Prophecies and Discernment
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”- 1 Thessalonians 5:19–22
Even though the Thessalonian church was doing well overall, as we have seen in 1 Thessalonians 1–3, the believers there still needed guidance on several matters. This does not surprise us, for we always have more to learn, and even in eternity we will continue to learn because we will still be finite and have a finite understanding of the things of God. Paul gives this guidance to the Thessalonians in chapters 4–5, and in today’s passage he concludes his instruction on Christian living.
First, Paul says that Christians must “not quench the Spirit” (5:19). It is hard to know exactly what he has in mind, but he is likely warning us against disobeying the Holy Spirit by engaging in behaviors that are off-limits to believers—idleness, sexual immorality, taking vengeance, and so forth (4:1–12; 5:12–17). We resist the Spirit’s work in our sanctification when we sin.
It is also likely that the quenching of the Spirit in Thessalonica involved the despising of prophecies, which Paul also warns against (5:19–20). As we know from the New Testament, there were prophets active in the church during the first century (Acts 21:10–21; 1 Cor. 12:28). Given that the Thessalonians had many concerns about the end times, it may be that the despising of prophecies was related to their hearing many prophecies about the end that went unfulfilled. If so, then their solution was to quench the Spirit by refusing to pay attention to any prophets, true or false. Whatever the exact reason for despising the prophecies, Paul’s answer was that they should not neglect the prophets but rather test every supposed prophetic utterance to see if the one delivering it was a true prophet (1 Thess. 5:21). They were also to abstain from the appearance of evil—most likely a warning not to entertain those who were false prophets, though Christians have the general duty not to engage in moral evil (v. 22; see v. 15; 4:3–5).
How do we apply this text today? After all, the gift of prophecy ended with the death of the last Apostle, the last man to give divine revelation regarding God’s final Word to us, His Son Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1–4). The doctrine of scriptural sufficiency says that Scripture records all the prophecies that the church needs until Christ returns (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Thus, we follow 1 Thessalonians 5:19–22 today by heeding the Word of God and listening to only those teachers and preachers who faithfully expound it.
John Calvin applies 1 Thessalonians 5:19–22 to our situation by noting that today, prophecy means “interpretation made suitable to present use.” Our only access to prophecy today is through the faithful exposition of the inscripturated Word of God, which appointed teachers and preachers apply to our current situation. We are not to despise this Word or its teaching, but we must follow every instruction that is faithful to Scripture.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 14:26–33a
1 Timothy 1:3–7