COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 5:25 Brethren, pray for us. 26Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss. 27I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. 28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen." KJV (1 Thessalonians 5:25-28)
Having reminded the brethren at Thessalonica of key matters related to working out their salvation with fear and trembling, the Apostle now moves into an appropriate conclusion. As with all Apostolic writings, he will leave his readers acutely aware of the work of the Lord, their responsibility to the household of faith, and the need for an abundance of grace. It is not only important that the children of God speak about the right things, they must also leave one another with thoughts that tend in the right direction. If God has raised us up and made us sit together with Christ in heavenly places, then our activities, including our thoughts, should be in toward that realm. Tragically, much of what is discussed in the name of Christ tends toward self-centeredness. You will note that, with great care, the Spirit leads the brethren to consider others first, and themselves last. Even then, the grace of Jesus Christ is provided for blessing, not the gratification of earthly desires. Paul leaves the brethren with an awareness of his own labors, and the need he has for Divine assistance. He also reminds them of the need for a congenial spiritual atmosphere in which saints can be strengthened and encouraged in the Lord. There is also a need to share this good word from God with everyone. As simplistic as all of this may seem, with no focus on personal problems, it is on the part of wisdom to consider what it being said. These exhortations are calling the people into an environment where they can be "laborers together with God" (1 Cor 3:9).
PRAY FOR US AND GREET THE BRETHREN
" 5:25 Brethren, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss." There is a unity among the people of God that is initiated by the Holy Spirit, yet is maintained by the saints themselves. Thus it is written, "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:1-3). This marvelous unity, however, involves more than being forbearing and patient with one another. It is not merely the absence of turmoil and conflict - although it is too often viewed in this manner. The "unity of the Spirit" involves the participation of the brethren in kindred matters. This includes being mindful of the labors of related spirits, and upholding those labors with our prayers.
PRAY FOR US. Paul often expressed this desire. It was not a mere formality, or a casual and heartless expression. Ponder the various manners in which he made this request known.
Eleven requests. To the Romans, he asked that they pray for (1) his deliverance from "those who do not believe," (2) that the offering he was bringing to Jerusalem would be "received," (3) that he would be able to "come" to them in Rome, and (4) that he would be "refreshed" together with them (Rom 15:30-32). He told the Corinthians (5) they could "help" him through their prayers (2 Cor 1:11). He asked the Ephesians to pray (6) that "utterance" would be given to him that he might open his mouth "boldly" (Eph 5:18-19). He reminded the Philippians that their prayers would (7) cause things to "turn out" to his salvation (Phil 1:18). The Colossians were asked to pray (8) that "a door of utterance" would be opened to Paul (Col 4:3). In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul asked them to pray (9) that the word of the Lord would "run and have free course," and (10) that he would be "delivered from unreasonable and wicked men" (2 Thess 3:1-2). Paul told Philemon to prepare a place for him to stay, (11) for "through" Philemon's "prayers" he was confident he be "given" to him (Phile 22).
Know what to pray for. In these requests you can sense the necessity of the Lord's involvement in every aspect of the Kingdom. No part of the Apostle's labors was entered into without a consciousness of a need for the Lord. Yet, all of this did not happen without some effort on the part of Paul. He had to see what was needed, and ask for prayers in that area. Two times Solomon wrote, "A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself" (Prov 22:3; 27:12). In Paul's case, he did not "hide" himself, but armed himself by asking the saints to pray for him. He knew he would confront those who "do not believe," and thus asked to be delivered from them. He knew Satan would attempt to hinder his preaching, so asked saints to pray a "door of utterance" would be opened to him. He desired men to pray that what he preached would "run and have free course." He foresaw he would confront "unreasonable and wicked men," so sought deliverance from them.
All of this reveals a heart that is in tune with God and His purpose. Paul knew that no aspect of spiritual life is accomplished without the Lord. He knew he was a man, and thus required guidance and power from God. He did not depend upon oratory or excellence of speech to touch the hearts of men. He knew, "Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain" (Psa 127:1). He did not pray that God would reveal what he should do. He already knew that. He prayed that he would fulfill his ministry to the glory of God and the advantage of men.
GREET ALL THE BRETHREN. The phrase "all the brethren" is frequently mentioned in Scripture (Acts 15:3; 1 Cor 16:20; Gal 1:3; 1 Thess 4:10; 2 Tim 4:21). The phrase confirms that in Christ "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). To "greet all the brethren" is a display of accord, confirming the absence of a sectarian and divisive spirit. Unfortunately, this perspective has been largely destroyed in our time. Not only is sectarianism seen in varied theological emphases, it is also seen in the preference for groups within the body of Christ: i.e., young, old, married, single, etc. These divisions have come to be so cultured that many professed believers live in a total unawareness of "all the brethren."
