Three Christian Challenges from Paul
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
1. Recognize the Context:
Previous context: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15
In verse 12, Paul encouraged the Thessalonian community to esteem church leadership. He used three participles to describe these church leaders. They worked hard in their position of leadership, demonstrated care and concern for the church in the Lord, and admonished the believers. Because of their leadership and hard work, Paul’s instruction was to hold these shepherds in high regard with love.
In verse 14, Paul listed five imperatives of congregational life. They were to
1. warn the idle and disruptive. Those in need of warning were more than simply inactive, but they were also disorderly and undisciplined.
2. encourage the disheartened. They were to console those who are discouraged and despondent for whatever reason.
3. help the weak. The verb used for “help” here means “to hold fast to.” So, the strong were to cling to and support those who were weaker.
4. be patient with everyone. For Paul, this was an essential fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5)
5. Verse 15 is stated the imperative negatively, “make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong.” Then the positive alternative is listed “but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”
2. Read the Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
3. Reflect on the Scripture:
Although short, today’s passage includes three challenging imperatives. All three commands are God’s will in Christ Jesus.
1. Rejoice always
Paul has already mentioned the expression of joy at the beginning of this letter. For Paul, joy is God’s desire, grounded in Christ, given by the Holy Spirit (1:6). It is a decisive response to the Triune God, and not conditioned on life’s circumstances, as he and the Thessalonians knew well.
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. Paul knew first hand of challenging and difficult circumstances. 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.
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, you may be experiencing difficulty and hardship from the past or the present. Joy, prayer, and thanksgiving may seem miles away. Today, if you are able, take a few minutes to sit quietly and know God is with you in this circumstance and at this moment.
Today, prayerfully consider others who may be experiencing difficulty and hardship in life right now. Lift them up before God in prayer today.
To do: (with the Holy Sprit's help)
Today or this week, who can you specifically encourage with joy and thanksgiving? Identify one or two people and ask for the Holy Spirit's help to show love, care, and compassion.
The Bible Project has a Youtube channel, and they make incredible videos on books of the Bible, biblical themes, and biblical words. They have a word study video on the word joy throughout the Bible. Check it out here.
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the passages).
Read and study the verses listed above.
Read and study Jesus’ words on joy in John 15:9-11.
Read and study Phil. 4:4-6, where Paul connects joy, prayer, and thanksgiving.
Read and study Col. 3:17 on giving thanks.
Use a concordance, website like biblegateway.com or Bible app to search for other verses on joy, prayer, and thanksgiving.