The First Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians
Chapter 5 (Contd.)
2- The children of Light are always ready (5 – 11)
Here, St. Paul emphasizes that only evildoers would be anxious about the unannounced, terrifying, and impending perdition; believers floating in light are always prepared, on a daily basis, to meet the Lord: “… but you, brethren, are not in darkness, [in which evildoers live and hide1 so that this day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light [Lk. 16:8, Jn. 12:36 and Eph. 5:8] and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness”
Thus, we are not like the rest … we do not sleep, rather, “… let us watch and be sober.” “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” (Mt. 24:42) “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Mt. 24:44)
St. Paul resumes his comparison between the sons of light and the sons of darkness; while the former are watchful and ready, the latter are lost in profound sleep as though oblivious of their fate, with desensitized consciences – they are wallowing in life’s pleasures, riches and lusts (Lk. 8:14) and “drunk with wine, in which is dissipation …” (Eph. 5:18)
He repeatedly insists that we “who are of the day” remain vigilant, alert and watchful, armed with “the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.” Here, the apostle directs attention to the three pillars of Christian virtue, namely, faith, hope and love, emphasizing the strong ties between faith and love, which provide us with unfailing sustenance throughout our watchful struggle. St. Paul habitually draws an analogy between a warring Roman soldier and a Christian believer going through his spiritual struggle: “… let us put on the armor of light.” (Rom. 13:12) And, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil … Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, … Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness … above all, taking the shield of faith … And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God …” (Eph. 6:11 – 17)
Our lot is thus the fellowship of life; “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation [inheriting the kingdom that was prepared for us from the foundation of the world – Mt. 25:34] through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, [in other words, we acquired salvation through His death and resurrection] …” This happy ending is awaiting those who use all the weapons of grace, in order to triumph, to “receive the crown of life” (James 1:12 and Rev. 2:10) and to “receive the crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4) Therefore, “whether we wake or sleep [repose in the flesh], we should live together with Him [both during our life and after our departure].”
As he had previously instructed them, that they should tell their brethren about their knowledge and experience (4:17), behold, the apostle demands that each one of us spread the good news: “Therefore comfort each other” adding “and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” This is as though he were not offering a new commandment, rather, emphasizing the modus operandi in their Church.
3- Church member relationships (5:12 – 15)
In the interest of maintaining unity within the church, the following instructions address relationships between church members and their mentors, as well as among church members in general:
+ Just as the elders and servants serve believers selflessly, the latter should show their love, appreciation and indebtedness to the former: “… those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you [they urge you to repent as necessary].” Even a selfless servant needs encouragement, and needs to feel that his service is fruitful, as a sign that the Lord is pleased with his work.
With respect to interactions among church members, both servants and served, St. Paul directs the Thessalonians to spare no effort to ensure peace, and to avoid arguments, strife, divisions and diametrically-opposed views. The rule of thumb, for denying Satan an entry point, is self-denial, compromise and giving others preference in honor.
+ Furthermore, St. Paul exhorts the elders and wardens to exercise their mandate and “warn those who are unruly” – since their discordant behavior leads to divisions and threatens the church’s peace (these are similar to the slothful who do not work and rely fully on the church’s help.) On the other hand, they should encourage the faint-hearted and support the weak, including those afflicted by psychological or spiritual problems, the financially disadvantaged, and minorities suffering from inferiority feelings. His premise is that the church embraces everyone, and that faith in Christ unites us all in the One. This requires long-suffering, patience and an intense spiritual struggle – thus melding everyone in a unified spirit.
