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We have been on a journey of Paul's first letter to the church at Thessalonica. Today, as we conclude our series, we will consider the last prayer recorded in this letter (5:23-24). We have noticed the significance of prayer in this short letter. Paul opens the letter with prayer (1:1-5). The two movements of the letter are joined together with prayer (3:11-13), and as Paul closes his thoughts, he concludes with prayer.
We have followed the movements of the letter. Noticing how this church began among difficulties, trials, hardship, and percussion (see Acts 17), Paul began by celebrating their faithfulness to the Lord and acknowledging their suffering. In the second movement (4-5), Paul challenges the church to grow. He calls them to holiness, to increase in their love, and to set their minds on the hope we have in Christ.
As we have considered this letter, I hope we have seen its relevance to our lives today. Although we are separated by time and culture, the wisdom of God is displayed through Paul's words. Amid our culture, we are called to faithfulness, holiness, and love as we look forward to our common hope in Christ. In Paul's final prayer, we find our strength to live in a manner pleasing to God. Our strength is in the One who is faithful.
As Paul draws the letter to a close, he quickly mentions several virtues Christians should share. He provides examples of Christian conduct that honors the Lord (5:12-22).
Our attitude towards those who serve the Lord through their service to His church
He calls us to live at peace with one another
To instruct those in the Lord who are idle and disruptive
To encourage the disheartened
To help the weak and be patient with everyone
Strive to do good and not seek retaliation
We are to have an attitude of rejoicing, one of continual prayer and thanksgiving
And an attitude of accepting the Spirit's work within the church and not extinguishing the work of the Spirit.
Paul, addressing the church in Thessalonica, provides character traits of Christians that promote life and godliness within the church. Although we are not dwelling on these points today, they are worthy of our consideration as we seek to promote life within the body of Christ today. Such lists are not exhaustive but demonstrate character that pleases the Lord.
A Prayer For Christian Devotion
Paul has challenged this young church to grow in their faith amid the trials, sufferings, and difficulties they are experiencing. In his words and through the Spirit, we are challenged to grow in our faith amid our current circumstances. The call to follow Christ is a radical call of transformation. It's a call to love, walk, and serve as Jesus did. Paul realizes the challenges before those in Thessalonica as he concludes with a prayer for them.
1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 (NIV)
"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it."
Paul understood both the challenge of Christians in Thessalonica as well as the faithfulness of God. He places these together in his prayer. Paul relies on the "God of peace" to accomplish His purposes in the lives of Christians. An understanding of God Paul often refers to (see Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 14:33; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9; 2 Thess. 3:16).
Those in Thessalonica had found peace in the Lord through the gospel despite their difficulties and challenges. God who gives peace will be the One who accomplishes his work in their lives. Paul, in his life, had learned to rely on the peace and strength of God, as he recorded in the letter of Philippians:
Philippians 4:11–13 (NIV)
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (emph. added)
Within the lives of those in Thessalonica, Paul calls on the God of peace to accomplish his purposes within the church as they rely on his strength.
As Christians, there is a balance we need to understand and maintain: a partnership with the Lord we should appreciate. While we are called to walk in holiness and honor the Lord in our thoughts, actions, and deeds, it's never simply about us developing the "right" habits. Our faithfulness is through the One who is faithful. He accomplishes his work within our lives as we partner with him.
Dedicated to God
1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV)
"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The call to follow Jesus is a radical call of transformation, and it's one that must encompass all that we are. Every part of our lives is to be set apart and dedicated to the Lord (sanctified). We are to serve him with every fiber of who we are (spirit, soul, and body).
It's difficult to understand, but part of how God may accomplish this in our lives is through the hardships and difficulties we experience. The church in Thessalonica was suffering under the pressure and persecution of their culture. Despite the struggle, God's purposes were being accomplished in their lives.
As we face challenges from our culture today, we sometimes want to give in or give up. Occasionally, we may think the struggle is not worth the friction. We are tempted to follow the current and allow ourselves to be pushed by the wind. After all, following the current and wind reduces drag and friction. We all know how difficult it is to swim against the current or walk in the face of a strong headwind. Would it not be easier to go along?
We will eventually be pulled along if we only focus on the current and wind. The struggle will not be worth the friction. It is an understanding that God is accomplishing so much more that we find strength. It is an understanding that we are partnering with God that allows us to stand faithfully in the face of strong headwinds.
1 Thessalonians 5:24
"The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it."
Paul comes full circle in his letter with his final words. Paul began the letter with a prayer of thanksgiving:
1 Thessalonians 1:2–3
"We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."
The church was set apart in their faith, love, and endurance. Their anchor and foundation was the Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul circles back around, he calls to their remembrance our anchor and foundation; "The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it" (5:24).
God is accomplishing his purposes within the life of his church, and he will accomplish his purposes within YOU!
Crossing The Context
As we cross the context today, we are called in Christ to live a radically transformed life that honors him with every fiber of who we are. Despite the challenges we face in our day when the headwinds and current seem to fight against us, we have the peace of God as we rely on his strength. When we feel like folding or giving in, we have the assurance of his faithfulness to help us stand.
The life we are called to in Christ can be challenging. At times, it will take a lot of effort. However, he accomplishes his purposes in you through his faithfulness as we partner with him.
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).
BibleProject: Guide-Book of 1 Thessalonians
BibleProject: 1 Thessalonians Overview Video