17th Sunday After Pentecost October 9, 2011
1 Thessalonians 5:14-24
1 Kings 17:17-24
7, 351, 398, 47
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
During one summer in my college days I worked with a man who could not understand why we Lutheran Christians are always confessing our sins. He had left a riotous life and joined a holiness group. The man talked and acted like he no longer sinned and had raised the level of his life to a holiness that was acceptable to God. I remember how he delighted in pointing out the sins of others.
How differently the apostle Paul speaks of sanctification in our text. Thessalonica was a worldly city. Yet the Gospel of Christ, preached by the apostle, had brought many to believe in their Savior in a few weeks. In fact, Paul writes in the first chapter that the Thessalonian Christians had become examples to all the Christians in Macedonia (northern Greece). Their faith was “well known,” for “they had turned from idols to serve the living God!” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). The Thessalonians had not merely “changed their lives” so that they never really fell short of God’s will in their lives, like my misguided friend. They had not begun a higher life of good; but they had been converted to serve the living God through faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
To put it another way: The Spirit of God had surely been working in them through the Word of God. But they were not mature and firm in their faith…not yet. Paul prayed that he might return to them in order “perfect what was lacking in their faith” (1 Thessalonians 2:10).The Thessalonians needed the admonitions of our text because they were not yet completely sanctified—not yet holy.
“Not yet holy?” But doesn’t Scripture teach that the believing Christian is counted as holy because of the merits of Jesus? Oh yes! But this is another of the great Christian paradoxes of our faith-life: We are perfect and holy before God through the perfect merits of our Savior, yet we are ever striving to be holy in our lives on earth. WE ARE SAINTS, STRIVING TO BE SAINTS!
Just as there is no such thing as a perfect Christian congregation, neither are there any perfect individual Christians. Each of us is building upon the foundation we received in our Baptism or conversion to Christ. Our spiritual house is not complete, so we keep on building. But we are not only to look out for our own building, we are also to assist in the building up of others. We are to strive to be saints of the sake of others. Paul tells us how to do this.
“Warn the unruly” [v.14] he says. “Unruly” is a military term referring to a soldier who is out of line, disorderly. In every congregation there are those who need correction, sometimes sharply, because they are “out of line.” It may be that their unchristian behavior is an offense to others. They may be neglecting the Means of Grace in the Word and Sacrament. They may be rejecting some teaching of God’s Word. Notice that it’s up to the whole congregation to warn and seek to correct the brother or sister who walks in a disorderly fashion.
Likewise, we all are to “comfort the fainthearted”among us. We are to offer the encouragement of the Gospel of Christ—His promises and strength—to those who still lack the courage to confess Christ and face the persecution of the world. Next, we are to “uphold the weak.” [v.14] We are not to abandon, ignore, or despise the one who has fallen into any sin. But as Paul wrote to the Galatians: “You who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). Because our God is patient or longsuffering with us in all our sins and weaknesses, we ourselves are to “be patient (suffer long) with all.” [v.14] We are to endure the trials and troubles which others deal out to us.
The opposite of suffering long is rendering evil for evil. But we who are saints because of Jesus are to do the very best for the one who has done evil to us. Rather than render evil for evil we are to “pursue what is good for both yourselves and others.” [v.15] Jesus taught the same thing in His Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you; do good to those who hate you; and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also” (Matthew 5:44).
We are to return an unkind word or deed with kindness! There is to be no vengeance taken or grudge held! How often we fall short of the love that does not return evil for evil! God have mercy on us and forgive us these sins! God help us to remember how we have been saved and how Jesus wants us to use our time to love and save others!
Just think! We could bring those who hate us closer to their Savior by our kindness, rather than driving them from us and Him! How different this way is from the way of the world! This is sanctification—a calling out from the world to God and to His ways for the sake of others!
