1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
Pleasing your father…
Some never knew what would please, what would disappoint, what would throw into a rage…
Some have achievements in life, but how much sweeter if you knew your father was pleased…
Few of you know the sweetness of pleasing your father in adulthood…
Atonement takes care of our sin.
Having our sins paid for, we throw ourselves into doing things that please God our Father and renouncing things that displease him.
You can truly please God. You can make choices that please him.
Verses 1-2 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know the commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.
Paul writes to the Thessalonians to beseech and exhort them, but it’s in contrast to his exhortations in 1 Corinthians. The Corinthians needed to turn from what they were doing to something good, from sin to obedience. They needed repentance. The Thessalonians needed to press on in what they were doing more better. They were walking in obedience. They needed to abound.
Note a couple things here.
First, Paul beseeches them to walk a particular way by the Lord Jesus. The commandments and instruction he gave to Christians were not his own, but Christ’s. When we read Paul, we are reading Jesus. When we read anything in the Scriptures, we read Christ’s Word for us. His declarations. His explanations. His expectations.
Second, see how different the Bible is to modern American Christianity. “It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship. I’m not religious; I’m spiritual.”
Those ideas have nothing to do with Christianity. Paul talks about relationship, pleasing God the Father. Paul talks about “religion”, the way you walk is the way you please God. Walk this way. And so please God. Christianity is a religion in which man who once was lost is reconciled to God and does all he can to please him.
You can’t have Christianity without all its commandments. You can’t have Christ without all his Law.
Third, Paul warns against the idea of arriving in the Christian life. No matter where you started or how far you’ve come, you haven’t arrived. Your work isn’t done. Even if you are marked by zeal and obedience, you need to abound in it, add to it. You don’t have enough.
A lot of times we think of the wrong we do and give mental energy to hating that, wanting to be done with it. But, in addition to that line of thinking, think about the good you do, the good you believe. Whatever degree you have it is insufficient. You need more.
No stagnation. No holding patterns. No stall ball. Press. More. Every day. What’s the right direction? Move that way.
Fourth, we will always have a driving motivation in life. Base motivation in everything you do. You can live for the pleasure of man. Your actions will reflect that. You can live for the pleasure of the flesh. Your actions will reflect that. Or you can live to make God happy. Because that’s sweet.
Verse 3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
When you live to please your Father, you will do what he wants. And because God isn’t a bad father, he hasn’t left you guessing, sitting unclear, as to what he wants.
He wants your sanctification.
When your Father adopted you, you’d spent your life as his enemy, in the culture of his enemies. Yes, Christ’s death was counted as your own. Yes, Christ’s life of righteousness was counted as your own. Yes, you were born again with a heart no longer dead but alive to God and hungry to please him.
Upon adoption you were immediately, 100% a son. But think about all you need to learn and grow up into to act like it. So much sanctification. So much learning the culture of your Father. How different are we from his only begotten Son, Jesus. How much conformity is required!
Every detail of our lives requires sanctification, bit by bit, from one degree of glory to the next. But, here, Paul focuses on one specific area in which we need to follow the will of God. Sex.
Christians, the children of God, need to abstain from fornication.
This charge is central to Paul’s instruction for us.
Romans 13:14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
Colossians 3:5-7 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:6 For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:7 In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.
Why does Paul focus so much on sexual sin?
He does this because not all sin is the same. Not all sin is sin, as egalitarian knuckleheads have taught many.
Sexual sin is one of the most dangerous and damaging sins man can walk in. It is therefore particularly egregious for God’s children to partake in it.
Sexual sin violates your neighbor, is against God, and, uniquely so, is against your own self.
Sexual sin uniquely blasphemes Christ as properly ordered sex uniquely celebrates Christ.
Sexual sin uniquely tempts the believer. It rages within him as a consuming fire. It presents to him by every hill and valley.
As we will see in the corresponding verse, verse 6, sexual sin is so severe that many of its expressions are criminal in the eyes of God and ought to be punished by the governing authorities. More on that in verse 6, though.
Verse 4, That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
Sanctification in this area is a matter of pleasing God through possessing your vessel.
Now, I’m not sure exactly which vessel Paul is talking about here.
He could be talking about a man’s wife. If he is, we learn a few things.
First, Marriage and the marriage bed are to be held in sanctification and honor, not defiled. A man should have his wife in honor.
Second, in line with what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians, marriage is not only to be marked by sanctification and honor, it is also the primary means of grace God has given to a man to flee sexual immorality and live in sexual fidelity. Lots of sex with your wife is both sanctified and sanctifying. Infrequent sex is dishonorable and threatens the well-being of your soul.
Third, marriage is Paul’s expectation for men and women in the church. He expects men and women to be married and so speaks of marriage as a given reality in man’s conformity to the will of God.
In a pagan society, marriage is not a given. Monogamous marriage is not the norm. When you don’t fear God and you do serve the devil, why wouldn’t you just fornicate? Shoot, the demons looked at some hotties and just made it happen. Why burden yourself with a covenant?
In Christendom, monogamous, faithful, chaste marriage is a central given. In a society that exists as a product of the rule of Christ, the members of that society will just naturally image his work of redeeming his bride. The fact that so few 18-30 year olds in America are or ever have been married shows you how unfaithful to Christ America has become.
Paul could be talking about a man’s wife when he says “that everyone of you should know how to possess his vessel.”
He could be talking about a man’s own body. Elsewhere he speaks of the body as a vessel and speaks to the wickedness of sexual sin precisely because the body is to be a vessel for the Holy Spirit and not defiled by sexual immorality. Practically, if Paul here speaks of the body, the application is going to look the same as it would if he is speaking of a man’s wife.
There is a third possibility as to what he means by “possessing his vessel.” He could be speaking of the man’s appendage. In that case, also, the application would basically look the same too.
