From:  Busy Teacher’s Guide to 1 Thessalonians                           Return to Home 


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Since His Desire to Visit Again

Had Been Frustrated,

Paul Had Sent Timothy To Them




            So when we could bear it no longer, we decided to stay on in Athens alone.  2  We sent Timothy, our brother and fellow worker for God in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen you and encourage you about your faith, so that no one would be shaken by these afflictions.  For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.  For in fact when we were with you, we were telling you in advance that we would suffer affliction, and so it has happened, as you well know.  So when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter somehow tempted you and our toil had proven useless.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:1       Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone.  When Paul could no longer emotionally handle (“endure”) being unable to return to the Thessalonians (2:17-20), he opted for a different means to accomplish much the same result:  he decided to remain in Athens while someone else made the trip.  If he himself couldn’t go, at least someone he trusted and respected could go on his behalf.

            Integrating the chronology with the book of Acts:  From Thessalonica Paul and his coworkers had traveled to Berea and when the city became too dangerous for Paul to remain, the brethren “sent Paul away . . . but both Silas and Timothy remained there” (Acts 17:14).  Reaching Athens, he sent word back for “Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed,” which they proceeded to do (17:15). 

            After powerfully preaching against idolatry in Athens (17:16-34), Paul then went from Athens to Corinth and stayed with Aquila and Priscilla who shared his trade of tentmaker (18:1-4).  While there Silas and Timothy returned “from Macedonia” (18:5),  Timothy was dispatched to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2) and Paul refers to him returning from that city (verse 6).  Where Silas was sent in that province is unknown but since Paul had preached in Berea when driven out of Thessalonica (Acts 17:13)--and it is hard to imagine Paul lacking interest in how they were doing as well--that seems a quite reasonable conjecture.  (The two towns were 45 miles apart.)


            3:2       and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith.  In light of Paul’s intense love for the Thessalonians, the fact that Timothy was designated as the one to come shows just how capable he thought the young man could be as his representative.  The description of him as “our brother” is often a verbal shorthand to describe “our fellow Christian” and is used in this way of Timothy in other places (2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Philemon verse 1).  However the rest of the description Paul provides in this verse argues that the term surely carries a connotation far more intense than that alone.  Hence the ideas of friend . . . reliable . . . trustworthy would seem to be conveyed along with that “narrower” explanation.

            Timothy was a “minister of God”--someone who worked in His behalf which naturally leads to the inevitable deduction that he was “our fellow laborer” as well.  They are virtually synonyms; both carry the connotation of being a servant.  Many Greek texts, however, reduce the threefold description of brother, minister/servant, and co-laborer to “brother and coworker.”  

            His work was, like Paul’s, “in the gospel (= “Good News,” CEV, GNT, GW) of Christ.”  And good news it was because it meant the fulfillment of God’s ancient promises to Israel . . . and because it meant the opportunity to receive the forgiveness of sins that the blood of bulls and goats could never obtain (Hebrews 9:11-15; Hebrews 10:1-4).

            His mission among them was twofold.  The first was to ground them well in the faith of the Lord (= “establish you”).  To teach them more about it . . . like a builder who wants to strengthen the foundation to assure it stays stable.  The second was to promote optimism about their spiritual future--to “encourage you.”  It wasn’t that they were weak; it was the knowledge that all people need encouragement to deal with the difficulties of life that can potentially weaken convictions and dedication (= their “faith”).  That these are what is meant can be seen by the explanation that comes in the next verse.

            3:3       that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.  “These afflictions” are those Paul had referred to in the previous chapter (2:14-16).  Although one might not apostasize, one could still be so emotionally shaken that spiritual enthusiasm might drain out of them.  Paul was also working from an important information base they already had as well:  they already knew Christians were going to face abuse for their faith (“are appointed to this”).  As he reminds the readers of another epistle, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12; cf. 1 Peter 4:12-16). 

            If it isn’t for the moral integrity that they demonstrate in their lives, it will be for having faith in the Lord in the first place.  Neither the Lord described in the gospels nor the lifestyle He expects of them have great favor in the world.  Hence their new faith “appointed [them] to this” kind of treatment.  The Lord also knew it was going to happen and promised His blessing (Matthew 5:10-12).    


            3:4       For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.  Even before it occurred, Paul had been candid in his preaching to them . . . stressing that such adversity would inevitably arise.  Some prefer to substitute for “suffer tribulation” things like “be persecuted” (NIV), “suffer persecution” (Holman, ISV) or “suffer affliction” (ESV, NET).  The fact that Paul had spoken of such things would still remain rooted in their memory (= “you know”).  He had not pictured their future as the proverbial “bed of roses;” he had candidly spoken of the “thorns” as well. 

            Jesus had done the same thing (John 16:1-4):  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20).


            3:5       For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.  This verse implies that Paul had not had information from them in a sufficiently long period of time that he was concerned with how they were holding up.  Intellectually he knew they were well grounded, but sufficient pressure can cause the certainty of the mind to be crushed by the pain of actual events.  Hence he wanted “to know [the status and strength of] your faith”--to see how strong it remained.  He recognized that “the tempter”--ultimately Satan though it also covers the human tools he works through--could have successfully “tempted you.”  Not merely tempted, but successfully tempted as shown by the fact that he wanted to be assured that his work (“labor”) among them had not been destroyed (“be in vain”).  Hence Timothy’s mission to their congregation.







The Apostle Was Very Pleased

With the Report He Had

Received Back From Timothy




            But now Timothy has come to us from you and given us the good news of your faith and love and that you always think of us with affection and long to see us just as we also long to see you! So in all our distress and affliction, we were reassured about you, brothers and sisters, through your faith.  For now we are alive again, if you stand firm in the Lord.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:6       But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you—.  Timothy’s return from Thessalonica brought vastly reassuring news as to the depth of their commitment to the Lord--their “faith;” their commitment to it; their continuing to hold to it passionately.  But that was not all; there was also their constructive attitude toward fellow Christians (= “love”).  On a personal basis, it must have been vastly reassuring to him that their recent adversity had been successfully endured.  The old adage remains true, “You hurt when your friends hurt!”

            Not only was he pleased with this, but also with the clear fact that they did not blame him for what they had endured.  (“If he had not convinced us to change we would not have gone through all this!”)  Their sentiments toward him had not been embittered or scarred; “they always have good remembrance” of him and his coworkers.  In fact they were as interested in seeing him as he was to see them.   


            3:7       therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith.  What Paul had gone through was not only persecution (“affliction”) but “distress” as well--which argues that what happened was exceptionally dangerous or painful.  Yet the fact that they had successfully endured major hardships of their own, reinforced his own confidence about them:  “we were comforted concerning you.”  Their steadfastness in their “faith” brought him “comfort” of heart (some form of “encouragement of heart” is often substituted as the rendering).  Even apostles could benefit from hearing good news!


