COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 5:21Abstain from all appearance of evil. 23 And 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." KJV
(1 Thessalonians 5:22-24)
In Apostolic doctrine, it is the manner of the Holy Spirit to leave the people with an acute consciousness of God and Christ. No writing is of any real profit that does not impress the will and power of God upon our spirits. The Epistle of First Thessalonians is an excellent example of this. "God" is mentioned thirty-five times, with four references to Him as "He." The "Father" is mentioned four times. "Jesus" is mentioned seventeen times, "Christ" fourteen times, and "Lord" twenty-five times. Jesus is called "Him" two times. There are four references to the "Spirit." That is one hundred and five references to Deity in this rather brief Epistle. That is an average of more than one reference to Deity per sentence (105 references in 92 sentences). Of the 1,900 words in this Epistle, over 5% of them are direct references to Deity. All of that may seem rather academic, but it does confirm certain realities to our heart. Those moved by the Holy Spirit will speak much of the Father, Son, and Spirit. They will address matters within the framework of Deity. The will of God will be central in their thoughts. The redemption of Christ will be at the heart of all considerations. The enlivening Spirit will be prominent as well. Faith cannot "come" or flourish where Deity is not prominent.
ABSTAIN FROM ALL APPEARANCE OF EVIL
" 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil." In Scripture, brevity does not suggest a lack of importance. This particular expression will lift us above the realm of lifeless definitions, showing us that evil is sometimes insinuated, or suggested. Our sensitivity to wickedness is to be keen, and our senses exercised to "discern both good and evil" (Heb 5:14).
ABSTAIN. Other versions use the words "avoid," NIV "refrain yourselves," DOUAY "hold aloof" DARBY "keep from," BBE "keep away from," NLT and "shun." NJB This is a strong word that reveals personal diligence and discipline. While a strong faith and the empowerment of the Spirit is suggested, the individual who "abstains" is discerning and determined. Evil is not avoided by accident, or because God has not allowed it to be seen. Rather, a deliberate choice has been made, and an alert spirit has enabled the abstaining to be accomplished.
To "abstain" means to hold one's self at a distance from evil, refusing to come within the perimeter of its influence (and there is a border within which evil defiles you)! To "abstain" is to keep away from, and keep your hands off. It is more than not committing sin, or falling into transgression. "Abstaining" is an action that will protect the person from indulging in sin. It is refraining from being around sinful influences. It is not looking toward things that defile, dwelling upon them, or allowing them to influence us.
There are a number of things from which we are admonished to "abstain." They include "pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:20,29); "fornication" (1 Thess 4:3), and "fleshly lusts" (1 Pet 2:11). Our text adds another broad category, "all appearance of evil." We are not to allow ourselves to be enticed by and drawn to such things. Rather, in an exercise of our will, and in strong faith, we stand aloof from all defiling influences. This is an exceedingly large exhortation! It shows us how immense salvation is, and how much of our persons is engaged in it.
APPEARANCE. Other versions read "every form" NKJV and "every kind." NIV In my judgment, those words do not adequately convey the sense of the text. The second meaning of the word "appearance" is "form" or "kind." However, the primary meaning is "the external or outward appearance."
Doctrines. This exhortation particularly relates to the preceding admonition about hearing messages purporting to come from God (vs 20-21). There are some doctrines that have the "appearance of evil." They tend to give license to the flesh and cast the soul into lethargy. Such teachings foster lukewarmness and do not urge involvement with God. The people of God are not to willingly subject themselves to such words. The servant of God is to devote himself to "the form of sound words" (2 Tim 1:13), speaking the things that are "proper for sound doctrine" NKJV (Tit 2:1). This being the case, it is certainly out of order to give attention to things not falling into this classification. It is no marvel that Jesus solemnly warned, "Take heed what ye hear" (Mark 4:24).
Iniquity in general. This admonition, however, is broader than things that are heard. It also includes all manner of sinful appearances. "Evil" has a form, or shape, just like a human, a dwelling, or a vehicle. That form cannot contain the truth of God. The Gospel will not fit into it. Things pertaining to life and godliness do not come in the form, or "appearance of evil." There are things that look more like evil than like good. There are appearances that more readily promote iniquity than righteousness. While we are not to judge according to appearance, we are not to be deceived by it either. Not judging according to appearance does NOT mean there are good things that look bad. It does NOT mean that righteousness or righteous people sometimes appear as though they are evil. We are to hate even the "garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 23). When Jesus said, "judge not according to appearance" (John 7:24), he was warning us there are things and people that look good, but are really evil - not vice versa.
