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1 Thessalonians 5:23-28: Blessing and Admonition

Verse 23a: “Now” marks a transition from the previous commands in verses 12-22, where the Apostle reminds us: 1) How to act toward our church leaders (Verses 12,13). 2) How to live with other believers in the body of Christ (Verses 14,15. And 3) How to live in relationship to God (verses 16-22).

Paul leaves the Thessalonian Church with to a short but spiritually rich prayer, “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. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (verses 23,24).

This is a good prayer to pray daily for your family, your church family (by name), and your pastor and church leaders (individually and by name).

This prayer to God for sanctification is a fitting conclusion to the preceding exhortations to holiness, for it is only by His enablement they will be fully realized. God Alone is the Source of genuine sanctification, which makes this prayerful appeal to Him appropriate.

“These verses open with a contrast to what precedes, which is more strongly brought out in the original than in the translation. The Apostle has drawn the likeness of a Christian church, as a Christian church ought to be, waiting for the coming of the Lord; he has appealed to the Thessalonians to make this picture their standard, and to aim at Christian holiness; and conscious of the futility of such advice, as long as it stands alone and addresses itself to man’s unaided efforts, he turns here instinctively to prayer: “The God of peace Himself” — working in independence of your exertions and my exhortations — “sanctify you wholly.”...Notice the comprehensiveness of the Apostle’s prayer in this place. It is conveyed in three separate words — wholly, entire, and without blame . It is intensified by what has, at least, the look of an enumeration of the parts or elements of which man’s nature consists — “your spirit and soul and body.” It is raised to its highest power when the sanctity for which he prays is set in the searching light of the Last Judgment — in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” –James Denney

“It is as if Paul had said: ‘I have exhorted you to ethical consecration and to the things that make for peace, but God himself is the only power that can make the exhortation effective.’” –J.E. Frame

Verse 23b: “The God of peace…” This phrase is also found in Romans 15:33; 16:20; Philippians 4:9; and Hebrews 13:20.

“God of peace” means that God is the Source and Giver of peace. This peace, is not mere calm or tranquility. It is always based on reconciliation with God. God is the God of peace only to those who have ceased to be at war with Him, and are at one with Him.

Our God is the:

•God of glory, Acts 7:2

•God of patience, Romans 15:5

•God of hope, Romans 15:13

•God of all comfort, 2 Corinthians 1:3

•God of love, 2 Corinthians 13:11

•God of all grace, 1Peter 5:10

Verse 23c: “…sanctify you completely…”

The word “sanctify” in Greek is hagiazo meaning holy, set apart for God, to consecrate, to make a person or thing different and distinct, breaking old associations and forming a new association. In the Old Testament, altars, days, and priests were set apart. Hagiazo also carries the thought of the holiness of character in the consecrated. The believer in the Lord Jesus is set apart for God by the Holy Spirit. This is positional sanctification, an act of God performed at the moment a sinner puts his faith in the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2).

There are 3 aspects of sanctification:

1. Past (positional) Sanctification: This refers to the time of our initial salvation, which was wrought by the atoning work of Christ, at which time we were clothed with His righteousness, we were given a new nature and we were freed from the power of sin and death. This a one time event, never to be repeated.

2. Present (progressive, experiential) Sanctification: This aspect of sanctification proceeds from past sanctification and deals with present Christian living. It is the process in which believers are working out their salvation by the Spirit’s power, who sets us more and more apart from the world and more and more conformed to the image of Christ. (This is what Paul writes about here in 1 Thessalonians).

3. Future (ultimate, perfect) Sanctification: Glorification when God makes believers free of even the desire of sin, free of the fallen flesh nature, and joined with our transformed, glorified bodies for all eternity.

Verse 23d: “…completely…” Holoteles in Greek describes something complete in all its parts, with no part wanting or unsound. It implies entirety and also the idea of completion, wholly attaining the end, reaching the intended goal.

“Our inward life, in all its aspects, is to be sanctified through and through. All our powers of thought and imagination are to be consecrated; unholy thoughts are to be banished; lawless, roving imaginings, suppressed. All of our inventiveness is to be used in God’s service. All our affections are to be holy. Our heart’s desire is not to settle on anything from which it would shrink in the day of the Lord Jesus.” –Denney

Verse 23e: “…and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Like God, Who is a trinity, man is a tri-partite (triune) being, we are spirit, soul, and body. The Holy Trinity is clearly set forth in the Apostle Paul’s benediction in Second Corinthians: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” (2 Corinthians 13:14). Jesus said in “The Great Commission,” “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). Created in the image of God, man is a trinity.