To "greet" means to welcome as ones own, and embrace with joy. It means to salute, or give tribute to one, as a member of the body of Christ. Such a salutation confirms the brethren are not known "after the flesh" (2 Cor 5:16).
AN HOLY KISS. Greeting one another with a kiss was, and still is, an Eastern custom. But it was not to be a mere custom! Four times the Spirit admonishes that saints greet one another with "a holy kiss" (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26). It is an expression of spiritual affection, and is not to be executed in a fleshly manner. The opposite of a "holy kiss" would be one like that of Judas' (Lk 22:47-48). It is not intended to foster improper familiarity or inflame the desires of the flesh. It is sacred.
READ THIS EPISTLE TO ALL THE HOLY BRETHREN
" 27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren." Here we see there is a responsibility for everyone in Christ to be subjected to the Word of the Lord. The Epistle, or letter, to the Thessalonians was not to be confined to certain individuals, specific times, or general regions. This circumstance confirms that God speaks in such a manner as to benefit all believers in all time. Our views and explanations of Scripture must take that into account. Spiritual life is not characterized by earthly distinctions, but by heavenly ones - and they do not change.
I CHARGE YOU. To "charge" is to earnestly appeal to, urging one, so to speak, to take an oath to do what is admonished. Other versions read, "I adjure you," NASB "I solemnly command you," NRSV "I give orders to," BBE and "My orders . . . are." NJB While flesh does not like to be so urged, there are matters that must be pressed upon the saints of God. That is one of the purposes for the gift of "exhortation" (Rom 12:8). In a sense, every person is an individual with personal rights and responsibilities. That view, however, is not a primary one in the body of Christ. One aspect of salvation is that God "sets the solitary in families" (Psa 68:60. Specifically, in Christ we become part of "the whole family in heaven and earth" (Eph 3:15). The text before us is to the family, and no part of it is omitted.
Part of the Apostolic ministry included the people being "charged," as a "father doth his children" (1 Thess 2:11). Certain responsibilities were placed upon them. They were not burdensome like those imposed by the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 23:4). Rather, they were areas in which spiritual life was to be cultured and the flesh subdued. Brethren, for example, were charged "before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers" (2 Tim 2:14).
There are obligations in Christ that are to be fulfilled, and they should not be withheld from the people. Familiarity with "the Scriptures" ranks high in these obligations. After all, they alone are able to make us "wise unto salvation" (2 Tim 3:15). They also enable God's people to "be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim 3:17).
READ THIS EPISTLE. This is not merely a personal plea from Paul, as though he was speaking only from himself. Solemnly he wrote, "I charge you by the Lord." It is the Lord's manner to have His truth shared among His people. The Colossians were also told to share the Word of God. "Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea" NKJV (Col 4:16). This confirms God's Word is not provincial, confined to certain times and places.
TO ALL THE HOLY BRETHREN. Among other things, this sanctifies the assembly of the people of God. This charge does not allow for going to each believer's home and reading the epistle. It assumes the saints come together for mutual benefit and edification. Even of old time "they that feared the LORD spake often one to another" (Mal 3:16). How much more this is true in Christ Jesus. One of the very first marks of the early church was that they "were together" (Acts 2:44). When the disciples were waiting for the fulfillment of Christ's promise, they "assembled together" (Acts 1:4). The blessing of Pentecost did not occur until the people "came together" (Acts 2:6). Paul wrote to the Corinthians of "the whole church" coming "together" in "one place" (1 Cor 11:20; 14:23). It was at such a gathering that this epistle was to be read.
I have taken the time to mention this somewhat elementary point because of the general disdain that people have these days for godly assemblies. It is exceedingly difficult to find a person that has a yearning to meet together with kindred spirits in Christ Jesus. When such gatherings are possible, it is vain to hope for godly direction and blessing when they are ignored. It has never been God's manner to isolate His people from one another.
To All. Whether the word includes doctrines, exhortations, corrections, reproofs, or instruction in righteousness, it is for all saints. Young and old, male and female, bond and free are to hear it. No part of the body of Christ is to be deficient in their knowledge of God's Word. Institutionalism has produced an environment in which the ignorance of God's Word is allowed. Certain parts of the body are not expected to be able to handle the things of God, or comprehend the great mysteries of the Kingdom. It is not unusual to find assemblies, for example, where ladies and young people are not expected to be conversant concerning the things of God. There is no basis for this in God's Word. In fact, it contradicts the truth.
