The Marks of a Healthy Church Family
Clear Thinking About the End Which Leads to Christ-like Living in the Present
Ignorance is not Bliss - Always Being with Jesus Is
A Reminder that Holiness and Purity Matter
An Encouragement to Excel Still More in an Encouraging Way
Missing Each Other Without Missing the Mark
Getting The Most Out of Time In God's Word
Bible First, Bible Most
Get Used to Different
Leaders That Create Churches Others Are Thankful For
A Letter of Thanks to a Church to Be Thankful For
As we finish studying the book of 1 Thessalonians, David Leventhal walks us through verses 12-18 in chapter five, teaching us that God-honoring families always have servant leaders, grateful members, healthy relationships & God-honoring gatherings.
Good morning, Watermark. It is great to be with you virtually. I long for the day when we don't have to do this only by streaming but we can be together in person. If I've not had a chance to meet you, my name is David Leventhal, and I get the privilege of serving on the elder team here at Watermark with Brian and Beau and Todd, and it is a joy and a gift to get to be with you this morning.
We are going to be polishing off our series of 1 Thessalonians this morning. We started this way back at the end of February, and we were in a different world at that time. We are just now coming to the end. Today, I get to cover the second half of chapter 5. Just as a reminder, because we've been in this book for a couple of months… Let me remind you of what Todd has covered and led us through these last 10 to 12 weeks.
In chapter 1 of 1 Thessalonians, Paul shares about how these believers came to know Jesus Christ. They turned from idols to a living God. In chapter 2, he talks about his way of life. Paul and Silvanus and Timothy had come to visit these folks in Thessalonica, and Paul shares how he was there and poured himself out for them and labored and toiled to serve them.
In chapter 3, Paul explains why he was unable to return to them. Paul desperately wanted to get back to see these friends he loved, but he was unable to, so he sends Timothy, his ambassador, to go check on this church to see how they were doing. Timothy brings back this great report that these believers were standing fast in the Lord.
In chapter 4, Paul kind of hits the clutch and changes gears. He moves into a time of instruction and teaching, and he starts to remind them, "Hey, we're called to be holy and to be sanctified. We need to be reminded that we don't need to grieve as those who have no hope when we have brothers and sisters who have died," which was happening in this church. They were being persecuted and suffering, and some of them had lost their lives.
In chapter 5, Paul reminds them that the day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night and we need to be ready. We need to be people of the day and keep awake and alert. Now, as we get to the end of this book, Paul is going to tie it all together. What we're going to see in verses 12-28 of chapter 5 are the marks of a healthy family. What should the family of God, the local expression, the local body of Christ…?
What does a healthy church look like? Paul is going to run us through what that looks like. When I'm done, hopefully, we'll have a good idea of how we, as brothers and sisters in the Lord, are to relate to one another. Now, if you're like me (and some of you may be like me), I like to know where I'm going, so let me give you a quick overview of what we're going to find in verses 12-28. I've kind of divided this passage into five sections.
We're going to see in the first part that a healthy family has servant leaders and grateful members. We're also going to see that a healthy family has healthy relationships. That makes sense. How do we, as brothers and sisters, get along in the body? How do we get along with one another? We're going to see that in a section. We're going to see what it looks like to have God-centered gatherings.
Unfortunately, we're not together in person, but you're with maybe family and your Community Group, so you're gathering as the local church. What do God-centered gatherings look like? He's going to move from that instruction, and he's going to close out the letter. He's going to give this amazing benediction where he's going to pray for the church and remind them of God's faithfulness, and then he's going to close the letter out with a couple of "Hey, by the way, don't forget to do this, this, and this." It's an amazing section.
What we're going to find when we're all done here is that God-honoring families always have servant leaders, grateful members, healthy relationships, and God-honoring gatherings. Now, at the end of this letter, Paul is going to put this church under oath to have his letter read before the brothers and sisters, so I want to obey Paul. I want to read to you verses 12-28 in its entirety, and then we'll double-click into it and break it down. Okay? Before I do that, let me pray for us.