Some things are known to be wrong - fornication, witchcraft, theft, murder, etc. But there are other things that "appear" to be wrong. They lean the wrong way - toward the flesh and away from God. They stir up the flesh, and not the Spirit. They make it easier to be ungodly, and more difficult to be godly. The children of God are to keep themselves from such things, not allowing themselves to be brought under their influence.
EVIL. Something that is "evil" tends to degenerate. It is harmful to the soul, unprofitable, and cannot be used in the service of God. "Evil" has the hand of the devil upon it and contaminates the souls of those it touches. To "abstain from evil" is to keep oneself "unspotted from the world," a required mark of true religion (James 1:27). If the devil is "the evil one" NASB (1 John 5:18), then "evil" is anything and everything that is wed to him. It is something he uses, and something he promotes. We are to stand aloof from such things, and do so zealously. We cannot afford to be attracted by them, or to imagine they are harmless. "The appearance of evil" is NOT innocent or harmless. It is dangerous! Stay away form it.
SANCTIFYING THE WHOLE
" 23 And 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." Here is one of the great prayers of Scripture. It is most uncommon to hear this kind of speaking within the professed church. Nevertheless, this is how the Spirit leads concerned souls to pray. This is the objective of God, and therefore the Spirit moves men to so pray.
GOD OF PEACE. The phrase "very God of peace" is equivalent to "the God of peace HIMSELF" NKJV or "God Himself, the God of peace." NIV The Father is personally involved in our salvation. Because of Christ, and through the Spirit, He Himself works within us. God has Himself reconciled us (2 Cor 5:18-19), predestinated us unto adoption (Eph 1:5), directs our way (1 Thess 3:11), and gives us peace (2 Thess 3:16). Jesus promised the Father would dwell within us (John 14:23). He does so as the Author of peace.
SANCTIFY YOU WHOLLY. Other versions read "sanctify you completely," NKJV "entirely," NIV "through and through," NIB and "in every way." BBE
Sanctification. To sanctify is to hallow, make sacred, or render fit to be used. It is to separate from the profane and devote to the holy. That work involves two things. First, separation from all defiling elements. Second, uniting with all that is holy. Where these two have not occurred, sanctification has not taken place. In this text "sanctification" has to do with expression and conduct. It is being holy, completely devoted to the Lord and untainted. The following texts also approach "sanctification" in this sense: (1 Thess 4:3-4; Heb 13:12-13; 1 Pet 3:15).
Wholly. The salvation of God has to do with the entire person: completely and totally. There is no place for seasonal religion, or devoting only a segment of our life to the Lord. There are three marvelous pictures seen here. First, that unless God is involved in the work, it will not, in any way, be done. He is behind the entire work! Second, that the work of Christ is powerful enough to effect the whole person. Third, that the saints are to expect this will be done through their faith, because of Christ, and through the Holy Spirit. Let us have done with all forms of part-time religion. Heaven recognizes no such form of pretended faith.
YOUR WHOLE SPIRIT. The parts of our being are listed in order of their priority, from the greatest to the least. The closer we are to the Lord, the more our thoughts and purpose will conform to this priority. The human spirit is the inmost part of our being. It is to our persons what the most holy place was to the tabernacle. It is where we are united to God. Here is where we are "renewed" (Eph 4:23). This is the "inward man" that is daily growing in strength (2 Cor 4:16), where we "delight in the law of God" (Rom 7:22), and are being changed "from glory to glory" (2 Cor 3:18). Your "whole spirit" is all of your real person-all that is born again.
YOUR WHOLE SOUL. The "soul" is the expressive part of our beings, where thoughts, intentions, and the will are resident. The soul is to our being what the holy place was to the tabernacle. It is where we work and serve. The soul can be "cast down" (Psa 42:5), and is yet to be saved (Heb 10:39). It is distinguished from our spirit, although both are unseen. Only the Word of God, however, is capable of making the division between them (Heb 4:12). Isaiah also recognized this distinction. "With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early" (Isa 26:9). Our "whole soul" being sanctified involves our thoughts, affections, preferences, and will being completely devoted to the Lord. In the sanctified soul, loves and hates, joys and sorrows, are in synch with God.
YOUR WHOLE BODY. Here is the weakest and most vulnerable part of our constitution. Although this is true, yet our bodies do not belong to us. They have been purchased by God, and are to be devoted to Him (1 Cor 6:13-19). The sanctification of the body involves God being magnified in it (Phil 1:20). It includes subduing its sinful inclinations, refusing to allow it the prominence in our life (1 Cor 9:27). A sanctified body is one that is yielded to God (Rom 6:13). In such a case, we are "holy in body" (1 Cor 7:34).
