Christian Behaviour

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In chapter 4 we have reached the watershed of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. There is an abrupt change of topic between chapter 3 and chapter 4. So far Paul has been looking back to his visit and the events which followed it, and has been defending himself against his critics’ accusations. Now, in chapters 4 and 5, he looks to the present and future of the Thessalonian church, and addresses himself to certain practical problems of Christian conduct which were evidently troubling them.

  • Paul continues his kind of SWOT analysis by drawing attention to some weaknesses that were present among them and some threats to their future success as the church of Christ.
  • This section is a move from focussing on the proclamation of the gospel to the demonstration of the gospel;

Note John Stott’s framework for the study of 1Thessalonians:

  1. Christian evangelism - how the Church spreads the gospel [1:1-10].
  2. Christian ministry - how pastors serve both the gospel and the church [2:1-3:13].
  3. Christian behaviour - how the Church must live according to the gospel [4:1-12].
  4. Christian hope - how the gospel should inspire the Church [4:13-5:11].
  5. Christian community - how to be a gospel Church [5:12-28].


1.        The Authority

a.       The Voice

The authority with which Paul spoke: “we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you…” [4:1].

§  ἐρωτῶμεν - “beseech” [4:1], present active indicative, ‘to ask for’; ‘to request, urge’;

§  παρακαλοῦμεν - “exhort” [4:1], present active indicative, from para, ‘to beside’, and kalew, ‘to call’; ‘to ask for earnestly’; ‘to urge towards accepting some kind of conduct’;

b.       The Basis

                                                                                                         i.            By the Lord Jesus

The source from which Paul exercised the authority: “by the Lord Jesus…” [4:1].

§  ἐν - “by” [4:1], primary idea of ‘withinness’; ‘close relationship’; ‘identification with’;

§  κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ - “Lord Jesus Christ” [4:1],

                                                                                                       ii.            Through the Lord Jesus

The authority: “by the Lord Jesus” [4:2].

§  διὰ - “by” [4:2], genitive, ‘through, by way of’;

§  κυρίου Ἰησοῦ - “Lord Jesus” [4:2],

c.        The Framework

The authoritative framework: “for you what commandments…” [4:2].

§  οἴδατε - “know” [4:2], perfect active indicative, ‘to have seen or perceived and hence know’;

§  παραγγελίας - “commandments” [4:2], from pará, ‘to the side of’, and aggéllō, ‘to tell, declare’; ‘to pass on an announcement’, hence, ‘to give the word to someone nearby, to advance an order, charge or command’; ‘command, order, instruction’;

§  ‘often used either for a military command or for a civil order, for example, by a court or by magistrates’;

§  ἐδώκαμεν - “gave you” [4:2], aorist active indicative, ‘to give, grant, appoint’;


Paul’s gospel is the “word of God” [2:13]; Paul’s instructions are the “commands” [4:2] of Christ.

2.        The Imitators

a.       The Teaching 

The teaching of the apostles: “as you have received of us how…” [4:1].

§  καθὼς - “as” [4:1], conjunction, ‘just as’; ‘according as’;

§  παρελάβετε - “received” [4:1], aorist active infinitive, from pará, ‘from, to beside’, and lambánō, ‘to take, receive’; ‘to take near, with, or to oneself, to receive to oneself’; ‘bring along with’; ‘learn from someone’;

§  παρʼ ἡμῶν - “of us” [4:1], ‘from, to beside’;

b.       The Current Behaviour

The imitators of Paul and his companions: “as also you are doing…” [4:1]. (ESV)

§  καθὼς καὶ - “as also” [4:1], ‘just as’; ‘according as’;

§  περιπατεῖτε - “you walk” [4:1], present active indicative, ‘to walk around’; ‘to conduct one’s life’;

                                                                                                         i.            The Imitators

They began to follow the example of the apostles and of the Lord: “you became followers of us…” [1:6].

