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“Living Life in Light of Jesus’ Return: A Timely Incitement”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to 1
Thessalonians chapter 5. We’ll begin at verse 16 as we continue our
way through this short letter, perhaps the first of the New Testament,
the first of Paul's letters. In this passage, Paul is going to give us a
list of eight dos and don'ts for the Christian life and that may confuse
some of you. Some of you have perhaps heard somebody say,
“Christianity is not a list of rules,” and of course that's true,
Christianity cannot simply be reduced to a series of rules, of
commands, of dos and don'ts. Christianity is a message about what
God has done for us in Jesus Christ, not about what we do to make
ourselves right with Him but what He has done to forgive us and
accept us and save us and welcome us into His family; that's very
true. But it's not true that there are no commands in the Christian life
and that there are no dos or don'ts to observe.

So where do we fit those in? Well, as I say, when we find dos and
don'ts in the New Testament, it is not, “Do this and don't do that and
then God will love and forgive and accept and save you because
you've done this and you've not done that.” No, it's actually the other
way around. Because God has loved and forgiven and saved you,
do this and don't do that. We’re not savedby our doing and don'ting;
we're saved to a life of holiness out of our rebellion against God and
against His revealed will. And so God saves us in order to be what
He made us to be and in order that we can do what He made us to
do. And so these dos and don'ts cease to be oppressive things
hanging over our heads condemning us. They serve as guides, as

We could just work through each of the eight directives but I think they actually make sense in three clusters. But all of that first cluster pertains to the life of prayer. to do the things that we know that we need to do. Then if you look at verses 19 and 21. the famous words. even nags us. And I want you to be on the lookout for three parts. Paul is in fact giving these dos and don'ts as a serious encouragement to Christian living.standards. You know. If you look at verses 16 to 18 they all seem to pertain to prayer — rejoice. So be on the lookout for that in verses 16 to 18. Well in the spiritual life. And the great. Now rejoicing could be taken as an overarching attitude which Paul is encouraging but even rejoicing can be expressed in prayer. for the living of the life that God has called us to in Christ Jesus. do not .eight of them here in verses 16 to 22 . “We’re running. pray. “I'm going to meet you at the gym. He's giving us reasons why we ought to pray in the Christian life. You know sometimes you need to be incited to do things that you really need to do and Paul's providing incitement to the Christian life. we need incitements. and these dos and don'ts . when you’re exercising perhaps you need a friend who calls you in the morning and says. Paul's inciting us to prayer.” or sends you a text and says. we need nudges. maybe the first half of verse 21. we need encouragements. “Do not quench the Spirit. We all need nudges. give thanks. isn't it? And then prayer would especially mean intercession and then give thanks would especially refer to thanksgiving in prayer. That's part of praise.” or “We’re lifting weights.Paul is giving as an incitement to the living of the Christian life. now the subject turns to being sensitive to what the Spirit is doing in us.” Sometimes we need somebody that nudges us.

We do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from Your mouth. This is God's Word. or they could be taken more broadly. to refer to the actual goal of the Spirit's work in us in the Christian life which is sanctification. sanctify us. give thanks in all circumstances. Heavenly Father. Spirit. as I'm going to take them. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts. hold fast what is good. Let's pray before we read God's Word. correction. It is by Your truth that we are sanctified and Your Word is true. We need Your Word to live the life that You have called us by grace to live. that's mentioned in the first half of verse 21. Abstain from every form of evil. So as we read verses 16 to 18 — prayer. but test everything.” comes in that section. inspired. Heavenly Father.despise prophecies. Do not quench the Spirit. Hear it: “Rejoice always. and training in righteousness that the man and woman of God might be equipped for every good work. and thus ends this reading of God's holy.” Amen. mature us by Your Word today as we hear it. sanctification. so equip us. Your Word is inspired and it is profitable for reproof. pray without ceasing. and inerrant Word. for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. verses 19 and the first half of verse 21 — sensitivity to the work of the Spirit. those may be taken as how to test everything. Then if you look at the second half of verse 21 and verse 22. that You have saved us by grace to live. Prayer. Do not despise prophecies. amen. thank You for Your Word. . In Jesus' name. and then second half of verse 21 to verse 22 — sanctification. grow us. It's all about being sensitive to the work that the Spirit is doing.

