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1 Thessalonians 5:25-28 | Closing Commands and a Prayer

July 14, 2019 Speaker: Kristopher Schaal Series: 1 Thessalonians

Topic: Expository Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28

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1 Thessalonians 5:25-28 | Closing Commands and a Prayer

Good morning! Turn in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28. We are going to take a break from our series on ambition because the Ironwood crew is all out at camp this week, and I didn’t want to break up the flow of the series for them. So we are going to take this opportunity to finish 1 Thessalonians.

All we have left to cover in order to finish the book of 1 Thessalonians are these four little closing verses–vv. 25-28. So let’s go ahead and read those verses, and then we will pray (1 Thess 5:25-28).

Sometimes I think we can skim over the closing sections of the epistles without really appreciating their significance. And it’s true that not a lot of new doctrine is developed in the closing comments of the letters, but these sections often give us a glimpse into the lives of the authors and recipients that can be very enlightening.

There are three simple commands and a prayer in these verses. They may not seem like much, but they actually shine a lot of light on how we should relate to each other and on what our focus should be as a church. So let’s walk through these verses one-by-one.

1.  Verse 25: “Pray for Us.”

That’s such a simple command, isn’t it? And yet, there is so much truth behind that command, and it is so important!

I think first of the reason that command is important. Can you think of any reasons? All of us need God, and God answers prayer–so all of us need prayer!

Sometimes people will either explicitly or implicitly downplay the importance of prayer based of what the Bible teaches about the sovereignty of God. Brothers and sisters, we must never do that! Yes, God is sovereign; but He is also clear in His Word that He answers prayer and that prayer actually changes things!

If we pray, things will happen that would not have happened had we not prayed. God will provide in unique ways. People will get saved. And the list could go on and on.

And so we know that it is important that we pray for everyone, but we also know that it is especially important that we pray for Christian leaders. Why? Because they are on the front lines, so to speak! Because so many people look up to them! Because Satan is especially trying to target them with temptation. And because if they fall, many others will suffer, as well.

Paul knew that he needed the prayers of these people, and Pastor Kit and I need your prayers, as well. I hope that you pray for us and for the other leadership here at Life Point as well as for other Christian leaders that you know of, just like Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him.

In his commentary on this passage, John MacArthur quotes a Presbyterian pastor from the 1800s named Gardiner Spring who wrote a book called Power in the Pulpit. Spring said this.

“O it is at a fearful expense that ministers are ever allowed to enter the pulpit without being preceded, accompanied, and followed by the earnest prayers of the churches. It is no marvel that the pulpit is so powerless, and ministers so often disheartened when there are so few to hold up their hands. The consequence of neglecting this duty is seen and felt in the spiritual declension of the churches, and it will be seen and felt in the everlasting perdition of men; while the consequence of regarding it would be the ingathering of multitudes into the kingdom of God, and new glories to the Lamb that was slain!”

Brethren, pray for us.

But the second thing that I notice when I read v. 25 is the heart behind the command.  On the one hand, Paul is very assertive. “Do this. Do that. I put you under oath to do that other thing.” But on the other hand, he isn’t proud. Instead, he is humble enough to ask these Thessalonians have only been saved a short time to pray for him. 

Do you ask others to pray for you?

The first thing we see emphasized in this passage is prayer.

The second thing we see emphasized in this passage is brotherly love.

2.  Verse 26: “Greet One Another with a Holy Kiss.”

This is one of those verses in the Bible that makes junior highers chuckle. The idea of greeting one another with a “holy kiss” is pretty foreign to us. So what exactly did this mean in its original context?

Here’s what one commentary I referenced said about the “holy kiss.” I found this to be a helpful summary.

