One thing that Paul describes in this epistle is that the true church has certain characteristics. And these do not have anything to do with size, age, wealth, building or staff. He sees the Thessalonian church as a true church because it experienced a true conversion at the hands of true and sincere ministers. In addition to this, it was growing in moral purity and knowledge of God's word, specifically – what would actually happen when Jesus returned.
In chapter 5, I explained that although many things happen simultaneously at Jesus' return (wicked judged / heaven and earth destroyed, etc.) Paul focuses only on what happens to Christians in his letter to the Thessalonians (dead Christians rise to join live Christians to be with Jesus in the air forever).
If these things are to be so, Paul explains to them how they can prepare for this sure event.
1. Watch Yourself – vs. 4-10
But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness;
- I Thessalonians 5:4-5
Christians are in the light (they see what is coming) not like unbelievers who are not aware that their end is near (they're in the dark). He talks about this watchfulness.
So then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. - I Thessalonians 5:6
- Alert (watching / paying attention)
- Sober (peaceful and clear minded)
For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.
- I Thessalonians 5:7-8
Our sobriety is spiritual in nature and distinguishes itself in that we live by faith in Christ, love for others and a firm hope that Jesus will come. We don't allow ourselves to be led away (inebriated) by the sin in this world of faithlessness, hard heartedness and loss of hope for eternal life. This is spiritual drunkenness.
For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.
- I Thessalonians 5:9-10
Paul encourages them to be watchful against spiritual laziness and sin because they are destined for eternal life with Jesus, not punishment, and they need to keep alert so they won't lose their way. People lose their way because they are careless with their faith. Paul says to watch (pay attention) and be alert as well as sober-minded in spiritual matters in order to be ready when Christ comes.
Another thing he mentions in order to prepare…
2. Build up the Church – vs. 11
Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
- I Thessalonians 5:11
Paul uses two key words to describe our ministry one to another in the church.
- Encourage (comfort, exhort). This is the same word used by Jesus in John 16:7 in referring to the Holy Spirit. It means to call to one side. The idea is to support someone else in weakness.
- Build-up (edify). This word originally meant to build a home. It means to promote spiritual growth in another. This is done by teaching, example and encouragement that is patiently given to those who need such things.
Note that Paul says that the individual members are to comfort and edify each other. This is different than the common notion of the preacher being responsible for doing this for the entire church. Many times members get angry and disappointed in him if he fails us.
Our activity in the church either builds the church or tears it down – Paul says that a ready Christian is one the Lord finds building the church when He appears. This, he says, is the responsibility of the entire church, not just the minister.
3. Respect Your Leaders – vs. 12-13a
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.
- I Thessalonians 5:12-13a
Paul refers to the work of the leaders and the attitude the church should have towards them:
- Leaders fulfill their ministries if they are working hard (Greek word for trial) in their roles:
- Serving (not just decision making)
- Teaching (not just talking)
- Training (not just supervising)
- The church needs to recognize that this is the work that leaders are doing and ought to appreciate them for doing it because it is being done for them. The best way to encourage leaders in the church is to love them and cooperate with them:
- Serving by their side (not under)
- Obeying their teaching (if it is Biblical)
- Accept the training with enthusiasm
A church is not ready for the return of its Lord if it is complaining and not cooperating with its leaders; and the leaders are not ready if they are not working hard in their ministries.
4. Be at Peace with one Another – vs. 13b-15
Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.
- I Thessalonians 5:13b-15
Paul states the objective then explains the method:
- Admonish the unruly (warn troublemakers). In Thessalonica there were some who did not work and caused trouble in the church.
- Encourage the fainthearted (discouraged). Encourage not to give up for those who were not strong in the faith.
- Help the weak (weak to temptation). Hold on to those who are easily drawn away from the truth, purity, etc.
- Be patient (with everyone). Be ready to "bear under" all people who you come in contact with.
- Return good for evil (Christian reaction). To those who offend us we offer the other cheek, not the fist. (It is to a man's glory to overlook a transgression, Proverbs 19:11.)
When there are disputes in the church it is usually because we violate these principles. We cannot be happy when Jesus returns if He finds us divided and at war with one another or ignoring one another's spiritual needs.
5. Rejoice Always – vs. 16
- I Thessalonians 5:16
This seems like an impossible thing considering the hardships of life, but Paul is writing with a view of the return of Jesus. Regardless of our circumstances we can always rejoice because nothing can change the fact that Jesus will return and when He does we will be with Him. How happy I will be if the Lord comes and finds me rejoicing.
6. Pray Always – vs. 17-18
Pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
- I Thessalonians 5:17-18
A Christian isn't always praying (he needs to sleep) but he can always pray if he wants to. Why? The reasons for giving thanks are endless:
- It is God's will that he pray.
- Jesus is always present as our mediator.
- The Holy Spirit is always there to help our weakness in prayer.
A ready church is a church with an open communication line with God through prayer. Wouldn't it be great to be in the middle of prayer when Jesus comes?
7. Study the Word – vs. 19-21
Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
- I Thessalonians 5:19-21
Paul teaches them how to respond to those teaching them the word through the gift of prophetic utterance. They are to listen (not to ignore these prophets) but they are to test (examine) carefully what they say and hold on (do) that which is good (teaching). Today we don't have prophets, we have the Bible that provides us with God's word, but the admonition is the same: we are to be doers of the word, not just hearers.
Jesus said that when He returns it will not be the ones who say "Lord, Lord" who will enter in but those who do the will of the Father.
8. Be Pure – vs. 22
Abstain from every form of evil.
- I Thessalonians 5:22
Notice that Paul says every form of evil. This not only includes moral evil (adultery, drunkenness, dishonesty) but also spiritual evil such as false religions and human philosophies that deny God.
When a bride prepares for her wedding she doesn't go out on a date the night before the wedding or begin cleaning out the garage. Why? She wants to remain devoted and clean for her future husband. The church is the bride of Christ and is ready for His coming if she is completely devoted to only Him and remains pure.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but if you do these to prepare they will lead you into all other good works.
Why do we need to be ready?
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
- I Thessalonians 5:23-24
We need to be ready because God promises that He will do His part which is to completely perfect us in the twinkling of an eye when Jesus returns, and that day will come because God Himself has promised (and which of His promises has He ever failed to accomplish so far?).
Why is Paul teaching this?
Brethren, pray for us. Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
- I Thessalonians 5:25-28
Paul ends his first letter with a salutation, request for prayers and a blessing. He also commits them to reading his epistle to the church so that everyone would be ready should Jesus come in their lifetimes.
If you remember anything about Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians it is this:
- One day you are going to see Jesus Christ.
When you are discouraged, saddened or suffering:
- Because you are lonely
- Because you are sick
- Because you don't have enough time, talent, etc.
- Because you are failing to accomplish all that you ought or want to do.
Just remember that in one brief moment it will all be over and you will actually see the one you prayed to and trusted for your eternal life.
- Watch yourselves
- Build up one another
- Respect your leaders
- Be at peace with each other
- Rejoice and pray always
- Study carefully the word
- Remain as pure as you can be…
...so that you will be ready when Jesus comes for you.