Read the Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5
Just as Paul had reminded the Thessalonians earlier, “You received from us how you ought to walk” (1 Thess. 4:1), so in 1 Thess. 5:1 Paul again notes, “You have no need that I should write to you.” The idea here is that Paul is not disclosing new information to the church; rather, he is reminding them about his previous teachings and, perhaps, expanding on his earlier exhortations. The subject in view in 1 Thess. 5:1–11 is Jesus’ return, which Paul refers to as “the day of the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:2). This topic would have been on Paul’s readers’ minds for in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 Paul had addressed the fate of believers who had passed away, presumably as the church was being persecuted (cf. Acts 17:5–9). While curiosity may lead believers to question “the times and seasons” (1 Thess. 5:1) of Christ’s return, in this passage Paul’s focus is on the nature of the day of the Lord, which he describes as being unexpected—that is, it “comes as a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2).
The persecution of the church likely led many to question when Jesus would return and how evil men could presently cry, “Peace and safety” (1 Thess. 5:3). In response, as he notes that the day of the Lord is imminent, Paul uses two illustrations to describe Christ’s looming judgment: a thief in the night and a woman experiencing labor pains. Note that these examples had been used earlier by Jesus Himself as he taught about the end-times (cf. Matt. 24:8, 43; Mark 13:8). These illustrations are appropriate, for both describe sudden events that involve loss or pain. For unbelievers, the day of the Lord will include God’s “wrath” (1 Thess. 5:9). While believers can’t know the timing of Jesus’ return (cf. Matt. 24:36; 2 Pet. 3:10), they can prepare themselves by watching, praying, and being sober-minded. Note that Paul appropriately describes the church as “sons of light” (1 Thess. 5:5) in this passage.
1 Thess. 5:12–22 contains various exhortations for the church, with 1 Thess. 5:12–13 focusing specifically upon church leadership. Here Paul wrote, “We urge, you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you” (1 Thess. 5:12). Note the term “recognize” used here means to appreciate or to respect. In this verse Paul describes three duties of pastors: (1) laboring, (2) overseeing, and (3) admonishing. Observe that the writer of Hebrews later gave a similar exhortation, writing, “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the Word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. . . . Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:7, 17).
In 1 Thess. 5:13b–22 Paul gives fifteen exhortations to the church. Whereas 1 Thess. 5:12–13a addresses the relationship between laymen and pastors, 1 Thess. 5:13b–22 focuses on interaction within the congregation. In short, Paul’s exhortations here address the way people ought to treat each other. Areas of church life that Paul speaks to in this passage include believers’ moral choices, spiritual progress, and emotional state. Note the following four summary observations about this passage: first, Paul is concerned with peace in the church (cf. 1 Thess. 5:13b, 14); second, Paul wanted the church to exhibit patience and humility (cf. 1 Thess. 5:14–15); third, Paul exhorted the church to pursue moral goodness, abstaining from evil (cf. 1 Thess. 5:15, 21–22); and fourth, Paul desired for the church to pray and to give attention to the Scriptures (cf. 1 Thess. 5:17, 20).
In the closing verses of this epistle Paul gives a blessing, an admonition, and a final greeting. Paul’s blessing is interesting, as he writes, “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you” (1 Thess. 5:23). The notion that sanctification is a work of God may be challenging for some, as many people view justification as a work of God but understand sanctification to be work of man. Indeed, taken at face value, the exhortations that Paul gave earlier in this chapter appear to put the burden of sanctification upon man. Yet, Scripture is clear that both justification and sanctification are the work of God (cf. Phil. 1:6; Heb. 12:2; Jude 1:1). A helpful verse in explaining the dynamic between man’s duty and God’s work is Eph. 2:10, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (cf. Phil. 2:13).
- What is the Day of the Lord? Why would a new church, like the believers gathered in Thessalonica, be so interested in the doctrine of eschatology?
- What does it mean to be ready for the day of the Lord? What things can believers do to prepare for Jesus’ return?
- What does it mean for the church to “watch and be sober” (1 Thess. 5:6; cf. Matt. 25:1–13)?
- How often have you communicated your appreciation for the pastors at your church? How could you encourage your church leadership?
- Of Paul’s fifteen specific exhortations in 1 Thess. 5:13b–22, which one(s) do you find the most difficulty to obey?