§  ἐγενήθητε - “became” [1:6], ‘to come to exist’; ‘to come into being’;

§  μιμηταὶ - “followers” [1:6], ‘to imitate, mimic’; ‘to do what is seen to be done by someone else’;

§  ἡμῶν ἐγενήθητε καὶ τοῦ κυρίου – “of us and of the Lord” [1:6], ‘continuity’;

                                                                                                       ii.            The Role Models

They were also role models in the way in which they received the gospel: “so that your were examples…” [1:7].

§  γενέσθαι - “you were” [1:7], aorist middle infinitive, ‘to come to exist’; ‘to come into being’;

§  τύπον - “examples” [1:7], literally ‘to blow’; by metonymy, ‘the impression made by the blow mark, trace’; ‘image’; ‘model to be imitated’.

§  The τύπον could be (i) the example or model that would be used to produce clay pots; (ii) a relief carving or painting that represented not only the one depicted but also the person’s character; (iii) the seal that leaves an impression; (iv) the mould by which some material, such as soft clay, was shaped.


Paul recognises their present achievement; but Christian can never rest satisfied; so Paul urges them to further endeavour.

3.        The Foundation

a.       The Necessity

The divine necessity: “how you ought to walk…” [4:1].

§  δεῖ - “ought” [4:1], ‘necessity and inevitability arising from the plan of God’; “he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things…” [Mar.8:31]; “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory” [Luk.24:26].

§  περιπατεῖν - “walk” [4:1], ‘to walk around’; ‘to conduct one’s life’;

b.       The Foundation

The foundation on which Christian ethical behaviour is built: “and to please God…” [4:1].

§  ἀρέσκειν - “to please” [4:1], ‘to make one inclined to’; from the original legal sphere the term passed into the aesthetic in the sense of ‘to please’ someone;

                                                                                                         i.            The Concept

The concept is based on personal relationships: ‘to soften one’s heart towards another’;

§  It implies the establishment of a positive relationship between two factors and therefore ‘to make peace’ or ‘to reconcile’.

§  It strikes at the root of discipleship: “the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” [Joh.8:29].

§  The only alternative: “they please not God, and are contrary to all men” [2:15].

§  Paul’s motivation: “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which tries our hearts” [2:4].

                                                                                                       ii.            The Orientation  

There is the beginning of a new life in the active service of God: “to serve the living and true God” [1:9].

§  δουλεύειν - “to serve” [1:9], present active infinitive, ‘to be a slave’; ‘to be under the control of’;

§  ζῶντι - “living” [1:9], ‘to have life’;

§  ἀληθινῷ - “true” [1:9], ‘real, genuine’;

c.        A Progressive Principle  

The need to progress and advance: “so you should abound more and more” [4:1].

§  περισσεύητε - “abound” [4:1], present active subjunctive, ‘to be present over-abundantly’; ‘to provide in abundance’; 

§  μᾶλλον - “more and more” [4:1], ‘very much’; ‘exceedingly’; 

§  The progressive principle: “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” [Col.1:10].


The idea of “pleasing God” is a radical concept: “for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” [Gal.1:10].

§  It challenges the reality of Christian profession; how can we claim to know God and love if we do not seek to please him?

§  The way of life they have adopted is ‘to give way to’ ever-increasing excellence in their moral conduct.

§  The conduct prescribed was not optional but obligatory since the source of the reaching was not simply human but divine.

§  The norms for conducting themselves in this “service” [1:9] are those that God establishes and not those that the society considers acceptable. 


Despite praise for the conduct of the Thessalonians [4:1], there were some deficiencies in their conduct.

1.        The City of Thessalonica

a.       The Roman Context

Paul was writing from Corinth to the Thessalonians. In Corinth, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sex and beauty, whom the Romans identified with Venus, sent her servants out as prostitutes to roam the streets by night.

§  Thessalonica, on the other hand, was particularly associated with the worship of deities called the Cabiri, in whose rites ‘gross immorality was promoted under the name of religion’.

§  It was widely accepted that men either could not or would not limit themselves to their wife as their only sexual partner.

b.       The Roman Period 

The Roman cities of the day: “nations who know not God…” [4:5].

