By Peter Amsterdam
April 11, 2023
Having responded to the Thessalonians’ questions regarding love amongst the believers, what happens to the dead in Christ, and the timing of the day of the Lord, Paul moved on to speak about leadership in the Thessalonian church.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.1
Since Paul, Silas, and Timothy—the founders of the Thessalonian church—could no longer be present, it was important to establish leadership within the church. Later in Paul’s writings, he lists the qualifications of church leadership in order to help Timothy and Titus appoint elders in Ephesus and Crete. There he stated:
An overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.2
We’re not told what instructions Paul gave to the Thessalonian believers regarding choosing the leadership of the church. The text indicates that Paul and his partners left it up to the church to discern who were the up-and-coming leaders. Their instruction to the church was to respect these leaders and highly esteem them. The phrase we ask you is the same verb which was used in chapter 4, verse 1, and meant “to beseech” or “to entreat.” Paul entreats the believers to respect, to honor, to recognize the local leadership of the Thessalonian church. These leaders received the approval of Paul and his partners because they did the work. They weren’t chosen because of their status or social position, but rather due to the labor they put in as members of the church.
Paul speaks of the work these leaders did in three ways. First, they labor among you. The Greek word translated as labor has to do with participating in difficult or exhausting work. It is used in Paul’s writings; for example:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.3
To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.4
In toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.5
These leaders worked hard for the benefit of their congregation.
Secondly, these leaders who labor among the believers are referred to as those who are over you in the Lord.6 There is some difference of opinion regarding the phrase are over you. The term could be used to express the idea of “to preside” or “govern.” It could also mean to protect, to be concerned about, to help. In this time, those who exercised leadership in towns and villages were benefactors, who helped the community. However, while they may have been benefactors, their authority and leadership were rooted in their relationship with the Lord.
Lastly, Paul goes on to say that those who are the leaders of the church are those who admonish the believers and correct their errors, both doctrinal and moral. In Paul’s time, getting correction from others was considered profitable for a person’s well-being. It was considered one of the main responsibilities of parents toward their children.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.7
It was also Paul’s responsibility to correct the believers when necessary.
I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.8
Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.9
Paul goes on to say:
And to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.10
Besides respecting those who labor among the believers and who are over them in the Lord, Paul goes further by exhorting the believers to hold those who are leaders in the church in the highest regard, to show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. The honor and esteem they are given is not due to their social status, riches, or family name. It is for the work they have done for the benefit of the church.
Be at peace among yourselves.11
The believers were called to a commitment of peace among themselves. This teaching was rooted in the teaching of Jesus. Be at peace with one another.12 The call to live in peace with everyone, both members of the church and those outside of the church, became part of the Christian instruction in Paul’s writings.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.13
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.14
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.15
God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints.16
Peace was considered one of the fruits of the Spirit in a believer’s life.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.17
Paul then urges the Thessalonians:
We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.18
Paul moves on to address how the Thessalonian believers should respond to various types of people within the church. While the church leaders played a key role in the Christian community, the responsibility didn’t fall only on them. Members of the church shared the responsibility to help each other to build up their faith and to strengthen those who needed help to grow spiritually.
Members of the church were to admonish the idle. The idle or disorderly members of the church were probably those who had remained part of the patron/client system and who had ignored Paul’s teaching and example of working to earn one’s bread. As will be seen in 2 Thessalonians, the apostles had to address this issue a second time.
Paul instructed the Thessalonian believers to encourage the fainthearted. Paul was referring to those who were in danger of giving up. They had gone through so much, including severe persecution from their countrymen19 and the death of loved ones.20 They were discouraged and needed help and encouragement to keep them from losing heart.
The believers were also instructed to help the weak. It’s not known who Paul was specifically speaking of when he referred to the weak. It might have been those who were physically sick within the church. It may have been the spiritually weak, who were focused on outward matters of religion such as not eating specific foods. It might also have been those who had no social status in society because they were slaves or former slaves, or because of their economic situation. Whoever they were, Paul encouraged the believers to help them, to pay attention to them, and to be loyal to them.
Be patient with them all.
Paul then instructed the Thessalonians to be patient and tolerant of others, no matter what their status or situation. He may have been referring to the tolerance which was needed to act in a charitable and loving manner toward those who were disorderly, discouraged, or weak. Each group had special needs which could cause friction among the others. Patience toward everyone was therefore needed.