Father, thank you for a chance to be together this morning. Thank you for the sufficiency of your Word, for Paul and Silvanus and Timothy and their faithfulness to this local church in Thessalonica thousands of years ago. Thank you that the words Paul penned are as applicable to us today as they were to those believers who got it read to them for the first time. I pray for our hearts this morning, that we would be reminded of your care and of your goodness and of your love for us; we would be reminded that while we were sinners, you sent your Son to die for us. We give this time to you. In Jesus' name, amen.
If you have your Bibles, we have work to do, friends. Crack that bad boy open. Come with me to chapter 5, and let's start in verse 12.
"We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, 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, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." Amen. Man, that is good! There is a lot in there.
The first thing we're going to see is that a God-honoring family has servant leaders and grateful members. We're going to see what the leaders are responsible for doing and what the response of the members is. The first thing is we see that Paul says, "We ask you, brothers, to respect [or acknowledge or appreciate] those who labor among you and are over you [or care for you] in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them [or to hold them in high regard] very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves."
The first thing I think is helpful to notice is that Paul does not identify who these people are by their position. There's no noun to say these are elders, these are deacons, these are overseers. We don't know what role these individuals Paul is discussing have in the church. The reason we don't is Paul is not concerned about that right now. What he wants us to see is they are identified by their labor, not by their position.
The reality is in leadership, in Christian leadership especially, authority is not about your rank or your title but about the way you serve other people. That's the mark of Christ-exalting leadership. We see that Paul identifies these folks (we don't know who they are), and he identifies three things they are doing that are blessing and serving the church. Let's double-click in each one.
Paul mentions they are "laboring among you." The Greek word here, this labor… This is get dirt under your fingernails. This is toil labor. This is striving and growing weary. This is "get after it," "get your hands dirty" kind of work. These leaders in the Thessalonian church were getting after it. They were among the people working. They were doing the work of the ministry, equipping others to do the work.
So they were laboring, but they weren't just laboring. Paul says they were "over you in the Lord." This verb over you in the Lord in the Greek is a broad word, and it carries a lot of meaning to it. Part of the meaning is this pastoral care. Paul uses this same word three times in 1 Timothy 3 to describe the qualifications for an elder and a deacon. He says, "This man ought to be able to manage his own household well." Manage is the same word. "Because if he can't manage his household, how can he manage the family of God?"
As a father and as a husband in my own family, I know that part of managing my family is to care for them, to make sure they're fed, to provide vision and "Hey, here's where we're headed as a family." Paul says these leaders in the church were doing the same thing. "They were over you in the Lord, caring for you in the Lord."
Again, Christian leadership is best defined not by who you are over but by who you're under, who you're serving. Jesus makes this crazy clear in the Gospels. I could have picked a half a dozen seminal passages where Jesus makes this clear. I do want to look at one, though. Let's look at Mark, chapter 10, verses 42-45. He calls the disciples to him and says:
"You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all." Why? "For even the Son of Man [God in the flesh] came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." In leadership, we care for people not by lording it over them but by serving them, by caring for them, by making sure their needs are met.
Lastly, these leaders were admonishing. Admonishing is when we gently but clearly point out to people, "Hey, the things you're doing are not helpful. They're hurtful. They're sinful. They're going to cause you pain. They're going to cause pain in the lives of the folks around you." So these folks were admonishing the members in the Thessalonian church. Admonishment is the warn and reprove and sometimes the church discipline part of leadership.
This shouldn't have been a surprise to the Thessalonians, because this is exactly what Paul and Silvanus and Timothy modeled when they were there. Paul mentions this way back in 1 Thessalonians 2. If you think back to some of the teaching we had a couple of months ago, Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2… He reminds them. "For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil…" Sound familiar?
"…we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you…" Sound familiar? "…and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory."
What Paul and Silvanus and Timothy had done for this church when they were there… Paul is saying, "You have leaders now that we've gone who are still doing that for you." Let me give you two application points from these first couple of verses. First, healthy families are always marked by servant leaders. Here's my challenge to you: if the leaders of the church you're a part of, whether it's Watermark or maybe you're tuning in from another state and you're a member of another church or maybe you're just checking this out…
If your leaders are not marked by their labor among you, their care for you, and their admonishment toward you, then the most caring thing I can do is admonish you to find new leaders, because a healthy family always has these kinds of leaders. But also, if you do have those kinds of leaders, healthy families are always marked by members who are appreciative of their leaders.
