1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

Jari Rankinen
Reija Becks

Read or listen the First Epistle to the Thessalonians - chapter 5 online (ESV, Bible Gateway)

The church is alive 5:12-22

Paul begins to close his letter. He gives brief instructions, advice, and commands to the church. First, the apostle urges the Thessalonian Christians to hold their leaders in high esteem. From this we see that as early as this, the young churches had their leaders, whose task was to guide the church, teach it, and keep it on the path shown by the apostles. Verse 13 tells us that church leaders should not be valued for their fine qualities. The reason for which they are esteemed is another. After all, we also should respect our parents on the grounds that they are our parents. The same applies to church leaders. God has called them to perform an important task. They do such valuable work that they should be respected. It is also necessary to remember that we must obey the church leaders within the limits of God’s word. If someone teaches against the clear word of the Bible, we should not listen to it. Paul concludes his speech on church leaders with a brief but important commandment: unnecessary quarrels must be avoided. Instead, the Christians must live in peace.

Paul continues with his brief exhortations. The church is to admonish those who live without regard for God's commandments. By the ‘fainthearted’, the apostle may mean those who ask amid tribulations whether it is worth living as a Christian. The ‘weak’, who are to be supported, are apparently those church members whose conscience is bound by the statutes of the Old Covenant (see 1 Corinthians 8-10). Paul tells us to be patient with everyone, not just with other members of the church. He forbids revenge. We must return good for evil and not do what would seem fair in our own eyes. Paul urges us to rejoice always. He speaks of the joy that comes from forgiveness of sins. We have been forgiven of our debts, and by God’s grace we are his children. Here is the reason for real joy. The joy of a child of God can also be seen on the face of a Christian.

The apostle advises the church to pray and give thanks continually. Indeed, there is often talk of sighs of prayer to God. That is probably what Paul is referring to. God wants us to live in constant contact with him. There are also instructions on prophecy in this passage. Prophesying means conveying a clear, often very timely message from God to people. Paul gives two commandments on how to regard prophesying. Prophesying must not be rejected outright. God speaks often to his church through a prophet. Second, Paul commands us to test everything. There are people who claim to bring a message from God, but their message comes from entirely somewhere else than heaven. Paul sets the apostolic faith as the criterion for everything. If the prophesying is contrary to the apostolic faith, it should be forgotten. What is good, that is, complying with the apostolic teaching, must be kept, evil must be shunned.

The closing of the letter 5:23-28

The closing verses of the letter begin with a prayer. The apostle prays that God, who has made peace with the world, would keep the church holy. So, Paul asks that the church would keep their faith in Jesus and live a blameless life until the Lord returns. There is probably no reason to draw any far-reaching conclusions from the expression ‘spirit and soul and body’. With this expression Paul is apparently just referring to the human being as a whole. The whole person must be blameless.

Verses 25-28 are very likely written by Paul himself. Other parts of the letter are dictated by him and written by a scribe. The last verses are like the apostle’s signature on the letter he dictated. He asks the church for prayer, which is an extremely important source of strength for him amid tribulations. The early Christians used to kiss each other, which was a sign of common faith. Apparently, the holy kiss that Paul speaks of was used especially in connection with the celebration of the sacrament. Even in our time, a slightly similar convention is used. Many Christians in Northern Finland give each other a hug as they go to the Lord's table. A hug is an expression of the brotherhood that prevails among believers. A hug can also be used in connection with an apology for the sins committed against another believer.

Paul adjures the recipients of the letter to read the letter to as many Christians as possible. This formal request may seem rather strange to us. It is unlikely that the apostle suspected some Thessalonian Christians of trying to withhold the letter from other believers or other churches. Adjuration was a common practice in Judaism. Paul was Jewish and therefore this strong expression was included in the letter. At the same time, the adjuration carries an important message. The apostle cares for the whole congregation and for the whole Church – as many as possible must get the chance to read and hear what God is speaking through his apostle.

The letter ends with a wish. However, the last verse is not only a wish but also a declaration. The grace of Jesus is with us. His grace will be with us all the days of our life.