3. Exhortations toward Christian living, 4:1-5:22
v] Respect within the Christian communityArgument
In this final 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 opening exhortations concern pastoral care, 12-15, and next set concerns communion with God, v16-18, and the final set concerns the right treatment of prophecy, v19-22.
i] Context: See 4:1-8.
ii] Structure: This passage, Respect within the Christian community, presents as follows:
Concluding exhortations, v12-22:
#1. "Respect those who labor among you ....", v12-13;
#2. Leaders should exercise appropriate pastoral oversight, v14-15;
#3. Offer true worship, v16-18:
"rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances ...."
#4. Respect the word of a prophet, v19-22.
The passage before us may serve to indirectly deal with a situation facing the Thessalonian church. The church membership in Thessalonica 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 and to this end Paul gives a helping hand.
Malherbe notes that "Paul devotes the last section of his paraenesis to relations within the church." As already stated in these notes, Paul's letter to the Thessalonians serves more to confirm the Christian life of the congregation than to correct it. Yet, in this passage, Paul's exhortations may well reflect some of the failings evident in the congregation. This is possibly indicated by his reference to touV akaktouV, "the disorderly", touV oligoyucouV, "the discouraged", and twn asqenwn, "the weak". None-the-less, the exhortations are very general and are by nature self-evidently good advice.
Greek text: The Gk. of this passage consists of a series of short syntactically unrelated sentences. Most are controlled by imperatives which take the lead in v13b-15 and the anchor position in v16-22.
iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.
Text - 5:12
General exhortations, v12-22: i] Exhortations concerning respect toward church leaders, v12-13. 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. 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. "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.
de "now" - but, and. Here transitional, as NIV.
adelfoi (oV) "brothers" - Referring to fellow believers. This personal address often introduces a new section in this letter.
eidenai (oida) perf. inf. "to respect" - to know. As with the infinitive "hold in the highest regard = to esteem", this infinitive introduces a dependent statement of indirect speech, commanding, "we ask that you respect." "Here meaning "respect", "appreciate the worth of." "To be thoughtful of your leaders", CEV.
touV kopiwntaV (kopiaw) pres. part. "those who work hard" - the ones laboring, working. The participle serves as a substantive. Those who labor are those who are over us and admonish us; they are the ones to be respected; they are the "workers" as compared to the "idlers".
en "among [you]" - in [you]. Local, expressing sphere, "among", or association, "with".
touV ...... proistamenouV (proisthmi) pres. part. "who are over / who care for" - the ones .... exercising leadership, standing before, presiding over, managing, protecting. Again, the participle serves as a substantive. Here obviously used in the sense of leadership."
uJmwn gen. pro. "you" - Genitive of direct object after the verb proisthmi, "to lead", which takes a genitive of persons.
en + dat. "in [the Lord]" - Local, expressing sphere. This may mean that they are acting under the prompting of Jesus, but better, under the authority of Jesus for the sake of order and therefore, the upbuilding of the congregation; "who are over you in the Lord's service", Cassirer.
touV ..... nouqetountaV (nouqetew) pres. part. "who admonish" - the ones ... admonishing, advising, warning. The participle serves again as a substantive. The word is an associate to "teaching" and is best understood as spiritual instruction / advice based on scripture.
kai "-" - and. Coordinative; "and to regard them" = "and that you regard them."
hJgeisqai (hJgeomai) pres. mid. inf. "hold" - to consider, esteem, regard. Introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech, as above; "we ask ...... that [you] esteem them." Not only should the Thessalonians respect their leaders, but also esteem them highly, and this not out of fear, but prompted by love.
uJperekperissou adv. "in the highest regard" - most exceedingly, beyond measure. Adverb of manner; "hold them in the highest respect", Barclay.
en + dat. "in [love]" - Probably adverbial here, expressing manner; "and affection", Barclay.
dia +acc. "because of" - because of, on account of. Causal.
ton ergon (on) "[their] work" - the work [of them]. Not because of their person, but because of their function; "because of this high task of theirs", Phillips.
eirhneuete (eirhneuw) pres. imp. "live in peace" - be at peace, be peaceful, act peacefully. This exhortation may indicate that there has been strife within the church.
en + dat. "with [everyone]" - in [yourselves]. Here probably expressing association, "with / among".
eJautoiV refl. pro. "everyone / each other" - yourselves. Used here of "one another", so Zerwick.
ii] Exhortations concerning appropriate pastoral oversight, v14-15. 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. In v15 Paul notes that 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 and apply this advice.
de "and" - but, and. Connective here, so as NIV.
