Lesson 11: "Follow That Which is Good" (I Thessalonians 5:15) contiuned
I Thessalonians 5:12-28
This is lesson #11. I Thess. 5: 12-28. Welcome again. As you leave your home going to work or going shopping, walking to the car do you mentally go through a check list something like this: were the lights turned off' Was the coffee pot unplugged? Did I turn the heat down" Did I lock both doors? It must have been that kind of thinking that caused Paul to make several short admonitions as he began to close out this letter. You can simply hear, in the tone of Paul's voice, his concern for the brethren at Thessalonica. Paul didn't want them to leave a stone un-turned that might assure then- success in serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Considering the fact that First Thessalonians was apparently the first book of the New Testament that was written; Paul's check list here in ch. 5:12-22 should take on special meaning for us. It's a little like the invitation at the end of a sermon. Paul brought the duties and responsibilities of every member at Thessalonica into sharp focus. Paul required that this letter be read to ALL the brethren (5:27) and that everyone have an opportunity to do a sort of self inventory, or self evaluation, if you will. This is the aspect that should concern us. The fact that this book was first, or course, doesn't make it any more important or any more authoritative than any other book of the New Testament. It does give us a hint of the basics of Christianity that was emphasized in the beginning. These basics are just as basic for us as for the brethren at Thessalonica. This section reminds me of Rom. Ch. 12: where Paul broke into a whole list of practical things that should be observed in living the Christian life. Let's read v.12 through v.22 and then we'll come back and discuss it, verse by verse, item by item. Are you ready? I Thess. 5:12 beginning. Let's read! "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, and comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil."
We'll save v.23 - 28 for the time being. Let's go back to v. 12 and begin a verse by verse commentary. In the word "we" in v.12, Paul joined with the other two preachers, Silas and Timothy in begging them (that's what the word "beseech" literally means, is to beg another); Paul appealed and pleaded with them to give special attention to a number of things. (#1) To know their elders and (2) to esteem then-elders highly, v.l3. (#3) They were to be at peace among themselves. (#4) They were to warn them that are unruly, v.14. (#5) They were to comfort the feebleminded. (#6) There to support the weak. (#7) They were to be patient toward all men. (#8) They were not to repay evil with evil, v. 15. Further implied in that statement, they were to see that the other brethren follow the same policy. Instead, (#9) they were to follow that which is good. This was to be followed among themselves, naturally; but, it was not limited to dealing with their brethren. (#10) They were to rejoice. Rejoice evermore! (#11) They were not to neglect praying. (#12) They were to be thankful for all they had and all they enjoyed. Then in v. 19, (#13), they were to quench not the Spirit. (#14) They were not to spurn prophesyings. Inv.21, (item #15) they were to prove all things. I.e. learn the truth. Don't just accept any view or any doctrine. When they had found the truth they were to sift out the bad and hold fast to the good. Finally, v.22, (item#16) "Abstain from all appearance of evil." That's quite a check list. Sixteen items in eleven short verses. A book could well be written on every item. However, in this study, we do not have the time, space or liberty to write that many books. So, we must keep our comments brief. Nevertheless, it will take a good bit of time and space to cover these items adequately. Rather than to slight this section; I'm going to devote two lessons to v. 12 down through the end of this chapter. Thus, this section will be continued into Lesson #12 also. Then we will begin the book of Second Thessalonians on a new tape, with lesson #13. Right now, let's go back to item #1 & #2, concerning them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you. Undoubtedly this statement is made concerning elders: i.e. those that were entrusted with the office of an elder; not just older people. If we were writing a book; we might want to devote the first chapter to showing how the word "elder" is used in the Bible. First, it meant just an older person. Then later as you read through the Bible the word takes on the meaning of one who is wiser and esteemed for their acquired knowledge and experience. Later, at the tune of Jesus, the word took on the specialized meaning of a synagogue leader. And finally, when the Lord's church or kingdom was established some were (and are) made "overseers" and are called "elders." You might want to reread Acts 20:17 where Paul called the "elders of the church" at Ephesus down to Miletus. In 20:28, Paul called these same elders "overseers." Back in Acts 14:23, Luke said that Paul and Barnabas "ordained them elders in every church..." Then finally, we find qualifications given for elders in I Tim. 3:1-7 and again in Titus ch. 1, beginning in v.5. You should be aware that there are six words in the New Testament that all refer to this same office. The six words are: elder, pastor, overseer, shepherd, bishop and presbyter. This flurry of terms tends to be confusing at first; so, you might want to do a little dictionary work (you'll find a good Bible dictionary very helpful here) to put your mind at ease that all six words mean the same thing and are used interchangeably in the New Testament. For example, pastor and shepherd both come from the same Greek word. One word is possibly a Latinized form of the other. The word elder and presbyter come from the same word. Bishop means overseer or officer. The synonymous use of these words can be shown with the use of a concordance. For example, in Acts 20:17, we have already shown that the word "elders" in that verse were the very same people as mentioned in v.28 as "overseers." Also, you might want to take a look at Eph. 4:11 to establish in your mind that an elder or pastor is not merely another word for an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist or a teacher. Thus, a minister is not a pastor, you see. So, get that one straight also.
