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1 Thessalonians 5:14-18: How to Live with Other Believers

In verses 12 and 13 we studied how we are to treat our church leaders. Now we will see how to act toward other believers.

Many churches show appreciation, loving esteem, and high regard for their pastors. But some treat their pastors as hirelings, abusing them and making their lives a living hell. Many must face hurt, disappointment and grief and are wounded by the very people to whom they are called to minister.

Jonathon Edwards, (1703–1758) was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the church, the main instrument of God in the great awakening in America, our greatest revival historically. His sermon, “Sinners in the hand of an angry God” is still regarded as one of the greatest ever preached. He pastored the same congregation for 23 years and through all of those years while they were hearing the truth of God from the greatest theological mind in the world at that time, they were unappreciative and in the 23rd year they forced him as their pastor and did everything they could to destroy his reputation so no other church would call him as pastor and he ended up his life’s ministry with a little bit more then a dozen Indians, speaking to them about the very basic things of the Christian faith. After all that time, all that profound and blessed preaching they threw him out of the church.

In one of the last churches I pastored, one man, a “Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence” (3 John 1:9), disrupted the church to such an extent that most of the congregation left, and I was forced to resign, with the belief that God does not lead a church in one direction and the pastor another. It all started very innocently, but when “Diotrephes” decided that it was his position to lead the church, it all fell apart. By the way, they called another pastor who led the church into error and almost everyone left, even “Diotrephes.” It’s amazing how years of positive ministry can be totally destroyed by one man. John said this: “I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to put himself first, does not accept what we say and refuses to recognize my authority” (3 John 1:9 AMP).

Having stated the responsibilities of the church to its leaders, Paul now considers the responsibilities of the church to each other. He is concerned that the church deal effectively with the unruly, the fainthearted, and the weak, with the admonition them to be patient with all.

Verse 14a: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly…”

“Exhort,” parakaleo in Greek means, to urge, to come alongside and to encourage. The idea is of giving help or aid but the primary sense in the New Testament is to urge someone to take some action, especially some ethical course of action.

“Brethren,” refers to all believers. New Testament Christianity does not make a distinction between clergy and laity. We are all God-called, Spirit-gifted ministers of Jesus (Ephesians 4:11-13). Within this family of gifted ministers God does choose leaders!

“Warn…” is the Greek word is noutheteo, to place in the mind, to give instruction, to warn or to give notice beforehand especially of danger or evil. The idea is to lay it on the mind or heart of the person, with the stress being on influencing not only the intellect, but also the will, emotions and disposition. The idea is to counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct.

“Unruly,” eutaktos in Greek, meaning out of line, out of place, disorderly, unruly insubordinate, lazy, idle, or going his own way. These are those who are out of step with the rest of the crowd. I call it “getting crossways.” If the church is going one way, there are some who insist on going another direction.

Verse 14b: “…comfort the fainthearted…”

“Fainthearted” in Greek is oligopsuchos. This is a description of the person who feels their resources are too small for a given situation and so they are

despondent or disconcerted.

“They are members who have become discouraged for some reason, perhaps because of adverse circumstances or because of their deep consciousness of their own sinfulness, causing them to despair of being able to live the Christian life. These timid, discouraged individuals needed to be encouraged, cheered up, stimulated, and helped along. They did not need to be rebuked and warned like the idle, but rather needed to be encouraged through the use of helpful words to continue the battle for the Lord.”–Hiebert

Verse 14c: “…uphold the weak, be patient with all.”

The Greek word for “weak” is asthenes, meaning those without strength or bodily vigor, strengthless. Asthenes describes one's state of limited capacity to do or be something and is used literally of physical weakness and as in the present passage figuratively to describe spiritual powerlessness to produce spiritual results.

“Asthenes is…used in a general sense to describe people who are simply deficient in some way (1 Corinthians 1:27). Their deficiency may be a lack of education, opportunities, or finances, or perhaps a physical problem. These people sometimes find it harder to do what is right because of their “weaknesses.” According to Paul, they need more than encouragement: they actually need someone to come alongside and help them to do what they need to do.

Let the strong put their arms around the weak and hold them up. They need to be assured that they are not forgotten or despised because of their helplessness.

Verse 15: “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.”

Christians are to turn the other cheek. We are not to try to get even for a wrong that has been done. Be kind to those who classify themselves as your enemies. Kill them with kindness. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). This is basic Christian teaching. It goes back to the words of Jesus. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:38,39).

And the words of Paul, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:17,18).

Peter says, “not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

“See that” means to be careful, be on your guard, to make sure. It is a warning against the attitude of revenge. Not only must the church as a whole display longsuffering (5:14) to one another but also they must not try to get even or pay back an injury with an injury.

“…no one renders evil for evil…” The word “renders” in Greek is apodídomi, signifying to give back, restore, repay, return, render what is due, to pay, give an account. The New Testament uses this term for paying back a financial debt. It also carries the bad sense to pay someone back for a wrong. The idea in this case is revenge or retaliation.

“Evil” in Greek is kakos. It is a word which basically denotes a lack of something and in this context has the meaning of that which is injurious or harmful, harm caused by evil intent.

This call to God's people to practice non-retaliation is repeatedly given in both testaments. In the OT, Moses records God's command to Israel… “Don’t seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God” (Leviticus 19:18 MSG).

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:1-4 to “walk worthy.” One of the rules for walking worthy is to be “meek,” This Greek word praus carries with it the idea of gentle, mild, calm, patient, non-vindictive, and non-retaliatory. The true believer doe not retaliate, does not try to get even, “but always pursues what is good both for yourselves and for all.”

