Monday, June 29, 2015

1 Thessalonians 5:19-24 - “A God centered church pleases God by not quenching the Holy Spirit and by holding on to His Word”

What do we mean by  being God- centered? What is a God centered church? This question has been occupying our minds as we have been working our way through  Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  Being God –centered means  to  have  the Word of God  shape  our  way of  thinking and living as opposed  to  living  and thinking in a man centered  or in a natural or fleshly  way[1] .  Being God centered means to  engage in   sanctified living- a life that pleases God.  Sanctification is a progressive  process  whereby the Holy Spirit continuously   and  progressively applies His Word to our heads and our hearts,  causing us  to act more like Jesus.   The subject  of  sanctification is extremely  important – for  it must  follow our justification. They belong together like  the protons  and neutrons that compose an atom. We all know that  splitting atoms  has  disastrous consequences !
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, “working out  your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you…” (Phil 2:12,13)   .

The Christian  race is not finished simply because we have started. Neither is the race  a concluded matter  because we have started well.  You know the famous story of the race between  the rabbit 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 also  saw that Paul exhorted them not to sit on their laurels , and he exhorts them: “For this is the will of God – your sanctification …” (4:3). He says to them :  “do so more and more !”(4:1,10)

Now there are many aspects to that process of  sanctification – that process  of growing to be more Christ like  and less worldly.   Paul addressed a  number of them   such as  the sanctification of  our sexuality  purity ( 4:3-8)  and  the sanctification of our  brotherly love  (4:9-12),   the sanctified relationship with  the elders of the church  (5:12-13),  our relationship   with those that struggle in the church  (5:14&15) ,  along with  real displays of  joy, prayer  and thanksgiving . (5:16-18) etc.  You will find that  Paul  is a very practical theologian. He never thinks in terms of doctrine  as  the Greek philosophers did. They loved philosophy  because it stimulated their brains and because it  sharpened their logical  thinking skills  – but it did  very little else . Above all,  it often lacked practicality .
Paul  wants the truth  to  works itself out in practice , and  he isn’t finished yet . And now he addresses …

5:19- 22 :  A life pleasing to God through  a sanctified obedience to  the  Holy Spirit and to  the Revelation of the Word of God.” 

Our  obedience  and submission to the Holy Spirit’s  work in us and  to His  revealed Word (prophecy)   is  crucial to  our sanctification!  In this regard Paul reminds us: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies…” 
In this regard there are  two errors  which are often committed in  the churches. On the one hand there are  those quench the  Holy Spirit  by  claiming  to speak  prophecies and revelations that are not from Him, and then  there are those who make altogether too  little of Him, even despising His  person and His  work. 
Now what does  this mean - “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies…”  ?

a. Do not quench the Spirit (v. 19)  
To  ‘quench’ in its other occurrences in the New Testament is used  with reference  to  putting out a fire [2]. 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 person and  the work   of the Spirit. Paul writes this in  the  present tense  and in the imperative mood i.e. “don’t go on  quenching the   Person and the work of the Holy Spirit.”    This is what Jesus said that   the  Pharisees always did (Matt  12:22-32) . In fact they  attributed the work of the Spirit to  Satan! Jesus  tells them that this  sort of persistent   blasphemy  ( for they kept on saying this)  was  tantamount to committing   the unforgivable sin-the sin against the Holy Spirit.
 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 prophecies (v. 20)
The gift of prophecy  is  the ability to receive and communicate direct revelations from God. Now here is an important aspect to consider. Before  the NT was completed (1 Cor. 13:8) this was   an important  part of the church’s ministry. It still is an important part of the church’s ministry, but  the prophetic element today  has  become  subject  to  the  written Word,  since in Christ the revelation from God, given to the apostles,  is now complete à Hebrews 1:1-3
How  then do we understand  prophecy?  The Puritan pastor  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 said   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 .[3] 

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. 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 !  For those who  had the grace to see the truth of these words , these words  became life giving in their effect.
But there is also an opposite  effect to  such prophesying. Many whose hearts were ripped hated the prophets on this account  and that is why many of them were eventually killed. Jesus words in this regard are very telling : “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those  who are sent to it.” (Matt 23:37) Remember that the  greatest of prophets was Jesus  and for this reason  He was killed by  those who hated His prophetic words, because they perceived that He spoke against them !  

Perhaps you will now understand that   your preacher  is a prophet in that sense, when he  opens the Word to you, and when  he proclaims it forcefully  and filled with  heavenly conviction  and  with 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: 
1.      We  begin by reading the Word of   God.  
2.       The pastor –teacher  who has a biblical office and mandate  from God to inform God’s sheep of  His will,  having  spent  hours this week  seeking to  understand this Word, letting  it first speak to his  own sinful heart,  praying into his own situation,  now relaying this Word  of God to  his congregation,   releases it  as  it were into the  hearts of His hearers , at which time the Holy Spirit will do  His  ploughing work  within  each  heart.
3.      So, what has God   spoken to us about? Many things .. just to take it from chapter 4   sexual immorality … the need for brotherly love … concerning the coming of the Lord… relating to church leadership … helping those that are struggling  etc …! Do you get the point ?

Does this mean that you must  accept everything   thoughtlessly that comes to you from this pulpit ?  Clearly no !

c. Examine All Things (vs. 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 more prophetic messages!  Paul warns against  such  an overreaction and urges the church to give prophecies their proper place in edifying its members .
This is also important  since  false prophets would arise,  as the Lord Himself warned[4]   us . There must be careful discernment of the message of a prophet. Thus, Paul  ends  with this positive command : “Test [5]  everything “.  Here  is your  warning against gullibility . Here is a call to  biblical discernment.   The  Bereans  (Acts 17:11)  tested  everything Paul  had said  by the standard of Scripture  (the OT )
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 .

For us  this is a call to examine all preaching and teaching in light of the Scripture. Just because  somebody  preaches from  the  Bible it does not mean his  message is truly biblical. There is far too much Scripture twisting and  proof-texting  done in pulpits , and  God’s people  do well  to  know the  Word of God  themselves  in order that they may discern  what is  truly the Word of God .  It is  difficult to skillfully handle the Word (2 Tim. 2:15).  This is one of the reasons God places a greater responsibility on teachers (Jas. 3:1).

d. Hold fast what Is good (vs. 21b)
Obviousl  then, once what is heard is discovered to be “the good,” i.e. true and in accordance  with the revelation of God in Christ,  then we must  hold fast to it. 

e. Stay Away From Every Form of Evil (vs. 22)
Believers must examine everything carefully and avoid that which does not conform to the truth – stay away from it .  Avoid it. Don’t be taken  captive by it .

This too , then is 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 !

[1]  Paul uses the following terms to describe the opposite of the God centered way of thinking and living   i.e.  by  speaking about   “the natural person”  (1 Cor. 2:14) , “the spirit of the world” (1 Cor. 2:14) ,  “ being of the flesh”  (1 Cor. 2:14; 3:1-4 ), “the wisdom of the world”  ( 1  Cor. 1:20; 3:20)
[3] William Perkins : The  Art of Prophesying , Foreword by Sinclair Ferguson   p.  x
[5] Gr  dokimazo – to  test metals in the fire  , with the view of separating the metal from the dross .

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