Instructions on How To Behave

Bible Book: 1 Thessalonians  5 : 16-18
Subject: Faithfulness; Christian Living; Church Life; Behavior

In this last section of chapter 5 we find instructions on how to behave toward God, and Paul minces no words. These are clear, straightforward, urgent admonitions. Jesus had His beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5, and here Paul lists his beatitudes in the last part of I Thessalonians, chapter 5. I call them beatitudes because they are attitudes that ought to be. You   see, Paul is not only giving us admonitions that touch upon our actions, but he is giving us admonitions that touch upon our attitudes. I think this is important. Some of the most unpleasant, un-Christlike people I have ever known were sound as a dollar theologically, separated from the world ethically, straight in creed, strict in conduct, and singing "I'm dwelling in Beulah Land." But if we profess heaven as our home, we should show the fruit of it. There's no use singing of milk and honey, figs and pomegranates, if all we have to show is crabapples. So let's look at these attitudes that ought to be - the beatitudes of Paul.

I. Be Happy (V. 16)

Look in verse 16 (read). The command to rejoice evermore is somewhat startling in a letter written to a suffering people. It must have struck the readers as something of a paradox, yet Paul had learned the secret of true joy. It must not depend on circumstances, for in the world the Christian will have tribulation, but the ground for lasting joy is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, I believe that God loves a cheerful servant as well as a cheerful giver. Every church family has its gloomy Gus and grumpy Gertrudes. To see them and listen to them is like witnessing an autopsy or diving into a cold lake on a winter's day. But God wants His family to be happy, and that means that each member must contribute to the joy, regardless of the circumstances. The devil is a chronic grumbler. The Christian ought to be a living doxology. And the religion that makes a man look sick certainly won't cure the world.

During one of the earthquakes out in California an elderly Christian woman was serene and unafraid. Someone asked her afterward, "Were you not afraid?" "No," she replied, "I rejoice to know that I have a God that can shake the world!"

Gust Anderson has a book entitled "450 Stories For Life." And in this book he tells about visiting a church in a farming community of eastern Alberta, Canada, where there had been eight years of drought. The farmers were deep in debt and their economic situation looked hopeless. In spite of their poverty, however, many of them continued to meet together to worship and praise God.

Anderson was especially impressed by the testimony of one of these farmers. Dressed in overalls and an old coat -- the best clothes he had -- the man stood up and quoted Habakkuk 3:17-18. With deep meaning, he said, "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the    fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." Now, that dear saint of God had found the secret of real joy. In Philippians 4:4 the apostle Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice." This is in the imperative; thus, if we refuse to do it we are sinning. Sad sack Christianity is direct rebellion against the expressed will of God for our lives. But Paul's admonition is, first of all, that we be happy, or that we be joyful. But secondly, that we:

II. Be Prayerful (V. 17)

Look in verse 17 (read). Prayer was important in the early church. It was a high and holy experience when the church united in prayer. "Pray without ceasing" does not mean we must always be mumbling prayers. The word means "constantly recurring," not continuously occurring. We are to "keep the receiver off the hook" and be in touch with God so that our praying is part of a long conversation that is not broken. Did you know that God is waiting for you to call upon Him in prayer? Do you remember what David said in Psalm 116? He said, "I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live."

A worker from Wycliffe Bible Translators was in New Guinea trying to put together the first two verses of Psalm 116 into the language of a certain tribe. How to say "he hath inclined his ear unto me" was  a difficult problem, for it seemed there was no way to express these words in the dialect of the people. He thought for a long time, but nothing came to him. His attention was finally drawn to a man in the village as he sat holding his son on his knees. The little boy was trying to whisper something and the kindly father was leaning his head slightly forward. This sight triggered an idea in the mind of the translator. He walked over to the man, and he said, "What are you doing as you listen to the lad?" The man said, "I'm spreading out my ear like a blanket." The missionary had his answer. Quickly he took his pen and wrote these words, "I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my prayers. Because he has spread out his ear like a blanket to me, and therefore I will call upon him   for the rest of my life." Now the Guhusamane people would be able to read that Scripture in the beauty of their own tongue and delight in its comforting message.

Think about it, folks. We have the God of all power and the God of all wisdom and the God of all love who has spread out His ear like a blanket to hear what we've got to say. And yet we're so remiss in our prayer life, and so reluctant to call upon the name of the Lord. O what peace we often forfeit, O what pain we often bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

III. Be Thankful (V. 18)

Look in verse 18 (read). Every experience, every circumstance is an occasion for praising and thanking God. You may think, "But you don't know my problems!" "You don't know mine either!" But   we are not the only ones with problems. We are not the only ones who ever face disappointments or sadness. We are not the only ones who have ever lost a job or a friendship. We are not the only ones who have been lied about. God says, "No matter what happens, always be thankful."

