1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Stephen Caswell © 2000
In the first three chapters Paul reminded the Thessalonians of their commitment to Christ. He also rehearsed his ministry amongst them. He has given them a great deal of teaching and instruction, but now he turns to application. Much of what is now said comes as a result of Timothy's ministry there. Paul urges and exhorts the believers to further excel in their walk with God. He urges them to be steadfast in their Christian walk. The apostle concentrates on three specific areas.
To Walk In Holiness, Harmony & Honesty.
I. Walk in Holiness
a. To Please God
1 Thess 4:1 Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God;
The first reason we are given for walking in holiness is that it pleases God. Paul urges and exhorts them to excel in their walk with God. They had received commandments from Paul on how to please God. But Paul wanted them to grow, to go even further with the Lord. This is probably why he exhorts them instead of commanding them. They were already obeying these commandments, Paul encouraged them to excel more. The idea is to grow and keep growing. This is expressed by the phrase that you should abound more and more. The Thessalonians were doing the right things, but Paul wanted them to develop even greater maturity. To show even more zeal in pleasing God. Our first priority as Christians should be to please God.
b. To Obey God
1 Thessalonians 4:2 for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
The second reason for living a holy life, is obedience to God's commands. The Thessalonians knew the commandments that Paul had given them in Christ's name. In fact they received them and were obeying them. Christ spoke to the disciples about obedience in John 15:14: "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. " The word commandment paraggelia" here means Christian doctrine relative for right living. Paul had given them practical teaching on the Christian life. They were to obey these instructions from the Lord. The second reason for holiness is that we are required to obey the Lord.
c. To Glorify God
1 Thess 4:3-4 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honour, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; Paul's third reason for holiness is to glorify God. Paul now turns to the positive side of God's command.
The phrase possess his vessel probably means control his body. Believers are to be sanctified, they are to show self control over their own bodies. This is the second time that the word a&giasmo" is used and it relates to our conduct. Believers are to glorify God in every aspect of their lives. We are not to live like unsaved people. For they live according to their passionate desires and cravings. They do not show self control but rather give themselves over to all kinds of uncleanness. So Paul reminded them of their holy calling. They were to be sanctified, holy. The Greek word sanctification a&giasmo" is used three times in these first eight verses and means consecration, purification, sanctification of heart and life. It comes from the same Greek word that saint comes from. Paul says that we are to be pure, holy, set apart for godliness.
Then he states this in a negative way, abstain from sexual immorality. It doesn't matter how society changes its standards, or what liberal theologians may say, God's standard is unchanging just like His character! Christians are to have nothing to do with sexual immorality. This word has a wide range, meaning any sexual relationship outside of marriage. This includes adultery, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, rape, and anything else outside the marriage relationship. God created sex and He has authority to govern its use. Hebrews 13:4 says this: Marriage is honourable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. The seventh commandment forbids adultery and protects the marriage relationship. Believers are not to engage themselves in this sin. Such sin goes against ones own body and brings judgement, much sorrow and grief to all concerned. If you have fallen into sexual sin in the past God will forgive you if you confess it. But then you are to live in all purity and holiness!
The purity of the Ermine.
In the forests of northern Europe and Asia lives a little animal called the ermine, known for his snow-white fur in winter. He instinctively protects his white coat against anything that would soil it. Fur hunters take advantage of this unusual trait of the ermine. They don't set a snare to catch him, but instead they find his home, which is usually a cleft in a rock or a hollow in an old tree. They smear the entrance and interior with grime. Then the hunters set their dogs loose to find and chase the ermine. The frightened animal flees toward home but doesn't enter because of the filth. Rather than soil his white coat, he is trapped by the dogs and captured while preserving his purity. For the ermine, purity is more precious than life. God wants us to stay free from impurity at all costs. We may have to flee from temptation like Joseph did from Potiphar's wife. He did what was right, regardless of the cost.
d. To Escape Judgement from God
1 Thessalonians 4:6: that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.
Believers who deliberately sin
The story is told of a church member who criticised her pastor for preaching against sin in the lives of Christians. After all she said, sin in the life of a believer is different from sin in the lives of unsaved people. Yes said the pastor, its worse.
