Knowledge of our eternal destiny should be encouraging!

“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.” 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3

The Chapter starts with an encouragement for the Thessalonian believers to continue in their spiritual growth. Their conduct is exemplary, but they need to seek to do even more. The apostle Paul especially emphasizes the importance of sexual purity, as well as the need for believers to live peaceful, polite, and productive lives. Paul, then begins to discuss the subject of Christ’s return. This begins with a re-assurance that believers who have died prior to the return of Christ will be the first ones raised when He comes back for His people. Next will be those who are still living, all of whom will meet Jesus ”in the air” during Rapture. Beloved, knowledge of our eternal destiny should be encouraging!

Now, in this passage of Scripture instructions are given regarding sexual purity. In verses 1-2. These verses talk about how to walk and to please God. That is why the apostle says: “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; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus”. The use of the expression: “Finally then” does not mean that he is finished. It meant that he here began the closing section of the epistle, with practical instruction on how God wants His people to live. We need to understand that the word rendered ‘finally’ in Greek is “loipon” which is an adverbial accusative, ‘as for the rest,’ and it serves to mark a transition rather than a conclusion.

When he says that “you should abound more and more”, Paul was being thankful for the growth he saw in the Thessalonians. However, he still looked for them to abound more and more in a walk that would please God. Abounding “more and more” means that Christian maturity is never finished on this side of eternity. No matter how far a Christian has come in love and holiness, he or she can still needs to abound more and more.

He tells them: “Just as you received from us” showing that what Paul wrote in the following verses was nothing new to the Thessalonians. In the few weeks he was with them, he instructed them in these basic matters of Christian morality. Thus, he knew it was important to instruct new believers in these things. Hence, his emphasis on how they ought to walk and to please God. In this sense, he took it for granted that the Thessalonians understood that the purpose of their walk, their manner of living, was to please God and not themselves. When the Christian has this basic understanding, then the instruction regarding Biblical morality makes sense.

Beloved, when a person is saved by the work of Christ for him or her it does not lie open before him or her as a matter for his or her completely free decision whether he or she will serve God or not. He or she has been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). He has, therefore, become the slave of Christ. He reminds them that they know what commandments the apostles gave them through the Lord Jesus: These were not mere suggestions from the pen of Paul. These were commandments from the Lord Jesus and must be received that way.

The word translated commandments is thus a word with a ring of authority. ”For this is the will of God, your sanctification” shows that Paul gave these commands to a first-century Roman culture that was marked by sexual immorality. At this time in the Roman Empire, chastity and sexual purity were almost unknown virtues. Nevertheless, Christians were to take their standards of sexual morality from God and not from the culture. Beloved, Paul said this was a commandment (1 Thessalonians 4:2). That word was a military term describing an order from an officer to a subordinate, and the order came from Jesus and not from Paul.

In the ancient Roman Empire, prostitutes were kept for pleasure. People kept mistresses for the day to day needs of the body. They kept wives for the “faithful”guardianship of their homes. Thus, he reminds them that the will of God was their sanctification. Thus, Paul made it very clear what the will of God was for the Christian. We should know that the idea behind sanctification was and is to be set apart, and God wants us to be set apart from a godless culture and its sexual immorality. If our sexual behaviour is no different than the Gentiles who do not know God, then we are not sanctified, that is set apart, in the way God wants us to be.

Beloved, those who do not know God do not have the spiritual resources to walk pure before the Lord. However, Christians do through the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Christians should live differently than those who do not know God.

It is in the light of this that he says that they should abstain from sexual immorality. Beloved, we live differently than the world when we abstain from sexual immorality. The ancient Greek word translated sexual immorality is “porneia”, which is a broad word, referring to any sexual relationship outside of the marriage covenant.

