In this passage, the last teaching section of his letter, Paul gives a set of general instructions concerning the maintenance of Christian fellowship. These exhortations are most likely directed to the leaders of the church, but they also apply to the members. The Thessalonian church seems to have come from the lower strata of society and so quality leadership was lacking. The leaders (elders) might not have properly handled the social problems which grew out of the congregation's second-coming enthusiasm.
v12. Paul now encourages the Thessalonian believers. Addressing them, he asks that they "respect", in the sense of appreciate, those who "work hard" (labor) in the church. Most likely these "laborers" are the leaders of the church who exercise a spiritual ministry, most probably a Word ministry. They labor in both leadership and admonition. Leadership in the New Testament is usually of a pastoral kind, exercised through the Word of God. Admonition, in the sense of rebuking evil, is again exercised through God's Word.
v13. "Hold them in special esteem and affection", Moffatt. Paul wants the church leaders to be highly regarded. Given the difficulties caused by second-coming enthusiasm, Paul calls for peace.
v14. Paul now focuses on the leaders and gives them some pastoral advice: First, "warn those who are idle." Admonish, rebuke those who have given up employment and are living off the generosity of others. This is possibly a result of an expectation of the immediate return of Christ. Second, "encourage the timid." Console and encourage those who are overwhelmed by the stress and strain of life. Certainly don't condemn them. Third, "be patient." Rather than push one's own barrow, consider the views of others and accept their limitations, accept their humanity.
v15. A leader attacked, insulted and provoked, may want to respond viciously. Patience under provocation is called for. Don't nurse grudges and retaliate. In fact, says Paul, try to develop a habitual attitude of consideration toward others. All church members should consider this advice.
v16. God created us to be happy in him, so be joyful in the Lord.
v17. Our eternal standing in the sight of God, both now and forever, is a gracious gift of God. What we are in Christ, along with our living for Christ, rests on the prayer of faith. So, be steadfast, focused on such prayer. Paul is not speaking about Father Christmas prayers, but prayer according to the will of God.
v18. "Give thanks in all circumstances." In the face of life's troubles we can look to our God with a thankful expectation and all things will ultimately work for good for those who love him.
v19. It is unclear what Paul means by putting out the Spirit's flame. Given the following verses, it is likely that he is referring to the Spirit-inspired ministries of God's Word, particularly prophecy.
v20. The exhortation to consider carefully the prophetic word is unclear since we are unsure what is meant by prophecy. Some see it as a specific word, such as the Agabus prophecy in Acts (fore-telling). It could also be primary revelation, although this virtually ended with Christ's ascension. It is probably something similar to modern preaching in the sense of a powerfully applied Biblical truth (forth-telling).
v21-22. Paul now reminds his readers to use their common sense when it comes to prophecy, or any Christian teaching; they must test it, be discriminating. Believers must retain what is good and true and reject what is evil.
We all need encouragement in the Christian life, for although the Spirit is daily shaping us into the image of Christ, we must still rely on his renewing work and cooperate with it.
When Paul writes to the Thessalonians, he speaks with people just like us. There are those in the church who are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly use; they are off with the fairies. Then there are those whose assurance is weak; they are no longer sure of their salvation. Then there are those whose moral life is undermined; they have tripped themselves up. So, Paul sets out to encourage them.
First, Paul asks the members of the congregation to respect their leaders in the Lord. He then proceeds to direct his words to the church leaders in particular, but what he has to say to them applies to everyone in the congregation. He asks for love, for acceptance of one another. He asks for joy, constancy in prayer and a thankful heart in their relationship with the Lord. Finally, he asks for the acceptance, exercise and testing of the Word ministries in their fellowship.
There are actually thirteen exhortations in this short passage, and all of them worthy of taking to heart. One, at least, will scratch where we are itching at this moment. So, let's scratch the itch and grow our Christian life.
Identify each of the exhortations in this passage and discuss their meaning and implication.