that's not derived from our circumstances. . But if they had lost that match. they could discourage your faith. Paul has already described in this letter the fact that this congregation is under pressure and even under persecution. we're going to need an outlook. an attitude. how do you live the Christian life when your circumstances aren't so good? That's what Paul is providing an incitement to the Thessalonians and to you and me for in this passage. that's not derived from the circumstances.” You didn't have to tell them that. “Okay. you would have had to remind even the Christians there to rejoice because their circumstance wouldn't have been the source of their joy. It has to come from somewhere else. Where? Paul will tell you in this passage. they could so cause you to doubt that you have a hard time praying. You know you didn't have to go to the US Women's Soccer Team this week and tell them.The Thessalonians had been called by God to live the Christian life in hard circumstances. heartbreakingly. after they won the gold medal. they could rob you of joy. Their circumstances provided every incentive that they needed to celebrate. If we're going to live the Christian life in hard circumstances. He's urging us and encouraging us and nudging us and inciting us to live the Christian life when circumstances aren't so good. Paul's telling the Thessalonians and you and me how we can live the Christian life and rejoice even when our circumstances don't supply the reason for that joy. an outlook. now remember to celebrate. they could so discourage you that they could derail you from pursuing holiness by grace? How do you. So how do you live the Christian life when the circumstances aren't so good? How do you live the Christian life when the circumstances themselves could actually discourage you. So you've got to have an attitude.

then what do we do when our circumstances are not? So Paul's providing an incitement to prayer in this passage. So often when we go to the Lord in prayer. what His purpose is for us.If we're going to live the Christian life in hard circumstances we're going to need a confidence and a thankfulness in prayer that is not derived from circumstances. sometimes the situation that you’re in is so hard that you can hardly hear anything else because it's so painful. Third. help us! Lord. it's so discouraging. do something! I'm in a mess! I'm scared! I don't know what to do!” And if our willingness to go to the Lord is derived from our circumstances being good. in intercessory prayer. So I want us to look at three things that Paul says here about prayer. PRAY CONSTANTLY. and about sanctification as he encourages us to live the Christian life in hard circumstances. it's going to come from somewhere else. we're going to need a sensitivity to the work of the Spirit that our circumstances could very well drown out. about sensitivity to the Spirit. AND GIVE THANKS INARIABLY . “Lord. especially intercessory prayer. REJPOICE PERPETUALLY. We’re calling out to the Lord. and we're going to need to embrace that purpose. And Paul says that purpose is sanctification. if we're going to live the Christian life in hard circumstances. You know. And Paul's saying you need a sensitivity to what the Spirit is up to in your life and that's not going to come from the circumstances. the reason we're going to the Lord in prayer. it's so overwhelming that you really can't hear anything else. And if we're going to live the Christian life in hard circumstances we're going to need to understand what God's purpose is in us. is precisely because the circumstances that we're in are difficult or encouraging. it's so disappointing.

” is a reminder that there are times and circumstances in which it is difficult to give thanks. It's not that rejoicing always and praying without ceasing is not God's will for you in Christ Jesus and that giving thanks is. The second thing that I want you to notice about these first three verses is the phrase at the very end of verse 18. Now we've seen that throughout this book. It's not just thanksgiving. “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. That's why he's giving the exhortation. and give thanks in all circumstances. it goes with verse 17 and verse 16 too. Rejoice perpetually. give thanks in all circumstances. give thanks invariably. give thanks all the time. give thanks in every situation. So Paul's telling you what God's will for you is. it's praying without ceasing and rejoicing always. it's that rejoicing always and praying without ceasing andgiving thanks in everything is God's will for you.” Now here's what I want you to understand — that phrase is not only attached to the exhortation. Now what motivation does Paul provide for us to rejoice perpetually and pray continually and to give thanks invariably here? Well. “Give thanks in everything.The first thing that I want you to see that Paul says is that we are to rejoice perpetually. “in all circumstances”? The very fact that Paul has to say. The whole book. Did you notice that one? It says. there are three things. pray without ceasing. Now those instructions to rejoice always. pray constantly. So your thanks there derives not from the circumstances but from somewhere else. look at verse 18. First of all there is the return of the Lord. proved by themselves that Paul is talking about our doing these things not because our circumstances help us or encourage us to do them. pray constantly. Did you notice the phrase. all the exhortations . “give thanks in everything” that you find at the beginning of verse 18. and give thanks invariably.