We should notice that the older King James Version translates sexual immorality as fornication. Fornication is used here in its comprehensive meaning to denote every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse. The word requires broad definition here as including all types of sexual sins between male and female. Therefore, the broad nature of the word porneia shows that it is not enough to just say that you have not had sexual intercourse with someone who is not your spouse. All sexual behaviour outside of the marriage covenant is sin. Beloved, God grants great sexual liberty in the marriage relationship (Hebrews 13:4). But Satan’s not-very-subtle strategy is often to do all he can to encourage sex outside of marriage and to discourage sex in marriage.

Verse 1 says: “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more”. We should be reminded 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 urges the believers at Thessalonica to recall what Paul said when he was with them. He had taught them how to behave in such a way that they would please God. They were following these instructions well, but Paul challenges them to increasingly become more holy, for this was God’s will for them. Each believer was obligated to avoid sexual immorality by controlling his or her own body, knowing the Lord avenges those who practice sin. Paul insists that to ignore this teaching about sexual immorality is tantamount to rejecting God.

Beloved, chapter 4 begins the practical section of the first epistle to Thessalonians. The first eight verses present the sanctified life.

We notice in verse 2 that there is a transition here from the historical to the exhortatory, the personal to the practical, the past to the prophetic, and the apologetic to the application. With the word “then” Paul draws inferences from chapters 1-3. By referring to them as brethren, Paul appeals to the Thessalonians by affection. They are his brothers in Christ. They come from the same source, born into the family of God. Paul holds in tension, affectionate appeal, and authoritative admonition. He does not take any personal liberties but prescribes personal holiness. He tells them “we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus”. This challenge is so significant that Paul uses two words to describe the importance of this message “urge” and “exhort”. We should notice that “exhort” is a little stronger than “urge”. Thus, Paul urges and exhorts them “in the Lord Jesus”, in the sphere of everything that Jesus represents. Jesus personally passed this down to the apostles and they do so to us. The apostles operate on the authority of Christ.

Beloved, the Thessalonians lived in a culture that mixed sex with its religion. These new converts previously went to their temples for sex with temple prostitutes regularly. Religion was prevalent in those days! The Roman Empire was morally debauched during the first century. Men had wives for having children, but they had their mistresses for pleasure. But Paul presents a discourse on how to deal with our sex drives in this chapter by saying that “you should abound more and more”. The words “more and more” point to spiritual growth. It is not enough to exist as a Christian, we must move toward excellence. It is one thing to park ourselves in the Christian life, but it is another thing to prevail in it. God wants us to move beyond the status quo. We should ask ourselves whether we are making any progress in the Christian life. We do not tell our spouses that we love them the day we get married, which is supposed to last them for the rest of their lives! Neither do we live the Christian life in one fell swoop. Each day with the Lord should be sweeter than the day before, but it will take work. Thus, the principle here is that the status quo in the Christian life always means stagnation, deterioration, and decay in holiness. We should know that doctrine precedes duty, and precept precedes practice. The Christian life is not a set of rules but a set of principles. The design of the Christian life is to teach us God’s viewpoint on life by forming that viewpoint into principles. It is when we apply those principles by faith that God transforms our lives.

In this sense, Christians are no more fit for Heaven 25 years after they become Christians than they were the day they accepted Christ. God sanctified them completely the moment they received Christ as Saviour in terms of positional sanctification. But progressive sanctification is an ongoing process. Thus, here, Paul gives his readers an urgent reminder about what he had once told them in person. He stresses the importance of this teaching by citing Jesus as the authority for his words. Paul taught the Thessalonians how to walk and lead a life that pleases God. They were heeding his instructions, but needed to continue doing so. Paul’s message is meant to both encourage and motivate.

We should know that the Christian life is not a single step which instantly brings a believer to spiritual maturity. Rather, it is a life-long walk. The Bible describes how Christians are supposed to follow this path. Romans 13:13 commands us to “walk properly as in the daytime”. Galatians 5:16 and 25 exhort us to “walk by the Spirit”. Ephesians 5:2 commands us to “walk in love”. Ephesians 5:8 tells us to “walk as children of light”. We are to walk in Christ (Colossians 2:6). Colossians 4:5 instructs us to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders”. These kinds of walks last until we see Jesus face to face.

