What Does 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Mean When It Says To “Pray Without Ceasing?”
One must take into consideration the timing of these particular writings to the Thessalonians. First Thessalonians is understood by many to be the earliest of the Pauline Epistles. One unique aspect of Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians was how successful his ministry was in establishing this “infant” church in the time frame of three Sabbaths, less than a month. This is debated some by scholars but not refuted.
Paul’s address to them soon after their conversion, and accepting Paul’s message indicates very clearly his affection toward this infant church. “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the Gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 1:7-8).
Many scholars agree that Paul wrote the letters to the Thessalonians about 50 A.D. So timewise, it was less than twenty years since the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul thought of Thessalonica as the next suitable place for planting the Gospel. The presence of a synagogue offered an obvious place to begin. A good number of Jews, God-fearing Gentiles, and prominent women responded to the synagogue ministry.
So as time went on and Paul got word that the church was getting a little lackadaisical, he was led to write them and inform them of the important things that they needed to do. Actually, there are three things that Paul is asking of them: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; [Why?] For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Paul turns to the believer’s inner life. From a human perspective they had every reason not to be joyful—persecution from outsiders and friction among themselves. Yet in Christ they are to be more and more joyful. “Pray without ceasing” does not mean some sort of nonstop praying. Rather is implies constantly recurring prayer, growing out of a settled attitude of dependence on God. Whether words are uttered or not, lifting the heart to God while one is occupied with many duties is the vital thing. A final member of this triplet for personal development is “Give thanks in all circumstances.” We need to recognize that seeming aggravations are but a temporary part of a larger plan for our spiritual well-being. Out of this perspective we can always discern a cause for thanks. In fact, failure to do this is a symptom of unbelief.
“For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” justifies all three brief commands. Rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks do not exhaust God’s will but are vital parts of it. “In Christ Jesus” is a significant qualification of God’s will because only here can inner motives be touched.
Pastor Jake StirnemannNovember 1, 2018