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground (body), and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (spirit); and man became a living being (soul)” (Genesis 2:7).

“Spirit” in Greek is pneuma, the ancient Greek word for breath. The Bible refers to the spirit of man: “But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding” (Job 32:8). God “forms the spirit of man within him” (Zechariah 12:1). The apostle Paul explains that our human mental abilities come through this spirit: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (1 Corinthians 2:11). Paul contrasts this with the Spirit of God that gives understanding of the things of God. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

“Soul” in Greek is psyche, meaning, the breath of life. The vital force which animates the body. The seat of the feelings, desires, and affections, and the essence of a person. An example of your soul is the part of you that makes you who you are and that will live on after your death.

“Body” in Greek is soma, body or flesh. The body is the outward, material part of man, the instrument through which the inner life (spirit) expresses itself. It is an essential part of man as created by God (Genesis 2:7), and in the biblical view man is incomplete without a body. Our salvation will not be completed until we receive our glorified bodies at Christ's return

“The Christian doctrine of immortality cannot be understood apart from the right conception of the tri-partite nature of men. Many think that man is a physical being only. There is a great danger of any man thinking thus of himself. In his desire to satisfy the needs of the body there is the tendency on man’s part to lose sight of the fact that he is immortal. There have been persons who have lived all of their lives either in ignorance or willful neglect of a life after death, but upon their death-bed they suddenly realized that they were more than physical beings.” –Lehman Strauss

This prayer that they may be completely sanctified is now carried forward with the petition that they may be preserved in all parts of their being until the return of Christ.

“All three areas (spirit, soul and body) stand in need of the sanctifying and keeping (preserving) power of God. It is a prayer that is applicable only to believers. The three terms are arranged in the order of merit, the highest first. The enumeration begins with that which is highest and purest in man and ends with the outward and material part of man. The divine sanctification begins with the inner and spiritual and reaches down to the outward and material. The precise implication of this threefold enumeration for the essential cure of man has been much debated.” –Hiebert

Verse 23f: “…be preserved blameless…”

“Preserved” means, to keep an eye on, keep something in view, to attend carefully, or to watch over. It conveys the sense of protecting, watching over and guarding something which is in one’s possession. To watch as one would some precious thing. It means to observe attentively, to keep watch over and to retain in custody.

“Blameless” in Greek is amemptos, meaning, free of guilt, innocent, inculpable, irreproachable, unimpeachable.

The Old Testament concept of blamelessness was applied to the sacrificial animals that were to be “without blemish” (Leviticus 1:3; 3:1,6; Numbers 6:14). Only animals that were perfect physically were worthy of being offered to the Lord. Sacrificing blemished animals was a violation of biblical law and a demonstration of brazen disrespect for God (Malachi 1:6-14).

The New Testament idea is found in Jesus, the Lamb of God who willingly shed His blood, so that we could be saved from sin. This is described for us in Hebrews 9:13-14, “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

The concept of being “blameless” can be described by the phrase “without a blemish.” Christ, speaking of His church said, “…that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

1 Peter 1:19,“…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19).

Philippians 2:15, “…that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…”

1 Thessalonians 3:13, “…so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”

Verse 23g: “…at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul associates the Believer’s behavior with the truth of Christ's return in order to motivate the saints' diligent, zealous pursuit of holiness, On that glorious day when we see our Lord face to face, the process of sanctification will be perfect and complete. In the meantime, expecting to see Jesus Christ at any moment is a great motivation for holy living! Whom you are looking for will greatly impact what you are living for!

Verse 24: “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”

“Paul uses the word faithful in his writings to speak of the faithfulness of people (ten times), the faithfulness of the Word of God (once), and the faithfulness of God (six times). The term refers to what or who is trustworthy. It is a description of a person who will always be there. In this verse it is God who is described in this way. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul expressed a similar confidence in God's faithfulness to finish His work in believers… ‘I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 1:6).” –Mike Stallard

"God doesn’t save a person by grace and then leave him alone to work out his Christian growth by works (Galatians 3:3). As God calls and justifies by grace, He also sanctifies by grace. He continually walks with us through our Christian experience. God's calling assures us of God's completion! “…as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (1 Peter 3:8).

Verse 25: “Brethren, pray for us.”

This is a command! Paul is calling for continued prayer, to keep on praying! How often have you asked those you lead or teach or pastor to pray for you? Paul did! He understood that God's work done in God's power was dependent on God's people interceding. He knew that he was not sufficient in himself to carry out the great work he had been called to do. His commission was to take the gospel to the Gentiles. It is therefore not surprising that Paul called for prayer at the close of six of the thirteen epistles!

