1 THESSALONIANS 4:1-8
4 “Finally then, brothers and sisters, we request and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us as to how you ought to [a]walk and please God (just as you actually do [b]walk), that you excel even more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you [c]by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”
Brief intro: Paul has come to a place in his writing where he is no longer “looking back” and expressing his personal reflections on his first missionary endeavor with them. He is now going to begin “looking forward” by giving these believers practical instructions and exhortations as to what is proper behavior in light of the commandments he gave them by the authority of the Lord Jesus (v.2). Paul gives them three aspects of Christian living that are pleasing to God. We are only going to be looking at two of them in this study: Their/our general conduct as believers (1-2) and sexual purity as a part of their/our sanctification (3-8).
FOCUS ONE: This chapter begins with the words “finally then.” Those words lead us to believe that Paul is coming to a close in his writing. That will eventually happen, but not here. Paul still has a few things that he would like to share with these believers that will instruct and equip them as they move forward in their faith. Paul uses that word here to introduce his final section of the letter, one that moves from their present condition to their future progress in developing holy character.
The word “brethren” as Paul is using it here does not mean “biological” siblings as it is used elsewhere (Matthew 1:2), but rather members of the same Christian community (John 21:23; Acts 9:30). He begins by “requesting” and “exhorting” these people to continue pursuing obedience to the word of God. Requesting something of someone is a gentle, more friendly way of asking someone to do something. Exhorting someone is by far a more authoritative manner in making a plea. Paul’s exhorting has such an authoritative tone to it because it includes the words “through the Lord Jesus” (vs. 2). So, I think we can surmise from this that his urging is a bit more than a request, but less than a command!
It is interesting that Paul is not intending to instruct them to behave differently, but to “excel still more” in doing what they are already doing (1:3,6,7,10; 2:14; 3;6; 4:1,9-10). One reason Paul probably added the words “through the Lord Jesus” to his appeal is because he knows that such an endeavor would never be successful without divine help.
3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to [a]possess his own [b]vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in [c]lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;”
FOCUS TWO: Have you ever wondered what God’s will is for you Christian? Paul very directly tells these believers that it is God’s will for them, and naturally for any believer, to “abstain” from any sexual sin. In our new lives as redeemed, forgiven, and justified children of God we are to refrain from sexual sin in any form whether that be heterosexual or homosexual. We are to “Cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
These Thessalonians lived in a pagan environment. Sexual frivolity was rampant. Fornication (porneia – The Greek word used) was practiced openly and people were encouraged to do so. Prostitution was considered a priestly duty and, crazy enough, extra-marital sex was viewed at times as an act of worship. No wonder Paul is concerned about this young church. Even though he rejoices in their spiritual progress so far, he knows that doesn’t mean that they didn’t sometimes fall into sin. These people grew up in a culture where God and His standards didn’t exist. But one day a man named Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, arrives and tells them about their creator and what He has done for them in the person of His son Jesus. This message went forth in power and the Holy Spirt convicted them of their sins and brought them to a repentant faith in the finished work of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:5, 9). They are now new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), “old things have passed away, behold new things have come.”
Now, as children of God with regenerated hearts, they are to move forward seeking to work out in their lives what has has been accomplished within their hearts (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul’s exhortation here is a personal one: “you abstain from sexual immorality;” “each of you know how to possess (control) his own vessel” (vv. 3-4). Such a work requires the exercise of self-control enabled by the Holy Spirit within them. So, Paul doesn’t just place this burden on them without giving them some guidance as to how they can affectively be obedient and gain the victory in this aspect of their lives.
You and I, contrary to modern psychology, are not the victims of our circumstances. We witness in biblical history as well as secular history, time and time again, people who overcame their present circumstances to go on and make their lives better. Unlike those who do not know the Lord as their savior and are caught up in their “lustful passions,” these Thessalonian believers as well as any believers, are not the victims of their present circumstances, sexual desire can be controlled with God’s help!
Paul doesn’t specify exactly how to control oneself and that is probably because there are several ways in which a person can accomplish this goal. One or another way may be useful to one person but not so helpful to another. So, each of us has to apply the necessary means that enable us to behave in a manner that set’s us apart from this world unto the Lord who redeemed us.
6 “and that no one violate the rights and take advantage of his brother or sister in the matter, because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you previously and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for [a]impurity, but in sanctification. 8 Therefore, the one who rejects this is not rejecting man, but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”
FOCUS THREE: In these verses Paul transitions from the personal aspect of sexual purity and is now speaking of its relationship to others. A question that comes to mind is this: what does he mean by “transgress and defraud his brother in the matter?” I believe that Paul is saying that when a person does not stay within the confines of their marital relationship, they break God’s law, violate His revealed will, and therefore rob others of the sanctity of the marriage relationship. That sense of security, intimacy, and holiness of the relationship is stolen from others (Ephesians 5:22-33; Hebrews 13:4).
The act of fornication with someone else defrauds or robs that person by taking advantage of them. In “overstepping” God’s moral laws for sexual relationships, in this case with another believer, a person will rob them of the purity and sanctity of such a relationship that is set apart for the marital relationship. One commentator notes that: “this refers to all the destructive societal and spiritual implications of illegitimate sexual activity.”
So, Paul goes on to tell them, actually “solemnly warn” them not to behave in such a way because “the Lord is the avenger in all these things” (v. 6). There are many reasons stated within these scriptures that should lead them/us to obey our Lord in this area as well as any other area of our Christian walk, such as:
- Overstepping God’s appointed boundaries and taking advantage of another person sexually are violations of His holiness (vv. 3,6,8).
- The Lord’s future punishment of such sins (v.6; Hebrews 13:4).
- The nature of His calling (salvation, sanctification, and glorification – v. 3; Ephesians 1:4-14).
- These standards are God given and able to be obeyed because of His Holy Spirit within the believer (v.8).
To live in such a way is called “impure” or “unclean.” Such terms should never be used of a true follower of Jesus Christ. This kind of behavior is the opposite of holiness and must be abandoned. God has called us for better things (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:5; Colossians 1:12)!
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
- Beginning in chapter four Paul begins giving some practical instructions for godly living to these believers in Thessalonica. What other instructions can you find in the New Testament that God wants you to obey? For example, Romans 12:1-2 .
- How would it look in your life and how might it impact others if you “excelled still more” in your spiritual growth?
- What do these verses teach us about the will of God for our lives (1 peter 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Micah 6:8; Hebrews 13:20-21)?
- What other verses teach us about God’s mind in regards to sex?
- What might you need to do (aided by the Holy Spirit) to practice self control more consistently in your daily life?
- What role does prayer and bible reading have in our daily walk of faith? Can they help us in the practice of self control? How?
I have added this link below to Desiring God ministries for those who are interested in reading more about sexual purity.https://www.desiringgod.org/topics/sexual-purity#escape-the-prison-of-pornography