1 Thessalonians 5:23 (ESV) … “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Thessalonians is a personal prayer offered up by the Apostle Paul for the Christians in Thessalonica. This prayer resembles a similar prayer made earlier in this letter (3:11–13). That prayer was a plea for holiness among God’s people knowing that Christ could return at any moment. It also echoes back to the call to holiness in 4:4–8. Holiness is key for those who serve Holy God. Three features of this second prayer stand out.
First, the emphatic way in which God is mentioned (“May the God of peace himself …”). Here we find the use of the aorist infinitive of the verb “to make holy” or “to sanctify” indicate that the stress is placed on the eschatological status (end of times) of believers as holy rather than on their ethical progress. In other words, it is not simply that God is asked to inspire and sustain believers in their growth in this life (as in 3:11–13); rather, God is asked to present them completely holy at the time of judgment. The focus is upon what God himself does for us as a God of peace.
Second, the unusual mention of “spirit and soul and body” points to the totality of the person who is made holy (cf. Deut 6:5; Matt 22:37). It reinforces the notion of 4:4–8 that holiness has to do with sexual and social matters more than with something strictly religious. In other words, how we live in this every day world matter to God. It isn’t just how we live on Sunday’s when we come together, it is how we live when the body of Christ is scattered throughout the week.
Third, the description of God as “the one who calls you” (1:4; 2:12; 4:7) and the affirmation that God is reliable and will do what has been promised (5:24) provide a reassurance to those who may be anxious about the final day. The certainty that they in fact will be holy, sound, and blameless rests on a faithful God and not on their progress or lack of progress in the life of holiness.[i]
This prayer of Paul is a prayer we ought to pray for one another each day. Each day we ought to ask God to grow and sustain the body of Christ. To help us live out a holy faith in an unholy world and finally give thanks to a God who is faithful to fulfill his promise to make us holy in eternity.
[i] Cousar, C. B. (2001). Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians : a literary and theological commentary (p. 234). Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing.