1 Thessalonians 5:18-22
Posted January 27, 2014
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
This week’s verses are a continuation from last week (to see verses 14-17, go to http://theversesproject.com/verses/118/1-Thessalonians-5.14-17). Paul continues where he left off:
God’s Will For Your Life
What is God’s will for your life? Here Paul tells us: it is to give thanks in all circumstances. These words weren’t spoken by Paul in isolation from suffering. Both Paul and the church in Thessalonica were very aware that there might be suffering for the sake of Christ (and actually because of Christ). Regardless of our outer circumstances, God has called us to give thanks. For those in an easier season of greener pastures and quiet waters, it may feel easier. However, for those who are in a harder season, walking through the valley of the shadow of death, it may feel like a discipline (and giving thanks at time can be a beautiful discipline to cultivate). The two verses that preceded this one help frame this in a helpful light. We rejoice always but also pray continually. Giving thanks in all circumstances and rejoicing always does not simply mean, “Get over it and suck it up and put on your happy face.” It means work to find joy in Jesus and not in “stuff” or a season or a promotion or a relationship. God is our greatest gift, and He is steady though seasons of life be unsteady. In this, give thanks!
Quenching the Spirit, Prophecy, Testing, Good & Evil
Paul proceed to instruct those in Thessalonica to not quench the Holy Spirit. How were they were quenching the Spirit? Through despising prophecy. Here we land in controversial waters! The questions arise: how do we define prophecy? Is this specific gift still at work today? If so, how? There are two general camps in evangelical Christianity. One side would say that the charismatic gifts of the Spirit ceased (cessationists), while the other side would say they are still very much alive and well and at work in the church today (continuationists). For further exploration of these two views, see Thomas Schreiner’s blog here for the cessationist’s view (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2014/01/23/why-i-am-a-cessationist/) and Sam Storm’s blog here for the continuationist’s view (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2014/01/23/why-i-am-a-continuationist/).
Regardless of your understanding of the role of prophecy in the church, both sides can agree that we want to be a Church that does not quench the Spirit, that remains open to God and the move of His Spirit, while also holding whatever revelation might be given up to the light of God’s Word. Paul then taught that if a prophetic word was given, it shouldn’t be despised but also not be mindlessly received. The word needed to be tested! Did the word agree with God’s already revealed Word? All words must be assessed by God’s Word. On the same note, if a preached word is given in a church, would we not also want to test this word like the Bereans (Acts 17:11)? Just because someone stands behind a pulpit does not give their words authentic“God-weight”. We should hold fast to what is good.
Paul finishes this exhortation with a call to abstain from every form of evil. Gordon Fee connects this to the prior thought of testing prophecy, and believes that Paul is calling the readers to “reject whatever is harmful.”. Others take it to mean it’s a broader call to abstain from evil. If this is the case, there are a couple observations: First, that we are the ones responsible to abstain (refrain, to restrain oneself). Though God empowers us to do this, it’s something we must choose to do! Secondly, we are to abstain from every form of evil. Evil is not one dimensional. It finds itself both in functional and dysfunctional packaging. May God, in His great mercy, give us eyes to see every form of evil and then abstain from it!
Song by Chris Clark.
Artwork by Jonathan Lindsey.