Where the Rubber Meets the Road (chapter 5:12-22)
One Step at a Time
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
1 Thessalonians 5:12-22
We have come to the last few verses of 1 Thessalonians and as we begin our study, I want to share a quote made several years ago by pastor and author Ray Stedman:
"The mark of true Christian faith is that it changes everything you do and say.”
In the sermon where he made that statement, he talked about the low standard of living exhibited by many people who claim to be born again Christians. He really goes to the heart of this issue as he continues:
"I do not understand what has happened to the Christian community. Believers who go regularly to church and profess to believe the Bible often seem to go along with practices of the world around them with hardly any consciousness that what they are doing is unbiblical and really wrong. They lie without hesitation. They evade paying their bills. They cheat on their taxes. They ignore needy people. They fail to keep appointments. They freeload shamelessly. They lose their tempers. They grow critical and caustic. They desert their mates. If the apostle Paul were here he would be very concerned about this. To him, the mark of true Christian faith is that it changes everything you do and say. It affects every area of your life."
This is where the rubber meets the road! The Christian faith is nothing if it is not practical. Or perhaps I should say, the Christian faith is no faith at all if it is not practiced. And at some point, we have to practice what we teach and preach and believe or we can't claim that we believe it.
So this text is where the rubber meets the road. Remember, we began our journey in a single step of faith that moved us from traveling away from God to being His child. And for several weeks, we looked at the teaching of Paul regarding that walk.
I've tried, in the title of every sermon to include some reference to walking. We began by taking "A Step in the Right Direction". Then we learned what it means to "Walk Worthy". The third message focused on our guidebook for the journey.
We were encouraged to discover that as a child of God we never walk alone,, and no matter how rough the road, we are to keep walking to our destination because as we saw in chapter 4, we are walking to please God.
Paul also reminds his hearers that a proper walk means there are some things we are to leave alone and there are some things we must embrace.
And one day, we'll take our last step on earth and we'll step out of the darkness of this world into the glorious light of the presence of God.
And there are some wonderful thoughts and teachings contained in the content of those messages.
But there comes a time when we must put the teaching into practice and when we do, as Stedman said in his sermon, it will affect every area of your life.
And Paul understands that. So true to his style and practice, at verse 12 he moves from teaching and doctrine to practical living as he shares 16 short exhortations. This is where the rubber meets the road as he gives these brief staccato commands affect the dailylife and conduct of a child of God.
Now, sharing sixteen commands seems like a large task, and it is, but thankfully, they group very easily in four basic divisions. So we'll look at them in these groupings in the rapid fire way that Paul originally delivered them.
The first group includes the first three instructions that address
1. The Church And Its Leaders
The great apostle begins with the leaders because that’s where you have to begin in assessing the health of the church. And please don’t restrict these words to just the pastors or deacons or elected leaders in general. They apply to Sunday School teachers, and youth and children's ministry leadership and those who direct the music and anyone who has a leadership position at Trinity.
And they are very straightforward. Paul says,
"Here’s how you spot a leader. First, they work hard among you. Second, they are “over you” in the Lord. Third, they admonish or challenge you to spiritual growth."
It’s an interesting combination. Leaders are people who come from the congregation, who work among the congregation, who stand over the congregation, challenging believers to grow in Christ. They are from, among, and over the people of God. They are part of us, they work among us, they have authority over us.
Paul lays down three commands for us to follow regarding our leaders:
- Respect them, verse 12
- Hold them in high regard, verse 13a
- Live at peace with them, verse 13b
There are three words or phrases here—and each one is important. The word “respect” literally means to “know” your leaders. It means to recognize them for who they are. To “regard” means to hold in the highest possible esteem. Living at peace means just what it sounds like.
The general thrust of Paul’s message is quite clear.
First, you need to know your spiritual leaders. That’s why we print the names of the staff and deacons in the bulletin. That's why you'll find our names on the prayer list every week.
