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TEXT: I Thessalonians 5:23-28
SUBJECT: Thessalonians #10: Closing Remarks
A couple of years ago, I wrote a booklet of thirty or thirty-five pages. After running a spell check and proofreading it several times, I turned it over to a friend for final editing. Of course, I knew it wasn't perfect, and I thought she'd make, oh, half a dozen corrections. And I was right: that's what she did: half a dozen corrections.per line!
The problem with my booklet, you see, is that it wasn't formal enough; it came across like a conversation, with thoughts put down as they occurred to me, and not in a strictly logical and orderly fashion. I agree with my editor. That's how books ought to be written.
But I Thessalonians is not a book, it's a letter. This allows Paul to be chatty-to write things as they come to mind, and to not worry about order and balance and so on.
What we have in the last verses of the Letter is a jumble of things-things Paul wanted to say, but either forgot about until the end, or he couldn't find a better place to put them. And so, he tacks them on at the end.
Someone might think this informal tone undermines Inspiration, but I say it strongly supports it. If you ever want to read a 'holy' book that is plainly uninspired, try The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. Every word in it is deep and impressive, soaring and majestic, but it's all nonsense! I Thessalonians, on the other hand, is plain and simple, but it's also God's Word! If the Incarnate word looks like Jesus Christ, the Written Word looks like the Bible.
The passage can be broken up into four parts. First, we have a wish (vv.23-24), then a prayer request, (v.25); next we have a couple of commands, (vv.26-27), and the last verse is a blessing.
Note the balance. Some sermons are nothing more than a long list of commands, or maybe one command, defined, explained, enforced, and repeated over and over. Even when these commands are gotten straight out of the Bible, they lack the Bible's balance, and they are not sensitive. Believers need the commandments of God, but they are not all we need. We also need His comfort, His promises, and His forgiveness.
We find these sweet things all over the Bible, even in the angry prophets, we have them by the bunches. After likening His people to donkeys, oxen, and Sodomites(!), the Lord goes on to say,
Come now and let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
Even where the promises and comfort are not stated, they are always implied. Forty days and God will overthrow Nineveh, means 'But if you humble yourself, He won't'. That's why Jonah sailed for Spain, because he was scared to death that God would sneak a promise into the sermon.
If this is how the passage is laid out, let's get to it without further delay.
We start with Paul's wish, vv.23-24.
What does Paul most want for his friends? They needed a great many things. Like us, they had their sickness and unemployment and marital problems and so on. In addition to these run-of-the-mill troubles, they also had distinctly Christians ones. They were being persecuted for Christ's sake. Their families were disowning them; the unions were expelling them; their neighbors were vilifying them; and the Jews were stirring up the Romans against them.
You'd think Paul would wish them good health, good jobs, happier marriages and some relief from the building pressure. I'm sure he wanted these things, too, but he doesn't mention them here because-to his way of thinking-these things are secondary to something else.
What is it? Holiness-
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely.
To sanctify means to make holy. In one sense, Christians are already holy. The newest convert and the worst backslider are also saints. You need to remember that when people lambaste the church. They point out our sins-and they're right, we are sinful. But not only sinful; we're also sanctified. The Corinthians had all kinds of problem, both doctrinal and practical, but Paul still says they're,
Sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints.
Are the Thessalonians already sanctified? Yes they are. But, like the rest of us, they're not fully sanctified. There are pockets of unbelief and stubbornness. Bad habits, blind spots, weaknesses, and more.
Paul wants them holier than they are. Without denying their very real holiness, he wants them to grow in grace. To his way of thinking, this is a top priority-more important than feeling better or getting a higher paying job.
We know what matters most to Paul. But what about you? When you're praying for yourself, what do you pray for the most? If it's not holiness, you need to check your priorities. Sick people can see the Lord, and so can poor people, sad people, and people with hard marriages. But without holiness, no man will see the Lord.
When it comes to himself, the believer's number one priority is holiness.
The object of this holiness is your
Whole spirit, soul, and body.
Some have taken this to mean man is made up of three parts, others have denied it, and a few have discussed it at tremendous length. In his Commentary on I Thessalonians, William Hendricksen devotes five whole pages of extra-small print to the question of whether man is body and soul or body, soul, and spirit.
As I see things, it doesn't matter! And this verse is not doctrinal, in that it does not aim to teach the nature of man. Remember, it's a wish, and whatever it may imply, what it means is this: God wants you perfectly holy through and through.
The agent of our holiness is God Himself,
May the God of peace Himself.
Paul could have said, 'May God make you holy', but he doesn't say that. He emphasizes the work of God by saying, God.Himself.
