The following is a message I prepared in 2007-2008 and was apparently appreciated as a mailout to my readers. I want to share part one of the three parts today and hope to continue in series. cw
16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. 23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Thessalonians 5:16-23).
In my continual rearranging of my office, after my son Mark built new bookshelves for me, I found another old book with memories. It was an old Bible. In November 1951, when I was eight years old, I made a profession of faith and was baptized into the Gordon Street Baptist Church in Atlanta. I was not really saved at that time, though I was sincere in my profession. I learned a lot of things about the Bible in church and Sunday School during the following years that have stayed with me in some measure over the years. When I was baptized, the church gave me this Bible. It was specially published by National Bible Publishers for the Southern Baptist Convention. It had lots of pictures in it, which as a child, I enjoyed. I began looking at some passages I had marked. There are a number of them, for this was my only Bible from age eight until I was really saved in 1963 at age 21. I came across the above passages, which were marked as follows: “RX” (the abbreviation for prescription). That’s all it said; “RX”. I have been attempting to remember the entry and determine “RX” -- for what?
In looking at the context of First Thessalonians, I have decided that the preacher or teacher who called this to my attention was correct. These verses are a prescription for the Christian. The context tells me, since so much in this book of the Bible refers to the coming of the Lord, that this RX concerns how to be ready for His second coming in our daily walk. Chapter five begins with these words “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-5).
The apostle Paul goes on to tell us more about Christ’s return, followed by practical instruction on daily living in the church such as “We exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men” (I Thessalonians 5:14,15) and then immediately after this, Paul gives us several short, very practical, precepts about how to live the Christian life until Jesus Christ returns. This is where I want to focus today, since this part was marked in that old Bible so many years ago.
Look at verse 16: Rejoice evermore. (Greek = chairō, to rejoice; to be full of cheer, joy, etc…) This is definitely to be the attitude of a Christian. Our rejoicing is to be not in things of this world, but in the Lord: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:5). This exact Greek word is used five times in Philippians translated rejoice, plus translated as joy twice. Rejoice is found four more times in Philippians alone, translated from other Greek words that have shades of meaning such as to boast. Our boasting as well as our joy and rejoicing must be in the Lord Christ.
Rejoice is used many more times, not only in the NT, but in the OT in various shades of meaning (actually more that the NT). Throughout the ages, God’s people are to be a rejoicing, jubilant people. As Matthew Henry said in commenting on I Thessalonians 5:16, “ In Him our joy will be full; and it is our fault if we have not a continual feast”. As Paul has told us here, and in all his epistles, we Christians have something to rejoice about even more that the OT saints, for since Christ cried “It is finished”, we have something that the prophets could only see afar off; something that if we fully grasped, we would be shouting every moment of our lives -- we have complete salvation in Jesus Christ! If nothing else, Jesus said to rejoice that our names are written in heaven (see Luke 10:20).
PRAY WITHOUT CEASING
Commenting on verse 17, Matthew Henry says“ Note, the way to rejoice evermore is to pray without ceasing. We should rejoice more if we prayed more.” Jesus gave the parable of the unjust judge to show that men ought always to pray and not faint. We need to live in prayer, and by prayer, because we are commanded by Christ to do so. We are to pray, led by the Holy Spirit; in the Holy Spirit; honoring God the Father in heaven, and in the name of Jesus Christ. Matthew Henry says again: “We should pray always, and not faint: pray without weariness, and continue in prayer, till we come to that world where prayer shall be swallowed up in praise. The meaning is not that men should do nothing but pray, but that nothing else we do should hinder prayer in its proper season.”
If our Lord Jesus, who is God manifest in human flesh, prayed often and fervently, we must do the same. Our prayers are not to change God’s mind, but to put us more in harmony with His blessed will. We know that in the model prayer our Lord teaches us to say “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).This is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer. The actual “Lord’s Prayer” is John 17, which is Jesus’ prayer for His own. Our prayers should be directed by the Holy Spirit, “For we know not what we should pray for as we ought--”(Romans 8:26). A season of prayer ought to be in every day of our life. Prayer does not change God -- it changes us!
