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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

1 Thessalonians 5

 

 

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Verse 1

1 Thessalonians 5:1. But of the times end seasons. When our Lord spoke to His disciples of the coming of the Son of man, they naturally felt a desire to know when it should take place; and Paul, not without reason, supposes that a similar desire may be stirring in the minds of those to whom he has announced the same event. Paul therefore passes to this subject, and with instinctive courtesy and skill turns their minds from useless inquiries to profound moral truths. ‘Times and seasons’ became a common expression, giving a greater completeness than either word alone would give; but probably the distinctive meaning of each word was lost sight of. If they are to be distinguished, ‘times’ refers to the periods into which history is divided, ‘seasons’ to the eras at which seasonably occur those great events which give a new momentum to the history.

Ye have no need that it be written to you. People are more likely to receive information when their informant presumes they know it already. Paul’s reason for this presumption probably was that he himself had previously told them that the time of the Lord’s coming was unrevealed (comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:5).


Verses 1-11

Exhortation to Sobriety and Watchfulness, founded in the Suddenness of the Lord’s Coming, and on their Character as Children of Light.

Having spoken so definitely of the Lord’s coming, Paul anticipates that the Thessalonians will inquire the time of this great consummation. He therefore reminds them that they are already aware that the time is uncertain, the coming sudden; but that it need not alarm them who are prepared for it and desire it. They have, he says, an affinity for that day, living now on those principles which it is to assert and enforce. And from this he takes occasion to exhort them to the conduct which becomes persons who expect their Lord, and who believe themselves to be destined to partake of His glory.


Verse 2

1 Thessalonians 5:2. For ye yourselves know, and therefore do not need to be reminded; this itself being, however, the most delicate and yet most effectual reminder. Perfectly literally, with perfect accuracy; and perfectly accurate knowledge on this point is, that there can be no perfectly accurate ascertainment of the date of the Lord’s coming.

The day of the Lord. ‘Neither the day of death to individuals, nor the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, nor in the common sense the end of the world. More truly should we say that the apostle meant all these, ere they had separated themselves from the indistinct future. It was the day spoken of by the prophet Joel, referred to by Saint Peter in the Acts, and prophesied of by Christ Himself’ (Jowett). The expression originated with the prophets, who used it of those times when God specially manifested Himself in judgment.

As a thief in the night. That is, without warning (comp. Luke 12:39; and Revelation 3:3), or when least expected, as described in the following verse.


Verse 3

1 Thessalonians 5:3. When they shall say. When ‘unbelieving and unthinking’ men are persuading themselves that there is no cause for apprehension, then destruction comes upon them suddenly.

As travail upon her that is with child. This is the usual expression in Scripture for great anguish, but the point of the comparison in this passage seems to be the suddenness of the pang. The woman is seized as she travels, or sits at table, or lies asleep the suddenness being all the more striking because she thinks she is prepared for it. The inevitable nature of that pain may also be in the apostle’s mind, and may have suggested the following clause.


Verse 4

1 Thessalonians 5:4. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. There is nothing appalling to the Christian, in the suddenness of the Lord’s coming, for to those who are waiting and longing for Him, He cannot come as a thief and find them unprepared. The full light of day is no surprise to those who have been eagerly watching for the morning. It is anticipated, longed for, welcome. Those are ‘in darkness’ who have not accepted what Christ, the Light of the world, taught; who do not accept His life as their example, nor believe in those principles which it exemplifies; who do not think of God as holy, loving, and near; but who have desires to fulfil, which for their fulfilment require that the knowledge of God and of ourselves which Christ brought into the world be held in abeyance. He who feels he can get on better without those ideas and principles and that connection with God which Christ has brought to light, he who feels that all he is most concerned about would thrive much better in a world that shut out Christ, this man is ‘in darkness.’ And as be needs and counts on this darkness for the fulfilment of all his schemes and hopes, the return of Christ to enforce the principles He revealed in His first coming is distasteful, unreckoned on, destructive. With Christians it is not so, because they are ‘not in darkness;’ what they are, Paul proceeds to state.