We are also saints striving to be saints for our own sake. “Rejoice always!” Paul says in v. 16. We have Christ as our Savior from sin! In Him we have eternal life! We have the daily comfort and peace that God is our Father in heaven, whose Spirit and holy angels attend to our every need! Our really big troubles are gone—they have been chased away by the blood of our Savior, God’s own Son! But how slow we are to believe! We allow so many little troubles to rob us of our joy in Christ!
“Pray without ceasing!” [v.17] Paul says. This means that we are always to draw close to our heavenly Father through repentance of our sins and the hearing and reading of His Word. We sin against Him who loves us when we treat Him as a stranger rather than the One to whom we may always go in prayer! God forgive us for putting Him off!
Next, Paul says: “In everything give thanks.” [v.18] It requires strong faith to give thanks when we are suffering physical pain or some other hardship. Yet we are told in Romans 8:28 that “all things work together for good” for those who love God, who are the called for His saving purpose.
Being thankful in connection with everything is the secret to a happy, Christian life. We ought to be thankful because of what God is doing with us, no matter what it is or how it feels at the moment. The many promises of our Savior in His Word teach us to anticipate His blessings by looking beyond our sufferings to the joy that He intends for us after the sorrow.
Now, all of this—rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in everything—all “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” [v.18] Well then, let’s do His will in this matter! Let’s not “quench the Spirit!” Paul admonishes in v.19.
Whenever we allow the self-centered considerations of our flesh to keep us from showing the love and kindness which the sanctifying Spirit would work-out in our actions, we pour water on the impulses of the Holy Spirit! Worldliness, vanity, ambition, and overindulgence of good, drink, or pleasure can make us lukewarm in the service of our God, threatening our faith itself! Nothing douses the Holy Spirit’s fire in us like our self-centered sins!
There’s another way to “quench the Spirit”: “Do not despise prophecies,” [v.20] Paul says. We are not to despise or neglect the preaching of God’s Word, no matter how often we think we’ve heard it before. Paul says, “Let this never happen!” There’s no more sure way to put out the fire of the Holy Spirit within us than by despising the Spirit’s Word! Read John chapters 14-17 and see how our Lord ties the sanctifying work of His Spirit in us to His cleansing Word of peace and Truth!
Rather than despising the Word of God, we are to “test all things” [v.21] according to that Word, Paul says. Everything we hear, read, or see, must be carefully examined to determine whether it is true, and acceptable and good according to the Word of God. Doesn’t this make sense? He has sanctified us—set us apart for Himself in Christ our Savior. Whatever teachings, principles, and actions prove to be good by the standard of His Word of truth we are to “hold fast” [v.21]
But whatever proves to be a perversion of Scripture teaching, or a perversion of godly morality—whatever form evil takes—we are to keep away from it. There’s no room for indifference to false teachings or immorality. Are you concerned about avoiding the guns and the bombs of the terrorists in the world? Spiritual evil poisons, blasts, and kills immortal souls which is far worse than the effects of guns and bombs!
So, we are to strive to be saints with the help of our God. Paul closes this section of his letter to the Thessalonians with a wonderful prayer: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [v.23]
When our medical doctor prescribes a medicine, we are left to “do” on our own! But our Lord is not “laying the Law down” in our text. That would be useless for we cannot but fail in doing on our own what He prescribes for our good.
What our Lord prescribes He does in us and with usby the working of His Spirit through the power of His Gospel. For as Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians: “It is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). If this is true that God works in us by His peace-full Gospel assurance of the forgiveness of our sins, shall we act in our lives as if He is not working in us? Shall we shame Him before the world by behaving as the world does, when we have been made “clean because of the Word” He has spoken to us? (John 15:1-5) God forbid!
Therefore, Paul prays that the power of God’s peace in Christ may continue to set the Thessalonians and us apart unto God in holiness of life. He who has declared us Holy in Christ, will also make us holy through Christ. He will not abandon anyone who keeps on coming to Him for His forgiveness and help. So, we who are saints are encouraged to strive all our days to be the saints that we are. We have the assurance that He will work with us until we reach perfection in the resurrection from the dead. “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it!” [v.24] Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.