A Call to Holiness
(1 Thess. 4:1-12)
These 12 verses of 1 Thess 4, precedes the Biblical account of the Rapture of the church at the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Irrespective of how we interpret the Rapture event itself, the way in which Christ comes, the timing of the coming or what exactly will happen at His coming, we all, no matter how we interpret it, accept that one day in the future, there will be a Resurrection (Greek, Anastasia) of the dead in Christ and the Rapture, (Greek, Harpazo) of the believers. Both the dead in Christ and those that are alive at His coming will meet the Lord in the air. (Gathered together – Greek, Episunagarge) and it is quite clear here in this letter to the Thessalonians, that Jesus Christ will one day return to receive all those believers to Himself and we shall stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ.
So, this being the case, how should we who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, live in the light of His return?
It is important to understand the context of this passage, what kind of people this letter was addressed to, their cultural background, what lifestyle the Thessalonians had been saved from.
In contrast to the Jews, who had the Law, these Gentiles had been used to living in gross immorality and idolatry. Sexual immorality was all part and parcel of their way of life and religion.
There was little or no restraint on sexual activity, in fact prostitution was very prominent in Temple worship and part of drawing closer to the pagan gods.
In these times of the Roman Empire, society was morally decadent and because slavery was common practice in this culture, people had plenty free time to indulge themselves in things of a sexual nature.
The Thessalonian believers had been saved from this culture and no doubt would have struggled with the rights and wrongs of how a new Christian should live.
The Thessalonians had recognised that the way they were living was wrong. They were serving false gods by worshipping idols.
1Th 1:9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
They accepted that their worship and practices were wrong, they had been convicted and pricked in their hearts and had turned away from these practices. They had been regenerated and converted by the Holy Spirit, to serve the true and living God.
However, as we who have also been converted, know only too well, that confessing our sins and trying to live in the light of that is no easy task. Whilst we have been forgiven and been born again, whilst we are a new creation in Christ Jesus, we are still in the flesh and to put the flesh to death is not always the easiest thing to do.
Every day we are contending against the world, the flesh and the Devil.
This passage of scripture is exhorting us to live a life that is pleasing to God.
1Th 4:1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.
To walk ( Greek, peripateo) (walking day by day)(to be occupied with).
This has the meaning of a life style to continue in this way.
This same message runs through most of the Apostle Pauls teaching. When we were studying Colossians the message was the same.
Col 3:2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
Col 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
Col 3:6 For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:
Col 3:7 In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.
Col 3:8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
Col 3:9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
Col 3:10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
In the twelve verses of 1 Thess 4:1-12, Paul exhorts us to walk in His way by being sexually pure, loving other believers, and working not meddling.
In 1 Thessalonians, he affirms that the Thessalonian believers are positionally chosen. (Elect)
1Th 1:4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
Then he exhorts them to practically live out this positional truth by walking in obedience
1Th 2:12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
In this passage, he encourages the Thessalonians with their present “walk” which is a lifestyle of faith. The Christian life begins with a step of faith, but that step leads to a walk of faith.
Christianity is not a sprint; it is a walk of perseverance along the way marked out for us by Jesus Christ. The biblical metaphor “walk” is an appropriate term that most likely came into use because Christianity was originally called “The Way” in Acts.2.
The Berean Bible and the New American Standard Bible translate the word “walk” as “to live” or “behave”
v1, Finally, brothers, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus to live in a way that is pleasing to God, as you have received from us. This is how you already live, so you should do so all the more
v12,Then you will behave properly toward outsiders, without being dependent on anyone.
Of course the big question is, “How do live and behave to please the Lord and walk His way?”
There’s a simple answer—by doing the will of God. We are told in 4:3, For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
Paul is saying here, that Christians must maintain their sexual purity. 4:3-6,
1.Abstain from sexual immorality (4:3).
Paul is very clear here “For this is the will of God, your sanctification, (being made holy) that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.”
The word “abstain” means “to keep as far away from as possible, to have nothing to do with.”
As believers we should never ask how far we can go and not step over the line. Instead, we should attempt to do everything to stay as far away from the line as we possibly can.
So, What does Paul mean when he uses the phrase “sexual immorality?” In brief, the answer is everything immoral! (Pornographic) this is what the Bible says.
The phrase “sexual immorality” (Greek, porneia), this a very broad word that includes premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, and every form of pornography.
This term covers sins of the mind, body, eyes, ears, and lips. Paul forbids all expressions of porneia because he is concerned with our “sanctification.” The word “sanctification” means “to be separate to God, to be distinct.”
It has to be made quite clear here, that sexual relations in its proper place is not sin. It is God given between one man and one woman in its proper setting. Which is marriage.
In 4:3, Paul clarifies a very important aspect of God’s will: Christians are to avoid sexual immorality like the plague. Certain things in the Christian life are not open to debate.
It is no good asking “What is God’s will for my life?” whilst practicing sexual immorality. God has already revealed in His word, that His will is that,
1Th 4:3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
If we want to walk His way, we will abstain from sexual immorality.
