God is Faithful
1 Thessalonians 5:23–28
Paul’s concluding words in this epistle are extremely important. He revisited prominent themes of prayer, sanctification, the Lord’s faithfulness, spiritual commitment, and preparedness for the Rapture of the church. He concluded the letter as it began: requesting that the Lord’s grace and peace be with the Thessalonian church and impressing on the Thessalonians the importance of relying on the Lord’s help and presence through prayer.
Assisting the Thessalonians
Paul began his benediction by praying for the Thessalonians’ sanctification: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:23).
The only way the Thessalonians would be able to follow Paul’s exhortations given in the previous section (vv. 12–22) would be by yielding to God’s sanctifying work in their lives. Thus Paul prayed that God would sanctify them “completely” in every area so that they would be made holy. This is the goal for each believer in every age.
Holy living begins with sanctification. The word sanctification means to be set apart, both spiritually (1 Cor. 1:1; 6:11) and physically for Christ. The process takes place through the Holy Spirit, who cleanses believers by washing them with the water of God’s Word (Eph. 5:26).
Scripture mentions three stages of sanctification:
1.Positional. As believers, we are positionally sanctified—eternally set apart unto God at the time of our redemption through receiving Jesus Christ as our personal Savior (Heb. 10:10, 14; 13:12).
2. Progressive. We also are progressively being sanctified. This is a daily, ongoing process as we live out the teachings of God’s Word.
3. Perfected. We also will be perfected in sanctification. We will receive ultimate, or complete, sanctification when we receive our resurrected bodies when the Lord comes for His church (Eph. 5:27). Then every believer will be completely sanctified.
Paul described what it means to be sanctified in one’s whole being, that is, “your whole spirit, soul, and body” (1 Th. 5:23). He taught that no part of us is left out of the sanctifying process. Every part of a believer—spirit, soul, and body—will be chipped away, shaped, and polished to make us complete and prepared for the Lord’s coming. The word your speaks specifically to the Thessalonians’ need to be sanctified and kept by God’s power. This need holds true for Christians in every generation.
Paul mentioned several areas of our being that need sanctification. First is our “spirit.” (The words soul and spirit are used interchangeably in both Testaments, making it difficult to differentiate between the terms.) Scripture says God breathed into man’s nostrils the “breath of life; and man became a living being [soul]” (Gen. 2:7). This breath of life gives people the ability to communicate with God. When Adam sinned against God, spiritual death ensued, separating mankind from God (cf. chap. 3). When we are born again, we receive a new spiritual nature through receiving Jesus Christ. Thus direct communication with God is restored through Jesus (cf. Jn. 3:3–18; Heb. 10:19–22; 2 Pet. 1:4).
Second is the word soul. It is the immaterial part of our being—our essence—that which is described as our person, the seat of our personality. Our souls seek to know and communicate with the spiritual world through our spirits. Again, our souls (like our spirits) only understand God by sense perception until we are born again. Once redeemed, our souls can communicate with God by means of our renewed spirits, since the Holy Spirit resides in us.
For centuries, theologians have debated whether people are a trichotomy (spirit, soul, and body) or dichotomy (spirit/soul and body). All agree that everyone has a material body through which the inner being expresses itself. The Bible speaks of man being a dichotomy of “spirit” and “body” and “soul” and “body”; but it also speaks of man being a trichotomy of “spirit, soul, and body,” as in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (cf. Heb. 4:12).
Paul’s prayer is that man’s spirit, soul, and body be “preserved blameless” while waiting for the Lord’s return. The prayer is not that we will be without sin but, rather, that our manner of living pleases God, so when Christ returns, no charge can be leveled against us for living ungodly lives.
Assuring the Thessalonians
Paul assured the Thessalonian church God answers prayer for their sanctification: “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Th. 5:24). Paul gave three reasons for his assurance:
First, “He who calls you” speaks of God’s efficacious call to salvation, whereby the Holy Spirit works in someone’s life making him willing to receive Jesus Christ as Savior (cf. 2:12; 2 Th. 2:14).
Second, “He [God] . . . is faithful.” Faithfulness is a characteristic of God’s nature and refers to His reliability. We can trust God to fulfill every promise He makes. Daily trusting in God’s promises and seeing them fulfilled in our lives provides confidence that He will keep His promises in the future (cf. 1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor. 1:18; 2 Th. 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:13; Heb. 10:23).
Third, God “will also do it.” The word do is emphasized and draws attention to the fact that God, who “calls” us to salvation, will complete what He started in our lives. Therefore, we can be confident that we are secure in Christ, who will keep us blameless until He comes. The promise is from God, who cannot lie (Num. 23:19).
Appealing to the Thessalonians
Paul closed his letter by asking the Thessalonians to pray for him and providing two brief exhortations: “Brethren, pray for us. Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen” (1 Th. 5:25–28).
First is the apostle’s petition: “Brethren, pray for us” (v. 25). Pray is in the present tense, indicating Paul wanted the church to uphold him and his ministry team in continual prayer. Paul believed the church had a duty to do so. “For us” refers not only to Paul himself, but also to Silvanus and Timothy (1:1). Paul continually offered “prayers” (v. 3) for the Thessalonians and exhorted them to do the same for him, Silvanus, and Timothy. Prayer was a major weapon against Satan’s attacks and provided them with strength to overcome demonic onslaughts (cf. Eph. 6:18).
Second, the apostle said, “Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss” (1 Th. 5:26). This was the custom in Paul’s day. Men often greeted other men, and women other women, with a kiss on the cheek. The holy kiss had nothing to do with romantic affection. Rather, it was a way to communicate unity and love within the local fellowship. This gesture was often expressed when believers gathered for worship. It was also Paul’s way of telling the Thessalonians, “Give my beloved brethren a kiss for me,” indicating his love for them (cf. Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Pet. 5:14). Today in Western churches, Christians greet each other with a hardy handshake, pat on the back, or a hug to convey affection, care, appreciation, or unity.
Third, Paul told the Thessalonians of his purpose for this exhortation: “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren” (1 Th. 5:27). Concerned that his letter would not be read to others, he added a strong final exhortation at the end. The word charge means to adjure or solemnly command that they be bound by an oath to carry out his request.
The word you probably refers to the church elders or leaders, asking that they pledge themselves to carry out the request. Paul was emphatic that this letter be read to the congregation and even to other congregations. Notice, he adjured them “by [before] the Lord,” binding them by an oath before Christ to read the epistle to everyone.
Why such a strong demand? There are a number of reasons:
→The letter was full of encouragement to all the people within the church who had come out of paganism and were suffering persecution.
→It was full of instruction that these young believers needed to mature in their Christian faith.
→It contained words of correction to help them sidestep pitfalls in serving the Lord daily.
→It was the next best thing to Paul being there himself. Paul was unable to be at the church to pastor or teach. So the epistle was intended to guide these new believers. It carried the same authority as if Christ or Paul were there teaching them.
The word read implies not merely passing the letter around the church so everyone could read it but reading the letter publicly during services and special occasions.
Paul concluded his epistle with a personal prayer: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen” (v. 28). He began with a prayer for God’s “grace” to be with these new converts and closed it with the same. All of Paul’s epistles end by wishing God’s grace on those to whom he was writing.
It is my prayer that we all will take to heart the apostle’s teaching and put it into practice as we live for Christ each day.