Sound Pastoral Desire For Christ's Local Church
As Dr. Marty Baker wraps up our time in 1 Thessalonians, he takes us to Paul's words of encouragement and challenge regarding faith, prayer, love and more! Join us today for 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28 and then join us next week as we kick off 2 Thessalonians.
When I left my last church in California after shepherding it for nineteen years, my final sermon let them know some key areas they needed to think about as they searched for a new pastor. After that many years, I knew them well and what they and the church needed to do to grow spiritually while also increasing the impact of the gospel. My parting words were emotional but highly educational and spiritually motivational because I loved this group of people.
Starting with verse 23 of 1 Thessalonians 5, we encounter Pastor Paul’s closing counsel to the church he planted in the seaside port, Thessaloniaca Though he spoke these words some 2,000 years ago to this particular church, local churches and saints in our age can still learn much from the apostle/pastor’s insights. So, please sit back and learn from what I call . . .
Sound Pastoral Desire For Christ’s Local Church (1 Thess. 5:23-28)
Turning from teaching believers how to live prior to the imminent return of the Lord Jesus (1 Thess. 5:12-22), Paul gives believers five concepts to contemplate as they seek to continue to mature spiritually. Don’t just consider them. Ask yourself, “Am I weaving these concepts into my life so my faith flourishes and the body of Christ is enhanced?”
First up, Paul challenges saints to . . .
Get Holy! (1 Thess. 5:23)
Spiritual growth, or holiness, negatively involves putting away evil behavior and thinking. Positively it concerns putting on the behavior and thinking that God’s Word says is acceptable, noble, and virtuous. Thinking is, of course, the more important concept here. Paul says this much in Romans 12:
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12).
Regarding this verse, Francis Schaeffer wrote in his book True Spirituality, “. . . the external follows the internal, and the external is a product of the internal. Thoughts are first, and they produce the external . . . we are to be transformed by the renewing of the mind, and that is internal.” I
In verses 12 through 22, Paul gave multiple commands for saints to follow, and each one of them is, first and foremost, a concern of the mind. For instance, we are called to “give thanks in everything (v. 18).” This can, and should be verbal, so others can see how saints function who believe in the utter sovereignty of God. The outer expression, however, is prompted by what first occurs internally in your mind. Hence, when you lock your keys in your car at a shopping mall and call for a AAA tow truck to assist you, you internally decide the Lord has a reason for all of this. Even before the technician arrives, you have already internally agreed that the Lord probably wants you to meet and speak with this person for some divine reason. So, you are internally thankful, which spills over to verbal thanks later when and after he arrives. Of course, the result is that you acquire holiness and a modicum of maturity.
In verse 23, Paul turns and speaks more pointedly about the process of spiritual growth, which is the concern of any pastor for his people:
23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5).
The opening word conjunctive particle, de (δὲ), or “now,” links what Paul is about to say with what he just taught about areas saints should evidence growth before Christ’s glorious return.
Regarding holiness or sanctification, Paul places the personal pronoun “himself.” (Αὐτὸς), which denotes God, first in the sentence to create emphasis. Why did he do this? To underscore that God is working to help you fulfill the nineteen precise life-changing commands in verses 11 through 22. How can you, a grumpy, glass-is-half-full, the sky-is-always-falling person, ever “rejoice always”? The Lord is working to help you in your weakness to get holy in this troublesome area. How can you, a complainer and critic by nature, ever reach a point where your knee-jerk inner feeling in testy life situations is to be completely thankful? The Lord is working on you to learn how to flesh this command out in your life so you achieve a new level of holiness.
Paul’s desire for saints is that they’d be so holy when Jesus arrives that they’d be entirely blameless. Of course, the apostle is speaking here about the practical side of the doctrine of sanctification. Hebrews chapter 10, verse 14, informs us that sanctification, or being holy as opposed to unholy and profane, is practical and positional:
NAS Hebrews 10:14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
NIV Hebrews 10:14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
I like the NIV translation here better because it brings out the process or progressive nature of sanctification as revealed in the present tense participle, hagiazomenous (ἁγιαζομένους). When we, as sinners who were born with Adam’s inherited (Romans 5:12-21) and imputed sin nature and state of inner spiritual death (Rom. 8:1), trust Christ as our Savior (John 3:16; 5:23-24; Rom. 10:9), He forgives us of our sin and makes us positionally spiritually perfect before Him by giving us His holiness:
21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5).
30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, (1 Cor. 1).
This positional holiness enables us to walk into the glory of heaven. Do you have it? If you don’t, confessing your sinful status before Christ and asking Him to forgive your sin and make you His child is available. Are you ready to make this most important decision? For those who have, you possess positional holiness from the Lord’s work on Calvary’s tree.
Hebrews 10, verse 14, also shows us the practical side of sanctification. On the one hand, we always have our positional holiness because of our faith relationship to Jesus, and on the other hand, we are supposed to be constantly working to make our practical walk match our unique and lofty position.