notice that the context of Philippians 5 has reminded us that God is in charge of everything. Would you turn with me in your Bibles to Philippians chapter 4 and look at verse 4? Paul says this — “Rejoice in the Lord always. What did? The Lord is coming. but the Lord is at hand. so one of the things that is designed to motivate and encourage the Thessalonians and you and me to rejoice always. and to give thanks in everything is the return of the Lord. Rejoice. praise God and on Him cast your care. The Lord is at hand.” So it's not the pain and the sorrow that moved you to praise God and on Him cast your care. Then. didn't we? “You who long pain and sorrow bear. He's coming. things are good! Things are good. therefore rejoice.” Do you notice the connection? Rejoice — the Lord is at hand! Just like in 1 Thessalonians. “Oh. again I will say.” Well. The content of the end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5 leading up to this passage has all been about the return of the Lord.” The persecution. “Things are bad. Notice how Paul talks about that very same thing in the parallel passage in Philippians chapter 4. that's actually one of Paul's motivations to us to rejoice this book. and to pray without ceasing. Paul might well say to the Thessalonians or maybe to some of you who have suffered long — we sang about that in the very first hymn. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. It may feel like an eternity. the rejoicing comes not from. are given in light of the Lord's return. What did we hear Bonnie sing this morning? “He's got the whole world in His hand. we're persecuted!” So where's the rejoicing going to come from? “The Lord is at hand. This is not going to be the last word. we're going to rejoice about that!” No. Paul does the same thing in Philippians 4:4-5 that he's doing here in 1 Thessalonians 5. the trouble that you’re facing. pray without .

I've said before. That's the first thing that Paul does in this passage. and even though we may be in hard circumstances He's working His good purposes for us out even in those hard circumstances and He told you to! It's the Lord's will! I don't always know what the Lord's will is for your life. you get this explicitly in verse 18 . prayers of thanksgiving. So for all those reasons. He just comes right out and tells you what His will is. I might not know who you’re supposed to marry or what job you’re supposed to do or where you’re supposed to live.” Why should we rejoice always. there are lots of things in our lives that are not good. . because God's in charge of everything. but I do know that it's the Lord's will for you that you rejoice always. So first. not circumstances. prayers of intercession.ceasing. the Lord's coming again. and give thanks in every circumstance? Because the Lord's coming soon. and give thanks in every circumstance. “God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and for those who are called according to His purpose. It's His will. He's in charge of everything. Paul calls us to live the Christian life. the Lord's in charge. pray without ceasing.look at 1 Thessalonians 5verse 18 — “it's the will of God for you. and that you give thanks in everything. or to use Paul's language from Romans 8:28 and following. but He's still making them work together for our good. second. that you pray without ceasing. Everything is not good. third. He's got the whole world in His hands and therefore you can rejoice always and pray without ceasing and give thanks in every circumstance because He's in charge. you can come into my office.” He's in charge of everything and He's making everything work for good. especially expressing it in prayer — prayers of praise and rejoicing. He's got the whole world in His hands.

And perhaps it's a warning against the Thessalonians against rejecting that kind of prophetic activity out of hand because of its abuse. “Do not quench the Spirit. That's where this language comes from — “Don't quench the Spirit. He's already talked about some of the fanatical beliefs that existed among the Thessalonians so this is certainly a call to discernment on the one hand — test everything. What's the Holy Spirit up to and what does it mean to quench the Holy Spirit? Because Paul is warning us against it.” In the context.” He says. But I want us to think specifically about how this applies to us totally apart from extraordinary revelation because the Holy Spirit is always after the same thing. Do not despise prophecies. Paul taught them out of the Word of God and they went back and they read their Bibles at home to make sure that what Paul was saying was right. Paul tells us not to quench the Spirit.EXHORTATION TO DISCERNMENT: DO NOT QUENCH THE SPIRIT Then. You know. prophetic messages. You know the image of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament as a fire. but test everything. Paul is clearly speaking of extraordinary. There were genuine New Testament prophets that could proclaim the revelation of God and there were alongside of them false prophets. Just because somebody stands up and says it's a prophesy don't necessarily believe that it's true — test everything. It's kind of like the Bereans. if you look at verses 19 to 21. whether He is speaking extraordinarily or as we might say. “Do not quench the Spirit. What does it mean to quench the Holy Spirit? It means to resist His work. prophetic activity. through His means of grace. Well there are four things that I want you to see.” What's the first way the Spirit . ordinarily. This is an exhortation to be discerning of people's claims to revelatory.

