People of God, this is the last Sunday before Christmas. As we prepare to be consumed by joy as families and friends gather together, we are also waiting to be consumed by the biblical narrative, which presents a King born of a Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and given for the sake of the world. But is earth prepared to receive her King? Is every heart prepared to give Him room? The reality is the world is not that all aware of who Jesus is. They seem ready to receive any number of messiahs, but the true Messiah remains on a manger somewhere in mythical tales. If the world is to receive her king, then they must see him as he is. You may remember the story in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where the children see Aslan for the first time. Lewis writes that “people who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that something cannot be good and terrible at the same time.” The Incarnation is the appearance of something good and terrible at the same time. Jesus is both the God/Man who comes to deliver his people and the God/Man who frightens his enemies. The King does not come masqueraded as man, he comes as man. His words strike fear and passion; love and purity.
When Jesus comes, he demands loyalty. When Jesus comes the people do not remain passive towards him. They either react in absolute allegiance or in absolute hatred towards God.
The church of our Lord is the refuge for those who love him and submit to his will. We have embraced the true Messiah and have been baptized into the Triune Name; we have received our King. And by receiving our King, we receive also his commands; his marching orders. Jesus says, “if you love Me, keep my commandments.” In similar fashion, Paul is addressing the Thessalonians in chapter five. Remember that this is a faithful church; their faith has gone everywhere. They have turned from false idols to the living God. Paul hungers to be with them. But for now, he writes them a letter encouraging them to live blamelessly. If you are going to live faithfully and without blame, this is how you are to live in light of the coming of our Lord. After comforting the saints with the resurrection hope; the hope of life after death, Paul now concludes with a series of practical exhortations. These are words that can be applied beyond the church, but that is primarily applied to the church. These are biblical marching orders for an orderly church. Paul begins in verse 14 with the following words:
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
Paul has addressed the leadership of the church in previous verses. He now charges the whole family of God. “These are responsibilities we have to one another. Paul places great responsibility upon the pastor, but in these verses he argues that it takes the whole body working together to bring true peace.” Paul realizes that people have different gifts and different dispositions, so the apostle uses a “variety of methods to achieve this end.” What are the exhortations to the Church in Thessalonica and to Providence Church?
Keep in mind that these are our responsibilities to one another, and that we need to use a diversity of gifts to encourage one another.
Paul says “we urge you to admonish the idle.” Paul is here placing the charge upon the pastor to admonish his parishioners; his sheep. But he is also placing the responsibility upon the sheep to admonish the sheep. The word “admonish” is the greek word “noutheteite.” This is where Jay Adams got the idea of nouthetic counseling. Notice that if the pastors of this church fail to admonish you, you will most likely fail to biblically admonish others. As the narrator of Moby Dick, Ishmael, says, “…Heaven have mercy on us all…for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.” We all need mending; we all need to be put together through the counsel of the body. Here the first exhortation is to counsel; to give wisdom to the idle. The word “idle” does not mean “lazy,” which is what we think when we hear “idle,” rather the word is best translated as “disorderly or disruptive or unruly.” This is something Paul tackles in II Thessalonians where he calls some of the Christians in Thessalonica “busy-bodies.” They are out of order. These Christians are disrupting the peace of the church. This is at the heart of Paul’s concern for this church. In order to maintain the peace we need to use our words wisely when speaking to and of others. Paul says one way to know someone is “idle or disruptive” is by how much they speak evil of others. There is a way of speaking about others that is factual and constructive, but there are other ways where speaking about others is detrimental. Idle people dwell in the affairs of others because they cannot busy themselves in their own affairs. They are not looking out for the good of the church. They are more content to spread rumors than to dispel them. You can choose to admonish these people with words or with actions.