The most natural response to godly, servant, Christlike leadership ought to be one of respect and acknowledgement and appreciation. How are you doing at demonstrating that toward the folks who are leading you? Are you respectful and are you acknowledging their effort and their work in the Lord for you on your behalf? Are you appreciative of them? Because a God-honoring family always has servant leaders and grateful members.
Not only that, but a God-honoring family has healthy relationships. That's the next section we're going to be tuning into, verses 14 and 15. A healthy family always has healthy relationships. Paul is going to break this down into two categories. He wants us to talk about three individual types of people in particular, and then he's going to zoom out the camera lens and talk about how we deal with healthy relationships in general.
In the particular, he says in verse 14, "And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle [or the unruly or undisciplined] , encourage the fainthearted [or the discouraged or disheartened] , help the weak, be patient with them all." That's the particular, and then he's going to go into the more general and say, "See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone."
Healthy families are patient toward and care for one another. One of the three in particular that Paul deals with is the idle. "Admonish the idle." This is the same Greek word he just used about the leaders a couple of verses back. Paul was addressing those within the church at Thessalonica who were unwilling to work.
If you recall from earlier in chapter 5 and chapter 4, this church had a lot of questions about the coming of the Lord, and they were expecting the Lord Jesus Christ to return imminently. The reality is he could return at any point. He could return today, and I pray he does. So they thought to themselves, "If Jesus is coming back in the next week, I don't need to work. Why would I go out and get a job and labor? I'll just wait for him to come back." And they were becoming a burden on the community.
Paul addresses this in 1 Thessalonians 4, the second half of verse 10 to verse 12. He says, "But we urge you, brothers, to do this…" The this is to love each other more and more. "…and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one." Whatever was going on in that church, Paul also felt compelled to bring this up again in his next letter, 2 Thessalonians. He brings the same issue up to these folks. Second Thessalonians 3:6-12:
"Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.
It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living."
There was an idleness problem in this church, because they were expecting the return of the Lord to come at any point, so, "What's the point?" Can I just suggest to you that I think there's an idleness we are also in danger of? Not because we necessarily expect the Lord Jesus Christ to return tomorrow, although he could and we ought to live like that (that was the point of the first part of chapter 5), but I think there's an idleness in our circles because we don't expect Jesus to return tomorrow or next week or next month.
We live our lives with no intentionality, without any sort of focus on the fact that Jesus Christ is coming back to get his people and we will be held accountable. We're not like a soldier who stays focused on his duties so he wouldn't be entangled in civilian affairs. We're not like an athlete who works and competes so he can earn a prize or a farmer who gets up every morning to till the land, to work hard, so he has crops. That's what Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 2.
We can become idle for a different reason, but it's still the same sin. It's the sin of idleness, and God does not want us to be idle. He wants us to be focused on day by day taking ground in our walk with Jesus. But it's not just that we want to admonish the idle. He wants us to encourage the fainthearted. As we went through this letter, is there any doubt why the believers in this church might be a little bit fainthearted? I mean, look at some of the things we've covered in these first four and a half chapters.
We have seen that these believers' friends and family were dying, were being persecuted. They themselves were experiencing persecution and suffering. In chapter 2 we read about that. They were trying to live this God-honoring life, and sometimes they were failing to do so. That's chapter 4, verses 3-8. Then there was the delayed absence of Paul who had to leave them so quickly, as we read in the book of Acts the first week we did this series. He had to be rushed off because of dangers.
So is it any wonder that they were a little bit fainthearted and needed some encouragement? No. Of course not. Then Paul says we need to help the weak. Whether they're weak physically or weak spiritually, we are called to jump in there and help hold one another up. Then he says, "Be patient with them all. Be longsuffering with them all." The all in this context are the three groups Paul just talked about.
Paul is saying, "Look. Don't be short or impatient with those who are idle or those who are discouraged or those who are weak, but be patient with them, because God wants to move them along in their spiritual life. Be longsuffering." This is what Psalm 103 says. "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast [loyal, patient] love."
