may be employed in these duties, according as God variously dispenses his gifts. “But, O, what a misery is it,” as Wesley observes, “when a man undertakes this whole work without either gifts or grace for any part of it! Why then will he undertake it? For pay? What! will he sell both his own soul and all the souls of the flock? What words can describe such a wretch as this? And yet even this may be an honourable man!” And esteem them very highly — υπερ εκπερισσου, literally, more than abundantly; in love — The inexpressible sympathy there is between true pastors and their flock is intimated not only here, but also in divers other places of this epistle. See 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8. For their work’s sake — Their diligence and faithfulness in preaching the word, in teaching, catechising, admonishing, exhorting, and watching over the souls committed to their care, as those that must give an account: the principal ground this of the respect due from Christians to their ministers, and especially of that great regard and strong affection which true believers bear toward those who have begotten them again through the gospel. But how are Christians to esteem those pastors who do none of those things? who take the wages, but do no part of the work?
1 Thessalonians 5:14-15. We exhort you, brethren — Not only you who are pastors and rulers, but you that are private members of the church; warn them that are unruly — Greek, ατακτους, disorderly; them that stand, as it were, out of their ranks in the spiritual warfare: for it is a military term, expressing the character of soldiers who break their ranks, desert their posts, or will not know their colours, and therefore cannot perform their duty as soldiers, especially in battle. It is fitly used to denote those who neglect the proper duty of their office or station. Comfort the feeble- minded — Whose courage and resolution are ready to fail them under the difficulties they meet with. The original expression, ολιγοψυχους, properly means those of little soul, or such as are peculiarly wanting in fortitude and vigour of mind; support the weak — The infirm, whether in soul or body; be patient — ΄ακροθυμειτε, be long-suffering; toward all men — Bearing with the weaknesses of the children of God, and exercising meekness and gentleness even toward the perverse, obstinate, and ungrateful. The beauty of this whole passage is thus illustrated by Mr. Blackwall: (Sac. Class., vol. 1. p. 257:) “It is as admirable for the purity of its moral, and the diffusiveness of its charitable meaning, as for the elegance and force of its words, and the delicate turn of its structure. The union of the words within each comma or stop, and their mutual relation and assistance, is exquisitely proper and natural. The noble period runs on with strength and smoothness, and ends close and full. Both the ear and judgment are satisfied.” See that none, &c. — Watch over both yourselves and each other, and whatever injury any of you may have received, whether from professed friends or from avowed enemies, let no one render evil for evil, but ever follow that which is good — Endeavouring to the utmost to promote the happiness of all about you; and that resolutely and perseveringly; both among yourselves — That is, toward all your fellow- Christians; and to all men — Not exempting your enemies and persecutors.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Rejoice evermore — In your present privileges and future hopes. See note on Romans 14:17; Philippians 4:4; 1 Peter 1:6. Pray without ceasing — In order to maintain and improve this holy joy, be always in a spirit of prayer, that is, retain a continual sense of your spiritual wants, and of your dependance on God, through Christ, for the supply of those wants, and let your desires for that supply be frequently offered up to God in faith: let your heart aspire after him, and long for a further acquaintance with him, conformity to him, and enjoyment of him; and be constant in the use of private and fervent prayer at all proper seasons, joining also at all opportunities with your family, Christian friends, and the congregations of God’s people, in social and public addresses to the throne of grace. In every thing give thanks — Remembering, not only your dependance on God, but your obligation to him for all things, temporal and spiritual, and being persuaded that you never can be in such circumstances of affliction, but that you have much greater cause for thankfulness than complaint. This is Christian perfection: further than this we cannot go, and we need not stop short of it. Our Lord has purchased joy as well as righteousness for us. It is the very design of the gospel, that, being saved from guilt, we should be happy in the love of Christ. Prayer may be said to be the breath of our spiritual life. He that lives cannot possibly cease breathing. So much as we really enjoy of the presence of God, so much prayer and praise do we offer up without ceasing; else our rejoicing is but delusion. Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer. It is almost essentially connected with it. He that always prays, is ever giving praise; whether in ease or pain, both for prosperity and the greatest adversity. He blesses God for all things, looks on them as coming from him, and receives them only for his sake; not choosing nor refusing, liking nor disliking any thing, but only as it is agreeable or disagreeable to his perfect will. For this — That you should thus rejoice, pray, give thanks; is the will of God in Christ Jesus — Always holy, just, and good, and always pointing at our salvation.
