23 Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24 He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this.
25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us too.
26 Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss.
27 I call on you solemnly in the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you (1 Thessalonians 5:23-28).
One’s final words are often important. I decided to look on the Internet to see if I could find some interesting final words. Here are a few that I found on one interesting website:1
English Statesman and co-conspirator of the selling out of Eastern Europe at Yalta to Russia & Communism, together with fellow Freemasons Roosevelt and Stalin, who wrote in his autobiography: “I could have prevented the war!” (W.W. II) He said at his death bed: “What a fool I have been!”
William Somerset Maugham:
British author, died in 1965: “Dying is a very dull and dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.”
Murderer, on being asked for a final request before a firing squad:
“Why, yes! A bulletproof vest. . . .”
Gen. John Sedgewick:
Union commander in the American Civil War, shot at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in 1864 while looking over a parapet at the enemy lines: “They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist. . .”
Paul’s words in our text are not his dying words, but they are the concluding words to his First Epistle to the Thessalonians. These words are significant because they make it clear to the reader just what 1 Thessalonians was all about. Many people will look at the final chapter of a book to decide whether it is one they really want to read. If the last chapter is not inviting, they will set the book down and replace it with another. Paul’s final words are both inviting and challenging, and they remind us of what it was that motivated him to write this epistle to the Thessalonian saints.
One might be tempted to think that Paul is sort of “winding down” in these last verses, but I believe that just the opposite is true. In verse 27 (the next to the last verse of this epistle), Paul issues a command by using the strongest possible language, stronger than any language he has used up to this point in this epistle. What he has to say to these saints (and to us) is obviously important to Paul, and so it should be important to us as well. Let us listen well, then, to what God is saying to us through Paul’s final words in 1 Thessalonians.
23 Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this. 25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us too (1 Thessalonians 5:23-25, emphasis mine).
Is Paul a trichotomist? This is the subject of a rather substantial debate among some Christians. Some would say that Paul’s words provide us with the key to understanding the nature of man – that he has three essential parts: body, soul,2 and spirit. I have some objections to this view, and the debate that still continues related to it.
First, this debate (no matter which side one takes) distracts our attention from the purpose of Paul’s words. Paul did not write these words with the primary goal of telling us the key to understanding the nature of man. He wrote them to express the importance of our sanctification, especially as it relates to the Second Coming of our Lord.
Second, Paul’s words here are not the words we would normally expect to find in the Scriptures. Here are some of the most frequent expressions found in the Bible related to man’s nature:
· Heart, soul, might (Deuteronomy 6:5)
· Heart and soul (Deuteronomy 10:12; 11:13, etc.)
· Heart, soul, mind (Matthew 22:37)
· Heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30)
· Soul and body (Psalm 31:9; Isaiah 10:18; Matthew 10:28)
· Soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12; Job 7:11; Isaiah 26:9).
Suffice it to say that there is no standard way of referring to the nature of man. Frankly, there is no agreement as to the definitions of the terms “soul” and “spirit.” In Hebrews 4:12, the writer indicates that the distinction between “soul” and “spirit” is so difficult that only God’s Word can divide the two. I am therefore inclined to think of man in terms of his material and immaterial dimensions.
Third, I believe the key to understanding verse 23 is to be found elsewhere:
Now may the God of peace himself
make you completely holy
and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless
at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (emphasis mine).
Let’s begin by focusing on Paul’s reference to “the God of peace.” This is a fairly common expression, found elsewhere in Romans 15:33; 16:20; Philippians 4:9; and Hebrews 13:20. The Greek term for “peace” (eirene) is the word that would normally translate the Hebrew word shalom. The word shalom is most often translated “peace” but it conveys a kind of “wholeness” or “completeness.”3 Being at peace is thus being complete, lacking nothing.4 Paul prays to the “God of completeness” to sanctify the Thessalonian saints.
The sanctification for which Paul prays is further described in terms of completeness by the two parallel statements which follow in verse 23.
(That God will. . .)
Make you completely holy
May your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless. . . .”
