1 Thessalonians 5:20
Despise not prophesyings.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) Despise not prophesyings.—The highest outward or charismatic manifestation of this inward fire was the gift of “prophecy” (1Corinthians 12:28; 1Corinthians 14:1; 1Corinthians 14:5; 1Corinthians 14:39), which was an inspired and inspiring preaching, The despondency of the Thessalonians led them not only to quench the fervour of the Holy Ghost in their own bosoms, but to turn a cold and disparaging ear to the sanguine “prophets” who preached to them, the effect of which insensibility was to “quench the Spirit” by degrees in the prophets also. It is because of this double effect of gloominess, inward upon themselves, and outward upon others, that the command, “Quench not,” occurs between the exhortation to thanksgiving and the warning not to despise prophecy. This seems to be the most natural way of accounting for the present warning, but there are two other main interpretations:—(1) It is said that what tempted the Thessalonians to disparage prophecy was their fascination for the more showy gift of tongues. It is true that such was the case at Corinth, and not unnaturally so; and at first sight it seems as if, in 1Corinthians 14:1, “spiritual gifts” were contrasted with “prophecy” as two separate classes, thus giving some ground for Bishop Words-worth’s interpretation of our present passage—viz., that 1Thessalonians 5:19 refers to the gifts of tongues, miracles, &c., in something of the same contrast with “prophecy” in 1Thessalonians 5:20 as may be found in 1Corinthians 14:39. But, on the other hand, it seems more likely that in 1Corinthians 14:1 prophecy is not contrasted with the spiritual gifts there specified as a separate class, but selected from among them: “It is all very well to covet spiritual gifts as a whole, but it would be better to aim more particularly at that one—prophecy—which is the greatest:” just so here, “Do not quench the Spirit, in whatever direction it may blaze up; but especially do not disparage preaching.” Besides, there is nothing to prove that the Thessalonians were dazzled by the more brilliant gifts: and it accords better with the context to suppose that the fault to be corrected in them was not a light sensationalism, but a tendency to damp all ardour alike. (2) Others suppose that the Thessalonians had had experience of persons who had abused the gift of prophecy, and therefore were disposed to suspect and dislike prophecy altogether. This view gains support from 2Thessalonians 2:2, and also from the command in 1Thessalonians 5:21 to test, and retain only what stood the test. There is no particular ground for contradicting this view; but it is unnecessary, and does not carry on the thought so connectedly.

