Monday, November 23, 2009

1 Thessalonians 5:16-28

V16-28 – 16Be joyful always; 17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22Avoid every kind of evil. 23May 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. 24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. 25Brothers, pray for us. 26Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. 27I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. 28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Paul wraps up with a series of short commands The first three, “be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances,” are explained as “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” These are not merely attitudes to have, but commands to do. We are to always be joyful (Philippians 4:4); that’s hard for me, as somewhat of a pessimist, but it is evidenced by constancy in prayer. We are to always pray; this command does not mean to pray instead of eat, or pray instead of sleep, or pray instead of read. Nor does it mean that we are merely to maintain a prayerful attitude. Rather, we are to pray often – continually, Paul says. We are never to exclude prayer from our lives for any reason. When the Spirit prompts, we are to pray. I can think of many times that I have felt prompted to pray, especially aloud, yet refused out of convenience or peer pressure or fear of what others – even my spouse or children – might think. How foolish! And as a check against what might often be foolish desires that we pray for, we are also to give thanks in all things, whether good or bad experiences take place in our lives.

The importance of v19-22 is that legitimate prophecy must be tested and not treated “with contempt,” which would be one way to “put out the Spirit’s fire.” Calvin warns, “Those…who infer from this that it is in man’s option either to quench or to cherish the light that is presented to him, so that they detract from the efficacy of grace, and extol the powers of free will, reason on false grounds. For although God works efficaciously in His elect, and does not merely present the light to them, but causes them to see, opens the eyes of their heart, and keeps them open, yet as the flesh is always inclined to indolence, it has need of being stirred up by exhortations. But what God commands by Paul’s mouth, He himself accomplishes inwardly. In the mean time, it is our part to ask from the Lord, that He would furnish oil to the lamps which He has lighted up, that He may keep the wick pure, and may even increase it.”

Paul’s teaching here refutes the unbiblical idea of cessationism, which declares that the spiritual gifts, especially prophecy and tongues, have ceased. The goal of cessationist thought is to promote the completion of Scripture, out of fear that a true prophecy may be uttered that contradicts God’s word, or more commonly out of denial that a false prophet could utter a false prophecy but think it to be true and lead others astray. But needless to say, that can’t happen, for we deny that true believers can be led permanently astray. And furthermore, what would we be able to test that prophecy against? We test prophecy against Scripture to confirm its truth, or to reject it upon failure to agree with Scripture. If the content of a given prophecy cannot be tested against Scripture, then we are to ignore it. By the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are to “hold on to the good” and “avoid every kind of evil.” But we ought also to consider with Calvin that “prophecy,” often thought to refer to telling the future, may very well simply suggest the important gift of interpreting the Scripture (1 Corinthians 14:3), preaching or expounding God’s word for application to any given audience. Obviously, this gift should not be treated with contempt, or despised, but tested. Yet today, many professing Christians do indeed despise preaching.

A recurring theme throughout this epistle, sanctification is mentioned again in v23. Paul speaks of sanctification being complete – our “whole spirit, soul, and body” (Hebrews 4:12; cf. Mark 12:30; Isaiah 26:9). It will be completed at Jesus’ second coming and not until then. And sanctification is certain, because God, faithful, is the One who does it in us (v24). Normally, the soul is deemed to consist of the mind, the will, and emotions. Animals exhibit these functions. But the spirit is unique to humanity.

Cheung summaries this section saying, “Three things receive emphasis in v23-24. First, God sanctifies His people in a thorough manner, even ‘through and through.’ Second, Paul emphasizes that God is the one who sanctifies, and makes His people blameless. Third, he says that God is not only able to do this, but He is faithful to do it.” And Calvin concludes, “We know, however, that under the term sanctification is included the entire renovation of the man. The Thessalonians, it is true, had been in part renewed, but Paul desires that God would perfect what is remaining. From this we infer, that we must, during our whole life, make progress in the pursuit of holiness. But if it is the part of God to renew the whole man, there is nothing left for free will. For if it had been our part to co-operate with God, Paul would have spoken thus – ‘May God aid or promote your sanctification.’ But when he says, sanctify you wholly, he makes Him the sole Author of the entire work… Our calling ought to be held by us as an evidence of everlasting grace, for [God] will not leave the work of His hands incomplete (Psalm 138:8). Paul…addresses believers, who had not been merely called by outward preaching, but had been effectually brought by Christ to the Father, that they might be of the number of His sons.”

Finally, Paul “charges you before the Lord.” This is an unusually strong Greek verb. Paul is effectively putting the Thessalonians under an oath that they must teach the contents of this letter to all the Christians in their sphere of influence. Paul knew his teaching was good and important, and more importantly, from God (see 1 Thessalonians 4:8). Cheung concludes his commentary on 1 Thessalonians by saying, “Christians are at times driven to discouragement, and sometimes almost to despair, when they perceive that they fall short of perfection. Paul’s doctrine of sanctification reminds us to place our confidence in God, and not in ourselves. This does not excuse us from our responsibilities, since Paul has just finished listing a number of them. It is not that we may become passive in the pursuit of holiness, but that even our efforts are inspired and energized by God, and that we may have confidence in Him to do this for us. As Paul writes elsewhere, ‘Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose’ (Philippians 2:12-13).”

No comments: