Final Instructions

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We’ve all seen that scene in a tv show or movie. Its not an important scene. It is usually just added in as fluff or as an opportunity to provide comic relief.

The scene: Parents are getting ready to leave for a date night, a work event, or a vacation, and they linger around the house giving the babysitter extra instructions.

There are usually some jokes, some sarcasm from the sitter, and the father is usually nagging the mother about being late. It can be funny, but its mostly forgettable. It is however, relatable. Because just about every young (or old) parent has been there. You are leaving the most important things in your life in the hands of someone else. To make matters more nerve wrecking, you’re probably leaving them in the hands of a young, immature teenager because its the best you could afford (I feel ya…). It is your last chance to communicate your instructions before you leave for the night. You hit the highlights and briefly cover the important things that you most likely already exhaustively explained in written form via text or a piece of paper on the kitchen table. Sound familiar?

I have to be honest. I am a new parent to the most amazing little boy in the world. Here’s a cute picture…

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Anyway…being a new parent, my wife and I are huge babies and we’re not quite ready to leave this little dude yet. So I don’t fully understand this concept. But, I can only imagine the ridiculous list we will leave for the poor babysitter (currently accepting applications, btw). Plus, I’ve seen it in a movie…

The point here is that, in the final moments before leaving, we parents try to stress important instructions to the babysitter. Why? Because they are important. Allergies, medicine instructions, bed time routines; these are important rules for a babysitter to follow. We need them to know the important things and so the scene begins.

This is the last message in the 1 Thessalonians series. We are looking at the final instructions that the Apostle Paul gives to the church of Thessalonica. This entire letter has centered around the theme of living a life that is holy and set apart; living a life that is different from the world; living as “imitators of God”. These final verses are no different. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 is Paul’s last chance to communicate important instructions for taking care of one of the most important things in the world to him, his church! So he stresses a couple important details that the church needs to focus on until the next time he encounters them. 16 important details to be exact. The way that I see it, those 16 points can be broken down into three main points (because I’m an evangelical preacher, and that’s what we do. 😉 ). The points are: Strive to do good to each other, Don’t quench the spirit, and to remember that the one who is called us is faithful. Let’s dive in.

Strive to do good to each other.

The majority of Paul’s final instructions are in regards to being good to each other. This is a simple concept. Every one of us was taught as a kid to do good to others. To treat others how you would like to be treated. It’s funny though, for as much as that novel concept is taught, we adults at some point shifted our focus to doing good to ourselves. But a healthy Christian body can only survive when we live not for ourselves, but for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul spends a significant amount of this letter on this topic, and in chapter 5 he gives the church 7 ways they can “strive to do good by each other”.

