1 Thessalonians Sermon Series
Standing Firm: Foundational Doctrine For New Believers
Standing Firm in Sanctification
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Before we jump into today’s text, I want you to turn to Exodus 3:3-5. It says, “And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
What was it that made this ground holy? If we take a microscope and compare it with surrounding soil samples, will they be different? If we had come two days before, the burning bush miracle, would it still be holy? What about later, when Moses had left, would it still be holy ground? The root word for holiness is separation. The ground became holy simply because God separated it as the unique place that he could reveal Himself to Moses.
Wilkerson says, “holiness requires separation from one thing and separation to a different thing. Holiness requires division; until the Lord set that part from the rest of the desert, He couldn’t call it holy.” We are called to be holy, set apart from the rest of the world, to be used for a holy purpose.
Determined to Keep Doing the Right Thing (vv. 1-2)
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. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
(v. 1) “how you ought to walk and to please God” – and “that you do so more and more.” In this opening introduction Paul says three things, 1) He reminded them of the instructions about Christ that he and the other missionaries had given them while they were there, 2) how they were doing well in following those instructions, 3) and how they must continue to “walk” in those ways more and more (and verse 11).
The Thessalonian church was living under the weight of persecution, critics telling them they are not correct in their teaching, the Jewish community spreading false rumors about them, and they were very new in their faith – it would have been easy just to stop, but Paul tells them to “do so more and more.”
(v. 2) “For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus” – instructions signifies an order passed along a line of soldiers, and it is often used for military order. This order has been passed down through the Lord Jesus.
Determined to Keep My Body Under Control (vv. 3-8)
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
In life there are times when we are not sure what the will of God is (take this job, move to this city, marry this person, take the promotion, etc.), so we pray, and try to apply Biblical precepts. But here, the instructions that Paul gives are not precepts, or suggestions – but for their continued growth as a Christian, the church in Thessalonica must follow “the will of God.” It is summarized in one word, “sanctification,” or “holiness.”
(v. 3) “abstain from sexual immorality” – this command is given against the backdrop of a society where it was very common to have just about any kind of sexual sin, “including prostitution, adultery, or fornication.” “He had been brought up in a world where polygamy, concubinage, homosexuality, pederasty (pedophilia), and promiscuity were accepted as a matter of course . . . Many of the religious cults were frankly sexual in character, . . . and sacramental fornication as part of the worship.”
The gods themselves were given over to their sexual desires and using their power or position to take advantage of humans (becoming swans, etc.) “Pagan religions regarded sexual freedom and promiscuous practice as natural and normal.”
“The general attitude is frequently illustrated by a quotation from Demosthenes’s oration Against Neaera: ‘We keep mistresses for pleasure, concubines for our day-to-day needs, but we have wives to produce legitimate children and serve as trustworthy guardians of our homes.’”
There are a couple of words we need to define. Porneia, “sexual immorality” is a broad term that includes both adultery (sexual intercourse involving a married person and someone other than his or her spouse) and fornication (sexual intercourse involving individuals who are not married).
The biblical context for sexual intercourse is heterosexual marriage. Holy living, with respect to sexuality, involves disciplined fidelity to one’s spouse for those who are married and disciplined abstinence for those who are not.
In our culture sexuality that goes counter to God’s will is seen as normal and should be accepted (just as in the Thessalonian culture). But let the church be clear, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Can a homosexual be a Christian? “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” . . . . “who practice homosexuality” – to become a follower of Christ everyone must repent of their sin (as defined by the Bible), and follow Christ. There is an admission that it is wrong, and seeking Christ and His kingdom, first. Homosexuality is clearly given as a sin in this list.
It does not say that the desire to sin will just go away. As with any sinful desire, everyone must, through the Holy Spirit’s power, fight against it in our lives.
Just because you have the desire doesn’t make it ok to act upon the desire. Also, am I putting myself in a position where I am allowing myself to be tempted by something that I know I am tempted toward? Boy and girl in the backseat of a car., ex.
Why focus on homosexuality when the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage doesn’t include it? Because in our culture today, we don’t have too much confusion over adulterers, greedy, drunkards, etc. these are understood as bad, but to enter into the homosexuality area, then we start talking about hate speech, gender pronouns, gender fluidity, etc.
(v. 4) “each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor” – Holiness is a set-apart life style. Honor has the idea of how you treat other people. The Christian is respectful of the other person, and how they will be impacted by the relationship. The Christian is to act in such a way that others recognize they are different and have their lusts and body under control. He shows how the lost world live in “passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” and contrasts against the Christians who live with holiness and control.
We all know of people who have been impacted by their decision to go outside of God’s plan for us, (one’s spouse, children, marriages, potential future spouses, the congregation, etc.)
When Kimberly and I were in seminary I worked at a Christian High School. The vice principal (my boss), who was a seminary student as well, took a second job at a local convenience store. His daughter was in two of my classes. One Monday after school an emergency faculty meeting was called and we were informed that the vice principal was fired due to infidelity (with a woman at the store). His daughter, who was normally energetic, outspoken, very intelligent – her grades dropped, she kept her head down on her desk most of the time – it was devastating. When we go outside of God’s plan for our sexuality the results are devastating. (v. 6) “that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter”
“For Paul, sexual activity is not just an inconsequential private activity involving consenting adults; on the contrary, it has an impact on both one’s relationship with God (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12-20) and with other people; therefore, it ought to be exercised in a way that is respectful of both.” The Christian takes into account what is best for the long-term well-being of one’s friend/date/partner, rather than what feels good or seems right at the moment.