Spurgeon once told his congregation: “If I were allowed to offer only one request to you, it would be this: ‘Brethren, pray for us.’ Of what use can our ministry be without the divine blessing, and how can we expect the divine blessing unless it be sought for by the church of God? I would say it even with tears, "Brethren, pray for us." Do not restrain prayer. On the contrary, be abundant in intercession, for only so can our pros­perity as a church be increased, or even continued....Dismiss me or else intercede for me.”

Luther said, “If I fail to pray for one day, I suffer. If I fail to pray for two days, my church suffers. If I fail to pray for three days, all Germany suffers.”

“It is a wonderful thing that the greatest saint of them all should feel that he was strengthened by the prayers of the humblest Christians. Once his friends came to congratulate a great statesman who had been elected to the highest office his country could offer him. He said, ‘Don’t give me your congratulations, but give me your prayers.’ For Paul prayer was a golden chain in which he prayed for others and others prayed for him.” –William Barclay

Verse 26: “Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.”

The holy kiss in the first century was a physical token of welcome or farewell. Such physical expression was normal among the same sex. It was a sign of fraternal affection, Christians were accustomed to welcome or dismiss their companions in the faith with a holy kiss.

“Why holy? So that there might be nothing suggestive, sinful or profane about the kiss. It signified personal affection but not romantic passion. The holy kiss was on the cheek and not on the lips. Public affection among brothers and sisters in Christ is natural, as we all belong to the same family.” –Frame

“The kiss was the ordinary greeting among members of a family; brothers and sisters kissed each other when they met, especially after long separation; even among those who were no kin to each other, but only on friendly terms, it was common enough, and answered to our shaking of hands. In the Church the kiss was the pledge of brotherhood; those who exchanged it declared themselves members of one family. When the Apostle says, ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss,’ he means, as holy always does in the New Testament, a Christian kiss; a greeting not of natural affection, nor of social courtesy merely, but recognizing the unity of all members of the Church in Christ Jesus, and expressing pure Christian love... ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss’ means, Show your Christian love one to another, frankly and heartily, in the way which comes natural to you. Do not be afraid to break the ice when you come into the church. There should be no ice there to break. Greet your brother or your sister cordially and like a Christian: assume and create the atmosphere of home.” –James Denney

Spurgeon sums up Paul's injunction suggesting that we are to: “…give one another a hearty shake of the hands. That is the western interpretation of the eastern form. Outward forms differ. The inward sense abides the same. Let brotherly love continue in a hearty friendliness among yourselves.”

Verse 27: “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy[a] brethren.”

“Charge” in Greek is enorkizo it means to put someone under, or bind by an oath or to swear. To place someone under a solemn charge. Figuratively, the idea is that of an earnest appeal. Tis word enorkizo is found only here in all of Scripture. Paul is saying that the Thessalonian leaders are to take an oath that they will read this letter in the public assembly. This is not simply a suggestion but conveys a more solemn request which is backed by the phrase “by the Lord” which indicates that Paul receives his authority to make this statement from the Lord Jesus Christ!

We can never forget Diotrephes in 3 John 9 NLT. “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.” Perhaps Paul was making them swear an oath that these words would be read for fear of a Diotrephes in this church.

Verse 28: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”

This refers to sanctifying grace, grace that transforms, grace that empowers, grace that is sufficient so that we might walk worthy and in the will of God in a society that has gone 180 degrees the opposite direction. Note the Source of this grace is of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Greek word for “grace” is charis, it is God’s generous favor to undeserving sinners and needy saints. Saving grace is God's provision for the believer's sinful past and enabling grace His portion for daily Christian living. God’s enabling grace can give us strength in times of trial (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Grace enables us to serve God in spite of difficulties (1 Corinthians 15:9,10). Whatever begins with God’s grace will always lead to God's glory “The Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). “But may the God of all grace, who called us[b] to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:10).

But remember that grace is not license to do as we please, but power to do as we should. God’s grace insures that those who have been truly regenerated will in fact persevere.

“Be with you” this is a picture is that of a close association. Grace is to be your lifetime covenant partner. It is one thing to know the theological facts about grace but it is quite another thing to have it as your experiential partner! Let grace “be with you” as you walk through life. Don't try to walk this supernatural walk on your own and in dependence on your natural abilities. Daily, moment by moment appropriate His amazing, abundant grace to live this Christian life on the highest plane. That's abundant life, to which all God's people shout “Amen, to the glory of God!”

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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