parakaloumen (parakalew) pres. "we urge [you]" - we encourage [you]. "But we appeal to you brothers", Berkeley.
nouqeteite (nouqetew) pres. imp. "warn" - admonish. Possibly here "exhort". "Keep a check upon", Moffatt; "admonish", Weymouth; "rebuke", REB.
touV ataktouV adj. "those who are idle" - the idlers. The adjective is used as a substantive. The word was used of soldiers marching out of step. Here it refers to those in the church who are meddlesome and idle, therefore, words such as "disorderly" or "unruly" could be used.
paramuqeisqe (paramuqeomai) pres. imp. "encourage" - console, comfort, encourage, cheer.
touV oligoyucouV adj. "the timid / disheartened " - faint-hearted, discouraged, fearful, worried, those losing heart. "Men of little heart" Wiclif. Paul may be referring to a particular group along with the idlers. This group has lost heart due to their improper understanding of the second coming of Christ. So, possibly referring to some members whose assurance is undermined.
antecesqe (antecw) pres. imp. "help" - cling to, hold. Here in the sense of "support"; "sustain", Moffatt.
twn asqenwngen. adj. "the weak" - weak. Adjective as a substantive. Here again Paul may be referring to a third group within the church along with the idlers and the timid. This group is weak, possibly morally weak. They may have fallen into open immorality and need to be guided back to a life which honors Christ.
makroqumeite (makroqumew) pres. imp. "be patient" - long-suffering, slow to anger. A general exhortation to accept the failures or limitations of others; "never lose your temper with anyone", Moffatt.
proV "with [everyone]" - to, toward [all]. "Exercise patience toward everyone", Berkeley.
oJrate (oJraw) pres. imp. "make sure" - you see = understand, notice, recognize. As a verb of perception a dependent statement of indirect speech may be assumed, although not indicated directly by the syntax; "see to it that no person pay back evil instead of evil to another" = "take care that no one ...", Zerwick. Probably behind Paul's words is a saying like "render not evil for evil", cf. Prov.20:22, ...... Matt.5:38-48, Lk.6:27-36. The congregation as a whole is to accept a fallen brother rather than retaliate for wrong done. Secular justice was often retaliatory, although even Plato saw justice as something more than retributive violence. In the Old Testament justice is achieved by forcing a comparison with the initial evil act - an eye for an eye, not death for an eye. Here though, social justice is not in view, rather Paul is reflecting on personal vengeance, and so in line with Jesus' own teaching he calls for grace, mercy, rather than vengeance. "See that none of you pays back evil for evil", Moffatt.
mh ....apodw/ (apodidwmi) aor. subj. "no[body] pays back" - not may give back, render, repay. Subjunctive of prohibition; "see that you do not let anyone pay back evil for evil to anyone" = "be sure no one repays a bad turn by a bad turn", Phillips.
anti + gen. "for [wrong]" - instead of [evil, wrong, harm]. Here expressing exchange; "evil in return for evil."
tini dat. pro. "-" - to anyone. Dative of indirect object.
alla "but" - Strong adversative.
pantote adv. "always" - Adverb of manner.
ton agaqon diwkete (diwkw) pres. imp. "try to be kind / strive to do what is good" - the good pursue. It is often argued that the "good" here is love, but the context shows that it is forgiveness / acceptance. In fact, love is most readily identified in forgiveness. Note how Jesus stresses the need for the forgiveness of a fallen brother.
eiV + acc. "to" - to, toward. The preposition probably expresses advantage here; "pursue the good for the advantage of one another and for all."
pantaV adj. "everyone else" - all. Paul is obviously extending the pursuit of good beyond the Christian fellowship; "good should be your objective always, among yourselves and in the world at large", Phillips.
iii] Exhortations regarding communion with God, v16-18. Our God is a hedonistic God (in the sense of happy, rather than self-indulgent). God created us to be happy in him, so be joyful in the Lord. Paul goes on to note that what we are in Christ, along with our living for Christ, rests on God's grace activated through 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. Let us also "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.
cairete (cairw) pres. imp. "be joyful" - rejoice. Although this verse is often used to encourage believers to be joyful in the face of life's troubles, the context encourages joy in our relationship with God in Christ. It is an inner spiritual joy that we are to foster. Rejoicing in the face of adversity is psychologically damaging in that it detaches a person from reality. Existence in this Shadow Land is not always a joyful experience. Note "you must be happy all the time", Barclay, also JB - they have to be kidding! Phillips' "be happy in your faith" is the way to go.
