This is the Will of God

April 15, 2007

By Phillip M. Way

1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

We have been given in the Word of God everything we need to know God’s will. Let me say that again. We have been given in the Word of God everything we need to know God’s will. Here in the context of 1 Thessalonians 5, as we learn to walk in peace with fellow believers in the community of faith, we have been given a series of short specific commands that will help us along in our pursuit of holiness and pleasing God. So what are these commands?

Rejoice Always

As followers of Jesus Christ we have every reason to be full of joy all the time! It truly should not be a difficult thing for us to obey this command. We should always be rejoicing. Think about it – our sins have been forgiven, we have been given new life and a right standing with God, we have been adopted as His child, He promises to provide for every need, and He is in complete control of all of creation. What have we got to fear or worry about? Nothing. Nothing at all! And yet it seems so hard to rejoice always. Why is that?

It is often hard to rejoice always because in the church today we have confused happiness and joy. We all want to be happy. Let us call to mind all the titles of self-help books that are on the market today. All these books filling book shelves and filling minds promising lasting happiness and therefore fulfillment, because we have all been told that happiness is the chief end of man! If only we can be happy. You know, dream the dream and live happily ever after.

But happiness does not last. Why? Because happiness is an emotional response to happenings and given time both emotions and circumstances will change. Joy is not an emotion. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). It is a spiritual satisfaction accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit that lifts us up and holds us up even in the midst of hard times, trials, and tests. We learn as we walk in the Spirit that we are even able to grieve and have joy at the same time, because joy is not an emotional response to our surroundings. Joy at times needs to be renewed as we lose it, subdue it, or quench it. But it is certainly more lasting than happiness – and more fulfilling too.

So seeing all that we have been given by God, what is stopping us today from rejoicing? For the Bible tells us that we are to rejoice always. To be full and overflowing with joy at all times. And only as we walk in the Spirit are we able to maintain this attitude of real and lasting joy.

Pray Without Ceasing

But now it really gets hard. It can become routine to be full of joy! Really. We can get used to the joy of the Lord. It is after all, our strength. But now we are told to pray without ceasing.

That means first of all that prayer must be more than an every eye bowed every head closed folded hands King Jameth Speaketh communication heavenward! “O Lord, we Thou humble servants do beseech Thee in Thy mercy……” For we are told to pray without ceasing. That means pray without stopping. Without interruption. Without distraction. How on earth is that even possible?

Well it is possible, just as rejoicing always is possible, through the power of the Holy Spirit in a yielded life. As we submit to the Lordship of Christ and walk in the Spirit, being filled and controlled by Him, He does live through us – giving us the power, ability, and desire to do what would normally be impossible.

We must also realize what prayer is. It is communication with God. It is not just taking God a list of wants and needs, asking Him to bless the people we love, or blessing a meal. No. It is talking, listening, meditating, communing with God. We talk. We listen through the Word. We ask, request, intercede, praise, adore, worship, exalt, and glorify. In fact, prayer is very much an act of worship you know, that is why we are not to pray to anyone but to God – for He alone is God and He alone is to be worshipped.

So we can pray without ceasing when we learn what prayer is and what interrupts prayer. Often interruptions come from distractions, desires of the flesh to stop praying. Sin. Anything that causes us to cease communing with God is an enemy of prayer. And let’s be clear – we have all heard the phrase “Prayer changes things”, but prayer does not change anything – GOD CHANGES THINGS as He responds to our prayers!

Prayer is such a neglected topic these days and yet we are told to do it without ceasing. The lowest attended meeting of the church is the prayer meeting. The hardest thing to do is spend just an hour praying. The flesh does not want to pray, it wants to play! Can’t sleep? Pray – your flesh will be more than willing to get tired and go to sleep then!! Prayer, communing with God, means death to self. You cannot talk to God rightly and be proud and self centered.

And let us be clear too, while there is a place for public prayer, more often than not the Bible teaches us to pray in private – we see in the Scriptures the command to pray in our closet! Away from public view. Just us and God. Humbling isn’t it? Of course – because public prayer all too often allows us to show off our supposed spirituality. Study what the Bible says about prayer and as we do we should ask why prayer is not more emphasized in our preaching and teaching. After all, how many other things does the Bible command us to do without stopping?

In Everything Give Thanks

Next we see the command to give thanks in everything. In every circumstance, in every hardship, in every victory, in everything give thanks. We must have an attitude of gratitude. Everything we have is a gift from God by His grace. Every blessing, every provision, everything. Even the hard times and the bad times – they are a gift from His hand. And He promises it will ALL work together for our good and His glory. So what happens in our lives that we should not be thankful to God for?

And yet just as prayer is so hard, it is also difficult to thank God as we ought. Often thanking God is the last thing we do. Even when He answers a direct prayer request we are usually quick to tell our friends and family and those who were praying with us – but then we forget to thank God for the answer He has sent.

Thankfulness must come from a humble and dependent heart. Thankfulness also must come from sincerity. We must be truly grateful to God for who He is and all that He has done on our behalf for His own glory. I mean, if everything that happens is within His control and used for His glory then what could happen that we could not thank Him for?

