3 December 2014

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” (vv. 16-18)

Psalm: Psalm 69:30-36


Paul's short letter is drawing to its close, and he gives some final advice to the Thessalonians. Verses 12-15, about right behaviour in the Christian community are expanded somewhat in Romans 12, and then comes his advice, or rather command, to rejoice, to pray and to be thankful. Paul has already written of his own experience of prayer and thanksgiving in response to the faith of the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 3:9). Joy, prayer and thanksgiving can be seen as marks of Church life but if the commands were addressed to a persecuted community, they are words of both encouragement and challenge. The Thessalonians had little cause for either joy or thanksgiving - they were persecuted, they had concerns about those of their number who had died, and from reading verses 12-14, it looks as if they didn't have much confidence in their leaders. Nevertheless, they are encouraged to give thanks 'in all circumstances.'

Reading between the lines of verses 19 and 20, it looks as if one of the areas of controversy among the Thessalonians has been about spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy. Paul implies that such things enhance the life of the Church, but he emphasised that all should be tested, presumably against the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Paul's final prayer for the Thessalonians (verses 23-24) is that God will sanctify them. It is a wish that they might take on a Christlike character and thus draw closer to God. Paul does not use the phrase "spirit and soul and body" (v. 23) to draw distinctions between different aspects of human life, but to describe its totality and wholeness. Such sanctification will enable them to be ready for the coming of Christ.

To Ponder

  • How realistic is it to encourage thanksgiving "in all circumstances". Do you think that there are situations where thanksgiving is an inappropriate response? When might that be? And what might you do instead?
  • Do you think it is possible to "pray constantly"? What do you find helps you to pray?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.