Common in charismatic circles today is the appeal to this passage from the Apostle Paul as support for the free expression in public worship gatherings of spontaneous ecstatic utterances and new revelation from God, beyond the scripture, in the form of words of knowledge, tongues, and prophecy in the apostolic sense. A close examination of the passage when applying the hermeneutic of the grammatical-historic approach, however, brings the expositor to an entirely different conclusion as to the original intent of the Apostle Paul.
“in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18-20
18. “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
This specific exhortation is intended to direct the church to the providential goodness of God. The Christian is to be ever mindful of His mercies and grace. This is a repeated theme throughout Scripture and certainly of the Apostle’s writings, “First, I thank God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8); “always give thanks for all thins in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:20); “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17). An attitude of gratitude is to characterize a Christian’s testimony. A joyful demeanor is an evidence that the grace of God resides within (Gal. 5:22-23).
19. “Do not quench the Spirit.”
Grammatically the statement stands alone. To quench means “to extinguish” or “go out.” Spiritual gifts are given by God and intended by Him to be exercised for the benefit of others (1 Cor. 12:7). Failure to employ that which God has given by grace can result in a diminishing of the gift over time; conversely diligent exercise of a spiritual gift can increase its influence to the benefit of man and the glory of God. Similarly the church is not to hinder the free exercise of spiritual gifts by those so endowed by the Spirit, for to do so is to diminish the Spirit’s activity either within the covenant community of the church or the world. Jesus in His parable of the talents illustrates this point, “Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents” (Matt. 25:28). The Apostle Paul in like fashion instructs Timothy to work diligently to exercise that which God had given him, “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6). The exhortation to Timothy simply means to “stir into flame” or “rekindle”. This word is used by Matthew in reference to Christ as prophesied by Isaiah to illustrate that His ministry would be one of a demonstration of the Spirit unrestrained or without measure, “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out” (Matt. 12:20; Isa. 42:1). Similarly, Paul uses this same word in connection with fire, but this time not with that of the Spirit, but in the context of spiritual warfare, “in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16).
The efficacy of the Spirit in Scripture is often likened to fire as an indication of His purifying influence upon the heart. Paul reminds his young protégé not be negligent in taking personal responsibility for his development in grace, first as an individual, but also as a pastor. This call to diligently pursue maturity in Christ, through means of the Scripture (2 Tim. 3:15) is a repeated theme in the whole Bible, the Pauline writings included, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12); “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through the prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery” (1 Tim. 4:14). In conclusion, it is evident by the context of the passage, along with its grammar and syntax, that Paul has in view the statement standing alone; viz., every Christian is responsible for developing and exercising the spiritual gift(s) the Lord has graciously given to them for the benefit of others to the glory of God, and the church is not to hinder the free exercise of those gifts which are intended for their edification.
20. “Do not despise prophetic utterances.”
Grammatically the exhortation stands alone and is not a conjunctive statement with the preceding exhortation (v. 19). The literal rendering of the Greek is “prophecies not despise.” The word “prophecies” being plural is from the root meaning to “proclaim God’s message, preach, speak God’s message intelligibly.” The sense is that Paul is instructing the church not to despise the preaching or proclamation of God’s message or word, and therefore, rejecting the delegated authority of a person preaching the gospel. Proclaiming the oracles of God is a prophetic act (forth-telling) and the Apostle is exhorting the church to not shun His message of correction or rebuke which may offend or challenge their understanding of the kingdom of God, but rather, to be teachable, respecting those who diligently work to proclaim God’s word to them which may reveal inner sin (Heb. 4:12). This plea to receive the preaching of God’s message is common throughout the Old and New Testament and repeated instances are given in both Old and New Testaments of the rejection of God’s word, often by those who claim to know and love Him. The sinful nature of man is such that the heart is darkened, and rebellion to the ordinances of God, even among the regenerate, is a natural by-product of the Adamic nature which must be daily mortified. Paul’s exhortation is a summary statement to earlier statements in his letter not to despise those God has appointed to preach His word to the church, “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts” (1 Thess. 2:4); “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13); “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (1 Thess. 5:12f). Here the Apostle instructs the church to respect those within their midst who preach God’s word to them, just as they would the Apostle himself, and not to despise their instruction. In the text Paul uses the word “despise”). It is a compound word from “authority” and means to “reject and hold in contempt.” Apparently Paul was speaking to some in the church who had rejected local leadership, especially those who preached the word to them which he referred to earlier in his letter (5:12). In his letter to the churches of Galatia Paul praises them for receiving him and God’s message which he was called to preach, “and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself” (Gal. 4:14). In conclusion, this is Paul’s request of those in Thessalonica, that they receive and accept those appointed by God to preach the gospel to them, not rejecting or despising their delegated authority by Christ, so that they might all “live in peace with each other” (v. 13). To suggest, as some within the charismatic movement may be inclined, that this passage speaks to ecstatic unintelligible tongues and/or new revelatory messages from God is foreign to the text, and can only be asserted by means of an eisegesis[i] of the text, resulting in a gross distortion of the word of God. To this end did the Apostle Peter speak, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:14ff).
Copyright (c) 2010 Immutable Word Ministries (“…the word of our God stands forever.” Isa. 40:8).
[i] Eisegesis; “The opposite approach to Scripture is eisegesis, which is the interpretation of a passage based on a subjective, non-analytical reading. The word eisegesis literally means “to lead into,” which means the interpreter injects his own ideas into the text, making it mean whatever he wants.” www.gotquestions.org/exegesis-eisegesis.html
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