Our general theme at this time is “Pleasing God through sanctified living ”, from 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5.
The subject of sanctification is extremely important, for it must follow our experience of our justification. You cannot divide the two anymore than you can split an atom. We all know that splitting atoms has disastrous consequences!
It is crucially important that we need to hear this. There are some that teach that Christians may receive Christ as Saviour, but not necessarily as Lord . What they are saying is that they have a religious experience in which they come to accept Christ as their Saviour, but in practice they find that their desire for discipleship does not follow. So they call themselves Christians, but find that they have no power to live like Christians . Now that’s really splitting the issue with disastrous consequences. When Christ called His disciples , and when He calls us , He says “ follow me”, and “love me with your whole heart , soul , mind and strength “. And then He teaches us that if we abide in Him (John 15) – i.e. draw our strength from Him, we will be able to bear much fruit (Jn. 15:5). A Christian is a fruitful person by design – precisely because Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit produces fruit in keeping with our repentance.
I simply point out that if you have believed in Christ and if you have been justified by grace through faith, then it must also follow that you should obey your Lord – and all the more as the teaching of the Scriptures becomes clearer and clearer .
The race is not finished simply because we have started. Neither is the race a concluded matter because we have started well . You all know the story of the race between the hare and the tortoise – and you know who won ! The tortoise, slow starter that she was , won because she persevered . The rabbit started with an impressive sprint but fell down exhausted before the finish line. Starting well is great – but it is not what matters . Finishing well is what counts .
So your justification must be followed by sanctification; you must persevere to the end.
Now, the Thessalonians were commended by Paul because he knew that they had started well. “The gospel had come to you not only in Word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” BUT how did they continue? see 1:6-10!
The Thessalonians gave rich evidence of a sanctified lifestyle. But we saw that Paul exhorted them not to sit on their laurels – he says “ do so more and more !”(4:1,10) .
And so we find the apostle Paul writing to them: “For this is the will of God – your sanctification…”.
Now there are many aspects to that sanctification, that process of growing away from sin and toward the image of Jesus. Paul addressed a number of them:
1. Sanctification of our sexuality purity (4:3-8)
2. Sanctification of brotherly love (4:9-12)
Then Paul digresses for a moment to consider the “coming of the Lord “ (4:3- 5:11) – addressing some misapplications of this great doctrine. It seems as if certain people in the church were saying that the coming of the Lord was near, and therefore they stopped working and gave themselves up to a life of idleness. It is of course true that we must always live in anticipation of the sudden coming of our King. He said that He would come like a thief in the night ( 5:2 see also Matt 24:43,44), but we must not become idle (often mentioned in the 2 letters to the Thessalonians ) just because we suspect that the Lord may return soon.
Back to the matter of sanctification : Paul is a very practical theologian . He never thinks in terms of doctrine as the Greek philosophers did . They loved philosophy because it teased their brains and sharpened their logical thinking skills – but it did very little else. Above all it often lacked practicality.
Paul is always concerned as to how truth works itself out in practice, and so in the closing words of this epistle, he gives a few more practical hints on sanctified living in the church.
3. Sanctified relationship with the elders of the church (5:12-13).
4. Sanctified relationship with those that struggle in the church (5:14-15)
5. Sanctified life also includes rich “dosages” of joy , prayer and thanksgiving (5:16-18)
5:19- 22: “A life pleasing to God through a sanctified obedience to the Revelation from God.”
Now I want to show you that your obedience and submission to the Holy Spirit’s work and His revealed Word (prophecy) is crucial to your sanctification! Paul reminds us,“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies…”
There is unfortunately much abuse and neglect in the modern church in this area. There are those who, on the one hand abuse the Spirit, claiming prophecies and revelations that are not from Him, and then there are those who make altogether little of Him. Thankfully Paul gives us a directive with respect to this: “… test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” Having taken note of the abuses, let us not miss the obvious point.We must not quench the Spirit. We must not treat prophecies with contempt .We must test everything and hold fast to what is good!
Now what does this mean? And how does it help us to grow in sanctification?
a. Do Not Extinguish (Quench) the Spirit (v. 19)
The word used here for ‘quench’ in its other occurrences in the New Testament is used to putting out fire. This term is used here metaphorically to warn us not to quench - not to put out the Spirit’s fire. Simply stated this means that we must not hinder or oppose the work and the gifts of the Spirit. The Pharisees did that (see Matt 12:22-32). They attributed the work of the Spirit to Satan! Jesus tells them that this sort of persistent blasphemy (for they kept on saying this) is tantamount to the unforgivable sin.
In view of this and what we read in v.20 about prophecies we may come to the conclusion that some in the church may have been resisting the gift of prophecy. This was certainly the case in Corinth. There the gift of prophecy was being ignored because of an overzealous emphasis on the showy gifts like speaking in tongues (see 1 Cor. 12-14).
b. Do not despise (treat with contempt) prophecies (v. 20)
The gift of prophecy was the ability to receive and communicate direct revelations from God. Now here is an important aspect to consider. Before the NT was completed this was an important part of the church’s ministry. It still is an important part of the church’s ministry, but I want to suggest that the prophetic element today has become more reliant and subject to the ministry of the written Word, since in Christ the revelation from God is now complete see Hebr. 1:1-3). In that sense we do not need spontaneous ecstatic prophecies, whereby a ‘gifted person’ stands up in church and prophesies – either concerning future events (e.g. Acts 11:28), or by way of bringing God’s word on a present event (Acts 13:2).
How do we understand prophecy? Let me try to explain: The Puritan William Perkins (1558-1602) wrote a treatise entitled, “The art of prophesying”. William Perkins wrote this book for fellow preachers because he was concerned that the “main business was to preach Christ, and to reach the heart.” Perkins believed that preaching should “rip up the hearts of those that heard it, and by the same token he saw the preacher as a spiritual doctor whose knowledge of the biblical remedies enabled him to bathe the wounds and heal the spiritual sicknesses of God’s people with the grace of Christ.”
Now when I read this, I think immediately of the OT prophets. Their prophecies under the hand of God were spiritually very challenging and exposing. They ripped open their hearers hearts!
For those who had the grace to see the truth of these words, they became life giving.
But many hated the prophets on this account and that is why many of them were eventually killed. The greatest prophet was Jesus. He was killed!
But their prophesying was not heartless. Yes, it was severe, but it was not heartless. It was intended to bring healing to those who would hear and obey!
Perhaps you will understand now that your preacher may be a prophet, if he opens the Word to you, and says forcefully and filled with heavenly conviction and contemporary application - “ thus says the Lord…! ”
Now for argument’s sake let us consider how God may be using this series of sermons to speak prophetically into the life of this church:
We have read His inspired Word. I have spent many hours this week studying and praying to understand this Word – ‘hearing from God’ – for it must first speak to my own heart, and then I must relay this to you as faithfully and accurately as is humanly possible. So then, do we have sufficient reason to expect to hear God speaking to us? Absolutely! Well, what has God spoken to us about aver the last few weeks? "In the Lord Jesus " (1 Thess. 4:1), God has spoken to us about sexual immorality… the need for brotherly love … relating to church leadership … helping those that are struggling etc …! Do you get the point ?
Does this mean that you must swallow everything that comes to you from this pulpit? Yes and No! "Yes" because of the reasons I have just given, but "no", because you have a duty to test all things.
c. Examine All Things (v. 21a)
Let me begin with the context. Apparently, however, certain “idle” brothers (v. 14; cf. 4:11, 12) had misused this gift by providing false information regarding the Lord’s return. This may have caused the church at Thessalonica to despise prophecy in general. Their tendency now was not to listen to any prophetic messages! Paul warns against such an overreaction and urges the church to give prophecies their proper place in edifying its members.
But there is an even greater reason to examine all things. The Lord Jesus wants His church to be aware that false prophets would arise. Therefore there must be careful discernment of the message of a prophet. Thus, Paul ends with this positive command, “ Test everything“. Don't be naive! Be discerning Imitate the Bereans who tested everything by the standard of Scripture (Acts 17:11)
In 1 Cor 12:10 and 14:29 discernment is a spiritual gift to be used in conjunction with the gift of prophecy. It consists of an ability to discern whether what a prophet has said is true.
Just because somebody preaches from the Bible it does not mean the message is truly biblical. There can be much Scripture twisting and proof-texting in the churches.
Perhaps nothing is more difficult than to skillfully handle the Word (2 Tim. 2:15) so that we put away our own preconceived understanding and theological biases, bringing ourselves under God’s Word. This is one of the reasons God places a greater responsibility on teachers (James 3:1).
d. Hold fast what Is good (v. 21b)
Obviously, once what is heard is discovered to be “good,” and in agreement with the Word of God, and in proper context, then we must hold fast to it.
e. Abstain from every form of evil (v. 22)
After we have examined everything carefully and if we have found anything that does not correspond to the Word of God then we must take our distance from ungodly, unbiblical practise or thinking. Avoid it. Don’t be taken captive by it.
These aspects then are a part of our sanctification, and it forms part of Paul’s ultimate prayer for the Thessalonians (5:23-24) : “ Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful. He will surely do it. Amen!