Devotional # 184. 4/4/16. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28.
Intro. Last week we talked about having the desire to “comfort” and “edify one another” and God gave us 18 tasks. One of the tasks was “praying without ceasing” (v. 17) and a couple weeks ago we talked about the knowledge that Jesus is coming back to Rapture his church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, Devotional # 181). Both of these will be applied in today’s study. As I mentioned last week (Devotional # 183), I have been looking forward to this section, especially verse 23. Remember I asked you why I would be interested in this verse? Let’s find out…
v. 23. What I’m excited about this verse is in the middle but we have to understand what’s been said in the verses prior and at the beginning of this one in order to get the impact of what we’re getting to.
Paul starts off the verse recognizing that God is “the God of peace“. There are many gods but “THE God“, the one true God, is the only one who can bring peace. If you are a believer then you have known the peace that God brings to your personal life but He is also the only way for world peace. In Devotional # 182 we talked about how people would say “peace and safety” (1 Thessalonians 5:3) prior to Jesus’ Second Coming but there is no way to get peace around the globe without Jesus’ intervention. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians is that God would “sanctify you completely” which reminds us of the last chapter when Paul said, “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3, Devotional # 180). Since “sanctification” means “purification” we know that God will make us pure completely.
Now we get to the part I’ve been looking forward to: the mentioning of our “spirit, soul, and body.” Why am I excited you ask? Well, first let me say that what we’re about to talk about wasn’t Paul’s primary reason in writing those three words, nevertheless it is very important because it gives us an answer to an age old question: what are we? Who are we? Paul has given us three distinct parts which can be defined as a “trichotomy”*. It makes sense that we are made up of three pieces in the same way God, whose “image” we were made in (Genesis 1:26) is also Three Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). So let’s define these words:
Our “spirit” is our spiritual essence. This is the part of us that will live forever (whether in heaven or hell). Our “spirit” is what is spoken to by the Holy Spirit, whether we listen or not.
Our “soul” is best understood as our “mind”. It is our emotions and houses our conscience. It’s where we make decisions that affect our spirit and our body.
Our “body” is the easiest for us to understand. It is the material thing that we are housed in every single day of our lives. It contains our systems and our organs and our blood and our bones. It has great ability to heal itself and to heal others and it has great ability to die and to kill others. The body is not in and of itself sinful, rather the sin nature that we have inherited is housed in our body of “flesh” but implicates our “soul” and our “spirit” also.
Now that we know what these are and how they function we should also note the order that Paul uses them. He says: 1. “spirit”, 2. “soul” and 3. “body.” These are in the order AFTER Christ has gotten ahold of our lives and we are a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But prior to the “old things passing away” we were in the opposite order: 1. “body”, 2. “soul” and 3. “spirit”. BEFORE Christ my body and it’s lusts were my number one driver. Next my mind was under the darkness of sin, maybe I let it rot by filling it with junk or maybe I prized it and thought if I got enough degrees and wrote enough books then I was using my mind to its greatest potential. Lastly, my spirit was in hibernation, it was there but it had not been awakened, I didn’t care anything about true spirituality. If I made an attempt at a religion of enlightenment or good works it was trying to awaken and feed my sleeping spirit. But if you are a Christian then you will know the transformation: the body takes a backseat and the spirit is alive and awakened with Jesus! Our mind also becomes transformed: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
Before we leave this section I must draw your attention back to how God will make us pure completely. Now we have a deeper understanding that God isn’t going to just make my thoughts (“soul”) pure but He is going to purify my body, my mind and my spirit! I will one day be as I was intended when God created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden pure and unadulterated (Genesis 2:17; 2:25; 3:22-24). How awesome is that?!
