Final Words

This morning we come to the last in this series on 1 Thessalonians, to the final words of Paul's first letter to the church at Thessalonica, which is our heading. Though a sub-heading for these verses could be 'The Local Church Family' as Paul uses the word brothers or brethren 5 times in these verses or as two commentators suggest 'How To Be A Gospel Church'. Our passage is 1 Thessalonians 5: 12-28. So Paul's final words regarding the local church family or how to be a gospel church in 1 Thessalonians. The report brought by Timothy of the Thessalonian church's progress was generally very heartening and Paul offered thanks to God for their faith, love, hard work, endurance and hope, as we saw in chapters 1 and 3. But there was still room for improvement in their local church family life, just as there always is in ours here in Jesmond. Paul held high ideals for the Christian church, as of course does Jesus Christ himself, the head of the church. From chapter 1 of this letter we see that the Christian church is a community loved and chosen by God. It draws its life from God and shows this life by its faith, love and hope. Such a church is a 'gospel church'. It has been brought into being by the gospel and is being continuously shaped by the gospel (cf. chapter 1:5-10). And (chapter 1 verses 8 and 10) its message is the gospel of Christ and it serves the living and true God as it waits for its risen Lord, Saviour and bridegroom to return - "Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath". Here in the second half of 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul concentrates on the life and worship of the local gospel church and addresses some of the areas where there is room for improvement. For example: How should the members relate to their leaders, to each other and to God? How are they and we to be a gospel church? Well, before we look at those questions directly, it's important to note that Paul in these verses sees the local gospel church as the family of God where members should recognise and treat one another as brothers and sisters. For if through Christ God is our Father then our fellow believers are our sisters and brothers. Now if we were all at the conference I was on last week about cell churches with Lawrence Khong from FCBC, Singapore we would all now have to stand and tell each other that we are brothers and sisters in Christ and that we love each other as brothers and sisters! You'll be relieved to know that we're not going to do that just now although Paul says that we are to greet each other and not show favouritism. But it is worth reminding ourselves of the fact that we, if we are born again believers, are brothers and sisters in Christ and of how that relationship should affect our behaviour, our life together and our witness as a body. Paul wanted to remind the Thessalonians of this fact and of right behaviour. As I've said he uses the word 'brothers' 5 times in these verses and 27 times in both letters to the Thessalonians. We as Christians not only belong to 'the day' (5:1-11), but also to 'the family'. In chapter 4 and in the earlier part of chapter 5 Paul had been urging the Thessalonian church to love one another with a brotherly love (4:9-10), to comfort one another (4:18) and to encourage and build each other up (5:11). Now he further lays out in these final words his vision for the church family and discusses what are the essentials for a happy, thriving church family? how are we to relate as brothers and sisters? how are we to be a gospel church? and how can we make our local churches more spiritual to the glory of God? In doing so he looks at three vital areas of local church life which I want to look at under 4 headings: First, RESPECT GODLY LEADERSHIP vv 12-13; secondly, CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER vv 14-15; thirdly, CONGREGATIONAL OR PUBLIC WORSHIP vv 16-22,27; and fourthly, PRAY FOR EACH OTHER vv 23-25. First, RESPECT GODLY LEADERSHIP vv 12-13 How should gospel church members and leaders regard and relate to each other? I wonder if you've heard about the leaflet passed around one theological college which suggested the brilliantly original scheme of 'Chain Vicars'. It read: "If you are unhappy with your vicar, simply have your churchwardens send a copy of this letter to six other churches who are also tired of their vicar. Then bundle up your vicar and send him to the church at the top of the list in the letter, Within a week you will receive 16,435 vicars and one of them should be all right. Have faith in this chain letter and do not break the chain. One church did and got their old vicar back." (BITB, p.23, Murray Watts.) As is true today there were some at Thessalonica who were unhappy with their church leaders and they were being disrespectful in their attitude. And it is possible that some of the leaders may have been heavy handed with some of the members. Perhaps some particular issue had not been handled as tactfully as it might have been or maybe they were just too domineering. Paul in these verses rejects both the disrespect from the members and any heavy handedness on the part of the leadership. Instead Paul says in vv.12-13 that the people are to

respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. {13} Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.