Beyond that, I would encourage you to get acquainted with those who teach your children and youth in Sunday School.
Make sure you know their names and how to contact them. You need to know them by name. Why is that so important? Because of the second instruction which is
To pray for them. That’s the highest and best thing you can ever do for those who minister to you and your family. How will you pray for them if you don't even know their name? Don't you think it is important to pray for those who are making a spiritual impression on your children and youth?
Don't you want your Sunday School teacher to be equipped and ready and having heard from God when you come and sit under their teaching? Don't you want your pastor to have a Word from God when listen to the sermons?
I need the prayers of God’s people. But not just me, all the staff members, all the deacons, all the teachers, all the workers, need your prayers that we might be men and women who are pleasing to God.
Finally, I think living at peace means you speak highly of them and refuse to criticize them behind their back.
Nothing is more evil than gossiping church members who attack their leaders over the phone or out on the golf course or restaurant. And you need to know, the people you're telling aren't keeping it to themselves. I know more than you think I do about your gossip and criticisms!
I suppose more damage has been done to the church and more churches have been split by malicious gossip than by all the doctrinal heresies that have ever been invented.
And I'll just point blank tell you I think it’s better to leave a church than to stay and attack the leadership. It’s not a sin to leave a church, but it is a sin to stay and sow discord in the body. Thankfully, we’ve had very little of that here at Trinity in the years I have been here. For the most part we’ve loved one another and treated each other with respect even if we haven’t always agreed on everything.
You don’t have to agree with the leaders on everything, but you do have to respect them for the position God has given them. Or to say it another way, it’s okay to disagree so long as we disagree agreeably.
The second group of commands deal with
2. The Leaders and the Congregation
Having stated the responsibilities of the church to its leaders, Paul now considers the duties of the leaders to the people as he gives this four-fold job description for the leaders.
By the way, it helped me a great deal to read the same verse from the Cotton Patch Version of Paul’s Epistles. And before I read it, just be warned it tells it straight!
“We encourage you, brothers, to straighten out the cantankerous, lend a hand to the spiritual runts, doctor the sickly, and get along with everybody.”
Frankly, I like that version a lot better. Let's look at those a little more closely
- Warn those who are unruly
he NIV has it, “Warn those who are idle.” But the thought behind the statement is actually what we read in the Cotton Patch version: “Straighten out the cantankerous.”
The Greek word is a military expression that means to break ranks, to get out of line. Demosthenes once used this word to describe those ancient Greeks who refused to serve their country. It refers to those who are undisciplined and irresponsible, soldiers who are idle because they are out of position.
In the church there are those who are out of position. Some of them are spiritual draft-dodgers. Some are idlers, some are gossips, some are busybodies. They are unruly, irresponsible and undisciplined. They are cantankerous!
And Paul says they need to be “warned”. Maybe a better word is “admonish.” This is an exceedingly strong Greek word. It literally means to “put into the mind.” When a brother or sister becomes unruly, Paul says we are to “put them in mind.” You might say we are to talk some sense into them.
It implies a personal, face-to-face confrontation, precisely the kind of situation most of us want to avoid at all costs. It is hard, painful, difficult work.
It is very scary. In its barest form, it means to speak to someone about his conduct. Then he says,
- Comfort the faint-hearted
If the first way is severe, this one is the opposite. Not everyone is unruly. Many are fainthearted. Other translations say to "Encourage the timid". And once again it is a very picturesque word. The Cotton Patch calls them "spiritual runts who need a helping hand.
The word literally means to be “small-souled.” This is that group of people who are easily discouraged and despondent. They are overwhelmed by stress and burdened with problems. They are discouraged because they can't seem to find the courage they need.
It especially includes those who shrink before persecution, who fall under great temptation, who face trials at home, at work, at school, who find the Christian life one continual struggle. They've never learned to stand on their own two feet. They are those to whom the writer of Hebrews said, "By this time you ought to be on solid food, teaching the things of God, but you're still on the milk needing others to teach you". You're a runt!
