Background1 Thess 4:1 – 12 begins Paul's discourse in addressing the Christian behavior that the Thessalonians should exhibit. Prior to this discourse, Paul establishes his apostleship, by expounding upon his missionary behavior in the previous chapter. He argues that his visit with his companions was not in vain. They proclaim and live the gospel, which indicates behavior worth imitating by the Thessalonians. In chapter 4; however, Paul provides specific instruction to the Thessalonians on how they should walk before God. This specific instruction transitions the letter from friendship to moral exhortation. The moral exhortation addresses information received from Timothy during his visit with the Thessalonians. Paul overarching goal is to encourage the Thessalonians' ethical progression as Christians.
ContextIn 1 Thess 4:3, Paul begins his plea to the Thessalonians to be sanctified by abstaining from sexual immorality. His plea has been a challenge for me in my life. My body does its own thing. How in the world am I able to maintain abstinence in this society? I am constant bombarded by sexual images. Technology also makes it all the more easier for me to indulge in my flesh. For years, I battled with this passage and made excuses for not following it. I reasoned that I could indulge in pornography as long as I was not acting on it with others. The outcome; however, left me in a state of guilt and shame. I not only had to battle guilt and shame, but I also had to battle the passions that pornography created in my body.
When I delved deeper into this passage, I realized that the true meaning of Paul's plea against sexual immorality included the following: adultery, defilement of idolatry, and behavior among the heathen, fornication, homosexuality, intercourse with animals, and intercourse with close relatives. In fact, I discovered that most modern translations of the bible do not include the vulgar sense of the term. Therefore, what I allowed to be permissible in my life, Paul indicates that it is vulgar and that I was not called to live a life of impurity. In order for me to conquer my flesh, I needed a mind change to understand the continual process of being rendered holy is only through the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
PurposePaul's "appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage" to Thessalonians includes abstaining from sexual immorality and excelling in possessing godly lives. Paul declares that the abstaining from sexual immorality is God's will and provides their "holiness, consecration, sanctification". Sanctification represents the moral goal of purity that exists in physical life. In addition, it is accomplished through atonement. This process of atonement renders the person holy. Therefore, Paul reminds the Thessalonians God's commandments of being sanctified, which indicates the continual process of being rendered holy through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. The continual process occurs, when they abstain from sexual immorality. Paul also uses descriptive language to indicate the severity of sexual immorality. It not only renders them impure and fuels lustful passions, but it also reveals them "committing an offense" to God. Instead of rejecting God, Paul commands the Thessalonians to maintain a life and conduct that pleases God. Paul commands the Thessalonians to love others, lead a quiet life, attend to one's own affairs, and work with one's own hands. The outcome of such behavior renders respect to outsiders and ensures that no one has needs.
ApplicationPaul urges the Thessalonians to walk in a manner that pleases God. Walking to please God requires them to live a sanctified life with their own bodies and towards others. This sanctified life occurs by the continual process of being rendered holy through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Therefore, the more Christians embody Christ's sacrifice in their lives, the more they possess the power to abstain from sexual immorality. The severity of not abstaining from sexual immortality not only removes us from being holy but also demonstrates our rejection of God.
For myself, my challenge in this area involves me being renewed in the spirit of mind and to put on my new self. My new self encompasses God's likeness, righteousness, and holiness of truth (Ephesians 4:20 – 24). Therefore, abstinence meant that I no longer participated in the vulgar acts of sexual immorality (pornography). In order to not participate, I needed to change my behaviors. Instead of seeking illicit sex for comfort, I had to learn how to go to God for comfort. Instead of fueling my desires for five minutes, I needed to learn self-control to surpass the five minutes.
Honestly, sexual purity is my constant struggle. Again, how do I survive in this world, when I have images and my own body working against me? Not only do I battle the flesh, but I fight to remember that everyone battles with this issue. It is clear, because it would not be written in the bible. Paul spoke these things to the Thessalonians, because it existed in their world and they too needed to fight to remain pure before God. For myself, I remain victorious, when I continually go to the cross and allow Christ to render me holy. In order to participate in being rendered holy, I first need to be honest to God about my sexual desires. I must admit to Him my struggles. It is only when I am honest that I expose my weaknesses. When I am not honest, I pursue a life of secrecy and become consumed by my desires. Instead, I embrace honesty with changed behaviors.