Verse 5

1 Thessalonians 5:5. For all ye are sons of light and sons of day. As ‘the children of this world’ are those who wholly belong to it; as ‘the son of perdition’ is the man of whom perdition is the most striking feature, who is bound over to perdition, as that with which he is identified; so ‘the children of the light’ are those who are produced by the light, who belong to it, and live in it as their element. They are what they are because they have accepted Christ as the Light, and have learned from Him the truth about God, sin, life, and all that concerns them. They have gladly faced what is thus revealed to them, and desire to act upon it.

Not of night nor of darkness. They who are of darkness make nothing of the light which shines in the first ‘day of the Lord,’ of the truth disclosed by His first coming. They have not’ comprehended’ that light, have not set their faces to it, and let it become life to them.


Verse 6

1 Thessalonians 5:6. Therefore, let us not sleep. There is a conduct appropriate to every position. Our position as children of light implies a certain corresponding wakefulness. We are the children of light because we live in Christ; it follows that we look and long for His appearing, and do not sleep as other men may who do not desire or expect His coming.

Watch and be sober. The best commentary on these words is the exhortation of our Lord: ‘Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man’ (Luke 21:34-36).


Verse 7

1 Thessalonians 5:7. They that sleep, sleep in the night. Every man has a natural shame of being found asleep in the day-time, no matter what good excuse he has for it, however exhausted and unwell he may be. If even nature thus teaches us to be ashamed of sleeping through the hours God gives us for wakeful work, let us, who are of the day, watch.

They that are drunken, are drunken in the night. Or at least should be, and in most countries are, so ashamed of themselves as to court darkness. When a man begins not only to exceed at night, when weariness or conviviality might tempt him, but, even before the day’s work is well begun, is found unfit for any duty, he is, humanly speaking, hopeless. Peter thought it enough, when those who were filled with the Spirit at Pentecost were supposed to be drunk, to remind their accusers that it was but the third hoof of the day.


Verse 8

1 Thessalonians 5:8. Patting on the breastplate of faith and love. His exhortation to sobriety and watchfulness has suggested to him his favourite image of the soldier, or here specially the sentinel, whose commander may come at any moment, who is set between two ‘days’ looking back to one sudden irruption of God into this world, and looking forward to another. It is defensive armour, therefore, that Paul specifies; armour for watching in, rather than for fighting. For watching, ‘faith’ is manifestly the most essential piece of the Christian panoply. The faith intended is a firm persuasion in the truth of Christ’s first coming, and in its meaning for us, a constant close application of Christ to all our life and habits in the expectation of His return. All through this faith there must be ‘love’ interwoven; as the breastplate was not all of stiff and hard, though friendly steel, but was laced with softer stuff that made it lie more kindly to the breast, and, instead of weakening, made it tougher and more available for all uses. Thus, when a man looks to Christ and finds how his whole life is covered by Christ, a strong love of Him mingles with this faith, and makes it so dear to him, and fits it so closely in to his most vital affections and interests, that he can wear it always, that it warms and supports instead of chilling and wearying him; and instead of desiring to rid himself of this faith as a thing unnatural and put on, the love that is in it has made it so congenial that he thinks not ever to put it off.

As a helmet the hope of salvation. Undoubtedly it is the assurance that eternity is ours which best defends us against the temptations of this present world. It is hope that actually purifies (1 John 3:3). The Christian’s best defence is the deep-seated, heart-held hope that he shall be with Christ and partake in that very blessedness which satisfies Him.