1 Thessalonians 5:19. Quench not the Spirit — Which, wherever it is, burns more or less, yea, flames in holy love, in joy, prayer, thanksgiving: O quench it not, damp it not, in yourself or others, by giving way to any lust or passion, any affection or disposition, contrary to holiness, either by neglecting to do good, or by doing evil. See note on Ephesians 4:30. It is easy to observe that the qualities and effects of the Spirit’s influences are here compared to those of fire. See note on Matthew 3:11. And as fire may be quenched, not only by pouring water upon it, or heaping upon it earth and ashes, but by withholding fuel from it, or even by neglecting to stir it up; so the enlightening, quickening, renewing, purifying, and comforting operations of the Spirit may be quenched, not only by the commission of known and wilful sin, and by immersing our minds too deeply in worldly business, and burdening them with worldly cares, but by omitting to use the private or public means of grace, the fuel provided to nourish this sacred fire, and by neglecting to stir up the gifts and graces which are in us.
1 Thessalonians 5:20-22. Despise not prophesyings — That is, the preaching of God’s word; for the apostle is not here speaking of extraordinary gifts, but of such as are ordinary. It seems one means of grace is put for all; and whoever despises or makes light of any of these, much more that sets them at naught, as the original expression, εξουθενειτε, properly signifies, under whatever pretence, will surely, though perhaps gradually and insensibly, quench the Spirit. Some neglect attending the ministry of God’s word, on pretence that they are so well instructed that they can receive little or no benefit from it. But let such consider that the spiritual life is maintained and increased in the soul, not so much by receiving new discoveries in divine knowledge, “as by the recollection of matters formerly known, and by serious meditation thereon.” Persuaded, therefore, that a regular attendance on the ministry of the word will greatly tend to cherish the influences of the Spirit, and a neglect thereof will proportionably obstruct them; listen with attention and reverence to the ministers of Christ, while they interpret and apply to men’s consciences the Holy Scriptures, or speak to them by way of instruction, warning, reproof, exhortation, or comfort: and own the authority of God as speaking in and by his appointed messengers. Meantime prove all things — Which any preacher teaches, enjoins, or recommends; try every doctrine, precept, advice, or exhortation, by the touchstone of Scripture; and hold fast that which is good — Zealously, resolutely, and diligently practise it, in spite of all opposition. “What a glorious freedom of thought,” says an eminent divine, “do the apostles recommend! And how contemptible, in their account, is a blind and implicit faith! May all Christians use this liberty of judging for themselves in matters of religion, and allow it to one another, and to all mankind!” It must be observed, however, that those who heap up for themselves teachers, having itching ears, under pretence of proving all things, have no countenance or excuse from this text. And be equally zealous and careful to abstain from all appearance of evil — From every disposition, word, and action, which you judge or suspect to be sinful; or which you have reason to fear might prove to you an occasion of sin. Nay, in some, yea, in many cases, abstain from those things which appear to others to be evil, or the lawfulness of which they question, though you do not. For it is better to avoid such things, than by an uncharitable use of your Christian liberty to cause your weak brother to stumble, or to prejudice others against the truth.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-26. And the very God of peace — αυτος δε ο θεος της ειρηνης, literally, May the God of peace himself; that is, he who is ready to give you peace with himself after all you have done; who is in Christ reconciling you to himself, not imputing your trespasses unto you, if in repentance and faith you turn to him, but on these terms preaching peace to you by Jesus Christ: sanctify you wholly — That is, may he carry on and complete the work of purification and renovation begun in your regeneration, redeeming you from all iniquity, Titus 2:14; cleansing you from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, 2 Corinthians 7:1; stamping you with his whole image, and rendering you a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but made holy toward God, dedicated to and employed in his service, and without blame in the whole of your conduct toward men. The word ολοτελεις, here rendered wholly, signifies every part of you, and every part perfectly; implying that every faculty of their souls, and every sense and member of their bodies, should be completely purified, and devoted to the service of God. And I pray God — These words are not in the original, which is literally, and may the whole of you, ολοκληρον υμων, your whole constitution, the whole frame of your nature, all belonging to you, all of and about you, be made and preserved blameless. And what the apostle means by this whole constitution, or frame, of their nature, he immediately specifies, mentioning the spirit, the soul, and the body. Here, says Whitby, “the apostle justifies the ancient and true philosophy, that man is, as Nemesius styles him, τριμερης υποστασις, a compound of three differing parts. This was the doctrine of the Pythagoreans, and also that of the Platonists, who held that there is in man a soul irrational, which includes the affections of the body; and a mind, which uses the body as its instrument, and fights against it. This also was the doctrine of the Stoics, whence Antoninus saith, The three constituent parts of man are σωμα, ψυχη, νους, the body, soul, and mind. Irenæus, and Clemens of Alexandria, and Origen, say the same.” He adds, “those two excellent philosophers, Gassendus and Dr. Willis, have established this philosophy beyond all reasonable contradiction.” It appears also, as the learned Vitringa has very accurately shown, a notion prevailed among the rabbis, as well as the