Clearly leaders do have to be firm sometimes in line with biblical teaching. There are also some churches which don't appear to want a leader. Well the Bible teaches that every local church should have pastoral oversight but also that the leader should not dominate. The leadership of a church is meant to "multiply ministries, not monopolise them". (Stott) Godly, gifted, gospel preaching, servant leaders who aim for every member ministry are vital. So according to v.12 what is meant to characterize Christian leaders and what kind of leadership should we expect, does God call for and should we respect? Look at v.12 again. We are to respect Christian leaders who work hard among us, who are over us in the Lord and who admonish us. Now he is talking about the same pastors here but breaks down their characteristics into three and so will we. So firstly we are to respect those leaders or pastors or elders who work hard among us. Christian leaders are those who labour in preaching and teaching. Those who toil, strive and struggle in pastoral ministry for true pastoral work is hard work in the strength of the Lord. As Paul says in Colossians 1:28-29: "We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me". Secondly we are to respect those who are over us in the Lord. Now those who are over you in the Lord are in fact under people as their servants and they are to show humility and gentleness rather than power. Jesus clearly taught this in Mark 10 for example. However servant leadership does still carry a level of authority. See Hebrews 13:7 and 17 for example which speak of imitating and obeying your leaders and submitting to their authority. But what kind of authority are we to respect? What does it mean to be over people in the Lord in terms of authority? The word over seems to mean to direct, protect, care for, manage as in manage ones family. That is the sort of authority and leadership and pastoral care we are to respect not the sort which lords it over people or which leads people astray. Thirdly we are to respect those who admonish us. Some of the Thessalonians were finding this difficult. Christian leaders are those who admonish us, meaning they warn against certain behaviour and its consequences and even discipline those who have gone astray. The admonishing is usually accompanied by teaching. It should not be a harsh ministry but rather one which seeks to warn, reprove or correct. Such leaders we are to respect and, v.13, hold in the highest regard in love because of their work. Then pastors and people will be able to live in peace with each other. Pastors too are called to live in peace with the people. Sadly we can probably all think of situations where pastors and people do not live in peace or up to their calling and the damage that can do. But as Stott puts it:

"Happy is the church family in which pastors and people recognise that God calls different believers to different ministries, exercise their own ministries with diligence and humility, and give to others the respect and love which their God-appointed labour demands! They will live in peace with each other"

Secondly, we are to CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER vv 14-15. How are gospel church families to care for one another? Look at vv14 & 15:

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. {15} Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

It is not just the pastors who are to care for the congregation but also the congregation who are to care for one another, especially those who are mature in the faith. Paul says 'and we urge you brothers', not just and we urge you leaders. Here at JPC it is generally in the home groups or in some other small group where this basic caring takes place. A mutual caring which should help each other to grow in the faith. As in a human family the older brothers and sisters are to help to look after the younger. At the moment in our family Christopher and Thomas are very happy to help look after Kirsty but there may come a time when they get frustrated with her. When she will only pick up the ball and not kick it or when she's chewed their toys. Well some of the stronger Christians at Thessalonica were obviously becoming impatient with their weaker brothers and sisters, some of whom were idle, others who were weak and some who were timid. But the stronger Christians in a fellowship are not to reject their weaker brethren but are rather to encourage those who are timid, help those who are weak, warn those who are idle and be patient with everyone. (Ro 14:1-15; 1 Cor 8:13) Sometimes this will not be easy such as when the responsibility is to care with a warning even though it should be done in love and in a kindly way as is suggested in these two verses. Here the stronger brothers are to warn the idle or the loafers. Apparently some of the Thessalonians were so sure that the second coming was close that they had given up their jobs in order to prepare for it, but Paul says they should work. We are not to be idle whether we're in paid employment or not or in our work for the Lord. Idleness won't help us to prepare for the Lord's return. Nor are we to give up because Jesus is coming back. We are to work hard and be ready. For no-one knows the day or hour except the Father. We're on the welcoming committee not the planning committee and he wants others to be welcoming him too. The Great Commission still stands. There is much work still to be done. The stronger brothers and sisters are also to help the weak and encourage the timid. Perhaps the weak here are those who are finding sexual control difficult going back to chapter 4 and verses 3-8. Maybe the timid are those who are worried about their own salvation, who lack assurance and confidence and find it difficult to look outwards. Or perhaps like Timothy they lack the confidence to serve, evangelize and use the gifts God has given them. Paul writes to Timothy:

"I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord" (2 Tim. 1:6-7)