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.21
The Thessalonian believers had faced hostilities and persecution, as pointed out earlier.
For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen.22
Because of this experience, perhaps there was a desire among some members of the church to find ways to pay back those who had persecuted them. Also, there were those within the church who did not fully conform to the moral standards of the community and who took advantage of their fellow believers. This caused some of the believers to desire payback, to repay wrong for wrong, instead of correcting them for their benefit and to build them up.
Paul showed the Thessalonians that there was a better way than resorting to personal vengeance. They were to do good to all, both to those in the church and those outside who had done them ill. He later gave a similar message to the church in Rome:
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.23
What good advice!
At this point in the letter to the Thessalonians, Paul pauses the instructions for believers and moves on to some points which speak to a Christian’s relationship with God.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.24
The first of three points is to rejoice always. Earlier Paul referred to the joy the Thessalonians experienced in the midst of persecution.
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.25
In the book of Philippians, Paul made the same point.
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.26
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.27
The second instruction was for the believers to pray without ceasing. This wasn’t a demand that a believer spend each moment of every day in prayer, as this would be impossible. This is a purposeful exaggeration, which echoes Jesus’ command to His disciples that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.28 We find it elsewhere throughout the Epistles: be constant in prayer,29 praying at all times in the Spirit,30 Continue steadfastly in prayer.31 The point being made is that prayers shouldn’t be confined to specific set times, but rather should be a constant part of a believer’s life.
The third instruction Paul gave was to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. While it is not specifically stated who is being thanked, the assumption is that Paul was speaking of giving thanks to God, as he often begins his letters with thanks to God for the churches.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.32
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.33
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.34
Paul tells the Thessalonians to be thankful in every situation, no matter how good or disagreeable it may be. Thanksgiving should be a hallmark of a Christian.
Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.35
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.36
Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.37
Paul then moves to another topic:
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.38
In this last group of instructions, Paul addresses the use of prophecy in the church. Some members were prohibiting the use of public prophecy. The first phrase, do not quench the Spirit, means to not extinguish the fire, or as it says in the NIV translation, Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. It seems that some of the Thessalonian believers had tried to prohibit the gifts of the Spirit in their church. Within Scripture, the Holy Spirit has been compared with fire.
I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.39
The presence of the Spirit in the church was likened to prophecy among God’s people.
In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.40
When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.41
The second phrase is: Do not despise prophecies. The NIV translation says: do not treat prophecies with contempt. Paul and his companions wanted to encourage the church to have a more positive response to prophecies. The use of the verb “despise” could mean either that the believers should not despise prophecies or that they shouldn’t reject them. The second sense of not rejecting prophecies is most likely the meaning here.
We’re not told why some members rejected prophecy in the church. It may have been that some prophecies were of questionable origin, or that some members became overly enthused with the more supernatural gifts, which caused a negative reaction in others.
The third point was to test everything; hold fast what is good. Rather than rejecting all prophecy in the church, Paul counselled that the prophecies should be tested. The everything they were to test meant the prophecies that some in the Thessalonian church had rejected. Paul knew that the church was responsible to verify whether prophecies were genuine or not, because there were some false prophets within the church who promoted false doctrines. Having tested a prophecy and judged that it was divine, they were then to take it seriously and hold on to it. A prophecy that was genuine would help to build up the church.
Abstain from every form of evil.
While the Thessalonians were to embrace genuine prophetic messages, they were also instructed to reject those which were otherwise. This last instruction is the final direction given regarding prophecies.
With this, Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians comes to an end. He closes his letter to the Thessalonians with a final prayer.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.42
Paul emphasized that God Himself is the source of believers’ sanctification. While they must live their life in alignment with His will, they are not left on their own as they strive to achieve that goal. God called them and will, through the Holy Spirit, carry out His work in their lives.
Paul refers to God as the God of peace, which is frequently found in his writings.43 Peace in this context, and elsewhere in Paul’s writings, is akin to salvation.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.44
He also wanted the Thessalonians to understand that this sanctification included their whole being. He expressed this by writing may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless. This is the only place in Paul’s writing where he uses these terms together. He prays that God will sanctify them completely—spirit, soul, and body. His wish is that God will keep them blameless so they can stand before Him without shame or guilt at the coming of our Lord.
