At the start of a new year, we sometimes feel ourselves to be on the brink of a new chapter of our lives. In some sense, crossing over from December 31 to January 1 is arbitrary; many of us begin the new year much as we ended the last. Still, there is something exciting about a blank page—the promise of a fresh chapter, as yet unwritten.
As we are all well aware, that feeling of being on the cusp of something new gives us the sense that we once again have a chance to resolve ourselves to better habits and ways of being in God’s world. Resolutions may have fallen on hard times, but we should not allow the failures of years past to restrain our drive to press forward, with God’s help, today. In fact, to resolve to love God and neighbor more truly—with the flip of the calendar as a reminder—is a prayer and an effort that your Father in heaven would surely love to answer and to enable.
Paul actually prays in 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 that God would “fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may glorified in you, and you in him” (emphasis added). And if that text gives us the warrant to resolve for good afresh—and to keep on resolving as long as we aim to walk in the power of the Spirit—then Paul’s companion epistle to the same city gives us a list of things to pursue not only at the start of this new calendar year but for the rest of our lives:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess. 5:12–18)
Here we have eleven imperatives—each of which could merit an article on its own! Let’s consider them briefly, with the aim that we might take small steps of progress in Christlikeness as we begin the new year.
1) Honor Your Leaders
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (1 Thess. 5:12–13)
Paul leads this section of imperatives—or “resolutions,” as we are thinking of them—with the command to honor, or respect, our leaders. No pastors, elders, or other authority figures in the church are going to lead perfectly. They aren’t Jesus, after all! But according to Hebrews, our leaders are worthy of our obedience and honor because they are the ones who speak the very Word of God to us (13:7) and who keep watch over our souls (v. 17). Now, of course, if they are failing in those duties, then that is another conversation altogether. But if our leaders are genuinely trying to lead from a Christlike heart in a biblical manner, then they are worthy of our respect.
2) Live in Peace
Be at peace among yourselves. (v. 13)
Once we have proper respect for those shepherds keeping watch over us, then it proves much easier to obey the next imperative, which is to live in peace. If the vertical axis, so to speak, is in turmoil, then we can only expect chaos to ensue on the horizontal level, among our peers. Looking to Hebrews again, we see that the author tells us to “strive for peace with everyone” (12:14). Paul says it this way: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18). Discord in the body of Christ disrupts our witness. Instead, we should do whatever is in our power to pursue a supernatural peace with all people.
3) Admonish the Idle
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle. (v. 14)
The necessary pursuit of peace shouldn’t give us the impression that everything is always smooth sailing, however. The Greek word behind “idle” connotes someone who is out of line in some way, or perhaps paving a path of their own off of the straight and narrow. Whatever the specific case, we can probably all think of people in our lives who could use correction (ourselves included!). So, even as we aim for peace this year, sometimes it will take a little friction—a little pruning, perhaps—to get us there.
4) Encourage the Fainthearted
Encourage the fainthearted. (v. 14)
Instead of correction or admonishment, some brothers and sisters will require a gentler approach. If someone is faint of heart, then they are unsure of themselves and their situation. Perhaps they are anxious about something. Maybe they are questioning the assurance of their own salvation. Or it could be that they’ve suffered a loss recently and just need a friend to lend a listening ear. Whatever the case, if we resolve to listen more and talk less (James 1:19), we’ll be in a good position to encourage brothers and sisters in Christ in their time of need.
5) Help the Weak
Help the weak. (v. 14)
Our Lord Jesus Christ told us that He “came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). It should make perfect sense to us, then, that our churches would have weak people in them. Like Jesus said in the same verse, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Is it possible that someone in a pew near you is feeling spiritually weak? Maybe they feel like they just aren’t worthy to talk to God, or maybe they haven’t opened the Bible over the last few months. We won’t know if we don’t talk to our fellow congregants, of course. But once we talk to them and learn of a struggle, we ought—after first listening well—to do whatever we can to lend a hand.
If we resolve to listen more and talk less, we’ll be in a good position to encourage brothers and sisters in Christ in their time of need.