Verse 9

1 Thessalonians 5:9. For. Paul shows the reasonableness of this hope.

God hath not appointed us to wrath. The truest parallel to this expression is that of Peter (1 Peter 2:8), where he speaks of the disobedience of the rejecters of Christ, and adds, ‘whereunto also they were appointed,’ set apart, as it were, in the purpose of God to this end. This end was also the eager choice of their own will; though how these two determining motives both find room we cannot tell. Paul speaks assuredly of the election of the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:4), because he had witnessed the fruits of it, in their turning from idols to serve the living God. The ‘wrath’ spoken of is the manifestation of the Divine anger against sin in the coming and judgment of Christ. Having negatively described their destiny, Paul goes on to describe it positively.

To obtain salvation. Other passages extend the meaning of ‘salvation’ (see chap. 1 Thessalonians 4:7), but here the leading idea in the apostle’s mind is escape from the destruction with which the unbelieving world was to be visited; though this involves, as he immediately shows, life with Christ.


Verse 10

1 Thessalonians 5:10. Who died for us. How salvation is obtained through Jesus Christ, Paul here explains. Christ died for our sake, and especially to secure for us this grand advantage, viz. that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Recurring to the anxieties of the Thessalonians regarding their deceased friends, he reminds them that the very object of Christ in dying was to secure to His people a life which no death could interrupt or destroy. Those who have died before His return suffer no disadvantage, for He has secured that whether we wake or sleep, whether, i.e., we live or die, we should live with Him. It should be remarked that Paul does not here throw any light on the present state of the Christian dead, unless by inference; what he thinks and speaks of is their blessedness when Christ returns.


Verse 11

1 Thessalonians 5:11. Wherefore. There being such good grounds for hopefulness about the departed, comfort one another.

Edify. ‘From the frequent application of the term house or temple to Christians collectively (as 1 Corinthians 3:16, Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?) and individually (as 1 Corinthians 6:19, Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?), the figure of building is naturally used to express their improvement and advancement in the life of God’ (Vaughan).


Verse 12

1 Thessalonians 5:12. The transition from the last paragraph to this is easy. Having exhorted them to comfort one another, he naturally passes on to inculcate the duty of attending to those whose special work it was to instruct and edify them.

To know. ‘That is, to appreciate, not to be unaware of their real work’ (Vaughan).

Those who labour among you, and preside over you and admonish you. All three functions belong to the same office. Those who presided over them were the same persons who instructed them: ruling and teaching were the two grand divisions of ecclesiastical labour’ But if not in Thessalonica, in other churches, symptoms soon appeared of a separation of the ruling from the teaching elders. See 1 Timothy 5:17.


Verses 12-28

AS Paul’s custom was, he concludes this Epistle with a number of practical injunctions suitable to the circumstances of those to whom he writes, and more or less connected with one another.


Verse 13

1 Thessalonians 5:13. To esteem them very highly in love. There was required not merely an outward deference and submission, but an affectionate regard. Little good can be effected in a church in which the ministers are neither respected nor loved. But this respect and love must have a real object, must be excited and maintained by the efficiency of the ministry: as Paul says, it is to be for their work’s sake. ‘On account both of the importance of the work (Hebrews 13:17) and the earnest and laborious manner in which it was performed; comp. Philippians 1:22; Philippians 2:30’ (Ellicott).

Be at peace among yourselves. This suitably follows on the foregoing admonitions. Do not quarrel with your rulers, nor let their actions produce among; you a factious spirit. This ecclesiastical organization is new, it brings you into new and delicate relations with persons of various education and habits; there will be difficulties and great need of patience, forbearance, yieldingness of spirit; but see that you live at peace.


Verse 14

1 Thessalonians 5:14. Brethren. The counsels of this verse are addressed not to the ministers alone, nor to the people alone, but to all.

Unruly. The connection would lead a reader to suppose that this referred to those who rebelled against the authority of the elders or presiding ecclesiastical officials; but the similar expressions in the Second Epistle, 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 3:11, would seem to indicate that those are meant who had abandoned their ordinary occupations from misapprehensions regarding the coming of the Lord. It may, however, have a wider reference to all who did not live consistently with the Christian rule.