We are to encourage people to serve Christ appropriately and to go on encouraging them as they do so. Paul says here in effect, "Hold on to them strong Christians. Put your arm around them. Be patient with them. Be patient with all. For God has been infinitely patient with us (1 Tim. 1:16). Paul then addresses everybody in the church in v.15 and tells them to make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, that nobody retaliates or attempts personal revenge against someone. Rather they are to try to always be kind to each other and to everyone else, i.e. to those outside the fellowship including enemies. Perhaps some of the more immature brethren had wronged the more mature but the latter were being tempted to retaliate out of frustration. Or maybe the slanderers and the persecutors of Thessalonica had been having a go and some of the church were thinking of revenge and how to justify it. He's encouraging them to follow the teaching and example of Jesus and telling them to encourage the rest of their church family to do the same. Make sure or see to it he says. So we are to care for each other as sisters and brothers, to support, encourage and warn those who find things difficult or who can be a problem, and ensure that all follow the teachings of Jesus. Thirdly, the CONGREGATIONAL WORSHIP of a gospel church vv 16-22. A number of commentators see these verses referring to the congregational or public worship of a gospel church, looking at what should a Sunday service contain and how should the congregation respond? Paul mentions at least 4 elements and responses. First "Be joyful always" or "Rejoice in the Lord always". This is an invitation to joyfully praise and worship the Lord with awe and humility. The service should be a celebration of what God has done and given through Christ. e) Second "Pray continually". Continually or regularly not continuously. Praise is one essential element of a service and prayer is another. There are to be times of serious intercession on Sundays and during the week in home groups or in midweek meetings. Yet prayerlessness is a problem today for the church and for individual Christians. Life is so busy! Yet therefore how much more do we need to pray and depend on God. Somehow we need to not get swallowed up by the busyness of the world and the church. To what extent is slow progress in evangelism due to the prayerlessness of the people of God? Third "Give thanks in all circumstances". Thankfulness should characterize the lives of Christians because of what God has done for us. Thanksgiving should also be part of our public worship, when we give thanks for all that God has given us and supremely for Jesus, God's indescribable gift. We remember his death on the cross in our services of Holy Communion or what some would call the Eucharist, the word eucharist meaning thanksgiving. We cannot give thanks to God for all circumstances but we can thank him in all circumstances. There will be times when we won't feel like praising, praying or giving thanks to God. But we are to do so because says v.18 "this is God's will for you". As one writer puts it: "It is God's will that whenever his people meet together for worship, whatever their feelings and circumstances, that there should be rejoicing in him, praying to him and giving thanks to him for his goodness and mercy. Fourth " Listen to the Word of God" vv19-22 and v.27. Look first at vv.20-22:

do not treat prophecies with contempt. {21} Test everything. Hold on to the good. {22} Avoid every kind of evil.

We are to listen to what purports to be from God and not to despise or reject it untested and unheard. Since Pentecost all God's people receive the Holy Spirit and all may therefore prophesy or know and speak God's mind and will (Nu. 11:29). But what is prophecy today and how are we to test it? We now have the completed canon of Scripture, the written Word of God and we affirm the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture. Therefore today we have no apostles comparable to the apostles of Christ and no prophets comparable to the Old Testament prophets or to John in the New. They are unique. Otherwise we would have to keep on adding to the Scriptures. A prophetic gift and ministry today then is a:

"God given remarkable insight into the Scripture itself and its meaning, or its application for today or insight into God's particular will for particular people in particular situations" (Stott).

Paul says we are to test everything though. How? Answer: By the Bible, by the person of Jesus, by the gospel, by the character of the speaker. Also by whether it is edifying or not. After applying the tests then we will be able to hold on to what is good and genuine and avoid every kind of evil or counterfeit. But we need to affirm again that Scripture has supreme authority in the church. It is God's Word which the church needs to hear read, expounded and applied. In a service God speaks to his people through his Word and they respond to him in praise prayer and thanksgiving. And in v.27 Paul charges the Thessalonians or puts them on oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. They needed to hear God's Word. Notice that Paul's letter did not have to be tested. Lastly in this section v.19:

Do not put out the Spirit's fire;

Do not quench the Spirit. We are to acknowledge the sovereignty and freedom of the Holy Spirit in the listening and the responding during public worship. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you through his word and listen to his voice and also let him move you to respond in praise, prayer and thanksgiving. And so we come to the fourth and final point, very briefly: Fourthly, as a church family we are to PRAY FOR EACH OTHER vv 23-25 Paul prays for the Thessalonians in vv.23 and 24 and then asks his Thessalonian brothers to pray for him. How we need to pray for each other here at Jesmond and for those who have gone from here to serve elsewhere. How does Paul pray for them?

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (v 23).

Paul prays for their sanctification, for them to become more like Jesus, more holy and pure. He prays that God will sanctify them through and through and that their whole spirit, soul and body may be kept blameless at the second coming of Christ. He then affirms God's faithfulness in verse 24: "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."

"God upholds those whom he calls and fulfils that which he has promised. We can rely on his steadfast love, which never fails but endures for ever." (Stott)

And then with humility he asks them to pray for him. How vital it is that we pray for each other as well as for the church in our home groups and in other groups, that we may all be sanctified. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

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