IN EVERYTHING GIVE THANKS
Here in verse 18, Paul says “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” He is speaking not only of prayer, but of rejoicing as well. Part of God’s purpose is that we come as needy children to Him daily. Of course, we have a will, we have volition; we ask things of God sincerely from our own hearts, but ultimately all is controlled by God. We have accountability; what we do matters, or we would not be told to pray (as we are told in scripture numerous times). But, He is the compass, the stabilizer, the guide of our ship, the builder of our ship, the planner and sustainer of our route. He has marked out beforehand (predestinated), our path. It is much easier on us when we know this. “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God; to them who are the called, according to His purpose”(Romans 8:28). He will prevail. If you desire, as the devil does, to thwart God’s eternal purpose, you cannot do it! God’s eternal purpose is just that -- eternal! It is not a temporal, changeable, purpose. We live in time and fail to grasp God’s purpose, yet we have no choice, ultimately, but to yield to it. His will shall be done!
I am not going to tell you that it is easy for any mortal to give God thanks for everything, but we are commanded to do so if we are His. It was the hardest thing in the world for my wife and I to be thankful to God when He took our eldest son at age 41. I was not angry with God -- a bit puzzled, but not angry. Yet, it took a while to be able to thank Him. Now we can say “Even so, Father for it seemed good in thy sight”. This comes about only by the grace of God, I assure you!
QUENCH NOT THE SPIRIT
God’s Spirit, in a sense, can be resisted, grieved, and quenched, and a believer may be denied the sense of His presence for a time. (See Acts:7:21; Ephesians 4:30; Psalm 51:11) This will not affect God’s ultimate purpose one bit, but it will serve to teach us something. One thing we can see from these admonitions; we are responsible to do more with our lives than sit around and pontificate on God‘s sovereignty, or other "pet" doctrines. Understand what I mean! He has mapped out our path beforehand, just as He has chosen His elect beforehand. Just as you cannot tell who the elect are, until God reveals it, you cannot tell the totality of your predestined path until it unfolds. The best way is to submissively do these things He commands in His word, and watch and pray, and see His revealed will unfold in your life. Remember: “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Romans 8: 9b), also:“ For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons (children) of God” Romans 8:14). God has a secret will, that you and I will not know until it pleases Him, if ever. He does show his revealed will by His word, and His Holy Spirit as the Bible teaches us. By way of review from our first study on Divine Mysteries, remember “The secret (Heb. sathar), things belong unto the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed (Heb.galah) belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Here secret means hidden, or concealed. God is not going to tell us everything in this life, but He will reveal what He wants us to know. “ For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” ( I Corinthians 13:12).
The true believer is baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ at regeneration “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13).
The true believer is to be filled with God’s Spirit “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--” (Ephesians 5:18-20).
The true believer is to walk in the Spirit that the flesh be not in control. “ This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
We can grieve the Holy Spirit by following the flesh, by stubbornly and willfully refusing to be guided by Him, or stubbornly and willfully going a way inconsistent with the word of God. Remember the Holy Spirit will not lead a child of God to go against the clear teaching of the word of God! That is why we are commanded to read and meditate on God’s word. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path“(Psalm 119:105). This is called human responsibility, and if you are indeed a real Christian, you are going to have to cope with it. “ He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” ( I John 2:4).
DESPISE NOT PROPHESYINGS
Here we are cautioned against despising the preached word. I can’t help but quote Matthew Henry again. He is very good on these verses, I think (actually Mr. Henry did not live to complete his respected commentary on the whole Bible, only completing through part of Romans. However, he had sketched out numerous notes, allowing others to complete the books after his death. In this case we owe Mr. Daniel Mayo).
