1 & 2 Thessaloniansby Sim Kay Tee
As Paul concludes his letter, he seems to be giving instructions at random. But this is not the case-rather, Paul is following up on his call to the Thessalonian church to live in a way that pleases God (see 1 Thessalonians 4:1). Having urged the believers to honour their leaders and minister to needy members, Paul now directed their attention to the issue of Spirit-led worship.
All the Greek verbs that Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 (″rejoice″, ″pray″, ″give thanks″, ″do not quench″, ″test″, ″hold on″, and ″reject″) are what grammarians call ″present imperatives″-in other words, they are commands. Today, let's look at the three commands contained in verses 16 to 18:
″Rejoice always″ (v. 16). Paul commands the believers to be joyful at all times. But can joy be commanded? And what about painful circumstances in life when sorrow would be an appropriate response? Remember, however, how Paul pointed out at the beginning of his letter that the Thessalonian believers' joy was not dependent on their circumstances. Even ″in the midst of severe suffering″, they experienced ″the joy given by the Holy Spirit″ (1:6).
This joy is the Spirit's fruit, the outcome of living in step with the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22, 25). Having a relationship with God in Christ is reason enough to be joyful, for the Christian's life is one of ″ goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit″ (Romans 14:17, NLT). This is why Paul has no qualms commanding the Thessalonians-and us-to live joyfully. We worship and serve the Lord with joy because, as Christian author C. S. Lewis wrote, ″joy is the serious business of Heaven.″14
″Pray continually″ (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This command does not mean praying non-stop or repetitiously. Paul instructs us in Colossians 4:2 and Ephesians 6:18 to ″devote yourselves to prayer″ and to ″always keep on praying for all the Lord's people″. Prayer is indispensable in worship, as passages such as Psalm 141:2 and Revelation 8:3-4 show. Conversing with God is part of both worshipping and communing with Him. This is why Paul himself punctuates his letters with spontaneous prayers (see, for example, 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
″Give thanks in all circumstances″ (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Paul does not tell us to give thanks for all circumstances, since some circumstances are evil and displeasing to God. Rather, we are to ″give thanks in all circumstances″. The Message renders this verse as ″thank God no matter what happens″. We are called to trust God at all times-not to depend on ourselves, but fully and only on God. This is God's will, because He knows that depending on Him is best for us.
Thankfulness to God is a distinguishing mark of a Christian, just as not giving thanks to God marks an unbeliever (see Romans 1:21). We can give thanks in all circumstances because we know that God is in full control of our every circumstance, and that ″in all things God works for the good of those who love him″ (8:28). When we become able to trust God this way, giving thanks in all circumstances would become part of our worship to the Sovereign Lord. Then can we say, as Paul did in Philippians 1:4, ″In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.″
Do you find it difficult to rejoice always or give thanks in all circumstances? Why or why not? How could you be more joyful and thankful in your prayers? What is one difficult circumstance in your life that you can thank God for?
Make a commitment to apply Paul's command to ″pray continually″ (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Reflect on what impact this will make on your prayer life.