In the fourth and fifth chapters of First Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul instructs the believers about the Second Coming of Christ. He introduces this topic with a reminder that the hope of Christ’s coming should motivate us to live holy lives. “To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13). The fourth chapter of 1 Thessalonians has practical instructions on how to live our daily lives in ways that please God as we keep on looking forward to the Lord’s return to earth.
This portion of Scripture is about how we ought to please God. To please somebody means to give enjoyment, satisfaction, pleasure and delight to that person. The Thessalonian believers had previously learned from Paul how to live in a way that pleases God, and he encouraged them to continue in this way more and more. He reminded them that they already knew what instructions he gave them by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
There are instructions here on brotherly love and responsible living. There are clear teachings about sexual purity. And there are admonitions about living quietly and working diligently.
1. Seek to Please God (4:1-3a)
The word “walk” (verse 1, and again in verse 12) means “to advance [to move forward] by steps.” The concept of walking is an appropriate description of the Christian life. The instructions in verses 1 and 2 refer to specific guidelines intended to move us into a deeper and a more faithful walk with God.
It is God’s will (verse 3) that we should experience sanctification. The word “sanctification” comes from a Greek term meaning “to make holy” or “to set apart,” and refers to the idea found throughout the Scripture that God’s people are different from the world because they belong to Him. Sanctification is the process by which the believer is more and more separated from sin, and becomes increasingly dedicated to living by God’s standard of righteousness. Titus 2:14 describes the process: “[Jesus] gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people [a people of His own], zealous of good works.”
Sanctification is instantaneous — the standing before God which is assigned to the individual at the time when he (or she) accepts Jesus Christ by faith (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Sanctification is progressive — the life process of growing in holiness; it is pressing on the upward way, and more and more being delivered from the power of sin (2 Peter 3:18).
Sanctification is ultimate — referring to the final state, when we are fully and completely set apart to God in Heaven (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Sanctification is God’s work. We are sanctified by God the Father (1 Thessalonians 5:23), by God the Son (Hebrews 2:9-11), and by God the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:2). Sanctification is also the believer’s work. We are commanded in the New Testament to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), and to present our bodies as servants of righteousness (Romans 6:19).
The heathen way of life in New Testament times, as well as the godless way of life in our day, involves moral looseness at all levels of society. Christians, by way of contrast, belong to a new family, the family of God, and they will therefore live differently from the rest of society.
We are to “walk” (that is, to live daily) in ways that please God (verse 1). Perhaps you have noticed that people generally have a distinctive walk in ordinary life. Proverbs 6:13 refers to those who speak with their feet. Some people have a rhythmic walk. Businessmen usually have a brisk walk. Feeble persons have a tottering walk. There is a sensuous walk used by some women to attract the gaze of nearby men. Sometimes we practically run, sway, leap, or jog while at other times we just stroll along leisurely. All of us have a distinctive walk. Just so, Christians should be identifiable by the way they “walk;” by the way they live from day to day. It will be different from the lifestyle of the unsaved person.
Verse 1 begins with the words, “we beseech you,” we urge you. Those who name the name of Jesus are to walk in ways that please God! And we are to do so “more and more.” There is always new territory to conquer in the Christian life! It is important that we seek to mold our lives in accordance with the instructions given in the Word of God. We are to abound (verse 1) in walking so as to please God. The word translated “abound” means that we should exceed even what is generally expected in Christian behavior. For example, when others offend us by their crude behavior, those who abound in following the ways of God will be quick to forgive. Often, such action results in the great work of seeing broken relationships restored again.
Pleasing God is a goal toward which every Christian should be striving. In Hebrews 11:5, we read that early in human history there was a man named Enoch who had a great testimony in that “he pleased God.” While on the one hand we must not be caught up in the error that we can in any way earn our salvation, on the other hand all Christians need to beware of the thinking that they can receive the free grace of God for the rest of their lives without carefully seeking to obey and serve God—and others. The instructions given in Scripture will lead us to live differently from the rest of a godless society.
2. Maintain Sexual Purity (4:3b-8)
It is God’s will that followers of Christ should “abstain from sexual immorality” (verse 3 NKJV). Sexual sin plagued the church at Thessalonica. People regarded any kind of sexual activity as acceptable. In Greek society, illicit sexual intercourse had become commonplace, including pre-marital fornication, sex outside of marriage, and homosexual conduct.
People in Western cultures today have generally adopted a similar attitude of permissiveness and sexual freedom. Surveys repeatedly show that a large majority of high school seniors have already engaged in sexual intercourse. On many college campuses today, courtship and romantic relationships have been replaced with the sexual hookup culture, which basically is sex without commitment. Provocative dress is the fashion of the day, so that even the typical advertisements let very little to the imagination. Those of us who are older remember the day when there was an almost universal recognition that homosexual conduct went against the laws of nature. But today it’s either looked upon lightly, or even openly advocated.
Serious consequences result from this open attitude toward sexual freedom. AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases continue to be prevalent. Divorce is an epidemic that is devastating to families. Homes are broken up and children are starving for love.
The sin of illicit sexual relations will always be a difficult one to deal with, because sexual desire is very much a part of being human. In a world with careless attitudes toward sexual purity, the standards lifted up in the New Testament are desperately needed but are often ignored.
The point in 1 Thessalonians 4 is that maintaining sexual purity pleases God. Women are to be treated with honor and dignity; not in the passion of lust like the heathen, but in holiness and honor (verses 4-5). Men in the world about us (who do not know God in a personal way) often view women as tools for merely satisfying their lusts (verse 5).
The word “sanctification” appears in verse 3 and again in verse 4, making it clear that sanctification applies in all areas of life, and especially in the realm of sexual purity. For those who have received Christ and seek to order their lives in tune with God’s will, God strips away old desires, and in their place He provides new desires and attitudes.
Sexual behavior, from God’s point of view, is to be kept within the bounds of the marriage relationship. Any sexual expression outside the husband-wife relationship falls into the category of immorality and is a violation of God’s intent for us.
The meaning of the word “vessel” (in verse 4) refers either to one’s own body (as in 1 Corinthians 9:27) or one’s wife (1 Peter 3:7). The instruction is that each believer is to gain mastery over his body and keep himself pure in the area of sexual relationships. Whether married or unmarried, we are to maintain self-control over the use of our bodies.
The wide rejection of sexual boundaries in our society makes the practice of self-control more difficult. But there are concrete ways to grow stronger in keeping oneself sexually pure. For example, we need to identify our own points of weakness and avoid going places or doing things that make it easy to yield to those temptations. This means avoiding the magazine rack at the grocery store. It includes avoiding television programs and Internet websites that are sexually provocative. Young people in a dating relationship need to avoid being alone together without planned activities, especially late in the evening. It means that using the Internet without a blocking device is a very daring and dangerous thing to do. When suddenly surprised either with a sexually suggestive image or a sexually attractive person, we must intentionally avoid long glances and harboring lustful thoughts.
Those who commit fornication, adultery, or homosexual acts are defrauding others of their rightful partners (verse 6). Having a sexual affair with another man’s wife (or member of his household) wrongs that other person. It takes advantage of a trusting relationship. Those who commit such sins often practice them in secret. The husband (or father) doesn’t know what is going on, and his rights are being denied. That is, he is being defrauded. The offender’s wife likely doesn’t know what’s going on, and her rights are being violated. But God sees, and He knows. He will avenge all such sins (verse 6b).
It is always a violation of the will of God to disregard the boundaries of decency, and to enter into an illicit, secret relationship with another person. God will severely punish those who violate His laws of purity. Those who are seeking to please God will be diligent about avoiding sexual impurity, and will abstain from behaving in a leering and lustful manner.
3. Practice Brotherly Love (4:9-10)
The Christian faith should always be distinguished by purity. But it is also is to be marked by love (verse 9). Love is the act of seeking the best, even for those who seek the worst for us. Paul says that the Thessalonians were on the right track concerning the showing of love (verse 10), and he encourages them to continue “more and more” in doing what they’ve been doing.
The phrase in verse 9 about being taught by God refers to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. It illustrates the positive effect of the kind of teaching Paul was doing in the churches through sermons and a variety of teaching ministries. Teaching truths from the Word of God is an essential task of church leaders. It is a ministry that will help transform people from being “children of wrath” into becoming faithful followers of Christ.
Being taught by God (verse 9) is a work that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in us over time as we devote our lives to worship, study, fellowship, prayer, and reaching out to others. Countless Christians can relate stories of old hurts forgiven, old hatreds overcome, and selfish attitudes transformed into selfless giving through hearing the Word of God faithfully proclaimed. From Paul’s comments here, such transformation was clearly happening in the lives of the Christians at Thessalonica, and the love they felt for one another was moving beyond their own congregation into “all Macedonia” (verse 10). This should be an example for us.
One example of such brotherly love occurs when Christians reach out to help victims in times of disaster, and when they help do the chores or provide meals during times of illness. Groups of Christian believers come together to raise funds for disaster relief, and travel to places where there has been devastation of various forms to rebuild houses and take care of hurting children. The bonds of Christian love are greatly strengthened as hammers are swung, nails are driven, and meals are being cooked and shared together.
So far in this lesson, we learned that we are to walk in ways that please God, maintain sexual purity, and practice brotherly love. Now we move to the final point in this section.
4. Live Responsibly Before Outsiders (4:11-12)
In concluding this section of instructions for godly living, Paul encourages believers to focus on three things:
a. Lead a quiet life. To lead a quiet life implies that we are to guard against getting involved in lots of “busyness”—running children to this and that activity, talking too frequently on the cell phone, and wasting time socializing by way of Twitter and Facebook on the Internet. We should exercise caution about the number of commitments we make outside the home. It seems that many people are so addicted to stress and noise that they can hardly tolerate more than a few minutes of silence! When sitting in a waiting room, the radio or television is chattering at us. While refueling our vehicle, we are bombarded with music or advertisements. At the restaurant, music is playing incessantly. God, by way of contrast, does not chatter at us most of the time. Instead, He is quietly there with us, day and night! Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
b. Mind your own business. The advice to mind your own business (verse 11) means that we are not to meddle in the private affairs of others. In common everyday language, we are to guard against being “nosy.” It is human nature to desire to push our way into other people’s business. But Paul, along with Peter, warns against suffering “as a busybody in other men’s matters” (1 Peter 4:15).
c. Work diligently with your hands. Another aspect of leading a quiet life is that God’s people are to do their best, always aiming to work hard and earn their living. Christians should be models of people who work diligently at their jobs.
There are times when life’s circumstance will require dependence on others for assistance. A person may become disabled due to an accident or health issues, or a widow may need ongoing support. Such instances, however, should be the exception and not the rule. Where there is love and respect for other people, we will have a strong desire to do our fair share of work so that we can have resources to care for our own needs, and also funds available to help those who are in real need. Christians should always be willing to help a brother or sister who is in need. We who are able should attempt to live and work diligently so that we need not constantly depend on others for help.
The topic of work found here and in 2 Thessalonians 3 causes readers to wonder if some of the Thessalonians were not working, perhaps out of laziness. Or, maybe some believers thought that the Lord’s return was imminent so they felt like working hard to provide a good living was futile. Paul rebuked this idea sharply (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15), even to the point of instructing the faithful to withdraw fellowship from those who didn’t work, but were busybodies among them.
Christians are to “walk honestly toward them that are without” (1 Thessalonians 4:12). In the early years of the Church, love for fellow believers made a mark on unbelievers. Christians also often showed great love for all persons, and were known as those who cared for the sick even at the risk of their own lives.
A commitment to godly living will cause Christians to live differently from the world. As we seek to live faithfully in the areas of seeking God, sexuality, brotherly love, and responsible living, we will find that pleasing God is possible. This is not something we can accomplish in our own strength. Rather, the key is to fully surrender oneself to Jesus Christ. “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6:13). As we yield ourselves to God, and purpose to grow in our sanctification, we will enjoy the close relationship with God that follows those whose lives are committed to living for Him.
Let’s determine to go out and please God today! Let’s genuinely seek to obey His Word, with the firm conviction that everything God has spoken through Jesus and His Apostles is not mere man-made advice, but is given as a message from God in Heaven! Let’s make a commitment to do it without hesitation! As we daily draw near to God by fully surrendering our wills to His, we will truly look forward to our Lord’s return.