I recently attended a ministerial meeting with pastors from all over Santa Rosa County. One of the pastors told me a story of how one day a member of the church walked into his office and began listing all the reasons “John” was a terrible person. Now the pastor knew John quite well and was aware that these were false accusations; so the pastor wisely picked up the phone, dialed John’s number in front of the accuser and once he got a hold of John he handed the phone to the accuser and said, “Can you repeat to John everything you just told me?” The pastor left his office and awkwardly the accuser picked up the phone and continued in a two hour conversation with John. His attitude changed. People’s attitude change when the one they are accusing is near. One of the best ways to teach someone who is seeking disruption in the church by minimizing the character of another church member is to elevate the member being minimized. Members of the church are members of God’s adopted family and should be treated as a royal brother or sister.
Paul also says to encourage the fainthearted; literally, “small of soul, discouraged.” This is more of spiritual discouragement. These saints were troubled over persecution. For some, the discouragement was beginning to affect their outlook on life. They needed to be reminded that this persecution was for a greater cause; they needed to be encouraged that their loved ones who died under the hands of godless men would be in the presence of God. Sometimes the overwhelming nature of life takes a toll on our faith, and this is when the body needs to come along and build each other up; to call and check up on one another. This is why being in this assembly is a sign of perseverance. When you are part of the Church, you will most likely hear from one of the pastors during the week if you are absent on Sunday. Our responsibility is check up on your spiritual well-being. We are a small enough church that the absence of a family is obvious. If you are aware that someone is absent for reasons of spiritual discouragement: call, write, visit; Paul says this is your duty.
He goes and exhorts the church to “help the weak.” Notice how Paul is covering all the basics. When he says “admonish the unruly,” he is saying to exhort those who are not living as they should in the church. When Paul says “encourage the fainthearted,” he is saying to encourage those who are spiritually discouraged. And when he says “help the weak,” he is referring to physical needs. They may be physical or economic needs. He is concerned about the whole person. Someone in this congregation came to me recently and asked me: “Who is in need in this congregation?” This person showed concern for the body. We often pray for those who are sick; how often do we follow our prayers by actions? There are some who long to be here with us every Sunday, but who are physically unable to do so. We need a general awareness of the lives of those in the congregation, so we may be able to care for the needs of the body. Paul concludes:
…be patient with them all. 15See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
Paul ends his exhortations to the church by baptizing all actions in the waters of patience. This language of not repaying evil for evil is used in various places in the Bible, and Paul picks it up here. “We are not only to go simply beyond withholding evil actions toward another, as if that were enough. One is instead to repay evil with good.” Pastor James Grant asks these questions concerning this verse: “Have you ever tried to minister to someone and your service was not appreciated or accepted? What temptations rise at this point? Revenge/Anger? I dedicated all this time to serve you and this is what I get?” Or, you might say: “This is the last time I will ever help this ungrateful person.” Have you ever felt that way? Part of our sinful tendency is always to expect praise or an equal return on our charity. But Paul says that we are to seek everyone’s good, even though we do not receive the return we expect. For the sake of peace, we return with good rather than evil. We are to not only cultivate a kind spirit toward others, but also to develop a spirit of patience with those who have not learned the grace of gratitude.
In the final verses of this passage, scholars believe that Paul is shifting attention to our corporate life at worship, and not individually toward one another. From verses 16-22, Paul is now exhorting us on how to worship with the congregation. How do we know Paul is shifting emphasis so rapidly? First, because all the verbs are now plural beginning in verse 16, indicating this is corporate. Second, because Paul speaks of “prophecy” in verse 20, which is a public act. Finally, he mentions the “holy kiss” in verse 26, which is a worshipful act found in the early church. These are all exhortations characteristic of worship. Paul says “rejoice always.” Notice that this rejoicing always is the foundation for all other exhortations for the church to worship. There are three main themes in worship that Paul wants to stress. First, there is joy. Second, there is prayer, and finally, thanksgiving.
