Paul's Ideas Brought Full-Circle
1 Thessalonians 5:23-28
1. Recognize the Context:
Previous context: 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
Paul urged the Thessalonian church not to quench the Spirit. This is a general warning against hindering the work of the Holy Spirit for an individual or in the corporate expression of the church. Then Paul gave a specific example of how the Spirit can be suppressed, namely, by treating prophecies with contempt.
For Paul, prophecy was a Spirit-inspired utterance given in the community worship setting. It provided "guidance and direction, edification, encouragement, consolation or witness, and it ultimately points back to the One who gives this gift." (Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 755) Paul saw this gift as one of many legitimate expressions of the Holy Spirit's power and presence in the believing community. Here, Paul was saying this gift should not be despised.
Paul instructed the Thessalonians to test prophecies. Here, Paul did not elaborate on the testing process; he simply encouraged them to exercise discernment. It would seem that elements of testing prophecy would include the fulfillment of its purpose for the edification of the body, consistency with Apostolic teaching, and consistency with Scripture (the Old Testament). Ultimately, he encouraged the Thessalonians not to be cynical (treat prophecies with contempt), but they also should not be gullible (test them all).
Therefore, they were to hold on to what is good and reject every kind of evil. In the context, Paul concluded his thought on how to respond to prophecy after testing it. However, like the first imperative not to hinder the Spirit’s work (verse 19), holding on to the good and rejecting evil provides excellent advice for the believing community.
2. Read the Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28
23 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. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
3. Reflect on the Scripture:
Paul concluded this letter with a prayer and final thoughts, reminding the Thessalonian hearers of several themes expressed throughout his writing. In verse 23, God is identified as the God of peace (2 Thess. 3:16, Rom. 15:33, 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:11). He is the source of wholeness and well-being, which is extended to humanity through the reconciling work of Christ (Rom. 5:1-11).
This prayer calls for the Thessalonians to be “set apart” and “morally pure” in their entire being, and this was previously echoed in 3:13 and 4:3. This is restated in the following sentence, may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless, which also points back to 3:13. Paul’s desired these believers to continue living holy lives until Christ’s return (4:13-18). As humans participate in this life of holiness, they can rest in the knowledge that God is faithful and at work (2 Thess. 3:3, 1 Cor. 1:9, 10:13, 2 Cor. 1:18, 2 Tim. 2:13).
In verse 25, Paul asked for prayer from his fellow believers. Then he charged them to greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. The greeting with a kiss was a cultural sign of affection between friends and family in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish societies. In verse 26, Paul instructed them to read this letter to the entire believing assembly.
Finally, Paul concluded by extending grace to the church. His letter has come full circle. It began with grace and peace (1:1), and it concluded with grace and peace (5:23, 28).
4. Relate to life:
Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
Today, prayerfully consider the phrase God of peace. Where in your life might there be a need for more peace?
Today, prayerfully reflect on a life characterized by holiness.
Today, prayerfully reflect on the faithfulness of God and his demonstration of grace in your life.
To do: (with the Holy Sprit's help)
Given the prayer suggestions above, what can you incorporate into your life today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers.
How specifically can you bring peace into the lives of those around you?
Who can you encourage today by telling them about the faithfulness of God?
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the passages).
Read and study the passages identified above.