This reminds us that our holiness is not in our efforts (though we ought to make every effort). The only source of holiness is God Himself. Do praying and reading the Bible make us holy? Not unless God blesses them. When the Bible says Salvation is of the Lord, it doesn't mean 'conversion' only. It means 'the whole enchilada!' Toplady got it right,
The glory, Lord, from first to last,
Is due to Thee alone.
Aught to ourselves we dare not take,
Nor rob Thee of Thy crown.
Several times in the Mosaic Law we read words to this effect,
I am the Lord who sanctifies you.
In these books, it most stands for an outward sanctifications-the priests, the Levites, the nation, and so on. But carried into the New Testament, it takes on a deeper, richer meaning. It means God Himself makes us holy from the inside out.
After reminding them of what they used to be, Paul tells the Corinthians what they are-and how they got that way,
You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
Note the passive voice: they didn't wash themselves, they were washed. As though Someone else did it. Which He did.
There's no wishful thinking in Paul's wish. He expects God to do it; he knows He will--
He who calls you is faithful, who will also do it.
How does he know that? It's not because he's an Apostle and has a special pipeline to God's Secret Will. Paul knows no more of God's Secret Will than you and I do. But the sanctification of God's People is not a secret! The Lord has promised to make us holy-partly in this life, and fully in the life to come. And Paul believes the promise.
When believers struggle with assurance, it's almost always for the same reason: they look at themselves and not at the Promise. But looking at the Promise does something for us: it creates and builds faith, which, in turn, gives assurance.
If you can't think of any particular promise, start with this one, Philippians 1:6,
He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
One more thing here: the time of our complete sanctification is when the Lord comes again, and not a second before. So, of course, you're not perfectly holy now-God never said you would be, and if you think you are, you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you. But one day we will be, every last one of us who believes in Jesus Christ!
What a wonderful thought that is: We'll live in a world where we cannot want wrong things. Every desire will be right; every word will be good; every action will be perfect. And that's no dream; it's a Promise!
Next we have a request, v.25,
Brethren, pray for us.
The greatest man in the world needs and wants his friends to pray for him. Why does he want their prayers? Two reasons:
Firstly, gifts, knowledge, and experience depend on grace. Without grace, our gifts go to our heads, knowledge puffs up, and experience makes us unable to learn anything new. Paul is deeply aware that he's not got what it takes! Who is sufficient for these things?
Secondly, God gives grace in answer to prayer. Last week, our brother said he didn't know how prayer works. Does it change God? Does it change us? Does it change things? He didn't know and neither do I. But the fact remains: we have not because we ask not. Maybe I'm the kind of man I am because you haven't prayed for me. So pray for me and pray for each other. And don't be embarrassed to ask for prayer, as though it means you're weak and sinful. It does mean that, of course, and the sooner you admit it, the better off we'll all be!
Next we have two commands, vv.26-27.
Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.Read this Epistle to all the holy brethren.
In the Mediterranean world of the First Century, people didn't shake hands (as we do) or bow (as they do in Japan), but they greeted one another with a kiss. This was a custom of the time, and Paul, rather than rejecting it, sanctified it in two ways:
First, the kiss must be holy, and nothing lascivious about it. But, more than that, the kiss was to be given all the brethren, and not just some. This means Jews were to kiss Gentiles; masters were to kiss slaves; and friends couldn't form cliques in the church to exclude others. In other words, everyone was to be loved and respected, and that love and respect was to be shown and not just felt!
Do we have to kiss one another? No we don't, for that is not our custom and it might well cause more harm than good. But it does mean we're to love and respect all the brethren, and not just the ones we like best!
The other command is: I charge you by the Lord that this Epistle be read to all the holy brethren.
The Letter was addressed to the church in Thessalonica. But, of course, 'the church' didn't pick it up. Some man did. Maybe it was the one whose home the church met in, or maybe one of the pastors, or someone else, we don't know. It's also likely that the whole church didn't meet in one place, that it was broken up into what we call small groups or cells.
But however that may be, this Letter was meant for the whole church-man, woman child, master, slave, farmer, lawyer, pastor, new convert, mentally retarded. All God's Word is for All God's People.
If the Word is given to all of God's People, it follows that all of us are responsible to study the Bible, to find out what it says, to believe its doctrine and obey its commands. It also implies that God loves all His People, for the Word is a gift of love. And it suggests that God will give us understanding if we pray for it. Are all things equally clear? No! But everything necessary for our salvation is clear enough that any Christian can know and do God's will.
At the end, we have the blessing-The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
'Grace' is God's favor. But, you notice, Paul doesn't say, 'God', He says 'Christ'. For all God's favors flows through Christ. If we have Christ, we have God's favor-all of it, every last drop of it! But if we don't have Christ, we don't have it-not any of it.
The last word is Amen-'It is true', the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ will be with them and us. Not because we deserve it, but because the Lord loves us.
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