The Agora
Waiting For His Son - Thessalonians

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VIII. Final Exhortations (5:12-22)

A. Recognition of Leaders (5:12-13)

v. 12
"And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you:
v. 13
"and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves."


v. 12 "We beseech you": The same phrase employed in 1Th 4:1 to introduce an exhortation. An appeal rather than an authoritative command.

"To know them": To "respect" (NIV) or "appreciate" those who labor among you. It is not occupying a "position", but laboring, that should win respect from others, as well as from Christ (Mat 24:46). The New Testament letters contain several such exhortations to respect for leaders who work on behalf of the house of God (1Co 16:18; Heb 13:7,17; 1Ti 5:7).

"Which labor among you": The first of three designations of one class of people -- the structure of the Greek bears this out: not three distinct classes of leaders, but one class who serve in three ways.

"Labor" signifies toil or wearisome effort. It is similar to the "labor of love" mentioned in 1Th 1:3. These were brethren who had literally made themselves weary in the service of the ecclesia. It we take Paul as an example of this class, we realize that he wearied himself on behalf of the Thessalonians in both spiritual ministrations (cp 1Co 15:10; Gal 4:11, Phi 2:16; Col 1:29; 1Ti 4:10) and in earning his daily bread so as not to be chargeable to them (1Th 2:9). The second of these would be of primary exhortational value to the misguided "leisure class" in Thessalonica (cp 1Th 4:11; 2Th 3:6-15).

"And are over you in the Lord": Literally, those who "preside" over you. The word seems to combine the ideas of leading, protecting, and caring for. In Rom 12:8 a similar word ("he that ruleth") occurs in the context of sharing one's material resources and showing mercy -- what we might refer to as the treasurer. The feminine of the same root occurs in 16:2, where Phoebe is called a "succourer" (a "great help": NIV). Related words occur quite often in Paul's "pastoral letters", in describing those who look after their own households (1Ti 3:4,5,12), promote good works (Tit 3:8,14), and act as "elders" in the church (1Ti 5:17).

"And admonish you": The Greek "noutheto" means literally to put into one's mind, or to train by word. It is often used with reference to those who are going -- or are in danger of going -- astray. It is used exclusively by Paul in his letters and spoken word (Acts 20:31; Rom 15:14; 1Co 4:14; Col 1:28; 3:16). In the Thessalonian letters, it also occurs in 1:5:14 and 11:3:15.

v. 13 "And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake": "Very highly" is "super-abundantly" (another expression recalling the bubbling hot springs near the city, a word of enthusiasm and exuberance -- cp notes, 1Th 3:10,12; 4:1,10). The leaders in the Thessalonian ecclesia were to receive respect and love not because of their status, nor because of any personal attachments, nor even because of any of their intellectual or even moral attainments. There was to be no cult of "hero-worship" in Thessalonica. Instead, they were to be highly esteemed (and even loved) for their work's sake. This would imply two different considerations: the work they did should earn respect; and furthermore respect should be given them so as to help them in their work.

"And be at peace among yourselves": A quotation of, or at any rate a reference to, the words of Jesus (Mark 9:50). The proper respect for elders would help to check any tendency toward confusion, unrest, or even anarchy. The call for peace is common in the letters to the New Testament ecclesias (Rom 12:18; 14:19; 1Co 14:33; 2Co 13:11; Eph 4:3; Col 3:15; 2Ti 2:22; Heb 12:14; James 3:18) -- and also the related exhortation to be of one mind (Rom 12:16; 15:5; 2Co 13:11; Phi 2:2; 4:2). Possibly arguments about alternative prophetic interpretations (1:4:13-18; 5:1-3; 11:2:1-5), as well as about internal ecclesial discipline and authority (1:4:11; 11:3:6-15), were straining the bonds of fellowship and love in Thessalonica.


In this and the succeeding sections of the letter there may be noted numerous similarities to the general exhortations of Romans 12:

1 Thessalonians 5
Romans 12
12,13a. Respect leaders
3-8. Do not think too highly of yourselves
13b. Peace among yourselves
18. Peace with all men
14. Care for weak and unruly
(14:1) Receive the weak
15. Not evil for evil, but good to all men
17a. Not evil for evil, but good to all men
16. Rejoice always
12a. Rejoice in hope
17. Pray unceasingly
12c. Continue in prayer
19. Do not quench the spirit
11b. Fervent in spirit
20. Do not despise prophecy
6. Prophecy
21. Test all things, hold fast to good
9b. Cleave to good
22. Avoid evil
9b. Hate evil

It may be that Paul is working from a common document -- something like a list of needs and duties of a Christian community -- and modifying his advice somewhat according to his perception of local circumstances.

* * *

Even though this is by general consent the earliest of Paul's letters, there is nevertheless an organization and discipline in the ecclesia. There are already "officers", although the familiar designations of "bishop" (overseer) and "deacon" (servant) do not occur.

