Imagine knowing what God was going to do next.
Now imagine knowing exactly what God wanted you to do next.
Then combine these two, and what would you have?
You’d have an unstoppable you!
Just think about that for a moment.
We often swing between two questions: “What should I do?” and “What is God going to do?”
Imagine how it would feel to have the answer to both of those questions at the same time.
It would feel pretty good, wouldn’t it?
Yes! And that’s just the feeling we’re hoping to create in others (and in ourselves) by quoting 1 Thessalonians 5:24, which is frequently found vying for its rightful place among the “Top 10 Most Misused Verses in the Bible.”
Here it is in its lilting Elizabethan translation: “Faithful is he who calleth you, who also will do it.”
There are lots of ways to translate this verse, but it basically works out to three statements:
God called you. God is faithful. God will do it.
This is great encouragement for people trying to serve God, especially if they’ve sensed God leading them to do something specific. I mean, if you think you know what God wants you to do, how awesome is it to know that his faithfulness guarantees that he will get it done?
That’s why this verse frequently shows up as a motivational meme on Christian Facebook posts,
why I once knew an evangelist who claimed this as God’s promise for him as he entered career evangelism,
and why I’m tempted to claim this verse on days of doubt and discouragement as my family and I follow God’s leading to relocate and plant a church.
But I can’t.
I can’t because that’s not what it means.
And I can’t because it means something far, far better!
God’s faithfulness does not extend to my personal success but to my total, eternal salvation.
See, when the Bible speaks of God’s “calling,” it’s talking about something very different from our modern ideas of “vocation” (another word for “calling,” actually).
Oh, there are extraordinary occasions in Scripture when God might “call” a prophet or apostle, but when Ephesians 4:1 instructs us to “walk worthy of the calling by which you were called,” it’s not talking about being a good plumber or doctor or preacher.
It’s talking about an earlier reference, like Ephesians 1:18, where the Apostle prays that Christians would realize the “hope of God’s calling,” namely the glory of Christ’s salvation. Or like Romans 8:30 where God’s “calling” is that link between predestination and justification, or like 2 Peter 1:10, where we are told to make sure of our “calling,” that is, our salvation.
When 1 Thess. 5:24 refers to the God who called us, it’s talking about how God – by his grace and Gospel – invited and drew us to Christ and his salvation.
But just how far does that salvation go?
All the way.
When we read this verse in its context, we find that the promise of verse 24 follows the prayer of verse 23. In that verse, the Apostle prays that God would completely sanctify his Christian friends and preserve them until the return of Christ. (In this respect, the verse is very much like the promise of Philippians 1:6, in which he expressed confidence that God, who had begun the work of salvation in Christians would continue it until Christ’s return.)
And that’s what 1 Thessalonians 5:24 is all about. Here God is promising us that if we have heard the Gospel and, by his grace, responded through repentance and faith, then he will sustain our faith and purify our hearts until the day that we see Christ. It is a promise of total victory over sin and the world.
That’s a little bit better than saying, “If God’s given you that dream for a hair salon or coffee shop or CrossFit gym, then just rest assured. He’s guaranteed your success.”
And it’s better than telling a church planter that if God’s called him, a multi-site megachurch is just a few years away.
Let’s face it. God has more important things on his mind than making you wealthy. He wants to make you like Christ. And if he’s saved you, he will.
He might advance your career to do it. He might get you fired to do it. But he will do it.
He might use you to lead thousands to Christ or let you watch a fledgling ministry die in your arms.
He might give you a million dollars in the process, or he might force you to apply for Medicaid.
Because money’s not the issue. His glory and your joy are the issue.
So let’s stop coopting God’s word to Christian-ize our multi-level marketing schemes.
Let’s stop telling successive classes of graduating preachers that they’re destined for greatness.
Let’s stop soothing single parents and stressed-out school teachers with random Bible verses that don’t apply.
Instead, let’s point them to Christ and remind them Christ is proof that God is so loving and powerful that he will stop at nothing to redeem us and bring us into the eternal joys of his Kingdom. Whatever it takes.
And what about our quest for joy in the present? Well, because of this promise, that’s “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
For his people, that’s a guarantee.