§  ἔθνη - “Gentiles” [4:5], ‘heathen’; ‘pagan’;

§  μὴ εἰδότα - “know not” [4:5], perfect active participle, ‘to have seen or perceived and hence know’;

                                                                                                         i.            The Social Norms

Bruce summarises the situation and the social norms of the day:

§  A man might have a mistress who could provide him with sexual pleasure and also with intellectual companionship.

§  The institution of slavery made it easy fro him to have a concubine; they could be used to satisfy sexual desires.

§  Casual gratification was readily available to any man from a harlot.

§  The function of the wife was to manage his household and to be the mother of his legitimate children and heirs.

§  However, adultery with the wife of another man was strictly condemned.

c.        The Thessalonians

Some of the Thessalonians had already rejected Paul’s teaching: “he that despises despises not man…” [4:8].

§  The Gentile members of the Thessalonian church would have found it difficult to understand how their conversion to the living God necessitated abandoning those pleasures that their previous religious alliances had approved or ignored.

§  It appears that Paul is addressing the men in this section instead of the women as those in the Thessalonian church who were resisting the apostolic teaching on sexuality.

2.        The General Statement on Christian Ethics

a.       The Will of God

Christian ethics were centred on the will of God: “this is the will of God, your sanctification…” [4:3].

§  θέλημα - “will” [4:3], ‘purpose, intent, desire’;

b.       The Sanctification

The will of God is “your sanctification” [4:3].

§  ἁγιασμὸς - “sanctification” [4:3], noun, ‘set apart’; ‘consecration’; ‘dedication to the Lord’;

§  The call to sanctification is at the very heart of God’s plan: “as he who has called you is holy, so be ye holy…” [1Pet.1:15-16].

                                                                                                         i.            The Conversion

The purpose of God: “for God has not called us unto uncleanness…” [4:7].

§  ἐκάλεσεν ἡμᾶς - “called” [4:7], ‘to summon’; ‘to call to a task’;

§  ἐν - “unto” [4:7], primary idea of withinness;

§  ἁγιασμῷ - “holiness” [4:7], ‘set apart’; ‘consecration’; ‘dedication to the Lord’;

§  The aorist active of the verb points to the time of their conversion: “turned from idols…” [1:9].

                                                                                                       ii.            The Holy Spirit

God has given the believer the Holy Spirit for the purpose of sanctification: “who has also given…” [4:8].

§  διδόντα - “given” [4:8], present active participle, ‘to give, deposit’; ‘to appoint’;

§  εἰς ὑμᾶς - “unto us” [4:8], ‘movement up to and into’;

§  τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτοῦ τὸ ἅγιον - “Holy Spirit” [4:8],

c.        The Present Prohibition  

Paul introduces a particular prohibition: “abstain from fornication” [4:3].

§  ἀπέχεσθαι - “abstain” [4:3], present middle infinitive, from apó, ‘from’, and échō, ‘to have, be’; ‘to hold off from, as a ship from the shore, to avert, restrain’; ‘to have a clean cut from’:  

§  ἀπὸ - “from” [4:3], ‘separation’; ‘motion away from’;

§  πορνείας - “fornication” [4:3], ‘sexual immorality’; ‘sexual sin of any kind’; ‘any kind of sexual relation outside of heterosexual marriage’;


The Pauline ethic: “but fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not once be named among you…” [Eph.5:3].

§  This was God’s will for them, and what distinguished them from the people around them as those whom God had separated for himself.

3.        The Focus  

a.       The Acquirement  

The centrality of the marriage relationship: “that everyone of you should know…” [4:4].

§  εἰδέναι - “know” [4:4], perfect active, ‘to have seen or perceived and hence know’;

§  κτᾶσθαι - “possess” [4:4], present middle or passive infinitive,

                                                                                                         i.            1st Possible Meaning

In classical Greek the verb ranged in meaning from ‘being proficient in something’ to ‘the exercise lordship over slaves’;

§  The mastery one has over something is communicated by κτᾶσθαι, making possible the meaning ‘control’.

                                                                                                       ii.            2nd Possible Meaning  

The word κτᾶσθαι may also convey the sense of ‘to get for oneself’; ‘to acquire or procure’;

§  The thing acquired may be money, salary, horses, book, etc.