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
We often speak about how worship is a call to celebration. Covenant renewal is a way God’s people abandon sadness. Worship is renewal in gladness before God. We sing loudly because God has loudly proclaimed his victory over evil. God is the source of our joy.
But then Paul says that we are to” pray without ceasing.” “If we look at this in an individualistic way, this is a difficult command and impossible to fulfill.” But in corporate worship we are to season the whole service with prayer, and that type of attitude should carry us through the week. We are living sacrifices unto God, and what is a sacrifice unto God but a prayer to the God of our salvation? We begin worship with meditation, corporate prayer and confession, pastoral prayer, Lord’s Prayer, prayer of thanksgiving, and a prayer of benediction. Our entire service is replete with prayers. The same idea is present in thanksgiving. The Christians in Thessalonica were subject to threats by city leaders, but Paul called them to be thankful nevertheless. Peter Leithart writes that “our minds are darkened, and divided, unless we are filled with thanksgiving. Gratitude is an epistemological virtue.” Gratitude is inherent to the Christian life. The next time you find yourself unwilling to see the positive in someone it is most likely because your life reflects ungratefulness.
Finally, Paul says:
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22Abstain from every form of evil.
This is all in the context of worship. Paul is moving here from attitudes in worship to the listening of God’s Word in worship. Do not quench the Spirit; in other words, “do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” In what sense do we do this? We do this when we despise prophecy (vs. 20). Prophecy is equated with the preaching ministry of the pastor, which is a ministry of counsel to the people of God. How do I live? I begin my understanding of how to live by listening to God’s word explained and read. Do not treat prophecy with contempt; pay careful attention to what the Scriptures say; pay careful attention in how to apply the Bible to our lives. Test everything. If you receive counsel that is good on Sunday morning and is in line with Scripture, then, hold fast to it. Keep this counsel close to you. The Thessalonians were receiving all sorts of counsel from false teachers, but Paul says trust what God has said; compare it to the Bible before accepting someone else’s word or counsel. This applies not only to what I say as pastor, but also to counsel given by friends. Sometimes we come across our more charismatic brothers and sisters who say that God spoke to them and now they want to tell you what God said. Generally when people say that they typically just re-iterate something they read in the Bible, but sometimes counsel gets quite bizarre. And this is the time we need to be so familiar with the Scriptures that when counterfeit counseling comes our way we are able to immediately reject it. This is what Paul means when he says “abstain from every form of evil.” He is saying: “Stay away from bad counsel; it will destroy you.” If the Word of God is not central in the thinking of a counselor, stay away from him or her. In this manner, God will sanctify and cleanse you; by obeying him in life and in worship, you are being kept by the hand of God; God is preserving you in all faithfulness until His Coming. This is the Advent Promise: that God will grace you to be faithful in your calling. Thanks be to God!
In The Name of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Words taken from Joy to the World! The Lord is come
 C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Scholastic Ink, 126
 Paraphrase of Lewis’ phrase. Instead of “thing,” which is too generic, I wanted the focus to be on Lewis’ context of Aslan.
 John 14:15.
 James Grant, 147
 Ibid. Arguably Paul is covering each relational angle in these verses all the way to verse 24.
 See Calvin on I Thessalonians 5.
 Ibid. On-line complete Calvin Commentary.
 The “urging” is part of the common apostolic request; a parenesis. See David May, You cannot hide your soul.
 Quote from Review and Expositor (1999), pg. 280.
 Gordon Fee, quoted in James Grant’s commentary on I & II Thessalonians, 148.
 Grant, 148.
 Grant, 149.
 Review and Expositor, 280.
 Rom. 12:17; I Peter 3:9; Mat. 5:39.
 Review and Expositor, 280.
 Grant, 149.
 See Calvin’s observations here. I Thes. 5. Calvin writes that learning patience means learning to bestow favors on others.
 Gordon Fee, and others.
 Grant. Another reason is that he encourages the reading of all who are present; indicating it is a service.
 James Grant, 150.