That's how we are to treat folks in our body who are our family members who are struggling. We're not to just kick them to the curb. We admonish them gently, clearly, letting them know why what they're doing is not helpful. We're encouraging them. "Hey, man, God is faithful. He's going to see you through this." We come alongside. We provide what they need to keep going.
So, let me give you a couple of application points from this section. First, what we expect from our leaders is what we should expect from ourselves. Why do I say that? Let me connect a couple of dots for you here. We just read in chapter 5, verses 12-13… We started with this idea that a leader's job is to admonish those who need it. Now we see Paul telling the believers in this church, "Hey, your job is also to admonish the idle." Same Greek word.
We saw in chapter 2, verses 11-12, that Paul encouraged these believers. Now we see in these verses that these members are also called to encourage the fainthearted. Same Greek word. We saw in chapter 2, verse 7, that Paul was gentle among these believers, like a mother, caring for them. He was tender. Now we see that he's saying, "Hey, help the weak. Be patient with them all." We are to be tender and kind with one another.
What we expect from our leaders is what we should expect from each other. There is no JV ranking system in the Christian life. Whether you have known Jesus for one day or you've been walking with him faithfully for 50 years, we are all called to grow and to encourage and to move in our ability to love and serve the body of Christ. This isn't just for "leadership." This is for all of us.
The second application point is that there is always room in the family of God for more encouragement, for more help, for more patience, and from time to time, for more admonishment. There's always room for that in the body of Christ. This is so relevant to us right now as we are in the midst of this crazy season. We have members of our body… You may have friends you know who are struggling, who are fainthearted, who feel weak.
Paul is admonishing this church, and he's admonishing us through the Scriptures in the Spirit, "Don't forget these people." "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" is what he tells the church in Galatia (Galatians 6:2). So he moves from the three in particular (the idle, the fainthearted, and the weak), and now he's going to zoom the camera lens back and give us some guidance for all people.
He's going to say, "See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone." Now, this idea of not repaying evil for evil is all over your New Testament. Jesus teaches on it in Matthew 5 and Luke 6. The apostle Paul teaches on it not only in this passage but also in Romans 12. John the apostle talks about it in 1 John 3:11-15. Peter talks about it in 1 Peter 2 and 1 Peter 3.
You would have to not be paying attention to your Bible to miss this idea that we are called to not repay evil for evil. In fact, let's read this 1 Peter 2 passage. First Peter 2:21-23: "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." What was his example?
"He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten…" Why didn't he do any of those things? Why didn't he revile or threaten? " [Because he] continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly." That's the reason we as believers are called to not repay evil for evil: because God's job is to repay evil for evil, not my job, not your job.
Not only are we not to repay evil for evil; we're to do something crazy. We're to pursue goodness toward those who hate us, goodness toward those who are persecuting us. Remember, we're not talking about Dallas, Texas, 2020, where you might get some negative feedback on your Facebook post about a Bible verse. These believers were being persecuted. They were suffering. They were losing their lives, and Paul says, "Don't repay evil for evil. I know you want to," because that's native to the human heart, to want revenge. "Let God be God, but you repay evil with good." How insane is that?
Let me give you two application points. I'm going to give it to you in the positive, and then I want to phrase it to you in the negative. In the positive, forgiveness, goodness toward one another, and a willingness to let God have the final word are defining features of the Christ follower. If you claim Jesus Christ, one of the things that should mark you, that should define you, that should be a staple in your life is a willingness to forgive, to move toward one another in goodness, and to let God have the final word.
Let me say the same thing to you but in the negative. It is a contradiction to call yourself a Christian, for me to call myself a Christian, and have a life that's characterized by revenge. Living like that is an acknowledgment that you do not believe God is who he says he is and that he's going to do what he says he's going to do. You are essentially living a life that is a practical atheism if you live a life that's characterized by revenge and vengeance.
Guys, let me tell you, it is hard work to trust that God will make all things right and whatever wrongs I face unjustly in this world…not the wrongs I bring on myself, which are plenty, but the wrongs that are done to me for my faith because I'm walking with Jesus… God will make it all right. A God-honoring family always has healthy relationships with each other and with the world.
Paul is going to move on. He's going to say that God-honoring families also have God-centered gatherings. Paul says in verse 16 and on: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil."