§  Judas: “this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity…” [Acts 1:18].

Conclusion: whenever the verb appears in the context of the marital relationship it conveys the latter sense of ‘to acquire’.

b.       The Vessel  

The centrality of the marriage relationship: “possess his vessel…” [4:4].

§  σκεῦος - “vessel” [4:4], ‘any type of instrument that could be used to accomplish some work’; ‘object, vessel’; ‘person, life’;

§  The question: is the “vessel” a metaphor for ‘wife’ or for ‘body’? if the former, Paul is urging them to ‘take a wife fro himself’; if the latter, Paul is urging them to ‘gain mastery over his body’;

                                                                                                         i.            The Wife

The use of σκεῦος gives rise to two possible interpretations:

§  Used once with reference to wife: “giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel…” [1Pet.3:7].  

§  The analogy of Scripture: what Paul writes here is an early, embryonic statement of the more developed position which he expressed a few years later: “since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife…” [1Cor.7:2-9].

                                                                                                       ii.            The Body 

The second of these is a reference to the “body”:

§  Used metaphorically of human beings: “we have this treasure in earthen vessels…” [2Cor.4:7].

§  In a passage strikingly similar to 1Thessalonains, Paul explains to Timothy: “If a man therefore purges himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour…” [2Tim.2:21].

c.        The Dual Reference

The kind of control Paul has in mind is that which is in accord with the will of God:

                                                                                                         i.            The Context  

The God-ward aspect of the control:  “in sanctification…” [4:4].

§  ἐν - “in” [4:4], primary idea of withinness;

§  ἁγιασμῷ - “sanctification” [4:4], ‘set apart’; ‘consecration’; ‘dedication to the Lord’;

                                                                                                       ii.            Honour

The social, community aspect of control: “in honour…” [4:4].

§  τιμῇ - “honour” [4:4], ‘honour, respect’; ‘value, price’; “giving honour unto the wife…” [1Pet.3:7].

§  “Honour” is the respect and recognition a person receives from the community because of his or her position or achievement; in societies surrounding the Mediterranean, “honour” was a high cultural value;

§  The “honour” is that received in the sight of God: “walk and please God…” [4:1].

d.       The Negative Aspect

The emphasis of Paul’s ethic is in direct contrast to the society in which they lived: “not in the lust of concupiscence…” [4:5].

§  πάθει - “lust” [4:5], ‘that which befalls one’; ‘lust, passion’; ‘the soul’s diseased condition out of which the various lusts spring’; ‘sexual passion which is combined with or grows out of ἐπιθυμία’; 

§  ἐπιθυμίας - “concupiscence” [4:5], genitive of origin, ‘to desire greatly’; ‘passionate longing’;

§  ἔθνη - “Gentiles” [4:5], ‘heathen’; ‘pagan’;

§  μὴ εἰδότα - “know not” [4:5], perfect active participle, ‘to have seen or perceived and hence know’;


As the new people of God, these who were converted out of idolatry should demonstrate their new community identity in their lifestyle.

4.        The Specific Problem

Paul then turns to specify the issue that motivated him to write this section. Sexual excesses were commonly tolerated in Greek society, even those of married men. However, adultery with the wife of another man was roundly condemned.

a.       The Adultery

There appears to have been a case of adultery between members of the Christian community: “that no man go beyond and defraud his brother…” [4:6].

§  ὑπερβαίνειν - “go beyond” [4:6], present active infinitive, from hupér, ‘beyond’, and baínō, ‘to go’; intransitive, ‘to go or pass over a wall, mountains’; figuratively, ‘to overstep certain limits, to transgress’; used only in 1 Thess. 4:6, ‘to go too far, beyond what is right’;

§  πλεονεκτεῖν - “defraud” [4:6], ‘to desire to posses more than one should have in any area of life’; ‘to exploit, take advantage of’; ‘to get the better of’;

§  ἀδελφὸν - “brother” [4:6], ‘fellow-believer’; ‘brother in the faith’;

§  πράγματι - “matter” [4:6], ‘deed, matter’; ‘a certain matter’;

b.       The Judgement

Paul outlines the negative aspect; The Lord is judge: “because the Lord is the avenger…” [4:6].