B. Various Duties (5:14-22)

v. 14
"Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
v. 15
"See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
v. 16
"Rejoice evermore.
v. 17
"Pray without ceasing.
v. 18
"In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
v. 19
"Quench not the Spirit.
v. 20
"Despise not prophesyings.
v. 21
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
v. 22
"Abstain from all appearance of evil."


v. 14 "Warn them that are unruly": "Warn" is the same word as "admonish" in v 12. "Unruly" is the Greek "ataktous": without order or discipline. This and related words are always used in the New Testament with reference to the Thessalonians (cp 2Th 3:6,7,11), who, for all their commendable traits, were evidently a very disorderly group. The word is a military term, describing those who are out of line, or not at their post, or who will not or cannot keep in their ranks. The specific type of disorderly conduct Paul has in mind is almost certainly a refusal to work, and a tendency to gossip and trouble-making, while imposing on the generosity of others.

"Comfort the feeble-minded": "Comfort" is "paramuthion" (cp note, 1Th 2:11). "Feeble-minded" occurs only once in the New Testament. It suggests those with "little life (psuche)" in them: "timid" (NIV), "faint-hearted" (RSV, NEB), "despondent", or "frightened". This may describe those who were troubled over their brethren who had died in Jesus (4:13), and confused about the "coming of Christ" (1Th 5:1-11), or those who felt themselves unable to stand up to persecutions (1Th 1:6; 2:11-16).

The sort of comfort Paul had in mind for such faint-hearted ones was not the false heartiness satirized by James:

"Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled" (James 2:16).
It was instead a practical help, and especially a practical encouragement based on a knowledge of God and His promises. Those who are timid and fearful must be given real reasons to be strong in faith; such reasons come from the word of God, and the living examples of others.

"Support the weak": In 1Co 8:9-11; 9:22; and Rom 14:1 this word "weak" refers to those who were weak in faith, given over to a morbid conscientiousness in regard to meats and holidays and the like. "Support" is used elsewhere of holding fast to something (such as sound teaching, in Tit 1:9), or of being closely attached to someone (Mat 6:24; Luke 16:13), so as to support and strengthen.

Paul leaves us in no doubt that there is a place in the church for the "weak", and that the "strong" have a particular responsibility toward them.

"Be patient toward all men": Dealing with the idle, the cowardly, and the weak (or fastidious) in the Christian fellowship -- on a long-term basis -- can be a great trial to one's patience. Hence Paul counsels us to be patient toward all. Patience or longsuffering ("makrothumeo") is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). It is also a quality of God Himself, who is patient and full of mercy (Exo 34:6; Psa 103:8). As Paul says elsewhere, patience is of the highest order of virtue, because "Love is patient" (1Co 13:4). See also 2Co 6:6; Eph 4.2; Col 1:11; 3:12; 2Ti 3:10.

v. 15 "See that none render evil for evil unto any man": The commandment of Jesus was to resist not evil (Mat 5-38:48; Luke 6:27-36; cp Pro 25:21). As Paul states here, this command has the widest possible scope: "unto all men", not just to the brotherhood. Peter recalls the words of Jesus also (1Pe 3:9), with the suggestion that in obeying these words we are following the one who has called us (1Pe 2:19-23). Likewise Paul sets forth this principle as his example for life (1Co 4:12,13). Cp also Rom 12:17; Gal 6:10; and 2Pe 1:5-11.

"But ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men": The teaching of Christ does not simply prohibit retaliation -- it is not fundamentally negative. The teaching of Christ promotes and encourages doing good ("agathan" = that which is "kind" -- NIV) in return for receiving evil. Returning good for evil must be diligently pursued (the meaning of the word); it must be tirelessly sought after as the goal of a Christian life. "Overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21). This thought occurs in the context along with: "live peaceably with all men" (v 18) and "Avenge not yourselves" (v 19).

v. 16 "Rejoice evermore": "Joy" ("chara") is the root word for grace ("charis") and also for thanksgiving ("eucharistia"). Rejoicing (v 16) and giving thanks (v 18) are both forms of prayer (v 17), and these three verses are obviously very much related.

This characteristic theme of the New Testament may be traced back to the teaching of Jesus on the Mount (Mat 5:10-12). Rejoicing, even in trials, was the typical condition of the early believers (Acts 5:4; 16:25), who, with many reasons to be sorrowful, were yet "always rejoicing" (2Co 12:10). "Rejoice evermore" is the basic underlying theme of Paul's whole letter to the Philippians (Phi 1:18; 2:2,19,28; 3:1; 4:1-4), who were in similar circumstances -- due to trials -- as were the Thessalonians. These, in turn, to whom Paul is now writing had already suffered in joy (1Th 1:6), in following the example of Paul himself (3:9).