As I understand Paul, the second (longer) parallel statement spells out or explains what being “completely holy” means in the previous statement. Being “completely holy” means being blameless in every aspect of one’s being. Paul thus employs three of the terms commonly employed (in one combination or another – usually another) for one’s being: body, soul, and spirit. This is consistent with the conclusion reached by Gordon Fee:
“To make this clear he expresses that ‘wholeness’ by referring to some ways of understanding the individual ‘parts’ that make up the human person: ‘spirit, soul, and body.’ Unfortunately, what Paul most likely intended simply as a way of throwing the net wide in terms of being human has generated an enormous amount of energy and literature, not to mention theological groupings. But this was most likely a somewhat off-handed moment in Paul. Indeed, it is highly doubtful whether he was trying to be precise, or even whether he himself could easily distinguish between ‘spirit’ and ‘soul.’ His concern is with the adjective-turned-adverb ‘in entirely’; and to make that point he includes the terms that he uses elsewhere to speak of the human person.”5
And so Paul is praying here, asking God to sanctify the Thessalonian saints completely. While these believers need to cooperate with God’s work in them, Paul makes it clear that in the final analysis sanctification, like salvation, is the work of God. This is consistent with what Paul writes elsewhere:
For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, 13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God (Philippians 2:12-13).
Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him (Colossians 2:6).
Knowing that sanctification is ultimately God’s work, and that He will complete this work, motivates the Christian to pursue sanctification, for it is God’s will and work.
Note finally from verse 23 that Paul links sanctification with the Second Coming. The goal of sanctification is to prepare a “bride” for the Lord Jesus who has been purified and prepared for His coming:
1 I wish that you would be patient with me in a little foolishness, but indeed you are being patient with me! 2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy, because I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:1-2).
25 Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, 27 so that he may present the church to himself as glorious – not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27).
This is why Paul looks forward to the Second Coming of our Lord with great anticipation and joy. He will see these saints, purified and sanctified, prepared to meet their Lord:
18 For we wanted to come to you (I, Paul, in fact tried again and again) but Satan thwarted us. 19 For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you? 20 For you are our glory and joy! (1 Thessalonians 2:18-20)
11 Now may God our Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we do for you, 13 so that your hearts are strengthened in holiness to be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13).
He who calls6 you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
Note first of all that, knowing sanctification is God’s work, Paul is certain (as the Thessalonians should be) that God will complete this work in them. Also note that Paul links salvation (one’s calling) to his sanctification. That is because one’s election, calling, and sanctification is God’s work, a work that He will complete. That is the force of Paul’s words in Romans 8:
28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 29 because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).
Salvation, sanctification, and glorification are God’s work from beginning to the end. As Paul puts it,
35 Or who has first given to God, that God needs to repay him? 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:35-37).
Brothers and sisters, pray for us too (1 Thessalonians 5:25).
Let me first call your attention to the word “too” in verse 25. You will find it in the NET Bible as well as in the CSB (“also”). The other major translations omit this word. This is because some Greek manuscripts include the word “also” (kai) and others do not. I am inclined to agree with the NET Bible here, not only because of the textual evidence, but also because of the context. I believe that the word “too” precisely conveys the point Paul is seeking to make here. Does Paul pray for the sanctification of the Thessalonian saints? Yes. We know that he does because we have just read his prayer in verses 23 and 24. The point Paul now makes is that he and his colleagues need the prayers of the Thessalonians just as much as they need his.
Note also that Paul does not narrow his request for prayer to a particular problem, challenge, or opportunity. He asks for prayer in general. Now in the context we would assume that this must certainly include prayer for their ongoing sanctification. But as we see elsewhere, Paul and his associates are weak human beings (“clay pots” – 2 Corinthians 4:7), who are just as dependent upon God as we are. God even gave Paul a special reminder of his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss (1 Thessalonians 5:26).
We should begin by noting that this is a command, not a suggestion. More than that, it is a command that Paul repeats, and one with which Peter concurs:
All the brothers and sisters send greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss (1 Corinthians 16:20).
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you (2 Corinthians 13:12).
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you (Romans 16:16).
Greet one another with a loving kiss. Peace to all of you who are in Christ (1 Peter 5:14).
We should further note that the “kiss” to which Paul refers is not just any kiss – much less a “Hollywood kiss” – it is a “holy kiss.”7 Thus, it is not the kind of romantic kiss that a husband would give his wife. It is more like a grandmotherly kiss that grandma gives a 16 year-old grandson, or like a mother gives her 8 year-old son when she drops him off for school. In my travels abroad, I have observed what I call the “missed me” kiss. It is the kind of kiss that a woman in the church might give to a male believer that she knows and respects. It is more like a quick brushing against each cheek, with an “air kiss.” There’s no romance conveyed by such a kiss. Peter calls the “holy kiss” a “kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14).