We're tempted, because we're Westerners and in the Western world it's all about the individual, to take these commands and individualize them. David should rejoice always. David should pray without ceasing. And that's true in some respects, but in the context here, Paul is talking about when this church comes together, what their corporate gathering is supposed to look like. The context right after this makes this clear and the context before this makes this clear.
This is about their corporate gatherings. When they get together, what should their corporate gatherings look like? Paul says, "You should rejoice always." This isn't just the happy-go-lucky kind of rejoicing. This is essentially a call to worship. Philippians 4 is a great cross-reference here where Paul says to the church in Philippi, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." This is a call to worship. We're to rejoice in God.
If you aren't sure what that looks like, we should go to the Psalms, because the Psalms are replete with this idea of rejoicing. Let me just rattle off a couple to you. Psalm 9:1: "I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds." Psalm 13:6: "I will sing to the Lord , because he has dealt bountifully with me." Psalm 31:7: "I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul…"
Psalm 59:16: "But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress." Psalm 89:1: "I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord , forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations." Psalm 95:1: "Oh come, let us sing to the Lord ; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!" And on and on and on and on it goes in the book of Psalms.
We are called when we're together to rejoice, to give our praise to God. I love what Spurgeon said. He said that the Lord is the giver of our song. He puts it in our hearts. He is the subject of our song and our rejoicing. We sing to him of all that he has done on our behalf. And he is the object of our song. Our praise and our rejoicing are meant for him alone. He is the giver, he is the subject, and he is the object of our rejoicing.
We're to pray without ceasing. Jesus taught this to the disciples in Luke 8. He said, "You should pray at all times without losing heart." In our corporate gatherings and in our individual lives, our prayer life should be a reflection of our dependency on God. So when the church was together in Thessalonica, they were to be a praying church. They were to give thanks in all circumstances.
Notice what Paul did not say. He didn't say to give thanks for all circumstances. What did he say? He said, "Give thanks in all circumstances." Thanksgiving is always appropriate irrespective of your circumstances, because you can always draw a line from wherever you are… Whatever my present circumstances are, I can always draw a direct line back to the cross of Jesus Christ where he bled and died for me to demonstrate that while I was a sinner God loved me.
It is because of his death that I can have relationship with him, so that no matter what my circumstances are, whether I'm a Thessalonian who's suffering and being persecuted and being left out of the market and my kids can't eat, I can give thanks in those circumstances because God has dealt with my most pressing, significant, eternal need, which is my separation from God.
"…for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." This last statement brings all three of those preceding things together. What is the will of God for the church gathered? The will of God for the church gathered is that we rejoice always, that we pray without ceasing, that we give thanks in all circumstances.
I love what John Stott wrote. He said, "It is God's will, as expressed and seen in Jesus Christ, whenever his people meet together for worship and whatever their feelings and circumstances may be, that there should be rejoicing in him, praying to him, and giving him thanks for his mercies." When the family of God gets together, our focus should be on God.
It should not be on the pastor. It shouldn't be on the production or the band or the songs or where you're going to go for lunch afterward, but our focus should be on the all-consuming, rejoice-inspiring, eternally unchanging character and nature of God. Does this characterize your gathering? When we're together as a church, could we say, Watermark, that defines our gathering? If not, let's pray and repent where we need to and get back to what God calls us to.
So, not only in God-centered gatherings do we worship God, but in God-centered gatherings we focus on truth. I wish I had an hour to unpack these couple of verses. Paul says, "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil."
We need to remember that these verses are in here because Paul is addressing something going on in the church. If I go to my house and I tell my kids, "Listen. You guys have got to remember to close the garage door at night," and you were listening, you would probably say, "The reason Leventhal is repeating that is because probably somebody keeps forgetting to close the garage door, so he's reminding them, 'Close the garage door.'"
When Paul says, "Don't quench the Spirit. Don't despise prophecies," we know he's addressing something in the church where he feels like they're quenching the Spirit and they're despising prophecies. So let's talk about what might have been going on there. What is a prophecy? Big topic we could spend a lot of time on. It's essentially speaking forth or declaring the divine will, the purposes of God, to make known the truth of God, which is designed to encourage and edify people.
