1 Thessalonians Chapter 4

Introduction: Now & Later

When I was a kid, I could always count on my Dad stopping at a convenience store for snacks.  One of my favorites growing up were the Now & Later candies. Apparently they have their name because you’ll enjoy them now and want some more later. I usually just enjoyed mine in the now and didn’t worry much about the later.

Paul combines these two aspects of time in our chapter this week. What we do now impacts the later. How we view the later often impacts what we do now. With this in mind, Paul discusses three important characteristics which believers should embody in the now (1-12) – purity (1-7), love (9-10), and life (11-12). Then, wanting to clear confusion among the church about the later, he speaks about the resurrection and rapture of God’s people (13-18).

The Now – A Life Pleasing to God: Sexual Immorality

4 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.

  • “Finally” – as is true with many preachers, Paul offers a conclusion and then continues for 2 chapters.
  • “how you ought to walk and to please God” – The first topic in Paul’s extended conclusion. The phrase “to walk” is a common phrase in Pauline writings. It carries the idea of how one conducts themselves or how one lives their lives. Should these words not be the overwhelming concern of our lives?
  • 119:1  Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!  Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,  who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!  You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.  Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!  Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.  I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.  I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me! Ps 119:1–8.
  • “that you do so more and more” – There is danger in becoming satisfied in sanctification.

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;

  • “For you know what instructions we gave you” -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.
  • “through the Lord Jesus” -From Paul literally, but through the Lord’s authority and desire.
  • “For this is the will of God” -The will of God often seems mysterious to us. We seek it in our lives, or at least we should in all decisions. This is a huge statement by Paul and should give us great amounts of peace in how we live our lives as believers. One of the best teaching on the will of God that I’ve encountered is by Pete Brisco entitled “Hearing the Holy Spirit’s Voice”. I’ve included a link to this series on RightNow Media below.* Several aspects of God’s will are mentioned within scripture. Here is is God’s will that we grow to become more like Jesus. Specifically in this context, He desires that we be set apart in our physical interactions with others. Although Paul is addressing a specific area of character in these verses, we shouldn’t limit the command of sanctification to this one confined area.
  • “sanctification” – carries the ideas of essence and ethics. The fact that we are set apart for God should translate in living godly – in a manner consistent with God’s commands and God’s character.
  • “sexual immorality” – a broad term including all forms of sexual impropriety.
  • “Much behavior that was tolerated among the Gentiles was considered immoral in the church. The casual use of prostitutes and the practice of ritual sexual intercourse in certain cults was common in Hellenistic cities. Far from limiting sex to the bounds of marriage, it was common for a man of means to have a mistress, and it also was acceptable for him to make use of his slaves for sexual gratification. Entering the church made such behavior taboo. Obviously, Gentile converts to Christianity had to struggle with the demands of what was to them a new sexual ethic, while continuing to live in a permissive society. One of the greatest challenges for a new convert, no doubt, was living according to the truth that God’s word, not Hellenistic norms, must govern the behavior of God’s followers. The application to the sexual behavior of the believer today is obvious, and the challenge has not changed. Living sanctified lives still means living counterculturally in many instances. Believers live by God’s standards regardless of how they compare to societal norms.” D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians, vol. 33, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 123–124.

that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;

  • “how to control his own body” – Self control over flows into many areas of righteousness. Sexual morality (here), eating, greed, materialism, etc.
  • Self control is listed as one of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.
  • The question becomes, what is the key to self control? See Phil. 4:13 – I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
  • The purpose of self control is a display of the character of Christ.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.” 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.
  • “body” – literally, “vessel”. Used in Grk writings most often as a metaphor for “body”. Used in Jewish writings most often as “wife”. scholars debate which is best in this context. The proper translation is further clouded by the word “control” which literally means to “acquire or possess”. Thus, in Greek the literal wording is “each on of you should know how to possess his own vessel”. Either interpretation eventually applies to us largely the same way. We should dance with the one who brought us.

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. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

  • “that no one transgress and wrong his brother” – Wronging our brother usually means we have difficulty in trusting in the Lord’s provision or His protection. Both can cause unbiblical sexual relationships and result in sexual transgression.
  • “transgress” – “to step over”, to transgress the will and law of God by going beyond prescribed limits
  • A 3-fold God centered plea for obedience in verses 6-8:
    • God is just judge and avenger
    • God calls us to holiness
    • To not obey is a rejection of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.
  • “an avenger in all these things” – It does the believer better to think less of immediate gratification and more in terms of delayed gratification. It is far better to please Him than to find temporary satisfaction in something so temporal.
  • “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” – 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.
  • Disregarding Paul’s instructions in this matter results in a double offense. A transgression of a brother/sister in Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The Now – A Life Pleasing to God: Love One Another

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,

  • “taught by God to love” – Sacrificial love is not innate within us, but comes from God himself.
  • “love” – The word used here for love is Philadelphia—brotherly, family love. It is affection marked by strong action. This word describes people who meet the needs of others; it is not mere talk or superficial socializing. The Greek language provides a verb for sexual love, Paul chooses brotherly love intentionally to describe the appropriate relationships between fellow unmarried believers. We are adopted into His family and should treat each other as a loving family would treat one another.
  • By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  Jn 13:35.

A Life Pleasing to God: Living Properly 

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. 

  • “to live quietly” – to live in a mild, peaceful manner.
  • “to work with your hands” – Paul’s intention was to keep these people responsible in their daily living. Work is a reflection of our Christian life and ethics; it must not be neglected. Christianity should never be separated from daily routine and obligations. It finds its most eloquent expression in the common traffic of commerce, farming, nursing, construction, and all other forms of work.
  • 2 Reasons in verse 12 for living properly:
    • Our witness
    • Our independence

The Later – The Coming of the Lord

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

  • Paul was concerned that the Thessalonians quit sorrowing and grieving like everyone else around them. People outside of Christ have no basis for facing death with hope. In the pagan world death was grim and full of despair. In our own time it is a mystery many people ignore. Consequently, deep anguish and sorrow were often expressed for the dead person. It was this kind of sorrowing which Paul wanted the Thessalonians to stop.
  • “we do not want you to be uninformed” – This is more than likely a review of material that had been covered at one time. Paul is addressing misinformation/worries concerning those who may have perished before the 2nd coming.
  • “sleep” – an often used Greek, Jewish, and Christian euphemism for death. To arrive at the doctrine of soul sleep from Paul’s use of the word “sleep” is a drastic overreach in biblical interpretation.
  • Soul sleep is the theological concept that when believers die they exist in an unconscious state until the resurrection. A hibernation of sorts. This is contrary to scripture. See: Phil 1.23; Luke 23.43; etc.
  • “no hope” – Not that believers cannot or should not grieve at the loss of a loved one. The difference is that the certainty of the resurrection should not cause a complete loss of hope. In the words of my father-in-law, “It’s not good bye. It’s see you later.”

14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

  • “that Jesus died and rose again” – seems to take the form of an early Christian creed. See: 1 Cor. 15.3-7.
  • “The God who raised Jesus will also raise Jesus’ followers. It is Jesus’ resurrection that validates the gospel and guarantees the believers’ resurrection.” D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians, vol. 33, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 145.

15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

  • The Lord, Christ himself, will come down.
  • There will be a lot of noise.
  • The dead believers will rise first.
  • Christians who are still alive on earth will rise next.
  • Everyone meets together with Christ in the air.
  • Eternity begins!

18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 

  • The sure return of Christ should be a source of encouragement, not a source of worry.

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