#204 “Follow These 7 Commands” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22)
Paul issues seven commands or exhortations. The first three are personal exhortations: rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks (vss. 16-18). The final four exhortations are corporate: do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophecy, discern what is good, and abstain from every form of evil. Paul’s purpose isn’t so much elaborating on each exhortation but simply listing certain priorities for a Christian to live by. The exhortations (5:16-22) are only possible if a Christian is walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. 1 Cor. 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
- 16 Rejoice always—The word rejoice means “to have inner/deep gladness.” The Bible tells us that the “joy of the Lord” is our strength (Neh. 8:10). Phil. 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, “The uniqueness of Christian joy lies in its emergence under adverse circumstances.”
- 17 pray without ceasing, The GK word for ceasing is adialeiptōs—constantly, continually. This does not mean Christians are to pray nonstop all day. What Paul means is our prayers are to be consistent and persistent (not flippant). As Jesus taught his disciples, our prayer lives are to consist with asking, seeking, and knocking (see Matt. 7:7-8). Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
- 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and now to be thankful in every aspect of their lives. Give thanks—We are to live our lives with gratitude and thanksgiving to God. Job’s life is a testimony of someone who rejoiced in the Lord despite his personal tragedy and painful losses. Paul isn’t saying Christians are to give thanks “for” every circumstance but “in the midst” of all circumstances. We are to trust that our hope in God is far greater than the painful situation we might find ourselves in. Paul affirms, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is the will of God—God’s will for his children is that they rejoice, pray fervently, and have thankful hearts. Another passage where Paul consolidates three exhortations is Rom. 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”
- Eph. 5:4, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
- Eph. 5:20, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
- Col. 2:7, “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
- 19 Do not quench the Spirit. Paul divides vss. 19-22 into two parts: (1) vs. 19-20, he lists two negative commands regarding the Holy Spirit and prophecy, and (2) vs. 21-22, he lists two positive commands that help the Christian avoid believing a false teaching or a false word. Do not quench—In the GK it reads, “sbennymi mē sbennymi ho pneuma.” The language captures a strong action of pouring water over a fire. NIV Quest Study Bible, “There are at least two ways individuals can put out the fire of the Spirit: (1) by not acknowledging the Spirit’s power and freedom to act, or (2) by attempting to do the Spirit’s work in human strength. It is probable that Paul had spiritual gifts in mind and wanted people to be open to the work of the Spirit. He wanted the Thessalonians to permit the use of spiritual gifts so the church could be built up.” In Eph. 4:30, Paul also instructs Christians not to “grieve the Holy Spirit.” Christians are not to discourage the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives but are to allow him to manifest his gifts in their lives. Paul is particularly speaking of prophecy (v. 20). Instead, Christians are to be under the control of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18) and to walk in-step with him (Gal. 5:16).
- 20 Do not despise prophecies, Paul doesn’t provide specifics on what prophecy is in this section of his letter but unpacks it in 1 Corinthians 14. In ancient times, younger prophets sat at the feet of senior prophets who taught them the truth of God against false prophesies (see 1 Sam. 19:20; 2 Kgs. 6:1-3). Do not despise—On the one hand, Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians not to reject, question, or suspend prophecies altogether. There are some prophecies that are spoken by a man or woman of God that speak an authoritative message that aligns with the Word of God (see Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28; Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 14:3).
- 1 Cor. 14:22-25, “Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a signnot for unbelievers but for believers. 23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
- 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. Christians are to be discerning and careful in what they believe to be true for their lives. The apostle John writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already” (1 Jn. 4:1-3). 22 Abstain (“hold yourselves free from”) from every form of evil. Paul designates this portion of his letter to warn the Thessalonians not to believe or involve themselves in prophecies that are not of the Holy Spirit. Christians are called to distinguish the good from the bad and avoid being influenced by ideologies that are of the world.