Thessalonians 5:16-24 – 17 December 2017

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24


1     Third sunday of Advent Year B [1]

Other Revised[2] Common Lectionary[3] (RCL) texts for today:[4] Psalm 128:13; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; John 1:6-8, 19-28

2     Background information about the Bible Book and text:

Author: Apostle Paul.

Dated: One of the oldest books in the NT, and one of the first letters written by Paul. It was probably written in Corinth, some time between 49 and 54 AD

Style: Letter style.

Historical Setting: Letter directed to the new believers in the city of Thessalonica. Paul and his companions (Silvanus and Timothy) spent less than a month in Thessalonica before they were forced to leave (Acts 17:1-9). A house church was established. Paul later sent Timothy back to Thessalonica (modern name Thessaloniki) for a follow-up. After Timothy reported back to him, Paul decided to write this letter to the followers of Christ in Thessalonica.

These believers were suffering persecution. They were also uncertain about many aspects of what it means to be a follower of Christ. The purpose of the letter was to comfort and instruct the congregants. Paul encouraged them to continue standing firm in their faith and to live a spiritual life.

3     Text

1 Thess 5:16-24 1983 Vertaling1 Thess 5:16-24 (NIV)
16 Wees altyd bly. 17 Bid gedurig. 18 Wees in alle omstandighede dankbaar, want dit is wat God in Christus Jesus van julle verwag.   19 Moenie die werking van die Heilige Gees teenstaan nie. 20 Moenie profesieë geringskat nie, 21 maar toets dit alles, behou wat goed is, 22 en bly weg van alles wat sleg is. 23 Mag God, wat vrede gee, julle volkome aan Hom toegewyd maak en julle geheel en al, na gees, siel en liggaam, so bewaar dat julle onberispelik sal wees wanneer ons Here Jesus Christus weer kom! 24 Hy sal dit ook doen, want Hy wat julle roep, is getrou.16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.   19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil. 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  

4     Exegetical information (Understanding the text/passage)

The focus is clearly on the Christian community. Charles Cousar (1993:27) writes:

“The verbs throughout this passage (5:16-24 – FN) as well as the second-person pronouns are all plural. Since the letter is also addressed to a congregation, the notion is clearly that the Christian community is the locus for this discerning …”

Verses 16-18: In the translations, these three verses form one sentence, with a semicolon being used between “rejoice”, “prayer” and “give thanks”. These are not three totally separate issues, but form a unity. All three points are further described in superlative form: “always rejoice” (pantote chairete); “continually pray” (adialeiptos proseuchesthe) and “in all circumstances give thanks” (en panti eucharisteite).

The original Greek describes the above elements as the “will (thelēma) of God in Christ”. The 1983 Afrikaans Translation translates the “will of God” as “expectation of God”. The “will of God” should not be interpreted as if it is the “plan of God”. It refers to how we should live before God.

The dramatic way these three elements – joy, prayer and thankfulness – are described, is interesting. The meaning can’t be that the followers should show only joy; only pray; or show only thankfulness. What the elements refer to is a deep, basic attitude to life as a whole. This attitude to life by an individual should also, however, reflect the way the community of faith thinks about life.

“Natuurlik gaan dit nie net oor die individuele ingesteldheid van Christene nie. Wright en Best benadruk hierdie blydskap, gebed en dankbaarheid was deel van die publieke aanbidding van die geloofsgemeenskap” (Nel, Annes 2017-2018:20). [5]

These elements have a certain liturgical dimension to them and should also be connected to what happens in the service of worship – singing, prayer and offering.

Verses 19-22: Now we have four commands (imperatives) that form a unit and should be read and interpreted together: (a) do not quench the Spirit; (b) do not treat prophecies[6] with contempt (but test them all); (c) hold on to what is good; and (d) reject every kind of evil. These sentences were composed in such a way as to put the emphasis on both the subject (those being addressed) and the object (the command issued) (Du Preez 1981:93).

“Profesie is nie in die eerste plek voorspellings nie, maar die openbaarmaking van God se wil vir die hede (Bolkenstein). Die uitblussing van die Gees kan beteken mense het profesieë nie ernstig geneem nie. Hulle was waarskynlik nie genoegsaam oop vir die inspirasie van die Heilige Gees nie (Marshall)” (Nel 2017-2018:20). [7]

Some commentators (Du Preez) also suggest thinking about verse 19, “do not quench the Spirit”, as a central verse, in which the three elements of verses 16-18 culminate – before they then spread outwards again into three commands.

