Here are Seven General Commands for all Believers

Seven General Commands

© 2023 C. O. Bishop

1st Thessalonians 5:16-23

16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

Introduction

I first studied this passage years ago, and the latter clause of verse 18 caught my attention. Paul says that this list of commands is “the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning ME.”

This revelation is very personal. And, I had problems with it: I wasn’t consistently obeying any of the commands he listed. I did not deliberately disobey them: I truly didn’t know how I could rejoice all the time. Life wasn’t much fun! I could not see how to rejoice in the midst of hard times.

I did not pray without ceasing. My prayer-life was very sporadic. (It still is, compared to some of the prayer-warriors we have in this assembly!) But what caught my attention the most, initially, was that God commanded us to give thanks, regardless of circumstances.

(Notice that He did not say “for everything give thanks,” (though that would be a good thing, too.) Rather, He said, “IN everything give thanks.”  Paul and Silas didn’t necessarily give thanks that they were “bleeding and in pain, in manacles, in a prison!” They gave thanks for the privilege of joining Jesus in the work of the Gospel. And they included the privilege of suffering for His sake.

But I was most shocked that it seemed to be specifically directed to ME. I read, and I could not escape the probing finger of God, pointing me out and saying, “Yes, I mean you!

“Unpacking” the Content:

  1. Rejoice Evermore
  2. Pray without ceasing
  3. In Every Thing Give Thanks
  4. Quench Not The Spirit
  5. Despise Not Prophesyings
  6. Prove (test) All Things: Hold fast to that which is Good.
  7. Abstain From all Appearance (all forms) Of Evil

The whole list falls under the title “God’s will in Christ for YOU.” So, if you (the reader) are “in Christ,” then, as a saved individual, all these things are directed to You.

Rejoice Evermore

This one caused me to stumble, initially, too. I read it as “feel happy all the time.” (I’m sorry, but I just can’t do that!) Later, I saw other passages which showed me that it was perfectly acceptable to feel bad about circumstances, and to weep and grieve over losses, and defeats.

I read Habakkuk 3:17-19, and I saw that Habakkuk was deeply grieved by the corruption in his nation. He was even more alarmed at the predicted judgment of God upon His nation. But he accepted it as being from God. And in the face of losing everything, he chose to find his Joy in the Savior. He said. “Yet will I rejoice in the LORD; I will joy in the God of my salvation!” And verse 19 said he made a song about it so that others could share that joy!

I began to realize then, that “Joy is a choice. ” It is not dependent upon circumstances. We can choose to find Joy in the person of Christ, and in His character, and in His constant, faithful presence. The Psalmist said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me….” It was a choice!

Pray Without Ceasing

I thought I could figure out this one pretty easily, on my own. I knew that you don’t have to “fold your hands and close your eyes” to pray. So I also knew I truly could be in constant communication with God.

But, I also knew that I am easily distracted. I will suddenly realize that I have become “sidetracked,” and not only am I not in prayer, but I am in a furious imaginary argument with some person who isn’t even there! (Usually, it is someone who wronged me years ago, and, because I never truly forgave them, their memory plagues me still today.) So, then I have to confess my anger and confess my unforgiveness. I try to obey Jesus by praying for that person. (Remember? He said, “Pray for them that despitefully use you!”)

And, you know what? Sometimes while trying to pray for them, I would circle right back into being angry all over again, because of how they had wronged me! Our old sin nature is a very “slippery” enemy! It turns out that “pray without ceasing” is harder than it sounds!

Distractions!

Forgiveness means “accepting whatever wrong has happened to you as having been allowed by God, and then absorbing the cost or the loss, without blaming the other person or demanding retribution.”

Jesus endured to the Cross in order to take our place under the judgment of God. He had to absorb the cost, himself, in order to offer true forgiveness! (Give that some thought!)

What injury have you received? How do you have to “absorb the loss or the cost,” in order to forgive those who have wronged you? Was it truly a greater injury than what Jesus bore at the Cross? (Probably not, right?) So we can choose to follow in His steps and learn to forgive, just as He has forgiven us.

