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Future Glory | Present Trial: 1 Thess. 5:14-18

1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 :: Intramural Actions

The text before us today is a staccato collection of nine commands, as if Paul anticipates the close of his first letter to the young church at Thessalonica and wants to maximize his final words.

The text is so simple, let’s press in to the words a bit more than we usually do. Studying individual words and doing some cross referencing will help us grasp the full weight of these nine commands and the words attached to them.

  • Admonish - This word is used 8 times in the NT and is not the same as “teaching,” with which is it often paired. This word means to instruct, correct or warn in a significant, necessary and even urgent way. Paul seems to like the word, as all but one use in Acts 20 are his. For more context, see 1 Corinthians 4:14; Colossians 1:28; Colossians 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:15; Romans 15:14.

    The Unruly - This word can also mean insubordinate, disorderly, those that get out of step [with the leader] and go their own way, or simply the undisciplined. This is the only time it is used in the NT, so most of our knowledge of the word comes from Greek sources outside of the Bible.

  • Encourage - This particular word is only used four times in the NT, twice in John 11 for the Jews consoling Mary on the death of Lazarus, and twice in 1 Thessalonians, here and 2:12. The word means to console or cheer up, and seems often connected to the event of death or tragic events.

    The Fainthearted - Unfortunately, this word is only used here in the NT, which limits our understanding of it by larger context. But with other uses in Greek literature and the Greek translation of the OT, it seems to mean discouraged, feeble-minded, fainthearted and the “diminished motivation for the attainment of some goal.” Louw-Nida.

  • Help - This particular word in only used 4 times in the NT, and it means to have a strong attachment to, cling to, hold fast, be devoted to something or someone, or to have a strong interest in, to help. It is used in Titus 1:9 and the parallel texts of Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13.

  • The Weak - This word is popular in the NT by comparison, being used 25 times of those that are weak, ill, sick, without strength both physically and morally, thus morally weak or wanting in courage or will. If it does not refer to a physical illness or sickness, the word tends to refer to experiential incapacity or limitation, thus weak. This can be physical weakness, general ineffectiveness or refer to the inner life or morality and faith. This last point likely carries the force of Paul’s use here without neglecting the possibility of the others.

  • Be Patient - This verb is used 10 times in the NT and the cognate noun is used 14 times. It means to wait well, to remain tranquil while waiting, to have patience, to be forbearing and even to delay. In Paul’s use in 1 Thessalonians 5, he commands the church to bear up under provocation without complaint. See also 1 Corinthians 13:4 and 2 Peter 3:9.

    With Everyone - This root word is used 1,239 times in the NT. Yep. It means all. Every. Everyone. Everybody. Nobody left out.

  • See to it - This simple command verb “to see” is used 113 times in the NT, mostly of sight and perception. But here it is unique in that it refers to being on guard or on alert, to pay close attention, to “see to it that.” For this kind of usage, see also Matthew 8:4; 16:6; 18:10; 24:6.

    No one Repays another evil for evil - This word means to reward or punish, depending on what is deserved or needed. It is a basic word. Obviously, Paul is passionately pleading and commanding an atmosphere of forgiveness and grace. Repaying evil for evil when someone sins against you (which is inevitable to some degree) only creates an endless cycle of retribution and vengeance. These only belong to the One who sees and knows the heart.

  • But Seek - This word is used 45 times in the NT and means to pursue, participate in an activity, to hasten, to run, to press on, to chase and even to persecute. It’s not hard to imagine the wide range of options for “to seek.” In Paul’s usage here, we must consider what comes with this particular command: “seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.”

    The Good for One Another and for all - This stands in contrast to repaying evil for evil. Seeking after that which is good, beneficial, helpful, excellent, admirable, generous, noble, gentle and kind. This word is used 101 times in the NT.

  • Rejoice - The common word in the NT is used 74 times and describes a state of happiness, well being, gladness and rejoicing. It means all that you think it means in a pure and good sense. It is used widely by every author in the NT, with the exception of Hebrews.