A more possible understanding is to view (a) and (b) as a sub-unit and then (c) and (d) as another sub-unit. The two sub-units are each actually a call to the congregation to maintain a particular balance in how they approach things. The first sub-unit (a and b) is a call to openness. By not allowing themselves to be boxed in, they would allow the spirit to do renewal work. The second sub-unit (c and d) is about setting certain conditions or creating boundaries.

Verses 23-24: These take the form of prayer, with the emphasis on God. The God Paul calls on is the God of peace (theos tes eirēnēs); who is faithful (pistos). This prayer is therefor also a confirmation of what God actually wants to do in the lives of the believers. Paul mentions two things: God will sanctify (hagiasai) them completely; and He will keep them blameless (amemptōs).

The reference to “spirit, soul and body” is, according to commentators, definitely not a reference to different parts of the person. It is a single expression that describes the whole person in all its dimensions. There is also a clear parallelism visible:

May God ….youMay your spirit, soul and body
Through and throughWhole
Sanctify youKept blameless

“’Gees, siel en liggaam’ is eenvoudig ’n omskrywing van die “julle” van die eerste sinsnede. Paulus probeer nie hier ‘n uiteensetting van die mens se wese gee nie, maar is besig om te bid dat die gelowige in hulle ganse lewe, na sy sigbare (liggaam) sowel as sy onsighbare kant (gees en siel) aan God toegewy word. ‘Gees’ en ‘siel’ is sinonieme, soos duidelik uit die parallelisme in die lofsang van Maria in Luk 1:46-47 blyk:”[8]

The importance of thinking wholistically about the concepts “spirit”, “soul” and “body” is further explained by Nel (2017-2018:21). He refers to several other commentators who also support such a view of unity:

“Die gedagte dat Paulus liggaam, siel en gees skei, moet afgewys word (Marshall, Best en Morris). Die kombinasie van liggaam, siel en gees kom slegs hier voor (Bolkenstein). Uiteraard sluit hy (Paulus-FN) aan by die Joodse wêreld  wat hierdie kategorieë gebruik het om die verskillende aspekte van ons menswees te beskryf. Hans Walter Wolff het egter oortuigend aangedui dat die Ou Testament die eenheid van die mens handhaaf. Paulus se fokus is eerder op die eenheid as die drieheid van ons bestaan.” [9]

5     Sermon:

5.1   THE Theme of THE sermon

Christian life has a clear direction, according to Paul.

5.2   From text to context (What does it say to us in our context?)


Basically, we need to know where north, south, west and east are when we want to go anywhere. The same road (the N1, or N2, etc) can take us in totally opposite directions. We need to know whether we should take the N1 North or N1 South to reach our destination.

5.2.2    The direction in which we live

It is remarkable that although verses 16-18 have a command structure, the commands are liturgical in nature – rejoice; pray; show gratitude – rather than being commands such as “obey”; “serve”; ”submit to”, etc. (Cousar 1993:27).

The constant danger is that we would live a “split” life. That on Sundays we would live in one way, and then, from Monday to Saturday, we would live in another way. A church life and a common life. The message is clearly that our lives should be integrated and not divided.

The direction our whole life takes should be similar to what happens in the service of worship. The direction of the life of each one of us should be embedded in God’s direction for all of us. Spirituality has to do with wholeness. Rejoicing goes much deeper than just to be a happy person; prayer is not just an act that happens at a certain time of the day and gratitude is a way of thinking about life.

5.2.3    Finding balance – openness and limitations

Living a life open to the Spirit is actually ambiguous. On the one hand it requires an openness to allow things to happen and on the other hand it is not a free-for-all. The spiritual life (a life that allows space for the Spirit to work) should allow new and different voices to be heard, but should also investigate these different voices and discern which voices come from God and which do not fit in with the direction indicated by the will of God.

5.2.4    God, through Jesus Christ, at work

Our passage confirms the understanding that God is at work through Jesus Christ (5:18, 23). The unity is demonstrated while the difference between God and Christ is not wiped out.

The passage starts with commands and ends with a confirmation that God gives us what He asks from us. It is only God who can make us holy. Holiness does not mean a certain form of moralism, with a list of do’s and don’ts. It is the totality of life oriented to this new kingdom of God, which is much more than a single rule on a list. It is an attitude to life, but this attitude is also the work of God in our hearts. We are sanctified by God – not by our own efforts.

The gospel can be very strange and often turns things on their head. An example is verse 24: The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. In a strange way, God, who commands us to live a life in the direction of the new heaven and earth, who requires from us to live a holy life, is also the one who is faithful to accomplish in us what He asked from us.

