This is a sermon I prepared for St Mark’s Anglican Church, Dromana, VIC, Australia. It’s the first time I’ve been asked to preach on a specific passage. The sermon was to be delivered to both Sunday morning services, the more traditional first service, and the family service. Prep for both is the same, delivery varies depending on audience. My introduction was somewhat reduced from the first to the second service. All Bible verses are in New International Version unless otherwise stated.
I’ll be honest, when I found out that I was to be preaching on the last passage in a sermon series I felt the responsibility greatly. I mean, if you get a passage in the middle and stuff it up, there’s always room for someone to make up for your shortcomings later. When you are the last link in the chain, you are the one that people will often remember.
So who am I, and why am I here in front of you? Most of you have seen me once or twice. I have spent my life in church. As a child we were in church every Sunday. As an adult I have been an active member of every church I have attended in a variety of roles, usually around music and worship.
I grew up in a Christian home to Christian parents. Dad was an electrical technician by trade, working in the Bureau of Statistics for the Department of Transport, Mum was a mother first and foremost but a competent secretary and receptionist working in the Gideons headquarters in Mawson, ACT. While I was still in Primary School my parents felt God calling them into full time overseas ministry. We sold everything, packed all our remaining belongings into our car and headed off to Bible College in Tasmania living in for two years. My teen years were spent in Portugal, and was the time I most developed as a Christian. It was in this time that God instilled in me a love of worship, primarily through music and introduced me to working in and with His people through the local arm of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. After returning to Australia and readjusting to the way of life I joined the Navy as an Avionics Technician. Eighteen years later I find myself changing roles and early next year will commence study and training to become a Navy Chaplain.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
(NIV) “12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”
Paul’s First letter to the Thessalonians – where are we up to?
We’re coming to the end of a very “nice” letter as far as Paul’s writing goes. Paul hasn’t felt to address love, or caring for each other, or how they behave in their local community and the kind of example they set the non Christians around them. Paul even gets to basically saying “just keep doing more of what you’re doing”. I can’t help but wonder how many churches these days would elicit the same response?
Paul knows the church. He gets it and understands what it needs. He didn’t plant a church to be a satellite, but rather an autonomous, self sustaining, and more importantly, self replicating entity.
Thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
These closing verses are written to the church as a whole and cover three aspects of church life: the leadership, the members and public worship.
This passage quite handily lends itself to some bite-size portions. I am always wary of cutting the Bible up into pieces that are too small, as it is very easy to end up taking things way out of context.
“12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.”
The New King James Version says “and we urge you”. “and” is very poignant as it link to what has come immediately before: “11 Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing(NJKV)” verse 11 sums up the closing passage quite nicely, and sets up the following instructions.
Acknowledge those who work hard among you. NKJV uses the word Honour. Recognition where recognition is due.
We are all surrounded by those who have gone before us in the faith. The elders within the church, not by age or title, nor necessarily by time in the faith, but through their spiritual maturity and God-given wisdom and experience. Those who lead us by their example, share their advice, and nudge us back on the path when we stray.
There are two sides to every coin. Likewise these statements work both ways. On the one, hand we, the body, are to treat our elders with respect and honour, listen to them and heed their guidance. By the same measure, though, this implies that those who are elders should be leading and encouraging and “admonishing” and rebuking and “working hard” to do so.
“Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”
Brothers and Sisters. That’s us. We are the children of God. Like brothers and sisters in a family, looking out for each other, so does Paul encourage as to be with each other. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes the healthy, functional family of God to raise the children of God to full maturity.
This is not the ministry of the anointed leadership. Paul quite clearly places this burden on us, the congregation. He expects us to help each other, encourage each other, challenge each other. To be there for each other when we are in need, to walk with those who may be struggling with an aspect of their faith. Too often, especially in the Western world, we offer platitudes “God will make a way”, “He works all things for the good of those who love Him”, “God has a purpose in all of this”, without actually doing what Paul is encouraging which is to do life with each other. The body analogy is relevant. When one part of our body is injured, it affects the whole body. So it should be with the Church. Not that it should drag us down, but that we lift them up. That requires that we be as close as family. Not an Aussie family, where the kids are in Melbourne, Mum and Dad out near Ballarat, and the Grandparents retired in Queensland. More like a European family.