+ Insofar as personal relationships are concerned, the apostle emphasizes the application of biblical instruction and Christ’s commandments, hence, “… not to resist an evil person … love your enemies …” (Mt. 5:39 and 43-47) and “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21) Whereas evil aggravates evil, goodness and forgiveness quench it: “… but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all [the unbelievers.]“
4- Instructions for growth in a life of holiness (5:16 – 22)
+ It is indeed surprising that St. Paul should instruct us to “Rejoice always.” Can our joy be deliberate? How can the afflicted, the persecuted, or those enduring hardships, rejoice? Clearly, St. Paul is not referring here to happiness or bliss, rather, to the deep sensation which the Holy Spirit imparts to those who have been born again: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, …” (Gal. 5:22 and Rom. 14:17) This is the Divine gift, the protective wall, which shields against the attacks of tribulation. Our faith directly links persecution and temptations with our lives’ renewal; and sufferings with eternal glory (Rom. 8:17, 2 Cor. 4:16, 17) In this regard, St. James writes: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2, 3) Whatever we encounter in life is only with God’s permission; through a Divine gift, unavailable to non-believers, believers have learnt to rejoice and give thanks in trials. Despite emotional grief that the heart may experience, the innermost self is filled with submission to and acceptance of God’s will.
+ “Pray without ceasing” – in other words, let us experience an uninterrupted relationship with God: in the workplace, at home, on the road, and throughout our dealings with others – this, in addition to our regular worship, praise and service. In this way, a Christian’s will is unified with God’s will, and all that he does becomes in accordance with the gospel of Christ.
+ “In everything give thanks” – in other words, give thanks in all circumstances and for every condition, however strong the hardships may be. Giving thanks strips trials of their poisonous sting, and transforms them to an avenue for knowing God Who permitted them “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Through Him we accept sufferings with thanks.
+ “Do not quench the Spirit” – the Holy Spirit, the Comforter in all hardships, grants us new life, along with holiness and every virtue – He inspires “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report …” (Phil. 4:8). Tolerating sin, evading repentance, and shutting out the voice of the Spirit (or even boasting with the gifts of the Spirit or kindling debate in the church) will “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30), leading to loss of peace, and cycling between good and evil. Persistence in this direction, with no intent to repent or turn back, will cause the Spirit to wither and withdraw, almost to the point of being extinguished; this is equivalent to deprivation of light and living in darkness. St. Paul thus warns the Thessalonian believers, who have left behind a life of idolatry, against the dangers of falling into this sad condition.
+ “Do not despise prophecies” – all words originating from God represent a proclamation of God’s will; this ranges from instruction worthy of obedience and veneration, to prophecies in both Old and New Testaments. The word of God is the beacon lighting every believer’s path and the Holy Spirit inspires the prophets. Despising the word of God is tantamount to aimless wandering in life’s path and succumbing to the rule of darkness.
+ “Test all things” – evaluate everything against the law of the word of God, and utilize every God-given gift to avoid straying blindly behind random ideas.
+ “Hold fast what is good” – discernment is a virtue; let us learn to choose that which is better – it is unbecoming us to equate good with evil, which constitutes a regression from a believer’s characteristic gift.
+ “Abstain from every form of evil” – We should avoid everything which bears a remote resemblance, partially or fully, to evil; since most of our troubles are due to our playing down the significance of evil and tolerating offences, such situations are best avoided. A little spark can ignite a huge fire. Concerning offences, St. Paul wrote: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Cor. 8:13)
5- Concluding prayer, salutations and blessings (5:23 – 28)
St. Paul finally concludes his letter by raising his heart in prayer, asking “the God of peace” to sanctify them completely, and praying that their “whole spirit, soul, and body [all the components of a believer] be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Since the issue of Christ’s coming is forever present in St. Paul’s mind, he conveys this to all believers so that the image of Christ the Judge be before them at all times.
St. Paul subsequently asks them to pray for him, since each servant needs the supporting prayers of those whom he serves; he then sends greetings to all the Church members “with a holy kiss,” and requests that the epistle be read to all, as though it were a personal letter to each person. The concluding statement “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen”, since grace is the greatest gift that a servant asks the Lord to grant His believers.
(End of Epistle)
To see previous parts of this study, please go to:
- “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (Jn. 3:19) “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (Jn. 8:12) “…whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (Jn. 12:46) ↩