Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-23 NKJV
Even if you are not a fan of professional sports, I think you are probably aware of the fact that as time winds down and the end of the game is near, the approach of the players towards the game begins to change. Now this could be a result of the coach making adjustments, or a response to how the other team is playing, but generally speaking most of the competitors are very aware of the time remaining and adjust their game accordingly.
As I have studied the subject of the end times over the course of my life, it soon became apparent to me that the Bible contains quite a bit of instruction on how we as believers are supposed to live as we see the end of this age approaching. Paul especially seems to focus on this subject in most of his writings, and this passage is a very good example of that. Here Paul has been talking to the Thessalonians about the rapture of the Church and the events surrounding it, and after admonishing them to be watchful, he immediately gives instructions on our personal conduct.
You see, much like a player in a game adjusting his efforts as the end approaches, we as believers need to “adjust our game” as we see the end is near. So Paul lists a few things we should all be aware of and use as guidelines for our walk with God especially at such a time as this. So I want to share a few points I see in this passage from Thessalonians with the hope it will help you as well as it has helped me.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks”. Now I suppose we could call these the big three of the Christian life. Why is that? Maybe because it is so hard to do? Everyone will at some time or another experience some of the hardships that life can throw at us. Yet it is the attitude of believers towards hardships that should set us apart from the world around us! Many of you probably saw the news this past week of the wildfire in Central Washington which caused so much damage. Over 60 homes and outbuildings along with a number of animals and livestock were lost. Fortunately for us personally, the fire got no closer than about 5 miles away, yet the effect on those who experienced loss is devastating.
However it was amazing to hear interviews with some of those who lost everything and yet thanked God for sparing their lives and acknowledged that there was a reason for it and God was in control. What a witness it is to stand up and rejoice in the middle of suffering and thank God for the circumstances we find ourselves in. Where the world would be bitter and resentful, the Christian rejoices and thanks God for whatever happens. Why? “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” God arranges the events we find ourselves in for the express purpose of allowing us the opportunity to serve Him by exhibiting the attitudes listed above. Strange as it sounds, no one really notices your witness when everything is going great. It's easy to be happy when things are good, but when things go bad it seems everyone is watching to see how you will react. Those are the times when our witness can glorify God in ways we could never imagine.
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things;” Speaking of a fire, the Greek word for “quench” literally means to put out a fire! As hard as it seems, the fact that we are warned about this obviously means as the end approaches some will succumb to the temptation to ignore what the Holy Spirit is telling them to do. The late Ray Stedman of Peninsula Bible Church shared some great words on this verse and I think he does a much better job of explaining it than I can, so let me share that with you.
Two simple things are here: Do not ignore the Spirit's prompting; and do not despise the Scripture's wisdom. The Spirit's promptings always come in two areas: Stop doing what is wrong, and start doing what is right. If you are a Christian at all you are familiar with the inner feeling that says, "God wants you to do something," or "God wants you to stop doing something." We all have felt this inner guidance. What the apostle is saying is, "Give in to those feelings." When the Spirit prompts you to show love to somebody, do it; do not hold back.
I once heard of a man who said, "Sometimes when I think of how my wife works and blesses me, it's all I can do to keep from telling her that I love her!" There is a man being guided by the Spirit, but he is quenching the Spirit. Do not do that. Go ahead and tell her you love her. You may have to pick her off the floor afterward, but do not quench the Spirit!
Then, second, do not ignore the Scripture's wisdom: "Do not despise prophesying." Unfortunately, because of certain cultic tendencies in our day, we think of prophesying as some special power to predict the future either for ourselves individually or for the world at large. But prophesying was not that. Dr. F. F. Bruce, who is one of the great expositors of our day, says prophesying is "declaring the mind of God in the power of the Spirit." In those early days, before the New Testament was written, this was done orally; prophets spoke the mind of the Spirit in an assembly. But since the writing of the Scriptures we have very little need for any kind of prophesying other than that based upon the Scriptures. So prophesying really becomes what we call today expository preaching and teaching. It is what I am doing right now. It is opening the mind of God from the Word of God. Do not despise that, says the apostle. That is the wisdom of God. That is telling you how to act, how to think and how to order your life. Do not treat it lightly. It will save you countless headaches and heartaches if you observe it.
But, the apostle adds, "test it." It is easy to imitate this. Anyone can stand up and say in a deep tone of voice, "This is the word of the Lord." We must learn to test what is said from what has already been revealed. Paul commended the Bereans for this, saying they were more noble than those in Thessalonica because they "received the word with all readiness of heart and searched the Scriptures daily whether these things were so," (Acts 17:11). Test it, is what Paul is saying.
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely” Do you notice who it is here that does the changing in us? So often we think that sanctification is a result of our hard work, when the truth is that sanctification comes from God, and our good works are the result. Our responsibility is to simply make the choice to allow God to work in us and He will do the rest. “He who calls you [is] faithful, who also will do [it].” Our Father in heaven is faithful to do what He has promised. Ray Stedman also had this to say about this verse; “Choose to obey and he will give you power to perform; but he will not give you the power to perform until you make the choice to obey!”
Most of us would agree the signs of the end are all around us. How important is it then to pay attention to these verses which Paul uses to instruct us on how we are to live in the very time we find ourselves in?