Bible reading: 1 Thessalonians 5
1:1-11. The Sudden Coming of the Lord. Again, Paul tells them something that they have no need for anything to be written, because they already know quite well what he is about to write. But his writing serves as a source of encouragement (v. 11). Basic truths often need repeating. Paul continues the topic of Jesus’ coming, but focuses now on the times and seasons of his arrival, specifically, that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night, that is, suddenly, unexpectedly, without warning. Some disparage his coming, by saying that nothing will happen: There is peace and security. Don’t worry! Be happy! But they will soon discover that sudden destruction comes on them. Its suddenness is compared to the labor pains that begin, often at an inconvenient moment, for a pregnant woman. Their unpreparedness means that they will surely not escape. They deliberately ignore what the Thessalonians know quite well and could be known by any who so desired. But the new converts are not like them, choosing to remain in the darkness. They all are sons of the light and sons of the day. That Paul continues in verses 4-7 to speak of those whom the day would overtake and who belong to the night and who are of the darkness, highlights the great divide between those in Christ and the outsiders, between the faithful and the forgetful. Paul does not reveal who they are to whom he refers, who counsel relaxation when what is needed is the greatest vigilance. They might be Jewish opponents who still attempt to derail the Christians’ faith. They might even be Christians lulled into a false sense of security by being in Christ.
Belonging to those who are of the day means a different stance must be taken: we must stay sober in the spiritual sense because that means putting on the breastplate of faith and love, which protects the vital organs, and as a helmet our hope for salvation. All this God has given us, that we might stand strong against temptation and false teaching, because he did not destine us for wrath. He did not save only to destroy, he desires that the redeemed reach eternal salvation. After referring to sleep in verse 7 as spiritual sluggishness, he returns the figure now to speak of death in verse 10. Christ died for us, and that means that regardless of our state, in alertness of life or in the sleep of death, we will come together with him. That is the goal that moves every Christian to watch vigilantly until the end and to encourage one another and build up each other. Such edification occurs both in the regular meetings and in the daily contact that disciples have with one another.
1:12-22. Requirements of the Common Life. In his final instructions, Paul first encourages a proper attitude toward servants who, presumably, work full-time in the Kingdom. It is not by coincidence that he says they labor among you and preside over you. None can preside who does not work side by side. Their presiding is not the world’s oppressive authoritarianism, but is exercised in the Lord, who taught humility and mutual submission. Their work is to admonish in order to encourage growth. For that reason, they should be esteemed most highly in love because of their work. Rather than seeking to compete, they will, by such recognition of others’ dedicated service, be at peace among themselves. Also, they should consider the needs of each one and act accordingly. The undisciplined should be admonished, because correction is essential to their learning to discipline themselves. The discouraged, on the other hand, need comfort rather than upbraiding. They should help the weak, who often cannot fend for themselves. And who does not need generous doses of patience?
It behooves the whole congregation to see that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone. Relationships between two Christians affect the whole and the whole must be zealous for the healthy interactions among its individual members. So then everyone should always pursue what is good for one another and for all. Both the individual and the group are considered in one’s decisions and pursuits. God’s will includes not only sanctification (4:3), but thanksgiving as well, and likely Paul was thinking of the rejoicing and constant prayer as a part of his will. He makes blanket statements, which apply to Christians: always, constantly, in everything. These are attitudes that know no bounds nor limits. Treating prophecies with contempt is a means of extinguishing the Spirit and his action in a life or in a congregation. The Christian does not live the unexamined life, but thinks critically, in the good sense. He knows he should examine all things, which offers him the possibility of securing what is good. The good (verses 15, 21) are not locally nor individually defined, but are expressions of what God considers wholesome, healthful, intrinsically right and good. Having examined all things, the Christian opts to stay away from every form of evil, of which there are many.
1:23-28. Final Prayer and Parting. Paul’s last words include prayer that the God who produces and grants peace may himself, as he is active in our affairs, make you holy. The disciple must separate himself from evil and embrace the good, as necessary efforts toward holiness, but such actions express the holiness belongs to God alone and which he extends to his people. The spirit and soul and body comprise the whole of the person; discussions about how many parts man is divided up into do not seem to build up. God can preserve saints entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Again, though Christians cooperate with him in this process, the action is his. In his prayer, Paul makes the final mention of Christ’s return. That God is trustworthy means that, if he is the one who calls to communion and service, then he will preserve until the end.
Paul often requested his converts to pray for him. He was open with his struggles, transparent in his efforts and relationships, honest with his needs. The Thessalonians would likely find our awe of Paul strange. The customary greeting of the kiss was to be performed, as everything, in a holy manner. His letter was not to be kept among a few, but the apostle made a solemn call that his letter be read to all the brothers and sisters, for by it all would be edified and instructed. The last word is a prayer for all to have the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.