So Paul says, “Encourage them." Literally, the word means to put courage into them, to appeal to the emotions." We would say it means to find these people and give them a little TLC—Tender Loving Care. Third, we are to
- Uphold the weak
The "weak" those without strength. These are people who are a step beyond being fainthearted. They have completely run out of gas. They are the ones who are exhausted, burned out, wrung out and worn out.
They are morally and spiritually and physically drained. They feel as if they cannot go on.
Often these are most easily overlooked. The weak drift in and then drift out and oftentimes the church never sees or notices them. They slip in late, sit toward the back, and slip out as soon as the service is over. They are on the periphery, looking, searching, hurting. The fainthearted were running strong and then were worn out.
But the weak never got in the race. And Paul says to to “uphold” them. We are not just to get under their burden; we are to get under them. The word means to “hold oneself over against.” It is a very close, intimate term. It means to cling to someone. Paul says, “Don’t let the weak go. Hold them tight. Don’t let them drift away. Pick them up and carry them along.” And finally, he says,
- Be patient with everyone
The word means to be long-tempered. It has the idea of being tough and durable under pressure. Be slow to anger, slow to give up. Don’t lose your patience as you help others. We must not give way to exasperation. (Sometimes I hear people say, “I lost my temper.” I want to reply, “You didn’t lose it, you found it!” Some of us need to lose our temper and never find it again.)
There are two problems we face whenever we try to help someone else:
1. Many people are slow to respond.
2. Others will refuse our help altogether.
When they are slow to respond, we tend to get discouraged. When they refuse our help, we tend to get disgusted. That’s what Paul is warning against.
Three hundred years ago, Matthew Henry wrote, "When we try to help other people we:
"must not be high in our expectations
nor harsh in our resentments
nor hard in our impositions,
but endeavor to make the best we can of everything
and think the best we can of everybody.”
That fairly well sums it up.
Now if you don’t care and never get involved with others, this doesn’t apply to you. And if you only hang around the beautiful, clean, healthy types, you won’t need much patience.
But if we get involved with others, patience is our greatest need. Remember what Charlie Brown said: “I love the world. It’s people I can’t stand.” It’s easy to feel that way, so we need a great deal of patience.
The third group Paul addresses is
3. Believers and Their Relationships
Paul has two primary relationships in mind. The first one is our relationship with the people around us.
In that regard, he gives two instructions. Verse 15 says,
- Don’t seek revenge (verse 15a), and
- Be kind to everyone (verse 15b)
These words are revolutionary in their impact. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught us what this meant when he said, “If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek. If he takes your tunic, give him your cloak. If he compels you to go one mile, go the second mile for free” (see Matthew 5:38-42).
This is more than non-retaliation, it is also the Golden Rule in action. Jesus taught us to pro-actively return good to those who have done us evil. For most of us, it will be all we can do not to smack someone in the face. To turn the other cheek is a truly supernatural act.
The next three commands speak of our relationship with God.
Verse 16 says, Rejoice always, verse 17 tells us to pray without ceasing, and according to verse 18, we are to give thanks in everything.
Someone has called these three commands “the standing orders of the gospel.” They are “standing orders” because they always apply to every Christian in every situation.
The Greek makes this very clear because these imperatives are all in the present tense. You could translate it “continually rejoice, continually pray, and continually give thanks.”
I would suggest the command that causes the greatest problem is the middle one—"pray without ceasing.”
What exactly does that mean? The word translated “without ceasing” was used elsewhere for a persistent, hacking cough. If you tell someone that you are coughing all the time, it doesn’t mean you’re coughing every second, but it does mean that you are coughing repeatedly and continually.
We are to pray like that—repeatedly and continually, and that is a great challenge. After all, most of us would feel pretty good about oursleves if the verse said, "Rejoice sometimes”, "pray occasionally” and give thanks when you feel like it.”
