1 Thessalonians 5:11
Why comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also you do.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(11) Comfort.—Rightly translated. St. Paul is here catching up once more the thought of 1Thessalonians 4:18. They are to comfort one another about their communion with the dead who live in Christ; but perhaps the word also involves the comfort to be imparted by the thought of predestination to earn salvation. The command to “Edify one another” certainly refers to the instruction given in 1Thessalonians 5:1-10 :” Build one another up “in these settled purposes of holy living. This metaphor of building is one which St. Paul uses frequently in his later writings, and which St. Peter (who uses the same) may have adopted from his brother Apostle. St. Paul considers not only the whole Catholic Church to be a great Temple of the Spirit, the stones of which are individual souls (1Peter 2:5; 1Corinthians 3:16), but each believer is a temple too, complete in himself, or, rather, in continual process of completion (1Corinthians 6:19).

1 Thessalonians

EDIFICATION

1 Thessalonians 5:11.

I do not intend to preach about that clause only, but I take it as containing, in the simplest form, one of the Apostle’s favourite metaphors which runs through all his letters, and the significance of which, I think, is very little grasped by ordinary readers.

‘Edify one another.’ All metaphorical words tend to lose their light and colour, and the figure to get faint, in popular understanding. We all know that ‘edifice’ means a building; we do not all realise that ‘edify’ means to build up . And it is a great misfortune that our Authorised Version, in accordance with the somewhat doubtful principle on which its translators proceeded, varies the rendering of the one Greek word so as to hide the frequent recurrence of it in the apostolic teaching. The metaphor that underlies it is the notion of building up a structure. The Christian idea of the structure to be built up is that it is a temple. I wish in this sermon to try to bring out some of the manifold lessons and truths that lie in this great figure, as applied to the Christian life.

Now, glancing over the various uses of the phrase in the New Testament, I find that the figure of ‘building,’ as the great duty of the Christian life, is set forth under three aspects; self-edification, united edification, and divine edification. And I purpose to look at these in order.

I. First, self-edification.

According to the ideal of the Christian life that runs through the New Testament, each Christian man is a dwelling-place of God’s, and his work is to build himself up into a temple worthy of the divine indwelling. Now, I suppose that the metaphor is such a natural and simple one that we do not need to look for any Scriptural basis of it. But if we did, I should be disposed to find it in the solemn antithesis with which the Sermon on the Mount is closed, where there are the two houses pictured, the one built upon the rock and standing firm, and the other built upon the sand. But that is perhaps unnecessary.

We are all builders; building up--what? Character, ourselves. But what sort of a thing is it that we are building? Some of us pigsties, in which gross, swinish lusts wallow in filth; some of us shops; some of us laboratories, studies, museums; some of us amorphous structures that cannot be described. But the Christian man is to be building himself up into a temple of God. The aim which should ever burn clear before us, and preside over even our smallest actions, is that which lies in this misused old word, ‘edify’ yourselves.

The first thing about a structure is the foundation. And Paul was narrow enough to believe that the one foundation upon which a human spirit could be built up into a hallowed character is Jesus Christ. He is the basis of all our certitude. He is the anchor for all our hopes. To Him should be referred all our actions; for Him and by Him our lives should be lived. On Him should rest, solid and inexpugnable, standing four-square to all the winds that blow, the fabric of our characters. Jesus Christ is the pattern, the motive which impels, and the power which enables, me to rear myself into a habitation of God through the Spirit. Whilst I gladly acknowledge that very lovely structures may be reared upon another foundation than Him, I would beseech you all to lay this on your hearts and consciences, that for the loftiest, serenest beauty of character there is but one basis upon which it can be rested. ‘Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.’

Then there is another aspect of this same metaphor, not in Paul’s writings but in another part of the New Testament, where we read: ‘Ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith.’ So that, in a subordinate sense, a man’s faith is the basis upon which he can build such a structure of character; or, to put it into other words--in regard to the man himself, the first requisite to the rearing of such a fabric as God will dwell in is that he, by his own personal act of faith, should have allied himself to Jesus Christ, who is the foundation; and should be in a position to draw from Him all the power, and to feel raying out from Him all the impulses, and lovingly to discern in Him all the characteristics, which make Him a pattern for all men in their building.

The first course of stone that we lay is Faith; and that course is, as it were, mortised into the foundation, the living Rock. He that builds on Christ cannot build but by faith. The two representations are complementary to one another, the one, which represents Jesus Christ as the foundation, stating the ultimate fact, and the other, which represents faith as the foundation, stating the condition on which we come into vital contact with Christ Himself.