“In the ancient world, a kiss could symbolize a number of sentiments, such as love between family members, honor and respect, or friendship (Mark 14:44–45; Luke 7:36–47; 15:20; Acts 20:37). Kissing on the mouth, which expressed erotic love, was not the most common form of kissing. Much more common was the kiss on the forehead or the cheek in greetings and good-byes between family members, friends, and respected people, or on official occasions such as games or when contracts were made. People also kissed when they were reconciled to each other…. In the following centuries, the church permitted the liturgical kiss to be exchanged only between persons of the same sex because of the abuses of decorum that had arisen.”[1]

So in that culture, a kiss on the cheek or on the forehead was not considered to be romantic. It was a way to greet family or friends or to show respect in formal situations. And in many cultures around the world, a kiss on the cheek still functions in basically that same way. And furthermore, we know that Paul intended this practice to be innocent because he referred to it as “the holy kiss.”

But still doesn’t answer the question, why did Paul feel it necessary to tell the believers in Thessalonica, “Greet one another with a holy kiss”? What do you think?

It goes back to the fact that believers in Christ are brothers and sisters! That’s why Paul says, “Greet all the brethren [or, “brothers and sisters”] with a holy kiss.” We ought to love one another in the same way that siblings love each other! Now, I don’t know, maybe you don’t get along with your siblings! Certainly, as kids, it’s common (though sad) for brothers and sisters to fight. But hopefully, as you grow up, your siblings become some of your best friends. Paul says that we are supposed to love one another like that.

Look around the room. Do you love the women in this room as if they were your sisters (or mothers, or daughters–depending upon your age)? Do you love the men in this room as if they were brothers, fathers, and sons? Jesus said in Matthew 12:50, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” Folks, if Jesus calls them brothers and sisters, how could we treat them otherwise? Christ said again in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” In other words, brotherly love is to be the defining virtue of all Christians! Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ here at Life Point?

But Paul goes a step beyond just telling the Thessalonians to love one another like brothers and sisters, doesn’t he? He also tells us them to treat one another like brothers and sisters! Greet him or her with a kiss on the cheek, just like you would your brother or sister. Now, it’s interesting that the church had to curtail this practice somewhere along the line because it was being abused. We can easily imagine how that would happen! And I’m definitely not suggesting that we bring it back! (That could make greeting time this morning a little awkward.) But it is important that we recognize and apply the principle behind Paul’s command and that we relate to each other as family!

You know, for the Thessalonians, the main awkwardness in obeying this command probably wasn’t the fact that men and women were kissing each other on the cheek. That probably would have been at least somewhat common in that culture. What would have been uncommon and awkward (as far as I can tell) was slave masters greeting slaves with a holy kiss or Jews greeting Gentiles that way. It would have taken a lot of humility, for example, for a leading woman in the city to walk over and kiss a slave woman. But that’s the beauty of the family of God, isn’t it? The ground is level at the foot of the cross!

So the second thing emphasized in this passage is brotherly love.

The next thing emphasized is submission to Scripture.

3.  Verse 27: “Read this Epistle.”

There is a shift from the first-person plural “we” to the first-person singular “I” in v. 27. Paul, in a sense, steps out from the group and says, “I, Paul, charge you to obey this.” And the way that it’s worded, Paul is basically putting the Thessalonians under oath to obey this command! He words is very strongly!

So what is this command that Paul wants to emphasize so much? It is that they read this letter publicly to the entire church. This letter is not just intended for the pastors and deacons. It is intended for everybody.

When the leaders of the church at Thessalonica read this letter, anyone who had been flirting with immorality or had refused to work would have been publicly reprimanded by those passages in chapter 4. Also, the fact that it was read aloud would mean that even the illiterate would know what Paul said. And the letter was probably read multiple times, because it was golden!

I mean, think about it, these people did not have other New Testament books! They had Paul’s oral teaching from when he was present with them, but now they also had these inspired, inerrant words! What a treasure!

The applications from v. 27 are the centrality of Scripture to the church and the importance of submission to the Scriptures. Just like children must submit to their parents, we must submit to God’s Word! Not only that, but we must give it the priority in our gatherings!

In our Sunday morning service, we read the Bible, preach the Bible, sing the Bible by singing hymns with biblical lyrics; we seek to pray the Bible by praying according to God’s will, and we all seek to live the Bible throughout the week! Everything we do is centered around the Bible! And if you go to a church where that is not the case, that is not a good sign!

I’m reading a biography about Martin Luther right now. And it’s been good to be reminded that the whole Protestant Reformation really was about getting back to the Bible. It was all grounded in Sola Scriptura–Scripture alone!

