Trinitarian theology, exhortation, and the closing with Grace and peace bookends! This book has been a good one to spend a few months soaking in. O that the faith, hope and love exhibited by the Thessalonians could flourish in us as well! If you do not remember how this letter began, see here; it is important to remember this as the first New Testament book written, within twenty years of the resurrection.
How interested were the Thessalonians in the Advent of Christ? Would that zeal lead them to trust false prophets, and then despise all prophets? Would it caution them from trusting any in the first place?
19 Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances (or gifts). Leon Morris puts forth another way to understand this: do not put out the Spirit’s fire.
Fear is not a good measure, to help us discern whether to trust a prophetic utterance–more on this later. The verb ‘quench’ is present imperative, in a positive way–thus Paul is not saying “you all have been doing this, stop it!” but rather “be on guard, do not quench…the temptation will come, stand firm.”
See Jeremiah 20:9 for when Jeremiah thought perhaps he would quit prophecying. Micah 2:6, Amos 2:12, when people have historically told prophets to quit speaking God’s words.
What is a prophet? Very basically, a prophet is God’s mouthpiece at that time, speaking for God, having been given the message from God, through the Spirit. The prophet’s main role is not prediction nor social reform, but declaration of the Divine will. God speaks! His will is not a secret! Much of a prophet’s message is a ‘reminder’ or a call back to faithfulness to God.
And we know from Hebrews that God spoke in many ways in various times, but now speaks to us in His Son. So these prophetic utterances are not going to be something that cannot be tested by Jesus’ words, and by the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles. And as Jesus showed His disciples that everything written in the Law, Prophets, Psalms, etc pointed to Him–so we too must grow in our understanding of how the Old Testament is still necessary to know God, and to grow in our knowledge of God.
Had they already been exhorted against laziness/sleeping? And reminded to be sexually moral? And to excel still more in their sanctification, and in loving one another? And in that context, Paul reminds them not to despise prophecies–but to examine and then hold fast to the good teachings. The most common time in our own generation for us to ‘despise prophetic utterances’ would be when a fellow brother or sister in Christ reminds you of something Scripture teaches, and this goes against your own personal philosophy.
Examine, Test; but how?
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; [c.f. Philippians 2:16; 1 Tim 6:11-12]; abstain from every form of evil.
Form of evil? See 1 Timothy 4:1-3, Galatians 1:9; Col 2:8, 20-23; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Finally–just a short while after visiting Macadeonia Paul was in Corinth. Their struggle speaks to a similar need for correction/training/etc. 2 Cor 11:1-15
We need to be discerning; there is much in this world that we should not tolerate, we should abstain from EVERY form of evil teaching. This is a battle between good and evil, there is no grey to speak of. This is also not a caution to avoid something that might look like a sin to somebody somewhere who may judge you (a crippling false teaching, legalism at its finest).
Every kind of evil, kind = species, disease.
Rather, this is a call to never accept a teaching that does not line up with Scripture. False teachings are a disease to a healthy Christian, to fellowship, to His Body. God is not giving new revelation, or personal mystical revelation that trumps Scripture. He is not “redeeming” New Age practices, He is not incorporating Islam or Astrology or Catholic mysticism or Social Justice progressive wokeness or any other kind of “Jesus and” philosophy. The Gospel is clear, and will never change.
Test everything–our capacity to reason needs to correct the enthusiasm with which some will spread and cling to false teachings, anything that tickles the ears or fits with their opinions.
Jesus is LORD!
Perhaps the most important criteria in the early church was 1 Cor 12:3 “Jesus is Lord.” ⸂Κύριος Ἰησοῦς⸃. No false spirit, speaking through a false prophet, would have recognized that Jesus is Lord, which is admitting Jesus is the Christ, is God. (And if you’d like to ponder this more, camp out in John 1 until it becomes your heart’s meditation.)
Read through John 16; see how Jesus taught that the Spirit’s ministry would come about. Remember not to read the promises given to the apostles as though you too are an apostle.
We can also look into 1 Cor 2, to see how the Spirit helps us be discerning. Spiritual words, appraising all things, wisdom among those who are mature–all of this reminds us that as we grow, we learn; we eventually grow to a point that we can understand deeper truths, and the Spirit will grant us understanding, but not apart from His Word–He is not giving you ‘new revelation’ or somehow speaking to just you in a way that no one else in the universe could possibly understand. (You are not in the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses hearing a voice that none other has heard…) This accords with 1 John, and the anointing we have!!!
And to keep the church together in this, He has give us Elders-pastors-teachers…. Beware of those who think they do not need the teachings of 1-2 Timothy, Titus, etc concerning church structure and the role of elders. (if you want a more personal word on this, come over for a cup of coffee.)
1 Cor 14:29, a consensus, no lone ranger speakers. If one brings a teaching and it does not accord with Scripture, others must call him out.
After we test, if it is good we accept wholeheartedly–cling to it, memorize it and muse upon it and delight in it–abiding in His Words!!! Or if it is evil we reject it completely, not looking for ways to redeem it or tweak it. A little leaven will destroy the whole batch, we do not allow a little, or hope for the best in spite of it… We say that teacher is accursed, as Paul instructed elsewhere. We say “anathama” as he did in Romans.
The closing prayer
23-24 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved in entirety, free from blame, at the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will do it.
This prayer repeats much of what Paul prayed for in 3:11-13. Journaling these, and using them to pray for yourself and one another is another way to grow in abiding in His words and His love. Note, this is the only time “completely” is used in the NT! Common word in Greek, but not so in Scripture.
“Spirit, soul and body” has no bearing on how we understand personhood, it is not the beginning of a new doctrine on how many parts we can split ourselves into. Think of this as an emphasized way of saying “In your inner man and outer man!”
Or better yet, “that the God of peace sanctify your whole being!!! All that is ‘you’!”
Earlier in this letter, they were commanded to seek sanctification especially as relates to purity in how they “possess their vessel” or how they care for, use, and showcase their body as they interact with other bodies. Here, Paul prays that sanctification will be complete in body (or outer man) and inner man.
Paul is confident that what he asks for will be given. Why? Because He who calls us is faithful. Those whom He calls…He glorifies. How can this confidence carry you through seasons of doubt, repentance, struggle, etc?
Grace and Peace
Our bookends…May the God of Peace Himself sanctify you…the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Grace and peace are in Christ; and are ours to share in Christ. The epistle greeting was of grace and peace, likewise the parting or closing is extending the same. True fellowship will offer and speak of this grace and peace.
Personal challenge: how can you normalize this in your thinking, so that it comes out in your speaking with one another?
Jesus is called Lord in verse 23 and 28; reminding us that Jesus is God, and is not spoken of as less than the Father, or as partially God, or merely a creature from God. He is God, having the title κυρίου , which in the Greek as it is used has the same emphasis as the Hebrew title YHWH.
And as God does not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8, 48:11), Paul is here teaching that Jesus Christ is God–but he is not really putting this teaching forth for the first time, he is referencing what he already taught. κυρίου is a favorite name used by Paul. Looking back, do you see that he has used it in every chapter? Multiple times. Ponder this, and muse upon what the Spirit will do in you as you “set apart Christ as Lord in your heart”? (1 Peter 3:15)