Practical Instruction From 1 Thessalonians 5:14-17
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing…—1 Thessalonians 5:14-17
This passage is placed in the closing section of Paul’s letter where he is giving very explicit instructions to the church concerning how they should think and conduct themselves as they await the second-coming of our Lord Jesus (4:13-5:11). It is important that we understand this is not just helpful advice for how to live a happy and fulfilling life. Paul is urging the church to behave in these ways because this is how we not only “please God” (4:1) but as we will memorize next week, “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (5:18).
It is not always easy to discern the will of God for our lives but certainly there is no ambiguity here. As a follower of Christ Jesus my heart wants to be the kind of person that can graciously “admonish the idle”. I want to be the “aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15) who is known as a person who consistently and patiently encourages “the fainthearted” and helps “the weak”.
Memorizing portions of scripture like this helps to sustain the desire and longing in my heart to be more like Christ in these ways and to pursue God’s clearly stated will for my life. I have also discovered that memorizing passages like this helps guard my heart from the self-righteousness and spiritual pride that is “crouching at the door” (Genesis 4:7).
Perhaps Paul should have prefaced these words with “do your best” or “try hard to”. Instead he leaves very little room for pride to get a foot in the door. With words like “all” and “no one” and “everyone” and “always” and “without ceasing” he exposes the truth that I am not yet fully sanctified.
Without the thread of Gospel hope that winds its way through this letter, this seemingly impossible standard could prompt us to throw up our despairing hands and give up trying to do the will of God and live in a manner pleasing to him.
Paul begins these final instructions to the church by writing in 4:1: "…we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more."
In a similar way, Paul writes in 5:11: "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
Paul acknowledges evidence of grace in the church (“just as you are doing”) and then he challenges us to “do so more and more” rather than throwing up our hands in despair.
These standards that seem so far from what we can attain are “the will of God”—but they are “the will of God in Christ Jesus” (5:18) and we must encourage each other to “do so more and more” while keeping before us what Paul wrote a few verses earlier in 5:9, “God has not destined us for wrath but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Apart from him we not only fail to achieve “always” and “without ceasing”. We fail to “do so more and more”. However in Christ Jesus we can do “all things” (Philippians 4:13).
Anticipating the coming of our Lord Jesus (5:3) Paul concludes this letter by affirming that the “God of peace” is able to sanctify us completely and keep our whole being (“spirit and soul and body”) blameless until Christ appears (5:23).
So in gospel hope, let us pursue the will of God with all our hearts so that we might “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing…” because “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (5:24)!