“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”
“The reason hereof is, because all the graces and duties which he had enjoined them did belong unto their sanctification, which, though their own duty, was not absolutely in their own power, but was a work of God in them and upon them1”
For the Apostle Paul, the little church in Thessalonica was a reflection of the course of his own life. They had endured like him, sufferings and persecutions at that hand of their own countrymen. These common experiences would bring about a bond of confidence and mutual love that finds expression in I Thess. 2:8; “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” and I Thess. 3:6; “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you…”
So it is that in the midst of this rousing theme of mutual love and suffering that Paul would close his letter to them with the prayer for God’s continued faithfulness in accomplishing a secondary theme in their lives, i.e., there sanctification. In fact, at the end of a long list of injunctions and exhortations in the manner in which they were to walk, Paul adds this appeal to God. Paul viewed their sanctification as integral responsibility of their faith that finds its support, strength and accomplishment ultimately in the sure hands of the faithful God to do it.
What is interesting here is that Paul doesn’t consider this work of sanctification as some special mystical endowment or grace upon their lives by the Holy Spirit as some circles of Evangelicalism would suggest, but rather, it is the reasonable outcome or end that is in view through their suffering. Paul had elaborated on this in Romans 5:3-5; “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Paul clearly understood that the means that God uses to bring about “sanctification entirely,” i.e., Christian maturity, is God’s introduction of trials, affliction, sufferings and persecutions into the life of the saint. In other words, the faithfulness of God, Who also will do it, is the providential intervention of God in the life of the saint through these sufferings in order that we have a venue into which we might employ the injunctions, e.g., “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.” (I Thess. 5:17-21)
Such a theological concept is miles from that of the charlatan’s teachings of the “prosperity gospel” of our day. Paul repeatedly uses the phrase; “for you know” (Grk. -γὰρ οἴδατε) to emphasis their firsthand knowledge of the affects that suffering and persecution had on their lives. Perhaps one of the great illustrations of this in church history comes to us in the life of a little known, yet brilliant and humble theologian and pastor of the 17th century, John Owen. His sufferings were many and continual, not the least of which was the loss of 10 of his 11 children to death in infancy,the 11th as a young adult, a fugative pastor for the last 23 years of his ministry as well as the burdens of pastoring and dean of the Oxford university. In this context he wrote 40 volumes (no less than 600 pages each) on some of the deepest theological issues of the church. Owen knew suffering came from God for his entire sanctification; Paul’s point, God will do it!
The Rev. Ray Druckenmiller is the Pastor at Manning Community Church.