Verse 2 says: “For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus”. By or through the Lord Jesus is best understood as a variant of Paul’s famed “in the Lord Jesus”. See the preceding verse. Inherent is the truth that Paul’s instructions had been those of the Lord himself. The apostles gave their orders on the authority of their commission and revelation from the Lord whom they interpret to his followers. This appealed to the saying of Jesus which formed a part of “the unwritten sayings. He says:

“What charge we gave you”. Here have a military ring, meaning “the orders we gave you” thus accounting for the variation “through the Lord Jesus”. Paul was making it clear that his orders were actually those of the Lord, a fact further emphasized by the use of the great Old Testament word for “Lord”. Paul’s commandments were stamped with the authority of Jesus, who is Lord, the exalted Ruler of Life. Earlier in this epistle, Paul commended the Thessalonians for their faithfulness (1 Thessalonians 1:5-8) and for their excellent reputation in enduring persecution (1 Thessalonians 3:5-8). In this verse Paul now emphasizes again that the Thessalonians realized his teachings carried authority. This authority was not actually Paul’s, rather it was that of the Lord Jesus. These Christian believers did not see authority in Paul, but they recognized truth coming from Paul. Similarly, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul also appealed to the divine authority of his message. He wrote: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).

Paul’s reminder about what he had taught shows the importance of retaining truths they already knew. Sometimes people neglect established truth in a quest for something new (Acts 17:21 and 2 Peter 1:12). Although it is important to learn more truth from God’s Word, discernment is required. Often, if a teaching is new, it may not be true, and if it is true, it probably isn’t new.

Verse 3 says: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality”. The apostle tells them this is the will of God, thus, Paul declares the will of God in unadulterated terms. There are many areas where we do not know God’s explicit will, but this is not one of them. We know the will of God when it comes to the boundaries of sex. Here we know clearly what God wishes. Christians can yield themselves to God’s sovereign will or assert their own independent will.

Beloved, we determine God’s will from God’s Word. We cannot live the Christian life without the Bible. That is the only place we can find absolutes. We can find the will of God in the Word of God. The principle here is that God gives believers absolutes so that they can make clear, decisive decisions in the area of sex.

Christians cannot set their sail as to how the wind may blow. That is relative ethics. We must set our sail according to the will of God, which may mean that we sail against the prevailing winds of opinion. We want to sail in the same direction God is going. Therefore, before we can do the will of God, we must be willing to do His will no matter what the cost. The Christian who is willing to open himself to God’s will unconditionally is the Christian God will use.

Beloved, it is possible to understand the will of God. It is no mysterious, ethereal, abstruse will. God reveals His will in unambiguous terms.

The Scripture says: “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). Thus, it is possible to test the will of God. We do this with a “renewed mind”. The apostle tells the believers in Rome, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). Beloved, we should know that those committed to living carnal lives cannot prove the will of God. We cannot conform to the world and find God’s will at the same time. These things are mutually exclusive.

As such, having prayed very specifically that the Thessalonian believers would increase in faith, abound in love, and live blamelessly before the Lord, Paul urged each one towards practical sanctification and godly living: “For this is the will of God,” he writes, “even your sanctification, that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality”. He exhorts each of us to live holy lives that are well-pleasing to the Lord and specifically identifies the importance of maintaining sexual purity and developing brotherly love. We are to be a holy people, for God is Holy. We are to be perfect, even as God Himself is perfect. We are to be separated unto the Lord and consecrated to Him. We are to be holy in all our conduct, spirit, soul, and body, for this is God’s will for us all. In this passage of Scripture, the apostle Paul particularly mentions that our ‘sanctification’ is the will of the Lord and it is important to know exactly what he means by ‘sanctification’. There are three ‘tenses’ of our great salvation, that is justification, sanctification, and glorification.

Prof. Eric Aseka,
Senior Pastor,
Divine Grace Ecclesia,
King’eero, Lower Kabete.


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