In Everything Give Thanks

As I said earlier, this one was hard because I read it wrong. It does not say “give thanks FOR everything, but rather “give thanks IN everything.” I can give thanks for his mercy and for His constant provision in my life.

And when things truly seem bleak, remember Job. Having lost everything, he tore his clothes in grief, and shaved his head in mourning for his dead children. But then, he fell on his face before the LORD, and worshipped, saying “naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The LORD giveth, and the LORD hath taken away. BLESSED be the Name of the LORD!” He lost all his belongings and all his children in the same day! And, his response was worship!

The very least we can do is to give thanks for the perfect character of God, and His Mercy and Love, by which He provided salvation for a lost World. We can thank Him for the incredible privilege of working with Jesus, “pulling in double harness,” to accomplish the work of God on earth.

Quench Not the Spirit

in 1789, William Carey, a Baptist minister in Leicester, England was preparing to go to India with the Gospel. He was at a meetingof ministers and he was advocating the work of Evangelism. Another minister (the chairman of the meeting Carey was attending) retorted, “Young man, sit down! When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do so without your aid or mine!”

That is about as classic a “quenching of the Spirit” as I have ever heard. But there are worse. Whenever God stirs the heart of one of His children, to attempt something for Him, there will be someone there to say “it can’t be done, it won’t work, etc.”

David was volunteering to kill Goliath. Remember what ALL the other men said: they all scorned him, shamed him or warned him that he would surely be killed. At best, in “being supportive,” they loaded him down with such heavy body armor that he couldn’t move!

Goliath cursed him, and promised to feed his body to the birds! His answer to the giant was, “You have come to me heavily armed. I come to you in the name of the LORD of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied!”

Ancient “Weapons

Goliath was a “human tank,” for that time in history! He was huge, heavily armed, and heavily armor-plated! And, like a tank, he made a lot of noise! As a result, all of Israel’s armies were terrified!

David, on the other hand, was wearing no armor at all, beyond the divine protection of God. His only power was found in the Name of the LORD of Hosts (that’s Jesus, by the way!) And his only physical weapon was a sling…two cords, and a pouch to hold a stone. But slings were the “bazookas” of that time in history! And God guided his hand so that the rock not only hit Goliath’s only unprotected place (his forehead) but so that it struck with enough force to actually punch through and sink into his forehead.

Now: Was it entirely miraculous? Perhaps…or God could have just given the stone an extra push and supernatural accuracy. Or: we can consider the fact that a major league pitcher can heave a baseball in excess of 100 miles per hour…and the cords of the sling more than doubled the length of David’s arm, and thus doubled the speed of his delivery! (Yes, a egg-sized rock, hitting a forehead at around 200 miles per hour could surely be fatal!)

But, if the naysayers had persuaded David to just go home, then that whole victory would have been cancelled! Thank God that He did not allow the Spirit to be quenched, in this case!

Despise Not Prophesyings

Don’t reject out-of-hand a message delivered as being from scripture. Someone has taken time (assumedly) to study, and prepare a lesson, a sermon, a testimony, or something. Be respectful, and hear them out. But the next verse tells the “rest of the story.”

Listen critically, comparing what is being taught to what we know of the Word of God. If they are teaching false doctrine (Not just a misunderstanding…deliberate twisting of scripture) then we have to take a stand against it.)

Prove All Things: Hold Fast to That Which is Good.

The Bereans (in Acts 17:11) were commended for their response to the teaching of the Apostles: “These were more noble-minded than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, AND searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

They were not “rejecting” the apostolic message (not “despising prophesyings”) but they also were not easily won over by clever speech, or persuasive argument: They wanted GOD’S Word on the matter. So, they searched the scriptures to find His answer!

Ephesians 4:11-14 says that the purpose of the leadership gifts is to draw the flock along into spiritual maturity, including that that (v.14) we are no longer are to be like little children, believing every new thing, so that we are blown back and forth by every convincing argument. Hold fast to that which is good.