Then, further, in this great thought of the Christian life being substantially a building up of oneself on Jesus is implied the need for continuous labour. You cannot build up a house in half an hour. You cannot do it, as the old fable told us that Orpheus did, by music, or by wishing. There must be dogged, hard, continuous, life-long effort if there is to be this building up. No man becomes a saint per saltum . No man makes a character at a flash. The stones are actions; the mortar is that mystical, awful thing, habit; and deeds cemented together by custom rise into that stately dwelling-place in which God abides. So, there is to be a life-long work in character, gradually rearing it into His likeness.

The metaphor also carries with it the idea of orderly progression. There are a number of other New Testament emblems which set forth this notion of the true Christian ideal as being continual growth. For instance, ‘first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear,’ represents it as resembling vegetable growth, while elsewhere it is likened to the growth of the human body. Both of these are beautiful images, in that they suggest that such progressive advancement is the natural consequence of life; and is in one aspect effortless and instinctive.

But then you have to supplement that emblem with others, and there comes in sharp contrast to it the metaphor which represents the Christian progress as being warfare. There the element of resistance is emphasised, and the thought is brought out that progress is to be made in spite of strong antagonisms, partly to be found in external circumstances, and partly to be found in our own treacherous selves. The growth of the corn or of the body does not cover the whole facts of the case, but there must be warfare in order to growth.

There is also the other metaphor by which this Christian progress, which is indispensable to the Christian life, and is to be carried on, whatever may oppose it, is regarded as a race. There the idea of the great, attractive, but far-off future reward comes into view, as well as the strained muscles and the screwed-up energy with which the runner presses towards the mark. But we have not only to fling the result forward into the future, and to think of the Christian life as all tending towards an end, which end is not realised here; but we have to think of it, in accordance with this metaphor of my text, as being continuously progressive, so as that, though unfinished, the building is there; and much is done, though all is not accomplished, and the courses rise slowly, surely, partially realising the divine Architect’s ideal, long before the headstone is brought out with shoutings and tumult of acclaim. A continuous progress and approximation towards the perfect ideal of the temple completed, consecrated, and inhabited by God, lies in this metaphor.

Is that you , Christian man and woman? Is the notion of progress a part of your working belief? Are you growing, fighting, running, building up yourselves more and more in your holy faith? Alas! I cannot but believe that the very notion of progress has died out from a great many professing Christians.

There is one more idea in this metaphor of self-edification, viz., that our characters should be being modelled by us on a definite plan, and into a harmonious whole. I wonder how many of us in this chapel this morning have ever spent a quiet hour in trying to set clearly before ourselves what we want to make of ourselves, and how we mean to go about it. Most of us live by haphazard very largely, even in regard to outward things, and still more entirely in regard to our characters. Most of us have not consciously before us, as you put a pattern-line before a child learning to write, any ideal of ourselves to which we are really seeking to approximate. Have you? And could you put it into words? And are you making any kind of intelligent and habitual effort to get at it? I am afraid a great many of us, if we were honest, would have to say, No! If a man goes to work as his own architect, and has a very hazy idea of what it is that he means to build, he will not build anything worth the trouble. If your way of building up yourselves is, as Aaron said his way of making the calf was, putting all into the fire, and letting chance settle what comes out, nothing will come out better than a calf. Brother! if you are going to build, have a plan, and let the plan be the likeness of Jesus Christ. And then, with continuous work, and the exercise of continuous faith, which knits you to the foundation, ‘build up yourselves for an habitation of God.’

II. We have to consider united edification.

There are two streams of representation about this matter in the Pauline Epistles, the one with which I have already been dealing, which does not so often appear, and the other which is the habitual form of the representation, according to which the Christian community, as a whole, is a temple, and building up is a work to be done reciprocally and in common. We have that representation with special frequency and detail in the Epistle to the Ephesians, where perhaps we may not be fanciful in supposing that the great prominence given to it, and to the idea of the Church as the temple of God, may have been in some degree due to the existence, in that city, of one of the seven wonders of the world, the Temple of Diana of the Ephesians.

But, be that as it may, what I want to point out is that united building is inseparable from the individual building up of which I have been speaking.