It is important for us to consider why Paul (and Peter) would make the “holy kiss” an obligation for all believers. I believe that Paul’s previous statements in this letter, as well as his choice of words here, give us some very significant clues to the answer. Several times Paul has mentioned the persecution he and his associates and these saints have endured on account of the gospel.8 This command to greet with a holy kiss is a command addressed to all believers, without exception. I am reminded of just who Paul includes in this “all” as I read these words in Galatians:
26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
Paul has already pointed out that these (predominately Gentile9) believers at Thessalonica have found through the persecution they have suffered a kinship with their Jewish brethren in Judea.10 In dealing with the saints in Rome, Paul sought to promote unity and harmony among those brethren who strongly differed regarding their personal convictions. And here is what he said to them by way of application:
Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God (Romans 15:7, NAU; emphasis mine).
Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God's glory (Romans 15:7, NET Bible; emphasis mine).
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7, ESV; emphasis mine).
The way in which these Roman believers greeted one another was to be symbolic of their unity as believers in Jesus. I believe that the instruction to “greet all the brothers with a holy kiss” is significant in this same regard. There is to be no discrimination in the way believers greet. Keep this in mind as you read these words in James:
1 My brothers and sisters, do not show prejudice if you possess faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. 2 For if someone comes into your assembly wearing a gold ring and fine clothing, and a poor person enters in filthy clothes, 3 do you pay attention to the one who is finely dressed and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and to the poor person, “You stand over there,” or “Sit on the floor”? 4 If so, have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives? (James 2:1-4)
Such greetings did not serve to unite the body of believers, but divided them.
The “holy kiss” is (according to Peter) a “kiss of love.” The “holy kiss” is a symbol of the love and unity that every believer has with all who believe in Jesus. Thus, in a day when Christians were targeted for persecution by unbelievers, they should greet one another in a way that symbolized their unity and solidarity as believers. This way of understanding Paul’s words implies that his instruction is not to be restricted to the way Christians greet one another when they come to church. Christians are also to show their unity with all other believers publicly, when they meet on the street or in the market place. If unbelievers are to know we are Christians “by our love,”11 then this makes all kinds of sense.
The “kiss of love” not only served to unify the church and to express that unity to others; it also served to set the church apart from the world. The “holy kiss” was a public act which conveyed that they “stood together” with all their brothers and sisters in Christ, and that the church “stood apart” from the world. That may not sound very significant to those of us who live in a country where we still have religious freedom, but it makes a lot of sense to those who may be arrested or persecuted for associating with Christians. After all, why do you think Peter denied knowing Jesus at the time He was standing trial for His life? The “holy kiss” is not to be taken lightly by the saints, and it won’t be taken lightly by those who hate our Lord and His church. I might parenthetically add that understanding the significance of a holy kiss also helps us grasp the wickedness of that most “unholy” kiss that Judas gave our Lord, identifying Him as the one the soldiers should arrest.12
So, does this mean that we should all “pucker up” and start kissing one another? I know of a number of places in the world where this is a common practice among Christians. (In some places, it is a sort of “missed me” kiss, or an “air kiss” where actual contact with the lips does not occur. It is sort of a brushing of cheeks, with a kiss that doesn’t connect.) In many places where a greeting involves some form of a kiss, it is often done only between members of the same sex. In our church, there are several men who greet with a holy kiss, and after the initial shock (years ago), I have come to greatly appreciate it.
I believe that this command is to be obeyed, like all of the commands of our Lord.13 For those who find this awkward or uncomfortable, I would make a few suggestions. First, let it be done between believers of the same sex. This is certainly a good starting point, and for some, it might end here. Second, let it be the kind of kiss which has no sexual connotations when exchanged with one of the opposite sex. Thirdly, if you find that any kind of kiss is too difficult to deal with, then find some other symbolic way of greeting folks which conveys both love and unity in Christ. Personally, I’m not sure a “holy handshake” is sufficient, because this is done casually between folks who are not closely bound together in a common faith in Jesus. It is, however, better than nothing.
I call on you solemnly in the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters (1 Thessalonians 5:27).
This is hardly the place to be looking for Paul’s strongest words, but here they are. They are translated differently as you can see for yourself:
“I adjure you by the Lord” (NASB, emphasis mine).
“I call on you solemnly in the Lord” (NET Bible, emphasis mine).
“I put you under oath before the Lord” (ESV, emphasis mine).
“I charge you by the Lord” (CSB, emphasis mine).
