1 Thessalonians 5:11-19 and 22
11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle,[c] encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit…22 Abstain from every form of evil.
The Bible is filled with so much wonderful practical application when it comes to life and relationships that it is nearly impossible to read without finding some area in our lives that can be improved. These Scriptures can be applied both to living in the larger world as well as within the microcosm of marriage. Marriage should be our first (outside of God) and most important relationship. If you cannot apply these verses first in marriage, then it matters little that you can apply them outside your marriage. Often, we are kinder to those outside our home than to those within our home. We have it backwards.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
How powerful it is to use your words and actions to build up your spouse. Sure, nobody is perfect and everyone can improve in some aspect of their lives, but how often do we use our words to point out the imperfect? While you may feel you are only trying to make your spouse a better person, I ask you-who appointed you the Holy Spirit? Matthew 7:5 “You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” It really isn’t your job to police up your spouse and point out all of his or her faults. Is there anything praiseworthy, anything of good report? Think on these things and then tell them to your spouse. Out loud. Say good things to your spouse. Consider these words from Jesus in Matthew 12:36, “I tell you that on the Day of Judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak.” What are your words to your spouse worth? Before you speak them, make sure you are willing to give an account for them before Christ himself.
If that is not sobering enough, I would encourage you with this thought: your spouse is bombarded daily with messages that he or she is not good enough. Think about the messages the media sends us nearly continually. You don’t have enough stuff. You aren’t giving your kids enough stuff. You don’t look good enough. You are too fat, too out of shape. You aren’t as happy as other people, or as smart as other people. If you were good enough you’d be able to take the kids to Disney every year; that is what defines a happy family. Why haven’t you been promoted? Why don’t you earn more money? Why don’t you have a more prestigious job? Your car is too run down, your house is too small, your grass isn’t green enough…I could go on and on here.
Your home should provide the shelter of unconditional friendship and constitute a refuge to your spouse and should not bombard him or her with further messages of inadequacy.
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you…
In most marriages we do indeed labor. Both husband and wife labor either at jobs or stay-at-home parenting. There is the cooking and the cleaning, the money-earning, friendships, the kids’ sports, church activities, vacations and extended family all to maintain. All this laboring doesn’t have to equal misery. Sometimes simply respecting and acknowledging the hard work or your spouse does goes a long way in making his or her labor for your family a joy rather than a burden.
Yet, once in a while, every human being needs admonishing and it is the responsibility as spouses to care enough for one another to say hard things. One dictionary defines “admonish” this way: “a. To counsel (another) against something to be avoided or warn (that something is dangerous) b. To urge or exhort (someone to do something) c. To remind (someone) of something forgotten or disregarded, as an obligation or a responsibility, or to reprove gently but earnestly.
In every definition I read, it was clear that gentleness was the hallmark of admonishment. The above verse also speaks of respect. In other words, sometimes we all actually do need reminders of our responsibilities. We all need wise counsel from one another, but in order to be allowed to share wise counsel with your spouse, your words should be filled with gentleness and respect. You cannot expect your spouse to accept or even hear you, no matter how wise, without these two markers. And you will not be able to practice verse 12 if you are not first practicing verse 11!
13 …and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.
Cultivating the esteem you feel for your partner is so important. We live in a world of grumblers. I can think of many examples from popular culture which send the message that it’s cute or funny (and normal!) to run down your spouse either to their face or to others. It’s neither cute nor funny. Do not allow popular culture, society, your friends to send you this message. Don’t receive it!
Let me share with you some great synonyms for esteem: respect, admire, value, regard, acclaim, appreciate, like, prize, treasure, favor, revere. How are you doing with all these verbs when it comes to the way you think of and treat your spouse?
Secondly the verse tells us we should “be at peace among yourselves.” This is easier said than done, yet very, very simple. Make a choice not to grumble. James 5:9 says “Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be judged. See, the judge stands before the gates!” More arguments are caused by grumbling and complaining and then digging in your heels about your “right” to be upset than any other cause. This can be about money, socks on the floor, toothpaste, long work hours or any number of things. Philippians 2:14-15 says “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world.” How can both you and your spouse make it in today’s world? Be at peace with each other by choosing not to grumble and argue. This is how you live a blameless and pure life. A side effect of this choice? You will be happier. The more you think on the things that you think you have the right to grumble about the more dissatisfied you will be. The less you think about them, the more you’ll have time for Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.” When your life is filled with thoughts like that, you cannot help but be happier.
14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
Let’s be honest, life beats us up sometimes. None of us get out of life without some loss or rejection that seems to come straight of nowhere. A sucker punch lands right in the gut and there you are, face-planted by life. These are the times for which God created marriage. When life leaves your partner sputtering in neutral, stuck, weak and weary, it’s your job (and privilege) to be patient and tenderhearted. According to Philippians 6:2 we ought to “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but an encouraging word makes it glad.”
15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
None of us are going to get through a marriage without doing something to hurt the other person. This is inevitable in this sin-sick world. Even those with the best of intentions unintentionally hurt others sometimes. We do or say something thoughtless, we get in a mood and lash out with harsh words. Or at times, we even hurt another person simply out of selfishness. We know our actions will harm our spouse but we do it anyway just because we want to.
Most of the time, however, we spiral into nasty fights simply because we do not obey this principle. Someone has an attitude or a grumpy spirit and says something sharp or harsh. Well, it’s the offended spouse’s right to be angry about it, after all he or she didn’t deserve it, right? So the person fights back. It’s true, no one deserves a harsh word just because someone else is in “a mood.” However, so many times, we make things far worse because we take up our right to be mad rather than repaying “evil” with good. Romans 12:17a says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…” and Romans 12:19a goes on to say “Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends…” And we all know “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” Proverbs 15:1. Maybe your spouse had an atrocious day. Rather than responding to wrath with wrath, what if a kind word from you can turn your spouse’s entire day around and bring a smile to his or her face and give you both a refreshing evening at home together? Isn’t that worth laying down your rights for?
16 Rejoice always,
Did you know that happiness is almost entirely a choice? Rejoicing is a choice. Happy people are not happy because nothing bad ever happens to them and their lives are nothing but rainbows, kittens, unicorns and butterflies. If their lives are filled with those things (or seems to be) it is because happy people choose to place those things before their eyes more continually. They don’t ignore the hard things, they just deal with them and then put them in their place: at the foot of the cross. They obey Jesus when he says in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” This is true in marriage, too. There are hard days. There are days when you don’t feel as excited about your spouse as you did yesterday. There are even seasons that are tough, yet employing this principle “rejoice always” is not only possible, it may be the only thing that carries you through.
17 pray without ceasing,
There is a beautiful old hymn that sums up what happens when we don’t “pray without ceasing” and tells us what it looks like when we do.
What a Friend we have in Jesus,/ All our sins and griefs to bear!/What a privilege to carry/ Everything to God in prayer!/O what peace we often forfeit,/O what needless pain we bear,/All because we do not carry/Everything to God in prayer!/Have we trials and temptations?/Is there trouble anywhere?/We should never be discouraged,/Take it to the Lord in prayer./Can we find a friend so faithful/Who will all our sorrows share?/Jesus knows our every weakness,/Take it to the Lord in prayer./Are we weak and heavy-laden,/Cumbered with a load of care?/Precious Savior, still our refuge—/Take it to the Lord in prayer./Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?/Take it to the Lord in prayer;/In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,/Thou wilt find a solace there.
Here’s the bottom line, friends. No matter how wonderful a spouse you have, your spouse is still a fallible human. To place on your spouse the burden of carrying all our woes, hurts, pain, loss and sadness is more than can be borne by any human. Pray together, pray on your own and pray for each other, because while you can walk beside each other and help bear the burdens of life for one another, you cannot be one another’s savior. Only Jesus can bear that.
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Did you know that Greek for “all” means “all?” This passage of Scripture tells us to be grateful in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. Some circumstances stink. They are incredibly painful. I am not grateful for the loss of a baby or a spouse leaving a marriage and family for someone else. Rather, we can be grateful in the circumstance, we can be grateful while enduring it. How? Well, the best you may be able to do some days is to be grateful you’re at least saved and in a relationship with Jesus. But let me encourage you that searching out with all diligence something to be grateful for will help you through the extreme difficulties of life. Cultivating gratitude can turn even the most seemingly hopeless marriage around. Gratitude makes life better. Period. It makes the practitioner happier with everything, less likely to complain, less likely to hurt and tear down. That alone can begin to turn a situation around. Be grateful. And remind your face to show it.
19 Do not quench the Spirit.
If you are a believer in Christ, then the thought that you may be quenching the Spirit should be quite sobering. Christ calls the Holy Spirit the Helper. The Holy Spirit helps us live holy lives, He can whisper wisdom into our ear, and he can help us listen before we speak. The Holy Spirit prompts us in two ways. First, he prompts us with conviction. Conviction comes when we know we have either just done something wrong or hurtful or we are about to. Perhaps, if you listen well, you may just allow the Holy Spirit to stop from doing or saying something really stupid that will hurt and haunt your spouse for a long time. Or, if you rush ahead, the Holy Spirit can reconcile you to your spouse through a quick and sincere apology.