            3:8       For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.  If we were writing this in contemporary English we would write “now we live!” or even “now we live!” in order to convey the underlying passion and enthusiasm.  Some translations convey something close to this by renderings such as “now we really live” (NASB, NIV) and “now we are alive again” (NET).  But it is still a conditional statement:  if you stand fast in the Lord” . . . the “if” covering the future as well as the present.  So long as they have this kind of commitment, Paul will be enthusiastically alive.  






The Apostle Still Prayed

That God and Christ Would

Make Possible His Return To Them 




            For how can we thank God enough for you, for all the joy we feel because of you before our God?  10 We pray earnestly night and day to see you in person and make up what may be lacking in your faith.  11 Now may God our Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.  12 And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we do for you, 13 so that your hearts are strengthened in holiness to be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:9       For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God.  Because of their “stand[ing] fast in the Lord” (3:8) Paul could express his appreciation by giving “thanks” to God for it.  He could do so with happiness and pleasure (“joy”) in those prayers to “our [shared] God.”  Note the “our:  Jehovah was just as much the God of these Gentiles as He was of this Jewish apostle.  Speaking of “all the joy” carries with it enthusiasm and eagerness and a reminder of how great and intense were the emotions he felt.


            3:10     night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?  The good report he had received (3:6) caused him to pour out repeated prayers--both “night and day”--seeking Divine intervention.  In a sense it was “for himself” but it was just as much for them because he wanted to see them in person again (literally “see your face”) and help to further develop their convictions (“what is lacking in your faith”).  However fully developed we may be in regard to faith, there are always areas that could be further enhanced.  It’s like a historian who knows a topic well . . . yet there are always other things still to be discovered . . . for is the search for further knowledge on virtually any topic truly ever complete?

            The apostle Peter had expressed the need for Christians to “grow in . . . grace and knowledge” (2 Peter 3:18).  This was accomplished through drinking “the pure milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2).  Paul had also spoken of the need to be “increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).   Similarly in Philippians 1:9, “I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment” 


            3:11     Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you.  He seeks Divine intervention from both the Heavenly Father and “our Lord Jesus Christ” that they might channel events and opportunities in a way that he would be able to visit with the Thessalonians once again (= “direct our way to you”).  Since Acts 20:1 speaks of how he returned to Macedonia and after “ha[ving] gone over that region and encouraged them with many words” he returned to Greece, this would have been the probable occasion when this prayer was ultimately fulfilled (20:12).  Since he is seeking the intervention of both, Jesus must be interpreted as the recipient of the prayer just as much as the Father.  As the Father’s duly appointed King, the reference is quite natural. 


            3:12     And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you.  Paul sought a profound growth in what they exhibited toward each other--an “increase and abounding[ing] in love”-- . . .  repeating the same idea twice in order to stress the degree of intensification he sought.  It wasn’t that they were inadequate in such matters; he simply wanted it to become even more profound.

Their love was to be toward each other (= “one another”), but then who are “and to all?”  This seems most naturally to refer to all other Christians they knew of and came in contact with even when they weren’t locals.  Others see it as more likely referring to the Christian duty to love even enemies.  Avoiding doing overt “evil for evil to anyone” (5:15) is easy to grasp but how does one “abound in love” toward those who hate your guts?  If you are defining love as “do[ing] good to those who hate you (Luke  6:27; cf. verse 35) then there is no problem.  However we usually think in terms of love being an emotional attachment even bordering on affection—which is something profoundly different.

He himself demonstrated the degree of joyful enthusiasm toward them (“as we do to you”) that he wished them to demonstrate the same toward others.  He provided the living example of what he taught.


            3:13     so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.  This increase in love was not just because it would benefit others, but also because it would benefit themselves as well.  It would allow them to be well rooted in their “hearts” with the “blameless[ness]” that reflected the kind of character essential to all who possess genuine “holiness.” 

            The ultimate goal was that they had this fully developed nature by the time Christ returns “with all his saints”--an expression that would fit dead faithful Christians as well as loyal angels.  As other passages tell us, Christ will certainly be returning with both loyal dead believers (1 Thessalonians 4:14) and likewise His angels (2 Thessalonians 1:7).  His angels are unquestionably called “holy” (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26) and Christians are commanded to be such as well (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; 1 Peter 1:15-16).  Hence, if they have died faithful, then they would fall under that classification as well.







They Needed To Continue To Grow

In The Moral Virtues

He Had Taught Them




            Finally then, brothers and sisters, we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us about how you must live and please God (as you are in fact living) that you do so more and more.  For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus.  For this is God’s will:  that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality, that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God.  In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him, because the Lord is the avenger in all these cases, as we also told you earlier and warned you solemnly.  For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness.  Consequently the one who rejects this is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:1       Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God.  Paul yet again (= “finally”) returns to their need for continued spiritual development.  It is never completed; there is always some aspect to it that can be constructively developed further.  It is so important that both “urge” and “exhort” language is invoked.  If one wishes to distinguish between them at all in the current context, the first likely invokes the idea of encouragement and the second strong encouragement. 

            Even so this is one of those things they already knew:  This admonition is “just as [what] you received from us” at an earlier time.  Even if the language might vary, the core lesson remained the same:  what you have already begun to do, continue to do.  For these things were about their behavior (how they “ought to walk”) and that automatically involved how one would “please God.”  In other words, standards of behavior were part of the Divine message from the very beginning.  To believe in God is virtuous; to follow His moral guidelines--putting faith into practice--far more so. 


            4:2       for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.  They already knew what was involved in how to live properly because he had already shared it with them (“just as you received from us,” verse 1).  Those instructions were not composed merely of the best recommendations he could summon, but were relaying “commandments” given by “the Lord Jesus” Himself.  This would cover both those that the Lord had given during His earthly ministry and any supplemental ones specially relevant to the fact that they were Gentiles living in a very different society than the one He had preached in.  All such instructions were inherently obligatory:  He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).    


            4:3       For this is the will of God, your sanctification:  that you should abstain from sexual immorality.  This is key to their being set apart to God’s service--“your sanctification”--that they avoid all sexual misconduct.  If “sexual immorality” does not convey the idea strongly enough, the GW’s certainly does . . . “sexual sin” (GW) . . . which is obviously what happens when you violate God’s rules.  This covers both premarital and extramarital misbehavior.  Some are able to control their sexual desires outside of marriage; if not, Paul quite emphatically insists on marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-9).  Likewise if the first spouse has passed away (7:8-9).

“Sanctification” carries with it the inherent implication of “be[ing] holy” (CEV, GNT).  Because of the “setting apart” to a purified lifestyle, we become “saints”--not in the modern Roman Catholic sense but in the Biblical one . . . set apart for God’s service.  Religious devotion and moral character were intended to be bonded together as strongly as steel girders are welded together.

This was not easy for Gentiles.  Their society viewed sexual loyalty to one person as eccentric at best and absurd at worst.  Some of their religions even outright promoted excess as a positive virtue.  Added to this ongoing cultural pressure toward sexual disloyalty went the past of the members who—if they were typical—had personal experience with such misconduct.  Staying changed can be a profound challenge when the culture idolizes excess and you are striving for stability and loyalty.  The same remains true today.            


