1 Thessalonians 5:12-22
And we beseech you, brothers, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;…
1. DUTY TOWARD THE PRESIDENTS. "But we beseech you, brethren, to know them that labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them exceeding highly in love fur their work's sake." The Greek bears that those who labor, preside, and admonish are all one class. From other places in the New Testament we must understand that the reference is to the class of the elders. "And when they had appointed for them elders in every Church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they had believed." "For this cause," Paul says to Titus, "left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and. appoint elders in every city, as I gave thee charge." From 1 Timothy 5:17 it appears that there were elders who simply ruled, and others who both ruled and taught. The language employed in the description of the elders here does not require a restriction in the application to teaching elders. It can only be said that the greater extent of their duties warrants a special application to them. There is put forward the idea of their being workers. In any office the first thing to be looked to is the amount of real honest work that is done in it. Certainly it is not meant that any ecclesiastical office should be a sinecure. There was spiritual work to be done among the Thessalonians, and there were those who were appointed for the doing of it. These did their work even to weariness. Next to their being workers, they were presidents. In 1 Timothy 5:17 the elders are described as thus ruling or presiding, hi this presidency there is implied the possession of ecclesiastical power; but it is with limitations. Believers stand in an immediate personal relation to the Lord. But there is also the relation in which believers stand collectively to the Lord. In this relation Christ is not only President; but there are those who in each Christian society preside in the Lord, i.e. they preside in his Name, they represent his authority in the relation. To them belongs the power of the keys, or of admitting and excluding. To them it belongs to preside at the ordinance of the supper. To them it belongs to sit in judgment in matters connected with the efficient working of the society. As presidents, they are also monitors, not restrictively teachers. It belongs to them as characterized by piety and practical wisdom, and as foremost in every good work themselves, in a special manner, in virtue of their office, to press duty on those over whom they have been placed, to stir up the negligent, to administer rebuke to the erring. It is the duty of the members of a Christian society toward their laborious presidents and monitors to know them. It is usual to take this knowing as equivalent to knowing with appreciation, which is afterward defined as esteeming in love. It seems better not to bring forward the ideas of esteem and love, but to think only of that on which the esteem and love are founded, viz. such a marking of the presidents as leads to their being esteemed and loved. The esteem is to be founded on the work belonging to their office. They are engaged in the Lord's work, in seeking the spiritual good of those over whom they have been placed. And as that is the most important of all kinds of work, they are not only to be esteemed, but esteemed exceeding highly for their work's sake. While they are to be esteemed, they are also to be loved. Love is to be the element in which the esteem is to have its subsistence and nourishment. They are not to be judged harshly, but, in love, a kindly view is to be taken of them, and their defects overlooked.
II. DUTY OF REGARDING THE PEACE OF THE CHRISTIAN CIRCLE. "Be at peace among yourselves." Our Lord exhorts the twelve in almost the same terms: "Be at peace one with another." The exhortation means that we are to cultivate toward the members of the Christian circle such good feeling as will dispose us not only to refrain from strife, but also to be on good terms with them. And if we are to be peaceably disposed, as we are elsewhere exhorted, toward all men, much more are we to be peaceably disposed, as we are here exhorted, to those to whom we stand in nearer alliance and engagement, who are subjects with us of the same Prince of peace. The most fruitful cause of congregational or more widely ecclesiastical dispeace is fondness for power or honor. It was when the twelve had disputed one with another who was the greatest (Mark 9:34), and had turned against one who used Christ's Name yet followed not them (Mark 9:38), that they were exhorted to be at peace one with another (Mark 9:50). John refers to a certain Diotrephes, in a Church to which he wrote, who loved to have the pre-eminence among them. There are those who are more concerned to advance themselves, or their family connection, or their party, than the common ends for which the society exists. A co-operating cause is prejudice. There are those who are more attached to opinions hastily formed, or traditionally received, or to which they are constitutionally inclined as more liberal or more conservative, than to the truth honestly inquired into. When, with this, there conspires worldly motive, leading to worldly policy, the result, on occasion or, it may be, on little occasion, is dispeace. One cure for dispeace is respect for the properly constituted authorities, or good feeling toward the presidents. This wilt often carry a society through a difficult trial. A more effective cure is abundance of Christian work. It was when the twelve were in the way (unemployed so far) that they disputed who was the greatest. When afterward they were in the midst of their work, the question would not be who was the greatest, but who could do the most work for Christ. For a Church to he actively engaged in real work for the Master is to be in the best position for its own peace. Pray, then, for the peace of Jerusalem, and for its orderliness and holy activity, as conducive to peace.
