A Few More Instructions From Paul
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
1. Recognize the Context:
Previous context: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Verses 16-18, include three challenging imperatives. All three commands are God’s will in Christ Jesus.
1. Rejoice always
For Paul, joy is God’s desire, grounded in Christ, given by the Holy Spirit (1:6). It is a decisive response to the work of the Triune God, and not conditioned on life’s circumstances, as he and the Thessalonians well knew.
Paul was not saying it was easy, and he was not saying to deny the reality of life's painful challenges. Instead, for Paul, as he attested in his own life, God works in the darkest of times, and Christians are called to see it and respond to it.
2. Pray continually
Paul called on the Thessalonian church to live a life of constant prayer, something he modeled in this letter and others. Prayer, as well as rejoicing, indicates a dependence on God’s sustaining presence. Therefore, it should characterize the believer’s life.
3. Give thanks in all circumstances
The third imperative is not surprising since Paul often connected the themes of joy, prayer, and thanksgiving. His encouragement is not giving thanks “for” those situations. Rather, the instruction is to express thanksgiving “in” those circumstances. Thanksgiving centers the believing community on God’s presence and provision even in hardship and suffering.
2. Read the Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
3. Reflect on the Scripture:
These four verses contain five more imperatives. The first two are stated negatively, and the final three, positively.
In verse 19, Paul urged the Thessalonian church not to quench the Spirit. This is a general warning against hindering the work of the Holy Spirit by an individual or in the corporate expression of the church. But then Paul gave a specific example of how the Spirit can be "extinguished," namely, by treating prophecies with contempt.
Paul mentioned prophecy (Romans 12:6 and 1 Corinthians 12-14) in his discussions of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. For Paul, prophecy was a Spirit-inspired utterance given in the community worship setting. It provided "guidance and direction, edification, encouragement, consolation or witness, and it ultimately points back to the One who gives this gift.” (Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 755) Paul saw this gift as one of many legitimate expressions of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence in the believing community. Here, Paul was saying this gift should not be viewed with disdain or be despised.
Rather, Paul instructed the Thessalonians to test prophecies. Here, Paul did not elaborate on the testing process; he simply encouraged them to exercise discernment. It would seem that elements of testing prophecy would include the fulfillment of its purpose for the edification of the body, consistency with Apostolic teaching, and consistency with Scripture (the Old Testament). Ultimately, he encouraged the Thessalonians not to be cynical (treat prophecies with contempt), but they also should not be gullible (test them all).
Therefore, they were to hold on to what is good and reject every kind of evil. In the context, Paul concluded his thought on how to respond to prophecy after testing it. However, like the first imperative not to hinder the Spirit’s work (verse 19), holding on to the good and rejecting evil provided excellent general advice for how the believing community should live.
There tend to be differing views on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Church today. Three aspects seem clear to me from this text and other Pauline texts on the charisms of the Spirit, although I recognize not everyone who agrees with me.
1. Prophecy was a part of the first century Church in places like Corinth, Rome, and Thessalonica.
2. Spirit-inspired prophetic utterances would never have been placed over or equal with Scripture (the Old Testament), Jesus’ teachings, or the Apostolic teachings/writings.
3. There is no New Testament text (here or in 1 Corinthians) to suggest prophecy or any other "miraculous" Spirit-inspired gifts were no longer valid after the first century. Here in 1 Thessalonians (and 1 Corinthians 12-14), Paul was not promoting disuse. Instead, he was preventing misuse.
But again, I know not everyone would agree with these three points.
4. Relate to life:
Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
Today, prayerfully consider what it means for you individually and for your church corporately "not to quench the Spirit." Do you think the gifts of the Spirit are involved?
Today, prayerfully consider what it means for you individually and for your church corporately to "hold on to what is good and reject evil."
To do: (with the Holy Sprit's help)
Given the prayer suggestions above, what can you incorporate into your life today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers.
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the passages).
Read and Study Romans 12:4-8 on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Read and study 1 Corinthians 12-14 on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.