Have you ever written a paper, article or letter and expounded on you first point in great detail, had two or three more points you wanted to make with just as much good stuff to say, but you ran out of steam or energy and just covered the remaining points in passing? That happens to me just about every time I write one of these studies, and it seems like it happens to Paul at the end of 1 Thessalonians.
Having praised the Thessalonians for their faithfulness, encouraged them in their suffering, and admonished them to abstain from sexual immorality he got to the main point of the letter which was to assure them that Christ would return for all of His people, whether they were dead or alive. And then the letter seems to fall off the edge of a cliff. In chapter 5:12-28 he hits so many topics in such rapid fire succession it almost makes the head spin. Here’s the list of instructions he gives:
- Respect for workers/overseers in the Church
- Warn the idle.
- Encourage the cowardly.
- Help the weak
- Be patient with everyone.
- Be joyful
- Always pray
- Always be thankful
- Don’t put out the Spirit’s fire
- Treat prophecy with respect
- Test everything.
- Hold on to good while getting rid of evil.
- Pray for Paul and his companions.
- Greet each other with a holy kiss.
- Read this letter to everyone.
Intermingled with those instructions is a prayer that the Thessalonians would be sanctified and kept blameless by Christ for His coming.
Whew. Where to start. There is so much here we could discuss that I’m not going to try and exposit this section, instead I’m gong to ask a few (leading) questions and you’ll have to supply the answers.
- What, if anything, was Paul implying about the nature and organization of the Church when he referred to those “who are over you in the Lord”? Remember that Paul himself is giving orders in this letter. Did he have authority? Where did it come from? What does the term Apostolic Succession mean to you (maybe nothing)? Do certain Christians have authority over others? If so in what circumstances? If not, how does it square with the verses here?
- How do we warn the Idle and encourage the cowardly and help the weak while being patient with everyone? Is there a connection here between this and those “who admonish you”? Who is called to do this warning,encouraging and helping? Who is called to patience.
- Paul implies that the Spirit speaks through prophecy, is this true today? What is a prophecy? How does one test everything without putting out the Spirit’s fire? Is it possible to test everything without being cynical? How does testing everything square with the need to have positive attitudes about the Church in order to “get things done”? How should everything be tested?
- Is the testing sentence tied to the prophecy sentence or does it apply the the good and evil sentence or both? Are all of 19-22 related to each other?
- How does one hold on to the good and avoid evil? Paul suggests the answer to all those questions in 23-24, that God Himself, the One who called us, will keep us blameless.