Paul’s closing words to the Thessalonians speak about practical holiness. This concept is built off the word hagiazo (ἁγιάζω), and it denotes, according to Arndt’s Greek lexicon, eliminating “that which is incompatible with holiness.” By using two synonyms that speak about completeness and wholeness, Paul expresses his desire for every saint when Christ appears, viz., parousia (παρουσίᾳ), which Paul used in 4:13 of the Rapture of the Church). He wants them to grow up in the faith their character and behavior are unassailable. That’s a lofty goal, wouldn’t you agree? I seek the same for myself and you.
I know the highly analytical Bible students among us can get easily distracted from this motif by wondering, “Based on the fact Paul desires holiness to be realized in man’s spirit, soul, and body,” viz., soma, soul, and spirit (Αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης ἁγιάσαι ὑμᾶς ὁλοτελεῖς, καὶ ὁλόκληρον ὑμῶν τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ ἡ ψυχὴ καὶ τὸ σῶμα ἀμέμπτως ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τηρηθείη), then man must a trichotomy, not a dichotomy.” Grudem offers a good definition of this view:
According to many trichotomists, man’s soul includes his intellect, his emotions, and his will. They maintain that all people have such a soul and that the different elements of the soul can either serve God or be yielded to sin. They argue that man’s spirit is a higher faculty that comes alive when a person becomes a Christian (see Rom. 8:10; “If Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness”). A person's spirit then would be the part that most directly worships and prays to God (see John 4:24; Phil. 3:3).
I believe this view is not the best one concerning man’s constitution. I think there is more weight to the view that man is a dichotomy, meaning spirit and soul are not separate parts of man, but are one in the same thing. The Bible uses the terms interchangeably, showing they are not distinct but similar and united. For instance, as Grudem points out, in John 12:27, Jesus says, “Now is my soul troubled.” In contrast, in a very similar context, in the next chapter, John says that Jesus was “troubled in spirit’ (John 13:21).” Grudem further observes that Jesus said for “us not to fear those who “kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” but that we should rather “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).” Jesus didn’t mention the “spirit” here because in His mind the soul and the spirit both represent the immaterial and eternal part of man. I agree. But either way, you are going to live in a spiritual form beyond your death. You will either be in heaven or hell. Those who have bowed their knee in faith before the Lord Jesus, asking Him to be their redeemer, they will enjoy the wonders and joys of heaven . . . with a new and improved glorified body (2 Cor. 5:1ff).
But, please, let us not be distracted from the main thing. May we never forget in our quest to live holy lives that God is working to help us achieve greater levels of holiness. And may we never forget that we are responsible for making sure our daily practice of holiness moves us to a place of beautiful approval when we stand before Christ’s Bema Seat (1 Cor. 3).
Second, Paul challenges believers to . . .
Have Faith! (1 Thess. 5:24)
Watch how he develops this excellent point:
24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass (1 Thess. 5).
Paul gives us hope here because we are prone to succumbing to the power of the flesh (Rom. 7; Gal. 5:16-19). The same Lord who called you to become His forever child (Rom. 8:15) is faithful to make sure your salvation will be realized. This sounds very familiar to Paul’s words to the Philippians:
6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1).
What is this good work? It’s the good work of salvation. God, unlike some of us, doesn’t start projects and not finish them. I had a neighbor who loved to start significant projects around his house. The only problem was that he never finished them. There was the structure he built around his pool pump next to his house. He never painted it; it had ripped plastic over the windows for the nine years I owned that home. He spent $5,000 on a beautiful new front door but never stained or painted it. Years later, it was worn, weathered, and warped. Aren’t you glad the Lord doesn’t look at your salvation and sanctification like this? His zeal to guide you to holiness never fails or fizzles but is always on fire. And all of this is another viable reason I believe the Scriptures teach the doctrine of eternal security. Once you are saved, you are always saved because the Lord himself is working to make sure you will be ready to stand before Him with joy.
As with the last verse, I know the highly analytical among us are wondering about this Pauline usage of the word “call.” Does God call sinners to be saved? Yes. The gospel is given to all because the Lord died for all mankind (John 3:16). Only those He has chosen will hear God’s call. Does God choose some to be saved? Yes. Paul says this much:
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; 30 and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Rom. 8).
It doesn’t get any more precise, but it is still a mystery. Based on His omniscience, the Lord chooses some to be saved. Is this fair? Yes, because holiness could have moved God to bar all mankind from His presence after the fall in the Garden (Gen. 3). God, however, was and is merciful to some, and we must be thankful for this. Do we have free will to choose Him? It appears we do as we read through the NT. We are called repeatedly to make a willful decision to believe and be saved (John 8:24; 11:26). If we don’t believe, it will cost us an eternity in a place of ominous judgment. Since God is just, it would be unjust for Him to send us to hell if we had no ultimate freedom of choice. But God is just; hence, our eternal outcome rests with how we freely respond to His call. The mystery deepens here because even the call which draws us to Him comes from Him first (No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day, John 6:44).