Now, it is often very hard for good, conscientious people to determine how much of their efforts ought to be given to the perfecting of their own characters in any department, and how much ought to be given to trying to benefit and help other people. I wish you to notice that one of the most powerful ways of building up myself is to do my very best to build up others. Some, like men in my position, for instance, and others whose office requires them to spend a great deal of time and energy in the service of their fellows, are tempted to devote themselves too much to building up character in other people, and to neglect their own. It is a temptation that we need to fight against, and which can only be overcome by much solitary meditation. Some of us, on the other hand, may be tempted, for the sake of our own perfecting, intellectual cultivation, or improvement in other ways, to minimise the extent to which we are responsible for helping and blessing other people. But let us remember that the two things cannot be separated; and that there is nothing that will make a man more like Christ, which is the end of all our building, than casting himself into the service of his fellows with self-oblivion.

Peter said, ‘Master! let us make here three tabernacles.’ Ay! But there was a demoniac boy down below, and the disciples could not cast out the demon. The Apostle did not know what he said when he preferred building up himself, by communion with God and His glorified servants, to hurrying down into the valley, where there were devils to fight and broken hearts to heal. Build up yourselves, by all means; if you do you will have to build up your brethren. ‘The edifying of the body of Christ’ is a plain duty which no Christian man can neglect without leaving a tremendous gap in the structure which he ought to rear.

The building resulting from united edification is represented in Scripture, not as the agglomeration of a number of little shrines, the individuals, but as one great temple. That temple grows in two respects, both of which carry with them imperative duties to us Christian people. It grows by the addition of new stones. And so every Christian is bound to seek to gather into the fold those that are wandering far away, and to lay some stone upon that sure foundation. It grows, also, by the closer approximation of all the members one to another, and the individual increase of each in Christlike characteristics. And we are bound to help one another therein, and to labour earnestly for the advancement of our brethren, and for the unity of God’s Church. Apart from such efforts our individual edifying of ourselves will become isolated, the results one-sided, and we ourselves shall lose much of what is essential to the rearing in ourselves of a holy character. ‘What God hath joined together let not man put asunder.’ Neither seek to build up yourselves apart from the community, nor seek to build up the community apart from yourselves.

III. Lastly, the Apostle, in his writings, sets forth another aspect of this general thought, viz., divine edification.

When he spoke to the elders of the church of Ephesus he said that Christ was able ‘to build them up.’ When he wrote to the Corinthians he said, ‘Ye are God’s building.’ To the Ephesians he wrote, ‘Ye are built for an habitation of God through the Spirit .’ And so high above all our individual and all our united effort he carries up our thoughts to the divine Master-builder, by whose work alone a Paul, when he lays the foundation, and an Apollos, when he builds thereupon, are of any use at all.

Thus, dear brethren, we have to base all our efforts on this deeper truth, that it is God who builds us into a temple meet for Himself, and then comes to dwell in the temple that He has built.

So let us keep our hearts and minds expectant of, and open for, that Spirit’s influences. Let us be sure that we are using all the power that God does give us. His work does not supersede mine. My work is to avail myself of His. The two thoughts are not contradictory. They correspond to, and fill out, each other, though warring schools of one-eyed theologians and teachers have set them in antagonism. ‘Work out . . . for it is God that worketh in .’ That is the true reconciliation. ‘Ye are God’s building; build up yourselves in your most holy faith.’

If God is the builder, then boundless, indomitable hope should be ours. No man can look at his own character, after all his efforts to mend it, without being smitten by a sense of despair, if he has only his own resources to fall back upon. Our experience is like that of the monkish builders, according to many an old legend, who found every morning that yesterday’s work had been pulled down in the darkness by demon hands. There is no man whose character is anything more than a torso, an incomplete attempt to build up the structure that was in his mind--like the ruins of half-finished palaces and temples which travellers came across sometimes in lands now desolate, reared by a forgotten race who were swept away by some unknown calamity, and have left the stones half-lifted to their courses, half-hewed in their quarries, and the building gaunt and incomplete. But men will never have to say about any of God’s architecture, He ‘began to build and was not able to finish.’ As the old prophecy has it, ‘His hands have laid the foundation of the house, His hands shall also finish it.’ Therefore, we are entitled to cherish endless hope and quiet confidence that we, even we, shall be reared up into an habitation of God through the Spirit.

What are you building? ‘Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone.’ Let every man take heed what and how and that he buildeth thereon. 5:6-11 Most of mankind do not consider the things of another world at all, because they are asleep; or they do not consider them aright, because they sleep and dream. Our moderation as to all earthly things should be known to all men. Shall Christians, who have the light of the blessed gospel shining in their faces, be careless about their souls, and unmindful of another world? We need the spiritual armour, or the three Christian graces, faith, love, and hope. Faith; if we believe that the eye of God is always upon us, that there is another world to prepare for, we shall see reason to watch and be sober. True and fervent love to God, and the things of God, will keep us watchful and sober. If we have hope of salvation, let us take heed of any thing that would shake our trust in the Lord. We have ground on which to build unshaken hope, when we consider, that salvation is by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, to atone for our sins and to ransom our souls. We should join in prayer and praise one with another. We should set a good example one before another, and this is the best means to answer the end of society. Thus we shall learn how to live to Him, with whom we hope to live for ever.Wherefore comfort yourselves - notes, 1 Thessalonians 4:18.