The feeble-minded. Those timid persons who were dismayed by the persecutions which had overtaken the young Church, or who were downcast by the loss of friends through death. An example of such comforting of the feeble-minded is given in Hebrews 12:1-13.

Support the weak. Undoubtedly this means the weak in soul, ‘whether through defect of faith, bondage of conscience, or instability of principle,’ a class of persons with whom Paul himself had much to do, and who are largely found in even the oldest Christian communities. How are we to treat the scrupulous, conscientiously bigoted, slow, obstructive, little-minded members? Are we to leave them out of account and override their prejudices? We are to support, or, as the word means, hold to them. We are to befriend and consider them. They are not to be left behind or made no account of; they are not to be abandoned, but the van must wait upon the weaklings and encourage them into strength. To them, as to all, we are to be patient, or long-suffering, putting up with much provoking narrowness and obstinacy and misapprehension of Christian principle.


Verse 15

1 Thessalonians 5:15. See that none render evil for evil. Ellicott objects to the remark of Jowett, that ‘it is not strictly true to say that Christianity alone or first forbade to return evil for evil. Plato knew that it was not the true definition of justice to do harm to one’s enemies.’ But there can be no doubt that Jowett might have proved his statement by referring not only to the commonly-cited passage from the Republic (i. 335), but to a much more striking passage in the Crito, where Plato represents Socrates as distinctly repudiating the popular opinion that justice consists in harming one’s enemies and doing good to one’s friends: ‘Soc. To render evil for evil, is it right, as the many say, or not? Cr. Certainly not Soc. We must not then do wrong or do evil to any man, whatever we suffer from men. . . . I know that few do think this, and few will think it. . . . But this is what I long ago held and still do hold, that to do wrong and to return wrong to any one is never allowable, nor to protect oneself from wrong by doing wrong.’ It is only apparently and not really that Xenophon (Mem. ii. 6) represents Socrates as relapsing into the popular view. But the opinion of Socrates met with little acceptance. And Isocrates, a representative moralist, maintains that ‘it is equally disgraceful to be outdone by one’s friends in benefits or by one’s enemies in injuries’ (Isoc. ad Demon, c. 26). We must not however forget that some heathen exemplified, often in striking circumstances, the forgiveness of injuries (see Lykurgus’ treatment of Alkander related by Plutarch, Lyk.), and it may be admitted as probable that had Socrates or Plato elaborated any complete system of morals, this virtue would have found a place in it; ‘anyhow, Christianity may claim this peculiar merit, that it has set up that type of conduct as a general law for every man, which among the ancients was admired as the exceptive virtue of the few’ (Blackie’s Four Phases of Morals, p. 283). Buddha and Confucius more nearly approached to the Christian law of forgiveness; but until Christ by His life and death showed it to be the law for God and man alike, no teacher, however he may have had glimpses of the truth, could hopefully promulgate it as a duty.

That which is good. ‘In the sense of kind and beneficent’ (Vaughan).


Verse 16

1 Thessalonians 5:16. Rejoice evermore. ‘It is a scandalous misprision, vulgarly admitted, concerning religion, that it is altogether sullen and sour, requiring a dull, lumpish, morose kind of life, barring all delight, all mirth, all good humour; whereas, on the contrary, it alone is the never-failing source of true, pure, steady joy; such as is deeply rooted in the heart, immoveably founded in the reason of things, permanent like the immortal spirit wherein it dwelleth, and like the eternal objects whereon it is fixed’ (Barrow). This precept supposes that it is possible for us to obey it. To know that it is God’s will that we should always rejoice, that we should resemble Himself in this as in all that inward purity which causes joy, goes far to fill us with the happiness here enjoined. It is a profound remark of Leigh ton’s, and worthy of note here, that ‘all spiritual sorrows, of what nature soever, are turned into spiritual joy: that is the proper end of them; they have a natural tendency that way.’