Because that’s the way most of us live—on the “sometimes, occasionally, when you feel it” plane of life.
So how do we rise to the higher level of “always,” “without ceasing,” and “everything?”
I think the answer is found in acknowledging the goodness of God all the time. That's why I've tried to continually remind us that our God is a good God. It's true when it is easy to recognize His goodness and it's true when you can't see His goodness. He is good. He loves you and those two things never change.
And once I am convinced of that, I am well on the way to learning to rejoice always, pray without ceasing and giving thanks in everything.
I do not mean to suggest that this is easy, only that it is absolutely necessary. As hard as it may be to rejoice always, what is your alternative? To give in to despair and anger? If you refuse to give thanks in every situation, you are virtually saying that you know better than God how to run the universe.
By giving thanks when we don’t feel like it, we are proclaiming that God’s wisdom is greater than ours. That simple act of giving thanks in the midst of sorrow and heartache is a testimony worth more than 10,000 words spoken when things are going well.
Let me share another quote I ran across this week:
"The foundation of gratitude is the expectation of nothing. If one expects nothing then anything is bonus If one expects more than he receives, then he is disappoint. We are more prone to complain because roses have thorns than to give thanks because thorns have roses."
There is profound insight in those words. Many of us complain about the thorns when we ought to give thanks for the roses. If we expected less, we would be more grateful. We complain because we think we deserve more than we have. “The foundation of gratitude is the expectation of nothing.”
“In everything give thanks.” How do we do this in a practical sense?
First, thank him for your blessings.
Second, thank him for how he has helped you in your trials.
Third, thank him for his presence every day.
Fourth, thank him for his promises for the future.
As a Christian, your whole life is to be one great, “Thank you, Lord.” This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Finally, Paul talks about
4. Believers and Spiritual Gifts
This final section deals with our response to the work of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of spiritual gifts. In Paul’s day there was great confusion in this area, and we are still confused today. So Paul offers four words of explanation:
- Don’t quench or stifle the Holy Spirit v. 19
- Don’t despise the preaching of the Word v. 20
- Test everything carefully v. 21
- Hold fast to good, reject every form of evil v. 22
Here we have a balanced approach to the question of supernatural experiences. On the positive side, don’t put out the Spirit’s fire. The Bible often uses the symbol of fire to picture the action of the Holy Spirit.
Like a blazing fire, the Holy Spirit warms the heart, enlightens the mind, empowers the spirit, and burns away the dross of carnality.
When the fire of the Spirit begins to move in a congregation, the results may be so supernatural that some believers may be tempted to “quench” the work of the Spirit.
How might that happen?
First, you might do it by quenching the Spirit’s work in your own life.
That happens whenever we say no to God. Perhaps He is calling you to take a step of faith, to follow His divine guidance, to move out of your comfort zone, to exercise your spiritual gifts in a brand-new way, to demonstrate the reality of forgiveness and reconciliation in a broken relationship. Saying “no” in those situations is like throwing cold water on the fire of the Holy Spirit. Don’t be surprised when your life begins to grow cold.
Second, you might do it by stopping the Spirit’s work in someone else’s life.
I Corinthians 12 speaks of various manifestations of the Holy Spirit. It speaks of differing operations and differing gifts. This can be a risky concept because we aren’t all alike! God made you an absolutely unique creation.
He gave you a combination of gifts, talents and abilities that He gave to no one else in all the world. It’s all too easy to become harsh and critical toward others believers who don’t see things exactly as we do. It’s perfectly legitimate to say that the Holy Spirit may work in your life differently than He may work in my life.
So does that mean we are supposed to accept everything people say and do? The answer of course is no. To accept everything is to become naive and gullible.
That's why Paul says, "Don't quench the Spirit, but at the same time, test everything and hold to what's good and avoid everything that's evil."