In the book of Acts, we see a lot of people who are identified as prophets or prophetesses. We see Agabus in Acts 11. Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Paul in Acts 13 are identified as prophets. Judas and Silas in Acts 15. Philip the Evangelist has four daughters, and those four daughters are identified as prophets. And others. We know from Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 14 that prophecy was a spiritual gift. This was something that was common in the early church.
The ministry of these folks took place in the corporate gathering. That's what 1 Corinthians 14 is all about. It's about how we behave when we're together. We know that 1 Corinthians 14 makes it crystal clear that the primary purpose of prophecy within the church was to edify and strengthen the church. As you look at church history, we see a lot of prophets in the first century, and as we get into the late half of the second century, we begin to see that kind of die off a little bit, at least in the way it did in the first century.
Honestly, what we do see are a lot of false teachers and heretics coming out, where they had to be rebuffed and rebuked for their false teachings. With the formation of the New Testament, we now have a Bible. They didn't have the New Testament. Paul said, "Read this letter among yourselves," because this was the word from the apostles. With the formation of the New Testament, we have a more sure word from God. I can read to you God's Word and tell you what I think he thinks you ought to do with your life, what I ought to do with my life.
So, what was going on in Thessalonica? Well, Paul addresses this. We get a couple of contexts that help kind of flesh this out for us. He's going to pick this topic up again in 2 Thessalonians 2 in the next letter to the church. He says in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2: "Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…" Which he talked about in this letter. "…and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word [a prophecy] , or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come."
This church was getting rattled because they were having folks come into their body saying, "I have a word from the Lord, and the word from the Lord is that the Lord Jesus Christ has already come." It was rattling the church. In fact, we know from Acts 17… It's an interesting description. When Paul is shuttled out of Thessalonica at night, he goes to Berea. It says when they arrived in Berea, they went to the Jewish synagogue.
It's interesting that Luke highlights this. He says, "Now these Jews [in Berea] were more noble than those in Thessalonica…" Why were they more noble? "…they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." Whatever was going on in Thessalonica, Luke didn't feel the need to define them as folks who were examining the Scriptures daily like the Bereans did.
So this church needed some help with how they were to respond to people who stood up and said, "I have a word from the Lord" and that word from the Lord didn't agree with what Paul had taught, what was in the Old Testament Scriptures at that time. So what they decided to do, it sounds like, is "We're just going to shut it down. No more words from the Lord. You're not going to be able to stand up and share what God has put on your heart."
Paul is saying, "Listen. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. That's not good. Don't quench the Spirit and ignore prophecies. You want to test everything. How do you test everything? Well, you hold on to what's good and get rid of what's evil." The idea by these words is that they were to… The word for good is a word that's used about moneychangers.
The idea is to test what's good. If you're a moneychanger and you get all of these coins, you have to identify which coins are legit coins and which coins are counterfeit coins. You want to be an approved moneychanger. So you have to know the good from the counterfeit to be able to separate them and put the counterfeit in the trash can and hang on to the good coins. That's what's underneath this word good.
So, what he was instructing these believers to do was to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Don't despise prophecies. He also doesn't want them to just accept everything carte blanche as from the Lord. So don't get rid of them, but also don't open up your filter and just take everything in as though it's a word from the Lord. Test them to listen to see what is true.
Let me give you a couple of application points. First, we are not spectators. When you show up to the local assembly of your church, when you're streaming this online right now, or however you're ingesting this, your responsibility, my responsibility, is to test what I'm saying to see if it lines up with Scripture. If it doesn't, get rid of it. If it does, ask the Lord Jesus, "What would you like me to do with this truth? How do I need to alter my life?"
Frankly, let me give a little bit broader of an application. Let me take it outside the local gathering. We have some of us who are taking in content, either books, Christian books, or whatever, that are not Christian. Just because you go to whatever your bookstore that you like to go to is and they have a Christian living section doesn't make everything in that section Christian. There's a lot of garbage being peddled today.
Some of us are ingesting this nonsense about what it looks like to walk with Jesus, what God wants for your life, and it's not producing the fruit that leads to repentance. It's not producing the fruit of the Spirit. So how do we test what we hear? Let me give you five ways that we can test things.
