16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil. 23And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. 25 Brethren, pray for us.
26 Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss. 27 I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
(I Thessalonians 5:16-28).
THE FAITHFUL ONE
We left off last time with verse 23, the apostle’s prayer, which has much to say to us. I thought I was finished with these verses for now, but I believe the Lord showed me some things as sort of an epilogue to the original messages; something I overlooked, perhaps because verses 24-28 were not highlighted in my old childhood Bible under the heading “RX”. But these verses go with it just the same, and a decent exposition can’t be done without them.
Verse 24 is practically a continuation of Paul’s prayer. In the prayer for our sanctification he has already said that it is the “God of peace” that must sanctify us and preserve us blameless until the coming of the Lord. We do not have that power in ourselves. The best of us fail the Lord, and are not always faithful, but He is. The worst of us are much worse, and have to say with Paul “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the chief”(1 Timothy 1:15b). It is obvious we cannot save ourselves -- it takes God’s grace. It is also obvious we cannot, in our own power, sanctify ourselves. Our sanctification is just as much God’s work of grace in us as our justification. But various commands such as “Grow in Grace” show us we are responsible to walk in holiness. Remember Jesus never said “there is nothing you can ever do”. He did say “Without Me, you can do nothing”(John 15:5b).
Yes, verse 24 says “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it”. One of the many truths we learn about the God of the Bible, is that He is absolutely faithful. The Greek word here is pistos (πιστός), which also means “trustworthy”. You can trust Him. You must trust Him with your never dying soul. He is the only completely trustworthy Being in the entire universe! You can always depend on Him. He is the only One in the universe who has the faithfulness, and the truthfulness to save us, and sanctify us, as well as the power to do so. Contrast Him with man “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
The word “calleth” here is the Greek word kaleo (καλέω), which means “to call” or “to bid”. This is the effectual call that He gives to all His elect children. It is the drawing of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the word of God. A person cannot really hear the word of God until God gives this effectual call. He may hear someone read or preach Bible verses; or someone tell him or her about Jesus Christ, but this is with the outward ear. This is the outward call which all men can hear. The effectual call is inward. In other words, God must quicken (make alive) the dead sinner before he or she can even hear the Gospel with the inward man, which is so often referred to in the Bible as the “heart”. This is the effectual call. That is what He has done for us who believe, as dead Lazarus being called forth from the grave. That was an effectual call. Lazarus heard the living Word by God’s grace. Has that happened to you, my friend? Have you been raised from the dead? If not, you don’t even know by experience what I am talking about, and you can’t really know the living Christ until you are made alive. All saved people were once “the walking dead” (see Ephesians 2:1,2). As Matthew Poole (1624-1679) says: “Those that are effectually called are brought into God’s covenant, where perfection and perseverance are promised, and God’s faithfulness obligeth Him to make good His covenant”.
Not only will He save us, and sanctify us; but according to Paul’s prayer, God is the one who will preserve us blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus. This sanctification and preserving is first of all positional because we are “hid with Christ in God”. In other words, in our justification He has put away our sins as far as east is from west, never to be remembered against us. That is positional. It is all based on the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Paul is here talking about the practical side. As I pointed out in the earlier articles, none of us is without sin (see 1John 1:10). Yet God is forgiving us daily, as we ask Him, and causing us to hunger for Him and grow in grace. As He brings us closer into our walk with Him, by His grace, He is fitting us more for heaven. This is the practical side of sanctification. He gave us admonitions in the first part of this chapter. As we endeavor to obey them, we realize we always fall short. So we must continue to call on Him for our sanctification on a daily basis. So, as we follow the light we have, and desire to walk with Christ (which desire He puts in us to begin with), we realize that even in this walk; “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Romans 9:16). From start to finish, God will complete His redemptive work in His elect and preserve them blameless at the coming of Jesus Christ. Remember, all the blame was laid on Him, Christ the Redeemer, who “By Himself purged our sins”(Hebrews 1:3). This same Jesus is the One coming for His saints. Sometimes in our weakness, it appears to even the true believer that He has delayed His coming, but remember this, “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it”. Also “But the Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and keep you from evil” (2 Thessalonians 3:3).What God wills to do is as good as done. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth”(Luke 11:2b).