Abstain from all Appearance (all Forms) of Evil

People frequently misunderstand this passage to mean “if something looks bad, then avoid it.” That potentially places us in an untenable position of feeling obliged to please everyone. I am not obliged to please everyone. For example, the Gospel offends most people at one level or another.

One Christian woman very firmly told me that she believed it would be morally wrong for her to attempt to share her faith with someone else. How can obedience to God be morally wrong? (It cannot!) But she had subjected her own values to those of the World, where it “appears evil” to tell people about Jesus. I have known believers to lose their jobs for (on their own time) telling a coworker how they can have eternal life. But they were doing right.

The idea, here, is to avoid every form of evil: Everywhere Evil shows its ugly face, abstain! Don’t be partners with evil. Feel free to “let the World pass you by!” You want no part of where they are going!

The Result?

23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

Our confidence is not in ourselves: But God lays out seven general commands for all believers and Paul offers his confidence, praying that, if the believers followed these things, they would continually grow in Christ, and that God would preserve and keep them blameless.

Paul’s conclusion is that his confidence is in the faithfulness of God, not the “worthiness” of those believers, nor their productivity, or any such thing.

The Children of God

Having placed your trust in Jesus as your Savior, and in His shed Blood as the full payment for your redemption, you have become a child of God. Yes, I am aware that many people try to teach that “everyone is a child of God.” Jesus said they are not! He said one has to be born again to become  a child of God (John 1:12, 13) or to even see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3) And in John 8:44, He told the people, “You are of your father, the Devil!”

But as a child of God, we can expect His guidance, His blessing, His chastisement, and His care. And regardless of whether we flourish or struggle, He will not lose us, under any circumstances! He said, “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.

Lord Jesus, we ask that You would continually sharpen our focus, to see Your will for our lives, laid out in black and white, right here in Your Word! We are not left without instruction: You have given us the Written Word and You have given us the indwelling Holy Spirit. Teach us to follow you in sincerity and in faithful service.

Finding Joy and Peace

Finding Joy and Peace

© C. O. Bishop 4/16/2018

Philippians 4:1-9

Introduction:

We have been studying the book of Philippians, and we have finally arrived in chapter four: Paul is beginning to sum up his teaching, and is offering encouragement to the believers at Philippi. The first thing he says is to “stand fast in the Lord.” But he says it, completely wrapped in his love for them, as his “offspring” in the Lord.

Stand Fast

1 Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.

Paul was so pleased and satisfied with the Christian lives of the people in the church at Philippi, that, in this passage, he comes the closest he ever came with anyone, to saying “I’m SO PROUD of you!” But this is a clean joy at the work of God in their lives. He was taking no credit for them, though he did lead them to Christ and teach them virtually everything they knew about Jesus and their new life with Him.

He actually referred to them as his “Crown”—he felt so honored to have been a part of their beginning. The Greek word he used here is “stephanos”—a victor’s crown. It has nothing to do with kings, or rulership, but rather a prize for excellence: the “blue-ribbon.”

When my students excel in the steel-fabrication industry, it is because they studied hard and did the necessary work to excel; they earned their credentials…but I am thrilled to have had a part in their training. They took the risks, and paid to take the exams, but when they passed their exams, I was thrilled for them. Paul felt that way toward these people, as they stood fast in Christ.

Maintain Unity, and Labor together

They were still human, and they had their failings. But they had a good enough walk with God that there were no rebukes or corrections, at all, in the entire letter. Philippians 4:2 is as close as he comes to a correction; he asks that they maintain unity and that they labor together:

2 I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.

3 And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.

There is some small problem being addressed here: He begs Euodias and he begs Syntyche, to be of one mind—to be in accord with one another—to not bicker. We can only assume that these two women were at odds with one another, at one level or another, and he knew about it. He begged them to drop the contention, and choose Love…choose peace. And he asked the person to whom the letter was primarily addressed (un-named, but blessed) to help them do so; to be a peacemaker, a healer of rifts, a gentle voice of reason. He says that these women already had a track-record of faithful service, with Paul himself, and with Clement (we don’t know who that is, either), and with others who shared in the work of the Gospel. Interestingly, the Greek word for “labored with” is “sunathleo”…it means “strove alongside”. The word for strive is “athleo”…the word from which we get “athlete.” They were on Paul’s team, and he considered them valuable assets to the team. These women were two soul-winners who had evidently had a falling-out. Paul begs them to restore peace, and begs the others to help them do so, so as to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.” (as it says in Ephesians 4:3)