Does it align with Scripture? That's what I just read in Acts 17. The Bereans searched the Scripture to see if what Paul and those guys said was true. Get in your Bible. When you're done listening to me today, I hope you'll take the sermon guide, when it gets put out there, and you'll run through it and ask yourself, "Is Leventhal full of it or was he accurately dividing the Word of truth?" So does it align with Scripture?
Does it acknowledge that Jesus Christ is from God and that he has come in the flesh? That's 1 John 4:1-3. That's 1 Corinthians 12:3.
Does it acknowledge the gospel as a free gift of God, not as a result of works? That's Galatians 1:6-9. Paul says, "If anybody teaches to you any other kind of gospel other than the one we have presented to you, let him be accursed." So if there is any kind of a gospel that's adding to or taking away from Jesus Christ by grace through faith alone, then that is not of God.
Does the character of the speaker match the character of Scripture? Jesus says in Matthew 7:15-20, "You will know a prophet by their deeds." If their life is a train wreck, then that should give you concern, because you will know their words by their deeds.
Does it build up and edify the church? That's 1 Corinthians 14:3. I referenced that earlier.
Those are five ways you and I should be testing the material we're taking in. Whether it's a sermon or a podcast or a book, that should be the filter, the framework, with which we process it. A God-honoring family has God-centered gatherings that focus on God and focus on truth.
Paul now is going to move into closing up. He's wrapping the letter up, and I'm wrapping up too. He has this great benediction. He says, "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it."
Paul's prayer for them is two parts. First, he prays that God would sanctify them completely in the present. Secondly, so that their whole spirit, soul, and body would be kept blameless for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul returns again to the day of the Lord as a motive for godly living. Todd said it this way a few weeks back: clear thinking about the end should produce Christlike living in the present.
Paul prays that that would be true in the lives of these believers, that they would have clear thinking about the end, that God would sanctify them and make them blameless so that when Jesus comes back, they are ready. By the way, does that prayer sound familiar? It ought to, because Paul prays practically the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13.
"Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints."
Paul repeats the same prayer from the middle and he repeats it at the end. He reminds them that God is faithful. He will surely do it. What is God faithful in? He's faithful to see that we will be sanctified to the end. God is faithful to send his Son, as he has promised, to come get his people.
This letter is full of things Paul is calling the church to do, but underneath all of that, as the foundation, is the faithfulness of God, that God will see to it that we get from where we are today to the ticker tape at the end of the race where we can say, "I've fought the good fight. I've finished the race. I've completed the course," as Paul said.
Then he closes up in verses 25-28. "Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." Paul needed prayer, and you and I need prayer. Paul insisted on keeping their hearts warm to one another. "Greet one another with a holy kiss." They were not practicing social distancing, apparently, at this point.
The idea is: keep the fellowship warm. One of the things I'm so weary of is not being together where I can see you, I can look in you the eyes, I can shake your hand, I can give you a hug and say, "It's so good to see you." That's what Paul is talking about here. Then he insists… He puts them under oath to have this letter read before all the brothers.
Sidenote. This is the only time in all of Paul's letters where he is this strong about his letter. It could be because he knows this church is struggling with what to believe when folks are reading, what letters to believe. So he says, "Listen. This letter I'm putting you under oath to have read before all of the brothers."
The church in Thessalonica needed this letter. I need this letter. You need this letter. In fact, we need all of the letters in this book. Bible first; Bible most. What a great letter. My goodness. Let me close us in prayer, and then we will be released.
Father, thank you for a chance this morning to dive into your Word. We're thankful that all Scripture is God-breathed and is inspired by you. It's useful for teaching and reproving and correcting in righteousness. I pray that our hearts would be quickened toward you. Help us to be the family of God that has godly leaders, grateful members, healthy relationships, and God-centered worship.
I pray that you would convict us where we need to be convicted, that you would encourage us where we need to be encouraged. Where we are weak and tired and weary, would you lift up our heads and remind us of your kindness? We thank you most for your Son, our Savior, who bled and died that we could be brought back into right relationship with you. We pray that our lives would be a constant reflection of our gratitude to you for him in the Spirit. In Jesus' name, amen.
Have a great week of worship.