  • Acknowledgement – Paul’s command to “acknowledge those who work hard among you” can be easily over looked, but in the body we must encourage those that are working hard. Whether they are working hard at their jobs, working hard on their relationships, working hard in the service or ministries, or working hard on their character, we must be intentional about encouraging that work ethic. Barnabas was known as the “son of encouragement” because he was quick to support his brothers and sisters in the ministry. Without Barnabas, we don’t get Paul. Without Paul, we don’t get this letter. You never know the power that lies behind your word of encouragement. So we must acknowledge and honor those who display a pattern of hard work in their life.
  • Live in peace – The next command is to “live in peace with each other”. This is a command repeated by multiple people through out the New Testament. Jesus said “blessed are the peace makers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:9).  “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy;” (Hebrews 12:14). “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Col. 3:15). These are just a few. Clearly, promoting peace is important to a Christ-centered life.
  • Warn those that are idle – In the same way that we must be quick to acknowledge those who are hard at work, we must also be quick to warn those who are idle. Proverbs 16:27 says, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idles lips are his mouth piece.” Our love for one another must include warnings and rebukes when we see each other headed down the wrong way.
  • Encourage the disheartened – Back to encouragement. Encouragement is important for not only those who are doing right, but also for those who are having a hard time. Again, I think of Barnabas. In Acts 15:36-39, we read about a disagreement between Barnabas and Paul that leads to them splitting up. The argument was over John Mark, who at one point was working with them, but left (or deserted them). Paul had no patience for this young kid who couldn’t keep up. Barnabas saw potential in John Mark, and left his mission with Paul to disciple and encourage John Mark. John Mark would go on to write one of the Gospels, and Paul would later describe him as a “very helpful to me in my ministry”. Thank God for the “son of encouragement”. The person who is down or has lost their way needs their church family to come along side them in encouragement.
  • Help the weak – Thomas Aquinas called “charity” one of the Theological Virtues. Not in the “tossing spare change to a guy dressed like Santa Claus” way but in a way that accepts the calling to be the “hands and feet” of God. Aquinas took his virtues from 1 Corinthians 13, where we read faith, hope, and (charity). We translate that word as love now. We use the word love in a lot of different ways.  I love tacos. I love my dogs. I love my wife and son. There are different levels of love. To capture that, Aquinas used the translation “charity” as a means to communicate a love that is moved to action. The resurrected Jesus asked Peter for this same type of love in John 21. Jesus asked for “agape” love, and then commanded “feed my sheep”. Love that breeds response. That is what Paul is commanding here. Help the weak. Help those who are not as strong as you are. The “help” is an expression of the love that Christ demands.
  • Be patient with everyone – I don’t think he really meant this one so lets just gloss over it…jk. I wish I could just skip this one because, honestly, patience is just hard. I’m not talking about patiently waiting to receive answered prayer (that can be hard too). I’m talking about being patient with other people. Paul in other letters referred to this patience as forbearance.  Dealing with people. Putting up with each others. Bearing with each other. We all have our “unique qualities” and those “qualities” are bound to rub someone the wrong way. When we’re impacted by other peoples character, quirks, or even mistakes, we have to deal with those people with patience. This ties in a little bit with being a peacemaker as well as with our next point.
  • Do not pay back wrong for wrong – I love the way the Paul puts this. He just assumes that people are being wronged by others in the church. This is a terrible reality, but it is a reality none the less. The fact is, people in the church will offend you and wrong you because they are human. And where two or three humans are gathered, someone will be offended (I think that’s how that goes). What is important here is that Paul is teaching us how deal with that offense. Don’t repay wrong for wrong. This goes against our natural inclination for payback, as all of Jesus’ teachings do. Once I was playing soccer with my nephew. He was probably five or six. Were playing with some other kids and he’s uber competitive. Anyway, one of the other kids scratched him and his response was, “If you scratch me again, I’ll scratch you even harder!” My initial reaction was to laugh. That was also my secondary reaction. Thinking about it though. He didn’t learn payback from anyone. His natural reaction to being wronged was to wrong the person back. This isn’t a surprise. It is the base reaction we all have when we’re wronged. Paul was calling us to a high standard. Even when you’re wronged, strive to be good to each other.

Do not quench the Spirit.

The second main point of Paul’s final instructions is to not “quench the Spirit”. This is an interesting phraseology. In this context the word quench doesn’t mean to satisfy as in “quench my thirst”. It means to extinguish. Another translation puts it this way, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.” What incredible imagery. The Spirit of God is often referred to as a fire or flame. Paul told timothy to “fan the flame”, Hebrews 12:29 calls God an “all consuming fire”, and in the Old Testament Ezekiel had a vision of the glory of God and in it, he saw a great cloud of fire. Paul’s word creates the image of the Spirit’s fire burning, and we, the church, pouring a bucket of water onto it. Yikes. Paul is warning us against this and he gives 5 ways we can make sure the Spirit’s fire never goes out. (Lev. 6:13).

  • Rejoice always – The best way to put out the fire is to be a grump. The doom and gloom personality has no place in the body of Christ because of the “hope which we profess”. If we break down the word rejoice we get the prefix “re” and the root word joice (from the french word “joiss” meaning “joy”). The prefix “re” indicates repetition. So to rejoice would involve involve expressing joy again. In old english the word rejoice was actually used as a verb meaning, “cause joy to”. In this sense the command to “rejoice always” would mean to continuous cause yourself to feel joy. It is tempting in the world we live in, to have no hope. But we, as Christians, have a blessed hope and because of that we must bring ourselves to joy.
  • Pray continually – This one is pretty straight forward. Prayer is our one means of communication to God. That means that it is the one way we can truly draw close to the Father. We see this in the life of Jesus on earth. Repeatedly, he would retreat to prayer to speak and draw close to the Father. When we pray, we usher in the presence of God. God promised in Jeremiah 33:3 and in James 4:8 that if we draw near to him, He would draw near to us. If we forsake prayer, we are forsaking our only way into the Presence of God.
  • Do not treat prophecies with contempt – I tend to be a more logical thinker. I also firmly believe in Peter’s proclamation in 1 Peter 2:9 that we are a “royal priesthood”. Meaning that we all (all Christians, that is) have to right to bring our prayers and petitions before God and we all have the ability to hear from God. So prophecies are something I always struggled with. I believe in them, but I found them problematic in that certain people would only come to church when a “prophet” was there, as if it was the only time they could hear from God. But they are real and I have watched men and women work in the prophetic in ways that I wouldn’t have believed if I wasn’t there to see it myself. I think about a Misty Edwards song that came out while I was in college. The song itself was pretty prophetic, but it had one line in it that always stuck with me. “I don’t want to be offended when it’s all coming down.” Those lyrics hit me when I first heard them. I don’t want to be the person in the room that stands in the corner judging when the Spirit of God is moving. I want to be in the middle of the movement. I believe that is what Paul is trying to say here. Don’t treat prophecies with contempt. Don’t reject a word from God just because it may be hard to hear or hard to believe.
  • Test all things – On the flip side, don’t believe every word just because someone starts or ends it with ‘thus saith the Lord”. Test all things. Test every word. Sometime the person may truly believe they are hearing from God and they just aren’t. It’s not shocking that we fallible creatures sometimes confuse our own voice for Gods. That is why it is important to test what we’ve heard by what we know to be true. The Bible is our constant, our Truth. So we must run everything through the filter of scripture. Filters, particularly water filters have an incredible ability now. We have filters that will take sewage water and purify it so that it is safe to drink. The filters job is to separate what is bad from what is good. That is the command that Paul gives us. “Hold on to what its good, reject every kind of evil.” We have to remember to filter every word, spirit, circumstance, and pretty much everything else under the sun. We must trust in the Word of God and the Spirit’s ability to discern to help us as we wade through the mirky waters here on earth.