6) Be Patient
Be patient with them all. (v. 14)
The situations we described above with the idle, the fainthearted, and the weak all require patience. As many of us probably know from experience, life’s struggles are difficult. To walk with someone in such straits can be demanding and even disappointing. We simply won’t be able to go the distance if we are impatient. One of the best ways for us to cultivate patience is to let ourselves be overwhelmed by God’s patience toward us. How many times have we failed Him, even today alone? And yet, as Peter tells us, out of mercy and a desire for our good, “the Lord is … patient toward you” (2 Peter 3:9). With Christ as our example and His Spirit empowering us, we can persevere in love.
7) Avoid Retaliation
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil. (v. 15)
If we patiently pursue peace, then it would seem like this should go without saying; nevertheless, we need to hear it: Don’t retaliate. In a sense, this is Sermon on the Mount 101. With Jesus as our guide, we can learn to forgive people, even when they have obviously wronged us. We learn to turn the other cheek and to go the extra mile (Matt. 5:39, 41). We will probably never find it easy to exercise the sort of self-forgetfulness that forgiveness requires, but with God’s help, we can learn to embrace the truth that love “does not insist on its own way” (1 Cor. 13:5).
8) Be Kind
Always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. (v. 15)
At first blush, this imperative seems impossibly general. What should we do? Seek good. For whom? Everyone. When? Always. That’s a lot of good to a lot of people a lot of the time! Perhaps a better way to think of this imperative is “Be abundantly generous.” We have a God who gives and gives and keeps on giving. No matter how many times we fail Him, He still meets us with kindness. With Paul, we ask ourselves, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). The answer? Absolutely nothing. So, like our heavenly Father, we ought to do our best to give for others’ good, trusting that all we give we, too, once received. We all have bad days. That is patently obvious. And it’s inevitable that we will displease, even hurt, someone at some point. But what if in this new year, our disposition is to give and give and keep on giving for others’ good?
9) Be Joyful
Rejoice always. (v. 16)
Happiness can’t be turned on like a tap. Joy doesn’t come at the flip of a switch. Christians have highs and lows like anyone else, but ought also to have a steady and stable joy. Paul clues us in to the sturdiness of distinctly Christian joy in Philippians 4:4, where he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” The command is the same as that in 1 Thessalonians 5, but here he adds the phrase “in the Lord.” Those three little words make all the difference! If we let our joy ebb and flow with our circumstances, then we’re in trouble. But if we rejoice in the Lord, who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8), then our joy is anchored in the immutable. Of course, unlike God, we are subject to change, so we shouldn’t necessarily expect to feel pure joy 24/7. But if we place our hope in Him and remind ourselves of His unchanging nature, we are on the right path toward rejoicing, even through hardship.
10) Pray Continually
Pray without ceasing. (v. 17)
We’ve alluded to this throughout, but we will have absolutely no resolve—and therefore zero lasting resolutions!—without God’s help. As Jesus told us, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And so we must come to God continually, asking over and over again for His help and His blessing. What’s more, we also pray again and again for the concerns of God’s kingdom—for the church, for our witness, for the spread of the Gospel, for frontier missions, for the homeless, and on and on. Without God, we’re going nowhere fast. We must make it a point to pray, to pray again, and to pray some more.
11) Be Thankful
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (v. 18)
Finally, what’s left but to give God thanks? Most of us have probably wished at some point that we could just know God’s will for this or that situation. Well, here it is: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” As with the command to rejoice, thanksgiving can take place wherever and whenever, because the one to whom we render praise and thanks stands unchangeable and untouched by the ups and downs of this world. He is true when everything else seems fake. He is reliable when everyone else seems to have left. And He is worthy of thanks because He has promised to ultimately bring us good through every circumstance we face, no matter how difficult.
When you commit yourself to these eleven resolutions this new year, you will quickly see how God can use you in all sorts of wonderful ways, big and small. Perhaps just focusing on the one that stood out to you most is enough for now. Wherever the Spirit leads you to focus, the page has now turned, and a new chapter awaits. What kind of story do you think God will write as you remain open, ready, and eager to receive from Him and to give to others, just as He keeps on giving to us?
This article is adapted from the sermon “Resolutions Worth Keeping” by Alistair Begg.