1 Thessalonians 5:20-22. Despise not prophesyings — That is, the preaching of God’s word; for the apostle is not here speaking of extraordinary gifts, but of such as are ordinary. It seems one means of grace is put for all; and whoever despises or makes light of any of these, much more that sets them at naught, as the original expression, εξουθενειτε, properly signifies, under whatever pretence, will surely, though perhaps gradually and insensibly, quench the Spirit. Some neglect attending the ministry of God’s word, on pretence that they are so well instructed that they can receive little or no benefit from it. But let such consider that the spiritual life is maintained and increased in the soul, not so much by receiving new discoveries in divine knowledge, “as by the recollection of matters formerly known, and by serious meditation thereon.” Persuaded, therefore, that a regular attendance on the ministry of the word will greatly tend to cherish the influences of the Spirit, and a neglect thereof will proportionably obstruct them; listen with attention and reverence to the ministers of Christ, while they interpret and apply to men’s consciences the Holy Scriptures, or speak to them by way of instruction, warning, reproof, exhortation, or comfort: and own the authority of God as speaking in and by his appointed messengers. Meantime prove all things — Which any preacher teaches, enjoins, or recommends; try every doctrine, precept, advice, or exhortation, by the touchstone of Scripture; and hold fast that which is good — Zealously, resolutely, and diligently practise it, in spite of all opposition. “What a glorious freedom of thought,” says an eminent divine, “do the apostles recommend! And how contemptible, in their account, is a blind and implicit faith! May all Christians use this liberty of judging for themselves in matters of religion, and allow it to one another, and to all mankind!” It must be observed, however, that those who heap up for themselves teachers, having itching ears, under pretence of proving all things, have no countenance or excuse from this text. And be equally zealous and careful to abstain from all appearance of evil — From every disposition, word, and action, which you judge or suspect to be sinful; or which you have reason to fear might prove to you an occasion of sin. Nay, in some, yea, in many cases, abstain from those things which appear to others to be evil, or the lawfulness of which they question, though you do not. For it is better to avoid such things, than by an uncharitable use of your Christian liberty to cause your weak brother to stumble, or to prejudice others against the truth.5:16-22 We are to rejoice in creature-comforts, as if we rejoiced not, and must not expect to live many years, and rejoice in them all; but if we do rejoice in God, we may do that evermore. A truly religious life is a life of constant joy. And we should rejoice more, if we prayed more. Prayer will help forward all lawful business, and every good work. If we pray without ceasing, we shall not want matter for thanksgiving in every thing. We shall see cause to give thanks for sparing and preventing, for common and uncommon, past and present, temporal and spiritual mercies. Not only for prosperous and pleasing, but also for afflicting providences, for chastisements and corrections; for God designs all for our good, though we at present see not how they tend to it. Quench not the Spirit. Christians are said to be baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire. He worketh as fire, by enlightening, enlivening, and purifying the souls of men. As fire is put out by taking away fuel, and as it is quenched by pouring water, or putting a great deal of earth upon it; so we must be careful not to quench the Holy Spirit, by indulging carnal lusts and affections, minding only earthly things. Believers often hinder their growth in grace, by not giving themselves up to the spiritual affections raised in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. By prophesyings, here understand the preaching of the word, the interpreting and applying the Scriptures. We must not despise preaching, though it is plain, and we are told no more than what we knew before. We must search the Scriptures. And proving all things must be to hold fast that which is good. We should abstain from sin, and whatever looks like sin, leads to it, and borders upon it. He who is not shy of the appearances of sin, who shuns not the occasions of it, and who avoids not the temptations and approaches to it, will not long keep from doing sin.Despise not prophesyings - On the subject of prophesyings in the early Christian church, see the notes on 1 Corinthians 14:1 ff1 ff. The reference here seems to be to preaching. They were not to undervalue it in comparison with other things. It is possible that in Thessalonica, as appears to have been the case subsequently in Corinth (compare 1 Corinthians 14:19), there were those who regarded the power of working miracles, or of speaking in unknown tongues, as a much more eminent endowment than that of stating the truths of religion in language easily understood. It would not be unnatural that comparisons should be made between these two classes of endowments, much to the disadvantage of the latter; and hence may have arisen this solemn caution not to disregard or despise the ability to make known divine truth in intelligible language. A similar counsel may not be inapplicable to us now. The office of setting forth the truth of God is to be the permanent office in the church; that of speaking foreign languages by miraculous endowment, was to be temporary. But the office of addressing mankind on the great duties of religion, and of publishing salvation, is to be God's great ordinance for converting the world. It should not be despised, and no man commends his own wisdom who contemns it - for:

(1) it is God's appointment - the means which he has designated for saving people.

(2) it has too much to entitle it to respect to make it proper to despise or contemn it. There is nothing else that has so much power over mankind as the preaching of the gospel; there is no other institution of heaven or earth among people that is destined to exert so wide and permanent an influence as the Christian ministry.

(3) it is an influence which is wholly good. No man is made the poorer, or the less respectable, or more miserable in life or in death, by following the counsels of a minister of Christ when he makes known the gospel.

(4) he who despises it contemns that which is designed to promote his own welfare, and which is indispensable for his salvation. It remains yet to be shown that any man has promoted his own happiness, or the welfare of his family, by affecting to treat with contempt the instructions of the Christian ministry.