An elderly gentleman at a mid-week meeting offered this prayer, "O, Lord, we will praise thee, we will praise thee with an instrument of ten strings!" The people who were there for the prayer meeting wondered what he meant. But then they began to understand when he continued his prayer, for he prayed, "We will praise thee with our two eyes by looking only unto thee. We will exalt thee with our two ears by listening only to thy voice. We will extol thee with our two hands by working in thy service. We will honor thee with our own two feet by walking in the way of thy statutes. We will magnify thee with our tongue by bearing testimony to thy loving kindness. We will worship thee with our heart by loving only thee. We thank thee for this instrument, Lord. Keep it in tune and play upon it as thou wilt and ring out the melodies of thy grace. May its harmonies always express thy glory." Isn't that great!

And notice how the apostle underlines this truth. He says, "for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." The will of God is not to make some dramatic display of power or gift that is going to attract attention. But the will of God is for you to "give thanks in all circumstances." In fact, twice in this letter Paul uses the phrase, "it is God's will." First, he said in chapter 4 and verse 3, "It is God's will...that you avoid sexual immorality." That is the will of God for your body. But here is the will of God for your spirit -- that you "give thanks in all circumstances." So if you want to do the will of God, there are two areas in which His will is clearly set out for you -- moral purity for your body and continual thanksgiving for your spirit.

IV. Be Discerning (V. 19)

Look in verse 19 through 21 (read.) These three verses have to do with the work of the Holy Spirit in the individual and in the church. Verse 19 condemns quenching the Spirit. The word is used of putting out a fire. For example, in Mark 9:48 the Lord Jesus is talking about the fire of hell, and He says in hell "the fire is not quenched." The tense of the verb is present. And since this is a command, it means "stop quenching the Spirit."

Now, there are two ways that you can quench the Spirit. First of all, you can quench the Spirit by failing to do what you ought to do. I mean, if God's Spirit prompts you to say amen in church, then you ought to say amen. If God's Spirit prompts you to dump out all the money in your pocketbook in the offering plate, you ought to obey God. Don't quench the Spirit. Paul is saying, "Give in to those feelings. When the Spirit prompts you to show love toward somebody, do it. Do not hold back." I once heard of a man who said, "Sometimes when I think of how my wife works and blesses me, it's all I can do to keep from telling her how much I love her!" There is a man who is being guided by the Spirit, but quenched the Spirit. Don't do that. Go ahead and tell her you love her, even if you have to pick her up off the floor afterward. But let me tell you another way that you can quench the Spirit. Not just by failing to do what the Spirit prompts you to do, but you can quench the Spirit by doing what you know is wrong.

An old time preacher was talking to one of his church members who was in a rebellious frame of mind, and he chided him for his wrong doings. And he said, "Don't you come to church. Because if you come to church with your wrong attitude, you will 'squench' the Spirit." He had unintentionally coined this word by combining "squelch" and "quench." Perhaps it should even be in the dictionary. Vance Havner says, "We 'squench' the Spirit in more ways than we suspect." But we need to make sure that we don't quench the Spirit by doing what is wrong, or by failing to do what the Spirit prompts us to do.

You know, a mark of Christian maturity is sensitivity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, even in the little things that in them seem harmless. I heard about an evangelist preaching as a young minister in a little church in Florida. And while he spoke he noticed that his gold wristwatch sparkled in the light. His father had given it to him for graduation from high school. And he said, "I saw people looking at it, and the Lord said to me, 'Take it off. It's distracting.' And I said, 'Lord, I can surely wear a wrist watch that my daddy gave me.' But it was sensitivity that God was teaching me -- to be sensitive to the little things. I took it off and never wore it in the pulpit again." "Lord, make me sensitive" is a prayer that should always be on our hearts. We should never do anything or say anything or think anything that would quench the moving and the working and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in this place. So Paul says be discerning, quench not the Spirit. And then he says, "be discerning and despise not prophesyings" (verse 20).

Now, Dr. F. F. Bruce, one of the great expositors of our day, says prophesying is "declaring the mind of God in the power of the Spirit." In the early days of the church, before the New Testament was written, this was done orally. A prophet spoke the mind of the Spirit in an assembly. But since the writing of the Scriptures, we have very little need for any kind of prophesying other than that based on the Bible. So for us prophesying has become what we call expository preaching and teaching. It is opening the mind of God from the Word of God. "Do not despise that," says the apostle. That is the wisdom of God telling you how to act, how to think, and how to order your life. Do not treat it lightly.

Obey its commandments.