            4:4       that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.  The demand for avoiding “sexual immorality” (4:3) is carried out by each having his own spouse (“his own vessel”)--not women in general as opportunity arises but one specific woman in particular . . . the only woman.  This rules out cheating on her by seeking another as a “playmate.”  When living this way one has proven that one’s “sanctification” is indeed being reflected not merely in rhetoric but in everyday life. 

            Furthermore loyalty demonstrates your “honor,” which implies that it betrays your honor when you cheat with someone else.  The teaching here is applicable to every single listener:  “that each of you” behave in this manner.  It is not a standard for the spiritual elite but for everyone.

            (Although this includes an admonition for sexual self-control, the stress centers on avoiding mistreating one’s spouse by not cheating on her.  Furthermore violating this instruction means one “take[s] advantage of and defraud[s] his brother in this matter” [verse 6] as well.  In other words by enjoying his wife’s physical pleasures the sin involves denying him the sexual loyalty that he is owed as well.)

            Although both GW and Weymouth translate the verse and make it explicit that the text is discussing how one treats one’s spouse, everyone else in our sample renders the text along the lines of the NIV’syou should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable.”  Although such self-control is inherent in being faithful to God that is, at most, a secondary emphasis.  Implicit rather than explicit.  The central thrust involves not taking advantage of “his brother in this matter?”  That powerfully argues that the danger of adultery is foremost in his mind. 

            To dismiss this approach because it requires Paul to be teaching “a low view of marriage in which the wife is the property of her husband” (Coffman) . . . because he “possesses” her . . . is extremely misleading.  The husband indeed possesses the wife and the wife likewise possesses the husband:  They are bonded together in a holy union.  Both have the right to the other’s body and the enjoyment of it and it alone (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).  Directing those desires in another direction automatically produces sin.     


            4:5       not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God.  The institution of marriage is about far more than just the fulfillment of sexual desires.  The “passion of lust” (“passionate lust,” NIV) is all that dominates the thinking of typical “Gentiles” on such matters for they “do not know God”--neither His nature nor His will on such matters.  The problem was not the existence of sexual passion within marriage--Paul stressed that such things were desirable for couples (1 Corinthians 7:1-5) though he himself preferred a life without being married (7:6-7).  The problem is when that is essentially all that a marriage revolves around.  Love, loyalty, even affection are more or less dispensable and if a more shapely and attractive woman comes our way “it is only natural” that seduction and conquest becomes our goal.

            If Paul’s description of ancient depravity sounds remarkably similar to western twenty-first century behavior, its because the mind frame that produces it is amazingly alike:  “If it give me pleasure and I have the money to afford it, I am answerable to no one . . . nor should I be criticized by anyone either.  The very fact of criticism surely implies that they are envious that they don’t have the same opportunity!” 

            4:6       that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.  Or as Hebrews 13:4 puts it, “Let marriage be held in honor by all” (ESV; “have respect for marriage,” CEV). 

            When a married person becomes sexually obsessed with those who are not the spouse, other ethical barriers get scraped as well so that dishonesty and deception become constant traveling companions.  His willingness to be unscrupulous is described by Paul as “tak[ing] advantage” of another and “defraud[ing] his brother.”  The first covers using their good relationship to seek out opportunities to seduce the spouse and the second stealing from the spouse the sexual pleasures that are legitimately only the husband’s. 

            The Lord is the deadly enemy of such behavior--“the avenger of all such.”  Maybe the partner will learn about it and maybe not; but God is well aware of whatever happens from the very hour it begins.  Hence He ultimately acts to punish those who have done such.  If the husband did such out of rage, he might well be called the “revenger.”  In contrast, when God acts He does so as “the avenger”--punishing justly and fairly as He has promised to.  Nor does He particularly care who you are . . . rich or poor, prominent or unheard of.  You claim to be part of His people and He acts accordingly.

            There is nothing new being revealed here:  He had previously “forewarned” that this was the case.  Walking hand in hand with this is the fact that he had--surely repeatedly--stressed (= “testified;” “solemnly warned you,” Weymouth) about such in his teaching and preaching. 

            4:7       For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.  Abstaining from sexual sin is because God called us to a far higher standard of behavior.  Instead of using “uncleanness,” “impurity” is a common substitute (ESV, NET).  Glossing the text as “sexually unclean” would certainly and explicitly describe what Paul has in mind.  The “holiness” we are called to quite well fits the definition of “set apart” . . . in this case “set apart” from the sexual “anything goes” ethos of the surrounding world.  Whatever may attract us toward such things, it is never God who encourages us in that direction for it is antithetical to His very nature.


            4:8       Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.  The individual who refuses to embrace this self-controlled lifestyle is refusing to accept (= “rejects”) not merely what Paul is advocating, but simultaneously the message that originated with God.  This is especially insulting since God has given us the priceless gift of His purification of our spirit (causing it now to be a “holy spirit,” lower caps). 

            If one retains the capitalization, then the idea would be that we have rejected the message inspired by “His Holy Spirit,” which prohibits such behavior.  Note how in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 the apostle clearly blends together the idea of our receiving the Divine Spirit and our receiving the message of the Spirit--i.e., we are receiving the Spirit when we receive the Spirit’s words for He works within us through that message:  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”







The Importance Of Love

In Their Lifestyle




            Now on the topic of brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.  10 And indeed you are practicing it toward all the brothers and sisters in all of Macedonia.  But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 to aspire to lead a quiet life, to attend to your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.  12 In this way you will live a decent life before outsiders and not be in need.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:9       But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.  The need to re-emphasize as a preventive measure the wrongness of adultery and such like (verses 1-8) was produced by the ongoing psychological and social pressure on everyone because of their society’s fondness for sexual infidelity.  (The same is true of today’s world as well.)  Beyond this danger, their basic attitude was sound and demonstrated in their relationship with each other and with others in the region.  That attitude he sums up as “brotherly love.”  Just as you owe your physical kin affection, respect, and helpfulness, one owes spiritual kin (church members) the same as well. 

            The wording “you yourselves are taught by God” to do this, seems to put an emphasis on revelations given by God to them in their church services.  Although he does not discuss such supernatural gifts in this epistle (in contrast with First Corinthians), this reference seems to imply that at least some of these gifts also existed in Thessalonica. 


            4:10     and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia.  But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more.  The attitude and behavior they exhibited was not restricted to just fellow Thessalonians; instead it was manifested toward others throughout other parts of Macedonia as well.  The specific forms this took we are not told, but this vague a reference implies that they could recall such instances easily enough.  Though they had set a fine foundation, they were not to “dwell on their laurels” as we would say, but to ever be alert for a growing number of ways and means to express their helpfulness.   

            Note the reference about having this mind frame “toward all the brethren.”  It is easy enough to develop the thinking that “helpfulness is a laudable ideal but not in this particular case”--and ultimately--“nor in this one, nor this one, and this one as well!”  They were not gullible, but they were broadminded:  whenever they found a situation where they could be genuinely helpful they labored their best to provide it. 