Verse 17

1 Thessalonians 5:17. Pray without ceasing. One of the Greek commentators (Theophylact) remarks that the apostle now shows how we may continually rejoice, viz. by continuing in prayer and thanksgiving. We obey this precept when our prayers are not fitful and intermittent, but steady and persistent; when we are careful to lay all our concerns before God, and when day is linked to day in our life by a regular recurrence to Him as our Guide and Father. Paul does not mean that we should employ our whole time in prayer, but that we should not omit those times of devotion we have resolved upon, nor forget to bring any matter before God, nor relax our earnestness through any disappointment or decay of faith

should, as Barrow says, with assiduous urgency drive on the intent of our prayers, never quitting it, or desisting, till our requests are granted, or our desires are accomplished.’ The words do not refer to the spirit of prayer but to the practice of it, although it is of course true that unless the spirit of prayer be maintained, the practice also will be fallen from. ‘In thy prayers wait for God, and think not every hearty prayer can procure everything thou askest. . . . A little omission of any usual exercise of piety cannot happen to thee without some loss and detriment, even though it be upon a considerable cause’ (Jeremy Taylor).


Verse 18

1 Thessalonians 5:18. In every thing give thanks. ‘For example, (1) in the use of God’s gifts: Acts 27:35, He took bread and gave thanks to God in presence of them all (2) In the enjoyment of social converse: Acts 28:15, whom when Paul saw, he thanked God and took courage. (3) In acknowledgment of special blessings: 2 Corinthians 1:11, that for the gifts bestowed upon us by the means of many persons, thanks may be given by many on our behalf (4) Generally in reference to God’s dealings with us both in providence and grace: Ephesians 5:20, giving thanks always for all things unto God’ (Vaughan).

For this is the will of God. It is doubtful whether these words refer to the three foregoing clauses or only to the last-mentioned. Nor is it obvious why Paul makes the remark. Had he meant that everything that happens to us is God’s will in Christ Jesus towards us, this would have been a good reason for our giving thanks for it. Could we learn to see in each hardship and disappointment another step towards the perfect fulfilment of God’s gracious purposes towards us, we could then give thanks for all that happens. But his words will hardly bear this meaning. Probably therefore he reminds his readers that it is God’s will they should be thankful because he was impressed both with the supreme importance of the duty and with the prevalent neglect of it. ‘If we had to name any one thing which seems unaccountably to have fallen out of most men’s practical religion altogether, it would be the duty of thanksgiving. It would not be easy to exaggerate the common neglect of this duty. . . .To most of us there is hardly a quarter of an hour in our lives more tedious, idle, aimless, unsatisfactory, than what we call our thanksgiving’ (Faber’s All for Jesus, pp. 216, 254).


Verse 19

1 Thessalonians 5:19. Quench not the Spirit. The Spirit being first revealed as a cleansing fire and an enlightening flame, is spoken of as being extinguished, when His influence is resisted either by sensual and worldly living, or ‘by a studied repression and disregard of its manifestation, arising from erroneous perceptions and a mistaken dread of enthusiasm’ (Ellicott). The succeeding clause, ‘despise not prophesyings,’ shows that it is the extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit’s operation which Paul chiefly has in view. Writing from Corinth, where the gift of prophesying was not uncommon (1 Corinthians 14), he was alive to all the dangers which accompanied these spiritual gifts. Especially he saw that there was a tendency to undervalue the exhortations given by those who were under an extraordinary spiritual influence. These ‘prophesyings’ (i.e. not predictions, but utterances of this supernatural kind) might be undervalued either by those who heard or by those who uttered them. Afraid of being singular, afraid of the sneer of unbelievers, afraid of the responsibility of taking a lead in the Church, they might repress the Spirit in them, for ‘the spirits of the prophets were subject to the prophets. And this inspired preaching might be undervalued by those who heard it proceeding from the lips of men they knew to be uneducated or weak in business affairs.