“By prophesyings here we are to understand the preaching of the word, the interpreting and applying of the scriptures; and this we must not despise, but should prize and value, because it is the ordinance of God, appointed of him for our furtherance and increase in knowledge and grace, in holiness and comfort. We must not despise preaching, though it be plain, and not with enticing words of men's wisdom, and though we be told no more than what we knew before. It is useful, and many times needful, to have our minds stirred up, our affections and resolutions excited, to those things that we knew before to be our interest and our duty”.
In Paul’s day this referred as well to miraculous utterance in the Spirit, special gifts primarily given in the establishing of the NT church. Many at Corinth had considered tongues the greater gift and were boasting in this gift. Paul made it clear that prophesying was a greater gift. “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.
But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. ( I Corinthians 14:1-3)
Whether you are one who believes that tongues have totally ceased in our day (Paul stated that they would cease at some point, as well as miraculous prophesies), you will have to concede that few valid examples of these gifts exist, or are extremely hard to prove. Does He still work miracles today? Certainly our Sovereign God can use any means He pleases, but His primary way of declaration of the gospel to saint and sinner alike is not with extraordinary gifts, but through the preaching of those who dedicate themselves to study, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” ( I Corinthians 13:8-10)
It is quite obvious that when applied to our 21st century church, the primary application of prophesying is the preaching, or heralding, of the word of God. We are not to despise it. We are not to ignore it, but heed it, applying it to our lives. However it is not without qualification. We are to:
PROVE ALL THINGS
This has a direct reference to the prophesying. There are many voices today saying they are preaching the truth of God; the word of God. How do we know who is telling the truth? We must be like the Bereans “These were more noble than those at Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
Remember, the Bereans had only Old Testament scrolls at that time, for the New Testament was in the process of being written. It was understood by the Jews that prophets and teachers must be checked against God’s word, i.e.…the law and the prophets. If they spoke against this, it was because there was no light in them (Isaiah 8:20). When Paul preached to Agrippa, he referred to his knowledge of God’s word to make his case (See Acts 26: 25-29). So the principle of “prove all things, hold fast to that which is good” was already in force. We do not have to accept, or even listen to just any preaching. In fact there is some we should definitely avoid! Listen only to that which is proven scriptural and edifying. That which is in harmony with the word, we hold fast, because it is good. Hold on to the good, and reject the bad. This is absolutely necessary!
Every person who claims to be of God, speaking in God’s name, is not really doing so. Remember, Christ Himself, and all the apostles (especially John), warned against these false prophets, these antichrists that would come on the scene.
“Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” ( I John 2:18-19).
If the antichrists existed then, far more now, for Christ said:“ For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before” (Matthew 24:24-25).
So Jesus Christ Himself is warning us, as Paul later did, to Prove all things. Just because someone says they are a prophet, a preacher, a man of God, don’t think you can just take it at face value -- prove all things.
As John goes on to say:
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” ( I John 4:1-4).
A word of caution here. None of us have all the truth. None of us are infallible. Even preachers make mistakes. I am not saying to leave a church, reject a brother, or count as a heretic one who errs on some small, non-essential, points. If indeed it is a true gospel church, correct on the essentials of the faith, and the elders are correctly declaring Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, they should be heard, not opposed, without strong, biblical reasons. If you see some small deviation you should pray for them, and pray for God’s guidance for yourself. You may ask, what are essentials? You may see others, but these are the clearest ones that I can see: 1.The Virgin Birth of Christ, 2.Biblical inerrancy, 3.Literal resurrection of Christ, and His saints, 4. Total Depravity of man, 5. Sovereignty of God, 6. Physical return of the Lord Jesus Christ in the future, 7.Jesus Christ as the only Savior of sinners, 8. The New Testament Church the only organization ever started by Christ, 9. Believer’s baptism and the Lord’s supper, 10. Believers commanded to live a godly life, separate from worldliness. So then any preacher, or church that denies these ten absolutes should be avoided like the plague. This is what the scriptures teach, as far as I understand them..
(We will continue this study in the next issue, D.V…)
Published by Charles Woodruff- email: firstname.lastname@example.org