1 Thessalonians 5:15-18
Sundry Important Exhortations
We continue with the various exhortations which Paul lays out for the Thessalonians but which are important for all of us to hear. First, there are few things so contradictory to the Christian life than the desire, much less the act, of vengeance. We follow a Lord who blessed those who cursed him and said from the cross of those mocking his pain, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). It is human nature to want to get even, which is to say it is our sinful nature (our flesh) which wants to get revenge. We have been given a new nature through our regeneration. What is impossible for pagans should be “natural” for those who are reborn of the Spirit. Moreover, we are required not only not to seek vengeance but to do good to those who do us evil. Now I don’t think that this is a call to be foolish in our relations with others, that is, that we should seek to be taken advantage of. But when that happens, we must bear it manfully and even graciously. It is this attitude and habit which sets the Christian apart.
Then we have some rapid fire exhortations: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” This is written in the ESV such that all three of these exhortations belong together as God’s will in Christ Jesus for us. Rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks in all circumstances are to be a daily affair for us. Of prayer, Leon Morris writes, “Though it is quite impossible for us always to be uttering the words of prayer, it is possible and necessary that we should always be living in the spirit of prayer” (NICNT, 173). The same is true for rejoicing and giving thanks in all circumstances. As with seeking vengeance, it is a contradiction for a Christian to exhibit a spirit of joylessness, complaining, strife, and even worse, bitterness. The Christian, above all other people, is called to express the very opposite. We have been washed, redeemed, and transferred from darkness to light, from the wrath to come to everlasting joy. Yes, life will throw hardships at us, some worse than others. But Christians do not live their lives by chance but in the light of God’s providence. This is why we are called to rejoice, pray, and give thanks “in Christ,” to live our lives daily “in Christ,” to understand that nothing happens to us apart from him and his daily care (NICNT, 174).
I understand that reading these exhortations can make us feel so defeated. We know that we are so far away from living them. But Paul didn’t say these things to depress us but to encourage us. This is the life that is ours through the power of the Spirit—and it really is the life that sets us apart.