Summary: Sermon tells the believer about how regrets take away your joy.

Overcoming Regrets

1st Thessalonians 5:12-22

February 26, 2006

1st Thessalonians 5:12ff

12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.

For all sad words of tongue and pen. The saddest are these; it might have been.

-John Greenleaf Whittier

Most if not all of us have played the Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda game. All of us have second guessed decisions that we have made whether they be in our professional or personal lives. This is only natural. However, it becomes unnatural when our shoulda’s start to take control of our lives.

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Text Background

This week’s epistle reading from 1 Thessalonians lies within a slightly larger section (5:12-28) in which Paul gives a series of final instructions. Amid these lists of "dos" and "don’ts," Paul also includes two prayers or benedictions (vv.23 and 28). In these few verses Paul covers relationships between members and leaders (vv.12-13), Christian responsibility (both to other community members and to non-Christians [vv.14-15]), interior attitudes of believers (vv.16-18) and the workings of the Holy Spirit (vv.19-22). He then offers a prayer (v.23) with its own assured addendum (v.24). Verses 25-27 are often considered a

slightly unrelated Pauline postscript (such as those found in Galatians 6:11 and Colossians 4:18) and then there is closure with yet another prayer (v.28).

It is not altogether clear whether Paul intended to address all the Thessalonian Christian community throughout these admonitions or whether he addresses only the leaders with some of these directives. Obviously, there is some sort of recognized leadership within the community -- one specially charged with guiding others in living a Christian life (v.12). The question for translators and commentators is whether those who "admonish" or "instruct" from a leadership position are the only ones to whom Paul speaks in verse 14.

While there may have been some recognized division of labor within the Thessalonian community, there is no clear evidence that a rigid hierarchy had yet developed. It is probably more accurate, therefore, to see Paul’s directions through this section as inclusive of the whole community. Even those who are the leaders fall under Paul’s order to respect their fellow leaders. The "brothers" or "beloved" (NRSV) referred to in verse 14 then gives responsibility to all members of this Christian community to "warn" or "admonish," "encourage," "help," and "be patient" towards others.

Immediately after Paul widens his circle of concern throughout verses 14-15 ("do good" ... "to all" by the end of v.15), he zooms back to the condition of each individual’s heart in verses 16-18. With three terse imperatives Paul defines the proper interior attitude of a Christian. It is what’s inside that counts.

"Joy" -- both the Thessalonians’ and his own -- Paul has already mentioned before (1:6, 2:20, 3:9). This joy has little to do with carefree happiness. For Paul, joy is not something that spontaneously erupts under certain conditions. Authentic Christian joy is a continuous, ongoing condition established at the moment one receives the gift of faith in God through Jesus Christ. Christian joy, therefore, should be as constant as Christ’s own love for us.

If Paul does intend a literal "always" in verse 16, however, this is not the case in verse 17. The Thessalonian faithful are not being told they should continually be engaged in literal prayer. They are being directed beyond a reliance on, or contentment with, fixed prayer at established times. Just as the gift of the Holy Spirit makes joy theirs at all times, they also have God’s ear at all times. A Christian may turn to God at any moment of the day, under any circumstances, and be in communication with God.

The marvelous relationship that makes verses 16 and 17 true is what make verse 18 possible. Christ’s love and God’s constant presence in their lives make it possible for the Thes-salonian Christians to utter heartfelt, genuine thanks to God, whatever the circumstances facing them. All these imperatives must have sounded intimidating to the struggling Thessalonian community -- just as they do to us today. But in verses 18b-19, Paul reveals that the Thessalonians should not view this constant joyfulness,

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