The Holy Spirit is always at work in that. Himmler. You know there are some things that you have to resist. extraordinarily and ordinarily.” What does that mean? It means don't resist His work.” They were seeing God's judgment with . I take my sins upon myself!” Those words will ring out in the judgment day and all will tremble. Don't resist His work. not going to repent. over and over what's the phrase? “But they did not repent. When you round the bend on Ridgewood and go down the hill and see the “Hot Donuts Now” sign flashing on Krispy Kreme. “I do not believe that Jewish idea of laying one man's sin on another. What was he doing? There was a man sharing the Gospel with him and he was resisting — not going to deal with a conviction. I am an Arian. It's very interesting. Don't quench the Spirit. you must not resist that voice. to produce conviction. Himmler said. So the Spirit appeared as a fire and the image is. you've got to resist the temptation to give in! But when the Spirit is convicting you of sin. And in sharing the Gospel with him. you must not resist that. godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Did you hear what Billy read in Revelation 16 this morning? With the world falling down around their ears in the final judgment of God with reality staring them in the face. Don't quench the Spirit. “Don't extinguish that fire. Don't put out the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is always at work.appeared visibly in the New Testament after the resurrection of Christ and the ascension of Christ? By tongues of fire on the heads of the gathered disciples in Jerusalem at Pentecost. Bill Wymond has been reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonheoffer and he shared with the other ministers yesterday a section in which an American evangelist actually went to Germany before the Second World War to try and share the Gospel with the Nazi leadership and he actually got in to speak to the high ranking Nazi official.

got scared! He got scared during Paul's sermon and he stopped Paul during the middle of the sermon and he said. “Um. don't resist that conviction because it's a sweet pain that's designed to lead you to repentance and grace and forgiveness and joy. I understand that. He's not on ours. Those are some of the most frightening words in all of the New Testament and just like Himmler's words.their own eyes and yet they did not repent. it hurts. We don't say.” Felix. this great Roman official. Do not resist His conviction. I’ll get back with you tomorrow on that.” You remember Acts 24? Paul is preaching to Felix and among the things that Luke said that Paul is preaching about is the judgment to come. a prominent businessman came to one of our elders. The Spirit comes when He wills to convict. if He's holding up the mirror of His Word and you’re seeing your reflection and it's not so pretty. I’ll hear about this more later. Don't resist His work in you to work conviction and repentance and forgiveness and grace and restoration. you had Paulin your presence. “Look. That's the second thing. “Some other time” and that other time never came. Don't quench the Spirit. Don't delay your response to the overtures of the Spirit. an elder who's known for being an expert in time . they will ring out on the last day . He's not on ours. If He's convicting you. And you remember what Luke says? Felix. We’re on the Holy Spirit's timetable. it happens to me all the time. Don't delay your response to the Holy Spirit. A number of years ago. We’re on the Holy Spirit's schedule.“I’ll hear about this some other time. Paul for crying out loud! He wrote half of the New Testament! He could have opened to you the gateway of grace and glory and salvation and you told him.” And he left Paul in prison for two years and never spoke to him again.