And edify one another - Strive to build up each other, or to establish each other in the faith by these truths; notes, Romans 14:19.

Even as also ye do - Continue to do it. Let nothing intervene to disturb the harmony and consolation which you have been accustomed to derive from these high and holy doctrines.

11. comfort yourselves—Greek, "one another." Here he reverts to the same consolatory strain as in 1Th 4:18.

edify one another—rather as Greek, "edify (ye) the one the other"; "edify," literally, "build up," namely, in faith, hope, and love, by discoursing together on such edifying topics as the Lord's coming, and the glory of the saints (Mal 3:16).

These words are an exhortation to the whole church of Thessalonica, to comfort and edify one another. Though the ministry is appointed to this by especial office, yet private Christians are to practise it to one another; the former doth it in way of authority, the latter in a way of charity.

Comfort yourselves together: the apostle had laid before them many comfortable truths, which they were to comfort one another by; and if we read the words, exhort one another, it refers to the necessary duties of religion he had mentioned in this and the foregoing chapter.

And edify one another; and this follows from both the former, as alluding to a house that is built up by degrees: and so is every church the house of God; and consisting of living stones, every part is to seek the building up of the whole; and by mutual exhortation and comfort the whole may be edified. Christians, then, are to be blamed that only seek to edify themselves, and much more they who pull down, and divide, and destroy, instead of building up.

Even as also ye do: and what the apostle exhorted them to, they were already in the practice of; for which he here again commends them, as he had done upon several accounts before, not to flatter, but to encourage them to proceed, and to set before other churches their example for imitation. Wherefore comfort yourselves together,.... Either with the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, the second coming of Christ, and the thoughts of being for ever with him, and one another, and so may be a repetition of the advice in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 or with this consideration, that they were not in a state of darkness, ignorance, and infidelity, but were children of the light, and of the day, being called out of darkness into marvellous light, and should enjoy the light of life; and with the doctrine of predestination, they being appointed not to that wrath they were deserving of, but to be possessed of salvation by Jesus Christ, of which they could never fail, since the purpose of God according to election always stands sure, not upon the foot of works, but upon his own sovereign and unchangeable grace; or with the doctrine of Christ's sufferings and death, in their room and stead, whereby the law was fulfilled, justice satisfied, their sins atoned for, pardon procured, an everlasting righteousness brought in, and their salvation fully accomplished, things the apostle had spoken of in the context: the words will bear to be rendered, "exhort one another"; that is, not to sleep, as do others, or indulge themselves in sin and sloth; but to be sober, and upon their watch and guard, and in a posture of defence against the enemy; to put on the whole armour of God, and particularly the plate of faith and love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation:

and edify one another; by praying together, conversing with each other about the doctrines of the Gospel, and the dealings of God with their souls; abstaining from all corrupt communication, which has a tendency to hurt each other's principles or practices, or to stir up wrath and contention; attending only to those things which are for the use of edifying, whereby their souls might be more and more built upon Christ, and their most holy faith; and be a rising edifice, and grow up unto an holy temple in the Lord, and for an habitation of God through the Spirit:

even as also ye do; which is said in their commendation, and not through flattery, but to encourage them to go on in this way; and from whence it may be observed, that mutual consolation, exhortation, and edification, are things the saints should be stirred up to frequently, even though they are regarded by them, and much more then should these be pressed upon them who are careless and negligent of them.

{6} Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.

(6) We must not only watch ourselves, but we are also bound to stir up, and to strengthen and encourage one another.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Thessalonians 5:11. Διό] therefore, sc. because we will undoubtedly be made partakers of the glory of Christ, brings the preceding explanation to a conclusion; comp. ὥστε, 1 Thessalonians 4:18.

παρακαλεῖν] Grotius, Turretin, Flatt, Pelt, de Wette, Koch, Hofmann, and others interpret it as “to exhort.” More correctly, it is to be taken, as in 1 Thessalonians 4:18, “to comfort.” For (1) the exhortation begun in 1 Thessalonians 5:6 has already, in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, been changed into words of comfort and consolation; (2) 1 Thessalonians 5:10-11 stand in evident parallelism with chap. 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18.