“At heart, sanctification is first and foremost a gift of God, not an act of human will” (Cousar 1993:28)

We will only be blameless when He comes again, because God in Jesus Christ accomplished this in us. This is what we often call grace!

5.2.5    Summary

  • We are commanded to have a clear direction in our daily lives. That direction grows from our service of worship and flows into our daily lives.
  • We should not become so stuck in certain beliefs and traditions that we are not open to the Spirit to convince us of new things. We must distinguish between all the voices we hear.
  • Through God’s grace, God gives to us what God asked from us. Our holiness is the work of God through Christ.


Dr Frederik B O Nel /16 December, 2017

6       References:

Adeyema, Tokunboh (General Editor) 2006. Africa Bible Commentary. Word Alive Publishers

Cousar, Charles B 1993. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, in Texts for Preaching. A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV Year B, 26-28

Du Preez, 1981. Die Briewe aan die Tessalonisense. NG Kerk-Uitgewers

Floor, L 1982. Perspektiewe op die prediking van Paulus. NG Kerkboekhandel Transvaal

König, Adrio 2017. Paulus: Die indringer-apostel wat die evangelie gered het. CUM

Maruma, Lea 2017-2018. Word and Worship, Based on the Revised Common Lectionary Year B, 26-28. Published by CLF Wellington

Nel, Annes 2017-2018. Preekstudies met liturgiese voorstelle, gebaseer op die Leesrooster vir lidmate. Revised Common Lectionary:  Jaar B, Advent 2017 tot Koninkrykstyd 2018, 20-23V

Van der Watt, Jan  (red); Bosman Hendrik; Du Rand Jan; Janse van Rensburg, Fika; Nel Marius; Smit Dirkie; Venter Pieter 2003. Die Bybel A-Z,

Vosloo, Wil & Van Rensburg Fika, J 1999. Die Bybellennium. Eenvolumekommentaar. Die Bybel uitgelê vir eietydse toepassing, 1736-1739

Date Created: 2017/12/12 14:17:00                                           Date Saved 16/12/2017

C:\Users\Lenovo\Dropbox\FN Articles\FBO Nel skrywes\Sermons\1 Thessalonians 5.16-24 – 2017-12.docx

Word Count: 2117

[1] The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) has a three-year cycle. Year A focuses on the Gospel of Matthew; Year B on Mark and Year C on Luke. Each year focuses on different OT and NT books.

[2] The RCL has been in existence since 1992. The Leesrooster (reading roster) project was founded in 1995 and is the Afrikaans equivalent, based on the RCL.

[3]. A lectionary is a collection of readings or selections from the Scriptures, arranged and intended for proclamation during the service of worship. Lectionaries (tables of readings) were known and used since the 4th century AD.

[4] There are four reading for each Sunday. One from the OT; one from the Psalms, one from the Gospels and a second reading from the NT. The Leesrooster project focuses on only one of the four texts for preaching on a Sunday.

[5] Translated by Carina le Grange: “This is obviously not only about the individual attitude of Christians. Wright and Best emphasise that joy, prayer and thankfulness were part of public worship in the community of faith.”

[6] Vosloo & Van Rensburg (red) (1999:1619) suggest that to make sure that readers do not equate the word “prophesy” with predictions about the future, the word could be translated as follows: “Beter vertaling is dus: Moenie uitsprake van dié wat die boodskap van God verkondig, gering skat nie.”

Carina Le Grange translated: A better translation would thus be: Do not have scant regard for the pronouncements of those who spread the message of God.” (Their emphasis.)

[7] Translated by Carina le Grange: “In the first instance, prohecy is not representation, but the proclamation of God’s will for the present (Bolkenstein). The extinguishing of the Spirit could mean that people did not take the prohecies seriously. They were probably not sufficiently open to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.”

[8] Translated by Carina Le Grange: “‘Spirit, soul and body’ is a description of the ‘you’ in the first passage of the sentence. With this, Paul is not trying to provide an explanation of the essence of human beings, but is praying that the faithful would be committed to God in every facet of life, from the visible (body) as well as the invisible side (spirit and soul). ‘Spirit’ and ‘soul’ are synonyms, as is clear from the parallelisms in the praise songs of Maria in Luke 1:46-47.” (Du Preez 1982:99).

[9] Translated by Carina Le Grange: “The idea that Paul separates body, soul and spirit must be rejected (Marshall, Best and Morris). The combination of body, soul and spirit occurs only here (Bolkenstein). Naturally, Paul was connected to the Jewish world which used these categories to describe different aspects of being human. However, Hans Walter Wolff has convincingly indicated that the Old Testament maintains the unity of human beings. Paul’s focus is on the unity rather than the trinity of our existence.”

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