PRESERVED BLAMELESS. The word "preserved" is used because life in Christ begins with blamelessness in every part of our persons. That state, however, must be preserved, or "kept." A "blameless" spirit is in fellowship with the Lord, walking in the light, living by faith, and walking in the Spirit (1 Cor 1:9; 1 John 1:7; Heb 10:38; Gal 5:16,25). A "blameless" soul has its affection placed on things above (Col 3:1-3), abstains from fleshly lusts (1 Pet 2:11), and is possessed in patience (Lk 21:19). A "blameless" body is one in which sin is not carried out, where the Holy Spirit resides and God is glorified (1 Cor 6:19-20). Such a person remains "blameless and harmless," though in a "crooked and perverse nation" (Phil 2:15). The fervent prayer to God for the accomplishment of this sanctification confirms what a large and necessary work it is. We do well to enter into this work energetically.
A FAITHFUL GOD WILL DO IT
" 5:24 . . . unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it." The preservation of our spirit, soul, and body in a blameless condition is not a once-for-all work. It requires the personal involvement of God Himself until the very end. You may rest assured, if your salvation requires the constant involvement of God, there is surely no point at which your own participation is minimized or excluded.
UNTO THE COMING. This is the point toward which the child of God looks: "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!" We remember Him around His table in anticipation of this coming: "til He come" (1 Cor 11:26). This is when our final change will occur (Phil 3:20-21). It is when our rewards will be received (Rev 22:12), and the "crown of righteousness" accepted (2 Tim 4:8). This is when "every man will receive praise from God" (1 Cor 4:5). This is the time of which Jesus spoke when He said, "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods" (Matt 24:46-47). To be found deficient at that time will be disastrous.
Everything about salvation points to the coming of the Lord Jesus. Believers are waiting for the Lord from heaven (1 Thess 1;10). Then is when the heavens and earth will be burned up, and the new heavens and a new earth will appear. The awareness of this dictates that we live a holy and godly manner of life, anticipating Christ's return (2 Pet 3:10-13). God is at work, preserving our entire persons until "the great and notable day of the Lord" (Acts 2:20).
One of the betraying signs of an unacceptable church is the near-total absence of a looking and longing for the return of the Lord. When this subject is rarely spoken of from the pulpit, and is not in the hearts and mouths of the people, they are not close to God. If "God Himself" is working in prospect of that day, the absence of such an awareness in the people only confirms He is not working in them. Such are on the precipice of disaster!
FAITHFUL IS HE. Faith is not content to merely ponder possibilities. It deals with "substance" and "evidence," and thus must be founded on the rock of Divine purpose, not floating clouds of imagination (Heb 11:1). The closer you are to earth, the more uncertain things become. "Everlasting consolation and good hope" (2 Thess 2:16) cannot be maintained in the lowlands of flesh and blood. But when the soul rises into the heavenly realms on the pinions of faith, the faithfulness of God becomes more apparent. Thus the soul becomes convinced that "God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor 1:9). He is committed to the work of your salvation! Because He is "faithful," He will "not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor 10:13).
He is not faithful to you, but faithful to Himself and His word. Your faith is what takes hold on that reality. He is the "faithful Creator" who maintains what He has created (1 Pet 4:19). Thus it is written, "He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim 2:13). Those believing the record He has given of His Son can live "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Tit 1:2). Even when we fail we are promised, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
WHO ALSO WILL DO IT. Can you believe that God is "faithful" to sanctify your spirit, soul, and body, preserving you "blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ?" Indeed, the Spirit fairly shouts to our hearts, "He will do it." NIV Although a most mysterious prophet, Balaam was right when he said, "hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?" (Num 23:19). As was true in the deliverance of a remnant from Jerusalem, "the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this" (2 Kgs 19:31). Our God will "finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness" (Rom 9:28). As one who is in Christ Jesus, you can be "confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6). In strong confidence you can confess with the sweet Psalmist of Israel, "The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me" (Psa 138:8). The great God of heaven has not only exalted His Son to give gifts to the church "for the perfecting of the saints" (Eph 4:12), He Himself is also devoted to that very work.
A novice might wonder why Paul prayed so ardently for something God was sure to do. Such thoughts reveal a lack of acquaintance with God. The saved have been called into the great work of the Kingdom. They are participating with the Lord in the completion of the work. This requires their personal commitment to the Lord, as well as their prayers for one another. This confirms that salvation is no small work, and is never to be so viewed.