I Thessalonians 5:13b-22
Buried in the middle of this passage is vs. 19 – “Do not quench the Spirit.” By allowing the Spirit freedom in our lives the seemingly disconnected list of instructions can become lived realities in the Christian community. The Christian life is not a solo activity, it is to be lived in community with others and it is by the Spirit’s power that we live in community. The Christian community bears witness to God’s work in the world, and church’s corporate witness is rooted in the Holy Spirit’s working in the midst of the community. If the church quenches the Spirit the community will collapse.
Paul begins with one of the central challenges about community, the danger of conflict and hurtful words and actions, when he says, “Be at peace among yourselves.” A community of people who live together in peace is a powerful witness to the world. The peace is achieved not by leaders imposing it on others, it is achieved by openness to the Spirit’s work.
The instructions grouped into three blocks of material. First, come instructions about dealing with those people in the community who can become a strain on the community. Idlers, those who do not work for the common good but expect to be served. This is not about those who are physically unable to do tasks, this is about person who could do tasks, but will not. They are to be admonished, a strong word, to bear their responsibilities. The faint-hearted, those who give up easily, who quickly say it can’t be done. To quote Bart Simpson, “A Simpson never quits until they have tried one easy thing.” The faint-hearted bring discouragement to the community. They need to be encouraged which at times means pushing hard. The weak, those who cannot bear load, do work, and who require constant support. They are a strain because of their on-going needs.
All these situations require that gift of the Spirit: patience. Anger and frustration with such people rises to the surface so easily, patience is required so we might “do good to one another and to all.” That is the Spirit’s gift turning the church into a community bearing witness to Christ’s love.
The second block of material is: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Only by being focused on God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – will it be possible for the community of faith to live in witness to Jesus Christ. It is the Spirit that fires our joy; it is the Spirit who takes our prayers too deep for words to the Father; and it is the Spirit’s peace in us that allows us to give thanks in even the most difficult of circumstances.
The third block is about prophecy, being open to the word of God being spoken in the community. Within the community will be prophets, persons who speak uncomfortable truth, or invite new ways of seeing things, the prophets will be as difficult to handle as the people covered in the first block of material. But without the prophets the community will never confront those things within it that need to change. The prophets’ words are to be tested, good followed and the wrong avoided. The community is to take prophetic words seriously, but it is still to reflect on them as a community, listening for the Spirit’s voice. For it is the Spirit that gives the prophet the true words they speak.
In each of these three situations it would be possible to quench the Spirit and thereby miss the work of the Spirit in building a community that bears witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ. A community that lives by the power of the Spirit in these areas will draw people into it who are looking for a community that knows the hard work and the deep commitment required to be community. And that is evangelism as people are drawn to the belonging before they come to believe.
“The main criterion by which New Testament prophets were to be tested was their effective confession of Jesus as Lord (I Cor 12:3). At a later stage this test was made more specific: to confess Jesus as Lord is (among other things) to confess his incarnation; therefore, “every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God” (I John 4:2), whereas a prophet who denies this (especially by denying the identity of Jesus of Nazareth with the eternal Son of God) is shown thereby to be inspired by “the spirit of antichrist” (I John 4:3).”
- F.F. Bruce
“They will know we are Christians by our love”
“O breath of God, come sweeping through us”
Come, Holy Spirit!
Rain upon our dry and dusty lives.
Wash away our sin and heal our wounded spirits.
Kindle within us the fire of your love to burn away our apathy.
With your warmth bend our rigidity and guide our wandering feet. Amen.
- From Worship Sourcebook (CRC Publications)