καὶ οἰκοδομεῖτε εἰς τὸν ἕνα] and edify one the other. Paul considers the Christian church, as also the individual Christian, as a holy building, a holy temple of God which is in the course of construction; comp. Ephesians 2:20 ff.; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16. Accordingly οἰκοδομεῖν is a figurative designation of Christian progress generally; comp. 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Corinthians 14:4.

εἷς τὸν ἕνα] equivalent to ἀλλήλους, see Kypke, Observ. sacr. II. p. 339. Comp. οἱ καθʼ ἕνα, Ephesians 5:33. Faber Stapulensis, Whitby, and Rückert (Römerbr. II. p. 249) read εἰς τὸν ἕνα, but differ from one another in their renderings. Faber Stapulensis finds the thought: “aedificate vos mutuo ad unum usque, h. e. nullum omittendo;” Whitby explains it: “edify yourselves into one body;” lastly, Rückert maintains οἰκοδομεῖν εἰς τὸν ἕνα is used “in order to denote the One, Christ, as the foundation on whom the building should be reared.” But in the first case Paul would have written ἕως ἑνός (comp. Romans 3:12), in the second εἰς ἕν (comp. Ephesians 2:14), and in the third ἐπὶ τῷ ἑνί (comp. Ephesians 2:19).

καθὼς καὶ ποιεῖτε] a laudatory recognition, that the οἰκοδομεῖν had already begun with the readers; comp. 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:10.1 Thessalonians 5:11. The modification in the primitive attitude of Christians to the Parousia of Jesus is significant. Instead of all expecting to be alive at that blessed crisis, the inroads of death had now forced men to the higher consolation that “it did not make the least difference whether one became partaker of the blessings of that event in the ranks of the dead or of the living. The question whether the Parousia was to happen sooner or later was no longer of paramount importance. The important thing was to cultivate that attitude of mind which the writer of this epistle recommended” (Baur).—οἰκοδομεῖτε, the term sums up all the support and guidance that a Christian receives from the fellowship of the church (cf. Beyschlag’s N.T. Theology, ii. 232).—καθὼς καὶ ποιεῖτε, another instance (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:10) of Paul’s fine courtesy and tact. He is careful to recognise the Thessalonians’ attainments, even while stirring them up to further efforts.11. Wherefore comfort yourselves together] exhort (or encourage) one another—same verb as in ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:18 (see note, and on ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:2).

While “encouragement” would be drawn especially from 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, as from the closing vv. of ch. 4, the appeal to the Thessalonians to edify, i.e. build up each other, rests on the whole content of the paragraph, from the beginning of the chapter. The warnings of 1 Thessalonians 5:3-8 tend to edification, promoting as they do seriousness and solidity of Christian life.

The word “edify”—a favourite word of St Paul’s—points to the Church as a house, the “habitation of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22), each part contributing to the welfare of every other and furthering the life and strength of the whole. In this word lies the germ of the Apostle’s conception of the Church, which he unfolded at a later time, in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, and still further in the Epistle to the Ephesians.

even as also ye do] Comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, and notes. These repeated acknowledgements attest the high quality and spirit of this Church. It excelled especially in mutual kindness and helpfulness.

St Paul ascribes the functions of “edification” to the whole body of the Church, and does not regard them as confined to the official ministry, of which he has immediately to speak (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). This collective office of edification is powerfully set forth in Ephesians 4:16; “All the Body, jointed together and compacted … each single part operating in its measure, makes its growth, to the end it may build up itself in love.”Verse 11. - Wherefore; because, whether alive or dead, you will equally share in the blessings of the advent. Comfort yourselves together. The words refer back to the last verse of the preceding chapter (1 Thessalonians 4:18), and with them the apostle concludes his consolatory address to those who were mourning over the loss of their friends. And edify one another; or, build up. It was a favorite figure of the apostle to compare the Christian Church and each individual believer to a building. Comfort (παρακαλεῖτε)

Rev. renders exhort; but comfort suits better the general drift of the passage, and corresponds with 1 Thessalonians 4:18. There is some force in Bornemann's suggestion that the two meanings may be combined. Exhort each other to be of good heart.

Edify (οἰκοδομεῖτε)

Lit. build up. See on Acts 20:32. The metaphorical sense habitually in Paul. See 1 Corinthians 8:1, 1 Corinthians 8:10; 1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Corinthians 14:4; Ephesians 2:20. In O.T. mostly in the literal sense. See however lxx, Ruth 4:11; Psalm 27:5; Psalm 88:2; Jeremiah 31:4.

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