The command “be preserved” may be regarded as an active-passive verb. This means that we take the initiative to be preserved. However, God is the One who preserves our spirit, soul, and body. Therefore, we take the initiative, but God does the work of preserving our entire being. Therefore, we should pray, “Lord, I long to have my spirit, soul, and body preserved. However, I cannot do this work. I take the initiative, Lord, to ask You to do this.”
Do you have the desire, the aspiration, that your entire being would be preserved complete? If we do not have this desire, we should ask the Lord to have mercy on us and grant us such an aspiration. But if we already have this longing, we then need to take the initiative to pray that the Lord would preserve us.
Paul wrote verse 23 not according to doctrine, but according to his experience. It is difficult for us to say whether in this verse we have Paul’s prayer or his blessing. It is certain that here we see Paul’s desire, his wish. Paul desired that the God of peace would wholly sanctify the believers and that the believers would have an aspiration for their spirit, soul, and body to be preserved complete and without blame. Can you see in this verse God’s operation and our cooperation? No doubt, the apostle represents God. Thus, Paul’s wish is God’s wish. His desire is God’s desire. This means that God wishes, desires, to sanctify us wholly. But do we have the aspiration for our spirit, soul, and body to be preserved? The sanctifying work is God’s operation, but the aspiration to be preserved is our cooperation. When we have both God’s desire and our aspiration, we then have our cooperation with God’s operation to sanctify us wholly and to preserve our entire being.
THE COMING OF THE LORD
In verse 23 Paul refers to “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a further reminder of what Paul has written in chapter four. In verse 23 Paul seems to be saying, “Are you believers excited that the Lord Jesus will come back? Are you waiting for His coming? If you are excited and are waiting, you need to practice what I have just written concerning being sanctified and having your spirit, soul, and body preserved. If you do not practice this matter, you will not be ready for the Lord’s coming back. You must be sanctified and preserved. Then you will be ready, prepared, qualified, for the coming back of the Lord Jesus. You must admit that at present you are not ready for the Lord’s coming. This means that He must delay His coming until the believers are ready. Dear ones, I urge you to get ready for the Lord’s coming by being sanctified wholly and by being preserved in your spirit, soul, and body complete and without blame.”
According to verse 23, the Sanctifier is the God of peace. His sanctification brings in peace. When we are wholly sanctified by Him from within, we have peace with Him in every way.
The word “sanctified” here means to be set apart; it is to be separated unto God from things common or profane.
The word “wholly” means entirely, thoroughly, to the consummation. God sanctifies us wholly, so that no part of our being, either of our spirit or soul or body, will be left common or profane.
Paul’s word concerning our spirit and soul and body strongly indicates that man is of three parts: spirit, soul, and body. The spirit is our inmost part, the inner organ, possessing God-consciousness, that we may contact God (John 4:24; Rom. 1:9). The soul is our very self (Matt. 16:25; Luke 9:25), a medium between our spirit and our body, possessing self-consciousness, that we may have our personality. The body is our external part, the outer organ, possessing world-consciousness, that we may contact the material world. The body contains the soul, and the soul is the vessel of the spirit. In the spirit of the regenerated ones, God as the Spirit dwells; in the soul, our self; and in the body, the physical senses. God sanctifies us first by taking possession of our spirit through regeneration (John 3:5-6); second, by spreading Himself as the life-giving Spirit from our spirit into our soul to saturate and transform it (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18); and last, by enlivening our mortal body through our soul (Rom. 8:11, 13) and transfiguring it by His life power (Phil. 3:21).
God not only sanctifies us wholly, but also preserves our spirit, soul, and body complete. “Wholly” is quantitative: “complete” is qualitative. In quantity God sanctifies us wholly; in quality God preserves us complete, that is. He keeps our spirit, soul, and body perfect. Through the fall our body has been ruined, our soul has been contaminated, and our spirit has been deadened. In God’s full salvation our entire being is saved and made complete and perfect. For this, God is preserving our spirit from any deadening element (Heb. 9:14), our soul from remaining natural and old (Matt. 16:24-26), and our body from the ruin of sin (1 Thes. 4:4; Rom. 6:6). Such a preservation by God and His thorough sanctification sustain us to live a holy life unto maturity that we may meet the Lord in His parousia, His presence.
In verse 24 Paul says, “Faithful is He who calls you, who also will do it.” The faithful God who has called us will also sanctify us wholly and preserve our entire being complete. This is Paul’s word of assurance to the believers.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 19, by Witness Lee)