There is a good deal of content packed in to Paul’s concluding remarks in this letter (read the verses here). We have a rapid fire thoughts coming out in short burst of related material, especially in verses 12-22. It is almost like Paul was running out of paper and was just trying to get some points out, even if he couldn’t add commentary. verses 23 & 24 are typical Pauline benediction, 25-27 he gives instruction, and in 28 we have his usual sign off.
12 & 13
Paul gives instructions to the congregation on how to react to the elders/leader so the church. Who are theses people? Those who labor among you, those who are over you, and those who admonish you. The word translated ‘labor’ here in Greek means, well, labor, it was the actual word for people who engaged manually with work. Being a pastor/elder is not a Sunday only job. Paul also reminds them they are spiritually over them and responsible for them. Admonish is a clearly negative word but was often associated with the positive, to teach. The call to the congregation is to respect and acknowledge those over you and be at peace with everyone.
Idle or undisciplined was usually a military term and refers to people who were disorderly or listless, not necessarily just lazy. I do not think it refers back to those who didn’t work, from earlier in the letter. Fainthearted and weak are meant spiritually, not physically. Stott sees them as those who struggled sexual, as earlier in the letter, though others consider it broader as people who are younger or less mature in their faith. Of course they will fail, as we all do, so Paul command patience with them all.
Evil here is probably better translated ‘wrong’. It is a common refrain in Scripture (Romans 12:17, 1 Peter 3:9, Matthew 5:43-33, Proverbs 25:21, etc.) that we still struggle with, or completely ignore as a church today.
We move from our obligations to elders/pastors, and other believers, to our response to God. Unlike the previous few verses which are just difficult, these are impossible – joy, prayer, and gratitude are just not things that we can do always, continually, and in all circumstances. In some ways, this is another great reminder of the blessing of grace. However funny it may sound now, joy was countercultural at the time among the Greeks, especially Stoicism, yet it should be characteristic of Christians.
Luckily, the word ‘continually’ (adialeiptos) was often used hyperbolically; Paul elsewhere (Roman, Ephesians, Colossians) tells us to preserve in prayer. Then again, the point here may be that prayer is an ongoing/always thing, not just during the set hours of prayer that was the custom among Jews and other religions at the time. We can pray directly to God whenever we want, and without the need of a priest. Giving thanks was also something done at certain times and usually by priest, and typically for specific events – holy days, harvest, births, etc.; but the point here is we should give thanks in all circumstances, good, bad, or mundane (our daily bread).
It appears the Thessalonians might have had the opposite issue of the Corinthians, in that instead of putting too much emphasis on gifts, they might have been rejecting them. They apparently did not like having a prophetic voice. It is funny to think that we still have these opposing issues today (Pentecostal vs. Reformed). Paul tells them to allow the Spirit to move and speak in people, but not accept it blindly, but to test it against what we know from scripture and to keep/hold on to what we know to be good and true.
Resist all forms of wrong is pretty straightforward. This verse makes me think of a fairly common salutation in the South when leaving friends or family that you will not see again for a while – y’all be good.
23 & 24
The usual benediction where Paul asks Christ to bless and keep us holy.
Paul often ask for prayers, but again this is not common in other religions or cultures where only the priest can pray to God for you. Here, Paul is command them to pray for him and the other leaders; as all Christians can pray, and all Christian need prayer.
This is another thing that sounds weird to us, and a fun verse to point out to people who say they ‘take the Bible literally’. What seems to be happening here is a call for equality as we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Typically one would kiss the hand of the person with the higher status, but instead we are all called to kiss each other on the cheek (as sign of equals). Apparently this lasted for a while and across genders, until it was curbed a few centuries later for ‘abuses’.
27 & 28
It wasn’t uncommon for Paul to ask for the letters to be read to all, as his instructions are for all in the church. He follows that instruction with another one of his typically signs offs, asking for the grace (blessing and peace) of Christ to be with us all.
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)