When I was living in Portugal there was a series of traditions surrounding family. Family land would be split among the children. When they married, his family would literally build the house, often next door to the parents house, and her family would furnish it. Godparents were chosen at the same time as the bridal party, and were expected to do life with the family, receiving almost the same level of esteem as the patriarch and Matriarch. As the parents aged, it was the responsibility of the firstborn to look after them. Special occasions would see the gathering of the whole family. Likewise sad occasions. So it should be with us. We should be close enough to know when those among us are hurting, and close enough to be able to speak into their lives when that is needed too.
The challenge, though, is to remain at peace, being patient with everyone. Being the family we need to be for each other isn’t always going to be easy. Sometimes it will smart, however we need to remember and ensure that it is all done in love with intentions and desires for the best.
“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
One of the things I appreciate about Paul is his practicality. No airy-fairy feel-goodedness, solid practicality and serious appreciation of our situation in life and eternity.
Here we are given, not just three attitudes, but three actions that will assist in creating those attitudes. Rejoice, pray, give thanks. this is less about feeling, and more about doing.
“Rejoice always”. Our joy comes from God and our relationship with Him, the creator of all things. He is eternal, unchangeable, His Word never changes, never fails, it does not return to Him without achieving His purpose. He is all-knowing, all powerful. Our joy is found in an immovable source. He is our foundation.
“Pray continually”. Often translated “pray without ceasing”. Does that mean we’re meant to wander around muttering to ourselves? Or repeating prayers ad nauseum? By no means. Our default action in all cases should be to take everything to God.
“Give Thanks in all circumstances”. Does that mean that we have to like everything that happens? No. But whatever happens, no matter what life throws at us, we should be practiced at finding those things for which we can be thankful.
Rejoice, pray, be thankful. Three keys to resilience. Taken together, they provide keys to working our way through the toughest of situations.
“19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
God has given us the Holy Spirit as a helper. To help us understand God’s Word, to encourage us, to equip us for ministry, to teach us, providing us with a suite of tools available for God to use through us at His discretion. It is, however very easy to hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. When we read the Bible and feel challenged or convicted and yet do nothing about it, we frustrate the Spirit’s work. When we hear of those in need at feel the urge to act, yet do not, we hinder the Spirit. When God has placed His gifts at our disposition yet we fail to use them, we stifle the Spirit. When God tries to speak to us and reveal more of Himself either through His Word, or his messengers, but we ignore Him, we quench the Spirit. God encourages us to ask, but we don’t. He tells us to seek, but instead we prefer to be told. God tells us to knock, but instead we wait for the door to open of its own accord. We have been delegated authority in this world, but we ignore it, or we fail to learn how to exercise it properly to the full scope that God intended. We should be more open that we are to the ways God can work in this world and through us. The caution is not to avoid those things that we may be uncomfortable with, but to test them against the truth of the Bible. We should not hide from things we do not understand, but rather we should seek to know the Bible and God’s teaching well enough to weigh everything against God’s truth so that we can “hold on to what is good”, but have the wisdom required abstain from evil.
How can we know evil if we do not intimately know God’s truth for ourselves? That is a challenge for us all.
Finally we end with a reminder that in all of this, it is God that is our shield and defender, it is He who works in us to preserve us. This removes an incredible burden of being tempted to worry about ever really being good enough.
To quote from Vincent Cheung:
“Christians are at times driven to discouragement, and sometimes almost to despair, when they perceive that they fall short of perfection. Paul’s doctrine of sanctification reminds us to place our confidence in God, and not in ourselves. This does not excuse us from our responsibilities, since Paul has just finished listing a number of them. It is not that we may become passive in the pursuit of holiness, bit that even our effort are inspired and energised by God, and that we may have confidence in Hom to do this for us. As Paul writes elsewhere, “Therefore my dear friends, as you have always obeyed (…) continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose“(Phil 2:12-13)”
The work is God’s we need to allow Him to do it. In us and through us. And we are encouraged to help each other through this journey of faith in practice.
“23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you”