We also gain a sense of the intensity of the Greek word (enorkizo) variously rendered above by looking at how it is used in these New Testament texts:
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him. 7 Then he cried out with a loud voice, “Leave me alone, Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I implore you by God – do not torment me!” (Mark 5:6-7, emphasis mine)
11 God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, 12 so that when even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his body were brought to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. 13 But some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were possessed by evil spirits, saying, “I sternly warn you by Jesus whom Paul preaches” (Acts 19:11-13, emphasis mine).
62 So the high priest stood up and said to him, “Have you no answer? What is this that they are testifying against you?” 63 But Jesus was silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:62-63, emphasis mine).
I know of no stronger way of stating Paul’s command to read this letter to all the brothers and sisters than the words Paul has chosen here in verse 27. The question must be asked, “Why is this so important to Paul that he would speak with such strong language?” I believe that we are expected to understand several things that help to explain the intensity of Paul’s command.
First, we need to bear in mind that there were no printing presses in Paul’s day. I have a good many Bibles within my reach here in my study. I have the Bible in leather bound, hardback, and electronic forms, and in a variety of translations. In Paul’s day, they did not have computers, electronic devices, or even printing presses. Manuscripts were hand copied. If you wanted to read God’s Word, you either had to be rich enough to purchase your own manuscript,14 or you needed to go to the synagogue or church and listen to God’s Word being read aloud.15 If Paul’s letter was not read to the entire church, how would the saints have known its contents?
Second, we need to understand the implications of illiteracy. Let’s suppose that a disturbingly large percentage of the world’s population is illiterate. If they are to hear God’s Word, that is exactly what must happen – they must hear it read to them. I am confident that there would have been some in the church at Thessalonica who were illiterate. Reading this letter to the church when it gathered would enable the illiterate to hear what God was saying to His people through this epistle.
Third, Paul’s strong words underscore the fact that He understood (and communicated) how important God’s Word is for His people. This cannot only be seen from this text, but from other Scriptures as well:
Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13).
16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:12-13).
1 So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation (1 Peter 2:1-2).
2 May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! 3 I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. 4 Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire (2 Peter 1:2-4).
16 For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.” 18 When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:16-21).
Paul’s words in our text reveal the importance of God’s Word in the lives of His children. Paul’s command was to assure that the Word of God (as contained in this epistle) was made available to all the Thessalonians. The availability of God’s Word is a problem for a large number of people alive today. Some do not have the Bible in a language they know. Others live where possessing a copy of the Bible may be illegal or where Bibles are kept away from those who wish to read God’s Word.
The availability of God’s Word is not a problem in North America, Europe, and many other places in this world. The problem is getting people to read the Bible that is sitting on the shelf in front of them or on the table beside their bed. If this one epistle was so important that Paul needed to speak as strongly as he did to assure that every saint in Thessalonica heard it, what do you think Paul would say to us about reading the Bible that we have in our hands? We need to value God’s Word as much as Paul did, and then faithfully study it and live it.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you (1 Thessalonians 5:28).
It would be easy for us to pass by this final verse (not unlike the way we ignore the greeting of this and other epistles) without giving it much notice. Those familiar with the letters circulated in Paul’s day tell us that Paul (and the other apostles) follow a pretty normal pattern of introducing and concluding their epistles. But we dare not allow this knowledge to dampen our appreciation for the way Paul begins and ends his epistles, particularly this one.
A friend and I were recently discussing a particular ministry that we both support. We were trying to characterize that ministry in as few words as possible. It occurred to me that there was one word that really captured the essence of the ministry. That word was grace. I was reminded of our Lord’s instructions to His disciples when He sent them out to minister in His name:
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
Because the word rendered “freely” here means “without cost,” some of the translations have made that very clear in their rendering of this verse:
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:8, ESV).
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons. You have received free of charge; give free of charge” (Matthew 10:8).
Our Lord is saying that because our salvation is by grace – God’s free gift of salvation apart from our works – then our ministry should be characterized by this same grace.16
Some of us may fail to appreciate the freedom and liberty of grace. Those who have come out of a works-based religion best grasp the glorious nature of grace. Virtually every religion apart from biblical Christianity is based upon man’s performance – his works or contribution to his salvation. These Thessalonians must have felt goose bumps on their skin with the mere mention of the word grace – something they had never known until they heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel message is a message of grace, as opposed to works:
9:30 What shall we say then? – that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness obtained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith, 31 but Israel even though pursuing a law of righteousness did not attain it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but (as if it were possible) by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Look, I am laying in Zion a stone that will cause people to stumble and a rock that will make them fall, yet the one who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 10:1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation. 2 For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth. 3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes. 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:30-10:11).