BRETHREN PRAY FOR US
Here Paul requests prayer for himself and the others. Yes, even an apostle felt the need of prayer. He did not feel himself high above the average Christian. He desires their prayers. God directs us all to pray. He has chosen to hear and answer prayer. This is also a sovereign choice of God who delights in acting on behalf of His people that He has redeemed. We must pray for one another. All of us have daily needs. We live in a world of turmoil and sin. The devil “as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour”( 1Peter 5:8b). We desire, and much need prayer, that we may be able to resist him. The word brethren, which Paul uses here, and twice more in these five closing verses, in each case is the Greek word adelphos (ἀδελφός). It means “from the same womb”. Maybe you recognize that our word “Philadelphia” is a combination of this word and phileo (φιλέω), one of the Greek words for “love”. I’m sure you know, Philadelphia, PA is called “the city of brotherly love” and its name is adapted from the church at Philadelphia taught about in Revelation chapter three. In these verses Paul is recognizing that the church in its universal aspect is a body of brothers and sisters. He is addressing the local assembly at Thessalonica, yet the application is for all the true local churches in the entire church age. The word he uses for “pray” is proseuchomai (προσεύχομαι), which means “to supplicate”, or to plead with God. He knew that earnest prayer would be needed for the great work of the church, and all involved, both then and now. He later repeats this to those at Thessalonica. “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you”(2 Thessalonians 3:1). So we must pray for the elders and preachers, as well as for all in the body of Christ
GREET ALL THE BRETHREN WITH A HOLY KISS
On my first iron curtain trip, back in 1978, we were in Moscow and were greeted by a Christian brother from a Baptist church. My traveling companion was Jim Courter, a man gifted to learn and speak many languages. Since then, his ministry has taken he and his family to Austria, Israel and many other places. Perhaps Jim knew what was about to happen, but I did not, even though I had studied about Russian culture, even some about Russian churches. After saying hello in Russian, this bearded brother embraced Jim and kissed him full in the mouth to greet him with a holy kiss. The Christians there take this verse literally! Well, me being a shy American, and perhaps in culture shock a little, I smiled and greeted him, and then I stuck out my hand for him to shake. After that, I think we embraced, but did not kiss!
Now, as we study this passage, do the Russian Christians (and others as well), interpret it correctly? Is this talking about a literal kiss? Well the text says “holy” kiss. The Greek hagios (ἅγιος) means “consecrated, or sacred; morally blameless” (Strongs). Kiss means “a kiss” Greek philema (φίλημα) .We could say like the old song from the Bogart movie “A kiss is just a kiss”, but that is not correct here. It is a holy kiss, not any thing to do with erotic stimulation or pleasure. You see, in the early church, the women and men were separated in the assembly. This had the effect of keeping a holy decency. When later, men and women sat together, this practice caused some problems, which assemblies had to correct. Nothing is said regarding a kiss between the sexes. Then as now this should normally be discouraged. Even an embrace of a man and a woman should not be a routine greeting in the modern church. There may be an extraordinary, rare, moment when it might be permissible, but not a regular thing lest it lead to problems of familiarity. As Matthew Poole observes: “It is called a “holy kiss” to distinguish it from treacherous kiss of Judas, or the lustful kiss of the harlot (Proverbs 7:13)”.
What about the problem of homosexuality in today’s society? Of course, it existed in the first century, but was not the controversial, militant issue it is in our time. So, in my judgment precautions of modesty should be taken in the church, if for no other reason, to properly guard our children. I would contend that an embrace between brethren would qualify as today’s holy kiss. Of course, I do not know everything, and I could be wrong, but it seems the safest way to approach this today. Let me emphasize that to embrace all brothers and sisters is not wrong and is here encouraged. We Christians are to love one another with a spiritual love an agape love, not an illicit love (which is what the world calls love, but really isn’t). We do not love each other with a carnal love, an eros love, but the love of Christ shed abroad in our hearts. Don’t be afraid to love other Christians with this kind of love.
I CHARGE YOU -- READ THIS EPISTLE
Paul said in verse 27 “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren” He was saying “I adjure by the Lord”. He was firmly commanding that not only the leaders in Thessalonica read his first epistle, but all the church must hear it. It was from the Lord and this letter, and later the second one, had much to say regarding the Lord’s coming, and how to live in the interim. That interim so far has been almost 2000 years, but Christ is still coming as Peter reminds us “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation”(2Peter3:3,4).
These words from Thomas Scott, 1747-1821, say it very nicely:
“The original is “ I adjure you“---The solemn charge implies likewise a most decided claim to divine inspiration: for it evidently places this, and consequently the Apostles other epistles, on the footing of the ancient scriptures “The oracles of God”. (Note: Colossians 4:15, 16). It likewise shews that both oaths and adjurations are in some cases lawful; and that the subject, concerning which the apostle wrote, was considered by him, as peculiarly important. This is worthy of the most serious consideration of all those, even among protestants, who do not make the reading of the scriptures a part of the service, when they meet in the worship of God; and of those who read them in so careless and indistinct a manner, that the congregation cannot hear or understand them. The advantage to illiterate people, to the multitude who cannot read, or who can read but imperfectly, of an audible, distinct, and emphatical reading of the scriptures in public, can scarcely be calculated. It will soon render even the best preaching more fully understood; and it will in some degree supply the deficiency , in other cases”.
CLOSING PRAYER FOR OUR GRACE
Then, as he so often does, Paul prays for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with all of them, and us today. We need it greatly today, and as someone said at the close-- amen! So be it!
Published by Charles Woodruff- email: firstname.lastname@example.org