            Whether it was preachers needing help or financial assistance for widows or other poor we don’t have the foggiest.  The language is broad enough to cover a wide range of matters.  All we know is that there is no indication that Paul feared others might be taking advantage of them—either locally or in other parts of the province. 

            Even so the danger was unquestionably present . . . and it arose to obviousness by a few years later when he wrote the second epistle.  There he stresses that their only obligation was to do their best to help those who genuinely tried.  Paul explicitly warns against helping those who would take advantage of their generosity (2 Thessalonians 3:10-15).


            4:11     that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.  To spur their minds as to specific means to promote loving relationships with others (verses 9-10), he lists three in this verse.  All of them reflected things they should “aspire to” (“make it your ambition to,” NASB; “make it your goal to,” ISV)

            All of them also reflected the teaching he had previously given (= “as we commanded you”).  Even teaching that has been well received needs to be “revisited” every now and then lest the subjects slowly drift out of our conscious mind.  To illustrate by a verbal paradox:  The instruction isn’t that they have “failed,” but is a preventive measure . . . to deter them from failing in the future. 

            The first of the three things he specifies is to avoid a rowdy life.  He conveys this by putting it in the positive form of seeking “to lead a quiet life.”  To express this concept- Weymouth renders it as an “eagerness for peace” with others.  Don’t needlessly “stir things up.”  That will happen quite readily on its own without your assistance!

            The second requirement is to avoid being a meddler:  “to mind your own business (affairs, ESV)”--rather than everyone else’s.  How easily “helpfulness” can transform into “meddlesomeness:  It’s not that the other person necessarily has a “bad” idea, you simply have “a far better one” and he really, really needs to adopt it!

            Thirdly there is the instruction to stay busy themselves:  “work with your own hands” rather than constantly intervening in other peoples’ affairs.  With only a rare exception, every person has quite enough to keep himself busy without constantly intervening in the life of other folk.  There is also here a jab at the arrogance of contemporary society.  Among the Greeks, work was despised as the employment of slaves; and it will be remembered that the false teachers of Corinth belittled Paul's teaching because he labored with his hands [--an apparent reference to 4:8-13].”  (Coffman)


            4:12     that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.  Living the way he had just instructed (verse 11) meant that they would maintain the right relationship to outsiders . . . to behave “properly” toward them.  This is sometimes regarded by translators as equivalent to “win[ning] the respect” of outsiders (NIV).  “Properly” would cover all means of winning their respect:  including honesty and fairness in whatever form the relationship might exist.  (And that would obviously vary from person to person and even from one year to another.)

            The result of the attitudes described in verses 11 and 12 would be that they “lack nothing” of what is honorable and right--that is, have no moral fault in their dealings with outsiders.  Just as such a mind-frame would be expected in dealings with fellow church members, others deserve the same courtesy in word and deed. 

            The emphasis in verses 11-12 upon having the proper relationship in all ways toward outsiders would seem to justly require such a meaning.  However some translations take the expression to mean that “you will not be dependent upon anybody” (NIV)--or something only slightly varying from that rendering.  In other words just as your wouldn’t / shouldn’t think of seeking a way to take financial advantage of your brethren you should not find outsiders an acceptable “target” either!         







The Coming Resurrection Is A Certainty

And What It Will Involve




            13 Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope.  14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians.  15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep.  16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will always be with the Lord.  18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:13     But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.  How do we react to death?  We cry because permanent separation leaves us heart broken.  (If we do it for a beloved pet why should it be surprising that we do it even more for loved parents, children, or other kin?)  But it takes on an element of despair when we think that literally our paths will never cross again.  This was the common attitude in the polytheistic society in which they lived:  they “have no hope” of a reunion; hence “sorrow” (“grieve” in the bulk of translations; “mourn” in Weymouth).  In contrast Christians have no need for such despair.

            Death is described here as “fallen asleep”--an idiom used many centuries before by the Psalmist (Psalms 13:3).  He pictures the dead who die in battle as being in a “sleep” (Psalms 76:4-5) and a “dead sleep” (76:6).  When speaking of the future resurrection, Daniel describes what precedes it as “sleep in the dust of the earth” (Daniel 12:2-3). 

In the New Testament, Jesus informed the apostles of the dead Lazarus that “our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up” (John 11:11).  The martyr Stephen’s last words were, “ ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’  And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60).    

            The sleep of death is, indeed, in one major sense quite permanent and irrevocable, but in another sense it is only a temporary stage in our future.  It can be described as if “permanent” because it can last for hundreds or even thousands of years; it is actually “temporary,” however, because at the return of the Lord, the “life sentence in death” will be revoked and terminated.  Paul did not want them to be “ignorant” about this ultimate triumph over death and so pens this section to remind them of what they either partially or fully already understood.  In some cases even when one knows this is the truth, the tears of grief cause one to temporarily forget or  suppress the memory of it.  Hence the need to be reminded.  (The reference to “ignorant” is given the less harsh rendering of “uninformed” in some translations--such as ESV, NIV.)
            The apostle does not censure “sorrow” but, rather, the kind of sorrow in which there is “no hope” for survival.  Perhaps the closest parallel is that of a spouse seeing a loved one leaving for a war zone.  There may well be “sorrow” and even tears, but also the acknowledgement that they are still alive. 


            4:14     For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.  God not only restored to life Jesus of Nazareth, but--by doing so--clearly demonstrated the power to do so for others as well.  The reality of that power over death had been taught to them every time Jesus’ resurrection was mentioned.  They firmly “believe[d]” it.  Similarly they could and should confidently rely upon the fact that “those who sleep in Jesus” will be restored to life.  It is just as certain.  This was a reassurance not just to brothers and sisters in general but to them in particular--that any who may have died among them would similarly be treated . . . and they themselves if the Lord’s return did not occur until after their own passing. 


            4:15     For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  What Paul is teaching came by revelation from heaven:  Hence it is “the word of the Lord”--His message, His instruction, His explanation.  This is what “Jesus told us” (CEV).  Those Christians who are alive at the coming of the Lord will not receive their Divine recognition before the faithful dead:  They “will be no means precede those who are asleep” in gaining it.  Both gain their glorification simultaneously.  We “will not go ahead of those who have died” (GNT).

            When Paul speaks of how “we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord,” he is using the personal term where we would say “whoever is alive and remains until the coming of the Lord.”  Since Jesus denied that even He knew when it would occur (Matthew 24:35-36), Paul could hardly claim to know for a certainty that he himself would still be alive when that event happens!  Indeed the apostle also uses “we” type language of those being raised, speaking as if he himself would be among those raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:14).  In all these cases he is using “we” and “us” in the generic sense of “whoever.”  