philosophers, that the person of a man was constituted of three distinct substances; 1st, the rational spirit, which survives the death of the body, and is immortal; 2d, the animal soul, which man has in common with the beasts, and which dies with the body; and, 3d, the visible body. Many other learned divines, however, are of opinion, that as the apostle’s design was to teach mankind religion, and not philosophy, he might use the popular language to which the Thessalonians were accustomed, without adopting the philosophy on which that language was founded: consequently that it is not necessary to consider him as intending more by his prayer than that the Thessalonian believers might be thoroughly sanctified, of how many constituent parts soever their nature consisted. “To comprehend,” says Macknight, “the distinction between soul and spirit,” which the sacred writers seem to have intimated in some passages, “the soul must be considered as connected both with the body and with the spirit. By its connection with the body, the soul receives impressions from the senses; and by its connection with the spirit, it conveys these impressions, by means of the imagination and memory, to the spirit, as materials for its operations. The powers last mentioned, through their connection with the body, are liable indeed to be so disturbed by injuries befalling it, as to convey false perceptions to the spirit. But the powers of the spirit not being affected by bodily injuries, it judges of the impressions conveyed to it as accurately as if they were true representations, so that the conclusions which it forms are generally right.” It may not be improper to add here, that the spirit, as distinguished from the two other parts included in the human constitution, seems to be supposed by the apostle (Hebrews 4:12) to be capable of being separated from the soul, his expression being, The word of God is quick, &c., piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit; and some have thought that he intimates, (1 Corinthians 14:14-15,) that the one may know what the other does not. Be this, however, as it may, the apostle’s words were certainly not intended to teach us philosophy, or to imply more than a prayer that all our powers of mind and body, the rational, including the understanding, the judgment, conscience, and will; the animal, comprehending the affections, passions, and sensations; and corporal, namely, the members and senses of our bodies, should be wholly sanctified; that is, purified from pollution, dedicated to God, and employed in glorifying him. Unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ — To call you hence by death, or to summon you to appear at his bar. Faithful is he —
To his word and promises; that calleth you — By his gospel; who also will do it — Will preserve you blameless to his coming, unless you quench the Spirit. He “will not,” says Whitby, “be wanting in what is requisite on his part toward it; I say his part, for if the faithfulness of God required that he should sanctify and preserve us blameless to the end without our care, or should work in us absolutely and certainly that care, and the apostle believed this, how could he fear lest the Thessalonians should be so overcome by Satan’s temptations, as that his labour with them might be in vain, 1 Thessalonians 3:5; this being, in effect, to fear that God might be unfaithful to his promise.”
1 Thessalonians 5:27-28. I charge you — Greek, ορκιζω υμας, I adjure you, that is, I lay you under the obligation of an oath; that this epistle — The first he wrote; be read to all the holy brethren — Namely, of your church. The reader must observe, that in judicial oaths, the custom among the Jews was not for the person who came under the obligation of an oath to pronounce the words of swearing with his own mouth, but an oath was exacted from him by the magistrate or superior, and so he became bound to answer upon oath, by hearing the voice of swearing or adjuration rather, as the LXX. render it. Here, therefore, a solemn act of divine worship is paid to Christ, taking an oath in the name of God being a branch of his worship. This epistle was doubtless sent to the presidents and pastors of the Thessalonian church, and the command, that the epistle should be read, was delivered to them. “The same course, we may suppose, the apostle followed with respect to all his other inspired epistles. They were sent by him to the elders of the churches, for whose use they were principally designed, with a direction that they should be read publicly by some of their number to the brethren in their assemblies for worship; and that not once or twice, but frequently, that all might have the benefit of the instructions contained in them. If this method had not been followed, such as were unlearned would have derived no advantage from the apostolical writings; and to make these writings of use to the rest, they must have been circulated among them in private, which would have exposed the autographs (or the original copies) to the danger of being corrupted or lost.” But what Paul commands under a strong adjuration, Rome forbids under pain of excommunication, prohibiting the reading of the Scriptures to the common people in their religious assemblies, or enjoining them to be read, if at all, in an unknown tongue; a sufficient proof this, that whatever that church may be besides, it is not apostolical. It is justly observed by Dr. Paley, that “the existence of this clause is an evidence of the authenticity of this epistle: because to produce a letter purporting to have been publicly read in the church at Thessalonica, when no such letter had been read or heard of in that church, would be to produce an imposture destructive of itself. Either the epistle was publicly read in the church at Thessalonica during St. Paul’s lifetime, or it was not. If it was, no publication could be more authentic, no species of notoriety more unquestionable, no method of preserving the integrity of the copy more secure: if it was not, the clause would remain a standing condemnation of the forgery, and, one would suppose, an invincible impediment to its success.”
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany