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Mar 23, 2014

How God Closes the Deal

How God Closes the Deal

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: I Thessalonians--Empowered Expeditions

Keywords: sanctification, truth, prophecy, prophets, discernment


This last message on I Thessalonians deals with how the Spirit of God continues to grow us both as a body of Christ and as individuals through sanctification.


How God Closes the Deal

I Thessalonians 5:19-28

March 23, 2014


INTRO: Are you one of those people who just loves to make a deal? On a car…or house…or item on Craig’s List? When is the last time you actually “closed the deal” on something?

            I’m not a big fan of making deals. I like to find a deal, but I don’t really like to dicker about the price or do the push-pull thing that deal-making sometimes entails. I prefer to find a good deal, treat the seller with respect, pay a fair price and be done with it.

            For the past month, I’ve been looking for a deal on another minivan. Yes, sad to say but our minivan days still aren’t over. So when David crashed his Jeep in a snowstorm about 6 weeks ago, we began to look for replacement vehicles. I was on Craig’s List until the wee hours of the morning, looking for the best deal I could find. I was even willing to travel down to Portland or over to Seattle for the right deal.

            Know what happened? About 2 weeks ago I found a Toyota minivan for sale…in the price range we were looking ($3…J)… with the right mileage…with a clean title…sold by a non-smoker, etc., etc. Guess where it was? Yup, about 10 blocks from our house! So after we test-drove it and my mechanic checked it out, we got a cashier’s check, went to their house, got the title and registration and gave them the money. The deal was done… “closed”, as we say.


Paul’s parting words to his spiritual children in the Thessalonian church in the Epistle of 1st Thessalonians have a lot to do with how God desires to “close the deal” of our own salvation and sanctification in Christ. Before some of you drift off into daydreaming on me because of those two theological words “salvation” and “sanctification”, allow me to rephrase those words so you understand just how important they are.


“Salvation in Christ” in the Bible is actually a pretty BIG term. We tend to think of it simply as what happens in the heart of a person when they come to acknowledge that a.) they are a sinner separated from God by their sin, and b.) Jesus and his work on the cross is God’s solution to that Divine-Human separation, and c.) that they need to personally put their faith in Christ and their life under His leadership in order to become a child of God. So we tend to see salvation as the beginning point of life with Christ.

            But the Bible also sees salvation as an ongoing work of God in us that continues to save us from our sins and rebellion against God every day of our lives.


But what about sanctification? Is that a point-in-time experience with God too? Or is it a process that will continue to be worked out over our lifetime?

The answer is, “Yes…and YES!”

The Bible speaks of our “sanctification” in Christ as an ever-growing process that nonetheless had a definite starting point when we put our faith in Jesus…and will have a definite ending point when we are finally made whole in the presence of Christ in heaven.

Sanctification is that growth process we will all go through in Jesus as God seeks to “grow us up” in His image and likeness through all the different people and life experiences He is going to bring and allow in our lives until the day we die or Jesus returns.

Both the start, the middle and the finish of this “deal” we call life in Christ is something God is hard at work to make sure it all gets done.


Probably THE most important gift Jesus has given us to make sure becoming like Him is both possible and probable is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the 3rd person in the Divine Trinity. The Holy Spirit IS that “gift” Jesus promised he would send to us that would “guide you into all truth” (Jn. 16:13). And knowing and living ultimate, God-centered truth is what makes us like Christ in word and deed, right?

            So it’s not terribly surprising that, as Paul wraps up this first letter to the Thessalonians, he puts the spotlight on the Holy Spirit and what God’s Spirit does to keep saving and sanctifying us.


So let’s look at the last few verses of I Thessalonians 5:19ff.

Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

23 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. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

Paul uses “quench” metaphorically to speak of hindering the operations of the Holy Spirit. It’s a word that can mean “to suppress” or “to restrain.”

            What is it that “restrains” or “suppresses” the Holy Spirit in the church?

I quoted just a moment ago Jesus’ promise about the Holy Spirit in John 16:13-- When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

            It is safe to say that when the Holy Spirit is speaking TO or THROUGH someone, it will be first and foremost TRUTH from God. “Truth from God” is not the same as “my interpretation of God’s truth.” It is possible that any of us may misinterpret God’s truth, His Word. We can do that through the lens of our theology. We can do it through the lens of our desires. We can do it through the lens of ignorance. There are lots of “lenses” we can put on that will skew the truth of God.

That’s why Paul challenged his son in the faith, Timothy, in 2 Tim. 2:15 to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (NIV) That is why Elders in the church are to be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). Elders/pastors/teachers are the primary guardians/gatekeepers of whether or not anyone in a church family are guiding people into truth or into error. That is also why James (3:1) warned people who take up the role of “teacher” (something that Elders, Prophets, Pastors and Teachers all do) “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”

That doesn’t mean that people who claim to teach God’s truth are always truly teaching God’s truth. Quite the contrary. False teachers were a serious problem in the early church and have been in every century of God’s family. And it is important that every one of us exercises discernment and diligence when it comes to what we take as “God’s truth” whenever we listen to someone teach, preach, write, etc.

Those who claim to teach God’s truth but don’t will be responsible before God for that some day (which is why sermon/Bible study/writing/teaching prep can be such an agonizing experience if you have ever been tasked with that).

But every one of us will also be personally responsible for what we did with teachings. Did we test them against the whole of God’s Word? Did we know God’s written truth enough to smell out wrong or false teaching? Did we care enough to talk over with others what we thought God was asking us to do with any given teaching so that we didn’t misinterpret or misapply the teaching?


Someone asked me a very thought-provoking question this week. We got to talking about what seems to be a high level of mental illness in our culture today (and particularly some settings in our culture). He asked me if I thought it was primarily spiritual/demonic or genetic/inhereted or physiological/psychological (caused by body chemistry or forces beyond a person’s control).

            I told him I thought it could be related to any of those fundamental causes. BUT, I also told him that the older I am and the more I watch people who seem to struggle with what our culture calls “mental illness”, the more I am coming to believe that a whole lot of it is rooted in sin and a failure to embrace and live by divine truth. When people repeatedly believe the lies of Satan…and act upon those lies…which is another way of saying they continually walk in sin, their lives become dominated by lies and sin. Sin, when viewed from God’s perspective, is always irrational. Sin doesn’t make sense when you know the truth about something. Sin leads to living irrationally…doing things that really damage you as a person rather than help you. The result of constantly living contrary to God’s truth will be “insanity” or “mental illness” at varying degrees.

ILL: I saw this happen over the lifetime of one of my extended family members. As a child she had suffered polio. That left her weakened physically. Unfortunately, her parent’s response was to baby her. Her polio became her excuse for bad behavior as a child…and later as an adult. She married a really good man but treated him horribly. She was a selfish child living in an overgrown woman’s body. He eventually left her and her. Her parents, seeing the handwriting on the wall by then, went on to set up a financial trust that would care for her the rest of her life…something which just allowed her to continue to behave sinfully and selfishly without any real financial repercussions. Sure, there was plenty of relational and emotional fallout. But always having money to fall back on insulated her from what many mentally ill adults have to deal with—poverty. She spent the rest of her life in and out of mental institutions, therapy, counseling, etc. Why? Because she chose, over many years, to live out lies about herself, others and life rather than submit her life to God, to what He said was true about her and life and live accordingly.

            That doesn’t explain every person’s mental illness. But I am afraid it explains more people’s than we care to admit.


So back to I Thess. 5:19-21—“Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.”

IF we are not to “quench,” “restrain” or “repress” the Holy Spirit in the church or our lives personally, we MUST be people who live by God’s truth as much as possible. We must listen and obey when God speaks to us. We must not turn a deaf spiritual ear or think we know everything we need to know about what God is wanting to do with us at any given time. Nothing quenches or represses the Holy Spirit more than when we reject truth that God gives us to save and sanctify us.


Now we come to a verse (20) that has an awful lot packed into a few words. And I will be the first to say that my interpretation of this verse and my application of it certainly should be tested and tried. My job has been to study this out as best I could and then bring you what I believe it means. Your job is to study it out further, compare it with all of Scripture and work out with God how he wants you to apply it.


“Do not despise prophecies.”To despise simply means to “treat with contempt,” “to scorn” or “to reject.” This is one reason I want to be very careful about how I treat someone who says, “I’ve got a message…a word from the Lord.” It’s a lot easier simply rejecting that out of hand and saying, “God doesn’t do that anymore so you’ve obviously been listening to a deceiving spirit or your own thoughts.” But with a very clear command like this in God’s word, I think a better way to handle some “prophetic word” would be do handle it as these verses are going to go on and say we should.