            4:16     For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  When Jesus returns it will be with a “shout”--but of what we are not told.  We can imagine it being, “My kingdom has triumphed!” . . . “It is time for this world to end!” . . . “My words have been fulfilled!”  It is common to render this something along the line of “with a loud command” (NIV), which would make the reference most likely refer to the command to the dead to rise.  Remember how in the cases of the resurrections Jesus performed while on earth, He ordered them to do so?  (See texts in verse 18.)  The calling for the dead Lazarus to arise was “with a loud voice” (John 11:43). 

            The voice will be so loud and authoritative it would sound like “the voice of an archangel”--words that no one would dare to defy or challenge.  If the verbal message somehow managed to not be loud enough, then sounding of the “the trump of God” would make the message even more emphatic.  Just as the trumpet called warriors to battle, this trumpet calls mortals to resurrection. 

            The first to rise will be the faithful “dead in Christ” so that they can proceed with the living (verse 17) to heaven as one unit.  No question of whether the dead or the living go first.  Instead they go together.  The Lord is honoring equally both living and deceased saints.

            What little is known and reasonably speculated about archangels:  This is the earliest example of the title archangel.  In Jude verse 9 we read of ‘Michael the archangel’—an expression probably based on Daniel 12:1, “Michael the great prince” (LXX: “the great angel;” compare Revelation 12:7, where ‘Michael and his angels’ are arrayed against ‘the Dragon and his angels’).  

“Of equal rank with Michael is Garbriel, the angel of comfort and good tidings in Daniel 8:16 and 9:21 and Luke 1:19 and 1:26.  [In none of these, however, is he explicitly called an archangel or referred to as a leader of other angels.  That he is an important figure seems obligatory when we read his self-description in 1:19 as one “who stands in the presence of God.”] 

“The military style of this passage suits rather the character of Michael.  Amongst the seven chief angels recognized at this time in Jewish teaching, Raphael stood nearest to the two that appear in the New Testament (Tobit 12:15:  [‘ I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels which present the prayers of the saints and go in before the glory of the Holy One’—World English Bible]).”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  


4:17     Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  The living will be added to the dead in the grand procession to heaven, both joining “the Lord in the air.”  Note there is no coming to earth to establish His kingdom.  In establishing His church on earth, God’s new substitute kingdom had already been created and those who were benefited by being in it travel together to their new heavenly home.  This new home will be our permanent residence for “we shall always be with the Lord.”  The time of past separation is permanently over. 


            4:18     Therefore comfort one another with these words.  Here we have a hint of the reason for this section on the resurrection:  It was not that they were doubting the fact of resurrection.  Rather there had arisen concern among the Thessalonians that those who did not live until then would forfeit the rewards for their discipleship.  After all, they would not be alive to enjoy them.  But if God were powerful enough to resurrect the one man Jesus, how could death be any impediment to resurrecting others as well?  For that matter Jesus raised three different individuals during His earthly ministry:  (1)  the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17), (2) Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:52-56), (3) Lazarus (John 11:1-16, 38-45).  If Divine power had accomplished it in the past, then that Divine power still exists to do it again in the future.     







Establishing The Date of The Return

Of The Lord Is Impossible

Because It Remains Unknowable




            Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you.  2  For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night.  Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            5:1       But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you.  In one sense there was no real need for Paul to discuss further the return of the Lord and there is no hint that they had trouble understanding the core of what it meant:  After all, they had already learned the key facts from his ministry with them.  However their concerns about the fate of those who died before the event (4:13-18) made this a convenient place to build on the truths they had already received.  Such reinforcement hammers the truth even deeper into their consciousness and memory.  Even makes explicit and clear matters that had only passingly been referred to or not explicitly discussed at all. 

As to the meaning of “the times and the seasons,” this refers to the timing of the return and its unknowability, as the next verse shows.  The CEV translates the language, “the time or the date” (the GW and Weymouth puts both in the plural); the GNV renders, “the times and occasions.”  George G. Findlay writes:  The Greek word for ‘times’ denotes stretches of time, that for seasons particular times; the question as to the former was, ‘How long before the Lord comes?  what periods will elapse before the final establishment of His kingdom?’ as to the second, ‘What events will transpire meanwhile? how will the course of history shape itself?’  These enquiries our Lord put aside.  ‘It is not for you,” said He, “to know times or seasons, which the Father has put within His own province’ (Acts 1:7). . . .”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            5:2       For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.  They themselves knew that the date of the “day of the Lord[’s return]” would be as unexpected to believers as it would be to unbelievers.  It is literally the “most restricted secret in the universe.”  As Jesus Himself explained in Matthew 24:


                                                35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.  36 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.  43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  44 Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.


            Speaking to the churches of Asia through John, He drove the point home by speaking of how “I am coming as a thief” (Revelation 16:15).  Hence the need for ongoing preparation:  “hold fast and repent,” Jesus warns in Revelation 3:3.  He immediately adds, “Therefore if you will not watch [“if you do not/will not wake up,” NASB, NIV; “if you are not alert,” Holman, ISV], I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (Revelation 3:3).  The date of the event Christians do not know.  But what believers do know for an absolute certainty is that the event will happen. 

But even they can find the importance of ongoing preparation being slowly drained out of their thought and consciousness.  If they do not maintain alertness they are in danger of being as unprepared as anyone else.  Rather than fully expecting it, they will be as startled by the event as the arrival of a thief:  “Surely it can’t be coming now! 

            Old Testament use of the phrase “the day of the Lord:”  In the Old Testament the phrase day of the Lord denotes a time in which God will conspicuously manifest his power and goodness or his penal justice.  See Isaiah 2:12; Ezekiel 13:5; Joel 1:15, 2:11; and compare Romans 2:5.”  (Marvin R. Vincent)     

            5:3       For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman.  And they shall not escape.  If not literally everyone, at least a massive percentage will be thinking it is a time of “peace and safety.”  This fits a period of tranquility after a prolonged one of instability.  Or of ignorance of what is going on elsewhere. 

            It is not necessarily a world wide phenomena, for at virtually anytime a significant--even major number--of civil wars and violent revolutionary movements are underfoot somewhere in the world.  Occasionally a newspaper will run a summary article of how many dozens are going on at one time when most people think everything is pretty much stable and quiet.  Just because it doesn’t make the front page of your paper or internet news source doesn’t affect this reality.  To you it is a profound period of “peace and safety” . . . but not for many other folk.

            Speaking specifically of what the Second Coming will be to those who have rejected the Lord, scorn His Law, and even mocked and persecuted His people, for them it will be a time of “sudden destruction.”  Their assumptions and their delusions are violently stripped from them by the visible return of the triumphant Lord.  It will be as painful as the anguish of a pregnant woman ready to give birth.  The moment will be as sudden and unpredictable as a woman going into sudden painful labor.  It is inevitable with pregnancy. 

            But in this case no one—male or female--will “escape” from what is about to happen . . . from answerability for what they have done and how they have lived.  The things they have deluded themselves for a lifetime as “impossible to occur” are now overwhelming them.  Ignorance and delusion have now painfully been stripped from their eyes.  You didn’t think the Lord was important enough to pay attention to when you were at the height of your success?  Like a major corporate takeover, the “hidden” owner of the universe openly arrives and clears out the “dead wood”--and you are part of that “dead wood” . . . permanently removed from all benefits and assistance.        