Verse 21

1 Thessalonians 5:21. Prove all things. Neither in regard to these manifestations of the Spirit’s presence, nor in any matter, were they to be led by prejudice and appearances and first impressions, but they were to put things to the proof, to test them. Rules for doing so are furnished by the Apostle John (1 John 4:1-8). In Corinth some Christians enjoyed a special gift of ‘discernment of spirits’ (1 Corinthians 12:10). The Thessalonians were to judge by the moral quality of the prophesyings, or of whatever else came before them. And this moral discernment was to result in a practical choice, as expressed in the two following clauses.

From every form of evil. This does not mean, as the Authorised Version might lead a reader to suppose, ‘abstain from everything which has the appearance of being evil,’ for he has just counselled them to look deeper than appearances. Having tested all things by their real character, they are to abstain from evil of every form. Even though it had the appearance of good, even though it was in the form of pretended spiritual wisdom or zeal for Christ, they were to abstain from it.


Verse 23

1 Thessalonians 5:23. The God of peace. A term occurring towards the close of many of the Epistles—see references. Perhaps the title varies slightly in meaning according to the context in which it is found; sometimes pointing rather to the inward peace which the all-seeing and self-reliant God ever enjoys, sometimes again rather to the communication of this quality to His creatures by bringing them into harmony with Himself and with one another.

Sanctify you wholly. Both in this and in the succeeding clause the emphasis lies on the completeness of the work of sanctification. The members of the Thessalonian Church were not to suppose that this new religion they professed consisted merely or mainly in certain rites or observances. It called them to holiness, a sanctity of conduct from which no part of their, life might be exempted, a sanctity of person in which their whole nature must partake. This completeness, this harmonious advance of every element of Christian character, is the difficulty. Generally a man’s character grows only in one direction; attentive to public duties, he neglects those that are domestic; zealous in every good cause, his vanity increases with every success; master of his appetites, he fails to control his temper; and so forth.

Spirit and soul and body. ‘Had he a distinct thought attached to each of these words? Probably not. He is not writing a treatise on the soul, but pouring forth from the fulness of his heart a prayer for his converts. Language thus used should not be too closely analyzed. His words may be compared to similar expressions among ourselves,—e.g., “with my heart and soul.” Who would distinguish between the two?’(Jowett).


Verse 24

1 Thessalonians 5:24. Faithful is he that calleth you. He hath called you to holiness (chap. 1 Thessalonians 4:7), and He will enable you to fulfil His call. He does not mock you; He is in earnest. He abideth faithful; as surely pledged to make you holy as you are commanded to become so. There is a promise implied in His call; and with God to promise is to perform.


Verse 25

1 Thessalonians 5:25. Pray for us. The frequency with which Paul asks the prayers of the churches is worthy of remark (Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:3; and note on a Thess. 1 Thessalonians 3:1).


Verse 26

1 Thessalonians 5:26. Salute all the brethren. To whom was this addressed? Probably to the office-bearers of the church, to whom the letter would be delivered; although in the parallel passages (see references) the members were to salute one another. But in this case Paul sends his own salutation, which it would be sufficient to read without actually delivering.

An holy kiss. ‘The oriental custom of kissing in their greetings is here enhanced with Christian characteristics; it is to be an holy kiss. . . no idle, meaningless, and merely pagan custom of salutation’ (Ellicott).


Verse 27

1 Thessalonians 5:27. I charge you by the Lord. Why this vehemence of adjuration? Was there a danger that the letter would not be read? No better reason can be given than that Paul’s affectionate anxiety for the spiritual welfare of his converts broke out in this earnest request that his counsels should be delivered to them all. It is, however, matter of congratulation that in this, the first of Paul’s extant Epistles, there should occur this urgent injunction that what he had written should be publicly read. Bengel remarks that what Paul so urgently enjoined is precisely that which the Church of Rome as earnestly prohibits.


Verse 28

1 Thessalonians 5:28. The grace. That is, the free favour, the unmerited kindness. This is the usual closing benediction with which Paul concludes his letters.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/1-thessalonians-5.html. 1879-90.


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Friday, August 18th, 2017
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19
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