The fourth reason to walk in holiness is a warning of God's judgement upon those who reject His standard. Adultery is taking what belongs to someone else inside marriage, and using it for their own gratification. The word translated take advantage u&perbainw means to go beyond the proper limits, to transgress. Whilst the word translated defraud pleonektew means to gain or take an advantage of another. So adultery is taking in an improper way something that belongs to another person. God will avenge such action. He will punish it and exact the due penalty. For God has not called us to uncleanness but to holiness.
David and Bathsheba
Christians will not lose their salvation because of their sins, but they will bear the consequences of them. God forgave David for his sin with Bathsheba but he and his family bore the consequences of this sin. His kingdom was never the same after his sin with Bathsheba. His own children tried to take the kingdom and kill him. Israel lost it's place of respect amongst the nations. So you shouldn't think that you can trifle with sin and get away with it. God will not remove the consequences, and may prematurely take a believer home because of their sin.
1 Thessalonians 4:7 says: For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.
The word a&giasmo" is translated holiness this time instead of sanctification. It is used to contrast uncleanness in verse 7. Uncleanness here means impurity or profligate living. Paul spends so much time on this problem because it was a major concern in his day. Today it's just as relevant as ever. With gay churches increasing and homosexuals claiming to be Christian whilst living immorally. A few years ago a major denomination in South Australia condoned premarital sex. New South Wales has similar problems too. Despite these falling morals in our society, God calls us to walk in holiness.
1 Thessalonians 4:8 says: Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.
Paul says that those rejecting these laws are not rejecting men's laws but God's. God has given us His Holy Spirit to enable us to live holy lives, not immoral ones. He gives us the desire for the pure milk of the word and empowers us to keep it. The Spirit is God's seal that we belong to Him. Since we are His children we should live holy lives; even as He is holy.
What is your motive in life, to please yourself, to please others, or to please God? If you have fallen into sexual sin in the past God will forgive you if you confess it. But now you are to live in holiness. If you are entertaining impure thoughts in your heart confess them to God and receive His cleansing. Are you treating your body as though it were the temple of the Holy Spirit? Do you speak to members of the opposite sex in improperly? Do you condone acts of immorality by allowing it to come into your house through magazines or television? If so will you confess it to God, and choose to keep it out of your lives?
II. Walk in Harmony
a. Taught by God to love
1 Thessalonians 4:9: But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another;
Verse 9 starts with the strong contrast but. Paul contrasted the depraved lust of the pagan world with the love of God that they knew of. To love one's neighbour is to do him no harm. Therefore God's love is the appropriate motivation towards others. Paul did not have to write to them about loving each other because they had been taught this from God. God is love, and after we become His children we inherit His nature. 1 John 4:19 says it this way: We love Him because He first loved us. God teaches every child of God how to love. He gave us the supreme example in the death of His Son. Love is so important to the body of Christ, since it can't grow without it. Love brings harmony to a fellowship like nothing else can!
b. You are doing this, but abound still more
1 Thessalonians 4:10: And indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more;
The Thessalonians had been commended for their faith, love and hope (1 Thess 1:3; 3:6). Now Paul again says that they are showing love to all the brethren in Macedonia. But he wants them to develop this further still. You cannot have too much love in the church. Paul told them to let there love abound more and more. God used the difficulties of life to develop love amongst the brethren. Their faith was proven genuine after persecution. John 13:34-35: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Is love a trademark of your life? Do people know that you are one of Christ's disciples because of your love for the brethren? Do you get on with your brothers and sisters in Christ? Is there harmony between you, or gossip, bitterness, envy and strife? Love allows us to overlook the shortcomings of fellow believers, rather than criticise them. Has your love grown over the years or has it diminished? Are you more gracious now then when you first believed? The Lord commands us to abound more and more in love for one another. Do you show your love for the brethren by serving them?
III. Walk in Honesty
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12: that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you,
Jim Walton was translating the New Testament for the Muinane people of La Sabana in the jungles of Colombia. But he was having trouble with the word peace. During this time, Fernando, the village chief, was promised a 20 minute plane ride to a location that would have taken him 3 days by walking. The plane was delayed in arriving at La Sabana, so Fernando departed on foot. When the plane finally came, a runner took off to bring Fernando back. But by the time he had returned, the plane had left. Fernando was livid because of the mix-up. He went to Jim and launched into an angry tirade. Fortunately, Walton had taped the chief's diatribe. When he later translated it, he discovered that the chief kept repeating the phrase, " I don't have one heart. " Jim asked the other villagers what having " one heart " meant, and he found out that it was like saying, " There is nothing between you and the other person. " That Walton realised, was just what he needed to translate the word peace.
a. Welcome a quiet life .