Since the Timing Was Unknowable,

The Thessalonians Needed To Be

Morally Prepared At All Times




            But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would.  For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day.  We are not of the night nor of the darkness.  So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober.  For those who sleep, sleep at night and those who get drunk are drunk at night.  But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvationFor God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  10 He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him.  11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            5:4       But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.  Picturing ignorance as “darkness,” Paul stresses that the return of the Lord will not surprise and shock believers the way an arrival of “a thief” would do the unprepared.  You might even say that so far as Christians are concerned, this is the coming of the “good thief”--remember the childhood stories of Robin Hood?--and he is coming to give assistance, relief, and jubilant joy.  And to take it away from the ungrateful and rebellious.  

            This optimism is in vivid contrast to unbelievers (verse 3) who will look about and only see unexpected loss and disaster.  Its timing will likely surprise us too--but not the fact that it occurs.  This is because we firmly recognize that “the Good Thief” is scheduled to return to complete our transformation.  The same day that will be our joy will be their doom for it is too late to prepare their spiritual and moral lives the way we have.  Psychologically speaking, we “already have our bags packed and are ready to go!” 


            5:5       You are all sons of light and sons of the day.  We are not of the night nor of darkness.  The logical deduction from our not being in darkness (verse 4) is that we are those who live in the light of Divine truth (= “sons of light”).  This imagery is natural since God is pictured as “light” (1 John 1:5-6) and He has revealed the Scriptures to guide us.  Hence we are not among those who live in the “darkness” of moral and spiritual ignorance (= “night”).  Since they have no desire to change, their world will always remain one of the darkness of “night.”  We once lived in that world as well, but circumstances or having the right believing friend caused us “to turn . . . from darkness to light” and thus gain salvation (Acts 26:17-18).

            On the roots of the idiom “sons of:”  By a common Hebrew idiom, a man is said to be a son of any influence that determines or dominates his character.  So there are “sons of Belial” (worthlessness) in the Old Testament [1 Samuel 2:12; 25:17 in KJV; in NKJV, ‘were corrupt’ in the first text and ‘such a scoundrel’ in the second]; and Christ speaks of “sons of thunder” [Mark 3:17], “sons of the Resurrection,” [Luke 20:36], &c.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) 


            5:6       Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.  Since the negligent are pictured as creatures of night and darkness, it is natural that they “sleep” (= are oblivious to spiritual matters).  Since we are no longer of that nature we have two obligations.  The first is to constantly “watch” which obviously means we must be “awake” (NIV).  But that is to be an ongoing state and not a sporadic one.  Hence it requires us to “stay awake” (GW, Holman).  If you wish a synonym, then “be alert” (NASB) or “stay alert” (NET) works well.

            In addition one must be serious minded . . . vigilant . . . and free from the delusion that there will never be a time of final accounting for our earthly behavior--“sober” in that sense rather than just non-drunk.  A person who heavily indulges may be incapable of being concerned about much of anything beyond the next drink.  But even those who do not touch it at all can be oblivious to the agenda God has for the planet.  Humor and happiness is fine, but there are still highly serious matters in life as well and salvation is at the top of the short list.   

            These two traits make us prepared for the Second Coming whenever it does come.


            5:7       For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night.  Sleep is the natural time to sleep and on the moral level it is the natural time to get drunk.  Work and other obligations will interrupt us in the daytime but not at night.  In fact Peter reminded his listeners on the day of Pentecost that what they were hearing in other languages--which sounded like incomprehensible gibberish to the rest--could not be the fruit of drunkenness for it was far too early in the day (Acts 2:15). 


            5:8       But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.  We are, if you will, spiritual soldiers and that responsibility must be taken seriously (= “be sober”).  The “breastplate” we wear to protect our innards consists of “faith and love” toward God.  It is to Him that our loyalty is owed and whose cause we defend. 

            Our “helmet” is our “hope” to be saved for if that were not our goal why go through all that we will face?  It may be called a “hope” (even though we are already saved) because we won’t actually dwell with God in heaven until after the resurrection.  At that point it is no longer the anticipation of something future--a hope--but a current reality.

            For a far fuller development of the soldier imagery by Paul see Ephesians 6:10-18.

           For the “breastplate” and “helmet” imagery being used by God in preparing for battle against His earthly foes, compare Isaiah 59:15-18


            5:9       For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  So far as the post-return of Jesus goes, people are in one of two categories.  The first is that they are “appoint[ed]” (“destined,” ESV) due to their behavior and rejection of faith to extreme punishment--what else can “wrath” possibly refer to?  The remainder--the “us” of Paul’s description, which includes both Paul and his Thessalonian listeners--are destined to receive the “salvation” made possible through the sacrificial death of our Lord.  “Salvation” here surely includes not only our forgiveness of sins but also our rescue from . . . our avoidance of . . . the “wrath” coming on those who have not taken advantage of their earthly opportunities.    


            5:10     who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.  Jesus Christ (verse 9) did not die merely for some abstract cause; it was a death designed to benefit “us”--you and I and every other faithful Christian.  His death assured that whether we are alive (“wake”) or dead (“[a]sleep”) we are spiritually and objectively just as alive as He is.  He died to never die again; so do we because of Him.  Our destiny is to be “together with Him” and His permanent “residence,” of course, is Heaven.  Jesus refers to this fact in John 14:2-3:  “ . . . I go to prepare a place for you.   And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”


            5:11     Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.  These words should be used to reassure and “comfort” one another (“encourage,” GNT, ISV) when the pressures and difficulties of life hurt and injure.  Even more so when the death of loved ones cause despair to temporarily enter our hearts:  At this “sunset” of life we do indeed mourn, but do so knowing full well that at the “sunrise” of the resurrection we will be reunited.

            There may be those who are new converts or who have not yet had opportunity to fully develop their spiritual knowledge.  These we need to “edify” (“build one another up,” ESV; “help to strengthen,” Weymouth) so that they do not confuse physical death with never seeing our loved ones again. 

            The good news is that they are already doing these things.  But human interest ebbs and flows.  Hence it is important to remember to periodically bring up the subjects in the future as well so that new converts and those who were not quite paying full attention the first time around might fully grasp the wonderful tidings of the future.  Men and women are, by nature, forgetful.  Even you and me.   







Respect Needed

For Their Church Leadership




            12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work.  Be at peace among yourselves.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            5:12     And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.  The fact that Paul singles this out as something to “urge” suggests that the underlying sentiment is something beyond merely “ask[ing]” (NIV and many others) but takes on the overtone of “beg” (WEB, Weymouth) or, at least, “strongly urge.”  It is something he regards as specially important.  A moment’s thought will explain why:  If a congregation’s leadership and membership are not working together cooperatively, things will not be accomplished anywhere near as quickly.  Indeed even the best of ideas may slowly evaporate due to a lack of general support.