Children's television personality Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood) is also an ordained minister. He says, "I remember so keenly one of the times I learned how individually the Spirit can work. It was years ago and my wife and I were worshipping in a little church with friends of ours, another husband and wife. We were on vacation and I was in the middle of my homiletics course at the time. During the sermon I kept ticking off every mistake I thought the preacher, who must have been about 80 years old, was making. When this long, long sermon finally ended, I turned to my friend intending to say something critical about the sermon. I stopped myself when I saw tears running down her face. She whispered to me, 'He said exactly what I needed to hear.' "That was really a learning experience for me. I was judging and she was needing, and the Holy Spirit responded to need, not to judgment." So be discerning, "despise not the prophesyings."

And then notice what Paul says in verse 21 (read). There were false prophets preaching in Thessalonica. Paul commanded the believers to test these prophets. Was there ever a time when there was more heresy proclaimed in the name of God and the Bible than today? How do we test the prophecy? Remember, God will never tell us something new that contradicts what He has already spoken. Paul was saying, "Take every prophesy that is given, and if it contradicts the Old Testament Scriptures or the word of the apostles that you have received, then reject it." For us this means that if we hear something that contradicts the Word of God, we are to reject it. If it does not parallel the Word of God, do not have anything to do with it.

As editor of the Emporia Gazette, William White received many articles from aspiring writers, but he returned most of them to their authors with rejection slips. One disappointed and bitter person wrote to White: "Sir, you sent back a story of mine. I know that you did not read it because as a test I pasted together pages 19 and 20. The manuscript came back with those pages still stuck together, so I know that you are a fraud and that you turn down articles without even reading them." White sent a brief reply: "Dear madam, at breakfast when I open an egg, I don't have to eat it all to determine if it is bad." Now, that is also true in detecting whether a religion is good or bad. Many people despair of knowing which religion or doctrine is true because there are so many different beliefs in the world. But you don't have to examine every belief of a religious group or sect to know if it's false. If a cult has one false doctrine, it nullifies the whole system of theology. And so Paul says be discerning, prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.

V. Be Careful (V. 22)

Read verse 22 (read). The word "abstain" means, "keep away from." It is a strong word. It means to separate ourselves from all appearance of evil, from every kind of evil, from every expression of evil. Anyone who studies the Bible will quickly recognize that strict discipline is woven into the fabric of Christian commitment. Faith Baldwin suggests that we should give up the sweetness of revenge, the bitter herbs of resentment, the sharp spices of gossip, the bland puddings of complacency, the heavy bread, which nourishes unkindness, and the drugging wine of self-pity. Someone asked Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman, "What do you consider a good rule of life?" He replied, "This rule governs my life -- anything that dims my vision of Christ or takes away my taste for Bible study or cramps my prayer life or makes Christian work more difficult is wrong for me and I must, as a Christian, turn away from it." So be careful -- abstain from all appearance of evil. And finally,

VI. Be Holy (V. 23-24)

Look in verses 23 and 24 (read). God calls us to excel in spiritual living. The prophet Isaiah said that we were to mount up with wings like eagles. Why did he not say "wings of buzzards or sparrows?" Why eagles? The eagle is destined to soar in the heavens. There is to be no polluted atmosphere for the eagle. His home is in the pure air of the heights. The call of God to us is to excel, to rise above. And please notice that this call comes from "the very God of peace." And please notice in this verse a description of the trichotomy of the human personality: body, soul and spirit. Paul is saying this, "I am praying that God will take everything that you are, every facet of your life and set it apart for His purposes." In other words, being saved means that the whole person is to go God's way unanimously. Our bodies, spirits and souls are walking together, and our lives are marked by consistency and steadfastness in the faith.

There is the story of the man who came down from the Carolina Mountains one day. He was all dressed up and carrying his Bible. A friend saw him and asked, "Elias, what's happening? Where are you going all dressed up like that?" Elias said, "I'm headed for New Orleans. I've been hearing that there is a lot of free running liquor and a lot of gambling and a lot of real good naughty shows down there." The friend looked him over and said, "But Elias, why are you carrying your Bible under your arm?" Elias answered, "Well, if it's as good as they say it is, I just might stay over until Sunday." Well, I hope that's not the brand of Christianity that you have. I hope your faith and your Christianity and your life are so marked by godliness that you're daily impacting other people for the cause of Christ.


There is a street in London called Godliman Street. A friend discovered that street several years ago and he assumed that the unusual name was a combination of the two words "godly" and "man". And he asked himself the question, "Did some saintly Christian once reside here whose life was so holy that the entire community was affected by his influence?"

How are you affecting the lives of other people? Paul's final urgent admonition is for us to be holy. In conclusion, Paul makes a request, sends greetings, instructions and a benediction. The request is a simple one for prayer for himself. But if you'll notice in this epistle, from start to finish the call of God to our lives is a call to rise above the habits of the world. It is a call to give ourselves - body, spirit and soul - to the purposes of God. Amen.