III. DUTY TOWARD THREE CLASSES WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN CIRCLE.
1. The disorderly. "And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the disorderly." This class is described by a word which is used of soldiers who do not keep their rank. There were those in the Thessalonian Church who were out of rank, in the way of being negligent of their business, under the influence of the coming of Christ. In Christian Churches still there are those who are out of rank, in the way of being careless in attendance on ordinances, in the way of being dissipated, in the way of being chargeable with dishonorable actions. If it is a grave fault to be disorderly in a military sense, it is no less grave a fault to be disorderly in a Christian sense. Must it not be offensive to him who is pre-eminently charged with the order of the Church, the Captain of our salvation? And his command, laid not merely on the presidents but on all, is that such should be admonished. They all need to be admonished to the performance of the duty with regard to which they are at fault; and some of them need to he admonished to take the first step in the Christian life.
2. The faint-hearted. "Encourage the faint-hearted." In our Churches there are those who are faint-hearted on account of the loss of friends, as the Thessalonians were faint-hearted on account of the supposed fate of Christian friends taken away before the coming. There are those who are depressed by the state of their temporal affairs, as the Thessalonians would have a depressing influence in the way in which maintenance and home and even life were affected by persecution. There are always those who are apt to be faint-hearted on account of their spiritual state. Have they a real interest in Christ? Are they making progress in the Christian life? Are they doing any good? Are they having an influence for good upon those over whom they are immediately placed? The command of Christ, laid on all, is that such are to be encouraged. Let them be encouraged by the thought of the kind Providence that is exercised over them. Let them be encouraged to the exercise of faith. "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God."
3. The weak. "Support the weak." There would be those among the Thessalonians who felt the weakening influence of the heathenism out of which they had come. Heathen habits could not be laid aside in a day. So there are those in our Churches who are anxious to do well, but are apt to stumble from the strength of evil habit. The command of Christ, laid on all, is that such are not to be left to stand or fall by themselves; but they are to be supported by sympathy and counsel and. example until they attain to greater moral strength - as infants, or those weakened by disease, need to be supported, until they can go about freely.
IV. THE ONE DUTY TOWARD ALL WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN CIRCLE. "Be long-suffering toward all." It seems better to confine the reference to the Christian circle, and to consider the reference as widened in the following verse. This is the condition of mind that will fit us for dealing with all. It was not unfitting that the duty should be laid upon a young Church like that of Thessalonica. Young Christians are of a sanguine disposition. In their own enthusiasm they look for others being enthusiastic. They need, in their experience of the difficulty of evil being cast out of their own hearts, of keeping up their own enthusiasm, to be taught the lesson of patience. Let them not be less earnest, but let them bear long, in the hope of seeing those who are lukewarm and faulty brought into a better state.
V. DUTY ESPECIALLY TOWARD THOSE WHO INJURE US. "See that none render unto any one evil for evil; but always follow after that which is good, one toward another, and toward all." The heathenish idea is to return evil for evil. Even Aristotle regarded it not less reasonable to return evil for evil, than to return good for good; "for otherwise," he says," if a man must not retaliate, his condition appears to be as bad as slavery" ('Ethics,' bk. 5. 1 Thessalonians 5). This heathenish disposition to take revenge on those who injure us needs to be conquered by us. Hence there is enjoined on us care: "Take heed that none render unto any one evil for evil." There is danger, if we are not careful, of our giving way to revengeful feelings. The Christian idea is that we are to resist not evil: "Whosoever smiteth thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." The meaning here is that, instead of returning evil for evil, we are to do kind offices to those who injure us. This is the best way of gaining our offending brethren. It is also the best way of gaining over them that arc outside. There is no more powerful argument in favor of Christianity than its conquest of revengefulness, its disposing us to return good for evil.
VI. DUTY OF REJOICING. "Rejoice always." The happy God designs us to be happy like himself, and not merely in heaven. We cannot, indeed, have a light heart when we think of the evil in us and around us. But while sorrowful, we can always rejoice in the thought of our Christian advantages. "He that hath the inexhaustible Spring of good for his portion, that hath his welfare entrusted in God's most faithful hand, that hath the infinite Beauty and Excellency for the perpetual object of his contemplation, that enjoyeth the serenity of a sound mind, of a pure heart, of a quiet conscience, of a sure hope, what can he want to refresh or comfort him? If we scan all the doctrines, all the institutions, all the precepts, all the promises of Christianity, will not each appear pregnant with matter of joy, will not each yield great reason and strong obligation to this duty of rejoicing evermore?" (Barrow).
VII. DUTY OF PRAYER. "Pray without ceasing." This cannot mean that prayer is to occupy our whole time. For prayer is only one duty, and we have to proportion our time between our various duties. But it means that we are to make prayer part of the great business of our life, and not a by-business. It means that we are to connect prayer with the principal occasions of our life. It means that in particular matters we are to pray on, until we succeed in the object of our requests. It means that we are to have stated times for prayer, especially the natural seasons of morning and evening. It means that in the intensity of our earnestness we are to overleap these stated times. "Devotion is the best food of our souls, which preserveth their life and health, which repaireth their strength and vigor: if we, therefore, long abstain from it, we shall starve or pine away; we shall be faint and feeble in all religious performances; we shall have none at all, or a very languid and meager piety" (Barrow).
VIII. DUTY OF THANKSGIVING. "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward." To give thanks means that, sincerely, duly sensible of our benefits, we are to make cheerful acknowledgment of them to God. To give thanks in everything means that we are to thank God, not only in great things, but also in small things; not only in rare things, but also in common things. It means that we are to thank God, not only in present things, but for past mercies as well, and even for what is laid up for future enjoyment. It means that we are to thank God, not merely in things affecting ourselves, but also in things affecting others. It means that we are to thank God, not merely in prosperous things, but also in adverse things, recognizing the merciful moderating of them, the merciful design in them, the supporting grace under them, and the benefit resulting from them. It means that we are to thank God not merely in things affecting our bodies, but also in things affecting our souls. The duty of thanksgiving is here enforced by the consideration that thin is the will of God in Christ Jesus to us-ward. In Christ Jesus he is infinite kindness, always overflowing in blessing on us. How fitting, then, that we should, through Christ Jesus, "offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, the fruit of our lips!" This has the distinction of being the most delightful of all duties. "For praise and thanksgiving are the most delectable business of heaven; and God grant they may be our greatest delight, our frequent employment upon earth" (Barrow).
IX. DUTY TOWARD THE SPIRIT. "Quench not the Spirit." The Spirit is compared here, as in other places in Scripture, to fire. There is the beginning of spiritual life in every man. There is the depraved nature, but there is also the Spirit with his vital energy to be cherished or quenched. It is especially in connection with the gospel that the Spirit is given to men. In the gospel there is presented a Divine call to accept of Divine mercy, and there is, in connection with it, a Divine warning against refusing Divine mercy. "He that believeth on the Son hath eternal lice; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." The Spirit, in the Word read or preached, brings the gospel call to bear upon the conscience and heart. The feeling that we ought to accept of salvation and not throw away our existence, the desire to give Christ our confidence and not spurn his love, is the working of the Spirit. And, in providence after providence, does the Spirit more gently whisper to us, or more loudly rouse us up to the importance of the Divine call and warning. It is suggested by the context, that what those who have felt the power of the Spirit have to fear is the repression of enthusiasm. Let them give free outlet to the working of the Spirit, and not be deterred by the conventionalities even of religious society. If they feel prompted to pray, let them not restrain prayer. If they feel prompted to study God's Word, let them sit down and pore over it. If they feel prompted to throw themselves into Christian work, let them not hold back. It was by a strange perversity of will on the part of Saul that he was deserted by the Spirit. David feared that his outbreak of sin would drive away the Holy Spirit from him. What prevents men feeling the power of the Spirit is especially an irregular life. They turn away from good, and give the reins to their passions, and another spirit than God's takes possession of them. But there is not needed outward irregularity to quench the Spirit. The essential thing is the withdrawing of the mind from the range of the Divine revelation, the paying no heed to the Divine voice, the smothering good feeling even under the ordinary engagements of life, the neglecting to follow up good impressions by a decisive step for Christ. The result in the following out of trial is a state of mind in which there is an insensibility to the importance of the Divine call and warning. Conviction of sin or uneasiness about it ceases; interest in what is good dies out. The Spirit of God takes his departure, and an evil spirit takes full possession. There is this encouraging thought to those who have been resisting and grieving the Spirit, that while there is the slightest thought of good remaining in their hearts, it may be fanned into a flame. The Spirit, long slighted, at last cherished, will come, and with his vital energy fill their whole being.
X. DUTY WITH REGARD TO PROPHESYINGS. "Despise not prophesyings." These were special manifestations of the Spirit. As in the Corinthian Church, and also in the Galatian Churches, so in the Church of Thessalonica, there was the presence of miracles. There was the gift of healing; there was also the gift of tongues. As striking manifestations the use they served was especially in impressing and drawing the attention of them that were outside. Prophesyings were intelligent and, probably, impassioned utterances of Divine truth under the inflatus of the Spirit. As such the use they served was especially in promoting the edification of the Church. Let none, then, run the risk of quenching the Spirit by placing a low value on his less striking but far more important manifestations.