As Christians (and not Catholics), we believe that the Bible (not the Pope or the Church) is our final authority. But do we give the Bible the central place it deserves in our lives and in our churches?

The third thing emphasized in this passage is submission to Scripture.

Finally, the last thing emphasized in this passage is a focus upon grace.

4.  Verse 28: “The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with You.”

The last sentence in the book of 1 Thessalonians is a benediction or “prayer-wish” from Paul for the Thessalonians. He prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will be with them. That’s a simple sentence, but what does it actually mean? Let’s see if we can break it down.

First, what is “grace”? Grace is undeserved favor. The word “grace” encapsulates all of the gifts God gives to mankind!

Did you know that God is good to everyone–even to unbelievers? Jesus said in Matthew 5:45 that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” We call that “common grace.”

But that’s not what Paul is talking about in this verse, because he specifically refers to “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What Paul is referring to here is what is described by the common acronym for grace, which is “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Paul is referring to the grace that comes from or through Jesus Christ–the gifts that we have from God as a result of our salvation.

What are some of those gifts? Can you name them?  (peace, joy, love, assurance of salvation, power to do what is right, God’s providence and care, a home in heaven, etc.) Salvation is a package deal that includes more gifts than we could ever fully appreciate in this lifetime! Read Ephesians chapter 1!

And in this verse, we are reminded that all of those gifts God gives to us as believers come through Jesus Christ. He is the fountainhead of every blessing we will ever receive as a result of our salvation. Why is that true? Because if it were not for Jesus, we could not be saved! He paid for our sins on the cross, and our newfound standing with God is by virtue of the fact that we are “in Him,” as Paul so often emphasizes! Jesus is the center of it all!

So that is the meaning of “grace” and “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”; but now, what does it mean for the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” to be “with you”? Paul is praying that the Thessalonians would experience all of those blessings that we just discussed in their lives! He is wishing on them the best thing he could ever wish upon anyone, and that is the full experience of all of the blessings that are his in Christ Jesus! One commentator says it this way. He says grace “is the one word in Paul’s vocabulary that embraces all that God has done, and that he desires that God will do, for his Thessalonian friends through Christ Jesus.”[2] For the Christian, it is hard to imagine a sweeter thought or a more welcome prayer than this one.

Brothers and sisters, we must have a spirit of grace in our church. That means we must have a recognition of the fact that we are totally unworthy, and our hearts must be brimming with thankfulness for all that God has done.

It has been said that at the center of Christian theology is the word “grace.” And at the center of Christian ethics is the word “gratitude.” In other words, if we were looking for a word to encapsulate all of what God has done for us, it would probably be the word “grace.” And if we were looking for a word to summarize what our response to that grace should be, it might very well be the word “gratitude.” Our obedience to God as Christians must flow from a heart of humble gratitude for all that He has done.

Conclusion

When I think of a church that obeys the commands we’ve considered today, it reminds me of a sweet, family atmosphere. It reminds me of the kind of atmosphere you get when parents are assertive, but humble; when children love each other and submit to authority; and when there is a spirit of grace. We saw all of those ingredients in this passage.

We’ve probably all witnessed families in which the parents did not lead, there was hatred and unresolved conflict among siblings, the children did not submit to authority, and the general culture was one of proud, selfish individualism. We might call that a dysfunctional family. And just like there are dysfunctional families, there are dysfunctional churches. Let’s not be one of those!

But a home in which there is love and humility and submission is a sweet home to be in! If you get invited over to dinner in that home, it’s like breathing fresh mountain air or jumping into a pool on a hot summer’s day–it’s refreshing and life-giving! And if you grew up in that kind of a home, you are blessed beyond measure!

When people walk through the doors of our church, they should feel like they are entering a family. When they fellowship with us in our homes, they should feel the same way. How will that happen? Here are four basic ingredients: 1) prayer, 2) brotherly love, 3) submission to Scripture, and 4) a focus on grace. Let’s make sure those ingredients are always present here at Life Point.

[1] Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002), 271.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 233.

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