8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
4 But “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).17
I remember preaching in another church years ago. An older woman came up to me after the message, beaming with joy. She said something like this, “I love it; it’s all of grace.” And so it is. Salvation and sanctification are the result of God’s marvelous grace, showered upon us bountifully in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and in the provision of the Holy Spirit. No wonder Jesus could offer those legalists who were (in the words of a country music song) “workin’ like the devil, servin’ the Lord.”
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30).
As we leave the Book of 1 Thessalonians, let us pause for a moment to reflect on some of the major areas of emphasis that we have seen.
Salvation is the result of divine election and is ultimately the work of God (1 Thessalonians 1:2-5). Here is the basis for our security.
Sanctification is the goal of our salvation. We were saved to become holy, and thus prepared for the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sanctification is a life-long process that involves the purification of every part of our humanity (see 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13; 4:1-12).
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is the “finish line” for people of faith in Jesus. It is also a shocking surprise for those who are lost.18 Christians should eagerly anticipate and watch for the Second Coming. It is then that the dead in Christ will be resurrected, to be eternally united with Christ and with fellow believers. The wicked do not see the end coming, and continue to live in a sort of “drunken” state of self-indulgence, feeling secure in their sin, because they believe that judgment is not coming.19
Suffering for the sake of Christ is part of the normal Christian life. Paul and his associates suffered in bringing the gospel to Thessalonica.20 They taught the Thessalonians that trusting in Jesus would bring persecution.21 Thus, the Thessalonian saints became kindred spirits with the Jewish brethren in Judea, because they both suffered persecution at the hands of their kinsmen.22
God has designed the church and designated its functions in a way that best equips it to withstand persecution and opposition in this life and also to prepare Christians for the glory of God’s presence for all eternity. Multiple levels of (plural) church leadership and the decentralization of ministry (one-another ministry) best promotes sanctification and perseverance in the midst of opposition and persecution.
The Scriptures are essential for the spiritual health and growth of the church.23
Grace is the great common denominator of the Christian life. Our salvation and sanctification are, in the end, God’s work. It is a work in which we participate; it is not a work in which we predominate. Our works are the result of His work.
I trust that you have become a part of the community of believers (the church) through faith in Jesus Christ and what He has done on your behalf. Put in Pauline terms, I pray that you have turned to God from those things (idols) in which you have trusted for eternal life. Jesus Christ bore our sins and the punishment we deserve, and He offers His righteousness to all who will trust in Him.
Copyright © 2010 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 10 in the series Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on August 29, 2010. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
2 A friend of mine reminded me that this trichotomist (man has three parts) view provides the occasion for some psychologists and psychiatrists to find a dimension of man which fits into their model of counseling.
3 Strong’s definition of peace: “<07965> shalom (1022d) Meaning: completeness, soundness, welfare, peace,” (BibleWorks 7.0).
4 See James 1:4.
5 Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), pp. 227-228.
6 I should call attention to the fact that “the one who calls” is a present tense participle. Paul is not merely pointing to God’s calling as a work in the past, but is speaking of it in an ongoing way.
7 We would do well to keep Paul’s words in 4:3-8 in mind here. In no way would Paul be suggesting the kind of kiss which would incline one toward sexual immorality.
8 See 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:2, 14-16; 3:3-4, 7. The matter will arise again in 2 Thessalonians 1.
9 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10.
10 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.
11 John 13:35.
12 See Luke 22:47-48.
13 See Matthew 28:20.
14 See Acts 8:26-28.
15 See Luke 4:16-21.
16 This is not the time to explore the depths of Matthew 10:8, but let me caution those who are looking for a “free ride” at the expense of others. In this same text, Jesus tells His disciples not to take extra provisions because those who have been the recipients of grace should respond graciously as well, caring for the instruments of God’s grace to them. Something similar is being taught in 2 Thessalonians 3.
17 I should point out that Ephesians 2:10 and Titus 3:8 go on to emphasize the importance of good works, not as our part in obtaining salvation, but as an outgrowth of the salvation we have received by grace alone.
18 See 1 Thessalonians 4:13—5:11.
19 See 2 Thessalonians 5:2-4; also 2 Peter 3:3-4ff.
20 1 Thessalonians 2:2.
21 1 Thessalonians 3:4.
22 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.
23 1 Thessalonians 5:27.