2. Control your own body
(4:4-5). Paul writes,
1Th 4:4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
1Th 4:5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:
The word used here is “Concupiscence” (Greek, Epithumia) which means, a longing, desire or lust for what is forbidden.
Whilst we are not living in the same time as the Thessalonians, we do encounter the same temptations and are exposed to sexual pornography in probably a greater degree than they were. The sin of concupiscence is as much a danger to us as it was for them and therefore this teaching and advice is as much relevant to the church today as it was to the Thessalonians.
Paul states that it is God’s will for us to be able to sexually control ourselves—to “gird up our loins” and resist the temptation to submit to sin.
Our natural excuse is to say, “I just can’t help myself” or “I’m a human being”. It is easy for us to make excuses for behaviour by saying “I am in love”, “I couldn’t help myself”.
Even if we don’t succumb to the temptation of engaging in illicit sexual activity, we are in danger of giving in to lusts of the eyes, especially in this age of video and internet.
However, we know from the words of Jesus that it is not just the physical act that is wrong but if we lust with our eyes or with our heart, we are just as guilty of sin.
Matt 5:27,28 You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’
28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has
already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Of course this applies to both man or woman or teenager.
It is not hard to understand that unbelievers do not answer to anyone other than themselves when it comes to sexual immorality. As long as they are not hurting anyone, or breaking the law of the land, society says it is acceptable.
Rom 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Romans 1:26-31 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;
27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,
30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
We are told in scripture that this kind of thing will increase.
2 Timothy 3 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud,
blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
This kind of behaviour is infiltrating our churches.
What is unacceptable is when saints live sexually immoral lives. Our problem is not with our society; our problem is with our church and the church of Jesus Christ throughout our country.
Much of the immorality that is going on in our societies has become acceptable by the professing Christian church.
The churches now accept pre marital and extra marital sex as normal behaviour.
Homosexuality is accepted as an alternative lifestyle. Same sex marriages are performed in many churches.
Pregnancy and abortion is rampant.
If Christians are to be an example to the world, then it is imperative that they walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
3. Protect other men and women (4:6a).Paul writes,
1Th 4:6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter:
“The will of God is that no man should transgress and defraud his brother in the matter.”
The word “brother” in this verse does not only mean a Christian brother but indicates any person.
The truth is that God cares for all people. He doesn’t want us to take advantage of any of His creations. Sexual sin robs from others. It robs both from the person and from their present or future mate, parents and other family members, and present or future children.
This is no different than stealing someone’s property. We have no more right to have sex with someone’s spouse because they are attractive to us than we have a right to steal their car because it appeals to us.
If we want to walk His way, we will protect other men and women.
This is a very hard thing to accept, especially from an unbeliever. I mean, why would God make us the way we are, with sexual desires and then forbid us engaging in sexual activity.
However, as Christians, we know that scripture teaches that man was made for women and woman for man.
This is the way God declared it to be.
Eph 5:31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.
What are the reasons for Christians to pursue sexual purity?
What are the reasons given, why we should pursue sexual purity and avoid immorality.
4: 6b. because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.
We have been warned of God’s displeasure.
On the part of a Christian this is probably a reference to the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) when Jesus Himself will elevate our sexual purity or lack thereof.
Also we have to remember, it is also likely that God “gives us over” (Rom 1:24, 26, 28) to the consequences of our sin in this life. Believers who cheat are often cheated upon by someone else. What goes around comes around! An immoral person may have to suffer the consequences of their actions in the form of a destroyed relationship, loss of family, unwanted pregnancy, venereal diseases and in homosexual cases, life threatening disease.
1Thess 4:7 For God has not called us to uncleaness, but to holiness.
To fulfil God’s calling.
God wants us to grow in spiritual maturity. To live as a Christian in a carnal way is to stunt our spiritual growth. This is not what God wants for us. He wants us to fulfil our spiritual calling to sanctification, to fulfil our ministry and receive our eternal reward.
We fulfil our destiny by being obedient to His call and walking in the way of Christ.
1Th 4:8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
To ignore this is to despise God.
The sin of concupiscence is to despise God. Our sin is not only against our brother but first and foremost it is against God.
Psalm 54:4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
King David said this after his sexual sin with the wife of Uriah, Bathsheba. The sin was against Uriah and Bathsheba but first it was against God. Our sins are of a horizontal and vertical nature.
1Th 4:12 That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.
That we do not bring reproach to the name of Christ.
It is important that we do not live as the heathen but we live unto Christ.
In our study in Colossians we learned how to Put On the New Self
Col 3:1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
Col 3:2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
Col 3:3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
Col 3:4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
The world’s eyes are on the Christian. We are to be examples in the world of how one ought to live.
We are told to abstain from all appearance of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
We are in the world but not of it.
John 17: 15, 16. I am not asking that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one.
16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.
We are told that greater is He that is in you, than He that is in the world.
1 John 4:4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
1 Thess 4: 8 gives us a very hopeful phrase: “God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”
Therefore, when God commands you to abstain, He also gives you the power to obey.
We have the ability to refrain from sin by depending on the Spirit of God