Following his exhortation to increase in love, Paul commands them how to express it in their daily lives. He says to aspire or make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. The Thessalonians were exuberant in their faith and some were running around franticly. So Paul sought to restore order and purpose into their lives without dampening their enthusiasm. The emphasis here is to be at peace with God and yourself. This does not mean that you sit around doing nothing since he follows it up with a command to work with your own hands. The inner peace that enables us to be sufficient, comes through faith in Christ. He is our peace in a busy and difficult life.
Remember the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness and self control. God brings peace to the busiest of people who rely on Him through faith. When believers have peace in their own lives, they will be a source of peace to their brethren also. Do you have peace in your life or are you constantly striving and anxious within? If so, you need to trust God and allow Him to be your sufficiency in life's problems.
b. Watch over your own affairs
Secondly Paul says " to mind your own business." Idle people spend their time interfering in the affairs of others. Some of them had given up work and were waiting for the Lord's return. Their brethren had to support them as well as their own families. 2 Thessalonians 3:11 says this: For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies.
Some of them had stopped working and spent their time being gossips and busybodies. So Paul addresses this problem with most severe language. He doesn't want the church to become divided through gossip and slander by those who had too much time on their hands. We need to guard our tongues when talking about the brethren. What can start as sharing a prayer point can become nothing more than a gossip session. It happened amongst the Thessalonians who had been commended for so much. So we would be foolish to think that it couldn't happen amongst us.
Before we speak about another believer, we should ask ourselves three questions. Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
c. Work for your own money
Following on from the command to mind your own business, Paul says " to work with your own hands. " God has ordained that men should provide for their household. He told this to Adam in the garden of Eden and it has never been rescinded. The Book of Proverbs has much to say about being slothful and gives us many warnings. Paul had to address this problem at Thessalonica. In his second letter to the Thessalonians Paul strongly chastised those who were not working but living off their brethren. We read this in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12: For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.
This does not apply to those who are retired or who cannot find work, but only to those who choose not to work. If unbelievers have to work to pay their bills why should Christians be exempt? The witness that they give to the world brings shame upon the Christian faith. That is why Paul addressed this issue throughout his epistles. 1Timothy 5:8 says: But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
d. Walk properly before the world
1 Thessalonians 4:12: that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.
The term to those outside is a common expression for unbelievers. This is the result of all the previous instruction. The word that introduces a purpose clause. If our lives are holy, honest and harmonious, people in the world will notice. This kind of lifestyle glorifies God. It may cause outsiders to become envious. It may lead them to want this new life for themselves. People in the community notice believers who live in holiness, harmony and honesty. The characteristics of purity, love and honesty enable believers to be complete and lack nothing. A walk that pleases God will be noticed by those in the world.
Do you have peace in your life or are you constantly striving and restless within? If so you need to trust God in simple faith to be your sufficiency in life's problems. Do you mind your own business or are you one who goes from house to house being a busybody or gossip? Do you work to support your family's needs? Do you walk properly before the world? Do non-christians see your lifestyle as one of honesty?
In today's passage we have seen Paul's practical instructions for Christian living. Paul commands believers to walk in:
Holiness, Harmony & Honesty.
I. Walk in Holiness
Is your desire to walk in holiness? Do you want to please God by obeying Him through a sanctified life? Do you seek to glorify God by keeping your marriage vows with all purity? Are God's holy standards being evidenced in your life?
II. Walk in Harmony
Do you love the brethren? Is your love growing and abounding as the years roll on? Or are you becoming bitter through life's trials? Christ commands us to love on another!
III. Walk in Honesty
Are you walking properly before the world? Can they see your honesty? Are you living a quiet life and minding your own business? Or do you meddle in other folk's affairs? Are you working to support your family?
Paul praised the Thessalonian believers for what they were doing well. But he also corrected them for behaviour that was not right. I trust that we will follow Paul's example and abound in holiness, love and honesty. God uses people who are clean. He longs to pour His power into people's lives, but cannot do so unless they are pure. ... Amen.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.