§  ἔκδικος - “avenger” [4:6], ‘a legal title’; ‘punisher, avenger’; ‘justice giver’;

§  προείπαμεν - “forewarned” [4:6], aorist active, ‘to say before’; ‘to speak in advance’;

§  διεμαρτυράμεθα - “testified” [4:6], aorist middle, ‘to affirm solemnly’; from diá, an intensive, and martúromai, ‘to witness, bear witness’; ‘to bear witness, testify earnestly or repeatedly’, or ‘to charge as it were before witnesses, to affirm’;

c.        The Motivation

Paul outlines the positive motivation: “for God has not called us unto uncleanness…” [4:7].

§  ἐκάλεσεν ἡμᾶς - “called” [4:7], ‘to summon’; ‘to call to a task’;

§  ἀκαθαρσίᾳ - “uncleanness” [4:7], ‘to be impure’; ‘sexual impurity, immorality’; opposite of sanctification’; 

§  ἁγιασμῷ - “holiness” [4:7], ‘set apart’; ‘consecration’; ‘dedication to the Lord’;

d.       The Sin Against the Holy Spirit  

The person who is guilty of the sin is guilty of rejecting God: “he therefore that despises…” [4:8].

§  ‘O ἀθετῶν - “despises” [4:8], present active participle, ‘to reject, set aside’; “Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith” [1Tim.5:12].

§  διδόντα - “given” [4:8], present active participle, ‘to give, deposit’; ‘to appoint’;

§  εἰς ὑμᾶς - “unto us” [4:8],

§  τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτοῦ τὸ ἅγιον - “Holy Spirit” [4:8],


Sanctification is at the same time both a divine work and a human obligation that can only be met through the power of the Holy Spirit.

  1. TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER [4:9-12]

Paul’s argument: ‘to work for one’s living is a mark of brotherly love, becsue then we do not need to depend on the support of fellow-Christians’.

1.        The Christian Community  

Paul now moves to addressing questions which may have been communicated to him throguh Timothy’s report. This first of these questions is with regard to brotherly love.

a.       The Brotherly Love  

The necessity for Christian love: “but as touching brotherly love you need not…” [4:9].

§  Περὶ - “touching” [4:9], ‘concerning’;

§  φιλαδελφίας - “brotherly love” [4:9], from phílos, ‘friend’, and adelphós, ‘brother’; ‘one who loves his brother’;

§  οὐ χρείαν - “need” [4:9], ‘what is needed’; ‘what is lacking’;

§  γράφειν - “write” [4:9], ‘to engrave’; ‘write a letter’;

b.       The God-Ordained Family Principle

The brotherly love was the result of divine teaching on the matter: “you are taught of God…” [4:9].

§  θεοδίδακτοί - “taught of God” [4:9], from Theós, ‘God’, and didáskō, ‘to teach’; ‘taught by God’;

§  A sign of participation in the age of salvation: “all thy children shall be taught by the Lord” [Isa.54:13].

§  εἰς τὸ ἀγαπᾶν - “to love” [4:9], in the Old Testament, ‘a spontaneous feeling which impels to self-giving or, in relation to things, to the seizure of the object which awakens the feeling, or to the performance of the action in which pleasure is taken’;

§  ἀλλήλους - “one another” [4:9], ‘to reciprocate’;

c.        The Self-Denying Love

Paul recognises that this grace was evident: “as you do it to all the brethren…” [4:10].  

§  τῆς ἀγάπης - “love” [1:3], in the Old Testament, ‘a spontaneous feeling which impels to self-giving or, in relation to things, to the seizure of the object which awakens the feeling, or to the performance of the action in which pleasure is taken’;

§  κόπου - “labour” [1:3], ‘toil’; in secular Greek κόπος means a) ‘beating’; ‘weariness as though one had been beaten’;  and b) the ‘exertion’ or ‘trouble’ which causes this state of weariness.

d.       The Need to Grow

Paul urged them to grow in this area also: “we beseech you, brethren…” [4:10].