            I see no reason why the kinds of prophetic revelations 1st century Christians experienced through the Holy Spirit could not be both beneficial and helpful to the church today. For instance, in Acts 21 we will see in a moment that a prophet gave a prophecy about Paul’s future that was probably very helpful to Paul and the church.

            In Acts 11:28, the same prophet Agabus predicted a world-wide famine. The result was that the churches took up offerings for the Jerusalem church to help them through that crisis. I think that kind of foreknowledge would still be helpful today. The difference might be that today we can know when and where the church around the world is suffering right now and do something about it right now. We can get the word about a crisis that is unfolding in the moment and we can move God’s resources that same day to help out. Our problem now is not a lack of knowledge but a lack of compassion, of generosity and of sacrifice regarding what we already know.

            So I think we must be very careful not to simply dismiss out of hand something God might want to tell us today about the future that will bring glory to Him and prepare us.


So let me now address the more difficult issue of “prophecies” themselves.

“Prophecies” as Paul references here is probably one type of teaching or revelation or exhortation that was taking place in the early churches. Depending on whether you think all miraculous gifts like this (and others like healings or tongues or miracles or knowledge) have ceased or not sometime after the first century church will determine whether or not you even admit the possibility that God could be doing the same thing still in the church today. This is the difference between what we call “cessationists” who think that these types of gifts (or all spiritual gifts) have “ceased” and “non-cessationists” who think that God still grants these gifts and people to the church in the world today.


First, what might this sort of “prophecy” consist of? Simply, prophecy can involve two things:

1.)    Foretelling or seeing into the future.

2.)    Forthtelling or speaking against present sins or conditions that need to change.

I’ve seen both of these aspects of prophecy abused in the God’s family…and I’ve seen it done both in Charismatic and non-Charismatic churches. So before you get all freaked out about where I’m going with this, let’s be clear about how both aspects of the prophetic ministry can be abused.

            The foretelling aspect gets abused when people and prophets think that because God may have given them insight into the future that they then know what they are supposed to do with that insight. Just because God let’s you see something in the future doesn’t mean you know how people are to apply it or when they are to apply it.

            Look at what happened to Paul himself in Acts 21:10ff when he was in Caesarea at the end of his 3rd missionary journey. A prophet named Agabus of the church somewhere in Judea “came down” to the church in Caesarea and gave this prophecy.

            “Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”

            So what should that they have done with that prophecy? Well, neither the prophets nor the rest of the church got it right, apparently. Paul, however, apparently did. Here’s how it went down.

            “When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

            I’m thinking that is what they should have thought about and submitted to at the beginning—“The Lord’s will be done.” So here is a prophecy that didn’t change the course of Paul’s action nor what God wanted to get done with him. We would probably have been like the rest of the church, trying to change the outcome, trying to change the future.

            So why would God give this prophecy? What benefit might it have had in the church’s life and in Paul’s? (Wait for responses.)

  • To prepare and strengthen Paul in his resolve.
  • To help the church grapple with persecution and suffering.
  • To let them know that God knew and was letting them in on the future so they wouldn’t believe things that weren’t true about God, persecution, etc.
  • ???


Another danger of this kind of use of prophecy is that people think or allow it to take the place of the clear, written Word of God. This is one of the things that disappoints me the most and leaves me empty whenever I’ve sat in on services of churches that seem to focus on “visions” or “dreams” or “prophetic words”—it tends to make the “prophet” look and sound very super-spiritual but has the effect of robbing people of biblical truth that should really be the heart, soul, food and drink of God’s people. It leaves me feeling like I do when I go to the county fair or a carnival and someone buys cotton candy. The first few bites are sort of interesting and sweet but after that it just leaves me feeling empty, hungry for real food and close to a diabetic coma. J

            So even if you admit that God may still be speaking about the future to some in the church doesn’t mean that you know HOW that is to be applied or responded to. Nor does it mean it should be the core of God’s teaching to people. God’s Word alone should hold that high and holy place.


Now when it comes to the forthtelling part of prophecy, even cessationists usually admit that this function should still be a part of teaching and preaching in the church. They never say we shouldn’t address sin that may be in the church. That difficult and often not-well-received ministry of calling out our sin and calling for repentance is one that is clearly still to be a part of our life together in the church.  