Yet, lest we get all sidetracked in complex doctrine which seems logically incongruous to our finite and dimensionally limited minds, let us remember Paul’s divinely inspired encouraging word: Have faith in a God who is faithful to make sure you stand before Him one day as His forgiven, beloved child. Will you give thanks to the Lord for His faithfulness to you . . . even when you may not be as faithful as you should be to Him?
Third, Paul, who spent much time praying for the thousands of saints under His pastoral care, turns and makes a fantastic request. I’ll call it . . .
Pray Up! (1 Thess. 5:25)
As a fellow pastor, I get emotional when I read this request:
25 Brethren, pray for us (1 Thess. 5).
Pastors spend their lives pouring themselves into people and praying over them. But let the church remember that the pastor is a man, and he, too, needs saints to bring his name before the throne of the living God.
Why should you be praying for your pastors and spiritual leaders? Allow me to give you a short list of reasons:
- They face the brunt of the Devil’s schemes against the church.
- They can be tempted after being worn down by opponents inside and outside the church to compromise in some fashion or just to quit.
- They who pour their lives out constantly can become dry as a spiritual bone.
- They deal with complex life situations and must make decisions based on facts that some will not understand or agree with.
- They can be tempted to float intellectually because no one watches what they do in private.
- They deal with personal verbal and written attacks by saints and sinners.
- They need wisdom regarding how to train others to address the constantly changing cultural issues of the day effectively.
- They need wisdom regarding how to help heal broken people and messed up marriages so there is health and wholeness.
- They wrestle against the demonic realm (Eph. 6:10ff).
- They need wisdom regarding how to lead warring saints to be reconciled to each other.
- They need wisdom on how to care for their church while not neglecting their responsibility to build great, godly marriages.
- They need the courage to stay faithful to the Word of God despite what our woke world embraces.
- They need to know they are not alone as they fight the world, the flesh, and the Devil, for loneliness comes with the turf of leadership.
- They need encouragement for they have many reasons to be discouraged.
- They need a fresh vision of what God wants for their lives and the churches lives.
- They want their teaching and preaching to have the power to accomplish much for God.
I could go on, but I’ll stop right here. Your pastors covet your prayers as Paul did. So will you pray for us? We do and will pray for you, but we also realize the local church can not accomplish great things for the Lord unless the people pray for their pastors. So will you commit to ramping up your prayers for your pastoral staff? We’ve collectively achieved much for the Lord and have been instrumental in cutting deep into the Devil’s empire because we have many people who pray. But more needs to be done in the dark days in which we live, and prayer for pastors is critical to unleashing even more divine power to push back the darkness with light.
Show Love! (1 Thess. 5:26)
I’ve always found this verse intriguing:
26 Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss (1 Thess. 5).
I especially liked this verse when I was a teenager attempting to apply the Scripture. 😊 What is it talking about? A “holy kiss” is not a romantic kiss. In Paul’s day, it denoted how people would kiss each other on the cheek(s). It is something akin to what you might encounter in Italy when friends meet. Do we live like this now? Not really. If you know another saint, I might advise you to follow this text to the letter, but there are other ways to show affection and love for each other.
- Shake hands
- Fist-bump (if you are a cool Christian)
- High-five (if you are an old, cool Christian)
- Put your arm around a person
The point can’t be missed: show affection toward each other. The introverts among us are probably hyper-ventilating but relaxed. Your world, office, job site, battalion, squad, team, or government contract is known for people being distant and cut off from each other. Saints are not to act like this because we are brothers and sisters because of Christ’s redemptive work on our behalf. And as family members, we should act as such. It’s hard to be at odds with someone you just showed some love toward. So, leave this house of worship today with this one goal: Lord, show me how to love your people.
Read & Heed! (Thess. 5:27)
What is Paul referring to? The divinely inspired letter he just wrote:
27 I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren (1 Thess. 5).
Churches at this time didn’t have copies of the Bible, only scrolls here and there. So, the Word of God was precious, and a new letter from the Lord called for it to be read to the whole church so the church could benefit from it.
The same still holds true of us. We do have the complete Word of God, so we, too, must read it . . . personally and corporately . . . so we can grow in holiness and righteousness as we apply it. Today’s prayer is: “Lord, give me an insatiable hunger to be in and about your Word. Also, Lord, keep my church in your Word so we’ll all know how to impact our world for you before your return.”
Will you make this your personal and corporate prayer?
Paul had some great things to say to these saints in closing, didn’t he? His words are just as convicting and challenging today as they were in the first century A.D. May these words inspire us to follow even harder after our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I close with praying Paul’s benediction over you:
WHT 1 Thessalonians 5:28 Ἡ χάρις τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you (1 Thess. 5).
In a graceless day, this is precisely what we need: a heavy dose of the loving grace of Jesus, a grace that is so amazing it moved Julia Johnston to write these words to the old hymn:
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!
Grace Greater Than Our Sin
Julia H. Johnston
 Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1971), 107.
 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 10.
 Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 193.
 Grudem, 194