This verse concludes that we will “be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is again a references to the Rapture of the church, when Jesus comes in the clouds to save the Christians prior to the Tribulation starting (for more see Devotional # 181). Putting this all together, Jesus will keep us blameless in our “body, soul and spirit”. This is great encouragement if you’re like me and Paul where our body is constantly at war within itself (Romans 7). So Jesus will keep us blameless in light of judgment. When we are gathered to Him in the clouds we don’t need to worry about our sins because He has paid that price and He was blameless first so He can make us blameless.
*Trichotomy: For more on the different theories on whether humans are a “trichotomy or “dichotomy (made up of two parts) see the following article. Note that, after quoting several verses, it says, “It is impossible to be dogmatic” on whether humans are “dichotomous (cut in two, body/soul-spirit), or trichotomous (cut in three, body/soul/spirit)” since “there are good arguments for both views” (Source 1). Also note: “The soul and the spirit are mysteriously tied together and make up what the Scriptures call the ‘heart’” (Source 2).
v. 24. “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” By context (from verse 23) we see that our “God of peace” purifies our whole person (our “spirit“, our “soul” and our “body“) to be “blameless” at the Rapture. Do these things seem difficult or almost impossible? That God is peaceful? Or that He can purify us? Or that we will be made “blameless“? Well, this verse is our reassurance: our very same Lord who called us will be faithful to do all of these things. The more time we spend trusting in God the more we see He will be faithful to keep His promises!
vv. 25-26. Paul asks his “brothers” (and sisters!) to pray for them. Have you noticed how many times Paul has referred to the church in Thessalonica as brothers and sisters? Christians truly are a family. And the request for prayer is a good lesson for us. No matter how mature in the Lord Paul, Silas and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1, Devotional # 172) are they still recognize they need prayer. We need to be humble enough to ask for prayer for the various ministries that God has called us to. This also should be considered with the fact that Paul and Silas and Timothy were praying for the Thessalonians “night and day” (1 Thessalonians 3:10).
When Paul says, “Great all the brethren with a holy kiss” notice this is a “holy” kiss so it’s different from a regular one, in fact it’s a custom carried over from Old Testament times. It was a kiss on the forehead, cheek, or beard which signified friendship and mutual faith in Jesus. Nowadays in the U.S. it would be the equivalent of a handshake (clasping with two hands). This is common in the New Testament (Acts 20:37, Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Peter 5:14).
vv. 27-28. Paul encourages (“I charge you“), in the name of Jesus (“by the Lord“), the church to read this letter (“this epistle“) in front of the whole church. This is where we get the common understanding that the books of the Bible were meant for the whole church and not just for a chosen few. This is why we can still apply the majority of each book (except for stuff that is contextually specific to that day and time) to ourselves and why we should be reading the books of the Bible in church. This flies in the face of what the Catholic Church did in the Middle Ages*. Not only did they not allow the common people to read the Bible (although most were illiterate) but even when the priests read it, it was usually in Latin and most didn’t understand, but that didn’t matter. Isn’t that crazy? As mentioned below, the Bible is for all people, for all time, in all languages.
Paul finishes this epistle as he often does with the words of “grace” and “Lord Jesus Christ” and “Amen.” This is exactly how Paul concluded Philippians (see 4:23, Devotional 141). Paul finishes this wonderful letter to his beloved Thessalonians, not with his own fond words (he’s already said that above), but with love from Jesus. This “grace” is God blessing us despite the fact that we do not deserve it. What a wonderful reminder to us that despite not deserving it, our Master (“Lord”) will be faithful to His word to preserve our trichotomies until the glorious day of His coming when we will meet Him in the clouds!
*Look into such people as John Wycliffe, who believed the Bible should be for all people, in all languages. Fore morn listen to my Early Church History Series by clicking here .
Source 1: S. Michael Houdmann, “Do we Have Two or Three Parts? Body, Soul, and Spirit?” Got Questions Ministries, n.d. Web. (http://www.gotquestions.org/body-soul-spirit.html).
Source 2: Craig von Buseck, http://www1.cbn.com/questions/what-are-the-three-parts-of-man