St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

God Keeps Us Forever True

Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Text: Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.
23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

When we moved to South Dakota, I went to an auction, because I knew that there would be many tools. I was missing quite a few of them, and wanted to get some. One of the tools that I purchased was a square. A square is a tool that helps you draw straight lines on boards so that when you cut them, they will fit together nicely. However, I have found that, over the years, this particular square isn’t. I don’t know if it got dropped or something like that. Whatever the case, it does not draw perfectly straight lines. As a result, some of my cuts are off a little. In most of my projects, it really doesn’t make that much of a difference. There are times, however, when it has made it more difficult. This is due to the fact that my square isn’t true. This morning, as we study God’s Word, we will see how God keeps us true, on a straight line. GOD KEEPS US FOREVER TRUE. 1. Always Living Our Faith. 2. Always In The Word and 3. Always Trusting Him.

A bit of background is helpful to understanding our text. Paul has visited Thessalonica on his Second Missionary Journey. He spent three weeks there before the opposition to his message forced him to leave. In his concern for the fledgling congregation there, he left Timothy behind, while he went on to Berea. Timothy had returned to Paul with news about the congregation. They had some questions about subjects that they had not had time to learn about while Paul was there, such as what happened to people who died before Jesus returned and what happened at the end of the world. After Paul answered their questions, he concluded his letter with some final encouragements, which is what we have before us today. He gave them ways to put their faith into action and some things to avoid, as well.

Paul begins with three commands. He says in verses 16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” “Rejoice always.” (Verse 16) One would think that, if anyone had reason to despair, it would be these Thessalonians. Look at the unfair treatment they were receiving. They were not doing anything wrong. They were followers of Jesus Christ. Yet, they were facing persecution for their faith. In spite of that, Paul tells them to rejoice. The other apostles, we are told, after they were brought before the Jewish High Council for telling others about Jesus, left “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41) Earlier in this letter (1:5), Paul showed them that this was an evidence of the fact that they had been brought to faith. Persecution convinced the Thessalonians that Jesus was what mattered most in their lives. As a result, they rejoiced and Paul encourages them in their joy.

The second command is to “pray continually.” (Verse 17) The Thessalonians were not alone in the struggle. They had direct communication with their almighty Ally and Friend. In spite of all of the difficulties that they were facing, they could come to God and know that he would hear and answer their prayers. Because of this fact, they could “give thanks in all circumstances.” (Verse 18) Even in the face of persecution, they could raise their voices in thanksgiving to God. They knew that God would continue to be with them, no matter what was happening, whether good or bad. God would keep them as they lived their faith in the world.

God makes that same promise to us, as well. When we live as Christians, the world will take notice. There are times when the world will be impressed. They will want to know more about why we act the way that we do. They want to know what we believe. It is also true that many in the world will not want to hear what we have to say. They will make fun of us for acting a certain way. They will look at us as being odd for holding to the things that we believe. By God’s grace, we have not had to face physical persecution for our faith, though there are places in the world where that is a distinct possibility. When we face even the perceived minor threats to our faith in our day to day lives, we may want to just keep quiet, so as not to attract attention to ourselves. God encourages us to stand firm, as well. He gives us the attitudes and the tools to do so. We “rejoice always.” (Verse 16) Coupled with that, we “give thanks in all circumstances.” (Verse 20) While the worldly are discontented even while living like kings, we know that the spiritual blessings we enjoy far outweigh the physical blessings. We can be thankful even when we are facing trouble, because we know that hardships strengthen our faith. They remind us of what is truly important. It is not all of the things that the world says that we need. It is our relationship with our God. To help us in this, we are also told to “pray continually.” (Verse 17) God is right there to help us. He allows us to come to him with everything that is on our hearts and present it to him. He promises to hear all of our prayers, as well. We also have the privilege of coming to him in prayer to thank him for all that he has done for us, as well. God keeps us true as we go through our daily lives by giving us both the attitude and the strength to do so.