I also treasure the phrase “true yokefellow”, here…(Greek, “suzuge gnesie”) It was once common to place a yoke across the shoulders of a man, so he could lift more, pull a heavier load, etc. And, if two men, closely matched in height, were yoked together, they could move very heavy loads as a team, just as a “yoke of oxen” means a team of oxen, matched for size and strength, which, if trained to work as a team, have tremendous potential for work accomplished.

When Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me,” he was inviting the believers to join him in double-harness, and learn obedience from him, as a young draft animal learns from an older animal. We are invited to become “true yokefellows” with Jesus, and we are encouraged to work together in the same manner. We encourage one another, and bear one another’s burdens, and together, we accomplish more than we could do separately.

Rejoice!

4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.

I have to confess, this one is hard for me. As one who has suffered from depression for nearly 50 years, it is a hard thing, for me, to see in the Scripture a clear command to rejoice: but there it is! It is a command, too, not a suggestion, or a request. In Nehemiah 8:10, the command was given that the people not weep at the sound of the Word of God, but rather rejoice—in fact, they were told to go have a party and come back for more, because the “Joy of the LORD is your strength!”

The people were weeping in grief for the lost years of lost fellowship and the lost glory of the lost Kingdom of Israel…all lost because of the sin of Israel. They had gathered to rebuild the temple and the city walls. They wept in grief and in repentance. It was not that they were sad that the scriptures were being read. They were sad for all they had lost. But Nehemiah commanded them to stop mourning, and stop weeping. He did not tell them to stop being sorry for what was lost, but he did tell them to refocus on what was currently regained: They were being restored to fellowship with God, and were free, once again, to worship Him. He told them to throw a national party, and make sure and include any among them who had nothing. They were to change their thinking (repentance is a “change of mind”), and take heart in the grace of God.

Now: I think this is where the problem lies: When I hear “rejoice in the Lord!” I think it means “feel happy”. But it doesn’t: to “rejoice” is to express joy regarding something or someone, not to “feel happy”. It is something we can choose to do, in praise and thanksgiving for all the blessings we KNOW we have. (How about eternal life? Is that enough cause to express joy, and relief? How about people in whose lives you have seen the Spirit of God at work? Is that something you can rejoice over? Answered prayer? Your daily food and health? Safety?) Gratitude, expressed in word and deed, can lay the foundation for Peace and Joy. Dwelling on the truths of God’s provision in our lives, and His proven character, instead of how we feel about things not having gone the way we wanted, can relieve us of the anger and fear we feel, and allow us to begin to experience a genuine joy; one that is not dependent upon circumstances.

Maintain your Testimony

5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

The word translated “moderation”, here, is the Greek word “epieikes”—it is only used a half a dozen times, but in every case except this, it is translated “gentleness”, or “clemency”… a sweet-spirited reasonable character. If that is how people see you, then your testimony will not be damaged by the opposite, which would definitely render your testimony valueless. Christians who are constantly griping, or criticizing, or arguing, or who are frequently angry, are daily undermining their own testimony, and, regardless of what they say, their actions outweigh their words. Paul commands us to maintain an active life of gentle interaction with those around us. He punctuates the idea with the fact that “the Lord is at hand”. The time is short! You don’t know how much time is left! Besides, He is also our Judge, not just our Savior, so perhaps we should be careful how we deal with others. He is right there, watching, in every situation.