Ingratitude flows from a self-centered heart. A lack of thankfulness is carried by pride and envy, jealousy and hatred. It is a hard, sinful, rebellious heart that refuses to be thankful to God for His grace and goodness. And beyond the command, we must see that we have every reason to give thanks in everything! The goodness of God toward us in Christ Jesus is in itself reason enough to thank God forever and always.

Do Not Quench the Spirit

We are commanded to not quench the Spirit. As we will see the next several verses tell us how we quench the Spirit, but before we get to those specifics let us look at our relationship with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, truly and completely God, is described to us as the Comforter. We also know that He is the One who calls us to life from the dead when we are born again. He is the seal of our salvation. He convicts us of sin, convinces us of truth, empowers us to live the Christian life, and He indwells us.

When we repent of our sin and place our faith in Christ we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He lives is us and through us, bears witness to our spirit that we are children of God, and enables us to cry out, “Abba, Father” when we approach God with humility and love.

Where would we be without the Holy Spirit? Lost. Alone. Hopeless!

But beyond Who the Holy Spirit is and what He does for us, we must approach this passage and ask a question – why is it that we are to not quench the Holy Spirit?

The word “quench” means to choke or confine and so to quench the Spirit is to work to prevent Him from doing what He is doing in our lives. Whether it be running from the conviction of sin or refusing to listen to a warning from our conscience we must be careful not to attempt to refute what He leads us to do and empowers us to be. In fact, in order to learn how not to quench the Spirit we need to see how we are supposed to respond to Him in our daily walk. Let us look then at 3 verses that tell us how we are to relate to the Spirit.

Ephesians 4:30

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

We must not quench the Spirit, and neither should we grieve Him. Were you aware that God could be grieved? We know that Jesus wept. And we see illustrations of the emotions of God throughout the Scripture as He is angry, forgives, shows mercy, has compassion, loves, and judges. Not that He is moody, but He is a rational Being and He can be grieved by His people’s sin. In this context, to grieve Him is to refuse to abandon our sin and embrace righteousness. When we hold on to our sin and fail to respond immediately to the convicting power of the Spirit we grieve Him.

We further grieve Him when we sin against others within the Body. It is after all the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace that we are to uphold at all times in the fellowship. And to cause division, to sin without remorse, to neglect repentance – all of these grieve God. So as we strive to please Him and be at peace with one another we must learn to discern what does and does not grieve the Spirit – and just as we would not intentionally do something to hurt the ones we love, neither should we intentionally grieve the Holy Spirit of God.

Ephesians 5:18

And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.

Just as we are not to be intoxicated (controlled by a substance such as drugs or alcohol), we must not yield control of our bodies or our lives to those things that will harm us, but instead we must be controlled by Spirit.

This being under the influence so to speak is in reality a willful surrender, a yielding of ourselves to the Holy Spirit so that He might lead us and protect us and walk with us through whatever we face day to day. To be filled in fact means just that, to be controlled by Him. Are we controlled by the Holy Spirit of God? We know and confess that Jesus is Lord, but do we live under the control of the Holy Spirit or are we continually wrestling Him for control? He is Lord. He has bought us. Live like it!

Galatians 5:16

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

What a powerful and oft neglected verse this is. Are you struggling with sin and temptation? Are you losing the battle? Does it seem that you just cannot get free from your sin, as though it owns you and controls you and won’t let you go? Learn to walk in the Spirit!

The promise is this, if we walk in the Spirit then we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. To walk in the Spirit then must be a priority, right? But how many people know what it means to walk in the Spirit?

It is not complicated. It is not some mystical thing reserved only for the super spiritual in our midst who receive a special endowment or so-called second blessing. No. It is as simple as living life according to the Word of God. To walk in the Spirit is described in terms of a continuous progressive action. And in its most basic form this is a reference to actively and continually responding in obedience the commands of Scripture.

Do you obey the Word of God? To obey the Word is to walk in the Spirit! To do what He has told us to do and to not do what He has told us not to do. It is not complicated. This verse tells us plainly that if we obey the Word of God then we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

As we are commanded, “Do not quench the Spirit” we read in the next verses, “Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” And here is the key. To quench the Spirit is to despise prophecies and embrace unsound doctrine! Sounds simple, and at first you might wonder how this verse says that, but let’s look at it for a moment.

Do Not Despise Prophecies

The command, following the injunction against quenching the Spirit, tells us that if we are not to quench the Spirit then we must not despise prophecies. So what are prophecies? Here in this usage the term prophecies refers directly to the preaching of the Word of God. It is the task of the minister of the gospel to preach the Word, in season and out of season. The pastor-teacher is to use the Word, explained and expounded, in order to equip the church for service to God and to one another. He also rebukes sin, challenges the vain philosophies of his day, and encourages sinners to obey the gospel, repent, and believe in Jesus Christ for the salvation of their souls.