(v.7) “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” – The word holy means “set apart,” and is this rooted in the very character of God, Leviticus 11:44 “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” Because we follow the one true God, and his command to us is to be set apart, we then set ourselves apart from the world and how is exists.
“. . . for the Christian to fall short of a life of holiness is him to deny the divine purpose in saving him in the first place.” You were set apart (unto salvation) to be holy.
(v. 8) “Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God” – When we don’t regard these commands from God, we disregard God. The person who takes sexual sin lightly, who sees is as something that does not matter much, is in effect, treating God as of no account. They are disregarding His plan for the family, marriage, relationships, gender – the order He has established.
(v. 8) “who gives his Holy Spirit to you” – God does not just define the standard that his followers are to live; he also provides the power by which one can live. He gives us the Holy Spirit to live in such a way that pleases God. Phillips says, “It is not for nothing that the Spirit God gives us is called the Holy Spirit.”
In our culture today we are right back in the Garden of Eden, standing at the tree and staring at the forbidden fruit with Adam and Eve. (v. 3) says, “3 For this is the will of God” – Man’s choice is and will always be, “who decides what is right and wrong?” Does God set the standard or does mankind decide for himself what is right and wrong? There is much confusion today regarding sexual orientation, gender, marriage – “Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians offer a biblical antidote to our current confusion.”
Determined to Have a Good Reputation (vv. 9-12)
9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
In these verses, Paul is telling the church to “keep a low profile, to give attention to their own affairs, and to stay busy,” and then gives reasons why.
“brotherly love” – “to do this more and more” – the Greek pre-Christian word “brotherly love” (Philadelphia) was always used in reference to siblings in your own family. But Christians called each other brothers and sisters, so a brotherly love is referenced here. They were showing a Christian brotherly love toward others believers throughout Macedonia.
But also concerning “brotherly love” is how we live our lives and how our lives effect the lives of other believers. The church was undergoing persecution in Philippi and here is Thessalonica.
“Some of them were disposed to become idlers – turbulent and meddlesome. In consequence, they created a very unfavorable impression upon outsiders. This affected adversely the standing of the entire church in the community.”
(v. 11) “aspire to live quietly” and “mind your own affairs” both have very similar meanings. Paul is pointing out that what you choose to do in the public arena, could very well affect the church, so whatever you choose to do, it should be influenced by a “brotherly love” because that decision may affect others in the church. In the Thessalonica church doing things in the public, may draw attention not only on that person, but also on Christians as a whole – which during that day may cost them their lives.
We see this same idea in Philippians 2:4 “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
“It is our appointed duty to say something of his behalf if he is being exploited, tyrannized, tempted, or corrupted. Yet it is easy to be a busybody. Moffatt speaks of a man’s busy life becoming “an empty ado” (Psalm 39:6).
“work with your hands, as we instructed you” – Paul has already given them instruction before about working. Here in chapter 4, is an idiomatic expression found several times in the Old Testament,in which the emphasis falls not on “hands” but on “work.” So Paul says that we must be careful in how we live so because it will affect other believers, but also, our actions also affect how the world sees Christians as well.
John R. W. Stott observes, “It is an expression of love to support others who are in need; but it is also an expression of love to support ourselves, so as not to need to be supported by others.”
“So that . . .” (v. 12) “you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” They needed to behave the way Paul has described so that the gospel will not be discredited. Barclay says, “When we Christians prove that our Christianity make us better workmen, truer friends, kinder men and women, then and only then are we really preaching. The important thing is not words but deeds, not oratory but life.”
 Bruce Wilkerson, Personal Holiness in Times of Temptation (Eugene, Oregon; Harvest House Publishers, 1998) 24.
 Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1984) 80.
 Michael Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan, Publishing, 1998) 125.
 Arnold E. Aithart, Beacon Bible Commentary, Volume 9 (Kansas City, Kansas; Beacon Hill Press, 1965) 475.
 Clifton Allen, General Editor, The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 11 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1971) 278.
 F. F. Bruce, Word Biblical Commentary, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Waco, Texas; Word Books Publishers, 1982) 87.
 Holmes, 131.
 Holmes, 126.
 Paul views holiness “as a future goal, (a state or condition of holiness, as in 3:13), a past gift (5:23), and a journey (a process leading to a state of holiness, as in 4:3) to which God calls us (4:7). This view of holiness also helps us to understand how Paul can use the term as an overarching one-word summary of God’s will for his people (4:3). Holmes, 130.
 Airhart, 478.
 Morris, 85.
 Airhart, 479.
 George Arthur Buttrick, General Editor, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 11 (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1955) 299.
 “The citizens of the ancient city of Shechem had a traditional belief that in the silence of the night there could be heard the fascinating music of the deeply buried streams flowing under the city.” Buttrick, 299.
 Buttrick, 299.
 Paul comes back to “work” in 2 Thess. 3:6-13.
 Duet. 2:7-8; Job 1:10; Ps. 89:17; Jer. 1:16; Isa. 5:12
 Airhart, 481.