Introduction: Paul’s desire for the holiness of the Thessalonians is no mere other-worldly desire – like the world’s view of Heaven: puffy clouds and boyish angels. His desire for their holiness comes from two very practical concerns: 1) That the Thessalonians would be ready for Christ’s return and 2) That they would live godly lives which commended the Gospel until that Day. As 1 Thessalonians 4:12 puts it, stating the goal of living quiet godly lives for the present (with no unhealthy obsession regarding Christ’s Second Advent): … so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. Knowing that the Thessalonians had a profound need for a complete renovation of “spirit, soul and body” (1 Thessalonians 5:23) drove Paul to pray for the Thessalonians’ sanctification as he closes his first letter to them. As we close our study of this letter in our Bible notes, may the Lord use Paul’s words to address all our practical needs for sanctification – profound and persistent as those needs are.
Monday/Tuesday: read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Proverbs 4:14-15 & 18 and Psalm 130:5-6. Having dealt with the Lord’s detailed prophecies about Christ’s return in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 (where Paul makes clear that his teaching is “according to the Word of the Lord” in verse 15), Paul paints a picture of what our lives should look like in 1 Thessalonians 5 as we wait vigilantly and alertly for that second coming. He says that we are to live up to our new status as “children of light,” adopted into God’s family of light and into the “kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:12-14).
Quite an important promise from God is contained in this picture of light. Whereas the unbelieving world is always walking away from the bright promise of youth and early idealism into the dark complexities of growing old and facing the dimly lit uncertainties of illness and eventual death, God gives us an inheritance with all the saints full of the light and bright hope of Christ’s return. Consider, for example, these great Old Testament verses about light which remind us that “the best is yet to come”:
Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on … But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. Proverbs 4:14-15 & 18 (ESV)
Wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. Psalm 130:5-6 (ESV)
Meditate and Pray: Ask the Lord to renew your hope and confidence in His purposes for your life, using hymn # 25 from the Trinity Hymnal:
|O Light that knew no dawn,
That shines to endless day,
All things in earth and Heav’n
Are lustered by Thy ray;
No eye can to Thy throne ascend,
Nor mind Thy brightness comprehend.
Thy grace, O Father, give,
|That, cleansed from stain of sin,
I may meet homage give;
And pure in heart, behold
Thy beauty while I live;
Clean hands in holy worship raise,
And Thee, O Christ my Savior, praise.
Thy grace, O Father, give,
Wednesday: read 1 Thessalonians 5:7-11. Bible writers never tire of speaking of the abundant blessings flowing to us because One shed His blood in our place – just as Paul tells us that all necessary gifts of faith, love and hope come to us by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is “because He died for us” (1 Thess. 5:10) that we can receive salvation (1 Thess. 5:9) and the great blessings of that salvation (in terms of faith, hope and love) which accompany this salvation.
How then do these blessings of faith, hope and love come to us? Well, Paul illustrates Christ’s bestowal of these blessings upon us by referring to both Christ’s breastplate of faith and love and His helmet of hope in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 – the very pieces of armor from the Savior who wore them in our place! Our armor is cleansed by the blood shed on the Cross, and we wear it as our protective breastplate and helmet! And thus protected we can say with the prophet: No weapon forged against us will succeed (Isaiah 54:17)!
Meditate and Pray: Oh what hope we should have for our futures since Christ Jesus has already given us His blood-soaked Calvary-armor! We can truly say to the Devil and to all our diabolical foes (to paraphrase and combine Dr. Sinclair Ferguson with Martin Luther’s great hymn):
You can trounce underfoot every aspect of my Christian life and profession. You can take my goods, my kindred and my very life of faith and Christian service. You can scorn me as you scorned Job. You can accuse me of failing my Savior countless times… But you cannot touch the impeccable faith of the Son of God which lives in me! With Paul I can truly say: “The life I live I live by the faith of the Son of God – (As Ferguson reminds us in his translation of Gal. 2:20: It’s not even our faith!) – who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20)!
Thur/Fri: read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24. Paul has many more lingering concerns to address in the Thessalonian church which will prompt him to write his second letter. (For a list of some of the themes to which we will return in 2 Thessalonians, see the bottom of these notes.) But it is the supreme confidence in God’s sanctifying power to make every believer holy which must form the high point of our concluding words about this letter. In terms of 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, listen to Paul assert God’s power to make us holy, using John Owen’s own paraphrase of these verses from volume 3, pg. 420, of his works:
The God of peace Himself sanctify you… in your whole natures and persons, in all that you are and do, that you may not be holy merely in this or that part, but be every whit clean and holy throughout….
(And Owen Continues)
And to make this the more evident, that we may know how much of us God intends… to be sanctified… Paul distributes our whole nature into the three essential parts of spirit, soul and body, thereby declaring that God not only will sanctify our spiritual lives but also our bodies as members of Christ.
But one further question: Why does Paul use a three-part division here, especially because most of us have been taught that we are not three-part humans but two part (body and spirit)? James Philip answers that the word used in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 “soul” simply refers to the created life of man. “God created man” Genesis says, and “man became (literally) a living soul.” On the other hand, the word “spirit” refers to that same life of man – only not in reference to his creation – but rather in his relationship to God as created in God’s image. But either way, Paul’s point is the comprehensiveness of God’s sanctifying work in our lives. Use hymn # 411 to celebrate God’s power to transform every aspect of your life by His grace and the light of His holiness:
Shine Thou upon us, Lord, true Light of men, today,
And through the written Word Thy very self display,
That so from hearts which burn with gazing on Thy face
Thy little ones may learn the wonders of Thy grace.
Breathe Thou upon us, Lord, Thy Spirit’s living flame,
That so with one accord our lips may tell Thy Name.
Give Thou the hearing ear, fix Thou the wandering thought,
That those we teach may hear the great things Thou hast wrought.
Speak Thou for us, O Lord, in all we say of Thee;
According to Thy Word let all our teaching be,
That so Thy lambs may know their own true Shepherd’s voice,
Where’er He leads them go, and in His love rejoice.
Live Thou within us, Lord, Thy mind and will be ours;
Be Thou beloved, adored, and served with all our powers,
That so our lives may teach Thy children what Thou art,
And plead, by more than speech, for Thee with every heart.
Themes to trace from 1 Thessalonians 5 into 2 Thessalonians (as a good way to meditate on both these letters):
- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14’s concern for proper respect for church leadership – a theme returned to in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 – as Paul must deal with the “unruly” false teachers who wrongly inflame a false desire for Christ’s return in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:15’s concern that we never pay back “wrong for wrong” – a command which can only be obeyed in our lives when we leave room for God’s judgment Day, a Day Paul describes in terms of God’s vengeance on those who wrong His people in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22’s holding on to every praiseworthy thing in a spirit of thankfulness and joy – only possible because of the ongoing grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for each day of our lives, a grace we will return to in 2 Thessalonians 1:2 and 3:18.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:20’s concern that the church respect God’s prophetic word, whether that word deals with Christ’s return in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 or the rise of the “man of sin” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12. “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him…” (2 Thess. 3:14), are words which underline how important it is to respect the authority of God’s word through His apostles and prophets.