The next verse, verse 5, corresponds to verse 4 by way of contrast.
Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:
Verse 4 is the positive command, possess your vessel. The flip side of that is the negative command. Do not be possessed by your lust.
You will possess your vessel in honor or be possessed by your lust in the dishonor of the heathens.
When Paul speaks about the Gentiles, he’s speaking of those who don’t know God. The Thessalonians, living so early in the life of the church, were surrounded by unbaptized, undiscipled Gentiles. American saints, the remnant of true saints still in the land, find themselves in a similar situation, so late in the republic’s apostasy.
Societies not gripped by the fear of Jehovah will be enslaved to the lust of concupiscence. That enslavement to lust will show itself in all sorts of ways. Homosex and homosex desire in tv shows and real life. Pedophilia. Boys dressed as girls twerking on Good Morning America and in gay parades. Infanticide in Meridian and infanticide in Washington. Moms on OnlyFans and children on Pornhub. Clubs and adult stores downtown. Orgies. Bestiality. Hoe influencers on the socials. Ring girls at the fight. Contraception. Body positivity movements. Voluntary childlessness. Co-ed dorms in college. Feminist women, effeminate men, and trannies running for governor, and not just of Idaho.
All of these are symptoms, or evidences, outworkings, thorns and thistles, of being possessed by lust, which is itself the result of refusing to fear God. If these are symptoms, does it really make sense to focus on them in ministry?
Every heathen nation ever has practiced infanticide. Abortion is an inescapable reality of such societies. Not even Idaho can claim to be Christian. Polytheistic Mormons founded Idaho and it has been filled with secular conservatives.
So, really, why go to Planned Parenthood? Why even go to city hall? Legitimately, all those things will sort themselves out when the people of the community turn to God. Let the pagans kill their kids in the meantime, right? Why not just evangelize?
Isn’t it better medicine to treat the cause and not the symptoms?
Yes, it is better medicine to treat the cause and not the symptoms. But that doesn’t mean we have to think of evangelism and things like anti-abortion ministry as either-or. Nothing is going to change on a grand scale in these different ministries. If you think it will you’ll just be disappointed. Nothing is going to change on a grand scale through the state house. The people are bad and they will have their temples.
That said, addressing all the fornicating symptoms that fill the land is evangelism. It’s not an alternative to evangelism. It is evangelism. Your neighbors are living in sin. You bring God’s law to bear on their sin and implore them to repent and believe on Christ. And that call will have plenty of practical specifics.
That brings us to verse 6.
That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.
Now, there are some heavy hitters who argue that verse 6 transitions to a new topic. Don’t be sexually devious and don’t mess around with your brother’s property. I’m arguing tonight that verse 6 is a continuation of his argument regarding fornication and our need to please our Father in sexual purity.
Here’s why. I think these 8 verses are organized as a chiasm. A chiasm is a textual structure in the Bible in which verses correspond to one another in a V-shape.
Verses 1 and 8 correspond, 2 and 7 go together, 3 and 6, 4 and 5.
How does 6 correspond with 3?
Verse 3, abstain from fornication, conform to the will of God.
Verse 6, if you don’t abstain from fornication, you will be guilty of defrauding a brother. You’ll be guilty of a crime. Even if you get away with it, surrounded by a bunch of Gentiles, God will not be mocked and he will avenge those you wrong.
When you fornicate, either specifically copulating with a woman to whom you’re not married or doing any number of sins that fall under the fornication umbrella, you’re not just sinning. You are acting the criminal. And a just society would treat you accordingly.
Adultery. Sex and sexual acts outside of marriage. Public immodesty—and immodesty is almost entirely a female issue because men and women have different bodies and that’s how it is (the world ain’t egalitarian). Porn production and porn use. Gay propaganda. Mulan military units.
Licentiousness isn’t freedom.
These are crimes whether or not our government recognizes that. A good and free people would know this and do something about it.
God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
You know, as society has become more complex and specialized and automated, man’s mental health has gone to pot. What a boon to the mind for life to be so simple, for your Father’s good pleasure to be so clear.
He has called you to holiness, not to uncleanness.
We end by looking at verse 8.
He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
Again, God has made it clear what pleases him, what he wants, what his will for us is. To understand this dynamic, if you had a good, earthly father, and his will for you was clear, what brought him pleasure was clear, what he wanted was clear, but you, in the most fundamental things, went and did the opposite, what would that say about you? Would it not show that you don’t love and respect your father? You despise him.
Why would you ever despise God? He is your Father by grace! You had him as your avowed enemy. Yet, instead of throwing you into the eternal lake of fire, he sent his Son, his perfect Son, to take upon himself all the punishment you deserve for your rebellion, all the wrath, all the damnation, and to give to you the blessing and honor he deserves, to make you fit for the family of God. God has welcomed you into his family with the full rights of sonship. He does not cast you off, though you time and again take up your old ways. And he’s not just marvelously benevolent to you. He’s awesome. Nobody can beat him up. Nobody can outwit him. Nobody has more wealth than him. Nobody is more vital or more ancient. All the power. All the glory. All the knowledge. All the cattle on all the hills lit by all the stars. And none other than he is your Father. And you can please him. In spite of everything you know to be true about you, you can please him. Though so used to uncleanness and filth and sexual sin, washed by the blood of Christ, cleansed with his righteousness, you can make your Father glad.
How fleeting a prize to please your flesh. How small a prize to please man.
How eternal a treasure to know God as your Father and to know he is happy with your choices, with the life you live.
The pagans may pagan. We will walk in the will of God, with lives full of purity, full of integrity, full of good sex, forsaking fornicating.
In heaven and on earth is our reward, for God is our Father. And he will be pleased with us.