The Holy Spirit also prompts us to act. Sometimes you feel a strong inner urge to do something out of character, but that you later learn was a huge blessing to your partner. Obey these promptings. Do not quench them. But also know your scripture. If your inner prompting does not line up with the Word of God, it’s not from the Holy Spirit. Feel it, check it against scripture, then obey it.
22 Abstain from every form of evil.
There are many forms of evil lurking in the world. “Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8. You should be aware that there is an open war on the nuclear family. Don’t think this war comes from the government or society. It comes from our Old Enemy. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” Ephesians 6:12. Satan knows that when families are torn apart, children are more likely to grow up in poverty, they are more likely to engage in risky behavior. Jails are teeming with the fatherless. He knows if he can keep fathers away from their children, he has humanity in the palm of his hand.
How are fathers torn from families? Frequently it is through sexual sin, either through affairs or addiction to pornography. 1 Corinthians 7:5 teaches us to abstain from evil by giving ourselves to one another in marriage. “Do not deprive each other, except by mutual agreement for a specified time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then resume your relationship, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” In other words, we are given to one another for mutual care and comfort, to help one another abstain from evil. “The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Now God indeed raised the Lord and he will raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that anyone who is united with a prostitute is one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But the one united with the Lord is one spirit with him. Flee sexual immorality! ‘Every sin a person commits is outside of the body’ – but the immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.”
Human sexuality is quite literally one of the touchiest subjects in our culture today. The Christian view of sexual morality is considered not only outdated but bigoted and hateful. Sadly, you will find both those claiming to be Christians, and yes even church-going Christians, justifying and engaging in sexual sin. But you cannot escape the fact that sexual sin destroys relationships. It would take an entire article to go into the details, but the bottom line is that affairs and porn addiction have ravaged many marriages. Affairs obviously can lead to a partner leaving the relationship. They lead to the non-offending partner feeling worthless and unlovable. Being left for another sexual partner is often cited as worse than being widowed. At least when your partner passes away you know he or she did not leave you on purpose. But when your partner walks away from your marriage, you are left with all the feelings of inadequacy that say “you will never be loved.” When porn addiction affects a marriage, the non-addicted partner often does not know, at least at first. Instead she (or he) experiences the effects of the addicted partner’s emotional and/or sexual anorexia. The words that describe these effects are “lonely,” “unloved,” “ignored,” “dismissed,” “unwanted.” But they are very hard to pin down. How do you measure the lack of something? It’s like caging the wind. You cannot physically see wind or lock it away to study it, but it’s powerful and often devastating effects can be seen in a hurricane.
Marriage is meant to be your most intimate relationship on earth. When it is tainted with the effects of sexual sin, it becomes, instead of a balm of comfort, a thorn in the flesh. Your spouse is not only your spouse but your brother or sister in the Lord. Be careful how you treat that person.
There are other evils, like the tongue. Psalm 50:19 teaches, “You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit.” There are many warnings about the evils of the tongue throughout scripture: “Anyone who answers without listening is foolish and confused.” (Prov. 18:13) “A brother who has been insulted is harder to win back than a walled city, and arguments separate people like the barred gates of a palace.” (Prov. 18:19) “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Prov. 12:18) “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love its use will eat its fruit.” (Prov. 18:21).
A last thought on abstaining from every evil; consider Christ’s words to us from Matthew 5:21-24, “’You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell. So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.” Remember that when Christ came, he fulfilled the law and prophets. He freed us from the law and called us to a higher law: the Law of Love. Notice that he says here, “but I say to you anyone who is angry with his brother will subjected to judgement.” Abstaining from evil does not mean simply following a set of rules. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to change you from the inside until in shows on the outside. My pastor, in a recent sermon said “Suppose your spouse told you ‘I am not cheating on you because the law says I shouldn’t, I really want to, but I won’t because of the law.’” So, you see, abstaining from evil is more than abstaining from evil, it is a true conversion from fleshly desire to unselfish love.
What good do you think it is to be kind to the world and win a million people if your spouse is at home, miserable? You will be held to account for this. Apply these principles at home first, then you and your spouse will be a team that will shine brightly for the cause of Christ, your light and warmth multiplied by the love with which you treat one another.