1 Thessalonians 4 – 5
Apparently, Timothy's report of the Thessalonians involved a number of matters. Paul addressed these in ch.4-5 of the epistle. They needed to be reminded to continue in practical holiness and love (1 Thess. 4:1-12). Being converted only a short time earlier, practical instruction was needed. Also, an eschatological issue had arisen. Paul had taught the Thessalonians when present of the coming kingdom and reign of Christ. In fact, the Jews brought this up when accusing Jason, etc. before the magistrates of harboring Paul; "these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying, that there is another king, Jesus" (Acts 17:7). The knowledge of the appearing and reign of Christ according to Old Testament prophecy was a great joy to the assembly in Thessalonica, and they were waiting for the Son from heaven. However, some among them had died, and it raised a question in their minds; would the dead in Christ miss out on the kingdom? Paul did not want them to be ignorant "concerning them that are fallen asleep" (1 Thess. 4:13). In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul unfolded the truth of the rapture, explaining how the dead will be raised and caught up to meet the Lord in the air, in order to be with Him and return with Christ when He comes with all His saints. Paul knew this would lead to another question: would the saints then be on earth to endure the wrath which will come before the Lord appears? In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Paul reminded the saints that the Day of the Lord would be a time of judgment, which will catch the ungodly by surprise, as "a thief in the night". The saints are "sons of light and sons of day" and therefore that day will NOT overtake believers as a thief. Why? "Because God has not set us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ". In the final verses, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, we have exhortations concerning our conduct while we wait for the Savior to come. In the first epistle Paul deals with a lack of understanding about the Lord’s coming; i.e. missing details. But in the second epistle he deals with positive error (false doctrine) about the Lord’s coming that had reached the saints via letters pretending to be from Paul.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Practical Sanctification (4:1-8)
The verb "to sanctify" means 'to declare or set apart as holy, or for a holy purpose'. As an example, we read that "God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it" (Gen. 2:3), not because it was previously defiled by sin, but because the Sabbath was to be set apart from the other six days. But when sin is present, sanctification involves separation from it. God is holy (Rev. 4:8), and all that is in association with God or in proximity to Him must be holy too; "Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully" (Psa. 24:3-4). There are several different aspects of sanctification in scripture; sometimes called positional (or, once-for-all), practical (or, on-going), and provisional (or, outward). Read more...The aspect here is practical sanctification, which is ongoing through a believer’s life; therefore it is sometimes called “progressive” sanctification. A believer may be positionally sanctified, but he may not “know how to possess his vessel in sanctification”; i.e. he may not be practically sanctified to a large degree. God uses His Word (John 17:17; Eph. 5:26-27) to continually remind the believer of what he is in Christ, and to illuminate his moral state. Furthermore, Christ is working to sanctify us by occupying us with the perfectly sanctified One in heaven (John 17:19)! Not only is practical sanctification something that God is doing, but we are exhorted to participate in it as well. We must make a conscious effort to be in the Word that we might cleanse ourselves (2 Cor. 7:1), and live in a sanctified way. Furthermore, every right action a believer takes makes the next one easier, and so on “unto” a state of holiness (Rom. 6:19). It is not only evil actions that a believer is to be separate from, but evil persons as well (2 Tim. 2:21). Practical sanctification is something that touches every aspect of our lives. God’s desire is not that we should merely be holy in certain aspects, with other corners of our life untouched. We are to be holy in taking up with Divine things (spirit), in our emotions and desires (soul), and in our physical actions (body). If we are not “wholly sanctified”, our fellowship with the Lord will be hindered (Heb. 12:14).
- It is the will of God. The new life longs to obey God, but it needs a word from God to obey; directives for the new nature.
- It dishonors our body (our “vessel”); “…to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honour”. Our bodies were not intended to be used carelessly; “the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13). The body is something God intends to be preserved in purity until the Lord’s coming (1 Thess. 5:23). We are not to allow our bodies to be carried along with the whims of the old nature, but instead to “possess” it; i.e. maintain self-control. Romans tells us how to possess our vessel in sanctification. It has to do with understanding deliverance from sin, and culminates in yielding our bodies a living sacrifice. This is a positive thing, not just negative.
- It oversteps the rights of our brother, and wrongs him; “not overstepping the rights of and wronging his brother in the matter”. The particular character of fornication that Paul was addressing was that of adultery: of taking another man’s wife (same as the offending brother in Corinth). We can see this by the context of the verses. It is interesting that one of the motivations for avoiding fornication is love; for one’s brother results in abstaining from that which would overstep his rights, or wrong him in any way. However, it isn’t the wrong done to another that makes fornication wrong. Fornication is a perversion of God’s order in nature, that “marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4). God’s design for marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Any sexual relation outside of the marriage union is a violation of God’s order, and has serious consequences. But here there is an added motivation for abstaining from fornication; love or consideration for others.
- It brings down the government of God on us in a negative way; “because the Lord is the avenger of all these things”. In the Word of God the principle of His government is made very clear: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7), and “the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (1 Pet. 3:12). If we insist on continuing in sin, the Lord’s hand will be on us in governmental judgment. The whole trinity is involved in vv.6-8.
- It violates the sanctity of our calling; “for God has not called us to uncleanness, but in sanctification”. As Christians, God has “saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” (2 Tim. 1:9). To be involved with moral “uncleanness” is not live up to our calling.
- It disregards God, and the indwelling Holy Spirit; “He therefore that in this disregards his brother, disregards, not man, but God, who has given also his Holy Spirit to you”. This is a wholly different motivation to avoid fornication. The Person of the Spirit of God is living inside my body! “Do ye not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God; and ye are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19). The believer’s physical body is the temple of the Holy Spirit in an individual sense. The Spirit is working to sanctify us. Everywhere I go, and everything I do, I take the Spirit with me. But furthermore, to commit fornication with another man’s wife is to sin against the Holy Spirit who dwells in that brother who has been wronged! This ought to have a marked influence on our behavior with regard to moral issues.
Brotherly Love and Conscientiousness (4:9-12)
New Testament exhortations on love are centered around two main types of love: divine love ('agápe') and brotherly love ('philia'). Agápe love is sacrificial and unconditional. It is selfless in that it gives and expects nothing in return. It is the love of a settled disposition. An example would be God’s love for us in sending His only-begotten Son to die for us (John 3:16). The noun ‘philia’ and the verb ‘phileo’ originate from the Greek term ‘philos’, meaning “beloved” or “dear”. Phileo love is the love of affection or friendship. It includes loyalty, virtue, equality, and familiarity. As Christians, we are to love one another with ‘philia’ love (Romans 12:10). It is a love shared by the family of God. Read more...