            The type of people he specifically has in mind he does not explicitly call “elders”--though they certainly would be the primary and central ones.  Perhaps they preferred a different term.  Cf. the substitution of “bishop” in 1 Timothy 3:1-2.  This is used as synonymous with “elder” in Titus 1:5-7.

            Alternatively Paul wishes to include as well whoever is doing the preaching as well since Timothy is no longer with them (3:6).  If their experience is anything like the modern one, that person would rarely be any more an elder than Timothy had been even though he was a regular teacher of the brethren (1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 4:2).  These are “over” them because they are recognized as de facto rather than de jure authority figures within the congregation.  (Furthermore not all people who have great influence within it ever have a formal title!) 
            These people were not merely title holders they “labor among you,” doing the hard work necessary to make the congregation function.  One of the things they did was to “admonish” the members to do the right things in their relationship to God and with each other.  The translations of “instruct you” (GW, ISV) and “give you instruction” (NASB) convey the same basic idea but “admonish” suggests a certain passionate enthusiasm in their teaching as well. 

            Paul unquestionably liked the idea of elders teaching:  Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17).  Could it be that we have so “compartmentalized” preachers and elders into separate categories, that we have discouraged what Paul encouraged . . . and which was being practiced in Thessalonica? 


            5:13     and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.  Be at peace among yourselves.  They were to respect those who labored for the congregation (“esteem them;” “hold them in the highest regard,” NIV).  Blended in with this respect was to be the deepest desire for their well being as well (i.e., “love”).  This was not just because they are fellow Christians--we certainly have commands for that (John 13:34-35; in this epistle, 3:12)--but also because of respect for what they were doing for the congregation (“their work’s sake”).  This is a positive way of saying they should avoid conflict among themselves and he makes that clear when he ends the verse with the plea that they “be at peace among yourselves.”  They were not to degenerate into the kind of situation the Corinthians developed!







Be Alert To Provide The Kind Of

Assistance Needed By Other

Brothers and Sisters In The Church




            14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all.  15 See that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            5:14     Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.  Paul strongly encourages them (“exhort you;” “urge you,” ESV, NIV) to provide what is needed by others in the congregation.  He begins with those who are out of line in their actions and attitudes (“unruly”) and stresses that they need to be “warn[ed]” away from such behavior.  Some are such out of mule-headedness; others are simply misguided.  The message given them needs to be shaped not only by the fact that they are doing wrong, but it needs to be delivered with the approach most likely to encourage them to give heed to the scriptural evidence.

            Some people are “discouraged” (Holman and NET’s substitute for “fainthearted”) due to events in their life--personal ill-health or that of loved ones, financial stress, mistreatment by the world . . . the list is endless.  We need to be alert to those who are going through such and to give them the encouragement (“comfort”) that they need.  Though they may be “down in the dumps,” our words may work to “cheer up” their minds--the translation of GW, ISV.

            Some will be in even worse shape than being “discouraged.”  They will be facing problems so sustained and long lasting that they feel overwhelmed and “weak” (“disheartened,” NIV):  The problem exists today and who knows for how much longer it will continue!  They will need not merely a one time intervention, but an ongoing repeated verbal “uphold[ing].”  And perhaps even more is covered by that “uphold[ing]:”  Though words may reassure them, their situation may also require a goodly amount of doing as well:  They may have small tasks that they are no longer capable of performing and your volunteering assistance will make their life far easier and less discomforting.

            Finally there is the admonition to exercise self-control toward everyone in the church--“be patient with all.”  You are not to play favorites.  You should act the same way toward others regardless of what family they come from, their educational background, or their income.  Furthermore some simply don’t grasp things as rapidly as others and this may have absolutely nothing to do with intellectual ability but with personal background and degree of Biblical knowledge.  You need to be “patient” with them as they edge toward your degree of understanding.        


            5:15     See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.  Or as Paul says in Romans 12:17, “Repay no one evil for evil.”  Retaliation and revenge in one form or another is as natural to the human nature of most people as “apple pie is to America.”  That doesn’t make it right even if we are in a position to easily get away with it.  Jesus’ principle of turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39) rarely takes a literal form, but the image surely reflects what we do when we avoid giving the person the same kind of treatment they have unjustly inflicted on us.  

            Instead of a pattern of retaliation, we are to have the exact opposite lifestyle--one that Paul says we must “always pursue” . . . one that the GNT accurately but lengthily translates as “at all times make it your aim.”  And that is to consistently attempt whatever is of benefit to others.  Note that the apostle does not say that we neglect our own interests; instead he refers to “what is good for yourselves and for all.”  But we are not to be so absorbed in what is personally beneficial that we forget what will be of assistance to others as well.  







Individual Behavior

In Serving The Lord




            16 Always rejoice, 17 constantly pray, 18 in everything give thanks.  For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  19 Do not extinguish the Spirit.  20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt.  21 But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. 22 Stay away from every form of evil.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            5:16     Rejoice always.  They should constantly celebrate their joy in being God’s people, in being saved, and in the eternal home waiting for them in heaven.  There are two basic ways to look at life and the future.  One is pessimistically; the other is with the optimism that Paul enjoins.  When things are going wrong in important parts of our life, there are still things to be pleased and happy with.  Even when things are disastrous there is still the knowledge of the Divine recompense after this life is over.  In one sense that seems “nothing” because it isn’t now; in the long term sense it is still winning everything when those who have done us ill permanently suffer the loss of everything they cherished.  


            5:17    pray without ceasing.  They should never get out of the habit of prayer.  “Never stop praying” (CEV; GW).  Cf. Romans 12:12, “Continuing steadfastly in prayer.”  Some assure this by setting out a certain time--or times--of each day in which they take a “prayer break” from whatever else they are doing.  Then there are the opportunities of a brief silent prayer such as when we eat.  Our prayers don’t have to be out loud; God still hears them.


            5:18     in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Everything positive that comes our way we should “give thanks” for.  It’s called “gratitude.”  It didn’t have to happen but it did.  Hence we should show our appreciation.  This behavior reveals Christians (= those identified as “in Christ Jesus”) carrying out what God wishes (= “the will of God”).

            Even when things are going foully we still have those things that are going right to remain thankful for.  Not to mention gratitude that we have the strength and opportunity to survive the adversity.  This is the substitute for the anxiety that could otherwise overwhelm us:  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).


            5:19     Do not quench the Spirit.  Just as a fire can be drenched with water and “put out” (GW, ISV), the power of the Spirit can be as well.  The Spirit’s power to motivate conduct and actions through the scriptures it had already provided—and was adding to through the apostles--could be “quenched” through refusing to study the text and, when it was studied it, refusing to do whatever it had clearly instructed to be done.  Tied in with this is the danger of quenching our own spirit’s good intentions and good will.  It is all too easy to allow events and animosities to make us unwilling to treat others the way we know we should.

            Although all this is true, in light of the next verse, Paul likely had his mind centered on providing a strong warning against suppressing supernatural gifts from the Spirit.  We know that by the time of the first letter to them that the Corinthians were obsessed with such; it may be that the Thessalonians were going to the opposite extreme of repressing their use? 