Repent of Worry, and Embrace Peace

What about anxiety, though? Some of us are worriers. Do we get “special treatment?” No! Paul makes no accommodations for us. He says to stop it! He says that we DO have a choice:

6 Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

That is the command: it has both a positive and a negative clause. The negative comes first: Be anxious for nothing. Stop the worrying! How? That is the positive side: Replace it with prayer, faith and thanksgiving. If we are faithful to pray, and to believe that God hears, and that He has our best interests at heart, then we can “leave in his lap” the things we have brought to him in prayer, and go away in thanksgiving and peace. If not, then the fact that we “pray” means nearly nothing, as, effectively, instead of “placing the issues in God’s lap and leaving them there”, we snatch them back and take them away to gnaw on them some more, in fear and anxiety. That is not the same as what he has commanded. How can I tell the difference? The results tell the tale: if I do what He actually commanded, I will experience His peace. I do have a choice!

7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Notice the word “shall”: Today, when a legal document, a building code, or any other such thing, uses the word “shall”, it means that it is mandatory—it must happen. It seems that if we are truly faithful to handle life the way he said to do it, then peace must follow.

Psalm 119:165 agrees with this idea: it says “Great peace have they which love thy Law: and nothing shall offend them.” (Nothing shall cause them to stumble.) I really can’t diminish this and make it say, “Great peace have most who love thy law, and it takes a lot to offend them.” It simply says that those who love God’s Word find great peace. Can they fail from that peace? Yes, they can…but only because they fail to focus on God’s Word, and His promises.

8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

One commentator suggested that, since all these things were supremely exemplified in Christ, therefore, the passage must be telling us to meditate on the person of Christ. I could live with that, because it is certainly true that all these things (truth, honesty, justice, purity, beauty, good news, virtue, and praise) are exemplified in Jesus…but…it says “whatsoever things”—which is

  • all-inclusive, and
  • plural

Jesus is not plural, and he is not the only place we find those things…He is the author of it all, however, and it makes sense that, as we are giving thanks (verse 6) and looking for the various good things to think about, we would see those things and give thanks for them, honoring the Author of Goodness, not seeing “good” as potentially separate from God. He created the whole world as “good,” originally. Sin has corrupted it to a horrible extent. But what “good” is left in the world, at the very least, is the remnant of the “Good” that God proclaimed at the Creation. And much of it is “good” that he has inserted since the fall into sin: mercy and blessings in which we recognize His hand. In either case, we are exhorted to choose what we will dwell on.

We do have a choice about what we think about. 2nd Corinthians 10:4, 5 tells me that we are to take every thought captive for the obedience of Christ. I am not given the option to say, “Well, I can’t control what I think about!” God says that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal” (it really is a war, you know!) “…but are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds”. (Do you think maybe worry has a stronghold in our lives?) “…casting down imaginations” (What else can worry be called? I am imagining and fearing the possible results of events beyond my control!) “…and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.” (Has it occurred to you that worry exalts itself against the knowledge of God? That it presumes to know the future when it cannot possibly know it, and it even supposes that “God’s will is a terrible burden to bear, and something to fear?”) Finally, He says, “…bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (And that is why we are told not to worry! Every thought is to be subjected to Him, and worry is not from God! Fear is not from God!)

9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

Paul concludes the passage on peace, by saying that if they would carry out the things they had seen in him, learned from him, and gladly received from him, they could expect the pleasant consciousness of the presence and the support of God. That the God of Peace would be with them, supporting them in their obedience to Him. Jesus said that He would manifest Himself to those who love Him. (John 14:21)

Since He is omnipresent, He is always “with” every person, believers and unbelievers, but that is not the sense in which the word is used, here. This is not just talking about location, but also his abiding Grace and Blessing, which unbelievers do not have.

It is also in reference to His fellowship, which even sinning believers do not have. How do I know? In 1st John 1:5, 6, He tells me so!  He says, “This is the message, which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you; that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all! If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we do not the truth!” So, the phrase, “the God of Peace shall be with you” has to do with the conscious fellowship with the living God, and the enjoyment of His peace, His blessing, and His grace for living, on a moment by moment basis.

That is why it is worth learning not to worry: it is a part of “Standing Fast in the Lord.” We can choose to rejoice, and we can choose to experience God’s Peace.

Lord Jesus, allow us to feed on your Word and grow strong, believing your Word, so as to Stand fast against the Enemy, and to experience your Peace. Teach us gratitude, so that we can have both peace and Joy.