Thursday, April 28, 2022

2022.04.28 Hopewell @Home ▫ 1 Thessalonians 4:1–8

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:1–8

Questions from the Scripture text: What does the apostle call them in 1 Thessalonians 4:1? What two things does he do to them? In Whom? That they should do what? How much? What things had they received, in which he was now urging and exhorting them to abound? In what form (1 Thessalonians 4:2a) had he delivered this prescribed walking and pleasing God? Through Whom were these commandments given (verse 2b)? What is God’s will for them (and for you!, 1 Thessalonians 4:3a)? Upon what part of this sanctification does he zero in (verse 3b)? What is the first verb in 1 Thessalonians 4:4? What is it that they should know—how to obtain his own wife (vessel, cf. 1 Peter 3:7, commonly used term for wife) in what two ways? What manner of obtaining a wife is opposed to sanctification and honor (1 Thessalonians 4:5a)? Who take wives in this way (verse 5b)? Why do they do it that way? What is being done to a father or husband when a daughter or wife are romanced (or worse) without their knowledge (1 Thessalonians 4:6a)? Who will avenge such defrauding (verse 6b)? In how many cases? When/how have the Thessalonians heard this before (verse 6c, cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:2)? What is at stake in obtaining a wife the right way (1 Thessalonians 4:7b)? Who has called us to this holiness (verse 7a)? What does the apostle anticipate will be the response of some (many) to such teaching (1 Thessalonians 4:8a)? But Whom are they really rejecting? Whom has God given us (verse 8b, as an indication both of His desire for us and power toward us to accomplish that desire)?

When the apostle begins “finally then,” he may or may not be concluding an initial plan to finish his letter with this section. But what he is surely doing is underscoring the importance of what follows in these eight verses. 

Increase more and more in walking to please God (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3a).
In 1 Thessalonians 2:4, he had reminded them that the evidence of the authenticity of the apostolic team’s ministry included that they speak “not as pleasing men but God.” And when he commended them in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 for receiving the Word as the Word of God, and for persevering under persecution in 1 Thessalonians 2:14, he reminded them that persecutors “do not please God” (1 Thessalonians 2:15) and would therefore suffer the complete wrath of God. 

Now, he tells them to “increase more and more” in walking to please God. They were urging and exhorting them to this in the Lord Jesus now (1 Thessalonians 4:1a). They had delivered this to them before (verse 1b). The method of delivery had been commandments upon the authority of the Lord Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:2). And this is “the will of God for” them: sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3a). Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Sanctification. Walking to please God more and more.

Especially in the area of sexual purity (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6).
There are so many areas of walking in holiness that the apostle might treat, but here, he emphasizes especially taking “one’s own vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Thessalonians 4:4b). It was common in rabbinic usage to refer to the wife as a “vessel,” and the former Pharisee is almost certainly doing the same here. Another apostle certainly does so in 1 Peter 3:7. And this form of the verb translated “possess” means “take possession,” but not so crassly as that sounds in English. We might say “obtain his own wife.”

The concern here is for forming marriages in an upright and pure way. There are many ways that one might “defraud” the father of the bride, or a woman’s future (or current!) husband, as 1 Thessalonians 4:5b warns against. And if you think such a dad or husband is furious and dangerous, you’re not even beginning to glimpse the fury and danger with which you should really be concerned (verse 5c)! But the worst way is sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3b) and passion of lust (1 Thessalonians 4:5a). Giving in to sexual lust is the fruit of not knowing God (verse 5b). Not knowing that He created us. Not knowing that He created them from the beginning, one man and one woman for the purpose of marriage (cf. Matthew 19:4–6; Mark 10:6–9). Not knowing that marriage exists not only so that we may image God well, but also as a picture of and help unto the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. If we stir up romantic affection for someone other than our spouse, or harbor a fleshly desire for someone who is not our spouse, we despise God Himself. That’s what 1 Thessalonians 4:5 is saying. 

To give in to lust is to set one’s desires upon (or even mix one’s flesh with) someone who is not your own vessel. God forbid! A father or a church (or in this case an apostle) must urge and exhort and deliver to and command the young (and old) people that they restrict their romantic desires to one spouse, ever, until death parts the two. Those who do not are literally exposing those entrusted to their care to the vengeance of God!

And how many of us, even now, wish that those over us in church and home had held before us the knowledge of God as the author of marriage and the avenger of marriage?!

By the call and authority and power of God Himself (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8).
One obstacle to this command is how difficult it is to overcome the willfulness of the flesh that refuses to be commanded. But the God Who called us unto Himself in our salvation “did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness” (verse 7). We must remember that it is impossible for an unbeliever to grow in holiness. But let us also remember that it is impossible that a genuine believer will not grow in holiness. This is what God has called us to in our salvation!

“Therefore, he who rejects this does not reject man, but God” (1 Thessalonians 4:8a). Just like the Word of the gospel was not the word of man but God, so also the command of sanctification is not the word of man but God!

A second obstacle to this command is how powerful romantic and sexual desires can be, and how pleasant the payoff seems to feel in the moment. But God has not left us without resources for this battle. He “has also given us His Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:8b). If one of the great reasons for the gift of the Spirit is sexual purity, then we should not expect to maintain it without using all of God’s means (including Word, sacrament, prayer, secret worship, family worship, public worship, the Lord’s Day, parental accountability, elder accountability, spouse accountability, etc.). Yet, the use of the means of grace must not be in the vain hope that this is a fool-proof “technique” for sexual purity. Rather, the means must be used in conscientious awareness of the Holy Spirit Who gave those means and the hope that He is using them to work out in us the fellowship and life of our resurrected Lord Jesus!

Indeed, this is the only path for any sanctification. And especially in this most important area of sanctification which the apostle here so urgently underscores to us.

What is “the will of God” for you? Why must this happen? How can this happen? How are you pursuing it?

Sample prayer:  Lord, we praise and thank You for calling us to Yourself. We praise and thank You for preparing for us beforehand good works that we might walk in them. We praise and thank You for telling us so plainly what Your will for our life is—that we be sanctified. O forgive us, for we are ashamed of how easily our hearts give in to stubborn willfulness or passionate affection and desire. In this way, we have powerful, passionate moments of atheism. Forgive us! And deliver us! For, You have given us Your Holy Spirit for this reason—that He might apply Christ to us, in Whose Name we also ask this, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP45B “Daughter, Incline Your Ear” or TPH45A “My Heart Is Greatly Stirred”

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