The holy brethren. Some later versions omit the word "holy." Of course, there really are no other kind of "brethren." This expression views the people of God as sanctified and accepted in Christ Jesus. God is their Father, Jesus is their brother, and the Spirit dwells within them. Their sins are remitted, and their names written in heaven. They are truly Christ's "holy brethren."
A FITTING CONCLUSION
" 28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen." Here is a most fitting conclusion to this short, but pungent, epistle. It is a word suffering saints need to hear. It is a blessing spiritual life requires. This is to an inspired epistle what a stamp is to a letter placed into the mail. It validates the communication, confirming that the blessing of God is upon it. It affirms that this has been sent to them under the direction of King Jesus, for His grace cannot go where His will is not prominent!
THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. Ordinarily, in the minds of many, grace is considered in association with God the Father. Thus we read of "the grace of God" (Lk 2:40; Acts 11:23; 13:43; Tit 2:11, grace "from God our Father" (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3), and "the grace of our God" (2 Thess 1:12; Jude 4). However, grace is also associated with the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus we read of "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:11; 2 Cor 13:14). Ten times we read of "the grace of OUR Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 16:20,24; 1 Cor 16:23; 2 Cor 8:9; Gal 6:18; Phil 4:23; 1 Thess 5:28; 2 Thess 3:18; Phile 1:25; Rev 22:21). "Grace" is said to come "from the Lord Jesus Christ" as well as "from the Father" (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; 2 John 3). We also read of "the grace of Christ" (Gal 1:6). In fact, the last words of the Bible are almost identical to our text. "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen" (Rev 22:21).
Jesus Christ is the means through which grace comes to us. Until He laid down His life, took it up again, and was exalted to the right hand of God, precious little was known about the grace of God. The expression "grace of God" is found twenty-four times in the New Testament Scriptures, and not a single time in the Old Testament Scriptures-in any version! The phrase "grace in thy sight" is found thirteen times from Genesis to Malachi, but only three of them apply to God's sight (Ex 33:13,16; 34:9). In those passages, God spoke of Moses finding grace "in My sight" (Ex 33:12,17). Noah is said to have "found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen 6:8). Ezra spoke of grace being shown to the chosen people "for a little space" (Ezra 9:8). Jeremiah spoke of those surviving the onslaught of the sword finding "grace in the wilderness" (Jer 31:2).
In all of those Old Testament references, grace is never used in the sense of our text. From Noah through Ezra and Jeremiah, "grace" nearly always meant NOT being destroyed. It was never used of a spiritual environment in which the people walked. It involved more of a withholding of a curse than the conferment of a blessing. Too often, churchmen view it much the same way for our time, but that is a serious mistake!
WITH YOU. In Christ Jesus, grace comes to be with us! We "stand" in it (1 Pet 5:10), it teaches us (Tit 2:11-12), and the gift of righteousness "abounds" to us by grace (Rom 5:15). The "exceeding grace of God" is now "IN" us (2 Cor 9:14). Those in the Son "know the grace of God in truth" (Col 1:6). It "brings salvation" in all of its fulness to us (Tit 2:11), and we actually become "stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Pet 4:10).
We can now "grow in grace," obtaining more of its benefits and power (1 Pet 3:18). This is no longer an era of a "little grace," as in Ezra's day. Now "great grace" can be "upon them all" (Acts 4:33). We are what we are "by the grace of God" (1 Cor 15:10), and conduct our lives acceptably before God in the world "by the grace of God" (2 Cor 1:12). Now we are "justified freely by His grace" (Rom 3:24). Now we read of "the riches of His grace" (Eph 1:7; 2:8). In His grace, God has made us "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph 1:6).
All of this marvelous plentitude is because of Jesus Christ! That is precisely why it is called "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ." If it was not for Him, the foregoing affirmations would not and could not be made. From beginning to end, our experience of grace is owing to Christ Jesus. It is still true, "through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved" (Acts 15:11). "Life more abundantly" (John 10:10) can be credited to "abundant grace" (2 Cor 4:15).
The life of faith requires grace - a lot of it. The work of God necessitates the grace of God. Christ living in you cannot be realized without His grace! That is why Paul pronounced this benediction. He knew that without grace, not a single aspect of spiritual life can be lived. We cannot refuse to sin without grace, and we cannot be holy and godly without it. Everything God requires of us demands His grace. Blessed is the one who knows it!
AMEN. The word "Amen" at the conclusion of a saying means, so be it, or let it be fulfilled. Let it stand precisely as it has been stated. Let nothing be changed, and nothing rejected or spurned. When we join in saying "Amen" (1 Cor 14:10), we make the saying our own, hiding it in our heart. Now, "let all the people say, Amen" (Psa 106:48).