Now, the big question that comes up at Thessalonica with the reference to elders is the question of qualification. Considering the qualifications later given in I Tim. 3 and Titus ch. 1; and considering the short time they had been Christians at Thessalonica and the short time Paul and Silas had been with them; were there men qualified to be elders at Thessalonica? This is a very natural question. As we consider this text, I Thess. 5:12-13, we are forced to the conclusion there were elders at Thessalonica; although they were not mentioned in the salutation of this letter as was the case in Phillippians 1:1. It might be pointed out in this connection that Paul and Barnabas ordained elders in the churches at Lystra, Iconium and Antioch in just as short a tune as the case at Thessalonica, according to Acts 14:21-23. When we recognize this factor; Paul's words here in I Thess. 5:12-13 become all the more meaningful. The brethren at Thessalonica needed to know and recognize and encourage their elders. The message comes through to us, all the more, that even though elders may today be relatively new at their job; we are, nevertheless, acceding to v.12, to (#1) know the elders, (#2) we are to recognize elders are over us in the work of the Lord, i.e. overseers, in the work of the church and finally the last part of item #2, elders are to "admonish" us, i.e. advise, warn, reprove or urge us in the faith and in the work of the church. V.13 says we are "to esteem them very highly." That is self explanatory. Now, going back to qualifications just a moment. The only persons given by name at Thessalonica, that I'm aware of, were Jason (Acts 17:5-6-7) and two men named Aristarchus and Secundus mentioned in Acts (20:4). However, no place is it said they were elders. Although, there is some possibility that one or more of these mere were elders at Thessalonica; we do not know that. With reference to qualifications; as you go over the list of elder qualifications in I Tim. Ch. 3 and Titus ch. 1, there are very few of those qualifications that would have required that one be a Christian for a long time, i.e. to serve as an elder. For example, to have the desire and to be blameless i.e. a blameless reputation that cannot be spoken against, and to be the husband of one wife, and to be vigilant, and to be sober, and to be of good behavior, and to be given to hospitality, and to NOT be given to wine, and I won't repeat the whole list but these and there are others in those lists that could be found in many good men that are not even Christians. To be apt to teach, I Tim. 3:2, in its strictest sense would require a knowledge of the subject, of course. Another qualification down in v.6 , of I Tim. Ch. 3, NOT to be a novice, i.e. not to be a beginner in other words; would seem to be a much harder qualification to find, considering the time factor already mentioned. But, again, even here; one must realize that some good honest Jewish converts or even Greek proselytes to the Jews religion may well have had a good knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures, every book. There was NO New Testament in book form, you will remember. Considering the direct operation of the Holy spirit in those days, and that some such qualifications may have been made an exception to the case. Further considering the fact, that Paul here in this very scripture, I Thess. 5:12-13, was trying to help these things along; in my mind at least, would sufficiently account for the qualification problem and the time factor problem that some may find with ordained elders at Thessalonica.
Alright, item #3, "be at peace among yourselves." (End of v.13). In the sermon on the mount, Matt. 5:9, you'll remember one of the beatitudes that Jesus gave was "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." Notice, first of all, here in v.13, Paul makes this an internal requirement for the church at Thessalonica, "be at peace among yourselves." Let me ask you a soul searching question. How many congregations have you known that were split, dissolved, divided, embittered or blown apart by the fact that peace did not prevail in the congregation? I'm talking about the Lord's church. It happens! It happens far too often. Some one has estimated that on the average, the average congregation, in the past, at least, has faced a crisis of some kind about every 18 months. It turns out that the average tenure of a preacher is less than two years, so draw you own conclusions. Paul may have said this to the Thessalonian brethren; but, you can see, we still need this admonition, "be at peace among yourselves." Of course, we are to live peaceably with others also. Paul said in Rom. 12:18, "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." We must not strive only for internal peace; but peace with all men, you see. Especially is it important, Paul indicated here in this little short sentence at the end of v. 13; that we be at peace among our selves, i.e. that the whole congregation be in peace and harmony with every member.
Let's move along to item #4; they were to warn them that are unr;uly, or the disorderly, v. 14. Obviously, that goes back to item #3, "be at peace among yourselves." Notice also it did not say disfellowship every one that disagrees with you. Someone said, there are times, I have questions about everyone but ME and THEE and sometimes I have doubts about THEE. What words did Paul use in v. 14? "Exhort" and "warn." Instead of WARN them that are unruly, as the KJV has it; the ASV says, "admonish the disorderly." Instead of the unruly, another translation says "the careless."
Alright, item#5, has to do with the feebleminded and like item #4, refers back to the last sentence in v. 13, i.e. "Be at peace among yourselves." Notice, that these four items in v. 14 are in apposition to each other; i.e. they are separated by commas. Thus, the first part: "We exhort you, brethren" do this and this and this; applies to all four items, you see. Paul is really saying with respect to item #5, "we exhort you [or entreat you], brethren, comfort the feebleminded." The word used for feebleminded can be translated "fainthearted", "little-spirited" or "feebleminded." What should we do TO or WITH such people? "Comfort them!" Notice now, some are unruly and some are feebleminded. It is very important that we are able to recognize the difference and deal with them accordingly. One group we comfort and one group we warn or admonish. People are different! We are obligated to recognize that fact. That does not give you the right to show partiality in the true sense of that word; but, some have more capability than others. Some are putting their capability to it's very best use. Some are not! Some are putting it to the wrong use. You must use what capability you have to keep these things in proper perspective. Got it?
Then item #6, still in apposition, "support the wear." In other words the church is to bear with those that offend out of weakness and try to reclaim them if at all possible; i.e. be slow to condemn, don't be hasty in casting them out. Now, that doesn't mean forget it either. Of course, we are to encourage them to repent and to do what is right. Obviously, human beings are going towaver at times and especially the weak, so we need some tolerance in such matters.
Finally item #7, at the last of v.14, "be patient with all men." Boy, that one stepped on my toes; what about you? How often are we impatient with the unruly, the feebleminded and the weak" In the congregations you know; how many times has a lack of patience on the part of some member created a lot of un-necessary problems? While you're thinking about that, right in the middle of patience; we'll have to call this study to a halt. We' 11 get back to patience in lesson #12. Until then, this is wishing you a good day.