1 Thessalonians 5:23

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

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.
1 Thessalonians 5:23

The previous admonitions have been given by Paul, one after another, in a rapid-fire succession. Each has looked to man’s efforts before God. Now as an emphatic contrast to that, we read these words (as laid out in the Greek) – “Himself moreover the God of peace may sanctify you.” There are man’s instructions concerning his efforts in a relationship with God through Christ, and then there is the special blessing of God, apart from man’s efforts.

In the English translations of this verse some add in the word “And” at the beginning: “And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly…” Others use “Now” to begin: “Now may the God of peace Himself…” The “And” makes it sound like God’s sanctification is dependent on our efforts. In other words, “If you do these things, God will sanctify you completely.” However, the type of verb used is optative. It is a mood that indicates a wish or a hope for those being addressed.

Therefore, it seems more likely that Paul’s words are simply a petition for this to come about. He has asked them to do their part, but he is giving a sense of hope that this will occur despite the efforts of his readers. And yet, it does not in any way negate that our efforts are unnecessary as we live out our lives. Otherwise, Paul would never have given those exhortations.

We have our part for happy living and blameless conduct in this life, but we have a hope that God will follow through in order to sanctify us completely despite any lack or failure on our part. This is seen in Paul’s words elsewhere. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, he tells us that the will of God is our sanctification, and so he gives exhortations which will make that come about. However, in 1 Corinthians 1:2 (and elsewhere), he notes that God has sanctified us already. This was based on our faith in Christ, apart from works.

With that understood, Paul then completes the verse with, “and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” However, the NKJV incorrectly places the word “whole.” Instead of being tied to “spirit, and body” it should be tied to “preserved,” such as is done by the Berean Study Bible –

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved, entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul is not hoping that God will preserve our whole spirit and body, as if they could be partially preserved! Rather, he is anticipating that God will preserve us so that we will be entirely blameless at the Lord’s coming. In other words, it is the efforts of God of the previous clause, not man’s efforts of the preceding verse, which Paul is putting his hopes on. Man’s efforts could never be so relied upon, but God’s power can be trusted.

Understanding this, Paul petitions that we shall be preserved, that it will be in a state which is entirely blameless, and it will be “at the coming of the Lord Jesus.” As this will occur at an entirely unknown time, it is a demonstration that we are (past tense) sanctified for this purpose already, despite our human efforts. Paul has exhorted us to conduct our lives in a right and proper manner, but it is not that effort which will ensure our preservation. And thank God for that!

Life application: We have a responsibility and a duty to act in a right and proper manner before the Lord. There are things we are to do, and there are things we are not to do. But though faith in Christ, and in that faith alone, we are sanctified and preserved for the time when the Lord comes for us. Let us be prepared because we have been so prepared.

Lord God, it so ever so comforting to know that the race is ultimately not up to us to complete. We are instructed to live in a right and proper manner during this life, and in accord with the salvation You have given us, but our failures will not negate that blessing which You have granted us through the work of Christ. Your word asks us to be prepared for His coming because we have been prepared for His coming. Thank You for saving us, even when we fail You. Amen.

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