We often recall the accounts of Paul’s travels, of suffering imprisonment or traveling with other disciples of Christ from city to city. Still, we tend to get so accustomed to them, as an old book we’ve read over and over since childhood, we may forget the realities of Paul’s incredible life.
We may tend to forget the massive epicenter of sin, idolatry, false beliefs, false gods, and false philosophies in the Greek cities where Paul walked – in the public squares he stood in – the contemporary world that believers to which he was writing lived in.
Reminding ourselves of the cultural environment of Paul’s time brings his journeys, sacrifices, love, and epistles to life as we apply Paul’s timeless teachings to our daily lives.
As we look back to Paul’s day and compare it to what we are seeing today, we realize that he was surrounded by and contending for the faith against the same principalities of darkness and false philosophies that are so popular today. So how do believers live a blessed life, being in this world but not of it? How are Christians to be distinguished from the unbelieving world? What should our lives look like?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, Paul summarizes important Christian virtues and gives us the foundational essentials of successful Christian living. The staccato of Paul’s statements in this passage produces clipped, choppy texts that are quick, exciting, and easy to read but are profound and teach us the essentials of a sound spiritual life as we delve deeper into these short yet powerful phrases.
He writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, “Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.”
Beginning with “Rejoice always,” we learn throughout our studies of the Holy Scriptures that joy for the believer is an expression of worship and a way of life that is always appropriate and possible, in any circumstance.
Philippians 2:14-18 (ESV) says, ” Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Further down, Philippians 3:1 (ESV) tells us, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” And then in Philippians 4:4-7, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Continuing with Paul’s essentials for a believer’s successful living, to “pray without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 does not mean to pray 24/7 without a break, repeating vain phrases or formulas in feeble attempts to bend God’s will to ours (Matthew 6:7-8). Instead, praying without ceasing is an ongoing active relationship with our Lord, praying persistently – walking in Spirit and in Truth with ongoing communication with God throughout our days.
Many false Charismatic teachings demand that you disconnect your mind in unbiblical practices such as “centering prayers,” glossolalia (“unintelligible tongues), disconnecting your mind during music, or being “drunk or slain in the Spirit,” but this text disproves and condemns these false practices because believers’ minds are to be continuously and actively engaged in real communication with God, not ecstatic mind-emptying experiences.
The 11th Chapter of Luke is Jesus’ teachings on prayer, beginning with instructions on how believers should persistently pray:
Luke 11:1-4, ESV, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
Also, Luke 18:1-8 tells us Jesus’ Parable of the Persistent Widow, saying, “And He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”
To learn and grow in praying regularly, we can also look to Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2, and Colossians 4:12.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:18, Paul continues the essentials for solid, successful Christian living by addressing thankfulness because genuine, continual thankfulness is a trait that separates true believers with genuine saving faith from false converts/unbelievers.
Romans 1:21 says, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.”
2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV) also confronts and exposes traits of unthankful unbelievers, warning, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
By contrast, Philippians 4:6 (quoted above) stresses a believer’s thankful life, as does the Book of Colossians. Colossians 4:2 says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving,”
When Paul is discussing thankfulness and writes, “For this is the will of God,” in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we can look to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
The Word of God provides us with the essentials we need for Christian living, to help us kill sin, and become more holy. In the next verses, Paul addresses the topic of sin and the sufficiency of Scripture in successful Christian living when he warns, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things, hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. ”
John Macarthur’s Commentary says, “The fire of God’s Spirit is not to be doused with sin. Believers are also instructed to not grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), but to be controlled by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and to walk by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Prophecies most often refers to the written Word of Scripture. These “prophecies” are authoritative messages from God through a well-recognized spokesman for God that, because of their divine origin, are not to be treated lightly. When God’s Word is preached or read, it is to be received with great seriousness.”[i]
Many believers do not have a successful Christian walk because they don’t take Scripture seriously, they don’t obey it and kill sin, and they wish to be entertained by false teachers, music, light shows and comedic performances – feel-good sermonettes – rather than be sanctified through true, serious teaching and delivery of God’s Word.
This is why Paul summarizes the essentials for successful Christian living by instructing us in the following verses in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”
MacArthur’s Commentary says, “This call for careful examination and discernment is in response to the command of verse 20. One should never downgrade the proclamation of God’s Word but examine the preached word carefully (Acts 17:10, 11). What is found to be “good” is to be wholeheartedly embraced. What is “evil” or unbiblical is to be shunned.”[ii]
Taking these essentials for a solid Christian life and successful Christian living in this fallen world, Paul concludes in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, mind, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”
[i] The MacArthur Study Bible: New King James Version. 2nd ed., Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2019.
I live in Drew County, Arkansas. I have been married for 24 years to Chris Lawson. I’m a former tutor and newspaper reporter, and an elementary Sunday School teacher at Enon Baptist Church. We enjoy spending time with our daughter and son-in-law, Becca and Clayton Cheshire, and granddaughter, Madeline Jayne. I enjoy spending time in the Word of God and mentoring ladies who have left various charismatic teachings.