    Always - This is a related word to “all” or “everyone” above, and it used 41 times. It means always. All the time. At all times. Every occasion. Never not.

  • Pray - Like “rejoice” above, this word is very common, used 86 times. It means to petition a deity, thus to pray. Prayer is the action of dependent people, those that understand their place under the sovereign rule of the Creator of Heaven and Earth. But the Creator is also a good, benevolent, gracious, merciful, tender Father who invites us to ask Him for things. So prayer is also the language of intimacy and family.

    Without ceasing - this single word in Greek means unintermitting, unceasingly, with unflagging resolve. Of course the idea of resolve is critical to this word meaning, as commitment, discipline, determination and perseverance are required to do something as important as prayer, without ceasing.

  • Give thanks - This is the Greek verbal root for the English word “eucharist.” It is used 38 times and means to be impressed with the feeling of gratitude for kindness received, to express appreciation for benefits or blessings, to be thankful, to give thanks, to return thanks, or to show that one is under obligation. It is so appropriate for worship of God, it is even used outside of the Bible as an equivalent to “to pray.”

    In Everything - see “everyone” above. Same word.

Is there potentially a way to understand these words and phrases in smaller groups with specific meaning rather than one lump sum of nine commands? Consider this:

Verse 14 - FOUR Commands of Discerning: a single verse of specific actions and attitudes asking believers to consider the person in front of them right now. Who are they? What is their story? What do they need? The final one is a catch all command that applies to both the discerning act and the people involved.
1. Admonish the unruly
2. Encourage the fainthearted
3. Help the weak
4. Be Patient with everyone

Verse 15 - TWO Commands of Protecting: a single verse with two specific, elongated and explained commands that apply to everyone, clarifying an expectation and responsibility for the whole body.
1. See to it no one repays evil for evil
2. Seek after the good for one another and everyone

Verses 16-18 - THREE Commands of Centering: three general, common, central actions for the body of Christ that help them center on Father, Son and Spirit.
1. Verse 16 - Rejoice always
2. Verse 17 - Pray without ceasing
3. Verse 18a - In all things give thanks

I belabor the background, usage, definitions and potential categorization of these words to drive home one simple point: the simplicity of this text and these words camouflages the great depth of meaning and import they convey. These commands were written to the church. They still are. Verse 14 begins with “We urge you, brethren.” This means that all of this is for the church. The passage ends with “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This perfectly aligns with the beginning of verse 14 and reminds us, this is for the church, for those that are “in Christ Jesus.”

This means that you have a lot of work to do. You, believer, have to sit with each of these commands and lay them over your heart and actions. How do you measure up?

Group Discussion Questions:
  1. Have a member of your group read 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 out loud. Which one of these nine commands jumps out at you first? Why? Share with your group.
  2. How does the beginning of verse 14 and the end of verse 18 help you understand that these commands are operative for the whole church, within the whole church?
  3. Did you find the three categories shared above a helpful way to understand the nine commands? Why? How would you improve or change the scheme?
  4. How does the command “admonish the unruly” make you uncomfortable? Why? How have you seen this done well? See the meanings of the words above in the notes.
  5. How might you identify someone in the church who is fainthearted? How would you live out this command?
  6. What do you think Paul means by “weak”? What kind of “help” do you think he commands?
  7. How does patience cover all of the first three actions (and likely all the rest)? What about relational patience is most difficult for you? Share with your group.
  8. When relational hurts, disappointments or failures come along, how might you be tempted to seek your own form of “justice”? How do you typically respond to conflict? How are you learning to grow into a more healthy, biblical, Jesus-like conflict posture?
  9. Within a church family, describe what it means to “seek after that which is good for one another and everyone.”
  10. Do you think those who know you well would describe you as joyful? Why or why not? How can you enjoy and exhibit more joy in your life?
  11. How is your prayer life? Share honestly with your group.
  12. How can you grow in gratitude? How important is giving thanks within the larger body of the church? What would be the effect if all expressions of gratitude were deleted?
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