1 Thessalonians 5.12-28
God will do it


In our passage today we reach Paul’s summary of everything he has said in the body of the letter. His message can be seen through the lens of of the twice-repeated trio have faith, love, and hope (1.3; 5.8). You’ll notice how Paul places this exhortation strategically at the beginning and end of his letter, so that everything in between is enclosed within this summary-exhortation.

1 Thessalonians 5.12-28

In this final section Paul wants to capture succinctly the central features of the life of a strong Christian community. These remain of critical importance for our own church. Notice that these elements of the strong church are addressed to the community for it is the whole community that is responsible for its spiritual life. Paul does not lay the responsibility for the health of the community on its leaders, though they have an essential place.
The first sign of a strong community, in fact, lies in its attitude to its leaders, who should be respected [5.12]. The Greek word oida implies that leaders are to be respected or honoured because they are known to be worthy of such respect. However, “respect” by itself is perhaps a little chilly; but Paul wants us to understand that the relationship between leaders and people is to be a whole warmer. Thus “respect” is to be based on love, so Paul says: Hold this view of them very highly in love because of their work [5.13].
The second instruction Paul gives to the community is, Be at peace among yourselves [5.13]; the verb here is imperative, making peace a mandatory task of the community. “Peace” in biblical teaching is always the peace of Christ. “Peace” is not the absence of conflict (as we tend to think of it), but a wholeness of being and living: with God, with one another in society and church, with nature, and so with ourselves. It’s always easy to affirm until it’s threatened – as the life of the church all-too-frequently illustrates. However, it describes the essence of the Body of Christ.
That “peace” has to be hard-won is shown in the following instruction which shows how the “peace” of the body of Christ is closely related to the spiritual health of all members of the body, so all the community has to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, [and] be patient with all of them [5.14]. Notice the subtle point here: pastoral care has to be active and intentional yet never impatient or disrespectful of the persons being cared for.
Paul then moves to the key to making and keeping “peace” in the Christian understanding: forgiveness rather than vengeance [5.15]. Forgiveness is not, we should note, primarily about assuaging the guilt of the individual (the way we moderns think of it), but rather about practising this foundational virtue of communal living. It’s purpose, in other words, is to build a society of which Christ is the heart and soul.
When this peace of Christ is a lived reality; when, in other words, the Christian community is truly a community of peace, certain things follow inevitably. Paul captures this inevitability by using the imperative in a triplet of positive instructions: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances [5.16-18] – these are the logical results of living in the peace of Christ. He follows these positives with a countervailing triplet of negative instructions: do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets…abstain from every form of evil [5.19-22). If you practise these positives, then you will not fall into the negatives, so, Paul says imperatively, do the positives and don’t do the negatives. The imperative mood underlines the importance Paul attaches to these things as the foundations of a strong community which truly demonstrates the peace of Christ.
Paul concludes with a benediction [5.23-24], asks for prayer for himself and his fellow workers, and asks that his greetings be passed to the whole community [5.25-27]. He ends with the Grace [5.28].

For discussion

Let’s pick up my focus on “signs of a strong Christian community”:
  1. Respect for leaders:
    1. What qualities do leaders need to have to be worthy of loving respect?
    2. In what ways should a congregation show loving respect for its leaders (as we think of getting a new Rector, anchor your discussion in our own parish)
  1. Peace-making
    1. What does Paul mean by “peace” (5.13)?
    2. What role does Paul imply for the place of peace in the life of a congregation?
    3. How is peace made and kept in a Christian community?
    4. What threatens and/or destroys peace in a Christian community?
  1. In order to have and keep peace in the congregation Paul gives three negative (vv. 19-22) and three positive exhortations (vv. 17-18). What is involved in concrete practices for us in our parish in avoiding the negatives and holding to the positives?
  1. In imitation of Paul, end with prayer for one another and for the parish.
Tim Long

Tim Long, 29/06/2014