Preaching is the tool that God uses to convert sinners (1 Cor 1:21), convict us of sin (Titus 1:9), set the standards of holiness for the church (Romans 16:25), and to teach us what He expects of us! Preaching is vital and necessary to the life of the church and the spread of the gospel around the world. No wonder preaching is under attack. People would rather have short, simplistic, pep rally sermons than a good meal at the Table, feeding on the solid food of the Word of God. No wonder so-called churches are trying to replace preaching with drama, art, and other ritualistic distractions! No wonder – for the devil has always HATED the Word, especially as it is preached with power!

But if we despise the preaching of the Word, if we refuse to listen, to obey, to hear and do what is preached, and if we mock preachers and hate the preaching of the Word of God then we quench the Spirit. We reject and neglect the very tool He uses to convict us of sin and call us to new life. We choke off the work of the Spirit when we fight against the Word – though trust me, He is able to overcome our attempts and even bring back sermons to our minds word for word – even though we may have heard them many years ago! Why? Because it is the preaching of the Word of God, and His Word NEVER returns void but always accomplishes the purpose for which it was sent out.

Abstain from Every Form of Evil

And here we have the second part of what we must do in order to not quench the Spirit. Not only must we refuse to despise the preaching of the Word but we must also cling to sound doctrine and reject unsound doctrine. You see, this verse is often taken and mis-interpreted. Too many legalists, and too many who would have us believe that living the Christian life is all about a set of extra Biblical rules and regulations have often quoted this verse and preached that we must avoid every appearance of evil. I have heard this taken to all sorts of extremes. Usually it is applied by saying that as a Christian we must never do anything that another person might think is sinful. Well I have a simple solution for us then. We need to all live alone in a cave in the woods. Because I guarantee there will be things I do with a completely clear conscience that someone else will think is a sin!

The best example I can think of for this happened at a youth Bible study that I was teaching. After the Bible study we had snacks and cokes (sodas or pop for those of you not from Texas). And a few of the guys had brought some IBC root beer. Have you seen IBC? Or better yet, have you tasted IBC root beer? Wonderful stuff! And to protect the flavor, IBC’s trademark is that it comes in a dark brown glass bottle. In fact, real beer comes in dark brown glass bottles too. And one person at the Bible study took offense and was truly upset that these boys would drink IBC root beer – because as she so loudly proclaimed, they were not avoiding every appearance of evil because someone might see them with those bottles and think that they were a couple of home schooled 13 and 14 year old boys sitting in a Bible study and drinking (gasp) BEER!

Beyond all the other discussions we could have now…. 🙂

The truth is that this is a misapplication of the verse! For we are told not to despise the preaching of the Word, but to test all things. Why do we test all things when it comes to preaching? So that we might “hold fast what is good”, that is, hold on to and affirm with our lives sound doctrine as it is preached to us. And it is not enough just to affirm sound doctrine and good Biblical preaching, for the text continues, telling us that in order to not quench the Spirit we must not despise the preaching of the Word, but should hold fast to good doctrine, and “abstain from every form of evil.”

In context then this is referring directly to the preaching of unsound doctrine! Remember that “evil” means that which causes harm. And what can harm us more than unsound doctrine? So if we want to quench the Spirit in His work then all we have to do is despise the preaching of the Word, hate sound doctrine, and embrace unsound and false doctrine! To do so is to try and stop the Spirit from doing what He does.

Of course we will fail, for no man can stop the Holy Spirit. But nevertheless, we should not ever put ourselves in the position of working to quench the Spirit, working against Him by advancing unsound doctrine. We should indeed be like the Bereans. We should try every word we hear preached and hold it up to the Word of God to make sure that those who teach us are rightly handing the Word of God. If they are, then we should hear and do what they preach. For to despise the preaching of the Word is to fight the Holy Spirit. And that is one battle we are sure never to win.

This Is the Will of God

Notice then that as we hear and obey the Word of God, re-adjusting out attitude so that we might rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything, we are told that these things are the will of God for us. Now how often does someone say that they are looking for the will of God? They are trying to make a decision and begin to hope that a voice will come booming out of heaven telling them what to do or where to go. That would sure make it easy wouldn’t it?

So many people work so hard at finding the will of God, and look – here it is. It is given to us in black and white right on the printed page of our Bibles. God’s will for us is that we rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything. Sounds simple and yet it is so hard. But there it is. Want God’s will? Do these things and you are IN HIS WILL!

Don’t forget though that without the help of the Holy Spirit we cannot find or do God’s will! We must not quench Him, we must instead rely upon Him as we are filled with the Spirit, so that as He leads us into all truth we will hear sound doctrine and do the will of God.

Often as we think about finding God’s will we focus on the decision making process and we worry about making the right decision. But if we learn to discern then we can make those decisions easily. How? Well, when we are doing the will of God – rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in everything – then it really is not that difficult to make good decisions.

Do you have a hard decision to make today? Then let me tell you what to do – rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything, and more than likely the decision you need to make will be so clear that you wonder how you missed it in the first place. We miss it when we look so hard at the decision that we forget about trusting God and relying on Him. And I will promise you something – if we are rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in everything we will see that the Spirit will make decision making easy!! For if we are doing these things then His will is not nearly so difficult to discern.

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