A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 5:18a. d). Listen to the Word of God (continued).
Further, he gave the Thessalonians no command to test his teaching, as they were to test the words of the prophets, in order to sift the wheat from the chaff, the good from the evil, the genuine from the spurious. They were to weigh prophetic utterances, because not all of them were from God; but they were to listen to everything the apostle wrote, and were expected to believe and obey it all. Thus Paul unequivocally put his authority as an apostle above that of the prophets (See 1 Cor.14:36-38). And note that apostles are named above prophets in two of Paul’s lists of *Charismata*, 1 Cor.12:28-29; Eph.4:11). Just so today, granted that a subsidiary prophetic gift exists, Scripture has supreme authority in the church. It is God’s Word which the church, for its own health and growth, needs to hear read and expounded.
Looking back now over Paul’s teaching about public worship, we see that it should always include two complementary elements. On the one hand, there should be rejoicing in the Lord, praying, and giving thanks, and on the other listening to God’s Word read, expounded and applied. For God speaks to his people through his Word, and they respond to him in praise, prayer and thanksgiving. As the book of Common Prayer puts it, we assemble in God’s presence both ‘to hear his most holy word’ and ‘to set forth his most worthy praise’. Indeed, in every well-constructed worship service the pendulum should swing rhythmically between God addressing his people through Scripture and his people responding to him in confession, faith, adoration or prayer.
Moreover, in both these aspects of corporate worship (the listening and the responding) we are to acknowledge the sovereignty and freedom of the Holy Spirit. ‘Do not quench the Spirit’ (19, RSV), the apostle writes. This prohibition comes right in the middle of the other exhortations. It could therefore apply either to those which precede it or those which follow it. We might read, ‘Rejoice in the Lord, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, do not quench the Spirit’. Or we could read, ‘Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophecies, but test everything, cling to the good, abstain from the evil.’ In fact, I see no reason why we should not do both. In that case, Paul is saying ‘Let the Holy Spirit speak to you through his word, and listen to his voice; do not quench him’, and also ‘Let the Holy Spirit move you to respond to the word in praise, prayer and thanksgiving; do not quench him.’
The word for ‘quench’ (*sbennumi*) was used of extinguishing both lights and fires, although commentators tend to opt for the latter here and translate *Do not put out the Spirit’s fire*. But the Holy Spirit is light as well as fire and, far from extinguishing him, we must let him both shine and burn within us. As for his role in public worship, we should expect him to speak to us with a living, contemporary voice through the ancient Scriptures and then to move us to respond to God appropriately with all our being. This does not mean that he cannot use set forms, since (as we have seen) they are found in the new Testament text itself. But perhaps the best way to avoid Spirit-quenching traditions in public worship is to develop a flexible combination of liturgy and spontaneity, form and freedom.
|Tomorrow: 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28. Conclusion.|
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.