The End of a Letter
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
1 Thessalonians 5:27 (NKJV) 27I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren.
Paul desired that his letter to the Thessalonians be read to all believers.
Paul was clear about his ministry. He had a commission from God to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, also called the nations. Therefore, Paul considered his mission to be of the utmost importance. He called himself an apostle to the Gentiles.
Romans 11:13 (NKJV) 13For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles.
He explained that he received his apostleship from God and that God singled him out to be a minister to the Gentiles.
1 Corinthians 15:3–11 (NKJV) 3For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. 9For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
From this passage, we see:
- The message he delivered was something that he received.
- Of all the Apostles, Paul was the last to see Jesus. (He says that after the resurrection, Jesus was seen by Cephas and then the twelve. Then Jesus was seen by over 500 believers at one time. After that, Jesus was seen by James and the Apostles. Finally, he was seen by Paul. Paul describes this as being one born out of due time.)
- Paul says he was not worthy of being called an Apostle since he persecuted the Church. However, this gives him the chance to tell of the grace of God.
He gives the grace of God credit for both his calling and the fruit of his work. He received the message he preached through revelation from Jesus. Jesus first appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, and the revelation he received came after that. So, chronologically Paul was the last of the Apostles. He received his apostleship after Jesus ascended to heaven, which is why Paul refers to himself as one born out of due time.
Paul’s Apostleship was not from men nor was it given by men.
Galatians 1:1 (NKJV) 1Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead),
Paul wrote letters to churches because of his calling from God as an Apostle to the Gentiles. The responsibility and authority for establishing the Church throughout the non-Jewish world were his.
Romans 15:15–16 (ESV) 15But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles.
Paul’s boldness in writing grew out of the responsibility he carried for the Gentile Church. Others saw his success, the love the churches had for him, and his authority. Seeing these things, they desired them for themselves. In Philippians 1:15, Paul says that some preached Christ out of envy and strife. In 2 Corinthians, Paul confronts false Apostles. They were trying to turn the Corinthians’ hearts away from Paul so the Corinthians would follow them. Many of the New Testament Epistles were written to confront and correct errors introduced by false teachers and apostles. One of the distinguishing marks of the New Testament is that all the writings were written under the authority of one of the twelve Apostles. (This is counting Paul as the twelfth in place of Judas.)
We must recognize this apostolic authority in the Church because false teachers grow more numerous every day. We must continue to read the writings of the Apostles so that we are not led astray by false apostles.
The Apostle Peter said the following about Paul’s writings.
2 Peter 3:15–16 (NKJV) 15and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.
Peter puts Paul’s epistles with “the rest of the Scriptures.” He called Paul’s writings, “Scripture.” When Paul gives the charge in 1 Thessalonians 5:27 that his letter be read to all the believers, he says this command is “by the Lord.” In other words, God desires that this letter be read by all believers.
1 Thessalonians covers foundational truths that all Christians need to understand. The authority of Paul as an Apostle of God to the Gentiles has not diminished. Even today, untaught and unstable people twist these truths to their own destruction. Anyone claiming to be an apostle of Jesus Christ who contradicts or twists the Apostles’ teachings is one of these untaught and unstable people Peter speaks of.
At verse twelve of chapter five, Paul begins the close of the epistle. Realizing that he needs to wrap things up, the Apostle gives a shopping list of things to do, a to-do list. This list is not doctrinal instruction. These are exhortations from one who loves them and is concerned for their welfare. These remind me of a mother sending her children off to school. “Do you have your homework? Don’t forget your lunch. Behave yourself, and say hello to Mrs. So-and-so. Hurry, or you’ll miss the bus!”
As last-minute exhortations, each one of these reminders is a topic that deserves our careful study and attention. How should we treat pastors, elders, and teachers? How do we maintain peace among ourselves? This list appears to be all the things Paul would like to address but does not have time and parchment to cover. Each one is hard-hitting and necessary. “Pray without ceasing. Do not quench the Spirit.” These are things that are essential for us as Christians. The Apostle wants us to understand and apply these things. Still, he leaves the Scriptural exploration of these subjects up to us.
1 Thessalonians 5:12–22 (NKJV) 12And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.
14Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.
16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies. 21Test all things; hold fast what is good. 22Abstain from every form of evil.
With a quick look at this list, it can be divided into two categories. Verse twelve through fifteen deal with relationships within the Church, and verses sixteen through twenty-two deal with our relationship with God.
In our relationships within the Church, the admonitions center on respect, love, and patience. The first admonition is to recognize or esteem the leaders of the Church. This idea continues for two verses as Paul includes the concept of loving the leaders for their work’s sake. Hebrews 13:7 also speaks of this idea when it says:
Hebrews 13:7 (NKJV) 7Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.
Both 1 Thessalonians and Hebrews addresses our attitude toward those who speak the word or admonish. This is consistent with the instructions Paul gave his young apprentice, Timothy, when he said:
1 Timothy 5:17 (NKJV) 17Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.
I hesitated to say anything about this subject because I have no complaints about how I have been received and treated by this body. But since this is included in Paul’s admonitions to the Thessalonians, I could not avoid it. I do not feel overburdened or unappreciated, but I do covet your prayers. As Paul closes his epistle with “Brothers, pray for us,” I also covet your prayers. Although I have never felt particularly worthy of being a pastor, I am confident of God’s calling.
Paul’s admonitions to the Thessalonians concerning relationships within the Church are consistent themes throughout the New Testament. They are consistent with the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. Consider the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:14.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NKJV) 14Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.
This verse reminds me of Philippians 2 and Galatians 6. Look them up! I have summed up these verses as treating each other with love, respect, and patience.
In verse sixteen of 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul begins talking about our relationship with God. I would sum these admonitions up as: be joyful, be thankful, and yield to the Holy Spirit.
Verse sixteen says, “Rejoice always.” This is connected in the same sentence with “Pray without ceasing.” These two are closely related. Joy is not what this world calls happiness. I have found that I can be full of the joy of the Lord in the midst of pain or sorrow. The joy of the Lord is founded on our faith in His goodness and providence. This faith gives birth to praying without ceasing. The same faith that strengthens us in joy causes us to let all of our requests be made known to God, our Father. This relationship with God naturally produces gratitude and thanksgiving.
These things that Paul is listing are an essential part of who we are as children of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And they are produced by the Holy Spirit working in our lives. In Galatians, Paul calls them the fruit of the Spirit. Sadly, even though these things are an essential part of who we are as children of God through the Lord Jesus, many do not exhibit the fruit of love, respect, and patience in our lives, and none of us consistently exhibit them 100 percent of the time.
The problem is what Paul list in verse nineteen.
1 Thessalonians 5:19 (NKJV) 19Do not quench the Spirit.
This admonition is here because we do this so easily. Verse nineteen through twenty-two are all tied to the idea of yielding to the Spirit’s work in our lives. Yielding to and living by the Spirit are an essential theme running through the entire Bible that is especially emphasized in the New Testament. I am going to quote just one passage regarding this subject.
Romans 8:12–15 (NKJV) 12Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”
After giving this list of admonitions, Paul gives a benediction, a blessing. The list of commands he just gave seems impossible to keep. As Paul brings his letter to a close with his final list of last-minute instructions, who of us feels adequate for these things? Which one of us feels like he or she can live up to the example of Paul, let alone Jesus? But in the benediction, Paul says God will do it. God will preserve us blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus. The confidence that God can and will perform all that is necessary for our lives gives us great confidence. Our confidence as Christians is not in our own ability to keep a list, but our confidence is in God, who will continue to work in our lives until Jesus comes.