A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 5:23-28. 4). Conclusion.
Paul has given us towards the end of his letter an idyllic picture of the local church. In referring to the pastorate, the fellowship and the worship he has touched on the three main relationships of church members – to their pastors (respect and love), to each other (mutual care and support) and to God (both listening and responding to him). Moreover, all three are transformed when we remember that we are ‘brethren’ (the key word of the section, I have suggested), brothers and sisters in the family of God. Yet this living out of *philadelphia* in the local church is possible only by the gracious work of God, which Paul specially highlights in several of his six final sentences.
a) Paul prays for their sanctification (5:23).
He refers to *God himself*, whom he describes as *the God of peace*, (The same title occurs in Rom.15:33; 16:20; Phil.4:9 and Heb.13:20. Cf. ‘the Lord of peace’ in 2 Thess.3:16), either because he is the author of harmony, or because he is himself the only perfectly integrated personality who exists. He then frames a double petition. He prays first that God will *sanctify* them through and through, and secondly that their whole spirit, soul and body may be *kept blameless* at the Parousia. Although on the surface one prayer is for their ‘sanctification’; and the other for their ‘preservation’ , there is no substantial difference between them if, as seems probable, the second should be paraphrased ‘be kept so as to be blameless at the Parousia’. Certainly the emphasis in both prayers is on the thoroughness of God’s sanctifying work, ‘through and through’ translating *holoteles* and ‘whole’ translating *holokleros*. If these words can be distinguished, then probably the former implies ‘a totality from which no part is excluded’ and the latter ‘an integrity in which each part has its due place and proportion’.
This ‘wholeness’ is further emphasized in the expression (spirit, soul and body*. ‘Over this passage’, Findlay writes, ‘the Trichotomists and Dichotomists wage war’, that is, those who think that human beings have three parts (spirit, soul and body) and those think that we have only two (whether ‘soul and body’ as in Mt.10:28 or ‘spirit and flesh’ as in 2 Cor.7:1). It must certainly be agreed that usually the New Testament describes us as having two parts, the one material and the other immaterial. Moreover, ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ are often synonymous in Scripture as when Mary said ‘My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour’ (Lk.1:46-47). In fact, only twice, apart from this verse in 1 Thessalonians, are ‘spirit’ and ‘soul;’ clearly distinguished in the New Testament (In Heb.4:12 *psyche* [soul] and *pneuma* [spirit] are distinguished, as are the adjectives *psychikos* and *pneumatikos* in 1 Cor. 2:14-15).
If, on the other hand, Paul is here affirming a tripartite view of our humanness, as the early fathers mostly believed, then Lightfoot’s explanation seems best. The spirit is ‘the ruling faculty in man …through which he holds communication with the unseen world’; the soul is ‘the seat of all his impulses and affections, the centre of his personality’; while the body ‘links him to the material world and is the instrument of all his outward deeds’. But we should not press Paul’s formulation into a precise scientific or theological statement of human beings; it surely has a rhetorical element, as when we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk.12:30).
|Tomorrow: 1 Thessalonians 5:24. b). Paul affirms God’s faithfulness.|
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.