            5:20     Do not despise prophecies.  “Prophesy” and “prophecies” are used in the scriptures not just of predicting things in the future but also of inspired teaching in general.  Hence in the writings of the Old Testament prophets, we often find direct teaching to contemporaries as well--indeed such is often predominant in them.  Similarly in the New Testament book of Revelation--which calls itself a book of prophecy (22:18)--we have at least the first three chapters teaching about their current problems and situation.  Furthermore Jesus was prophesied to be the unique and special “prophet” to come (Acts 3:22-26) yet the vast bulk of His teaching in the gospels consists of teaching and preaching rather than predictions of the future. 

            Also in Acts 13:1-3 the terms “prophets and teachers” seem to be used synonymously.  It is in the latter sense of teachings (rather than predictions) that “despise prophecies” is most relevant:  That is vastly easier to “test”--as our next verse demands--than prophecies of the future can ever be before the time of their alleged fulfillment arrives.  Of course, if someone insists that some prophecy is currently being fulfilled we should also go to the inspired teaching to find out whether or not the text matches what they are claiming--as the Christians did in Acts 17:11-12 in regard to the predictions of the coming Messiah.

            References to inspired teaching being received in other Pauline texts.  Paul attached great value to prophecy.  He places prophets next after apostles in the list of those whom God has set in the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28).  He associates apostles and prophets as the foundation of the Church (Ephesians 2:20).  He assigns to prophecy the precedence among spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1-5), and urges his readers to desire the gift (1 Corinthians 14:11 Corinthians 14:39).  Hence his exhortation here.”  (Marvin  R. Vincent)


            5:21     Test all things; hold fast what is good.  They were not to be credulous.  They were to verify what they had heard.  Was it consistent with other truths they accepted?  Were there transparent “holes” in the claims once they were examined in detail?  When they had verified that the analysis was genuinely valid and reliable, they were to persistently embrace it as the truth.  As commonly translated, “hold fast what is good” sounds like a separate statement rather than the consequence of what has just been said.  There is an implicit “therefore” that goes in front of it.   


            5:22     Abstain from every form of evil.  There are a wide array of self-destructive temptations available in our world.  One of the paradoxes of human existence is that an individual may draw the line at certain potentially strong ones--persistently and consistently do so--yet there may be some other excess that the “discrete” indulgence of will be nurtured over years . . . carefully kept out of sight of observers.  Paul targets whatever our private point of temptation might be and urges us to avoid it no matter what form it may take. 

            The traditional KJV’s rendering conveys this quite well if you pay close attention to the words actually used--“abstain from all appearance of evil” . . .  don’t ever let it appear in your life.  However in my early twenties this was interpreted as doing anything that might “look like” evil in the eyes of the brethren . . . not something that unquestionably was evil.  About 55 years ago I got called down for preaching the difference.  Less than ten years later a visiting preacher taught the same thing and got praised for his insight.  Life can get quite interesting at times can’t it?       







Final Wishes For

Their Spiritual Well Being




            23 Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  24 He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this.  25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us too.  26 Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.  27 I call on you solemnly in the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.  28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            5:23     Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jehovah wants to be “the God of peace:  He wishes harmony with everyone on earth, but as Creator He has the inherent right to receive respect and obedience and without that the human rebel exiles himself from any acceptable relationship. 

            God wishes to “sanctify you completely” (“make . . . holy,” CEV, GNT)--in every way it can be done . . . in how we think . . . in how we act . . . in our inner motivations.  But God will not play the role of dictator.  We must play our own role in that purification process as well so that we will become the kind of people God expects us to be.

            This “setting apart” (sanctification) involves all there is to us--“your whole spirit, soul, and body.”  The last is the easiest to define, i.e., our physical bodies and their behavior.  However one may choose to define “spirit” and “soul”--and whatever the fine line of distinction may be--the two terms clearly cover everything that is not part of our fleshly body.

            Paul’s prayer--and Paul’s words here can hardly be called anything else--is that these may be kept (= “preserved”) in an uncorrupted and untainted form (“blameless”) until Christ comes again.    


            5:24     He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.  This promise that God will continue to count us as acceptable (verse 23) is a pledge that can be fully counted on.  He is completely loyal (“faithful”) to His commitments.  Of course that also means we must be loyal to our own commitment to live a life of loyalty as well.  He has pledged an abiding embracing of us and we also must exhibit the same toward Him!


            5:25     Brethren, pray for us.  Paul knows that he stands in the need of the prayers of others and that God will pay attention to them.  After all, “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).  Paul repeatedly makes such a request of his readers--for example, 2 Corinthians 1:11; Colossians 4:3; Philemon verse 22.  Ministers and people need each other's prayers, and prayer is a duty which they owe to each other.”  (Pulpit Commentary).  


            5:26     Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.  Just as the handshake or a hug are the standard greeting method in the western world, a kiss on the cheek was that of the ancient.  This social courtesy was to be given to “all the brethren” rather than just personal friends or ones on your own societal level.  It was an expression of group solidarity, respect, and--in a voluntary association like the church--of affection.


            5:27     I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren.  Divine revelation was not designed to be kept secret.  Hence they had the obligation to share these words with one and all.  Since they only had one copy of the letter at the moment--and copies were quite expensive to make--it needed to “be read” to the entire congregation.  This way they would all be sure of hearing the exact words of the apostle rather than just someone’s summary of them.

            There is much support for both the reading “the holy brethren” as found here and the omission of the “holy” as well.  The large bulk of modern translations omit it.  Since Paul expected Christians to be such (Colossians 3:12) and since even in the previous verse he refers to a “holy kiss,” it would be far from idle speculation to see him using the term here as well:  Who would you expect to give a “holy kiss” but “the holy brethren”?

            Furthermore Paul had pled in 3:12 that the Lord “may establish your hearts blameless in holiness.”  They were called “in holiness” (4:7).  The admonition to “abstain from every form of evil” (5:19) and the prayer that “your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless” (5:23) also argue for seeking out holiness in everyday life.  Even if it turns out to not be textually genuine, it still amazingly fits with what else the apostle has said.        


            5:28     The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  Amen.  All of Paul’s instruction is intended to assure that they continue in the Divine favor (= “grace”) of the Lord and he prays that may always be the case.  Of course this is a prayer they themselves must play the major part in answering because Jesus’ own reliability is absolute.  The only question is whether they will do the hard work to consistently be in conformity to His will.  Yet even if they falter, He will still stand ready to receive them back lovingly . . . if they repent and change for the better.  Hence His grace will always be with them either as ongoing fact or future possibility.  The “life jacket” of salvation is always available.  The only question is whether they will wear it. 






Sources quoted:


George G. Findlay.  Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on First and Second Thessalonians (1894).  Internet edition at:


James B. Coffman.  Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians.  Internet edition at:


Marvin R. Vincent.  Word Studies.  Internet edition at:


Joseph Exell.  Pulpit Commentary on 1 Thessalonians.  Internet edition at: