Head in the clouds – feet on the ground

Live in peace with each other… warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances…  Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:13-22

Paul has lots of good things to say about the church in Thessalonica, and he writes this, the first of two letters, to encourage them.

But there is one thing that troubles him: some of them, apparently, are getting rather confused – perhaps a little over-excited – about the belief that Jesus is coming again.

They’re worrying about Christians who have died – will they miss out on that event (4:13-18)? Possibly they are getting a bit fixated on calculating precisely when it’s going to happen (5:1-6). His second letter even seems to suggest that some of them are ceasing to work for a living because Jesus is coming back (2 Thess 3:6-13).

Paul wants to nip these misguided ideas in the bud. And one thing he does to achieve this – in order to keep them grounded – is to blitz them with a list of practical pieces of advice. This is what 5:12-22 is all about – a scatter-gun list of commands for them to chew over.

He doesn’t open them up in detail; and that leaves us free to put a little flesh on the bones, so to speak. So, starting in verse 13, can I invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on and to digest what he wants of them?

Live in peace with each other… Paul knows only too well that even Christlike people can have tensions and disagreements. Peace is like a beautiful but very fragile flower: easily crushed, easily destroyed.

So… Never risk the precious gift of peace unless there is some really good reason!

… warn those who are idle and disruptive… Perhaps some members of the church were saying, in effect, “Well, if Jesus is coming back, why bother to work? We’re heading for heaven! Why not just trust in him?” Which sounds very spiritual – but which Paul suggests amounts to the sin of idleness. Such attitudes are bound to be “disruptive” and harmful to others, especially others who aren’t quite so sure of themselves.

So… While, yes, we must always be peace-makers, there may be times when we need to take such enthusiastic people aside for a quiet word.

… encourage the disheartened, help the weak… Not all Christians, however deep and sincere their faith, are robust, either emotionally or physically. They need encouragement, not criticism or contempt.

So… Be a builder-upper, not a putter-downer!

… be patient with everyone… In our busy, go-getting world this command is one of the most challenging of all: patience is in pretty short supply. “Count to ten before you speak”, we are told. Or “Engage your brain before putting your mouth into gear.”

Wouldn’t our world (not mention our churches) be very different if we all took that advice?

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong… The desire for “getting my own back” is a powerful (and natural) one. But we must never excuse it; it needs to be well and truly squelched.

Don’t we follow the one who prayed for his tormentors, “Father, forgive them…”? Doesn’t the Bible tell us that “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord”?

… always strive to do what is good… Getting rid of bad things – impatience, vengeance, idleness, whatever – is no use if we don’t replace them with good things. Paul says elsewhere, “Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

So, beware… Leave any kind of vacuum in your life, and the devil will make sure it fills up pretty quickly.

Rejoice always… Easier said than done, this one! But it reminds us that followers of Jesus have much to be thankful for, and that we are always (as the saying goes) to “accentuate the positive”. A gloomy, pessimistic Christian is a contradiction in terms.

A moment later he fleshes this out with… give thanks in all circumstances… where “all” really does mean all!

… pray continually… Typical Paul! If ever a man lived a life soaked in prayer, it was him. Pray continually – even when you don’t feel like it… even when your prayers don’t seem to be answered… even when you have to pray alone.

So… Be a one-man/woman walking prayer-meeting!

Do not quench the Spirit... Christians often divide into two camps when it comes to the Spirit. There are those who, in effect, limit the Spirit to the Bible; and there are those who believe so strongly in the freedom of the Spirit that they elevate supposedly Spirit-inspired utterances over the Bible.

So… Remember the wise saying: “The Word without the Spirit puffs up… the Spirit without the Word blows up.”

Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all… Christian, don’t be a cynic – but don’t be a sucker either.

… hold on to what is good; reject every kind of evil… Or, as Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect”. No compromises, no half-measures, no settling for second best.

So ends our whistle-stop tour. Any bones there for you to pick over and put into practice?

Lord God, as your Spirit fills me and your word instructs me, help me to live a life of lively, loving and solid obedience. Amen.

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