Chapter 5: 12-22
“And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies. 21 Test all things; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.”
As I am writing, it is American Thanksgiving Day. We celebrated ours here in Canada back in October. Thanks once again for the lovely emails; it is good to hear from you.
Last week we took a long look at verse 14 of our passage, and today we are going to cover a few more verses, 15-18. In these verses, as we get to verse 18, we will be called to give thanks. I did not plan this, but as I mentioned, this is US Thanksgiving. We will talk a bit about thanksgiving as we get to the end of the lesson today. We are exploring the topic of Holding to What is Good. As we look around, especially as children of God who love Him and hold His Holy Bible in high regard, we can see that there is a serious problem in our society. We have run so far from God that evil is now being promoted as good and vice-versa. It can be sickening, and like Lot, we are troubled in our spirits by what we see and hear.
Those of us that have been around a while know that if what we see is bad, then what they have managed to cover is even worse. It would be easy to fall into the depths of despair and try to hide until Jesus comes to get us. It would be easy to cut ourselves off from the outside and retreat until Jesus comes, but we would be missing out on all that God is still doing. In contrast to running and hiding, God offers us some great actions that we can take to put our minds at ease; He is still in control. To be a source of strength and comfort to our saved siblings, obedience is still good, and to be a light to the lost that sees the chaos and seeks shelter in Jesus; Jesus still saves. Come with me and see how the Lord can use us to change the world for some of the people around us.
- Do not seek revenge, verse 15
We live in a time when we see a lot of people getting each other back. We see it online and on social media. People seem to lay in wait for a long time just preparing to pounce on others who have hurt them. They scheme and plan for revenge and act as soon as a door is opened. But God’s children should not be this way. Sadly, this kind of revenge has crept into the churches, and we see so many churches torn apart by a lack of forgiveness.
In Matthew 18:21-22, Jesus and Peter have a discussion about how often a brother or sister should be forgiven when they sin against you. He, Peter, tries to supply the answer – seven times? But Jesus says to Peter that he should be willing to forgive 70 times that amount. This is astonishing to us; wow, that is a lot! We are to forgive a sibling 490 times for the same sin. My, my, we are not helping them, and we are not standing for ourselves. The principle is this: we have been eternally forgiven for ALL the sins we have committed against God, and, in turn, we should forgive each other the same way without keeping score.
Now, this does not mean that there is no justice. If someone is murdered, kidnapped, raped, robbed, and the list goes on, there are to be legal ramifications. But we are to forgive that person. All too often, these are not the reasons we hold grudges. The offense is often more personal; something they said or did not say, something they did or did not do. We hold onto the grudge and wait in the shadows to hurt, shame, and call out our supposed brothers and sisters. This is wrong, evil. We are called to forgive and move on. Forgive and ask God to help us forget. Forgive and restore friendships.
Often, we say we have forgiven the offender, but then we cut off or limit contact with them. This is not forgiveness; this is fake forgiveness. The purpose of forgiveness is to restore fellowship; if the fellowship is not restored, then forgiveness has not been enacted.
Too many of God’s people and His churches are filled with unforgiveness. It is the very lifeblood of the Lord’s people. We have splits and destroyed and/or shrinking churches because of unforgiveness. People can’t seem to get past each other’s flaws and failures, so we go down the road and start a perfect church only to have the same thing happen time and time again. Pastors are run off, and the church never has to grow in forgiveness. Sadly, this means it never grows. We have a lot of immature churches that hinder the Kingdom of God; Lord, help us.
- Pursue what is Good, verse 15
Living for the Lord takes effort and deliberate actions. We are called to pursue what is good, not just for ourselves but for each other. This is agape love. But I want you to understand that you cannot love like this and not forgive. You cannot love like Jesus and seek revenge at the same time. We are called to take responsibility for each other. Notice that the verse says pursue what is good for ourselves and EACH OTHER.
True love requires us to take responsibility for another. Jesus took responsibility for us by coming to die on the cross for our sins, yours and mine. When we begin to learn to love like Jesus, we will be required to take responsibility for another, even at our own expense. Those of us that have children may understand that a bit more. But if you have truly loved anyone, the first sacrifice is yourself. Please notice the contrast in this verse; we are not called to get even when we are wronged, but even when we are wronged, we are to pursue what is good for the person wronging us. Jesus forgave those nailing Him to the cross. Stephen, in Acts 7, forgave those who were murdering him and left such an impression with Saul of Tarsus that he was never the same; and that Saul became our Paul.
To be able to pursue what is good, we must know what is good. We must spend a lot of time in Bible study, in prayer, and in seeking Godly wisdom. Seeking what is good takes discipline. Discipline takes work, and work is a deliberate action.
- Rejoice, Pray and Give Thanks, 16-18
Sadly, we hear more complaining, grumbling and whining than rejoicing, prayer and thanksgiving. We live in one of the most prosperous places on earth, and still, there is so much complaining among the Lord’s people. Sadly, my voice is among them. Lord forgive me! For those of us in the Lord’s churches, we have had hundreds of years of peaceful coexistence here, and no one has hurt, killed or really taken anything from us because of the Gospel. The poorest among us is still often richer than many in the world, and the things that we complain about are luxuries to the vast majority of the population on the planet.
We are saved. If we had nothing else, that alone should suffice for unfettered rejoicing. You and I are NOT going to Hell. That should lead us to a thankful life filled with gratitude and appreciation. But we are like the freed Israelites who complained to Moses that being slaves in Egypt was better than being free in the wilderness. Being killed in Egypt was better than being led by God in the wilderness. These grumblers made the 40 years in the wilderness feel like 400 for poor Moses. We are just like them; we have so much, and we should be thankful and full of rejoicing. But we are not, and we should be careful that God does not allow us to see what real suffering is all about.
Our lives should be filled with prayers of thanksgiving and rejoicing. Pray without ceasing; this sounds like monks tucked away in the hills somewhere out of touch with the world. Rather, this is a call to never hang up on God. At work, I will be praying, and a customer comes in to buy a car; I can just turn to that conversation and pick up with God when they are done. Maybe even talk to God in my mind as I am serving that person. Always be praying, always be listening to God with eyes open for the answers we need and seek. Pray for each other always, thank God always, rejoice always, and our perspectives will change. We will become more and more thankful for God’s constant presence in our daily lives; even in the very mundane events, we will see Him.
This is God’s will for us (verse 18). All too often, we say we are seeking the will of God. But God clearly states His will for us here in plain and unadulterated language. What if we actually began to do the will of God? Once again, we have to talk about actions, doing; yes, the vast majority of Christianity requires us to do, acts, participate in our growth and the expansion of the Lord’s Kingdom. This is how we continue to hold to what is good. We obey God’s clearly spoken will and change the way we and others live.
God bless you,
Dr. Sean Gooding
Pastor of Mississauga Missionary Baptist Church
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