20. prophesyings—whether exercised in inspired teaching, or in predicting the future. "Despised" by some as beneath "tongues," which seemed most miraculous; therefore declared by Paul to be a greater gift than tongues, though the latter were more showy (1Co 14:5). Thereby we may quench the Spirit, which usually works upon men’s minds and hearts by it. By prophecy is sometimes meant foretelling of things to come, and speaking by extraordinary revelation, 1 Corinthians 14:29,30; sometimes the Scriptures are so called, especially the Old Testament, 2 Peter 1:21; and sometimes the interpretation and applying of Scripture, which is the same that we now call preaching, 1 Corinthians 14:3. And the duty with respect to it, is not to despise it, to set it at nought as a thing of no worth. The word is often used in the New Testament, Luke 18:9 Acts 4:11 Romans 14:3,10. But the apostle useth again the figure meiosis before mentioned, and means, prize, value, and highly esteem it, attend upon it, have great regard to it; it being an ordinance of God for instruction and edification, yea, and for conversion also, 1 Corinthians 14:24,25. Some despise it because of the outward meanness of the persons which prophesy; some, through a proud conceit of their own knowledge; some, by a contempt of religion itself. These Thessalonians had been commended for their great proficiency, and yet were still to attend upon prophesying in the church; which he calls prophesyings, in the plural number, referring either to the several prophets that prophesied, or to the several parts of their prophecy, or the times they prophesied. And the prophets were either such as prophesied only by an extraordinary gift, and immediate revelation, which some private members of the church had in those times, 1 Corinthians 14:29,30; or such as prophesied not only by gift, but office also, Ephesians 4:11. Despise not prophesyings. Or "prophecies"; the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the first coming of Christ, concerning his person, office, and work, his obedience, sufferings, and death, his resurrection from the dead, ascension and session at God's right hand; for though all these are fulfilled, yet they have still their usefulness; for by comparing these with facts, the perfections of God, his omniscience, truth, faithfulness, wisdom, &c. are demonstrated, the authority of the Scriptures established, the truths of the Gospel illustrated and confirmed, and faith strengthened; and besides, there are many prophecies which regard things to be done, and yet to be done under the Gospel dispensation, and therefore should not be set at nought, but highly valued and esteemed: also the predictions of Christ concerning his own sufferings and death, and resurrection from the dead, and what would befall his disciples afterwards, with many things relating to the destruction of Jerusalem, his second coming, and the end of the world, these should be had in great esteem; nor should what the apostles foretold concerning the rise of antichrist, the man of sin, and the apostasy of the latter days, and the whole book of the Revelations, which is no other than a prophecy of the state of the church, from the times of the apostles to the end of the world, be treated with neglect and contempt, but should be seriously considered, and diligently searched and inquired into. Yea, the prophecies of private men, such as Agabus, and others, in the apostle's time, and in later ages, are not to be slighted; though instances of this kind are rare in our times, and things of this nature should not be precipitantly, and without care, given into: but rather prophesyings here intend the explanation of Scripture, and the preaching of the word, and particularly by persons who had not the gift of tongues, and therefore men were apt to despise them; see 1 Corinthians 13:2. Just as in our days, if persons have not had a liberal education, and do not understand Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, though they have ministerial gifts, and are capable of explaining the word to edification and comfort, yet are set at nought and rejected, which should not be. Despise not {g} prophesyings.

(g) The explaining and interpreting of the word of God.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Thessalonians 5:20. Paul passes from the genus to a species.

