Verses: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
Leading Question: How is it possible to exhort, admonish, and rebuke people so that our words will “reform but not exasperate” (6T 123)?
Paul concludes his first letter to the Thessalonians with seventeen admonitions. These can profitably be noted in terms of their potential relevance for us in our day and in our circumstances. They fall into four broad categories as follows (quotations are from the NIV11):
1. Attitudes of church members toward their leaders: (5:12-13)
- “Acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.”
- “Hold them in highest regard in love because of their work.”
- “Live in peace with each other.”
2. How church leaders should behave toward their people: (5:14-15)
- “Warn those who are idle and disruptive.”
- “Encourage the disheartened.”
- “Help the weak.”
- “Be patient with everyone.”
- “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong.”
- “[They must] always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”
3. Maintaining a positive Christian attitude: (5:16-18)
- “Rejoice always.”
- “Pray continually.”
- “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
4. How to relate to new light in the form of prophecies: (5:19-22)
- “Do not quench the Spirit.”
- “Do not treat prophecies with contempt.”
- “Test them all.”
- “Hold on to what is good.”
- “Reject every kind of evil.”
Which of these admonitions are most important? Which are most likely to make matters worse rather than better? Who would be in the best position to carry out this work of admonition and counsel?
Ellen White’s words to A. T. Jones, who relished the task of rebuking far more than he should have, are also instructive to us. These quotations are clustered together in the sixth volume of the Testimonies on pages 121-123. Key phrases are highlighted:
Use other methods than condemnation:
The Lord wants His people to follow other methods than that of condemning wrong, even though the condemnation be just. He wants us to do something more than to hurl at our adversaries charges that only drive them further from the truth. The work which Christ came to do in our world was not to erect barriers and constantly thrust upon the people the fact that they were wrong. [121/122]
He who expects to enlighten a deceived people must come near to them and labor for them in love. He must become a center of holy influence. – Testimonies 6:121-122
Treat every man as honest
In the advocacy of the truth the bitterest opponents should be treated with respect and deference. Some will not respond to our efforts, but will make light of the gospel invitation. Others – even those whom we suppose to have passed the boundary of God’s mercy – will be won to Christ. The very last work in the controversy may be the enlightenment of those who have not rejected light and evidence, but who have been in midnight darkness and have in ignorance worked against the truth. Therefore treat every man as honest. Speak no word, do no deed, that will confirm any in unbelief. –Testimonies 6:122
Drops of gall can poison truth:
The influence of your teaching would be tenfold greater if you were careful of your words. Words that should be a savor of life unto life may by the spirit which accompanies them be made a savor of death unto death. And remember that if by your spirit or your words you close the door to even one soul, that soul will confront you in the judgment.
Do not, when referring to the Testimonies, feel it your duty to drive them home. In reading the Testimonies be sure not to mix in your filling of words, for this makes [122/123] it impossible for the hearers to distinguish between the word of the Lord to them and your words. Be sure that you do not make the word of the Lord offensive. We long to see reforms, and because we do not see that which we desire, an evil spirit is too often allowed to cast drops of gall into our cup, and thus others are embittered. By our ill-advised words their spirit is chafed, and they are stirred to rebellion.
Every sermon you preach, every article you write, may be all true; but one drop of gall in it will be poison to the hearer or the reader. Because of that drop of poison, one will discard all your good and acceptable words. Another will feed on the poison; for he loves such harsh words; he follows your example, and talks just as you talk. Thus the evil is multiplied.
Those who present the eternal principles of truth need the holy oil emptied from the two olive branches into the heart. This will flow forth in words that will reform, but not exasperate. The truth is to be spoken in love. Then the Lord Jesus by His Spirit will supply the force and the power. That is His work. (Testimonies 6:122-23)