adialeiptwV adv. "[pray] continually" - constantly, unceasingly [pray]. We are reminded of Jesus' parable The Midnight Friend and his persistence in prayer, but the point of the parable is not that persistence pays off, but that unlike a pestered friend who finally gives what is asked, our God gives abundantly without being pestered. If the pestered friend got what he asked imagine how abundantly our requests will be met by an all gracious God. So, it's unlikely that Paul is suggesting that pestering God is the way to have our prayers answered. Repetition and length doesn't just drive a congregation to distraction!!! Paul is calling for steadfastness in prayer rather than repetition, or even regularity, Rom.12:12, Col.4:2.
en + dat. "in [all circumstances]" - in [everything]. The preposition is adverbial, but it is unclear whether it is temporal, "at all times", or local "in every circumstance of life / whatever happens"; "in every situation", Wanamaker. Again, Paul is not calling for thanksgiving for adversity, but rather thanksgiving in the midst of adversity, knowing that our Lord will forgive our part in the distress and will ultimately put everything right. It is absurd to thank God for the horrors of life, but we can certainly thank him for his putting all things right.
gar "for" - Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why we should give thanks in all circumstances.
qelhma (a atoV) "will" - will, desire. It is God's desire that we apply touto "this [particular exhortation (ie. thanksgiving)]", but possibly also the exhortations of praise and prayer (this is supported by the fact that the noun is anarthrous, so Ellicott). "The will of God is the expression of the moral requirement to which he calls his people", Davids.
eiV + acc. "for [you]" - toward [you]. The NIV takes the view that the preposition here expresses advantage.
en + dat. "in [Christ Jesus]" - Local, space / sphere, expressing incorporative union; "God's will for you as members of the Christian fellowship", Bruce. Yet, possibly here instrumental, expressing means, "by / through Jesus Christ", ie. Jesus is the agent by which the will of God is revealed.
iv] Exhortations regarding prophecy in the Christian community, v19-22. 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. It is also unclear what Paul means by prophecy. Some see it as a specific word, such as the Agabus prophecy in Acts (fore-telling). Others see it as primary revelation, although this surely ended with Christ's ascension. It is probably something similar to modern preaching in the sense of a powerfully applied Biblical truth (forth-telling). Paul goes on to urge 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.
mh sbennute (sbennumi) pres. imp. "do not put out" - do not quench. The word can have the sense "restrict", but can also mean "destroy, annihilate." Probably as NIV, "put out." So, Paul is concerned with repressing the extraordinary gifts (the charismata) of the Spirit, in particular prophecy. "Do not stifle the manifestations of the Spirit", Cassirer .
to pneuma (a atoV) "the Spirit" - Probably the Holy Spirit, but one's own spirit may be intended.
profhteias (a) "prophecies" - From Paul's letter to the Corinthians we know that tongues were held in high esteem, so Paul wanted the Corinthians to lean more toward prophecy. The Thessalonians, with their second coming enthusiasm, may have also undervalued prophecy. From Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 14, we see that prophecy is not foretelling, but forthtelling. We may describe prophecy as powerfully applied Biblical truth. A well exegeted and applied sermon would be a modern equivalent. Of course, during the NT period some extraordinary foretelling prophets existed in the church, but Paul is most likely not referring to this type of prophet here, cf. Acts 21:10.
mh exouqeneite (exouqenew) pres. imp. "do not treat [prophecies] with contempt" - do not despise, downgrade, treat as nothing. Here probably with the sense of "undervalue".
de "-" - but, and. Here slightly adversative / contrastive; not found in all manuscripts but probably original. Verses 21-22 certainly forms one sentence in the Gk., but given the singular content of v19-22 a single sentence in English certainly makes sense; "never quench the fire of the Spirit, never disdain prophetic revelations, but test them all, retaining what is good and abstaining from whatever kind is evil", Moffatt.
dokimazete (dokimazw) pres. imp. "test" - prove the worth of something by testing its credentials, examine. Spirit gifted ministries should be examined and certified, cf., 1Cor.12:10, 14:29.
katecete (katecw) pres. imp. "hold on to" - hold fast. Here explaining "what is to be done positively with those deeds and words tested and found acceptable and beneficial for the lives of individuals and the community", Wanamaker.
apecesqe (apecomai)mid. imp. "avoid / reject" - abstain, hold aloof. Addressing the gifts of ministry, particularly the word ministries, eg., prophecy, Paul encourages his readers to submit to valid instruction, while standing back from instruction that is invalid, ie. prophetic words that do not stand the test of scripture.
apo + gen. "-" - from. Expressing separation; "away from."
eidouV (oV ouV) gen. "[every] kind [of evil]" - [evil] of [every] form. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "evil". "Steer clear of evil in any form", Phillips.