            But it, too, can be abused. I’ve known people who seemed to be “prophetic” or “prophets” in their gifting who were abusive in the working out of this gift. They used it as a way to tear down and beat up others in the church who they thought were sinning. They became judgmental, hyper-critical and downright mean when they exercised their gift. Yet when they were called on their own sinful way of exercising their gift, they resented it, rebelled against it and tried to destroy those who called them on it.


So how do we obey this command to “not despise prophecies”?

1.) There should always be an openness in our hearts to the possibility that God might want to speak something very timely, very relevant and very direct through another Spirit-directed follower of Jesus to us. Whether they think they are “a prophet with a word from God” or just a fellow pilgrim on mission with us doesn’t really matter. How they give us that word and how we treat it should follow God’s call in this text.

When we close ourselves off to God even being able to work in this way, I think we shut down one of the potential ways God may want to reveal himself to us or prepare us for something to come. And we should always be willing to receive a word of rebuke or correction from another believer. They may be right or they may be wrong. But if we reject that part of a prophet’s ministry out of hand, we will never have the experience of taking that to God, talking it over with Him and perhaps hearing Him say, “Yes, there is truth to what they said to you. You really need to change.”


2. Having said that, notice what Paul says we are to do next with prophecies. It’s actually a positive step: Vs. 21—“…but test everything.” Openness with discernment.

            That especially involves the prophecies about future events or issues. It also includes the prophetic calls to repentance. We are to “put them to the test,” to “discern”, to “sift and assay” the true nature and value of the prophecy. We are NOT to simply accept everything someone claims is a “word from the Lord” any more than we are to forbid or reject it.


Let me suggest a few very good and important questions we should be asking about anyone claiming to be prophetic and apply to every “prophetic word.”

1.)    Is their teaching in line with the Scriptures (not just our interpretation of the Scriptures) or does it clearly contradict God’s Word?

2.)    Are they honoring Christ and bringing glory to him, or are they bringing attention to themselves?

3.)    Are they walking in humility and submission to the church leadership, and does their ministry produce humility? True prophets of God will be people who are submissive to the God-ordained leadership of the church, i.e. the Elders/Pastors of the church. HOW, WHEN, and WHERE the prophet shares must be done humbly in concert with and under the direction of church leaders.

4.)    Does their ministry produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit?

5.)    Are their words accurate and do their predictions come true?

New Testament prophets never used prophetic authority to control someone’s life. Instead, those prophets edified, exhorted, consoled, encouraged, and strengthened believers (Ac. 15:32; I Cor. 14:3). Someone’s “prophetic message” to us never absolves us of walking by and listening to the Holy Spirit ourselves…especially in life-changing decisions.

ILL: Someone who claims that “God told me you were to marry me/so-and-so.” IF God wants to communicate about that level of life-impacting, personal decision to people, I’m quite sure he will involve the direct parties directly.



Paul ends this paragraph and God’s family commands to his church with these two commands in vss. 21-22:hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.”

Since these commands are connected to the previous discussion of “testing” prophecies, I think Paul is apparently talking about staying away from false teaching. The KJV translation of this verse is particularly unfortunate and has led to a whole lot of legalism in a whole lot of churches. It says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” So lots of Christians and lots of churches have become “sin-sniffers”—poking their noses in other people’s freedoms, becoming very judgmental and legalistic about what Christians should and shouldn’t do.

I think this command has nothing to do with lifestyle per se.  It should be translated, “Abstain from every form of evil” or “Abstain from every false coinage [i.e., false doctrine].” 

To misinterpret and then misuse this verse to wield it as a weapon of legalism is against both the general tenor of the New Testament and of the Lord’s life in particular.  Ironically, to avoid every appearance of evil is far more in keeping with the Pharisees’ model of righteousness than with Jesus’! Jesus didn’t mind being accused of being “a glutton and a wine-drinker and a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Mt. 11:19; Luke 7:34)


Now Paul ends with this wonderful doxology—a promise that should be enough to hold every one of us close to the heart of God.