XI. DUTY OF PROVING ALL THINGS. "Prove all things." The language is taken from the art of the assayer. He has special skill in applying tests, with the view of discovering what is real and what is counterfeit in metals, what is good coin and what is bad coin. So the Christian assayer is to be specially skilled in testing the real nature of things. There is nothing in the language to restrict the reference to the prophesyings which have been mentioned. It is not said "all prophesyings," or "all these things." And if there is an antithesis, as some authorities have it, in the assertion of "but," yet is it preserved by regarding prophesyings as included, among all things. The wideness of the reference is confirmed by the consideration that things as proved are divided into things to be chosen and things to be rejected. In prophesyings, as inspired, there was no element to be rejected. Proving them could only mean learning to put due value upon them, partly in comparison with other Divine gifts. Ordinary teachings have not till the true ring or composition. "O holy simplicity!" exclaimed Huss, when he saw an aged devout woman throwing a fagot on to his burning pile. But our safeguard is not a holy simplicity, believing all that we have been told by good men; it is rather, in dependence on the direction of God, the exercise of an independent judgment. That is the sheet-anchor of our Protestantism. We reject the claim of the Roman Catholic that we are to accept of things because they are taught by the Church, because they have been ordained by councils, because they have even the support of the apostolic Fathers. The thing to be deplored is that much of our Protestantism is traditional, an unreasoning acceptance of belief. With regard to opinions which pass current in society, we are not to accept of them because they are popular, because they are well-sounding, because they are associated with particular names or parties; but we are to have a Divine insight into them as true or false. With regard to what is presented for the regulation of our conduct, there is evil as well as good presented for our acceptance. And evil is not presented to us as evil; it takes specious forms - even Satan puts on the garb of an angel of light. We have need, therefore, to be on ore' guard; we have need to have our senses exercised to discern good and evil. Let us inquire, regarding an action or course of action, whether it is fitted to yield not simply a present but a solid and lasting satisfaction, without regrets in the future; whether it is according to right principle and conducive to strength of character, and fitted also to be beneficial to others. "If we discerned ourselves," says the apostle, "we should not be judged." Let us be just with ourselves, that we may escape the consequences of a false judgment. Let us impartially apply the tests now, as those to whom they arc to be impartially and convincingly applied at the day of judgment.
XII. DUTY IN VIEW OF THE RESULT OF PROVING ALL THINGS.
1. On the one hand to hold fast the good. "Hold fast that which is good." It is implied that we are not to be always proving. As a result of our proving, we find out that which is good. It is a duty we owe to that which is good to hold it fast, arid not to let it go. If we have found the Bible to be the Word of God, let us hold it fist. Let us take it as nutriment to our souls. Let it be the test by which we try things. "To the Law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." If we have satisfied ourselves as to the claims of Christ as our Divine teacher, let us hold him fist; let us take his teachings into our being, and let the confessing of Christ be that by which we try the spirits, not persons, but rather the spirit by which individuals, communities, institutes, systems, are animated. If we have satisfied ourselves that Christ has made full atonement for our sin, let us hold that truth fast as central, let us take all the comfort there is in it, and let it be the test of loyalty to Christ. If we have found out what a good life is as commended and exemplified by Christ, and as lint to the proof by ourselves, let us hold it fast as what has held us up in the past, as what has held up the good in all the generations, as what will hold us up until we obtain an immutable standing in heaven. And let us not, with a false toleration, think that any life can be good which wants the great theistic, and especially the great Christian, elements.
2. On the other hand to abstain from evil. "Abstain from every form of evil." The old translation is indefensible here. The words should not have formed a verse by themselves; they should have been added on to the former words. In view of the good and evil that are separated in the proving of things, we arc on the one hand to hold fast that which is good, and on the other hand to abstain from every form of evil. If anything is yet undetermined to our mind, our duty as already laid down is to find out its true nature. If, after examination, it is of a doubtful nature, or seems to be bordering on evil, our duty certainly is to abstain from it. But the duty laid down here is different from that. It is our duty with regard to what we have found out to be one of the many forms of evil. Having found it out to be evil in reality, let us not hesitate about our course, let us abstain from it, let us refuse to taste it even as we would not take poison, let us turn away from it as from that which is alien from our being and fitted only to work our destruction. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;