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22); it does not develop naturally -- it must be cultivated. As we live in the world, we may find innumerable occasions to be sorrowful -- and all with reason. We cannot rejoice in the Lord by turning a blind eye to our troubles, and those of our neighbors, and acting as though nothing evil, or sad, or troublesome, exists. The only way to achieve true joy is to see clearly the reasons for sorrow, but at the same time to recognize the reality of our blessings, and the glories of our hope:

"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us afar more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2Co 4:17,18).
The believer is a new creation, born again through his faith in the sacrifice of Christ. He can forgive because he has been forgiven. He can return good for evil because his Heavenly Father does the same toward him. He can do what otherwise would be unpleasant -- or even impossible -- and do it out of a sense of joy and wonder and thanksgiving, because that which is humanly "impossible" has been achieved for him, in the precious blood of Christ. If a believer does not experience such joy, he would do well to examine his faith.

v. 17 "Pray without ceasing": The believer can rejoice always -- precisely because he is always praying and always giving thanks. This is a common injunction in Paul's writings (v 25; 2Th 3:1; Rom 12:12; Eph 6:18; Col 4:2). A life lived in faith is a continual prayer. Conversation with God does not require fixed locations, set times, or particular postures. Though it is quite impossible for us always to be uttering the words of prayer, it is possible and necessary that we should be always living in the spirit of prayer.

v. 18 "In everything give thanks": This does not just mean we should thank God for all enjoyable gifts. We should also thank God for the trials, and even the persecutions, of life, because "all things work together for good" (Rom 8:28). We should give thanks for all things!

Ingratitude is one of the features of those who have rejected the knowledge of God (Rom 1:21). By contrast, the children of God are expected to "abound in thanksgiving" (Col 2:7; 3:15,17; 4:2; Eph 5:4,20; 1Ti 2:1) -- following Paul's example (1Th 1:2; 2:13; Rom 1:8; 1Co 1:4; etc).

"For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you": This phrase refers to all of vv 16-18: constant joy, constant prayer, constant thanksgiving. That we should lead lives of ceaseless joy, prayer, and gratitude is not just the desire of God -- it is His purpose, His will. God is concerned not just with our outward, and visible, actions -- but also with our inner, spiritual attitudes: with our personalities and our motives.

v. 19 "Quench not the Spirit": "Quench": Greek "sbennumi." All other references in the New Testament are to fire (Mat 12:20; 25:8; Heb 11:34; Mark 9:48). (By comparison, Rom 12:12 and 2Ti 1:6 speak positively of being aglow with the Spirit or of fanning the fire of the Spirit into a flame. And compare, in the Old Testament, Jer 20:9.)

Because of the unruliness, on the part of some, in the use of the Holy Spirit gifts (cp 1Co 14:1-33), the elders at Thessalonica may have banned -- or considered banning -- their exercise. It is clear that the Spirit gifts could be either used or suppressed, at the will of the possessors (1Co 12:32). Must they now be suppressed because of excessive exuberance on the part of some, and in the interests of order (1Co 14:40)? Paul's answer is an emphatic "No!" "Quench not the Spirit" in your midst, and "despise not (the gift of) prophecy" (v 20), you must allow only those manifestations which are genuine and useful (v 21), avoiding all abuses and excesses (v 22). Thus these four verses (19-22) may be seen as a whole.

v. 20 "Despise not prophesyings": A very strong word: "Do not treat with contempt" (NIV). "Prophecy" in the apostolic churches had little if anything to do with "foretelling" the future, but primarily consisted of "forth-telling" divinely-inspired instruction (1Co 14:1-5, 22-25). As such it was not nearly as showy as, but in the long run much more valuable than, the gift of tongues. (In 1Co 14:1 it is ranked in the forefront of all the Holy Spirit, or charismatic, gifts.) Therefore it was especially subject to being pushed into the background and disparaged.

v. 21 "Prove all things": "Dokimazo": to put to the test, used of the process of testing the genuineness of a coin (cp Rom 12:2), or of other metals (1Pe 1:7). All claimants to the possession of Holy Spirit gifts must be tested and authenticated (1Jo 4:1-3; Rev 2:2; cp 1Ti 4:1). This "discerning" of the Spirit was to be done by other possessors of the Holy Spirit, whose gifts were beyond dispute and whose confirmation of the Spirit's presence could not reasonably be questioned (1Co 12:10; 14:29; cp 2Th 2:2).

"Hold fast that which is good": Although the primary application may have to do with the use (or otherwise) of the Holy Spirit gifts, this is also a general principle by which truth of every kind may be determined. Even today, the rightness of our beliefs and our conduct must still be tested by the "Spirit-medium" of God's written word. We must not too readily accept some new thing, without first testing it thoroughly by the Scriptures. On the other hand, we must not immediately reject some new suggestion just because it is new -- for in so doing we may well be "quenching (the truth of) the Spirit" (v 19)!

v. 22 "Abstain from all appearance of evil": Much better, "avoid every kind of evil" (NIV), or "abstain from every form of evil" (RSV). "Eidous" does not signify "appearance" as in that which may be merely an illusion; rather, it signifies form or fashion or shape. "Avoid every evil you can see!"

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