I Thess. 5:23ff—“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. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”


What’s really important about these verses is WHO is “closing the deal.” In the Greek text, the 1st word in this passage is “himself”—God. It would literally read, “Himself, the God of peace, may [he] sanctify you completely…” Vs. 24 keeps the emphasis there in no uncertain terms: “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

God is the One who is going to “set us apart for holy purposes”/”sanctify” us. He’s the one responsible to see that this process of becoming more like Christ doesn’t die out in our souls.  

ILL: Whose job is it to “raise children” in a family? The parents, right? I like to joke with kids about how hard it is “raising parents”. J But the difference between kids “raising parents” and parents raising kids is truly huge.

How many kids lie away at night wondering what they can do better to create healthier, more mature, better balanced parents? ZERO! How many books do they read about raising their parents? ZERO!

But how many parents have sleepless nights, spend countless years praying, go to seminars, read books and talk with friends about how to better raise their kids? MILLIONS!

            God wants us to be clear about whose job it is to “sanctify us completely,” whose job it is to “keep us blameless” in His eternal presence? God’s. Whose job is it to make sure we become as wholly “set apart” for God’s purposes… “sanctified”… as possible? GOD’S!

            He’s our Father. He’s the one in charge of helping us grow up in Christ. Sure, we must take responsibility for obeying Him…and letting Him take control of our life by His Spirit. But He’s “in charge” of charting the best life process in which that can take place.

            I think that is why the Holy Spirit had Paul couple “the God of peace” with “sanctify you completely.” God isn’t all knotted up like parents get when junior pushes back at their leadership. We have a Father who is perfectly at peace despite even our rebellion. And he’s delighted to share that peace with us in our journey when we’re delighted to submit to his leadership. We serve a Father who has SO MANY tools and options at his disposal that he never wonders what can be done next to make us more like Christ. Even when we rebel and turn away in disobedience, God will keep applying pressure and letting life unfold in ways that call us back to Christ and invite as back into the sanctifying process.

            And God is doing that with every part of our being—“spirit, soul and body” (vs. 23). The most complete fulfillment of that promise will only happen “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (23b). The resurrection will finally sanctify our bodies as we take on the likeness of Christ’s resurrected body. Our souls and spirits will experience the same wonderful completion work of God as we finally leave all sin and sin nature behind and experience absolute and complete “sanctification.”

            To that wonderful future reality, Paul adds the clincher, the “deal closer”:

“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

Here’s the critical question: Have you responded to his call? Jesus opened the way to the Father and issued the call, “Come, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28).

  • John 3:16—whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
  • John 1:12—to as many as received Him, to those who believed on His name, He gave the right to become children of God.

[Call to trust in Christ.]


One of the most amazing things about the Good News of Jesus Christ is that our completion is assured because HE IS FAITHFUL. Our ultimate standing in the presence of God doesn’t depend on our faithfulness but His. God is not only the God of unconditional love; He’s the God of unfailing faithfulness. He’ll never write his children off. He’ll never give up on us. He’ll never, never get tired of working with us. He is absolutely, positively, unconditionally, eternally faithful to “close the deal” when it comes to our future.




Study Questions:

  1. How can I strike the biblical balance of not forbidding prophecy and yet not being gullible to believe everything someone claiming to have a prophecy might say? Read 1 John 4:1-6 & Galatians 1:8, 9. What safeguards do these verses require and how can I put them into practice.
  2. Since becoming a Christian, where have I seen growth in growing to be more like Christ (5:23a)? How do I sense or see God sanctifying me in the past few months? If those who know me best were asked these same questions about me, how would they respond?
  3. If Jesus returned today, would I be excited to meet Him (5:23b)? Why or why not? Read 1 John 2:28 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. What do I think the Spirit of God would like to change in my life before my time on earth is done? What could I do to accelerate that change? Who will I talk with about that?
  4. How has God proven Himself faithful in my life and experience (5:24)? In the lives of others around me? What causes me to question God’s ongoing work in me? Talk with God about what He wants you to do when you are plagued by doubts about your salvation or sanctification.
  5. Am I committed to praying for the spiritual leaders God has placed in my life (5:25)? What will I do to pray for these leaders?
  6. What will I do to stretch myself in greeting my brothers and sisters in Christ warmly and showing them love (5:26)?
  7. How would I define “grace” (5:28)? Where in my life do I sense I need God’s grace most? In our church? What will I do to make room for God’s grace in my/our experience?