Another area where our God keeps us pointing in the right direction is with his Word. Paul says in verses 19-22, “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.” The Holy Spirit will not leave a person who has been brought to faith. However, that person can snuff out the Holy Spirit’s fire through unbelief. They keep pushing him away, until that faith that was once burning so brightly is extinguished. The way to avoid this from happening is to “not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all.” (Verses 20&21) “Prophecies” refers to the entire Word of God, which has been revealed to mankind through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Look at the way that God’s Word is treated. Many people give equal or even higher authority to human philosophy or wisdom. Even some who claim to be people who believe will use interpretation methods that do not recognize the inerrancy of the Scriptures. They will say that there no such things as miracles, so they exclude them from the Bible. The world obviously is billions and billions of years old, so the creation account is thrown out. We know that it takes both a father and a mother for a pregnancy to occur, so there cannot be such a thing as a virgin birth. It is obvious that, when a person dies, there is no coming back. So, those times when it speaks of a resurrection, it must have been that there was a coma or something like that. They go on and on trying to explain away what the Bible says.

God tells us not to “treat prophecies with contempt but test them all.” (Verses 20&21) Look at what is being taught. Compare it with what the rest of the Scriptures say. Don’t just take the word of someone else. Dig into the Bible yourself. Make what is presented there your own. Once you have done that you can “hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” (Verse 21) The standard is God’s inspired Word, not what seems to make sense or works best or does not offend. Once the test has been applied, we reject what does not fall into line with God’s Word. Even if the conflict seems small, we reject it because, as Paul says elsewhere, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” (Galatians 5:9) We keep in the Word so that the faith, which the Holy Spirit has created in our hearts continues to burn brightly. We are kept true as we are in the Word, because there we hear our God speaking directly to us.

As we grow in our faith, the Holy Spirit gets involved in every area of our lives. Paul speaks of this in verse 23, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.” The word “sanctify” means “to make holy, to set apart.” Lukewarm faith will eventually die. If we stay away from godly living and God’s Word, we will lose our compass and become eternally lost. Here, Paul prays that God would permeate our lives. He prays that God would direct our every attitude, thought, word, and action. He prays that God would be the greatest treasure of our lives. The end result of this is spoken of at the end of verse 23, “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

However, we also know ourselves very well. We know that we are not blameless. Looking back over some of the things that we have talked about this morning, we see that we are not blameless. When the possibility of being looked at differently because of our faith happened, we have kept quiet. We have not always rejoiced in everything. We forget to pray, making it our last resort rather than our first response. We have not always gladly heard and learned God’s Word. We have gotten bored with the same old things over and over again. We catch ourselves wishing that we could hear something new and exciting. Rather than rejecting every kind of evil, we find ourselves liking those things. When we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are anything but blameless.

How thankful we are that, though we are not blameless, Jesus was. He came to earth some 2,000 years ago to be blameless for us. He fearlessly stood up for the truth that was proclaimed. He was constant in prayer. He then took that blameless life and sacrificed it on the altar of the cross to pay for all of our sins. His resurrection assures us that his work of rescuing the world was completed. All of this was done so that we would be with him forever in heaven. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Does it, perhaps, sound too good to be true? How do we know that, when we come to the end of this life, we can be sure that we will be in heaven?

Remember this, after Paul prays, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he concludes with, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (Verses 23&24) In other words, God has promised that this will happen. We know that, because he is God, he does not lie. He does not say one thing and do another. So, since he has said that Jesus’ work was all-sufficient, you can count on it. Since he has promised that those believe in Jesus as their Savior have eternal life, you know that it is true. It is this confidence that God has seen to our eternal salvation that gives us confidence for every day, as well. Since he loved me enough to take care of my eternal needs, he surely will take care of my earthly needs. He has promised to do so and we can count on him to keep his promises.

There are many things in life that say that you can count on them. There is earthly wealth and power. There is human wisdom. However, at times, they can be just as trustworthy as my slightly bent square. There is one thing that we can count on, both for this life and for the life to come. Our God will keep us along the path until we are with him forever in heaven. Put your confidence in him. Amen.