Verses 16-18: Hiebert refers to these verses as “principles for the inner life.” Each of these passages deals with the believer’s life in relationship to God. Like a general speaking to his troops, Paul utters three crisp injunctions, which James Moffatt calls “diamond drops!” Moffat goes on to say, “To comment adequately on these diamond drops would be outline a history of the Christian experience in its higher levels.”

Spurgeon writes, “Here follows a string of Christian precepts-a golden chain.”

These 3 principles may be called the standing orders of the Christian Church.

Verse 16: “Rejoice always…”

The Thessalonians were living with deep and daily persecution. Their circumstances did not alter their joy. True joy transcends circumstance. This is not self-hypnosis. Biblical joy rests in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Rejoice” in Greek is chaíro, meaning to be glad, be joyful, be delighted. The present tense calls for the believer to continually be in a state of happiness and well being, something that is only possible as we surrender to the Holy Spirit, trusting in His supernatural enablement and not relying on our natural strength accomplish this.

“Don't be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!" (Nehemiah 8:10).

“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness depends on circumstances. Happiness is an emotion and temporary; joy is an attitude of the heart. A dictionary definition of happiness is “a state of well-being, a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” “Joy,” on the other hand, is true contentment that comes from internal factors like our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. True joy is everlasting and not dependent upon circumstances.

True “joy” does not depend on circumstances. Look at the Apostles in Acts 5:40,41: “…and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing (chaíro) that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”

Believers can rejoice always because their joy isn’t based in circumstances, but on God. Circumstances change, but God never changes. “For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

“The joy of the Lord” is the gladness of heart that comes from knowing God, abiding in Christ, and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul instructs us to

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

Verse 17: “…pray without ceasing…”

“Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:17).

Unceasing prayer refers more to prayer as an attitude and not just an activity, and serves as a good reflection of our level of communion with our Father. Unceasing prayer speaks more of a reverential attitude of the one praying than of the length of the prayers. It is not restricted to a set time, place or position of one's body.

This reads like an order from a general to his troops engaged in a fierce struggle and emphasizes the critical need for prayer in the continual spiritual war we find ourselves in as soldiers of the Cross. Paul is not saying pray if you feel like it but pray all the time!

“How do you stay connected to Jesus every moment? One way is through prayer. Remember the command, ‘Pray without ceasing.’ You don’t have to be on your knees moving your lips to pray. Prayer can be the atmosphere in which you exist. You can bring the Lord to bear on every aspect of your day by staying in touch with Him, communing with Him in your spirit. Prayer is an expression of your dependence on Christ. And because He is also your Great High Priest as well as the Vine, He can do something about your situation. The Lord who is sitting at the right hand of God in the place of authority wants to work in your life to bear spiritual fruit. The key to fruit bearing is abiding in Him, and the key to abiding is obedience.” –Tony Evans

Paul issues the same instructions in Romans 12:12, “Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer…” And in Colossians 4:2 NLT, “Devote yourselves to prayer…”

Spurgeon said, “As you are tempted without ceasing, so pray without ceasing.”

“The term suggests the reverential attitude of the one praying rather than the length of the prayers being offered. The readers are being called to maintain such a reverential approach to God as a continuing practice.” –Hiebert

Henrietta Mears wrote that...”Prayer is the keynote of success. Neither a class nor an individual can succeed in Christ without it. Prayer is the breath of the Christian. We are commanded to "pray continually" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As natural as breathing is to a natural person, so natural should prayer be to a spiritual person. Does all this describe you?”

A.W. Tozer portrayed a praying Christian as “a constant threat to the stability of Satan's government writing that...The Christian is a holy rebel loose in the world with access to the throne of God.”

Verse 18: “…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

“In everything” means no exceptions! Every situation, all times, every circumstance…good, bad, happy, or sad, this all inclusive emphatic adverbial phrase lifts this admonition above the level of natural practice or possibility.

Thanksgiving ultimately recognizes God as the source of all blessings in life. Not being thankful is a form of practical atheism. Ultimately, thanksgiving crucifies self. It is a mark of character. Those who will not express thanksgiving are hiding behind a wall of pride. It takes a sense of genuine humility to be able to express appreciation. Pride is believing that we have accomplished something by our own resources, when in reality God and many others did it for us. The human inclination is to take all the credit for ourselves. Humility is the recognition that we are nothing. God’s Word tells us:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, (Happy are the nobodies) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

“First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall” (Proverbs 16:18, MSG).

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:3-11).

“But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6).

“And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

“When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude” –C.H. Spurgeon

We can give thanks “in everything” because we know that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).

I Haven't Stopped Giving Thanks: (Author unknown)

•If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and place to sleep…you are richer than 75% of the world.

•If you have money in the bank, cash in your wallet or even spare change in a dish someplace…you are among the top 8% of the Earth's wealthiest people.

•If you woke up this morning with more health than illness…you are more fortunate than the million people who will not survive the week.

•If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the suffering of starvation…you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.

•If you can attend a worship service, or any other Christian-related meeting, without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death…you are fortunate. Billions of people in the world cannot.

But you don’t know my problems, “In everything give thanks!” But you don’t know my wife/husband, “In everything give thanks!” But you don’t know my family, I have teenagers, “In everything give thanks!” But you don’t know my lousy job, “In everything give thanks!” But you don’t know what a dirty deal I got, “In everything give thanks!” But you don’t know what they did to me, “In everything give thanks!” But you don’t understand my circumstances, “In everything give thanks!”

Thanksgiving sees beyond circumstances to the plan of God:

“I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for” (Jeremiah 29:11, MSG).

Give thanks with a grateful heart. Give thanks unto the Holy One

Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son.

Give thanks with a grateful heart. Give thanks unto the Holy One.

Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son.

And now let the weak say, “I am strong.”

Let the poor say, “I am rich,”

Because of what the Lord has done for us.

Give thanks! Give thanks!

–Henry Smith–

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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