§  ποιεῖτε – “do” [4:10], present active, ‘to perform’; ‘carry out a task’;

§  Παρακαλοῦμεν - “beseech” [4:10], present active indicative, from para, ‘to beside’, and kalew, ‘to call’; ‘to ask for earnestly’; ‘to urge towards accepting some kind of conduct’;

§  περισσεύειν - “increase” [4:10], ‘to be in abundance’; ‘to cause to be more’;

§  μᾶλλον - “more and more” [4:10], ‘a higher point in the extent of something’;


It is natural for those who know God as their Father to love one another: “he that loves him who begat…” [1Joh.5:1].

2.        The Admonitions

The counterpart to the note on love; one should work for one’s own support;

a.       The Ambition

Paul’s second exhortation: “you study to be quiet, and to do your own business…” [4:11].

§  φιλοτιμεῖσθαι - “study” [4:11], from phílos, ‘a friend’, and timé̄, ‘honour’; ‘to make something an ambition, aspire’; ‘to love or seek after honour’;

b.       Public Controversy & Earning a Living   

                                                                                                         i.            The Cessation of Activity 

The call to retire from public activity: “to be quiet…” [4:11].

§  ἡσυχάζειν - “quiet” [4:11], present active infinitive, ‘to rest from labour’; ‘to live quietly, a quiet life’;

§  πράσσειν - “business” [4:11], present active infinitive, ‘to do, practice’;

§  ταῖς [ἰδίαις] χερσὶν ὑμῶν - “with your own hands” [4:11],

                                                                                                       ii.            Patronage

Paul is calling all believers to stay out of public/political affairs.

§  Paul is addressing those who as clients had attached themselves to prominent patrons, whether inside our outside the church.

§  Central to the politics of the era was this relationship between patron and client. The client who had citizenship could support the patron’s cause and vote in the assembly, but to have real access to power the intervention of the patron was needed.

§  These relationships determined the distribution of political power. To maintain their rights, citizens and subjects alike were constrained to seek the protection of the powerful men.

§  Paul does not want the brothers and sisters to utilise the ‘normal’ channels of public debate and judicial defence to resolve the tensions between the members of the church and the rest of the Thessalonians [2:14]. They had another solution.

                                                                                                     iii.            The Prescription

The counterpart to patronage was: “work with your own hands…” [4:11].

§  ἐργάζεσθαι - “work” [4:11], ‘work’; ‘labour’;

§  παρηγγείλαμεν - “commanded” [4:11], aorist active indicative, from pará, ‘to the side of’, and aggéllō, ‘to tell, declare’; ‘to pass on an announcement’, hence, ‘to give the word to someone nearby, to advance an order, charge or command’; ‘command, order, instruction’;

§  “Work” was something that slaves did; to call clients to engage in manual labour to gain their living was shocking. 

c.        The Result  

                                                                                                         i.            Respect

By following Paul’s advice on public life they would gain the respect of the community: “that you may walk honestly toward them…” [4:12].

§  περιπατῆτε - “walk” [4:12], ‘walk around’;

§  εὐσχημόνως - “honestly” [4:12], ‘fittingly’; ‘in a proper manner’;

§  πρὸς – “toward” [4:12], ‘to beside’; 

§  ἔξω - “without” [4:12], ‘on the outside’;

                                                                                                       ii.            Self-Sufficient

They would also not need to depend on others: “have need of nothing…” [4:12].

§  ἔχητε – “have” [4:12], ‘to have, possess’;

§  χρείαν – ‘need’; ‘lack, deficiency’;

§  - “lack nothing” [4:12],


Evidently, the way some Christians participated in public affairs and their economic dependence on their clients did not aid the cause of the church in the community.

§  The solution that Paul presents is to retire from public debate and to quit receiving support from patrons, cutting the economic ties by taking up manual labour instead.

§  Christians should work and conduct themselves in the community so as to receive the respect and not the censure of the outsiders.

§  Those who imposed on the generosity of their fellows were not living in love.

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