1 Thessalonians 5:12-22
The apostle Paul often addressed the church as a family. He called members brothers and sisters and encouraged them to love one another. To function properly, a church—like a family—must have structure, order, respect for its members, and accountability. Paul exhorted the Thessalonian believers to guard their Christian walks as they waited for the Lord’s return (1 Th. 5:1–11).
First Thessalonians 5:12–22 provides us with practical guidance in three areas: responsibilities of church members to leaders (vv. 12–13), responsibilities of members to one another (vv. 14–15), and instructions on Christian living (vv. 16–22).
RESPONSIBILITIES OF CHURCH MEMBERS TO LEADERS
Paul urged church members to respect church leadership: “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves” (vv. 12–13).
Believers are to understand the role of leaders within the church. The word recognize means to know, respect, and appreciate the positions of pastor, elder, and deacon. Paul said leaders “labor among” the church members, meaning they work strenuously, both mentally and physically; and they become weary. They deserve the congregation’s loyalty. Anyone who has pastored a church can testify to the role’s demands.
Paul explained that leaders serve “over you in the Lord” (v. 12). The word over speaks of the leader’s position regarding spiritual guidance and discipline. Leaders also are required to “admonish” congregants, rebuke, correct, and warn them when needed.
Consequently, the church has an obligation “to esteem them [their leaders] very highly in love for their work’s sake” (v. 13). The word esteem means to value, respect, and highly regard. Paul told the Thessalonians to respect their leaders because of their worth and work within the congregation. He emphasized they must esteem them “in love,” from a self-sacrificing, surrendered heart. Why? “For their work’s sake” because their ministry is a good work from the Lord.
Paul ended verse 13 with the command, “Be at peace among yourselves.” He gave this command not because of any disharmony between Paul and the church but, rather, because he knew that without peace, a church will not grow spiritually or obtain a good testimony in the community. This command applies to congregants and clergy alike.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF CHURCH MEMBERS TO ONE ANOTHER
Paul said congregants and leaders should be involved in six areas of ministry: “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all” (vv. 14–15). The first three exhortations speak of a continual, ongoing church ministry.
1. “Warn those who are unruly” (v. 14). The word unruly refers to someone who is disorderly, disruptive, or out of place. The term was often used of soldiers who failed to carry out their duties or got out of rank. It was also used of advancing armies that were in disarray.
In regard to the church, it speaks of members who are undisciplined, irresponsible, idle, or derelict in carrying out their daily duties, manifesting bad habits that present a bad testimony to others. Church members, whether congregants or leaders, should confront and correct the unruly.
2. “Comfort the fainthearted” (v. 14). The word fainthearted describes one who is discouraged, worried, emotionally disturbed about a personal problem or a sin, or unable to live the Christian life. Such a person needs personal care, comfort, encouragement, and biblical counseling.
3. “Uphold the weak” (v. 14). The phrase the weak could mean those physically, spiritually, mentally, or morally without strength. The weaker believer consistently lacks the psychological, spiritual, and sometimes moral strength to handle issues in his or her life and often needs counseling and care.
4. “Be patient with all” (v. 14). This is a difficult command to obey. Notice, Paul said to be long-tempered with all, not merely with those who are easy to get along or work with. Too often we operate on a short fuse, show irritability, and exhibit unforgiving spirits, rather than show patience toward others when they offend us.
5. “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone” (v. 15; cf. Mt. 5:38–42; Rom. 12:17). The word renders means to pay back or take revenge against someone who has wronged us. Christians should never retaliate by physically hurting those who have committed evil against us. Such behavior provides a bad testimony to believers and unbelievers alike.
6. “Always pursue what is good for yourselves and for all” (1 Th. 5:15). We should pursue, or follow after, good in any hostile situation we face and actively return blessing. The phrase both for yourselves and for all refers to Christian brothers and unbelievers alike. We must love and bless them. Doing so provides a great witness for the truth of Christianity.
INSTRUCTIONS ON CHRISTIAN LIVING
Paul concluded this section with eight succinct commands on how to live out one’s faith: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (vv. 16–22).
The first group of commands pertains to the Christian’s inner life (vv. 16–18). To “rejoice always” (v. 16) is the duty of every believer. Even under uncomfortable circumstances and extreme persecution, Paul constantly rejoiced (cf. Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:16–18; 6:10; 12:10; Col. 1:24).
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Th. 5:17) does not mean we must pray nonstop, 24 hours a day. It means we should maintain a spirit of prayer throughout the day, intermittently and incessantly praying to God—even when we have busy schedules.
“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (v. 18) emphasizes our obligation to be thankful in “everything.” Paul told the Roman believers that God works all things—even difficult circumstances and suffering—together for good “to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). So whatever happens in our lives is according to God’s purposes.
Notice, Paul said, “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Th. 5:18). Thus it is God’s will we continually rejoice, pray, and give thanks in all circumstances (vv. 16–18).
The second group of commands tells us how to live in relation to one another within the church. “Do not quench the Spirit” (v. 19). The word Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit, not the individual’s spirit. When someone is born again, the Holy Spirit indwells that person and will never leave.
The word quench means to suppress, stifle, or snuff out, like extinguishing fire with water. Within context, it could refer to quenching the Spirit in oneself or others or despising prophecies in a church meeting, as mentioned in verse 20.
“Do not despise prophecies,” Paul said (v. 20). Scripture mentions two types of prophecies: foretelling and forthtelling. Foretelling involves using God-given knowledge to predict an event before it happens. It uses direct, divine revelation never before revealed to humankind.
Forthtelling involves giving the church a message for instruction, guidance, or edification. No new divine revelation is being given today via Scripture or foretellers, but forthtellers continue to build up the church today through illuminating God’s divine revelation in Scripture.
The phrase do not despise means not to view something being said with contempt. Paul commanded believers not to shut down prophecies without first examining them in light of Scripture to see if the messages were from God.
The remaining verses of this section provide three positive commands: “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (vv. 21–22).
Test means to prove, try, or examine whether something is true. We should test all things according to God’s Word. Paul didn’t say some things, but all things. We must examine every teaching and practice in light of Scripture (cf. 1 Jn. 4:1).
The word good (1 Th. 5:21) here refers to something of intrinsic worth, like a coin that is tested and found to be real and not counterfeit. In other words, “hold fast,” or habitually cling to, right behavior and the genuine principles and practices in God’s Word.
The word evil (v. 22) refers to demonic activity and to pernicious moral or doctrinal practices harmful or destructive to one’s life. We are to abstain from every external appearance of evil—not merely some. The word abstain means to hold oneself back. Paul instructed believers to abstain from any sort of practice that would harm or destroy their spiritual lives and testimonies.
These sobering commands in 1 Thessalonians 5:12–22 call for us to take inventory of our lives. Christian growth requires not only the appropriation and practice of principles from God’s Word but also the total rejection of evil. What better time to take inventory of where we stand than now?