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.45
Paul added a note of encouragement. What God began by calling the Thessalonians, He will complete at the coming of Jesus. God is faithful, and His faithfulness is understood here as a surety. He will fulfill the promise He has made to His people. Knowing the nature of God, Paul can declare with all confidence that God will surely do it.
Brothers, pray for us.46
After praying for the Thessalonian believers, Paul asked for them to pray for him and his partners. Asking for prayer from the churches was something he often did at the end of his letters.47
Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.48
Paul’s closing prayer, along with his putting them under oath in the next verse, assumes that the Thessalonian Christians had gathered together for the reading of the letter, so that all the church would hear what Paul had written. Having heard the letter, they were to engage in a greeting which would show that they were in unity. A holy kiss is found in three other Pauline letters.49 In 1 Peter 5:14, it is referred to as a kiss of love.
One author explains: In the early Christian communities, which embraced all social classes (Slaves, libertini, and free) and various races (including Greeks, Romans, Macedonians, and Jews), the holy kiss would serve as an affirmation of their filial unity as “brothers and sisters” in the common faith. In the case of the Thessalonians, the tensions that existed between the brothers and sisters (vs 5:13–15, 19–20) would be another reason why the apostle urged that all should be greeted with a kiss.50
I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.51
At the end of this letter, Paul steps out from his fellow authors, Silas (Silvanus) and Timothy, to add a final exhortation; so the text changes from the plural (we ask you, we urge you) to the singular, I put you under oath. It may be that Paul wrote these final words in his own hand, as he did in 2 Thessalonians 3:17. The language he used here is quite strong. I put you under oath before the Lord, or as it says in other translations, I charge you by the Lord (KJV) or I command you in the name of the Lord (NLT). Paul wants them to swear by or before the Lord that they will read this letter to all of the Thessalonian church.
Paul recognized the need for the brothers (and sisters) to gather together to hear the message of his letter. Everyone, including the illiterate, needed to hear the encouragement, instruction, and correction which was included in this letter. The letter took the place of Paul’s presence and was representative of his being among them and of his authority.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.52
Paul brings this letter to its end as he does all his letters.53 Paul invokes a blessing on the Thessalonians, asking for what they need most—the grace which comes from our Lord Jesus Christ.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13.
2 1 Timothy 3:1–11. See also Titus 1:5–9.
3 1 Corinthians 15:58.
4 Colossians 1:29 NIV.
5 2 Corinthians 11:27.
6 1 Thessalonians 5:12.
7 Ephesians 6:4.
8 1 Corinthians 4:14.
9 Acts 20:31.
10 1 Thessalonians 5:13.
11 1 Thessalonians 5:13.
12 Mark 9:50.
13 Romans 12:18.
14 2 Corinthians 13:11.
15 Hebrews 12:14.
16 1 Corinthians 14:33.
17 Galatians 5:22.
18 1 Thessalonians 5:14.
19 1 Thessalonians 2:14.
20 1 Thessalonians 4:13.
21 1 Thessalonians 5:15.
22 1 Thessalonians 2:14.
23 Romans 12:17–21.
24 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18.
25 1 Thessalonians 1:6–7.
26 Philippians 3:1.
27 Philippians 4:4.
28 Luke 18:1.
29 Romans 12:12.
30 Ephesians 6:18.
31 Colossians 4:2.
32 Romans 1:8.
33 1 Corinthians 1:4.
34 Colossians 1:3.
35 Ephesians 5:20.
36 Colossians 2:6–7.
37 Colossians 3:17.
38 1 Thessalonians 5:19–22.
39 Matthew 3:11. See also Luke 3:16.
40 Acts 2:17–18.
41 Acts 19:6.
42 1 Thessalonians 5:23.
43 Romans 15:33, 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 4:9.
44 Romans 5:1.
45 1 Thessalonians 5:24.
46 1 Thessalonians 5:25.
47 Romans 15:30–32; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:19–20; Philippians 1:19; Colossians 4:3–4,18; 2 Thessalonians 3:1–2; Philemon 22.
48 1 Thessalonians 5:26.
49 Romans 16:16;1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12.
50 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 271.
51 1 Thessalonians 5:27.
52 1 Thessalonians 5:28.
53 Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 16:23; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Galatians 6:18; Ephesians 6:24; Philippians 4:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:18; 1 Timothy 6:21; 2 Timothy 4:22; Titus 3:15; Philemon 25.