The word “test” means to examine anything that purports to be from God to see if it is genuine. Hold fast to that which is good. Lay it alongside God's Word and see if it measures up. Then reject everything that either appears to be evil or produces an evil result.
We might paraphrase I Thessalonians 5:19-22 this way:
“Be open to the work of the Spirit in the body through various gifted people. Examine everything carefully. Hold on to that which is good and true. Reject everything that is evil or produces evil.”
To the grumpy, supercritical believer who is closed to the work of the Spirit, God says, “Be open.” To the gullible, untaught believer easily swayed by supposed supernaturalism, God says, “Be careful.” A balanced approach says, “Let the Spirit move freely in your midst and let everyone carefully examine the results.”
This standard is not hard to apply. Suppose you watch some TV preacher who claims to have a message from God. Test it.
What if somebody comes to you and says, “I’ve got a message from God for you.” Test it.
When a friend says, “I had a vision and this is what I think God wants us to do,” test it.
That is what the Bible says. Test it. Don’t put out the Spirit’s fire. Don’t despise what the prophets say. But test everything. Hold onto the good. Reject that which is evil.
Well, as I said, this is where the rubber meets the road. So how do you compare? Are you walking the walk? Or are you merely a talking head?
I will admit to you it is not easy to live by these instructions. But I will also remind you it wasn't easy for Jesus to leave the glories of heaven and come to this earth.
No one made him do it. If Jesus had been ashamed to associate with sinners, he would have stayed in heaven. He never would have set foot on the earth.
But he made the trip, didn’t he? Born in a manger, born in Bethlehem, born in obscurity, born like a servant and not like a king.
We weren’t beautiful, but he came for us.
We weren’t rich, but he came for us.
We weren’t clean, but he came for us.
We weren’t noble, but he came for us.
We weren’t healthy and whole, but he came for us.
We weren’t trustworthy, but he came for us.
We weren’t good, but he came for us.
We were a pretty miserable lot, but he came for us. We rewarded him by hanging him on a cross.
And when he died, he died for us. And all our sins were laid on him. And that’s the Gospel truth.
It’s not easy to rejoice always and to give thanks in everything. It’s a long road from earth to heaven, and for some of us, the road is filled with bumps, potholes, endless delays and unexplained detours.
But there is a reward awaiting us at the end of the journey. When we live this way, when we give thanks in the worst moments of life, we are gaining an eternal reward we can never lose.
By faith day by day—in good times and in bad, in strength and in weakness, in sickness and in health–we are following in the steps of the man who came from heaven.
Stephen Curtis Chapman, on his album "Signs of Life, has a song called "Where the Rubber meets the Road". It begins from the perspective of a young boy, sitting at the wheel of his father's Oldsmobile. He can't reach the pedals, the car is never taken out of park, but in the little boy's mind, he takes the checkered flag at Indy!
Then one day, this boy's dreams come true when dad throws him the keys and says, "let's see what you can do." He drives about an hour, finally making it around the block. As he returns, he says, "I was in all my glory while Dad was in a state of shock. And then he comes to the realization that the road's a different place when the wheel is in your hand. You can dream and scheme and talk about it, read it in a book, but there comes a time when you've got to get out of the classroom and onto the road.
The chorus says:
Fire up your engines, come on let's go
This is where the rubber meets the road
It's time to put in motion everything you know
This is where the rubber meets the road.
The last verse is especially insightful:
I've got a Bible on the table. I've got 5 more on my
I've got a head half full of knowledge, far from what
I'd call a wealth
But I know what I do know, better yet I know who
And He's giving us directions, and He's throwing us
the keys saying...
Fire up your engines, come on let's go
This is where the rubber meets the road
It's time to put in motion everything you know
This is where the rubber meets the road.
As I said, the journey begins with the first step. Today, we invite you to join Jesus on the journey, If you are already traveling with Him, then put what you say you believe into action.