William J. Stewart
A few weeks ago, we noted how focused Paul was on the Lord’s return, and in particular, in his writing to the Thessalonian church. He didn’t and wouldn’t declare when Jesus was coming, but he encouraged God’s people to live each day prepared. There were a few prophesies that were yet to be fulfilled in Paul’s day, but today, all that need be fulfilled has been fulfilled.
Nothing keeps the Lord from returning now apart from His patience (Romans 2:4; Hebrews 10:37; 2 Peter 3:9). That being the case, how much more concerned ought we to be about our own preparedness? And even if the Lord does not return in our lifetime, the day will come for us to depart from this life. None of us know when that will be, and so being prepared today is essential.
So, what should we be doing to make sure our lives are in order for the Lord’s return? Let’s consider a few things from the latter part of 1 Thessalonians 5.
Relationship with one another (v 12-15)
It is important that we appreciate and respect one another, and in particular, Paul addresses our relationship to those who serve the church in some capacity (v 12-13). The Lord established leadership roles for the benefit of the church (Ephesians 4:11-13), and often they experience difficult circumstances and trials in their service for the faith of others (1 Corinthians 16:15-18; Philippians 2:29-30; 1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:7,13). Faithful men engaged in the work in a public capacity, whether by leading the flock as an elder, by preaching & teaching, or by ministering to physical needs, etc., do not seek glory for themselves, but it is certainly right that we respect and honour them, while giving glory to God for their service.
But in addition to our relationship with spiritual leaders, Paul makes the generic statement, “Be at peace among yourselves.” It is important to attain and maintain peace among all believers as much as is possible (Mark 9:50; Romans 14:19; Hebrews 12:14). We are called to be peacemakers, not peace breakers (Matthew 5:8).
In verse 14, we are told to help one another. Exactly how we help another depends upon what their condition and need is. Paul identifies 3 spiritual conditions and 3 suitable responses:
- The unruly (ignorant or out of formation) need to be warned.
- The faint-hearted (little-spirited, feeble) are to be comforted.
- The weak (sick or discouraged) must be upheld.
How we respond must be in tune with the condition of our brethren. To comfort the unruly will only solidify their resolve to do their own will rather than God’s. to warm the faint-hearted or weak might cause them to be further discouraged and lead to unneeded difficulties.
At the end of verse 14, Paul adds “be patient with all.” To do so is to be an imitator of God, for God is longsuffering with us. It is right to be patient with the unruly, the faint-hearted and the weak. Little good is accomplished if we warn the unruly, but have no patience to help them fall back into formation.
Again, in verse 15, Paul speaks of our relationship to one another, and this time of the need for us to do good and not evil. Notice the way it is worded:
See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.
The intent in this phrase is not just that we look out for ourselves, but that we are watchful for others. When we see someone treating another in an evil way, we should not cast a blind eye to it. Again, “see that no one renders evil for evil to anyone…”
But it is not just matter of making sure evil is defeated; we are to pursue what is good. The Greek word for “pursue” here is commonly rendered “persecute.” The idea is to press hard, to be unrelenting in our pursuit of doing good for others. This is not a every now and then endeavour, but what we do “always.” And finally, Paul said pursue what is good for yourselves and for all. Most folks are pretty good at the first part of that—doing what will benefit self. But we are to consider others also. We are to pursue things that will be helpful, that will be encouraging, that will result in good for all.
Next week, we will continue in our quest to know what Paul commanded the Thessalonian saints to do to make sure they were prepared for the Lord’s return.