December 20th 2023
In All Circumstances
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 19 Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 24 God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.
These short, pithy remarks at the conclusion of 1 Thessalonians are written in the context of concerns about the return of our Lord. As the Saints, who were eyewitnesses of the resurrected, Jesus Christ began to die, there was growing concerned that something was wrong. They expected the immediate return of the Lord, within at least the first generation. Paul's address to them in 4:13-5:11 may be familiar text as words that are often referenced at graveside services. Paul moves immediately from this explanation to his concluding thoughts beginning in 5:12.
These are some of the heaviest, shortest verses in our Bible. Each verse is packed tightly with an imperative for the people of God, regarding ethical living. This passage is about how we are to live, as we wait for the return of our Lord. God is coming again, even as we have seen in the past. Similar to our exiled friends in Isaiah 61, it matters how we live while we wait.
At the beginning of the list is the theme for this week of advent: rejoice. Our waiting begins and joyful expectation. We are journeying with our psalm 126 friends, singing songs of hopeful expectation, for the coming of the lord, to restore the fortunes of his people. Pray, without ceasing. Never forget the language of the hopeful soul that converses with God. Give thanks, in all circumstances – not for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. Seeing God at work even while we wait is cause for gratitude. God wills that we rejoice, pray, and give thanks.
As for what we should not do? Do not quench the spirit! The coming of God is like a stream flowing in the desert. Why build a dam to obstruct the flow of grace? Do not despise the words of profits! The good news messengers, Harold the coming. Why dispute them? Abstain from evil and throw your arms around everything good. Why cavort with the very darkness that God is judging by his coming?
Admin is an important practice for us, because we tend to lose sight of the coming God. When we wait rightly, our practices are shaped by our expectations. We rejoice, pray, and give thanks. When we forget, the God, who comes, we dry up, can't recognize good news when we hear it, and failed to discern the line between evil and good. It is good to learn to wait rightly.
Questions for reflection
If the Thessalonian church had a hard time, waiting for the return of the Lord, how are we doing 2000 years later? Is it something that's on your mind?
How do we keep the imperatives (rejoice, always, pray, without ceasing, etc.) from becoming empty and meaningless?
Why does the command to rejoice top the list of ethical practices of waiting?