προφητεία] denotes prophetic discourse. Its nature consisted not so much in the prediction of future events, although that was not excluded, as in energetic, soul-captivating, and intelligent expression of what was directly communicated by the Holy Ghost to the speaker for the edification and moral elevation of the church. See Meyer on Acts 11:27; Rückert on 1 Cor. p. 448 f.; Fritzsche on Romans 12:6. The Thessalonians were not to despise these prophetic utterances; they were rather to value them as a form of the revelation of the Holy Spirit; comp. 1 Corinthians 14:5. The undervaluing of the gifts of the Spirit, of which some members of the church must at least have been guilty, had its reason probably in their abuse, whilst partly deceivers who pursued impure designs under the pretext of having received divine revelations, and partly self-deceivers who considered the deceptions of their own fancy as divine suggestions, appeared (see 2 Thessalonians 2:2), and thus spiritual gifts in general might have been brought into discredit among discerning and calmer characters.1 Thessalonians 5:20. As εὐχαριστεῖν was a special function of the prophets in early Christian worship (cf. Did. x. 7), the transition is natural. The local abuses of ecstatic prophecy in prediction (2 Thessalonians 2:2) or what seem to be exaggerated counsels of perfection (1 Thessalonians 5:16 f.) must not be allowed to provoke any reaction which would depreciate and extinguish this vital gift or function of the faith. Paul, with characteristic sanity, holds the balance even. Such enthusiastic outbursts are neither to be despised as silly vapouring nor to be accepted blindly as infallible revelations. The true criticism of προφητεία comes (1 Thessalonians 5:21) from the Christian conscience which is sensitive to the καλόν, the συμφέρον, the οἰκοδομή, or the ἀναλογία τῆς πίστεως (cf. Weizsäcker’s Apost. Age, ii. 270 f.). But this criticism must be positive. In applying the standard of spiritual discernment, it must sift, not for the mere pleasure of rejecting the erroneous but with the object of retaining what is genuine.1 Thessalonians 5:20. Προφητείας, prophesyings) Which should be exercised more than the other gifts; 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:39.—μὴ ἐξουθενεῖτε, do not despise) The other gifts were more showy.Verse 20. - Despise not prophesyings. This refers to the miraculous gift of prophecy possessed by the primitive Church. And by prophesyings here we are to understand, not the prediction of the future, but inspired discourse, conducive to the instruction and edification of the Church. "By the term 'prophesying,'" observes Calvin, "I do not understand the gift of foretelling the future, but the science of interpreting Scripture, so that a prophet is an interpreter of the will of God." This useful gift, it would seem, was apt to be despised, and the inferior miraculous gift of tongues to be preferred before it (1 Corinthians 14:1-3). Prophesyings (προφητείας)

The emphasis on prophesyings corresponds with that in 1 Corinthians 14:1-5, 1 Corinthians 14:22 ff. Prophecy in the apostolic church was directly inspired instruction, exhortation, or warning. The prophet received the truth into his own spirit which was withdrawn from earthly things and concentrated upon the spiritual world. His higher, spiritual part (πνεῦμα), and his moral intelligence (νοῦς), and his speech (λόγος) worked in harmony. His spirit received a spiritual truth in symbol: his understanding interpreted it in its application to actual events, and his speech uttered the interpretation. He was not ecstatically rapt out of the sphere of human intelligence, although his understanding was intensified and clarified by the phenomenal action of the Spirit upon it. This double action imparted a peculiarly elevated character to his speech. The prophetic influence was thus distinguished from the mystical ecstasy, the ecstasy of Paul when rapt into the third heaven, which affected the subject alone and was incommunicable (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). The gift of tongues carried the subject out of the prophetic condition in which spirit, understanding, and speech operated in concert, and into a condition in which the understanding was overpowered by the communication to the spirit, so that the spirit could not find its natural expression in rational speech, or speech begotten of the understanding, and found supernatural expression in a tongue created by the Spirit. Paul attached great value to prophecy. He places prophets next after apostles in the list of those whom God has set in the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28). He associates apostles and prophets as the foundation of the Church (Ephesians 2:20). He assigns to prophecy the precedence among spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1-5), and urges his readers to desire the gift (1 Corinthians 14:1, 1 Corinthians 14:39). Hence his exhortation here.

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