Community Standards and Complete Sanctification
The church is the family of God. Paul beautifully expresses this truth at the end of his letter to the Thessalonians by using the term “brothers” five times (1 Thess. 5:12, 14, 25, 26, 27). Every family has rules, whether spoken or unspoken, or more likely, a combination of both. So it is in God’s family. There is certain conduct that is to flow from those converted by the power of God. God doesn’t save us to leave us alone. He saves us to sanctify us. We are His holy people, set apart for His glory.
Unlike some of Paul’s other letters to churches, the church in Thessalonica received a good report. To be sure, there were problems that needed to be addressed, like idleness, but overall this church received praise. Even so, Paul wants them to increase in doing the good things they are already doing. Therefore, he closes his first letter to them with exhortations regarding how to conduct themselves as the family of God. These exhortations have much to teach our churches today.
Paul first exhorts the believers regarding their relationship with church leaders (1 Thess. 5:12-13). These leaders had received their position by the Lord, labored among the believers, and admonished them in matters of the faith. The church members were to recognize their work and respect them in love. One of the greatest ways they could do this was by being at peace with one another.
The same is true today. The more we dwell in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, the less our pastors and elders have to spend time seeking to resolve conflict between us. How are you holding your pastors and elders, as well as other leadership, in honor? Are you a joy for them to lead because you’re respectful and submissive to their leadership? Do you pray regularly for them and encourage them with your words and works?
Second, Paul exhorts the believers regarding their relationship with three specific groups of people (1 Thess. 5:14). Some among them were idle. Instead of leading orderly, disciplined lives, they were depending on others to support them and bringing disgrace upon the gospel. Paul tells the believers to admonish them. Others were fainthearted. Perhaps persecution, or their own personal problems, had deeply discouraged their faith. Paul tells the believers to encourage them. Still others were weak. They were in distress physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Paul exhorts the believers to help them. In each of these three cases, Paul makes it clear that patience must rule their interactions with them.
That’s a good word for us today. It’s easy for us to grow impatient with those who are idle, fainthearted or distressed. But by God’s grace, we are to patiently admonish, encourage, and help those whom the Lord has placed in our path. Think about someone in your church who needs your admonishment, encouragement, or help. How will you patiently and lovingly minister to them?
Finally, Paul exhorts the believers regarding their relationships in times of conflict (1 Thess. 5:15-22). If someone experienced evil, whether from someone inside or outside the church, they were not to respond with evil, but with goodness. This was only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. Only by His help could they “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, [and] give thanks in all circumstances” (vv. 16-18). As those who were united to Christ by faith, they were to display conduct that flowed from conversion.
When we repent of our sins and trust in Christ alone for our salvation, our hearts are transformed by the power of God. By rejoicing, praying and giving thanks, believers will not quench the Spirit, but walk in His power. They will be able to discern between truth and error, good and evil, by His enablement.
How are you interacting with those who cause conflict in your life? Are you seeking to make peace and do good to them, or do you want to pay them back for the hurt they’ve caused you? By the power of the Holy Spirit, as we rejoice in who God is and all He has done, prayerfully go about our days, and give thanks in all circumstances, we bring glory to God. Our godly conduct testifies of our great conversion, both of which are only possible by God’s grace.
Paul leaves no doubt in his prayer for the Thessalonians that it is God who sanctifies, “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. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24). Prayer is one of the means God uses to sanctify us, which is why Paul doesn’t just pray for the Thessalonians, but also exhorts them to pray for him (v. 25). How do you need to grow in asking others to pray for you? Who do you need to ask how you can pray for them this week?
Out of His lovingkindness, God chose the believers in Thessalonica to be His children, and His grace would undergird their entire Christian lives. They had peace with Him in Christ Jesus. The Lord’s blessing was upon them. He was keeping them steadfast in the faith. His face and grace shone upon them. The Lord’s name and blessing rested upon them, granting them a peace that pervaded every aspect of their lives (see Num. 6:22-27). In this they could rejoice and give thanks! The same is true for you and me. Let us, then, “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, [and] give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit www.sarahivill.com.