1 Thess 4:1-12 – A Life of Sanctification

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1 Thess 4:1

  1. Paul was not displeased with the Thessalonians, on the contrary, he was very happy about them. But as strong as the Thessalonians were in their faith, they could still be better.
    1. From this we can learn that we should always strive to draw closer to God. The Christian should never stop and be content, but always move forward. If one has stood still too long, there is a danger of falling asleep and becoming apathetic.
  2. To “please God” should be the desire of every Christian, here Paul writes instructions on how to achieve this.
  3. Paul is referring to what he had previously said orally to them when he started the church in Thessalonica.

1 Thess 4:3-4

  1. To be “sanctified” means on the one hand to separate oneself from the desires of the world and of sin, and instead to keep oneself to God, but it also means to develop and come closer and closer to God. The further away from the sins of the world you are and the closer to God you are, the holier your life becomes.
    1. The Christian life does not stand still but is a constant movement away from the world and closer to God.
    1. Man was created in the image of God but chose to walk away from God with the fall. Jesus, who is the image of God, made it possible for us humans to repent and come back to God. By leaving the sin of the world and trying to imitate Jesus, we become again what we are created to be: the image of God.
  2. “Fornication” (“porneia” in Greek) means all sexual activity outside marriage (before, during and after).
    1. One of the reasons why Paul often warns against fornication is because (as in the West today) it was not considered a sin in the Roman and Greek world. Among the Greeks in the city of Thessalonica, prostitution could even be a religious act.
    1. For the Christian, fornication is an obstacle to being sanctified and drawing closer to God, and so Paul urges us to abstain from fornication. Paul underscores this exhortation by emphasizing that it is even a commandment of the Lord Jesus.

1 Thess 4:5-6

  1. Paul is not against sex, but he wants it to take place within marriage and for the Thessalonians to learn to take a wife in a “holy and honorable way”.
    1. Paul does not deny that even the Christian can feel passion and desire, but urges the Christian to learn to deal with it instead of falling into temptation. The Christian can do this because he “knows God”.
  2. Unfortunately, Paul does not give any concrete advice on how the Christian should get a wife, but instead urges the Christian not to get a wife as the pagans do; through passion and lust. So a Christian today should not look for a wife in the pub or any other such place. As long as this is avoided, Paul seems to trust in the good judgment of the Thessalonians.
  3. If the Thessalonians, on the other hand, do not heed Paul’s exhortations, he informs them that God is also concerned that the Christian abstain from fornication.
    1. Paul does not write how or when God punishes, but emphasizes that God does punish, thus giving the Thessalonians a very good reason to stay away from fornication.
    1. For those who are concerned about God’s punishment, there is always the possibility to repent of their sin and ask God for forgiveness (Matthew 6:9-15).

1 Thess 4:7

  1. The very reason we are Christians is because God first “called” us to leave the sins of the world and the purpose of the Christian life is for us to live a holy life for God. But if the Christian lives in fornication, he does not live a holy life and therefore misses the very purpose for which God first called and thus finds it difficult to develop in his faith and come closer to God.

1 Thess 4:8

  1. Paul emphasizes that what he writes is not only his own words, but also the words of God.
  2. Constant development in faith, sanctification and drawing closer to God are closely linked to God’s giving of his Holy Spirit to the Christian. Those who find it difficult to avoid fornication should therefore ask God to give them more of God’s Spirit (Luke 11:13).

1 Thess 4:9

  1. “Brotherly love” in Greek is “filadelfia” and stands for the love that Christians have for each other. Undoubtedly, Paul did not feel as anxious to instruct the Thessalonians on this subject as he did earlier with “holiness”, since it was widely known that the Thessalonians showed great love for all the brethren in Macedonia.
    1. It also seems that it is not Paul who has previously taught the Thessalonians about “brotherly love” but that it is something that God himself has taught the Thessalonians.

1 Thess 4:10-12

  1. Although the Thessalonians were excellent models of “brotherly love”, Paul nevertheless urges them to “overflow even more in it”, which again shows us how important it is for the Christian not to stand still in his sanctification but to move ever closer to God.
  2. Since the Thessalonians lived with the expectation that Jesus would return very soon, there was an obvious risk that they would give up their jobs and just go and wait. Paul thinks this looks bad in the eyes of outsiders and wants the Thessalonians to do their work instead. If the Thessalonians did not work, they would quickly become dependent on people outside the church to provide for them and that would look very bad according to Paul.
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