Christians Warning Against Sexual Immorality

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1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;[17] that each of you know how to possess his own vessel[18] in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, just as also the Gentiles who do not know God; that no man transgress and wrong his brother in the matter because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in sanctification. Therefore the one who rejects this is not rejecting man, but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.

4:1. The little word Finally does not signal a conclusion. It is a transition to the rest of what Paul had to say.

He was ready to give the Thessalonian Christians another reminder—that they already knew how to live in a way that pleased God. Paul, Silas, and Timothy had personally instructed them while in Thessalonica. What Paul was now writing was nothing new.

Paul reminded the Thessalonian believers of their need to please God. He was complimenting them on their spiritual progress. Even so, they must not relax, and he urged them to do so more and more. The progress of these Thessalonians brought sincere joy and delight, but Paul always expected and urged people to do “more and more.” Paul himself modeled that kind of living.

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4:2. From the very beginning Paul and the others had given clear moral instruction on the life that was expected from those who chose to follow Christ. Living in a way that pleases God is not optional, but a moral necessity and obligation. The Thessalonians knew this from the start. No one could claim ignorance. Pleasing God is the point of life. As our Creator and Savior, he has the right to tell us how to live … and to expect us to obey.

The moral instructions which the missionaries gave the Thessalonians were not concocted by these men, but these teachings came by the authority of the Lord Jesus. Paul, Silas, and Timothy may have been the messengers, but the truth originated in God. It is an echo of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” The words spoken and written were weighted with the authority of God himself. This places on believers the responsibility of obedience. It also brings sobriety to what follows as Paul wrote of purity, love, and Christ’s return.

In a day when the authority of the Word of God is not taken seriously, this sober reminder is needed. Those who teach must make a clear distinction between what the Bible says and human opinions. The seasoned teacher of preachers, Dr. Haddon Robinson, always asked people who were speaking, “Where did you get that?” This is a good question, and it is one we should ask ourselves when teaching or giving advice.

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4:3. Most people are eager to know God’s will. They attend seminars and read books on how to find it. Behind the interest is a desire to have God make our choices for us. “I am praying for God to show me his will about whether or not to take this job,” some say. Others ask, “Pray that my son will know God’s will about which college to attend.”

God’s revealed will is very specific. There is no guesswork, no need for searching or seminars. There is only the choice of whether we obey when we know what God desires.

One of the specifics of God’s will is that his followers participate in the process of sanctification—being set apart and dedicated to God. Since God is holy, his followers must also be holy. This is reflected in a pure life … keeping oneself from sexual immorality.

Sexual Immorality: (Heb. zanah; Gr. porneia) A general term for immoral sexual acts of any kind: such as adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between people not married to each other, homosexuality, and bestiality. – Num. 25:1; Deut. 22:21; Matt. 5:32; 1 Cor. 5:1.

Sensuality, debauchery, licentiousness, lewdness: (Gr. aselgeia) This is being completely unrestrained in our moral attitudes and behaviors, with the inference of sexual licentiousness. This is one who indulges in sensual pleasure without any regard for morality. – Mark 7:22; Rom. 13:13; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 4:19; 1 Pet. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:2, 7, 18; Jude.

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4:4. First Paul stated the Christian moral standard positively: control [your] own body in a way that is holy and honorable.

Paul instructed us to learn self-control. Control does not come automatically but involves work and discipline as well as clear instruction in Christian ethics. Self-control is an evidence of God’s Spirit at work within us, but it requires our vigorous cooperation.

In this context, body refers to one’s own body, which is to be controlled and held in holiness as something set apart for God’s use.

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4:5. Paul then stated the ethical mandate negatively: not … like the heathen, who do not know God.

Either we take control of our bodies and their desires, or those desires will control us in unholy lusts. The world around us is a case study in this problem. We live in a culture in which sexual obsession and perversion are rampant. This is displayed graphically day after day through broken lives, the media, conversations, and social confusion. Christians are to stand part from such a culture.

The manner of life for a Christian is self-control, not through rigorous rules and disciplines—though these can be helpful—but by turning our bodies over to the Lord. Listen to Romans 6:13: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God … and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

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And again, in Romans 6:19, Paul writes: “You used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

True self-control, true distinction from the unbelieving world, means having the will to give ourselves to God, to the control of his truth and his Spirit. To be pure, as God demands, is not a whim of the moment, but a habit of holy obedience to God, perfected and strengthened over time.

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4:6–8. Paul next supplied the motivation for sexual purity. Three strong reasons emerge: (1) God’s punishment on the disobedient (v. 6b), (2) it is the life God has called us to live (v. 7), and (3) to reject it is to reject God and the Spirit he has given us (v. 8).

4:6. Paul declared, The Lord will punish men for all such sins. Paul was not talking about the physical or relational consequences which sexual sins create. He was looking ahead to the day of judgment when Christ, who judges the world, will punish all who commit sexual sin. It is an appeal to look down the road, to realize that the day of God’s judgment is more certain than tomorrow morning. There is no escaping it, and we would do well to live with a greater realization of that great day’s inevitability. Fear of consequences is good motivation.

God always desires to forgive. For those who have participated in sexual sin there is always hope. God’s forgiveness is extended to those who confess, repent, and seek God. But this cannot be glib agreement. What is needed is the heart-penetrating cry for God’s cleansing and forgiveness. God will not punish what he has forgiven, though consequences of our sin may follow.

There is no distinction between believers and unbelievers here. Sexual sins will be punished. God’s will may be difficult, but it is not confusing.

4:7. God calls us to purity as a way of life: to live a holy life.

God himself calls the individual. He brings us into union with Christ; he has made every spiritual transformation possible. It is God who places us in his kingdom. Impurity is inconsistent with such a work and such a calling.

We have not simply been saved from something (God’s wrath), but we have been bought for someone (God) in order to showcase God’s glory and character.

It is hard for us to imagine being owned by someone else. The truth is that every “man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Pet. 2:19) and we are all mastered by something. As believers, our call from God is to be mastered by him.

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4:8. Those who do not follow these instructions do not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. The person who ignores the demand for sexual purity is not setting aside a law of man, but is disdaining God himself. The demand for purity springs from God’s essence.

These demands of God are strengthened by the fact that his Spirit lives within each believer. The construction of the sentence emphasizes the Spirit’s holiness, tying in with this whole section on pure living. It places an undeniable obligation upon the Christian to live in harmony with the Holy Spirit of God within. To live any other way is to repudiate the most precious gift given by God.[1]

[1] Knute Larson, I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon, vol. 9, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 52–55.

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