It was a very valuable lesson to me because I was not being respectful of his time and I wasn't paying attention. “The sermon you need is the sermon you missed. my friends. “We’ll do this some other time when you’re on time and can pay attention. “It was a valuable lesson. we're on His. “I want you to teach me about time management. You know it's very worldly and wise to say.” Now the businessman told me this. the elder's never told me this. we're on His schedule and you never know whether there's going to be a tomorrow or not. Third. “I . The businessman told the story on himself. Now let me quickly say. precisely the words that we need to give us guidance. And so in the first meeting the businessman got there late.” That's why we attend to the means of grace because we never know what and where and when and how it is that the Holy Spirit is going to speak precisely the message that we need to hear. that's so often how it is with the Holy Spirit. quenching the Spirit means entertaining opinions and views that are contrary to His. for a meeting on time management. He said. the elder did not tell me about this story. And it was when Smartphones had just started to proliferate and his Smartphone went off like four times in the first three minutes of their meeting and he answered it every time! And the elder said — he had his book open and he was getting ready to work with him on his time management — he closed the book and he said. We think He's on our schedule but He's and this prominent businessman said. Do not delay in your response to the Holy Spirit because we're not on our own time frame with Him.” And they set up an appointment and they were going to have a series of meetings where this elder was going to teach this prominent businessman about time management.” And you see. The businessman told me this. That's why Glenn Knecht used to say.

You know. He inspired every syllable of this Book. Oh brothers and sisters. the Holy Spirit does believe in the deity of Christ. you are quenching the message of the Holy Spirit which we have right before us in the Word of God. Interesting.” If you find yourself entertaining views and opinions that are in contradiction with the Holy Spirit. “I know that the Lord doesn't want me to be unhappy and therefore I am going to ------. In fact. “Jesus is Lord. And we quench the Holy Spirit when we engage in behaviors. “Well in order to have a happier life I'm going to do this. He inspired it. Now by the way friends.” And what they fill in the blank with the “I am going to -------“ is something that the Word of God explicitly says that they are not to do but they are convinced that the Lord wants them to be happy and therefore they’re convinced that doing what He says not to do is going to make them happy. have you heard that somewhere else before? “Take this fruit and you will be like God” — that's the oldest one in the Book. the Bible tells us that only the Holy Spirit can enable us to say. so if you don't believe in the deity of Christ I think I'm sticking with the Holy Spirit on that one. every syllable. the Holy Spirit does. It's very fashionable not to believe in the deity of Christ. so if you disagree with Him.don't believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. I don't believe in the inspiration of Scripture. I kind of think I know where that's coming from and I know who's right and I know who's wrong. do not quench the Spirit.” Well. literally! And people still go for it! And see what they’re doing. that are contrary to what He says in His Word.” That's quenching the Spirit. “Don't do that! It will ruin your life!” And they’re going to say. in actions. they are taking upon themselves a behavior and action that the Holy Spirit says. over the last twenty-five years I've lost count of professing Christians who have said to me. .

That's the goal of the Spirit's work in us. amen. you know what His work is in you to do — to convict. we reject the things that Jesus rejects. in Jesus' name. Would you take your hymnals out and let's rejoice. all you believers. and it's His will for you to rejoice always. “Hold fast what is good. thank You for Your Word.THE GOAL OF THE SPIRIT’S WORK IN US IS TO SANCTIFY US One last thing. Abstain from every form of evil. and restoration. Now in all of these things. You remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit. not so that we can save ourselves. using number 320. Work it into our hearts we pray. and forgiveness. Paul is inciting us to live the Christian life in hard times. We believe the things that Jesus teaches. so that we are sanctified — we love the things that Jesus loves. That's how you live the Christian life in hard circumstances. In this passage. Paul goes on to say that it's the Spirit who is at work in us to sanctify us. . Heavenly Father. That is the result of His saving work in us and for us. you see. we hate the things that Jesus hates. We hold fast to what is good. Let's pray. and to make us like Jesus. but we abstain from every form of evil and we hold fast to what is good because that's what God the Spirit is at work in us doing.” We hold fast to the good and we abstain from every form of evil not to justify ourselves before God. It's His purpose in us. is in charge of everything. we abstain from every form of evil. pray without ceasing. How do you do that? You remember that the Lord is returning. and blessing. not so that He will love us and accept us. and give thanks in everything. to bring repentance.

. Grace.Receive a word of blessing from the God who equips you to live the Christian life even in hard circumstances. mercy. but He gives you everything you need. Amen. and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.