Paul essentially deals with three areas of concern. They are relational, attitudinal and spiritual. Verses 12-15 discuss how we are to get along with one another and our leaders. Verses 16-18 deal with how we are to live, related to our attitude towards life. Finally, verses 19-25 focus on our relationship to spiritual issues and dependency of God. The last verses are the closing of the letter.
As we have seen, Paul has expressed his love and concern for these believers, by praising them for the quality of their walk and encouraging them to continue grow in these same areas. The items he discussed related to the maturity of their faith, grounded in the word that he and the other missionaries had given them, and their strength demonstrated by their love of God and expressed towards one another. Paul was concerned that their lives reflected the reality of their relationship with Christ, in the quality of their walk, the hope of their salvation, and the expectation of His return.
First, Paul states how the believer is to relate to the local church leaders and to one another. He discusses how we are to respect those over us. The general role which these men played (and it seems that these men were the elders) was that they worked among the believers. Their roles were to shepherd the believers under God’s authority. While this included the responsibility to care for the body, the focus was on the position of authority. They also exercised the function of instructor, or more correctly admonisher, to warn or caution. This is a role that makes men uncomfortable, and therefore the believers needed to be reminded to have the proper attitude, not one of resentment, but respect and acceptance as unto God.
This call is not one of materially supporting the leaders, but the need to esteem them, that is hold them in high regard with love, because they serve the Lord. This is a call to recognition of the work that the Lord has given them. They earn respect, not because of a position, but because they demonstrate with their walk that they are in the service of the Lord. There are not exceptions to this call. The Lord has established an organizational hierarchy. We are called to recognize these men as gifts given by God to the local body, and treat them accordingly.
Now while it is clear the body has specific leaders given by God to govern, we all have certain responsibilities to care for one another. These obligations include admonishing (confronting) the unruly, that is the undisciplined or idle. If you don't work, you don't eat. Remember, these are apparently specific issues for the Thessalonians but also apply to us. We must help those failing in this area, to carry out the injunction …
“… work with your hands, as we instructed you” (1 Thessalonians 4:11 ESV).
It's interesting to note that while admonishment is the responsibility of the leaders, it is also the responsibility all believers must all carry out. In addition, believers were to encourage those who were fainthearted or weak. One of the joys we can have is comforting the timid, and supporting those who are either spiritually or morally weak.
Next, going from relationships, Paul moves into the underlying issue of the believer’s attitude. He gives what is probably one of the more difficult injunctions. The Thessalonians were to be patient with all men. It is only by allowing Christ's love to flow through us to others, that this is even possible. It isn't enough to seem to be patient; we must pray the Lord will actually make us patient in spirit.
They were called to rejoice always, and to pray without ceasing. As we noted previously, the only way this is possible is to realize that life comes from the Lord and not from one's circumstances. By looking to the Lord as the source of hope and comfort, this allowed them to desire to pray, and then their joy could come from their relationship to the Lord and not what their current circumstances were.
This means even in negative situations, these believers were called to rejoice. But to do so necessitated prayer. Their life was to include continuous communication with God. It was this constant prayer, and seeking God’s will, that allowed them to experience joy state. Note: Joy is a sign of confidence in the Lord, and not the same as always being happy. The one who prays constantly is the one who can live a life of dependence on God.
Another sign of the love within the body is that even when believers were mistreated, they were not to respond in like manner. In fact, they were called to look out for the needs of one another, to do good versus doing evil.
Finally by living in dependence on God they could thank/praise Him in all things. It is the awareness that God is in control which allows believers to give thanks even in the horrific situation where thanks is irrational. Again, this reflects the attitude of total confidence in God’s sovereignty and total trust in His leading.