This last section of 1 Thessalonians can feel at times as just a series of commands that Paul had to put somewhere. But they do have a place within the purpose of the book. They are giving some practical commands on how one can progress in their faith. Remember the point of 1 Thessalonians is to encourage the church (who are already doing well) to excel in their faith. These verses provide us with some practical instruction toward doing that:
- Have a proper view of church leaders. God has provided leaders within the church. These individuals are supposed to be respected based upon the hard work they put in. These leaders would include all the ones given to the church (Ephesians 4:11), plus families who show themselves as exemplary (1 Corinthians 16:15,16). These individuals should be held in “high regard.” Notice this is not because of a position they hold, but because of a work that they do! (12,13)
- Be long-suffering towards all. Christians have to learn to live, work, and exist together in community. As Christians we are part of the body of Christ and therefore are interrelated with other disciples. However, being long-suffering does not mean we treat everyone equally. It means looking out for the unruly, fainthearted, and weak and dealing with each group appropriately. (14)
- Do not seek vengeance. What a temptation it must have been for these Christians to lash-out at their persecutors. Paul states that is not their place (there will be a more in-depth discussion of why in 2 Thessalonians). They are supposed to do good to fellow Christians and to all people (15).
- Be joyful and thankful. This church before this letter was written was grieving over their dead loved ones (whom they thought would never see Jesus). They were (are) suffering persecution. Paul, however has given them ONE MAJOR reason for joyfulness and thanksgiving (he gave them more than one, but this one is major). The one being the final return of Jesus. That should be a source of joy and thanksgiving. In fact it makes it so that no matter what we are facing we still have our joy and the ability to be thankful! (16-18)
- Hear the word of God. Paul has praised this church on a few occasions in this letter about how they received God’s word. He does not want them to stop this tradition. He tells them to hear prophesy (prophesy does not usually mean telling the future, but instead speaking the message of God). In fact if they refuse to hear the word of God then they are quenching the Spirit of God who is the source of true prophecy! Once the message is heard, we should accept what is true and reject what is false (19-21).
Paul concludes this section and in fact this letter with a reminder of God’s work. This book puts an emphasis on Christians growing in their faith. It pushes us to excel and to do more. Paul does not want us to forget that God is working in us. We are not doing this alone. God is at work within us also: