1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “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. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”
There never has been a perfect church. Even if there were, they would not let people like us join. Those who are looking for a perfect church are doomed to disappointment. That is why Paul was praying for these believers. They needed to allow God to do the work of sanctification in all three dimensions of their lives— spirit, soul, and body. The church at Thessalonica was just like the churches you and I attend. They had people with problems.
Notice that Paul’s prayer is detailed. He was saying in effect, “I am praying that all those sins that are rooted in your spirit will be dealt with biblically and you will mature and advance in your spirit to Christ-likeness. In that way, you will be amazingly like the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray for your soul. I pray that you will gain the mind of Christ and the will of Christ. I pray that you will live within the emotional framework of Christ Himself, and that you will become like the Lord Jesus Christ as you progress in your walk with Him. I pray for you physically that your vessel will be holy and sanctified so that God can fill you with His message and you can minister effectively to others.”
As we think about the problems we face that hinder us from being sanctified, I want to help you identify those problems, trace them back to their roots, and deal effectively with them. Dealing with the roots is critical, just as when you are pulling weeds in your garden. If you break the weed off at the ground, things look better for a day or two; but the problem is still there, and it will grow back. Unless you pull out the entire root, you have not dealt with the problem. There are three main classes or groups of problems that we have to deal with on the road to our sanctification.
Thankfully the Bible gives us the information we need to diagnose the roots of our problems. First Thessalonians 5:14 identifies them for us. “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” It is critical that we make a proper diagnosis of the problem before we try to deal with it. If you do not treat the real problem, not only will you not fix it, but sometimes you can make it worse.
First, Paul talked about those who are “unruly”. This is most commonly a spiritual problem. We may think of a group of kindergarteners who are bouncing off the walls of their classroom as being unruly, but the concept that God is showing us here is behavior that is rooted in rebellion. This is actually a military term that refers to someone who is always out of step; someone who will not be brought under control. This is talking about a systematic refusal to heed and obey the Word of God.
As we have already seen, it is important that we not diagnose a problem as rebellion when it may be something else. I remember years ago while I was preaching I noticed a man in the back of the auditorium who was making faces at me. I thought he was mocking the message and I got a little bit annoyed. I wanted to make sure he knew that the Word of God was no laughing matter. After the service he came up and said, “Pastor, I know I looked a mess out there this morning, but I threw my back out right before church and the pain is just excruciating.” Not everything is rebellion.
The second category of problems is those who are “feebleminded”. This is most commonly a soul problem. We must understand that this is not talking about someone who is not completely there mentally but rather those whose minds are weak. The word was used to describe mental illness. Please understand this very clearly. There are people who have medical conditions which require treatment. But someone who is stressed out or overloaded and having a nervous breakdown is not going to find that their problem is fixed by taking a bunch of drugs. That is treating the symptom rather than the problem, and it never works in the long-term.
The final category is those who are “weak”. This is most commonly a physical problem. It is not talking about someone who needs to spend some time with the weights at the gym but those who are having physical illness or issues. The solution for these problems is “support”. This is a medical term meaning “to nurse” or “to care for”. If the problem is physical, then it needs physical treatment. There is nothing wrong with going to the doctor when you are sick; in fact you ought to go to the doctor then.
We see that whatever the problem is, it is vitally important to identify the root cause and treat it appropriately. A physical solution will not help a spiritual problem; a spiritual solution will not help a soul problem; and a soul solution will not help a physical problem. Sanctification involves dealing with issues in any of these three areas — all three dimensions of your being. Sanctification is about growing and maturing and becoming stronger in spirit, soul, and body.