He who calls is faithful.

The last point Paul makes is about God’s faithfulness. Paul mentions two ways that God will be faithful.

  • To sanctify us through and through – In the previous chapter we read about God’s plan for us to be “sanctified”. Sanctification means the process of being made holy. Here Paul is reminding them once more of the calling to sanctification that they have received. But he includes this encouraging word that “the one would called us (to be sanctified) is faithful to do it. God has given us a promise that when we submit to Him, that He would make us holy. Thank you Jesus. We are not left here alone trying to reach some goal that is completely unattainable. We have the help of the Spirit, who is constantly at work in us, bringing us to holiness.
  • To keep our whole spirit blameless – Paul divides our “spirit” into two parts, body and soul. This is to help us understand that their are ways that we can corrupt our “spirit” that are both in the physical (body) and in the spiritual (soul). The promise that we are given here is that God will be faithful to keep our “whole spirit” blameless until the coming of the Lord. This presents an interesting question. Can a person on earth truly remain blameless before God? We read about people that were “blameless” before God in the scripture. People like Job, Encoch, even David tried to refer to himself as “blameless before God”. But were those people truly blameless? We know Job questioned God’s judgment, that certain was right before God. We know a whole lot about Enoch, but he couldn’t have been perfect. Maybe he was and thats why God removed him from the earth. David certainly wasn’t blameless and I crack up every time I read Psalm 18. We, however, have been given the power of the Holy Spirit of God. Yet, even with the Spirit dwelling within me, I make mistakes all the time (just ask my wife). So how do we justify this promise from God that we will be kept blameless until Jesus comes back? Well, there are two things we have to understand. First, God is able to keep us from stumbling (Jude 1:24). When we surrender our lives to God, by the power of his spirit we will walk away from temptation that we would have jumped at in our own flesh. We unfortunately don’t always operate under the power of the spirit, and sometimes we let our flesh creep in. Its for this reason that we must understand the second thing. We have to recognize that God is not promising that we won’t make mistakes. He is promising that we will be “blameless” before him. We are blameless before God, not because our own actions, but because of Christ’s actions. We are covered by the blood of the Lamb, and therefore we are no longer held to our sin. Christ’s blood has separated us from our sin and made us holy. Christ’s blood makes us blameless.

Gods promise in verses 23-24 is that God is faithful to bring us to the holiness that we have been called to. He is faithful to help us resist temptation, He is faithful to keep us from stumbling, and when we fall short, He is faithful to cover us with the blood of the Lamb and present us before God as blameless. He is truly a wonderful Savior.

1 Thessalonians is rich with theology, instruction, and encouragement. It lays out a calling for us follower of Christ to be imitators of God. It instructs us on how we can live a life that is holy and set apart from this world. And it encourages us that we have a God who is doing this work in our life and is faithful to complete it. I pray that we can all take the instruction we received from 1 Thessalonians and we can live lives that please God. That, unlike the babysitters in our movie scene, the instructions we have received will be taken to heart. That we would apply them. That we would be good to one another and not quench the spirit. That we would remember who it is that has called us. Thank you Lord for your faithfulness. Amen.

Annnnnnnnnnnd scene.

Ps: Yes, I did not talk about the holy kiss thing. 😉