Some Reflections on 1 Thess 5:16-24

May 18, 2011

16 Be joyful always, 17 pray at all times, 18 be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus.19 Do not restrain the Holy Spirit; 20 do not despise inspired messages. 21 Put all things to the test: keep what is good 22 and avoid every kind of evil.23 May the God who gives us peace make you holy in every way and keep your whole being—spirit, soul, and body—free from every fault at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you will do it, because he is faithful.

(1 Thess 5:16-24)


This passage is very rich, and very confusing. Paul tells us here:

On the one hand to always be joyful and thankful, not to despise inspired messages and to trust the Lord to keep our being free from every fault. In other words – trust in the Lord with everything, accept what happens since it’s from him, accept what we hear from him, and trust in his salvation to keep us free from sin. Trust the Lord, not yourself. But doesn’t that free us from responsibility…? Should we just “sit around” and wait for God to act?

On the other hand, Paul also tells us to pray at all times, to put things to the test, and to avoid every kind of evil. In other words – Don’t accept what happens but pray for it; don’t accept what we hear unless we test it, and do all we can to avoid all kinds of evil. But doesn’t this responsibility mean that we don’t trust God, and his sovereignty…?

Is it God’s “job” to keep us pure, through His salvation, or is it our own responsibility to avoid evil? Should we accept difficulties as something from God, or should we pray that God takes it away? Paul weaves these two ideas together in a marvelous way in this passage where he claims – both!

He tells us to be joyful whatever happens – but to pray constantly. If we pray for a situation that usually means we are not joyful with it. Then he again says to be thankful in ALL circumstances – even if it’s something we’re praying for. This is already confusing. My wife has a childhood friend who is in her twenties and has cancer. We pray for her a lot, but it is very hard to be joyful about her situation, or to be thankful. Why should we be thankful? Paul’s answer is that “This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus”.

Paul goes on to tell us not to restrain (or quench) the Holy Spirit. Not to quench the spirit? That must mean that He is lit! We have His fire and light in our lives – we don’t need to get it from our own strength.

Paul then tells us not to despise inspired messages. On the other hand he also tells us to test everything. We should not dismiss things we hear from people just because they say “God told me this and that.” But we shouldn’t accept everything we hear either – test it! Avoid “Jerusalemsyndrome” people, but don’t be too fast to dismiss it only because a person seems to be “infected”.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, Paul tells us to keep what is good, and avoid evil – and then tells us to trust God to do that for us. In other words – do everything you can to be good in your own strength, run the race, keep it up – but remember that it won’t save you, because you can’t be entirely good and totally avoid evil in your own strength. Only Jesus can save you.

So this passage tells us that we can put our faith entirely in God as our sovereign Lord – but we must also use the intellect and abilities he has given us in order for him to use us for His purposes.

How can God use you today?


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