Online Bible Commentary
Walking in Holiness
1 Thessalonians 4: 1 Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; 2 for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. 7 For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. 8 Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit. (NKJV)
In his letter to the Christians at the church in Thessalonica Paul writes in this passage of walking in holiness. He refers to his previous instructions on how to live to please God and he commends them for doing so, but asks them to please God even more (v.1a). Paul then reminds them of his instructions to them and also that those instructions were given by the authority of the Lord (vv. 1b-2).
Paul writes that it is God’s will for them to be sanctified, meaning that believers should be set apart from the world for divine use (v.3a). It is God’s will that Christians be progressively separating themselves from all forms of sin right up to the time of their death. The specific sin He mentions here is the sin of sexual immorality (v.3b). Christians should control their bodies. The literal rendering of the Greek is “vessel to possess in purity and honor, not in passion of lust.” He writes that those who do not know God, non Christians, participate in this “passion of lust” (vv.4-5).
Christians, “brothers”, should not participate in this “passion of lust”, referring to adultery and homosexuality (v.6a). The Lord punishes those who participate in this “passion of lust” (v.6b). They have offended and taken advantage of others. On the other hand, passion between a man and a woman in Biblical marriage is not an act of lust. It is part of God’s plan for pleasing one another in marriage.
Paul concludes this passage by repeating that God called Christians to “live a holy life”, and if we reject God’s instructions we will be guilty of rejecting God, not man. God’s instructions are found in the Scriptures, the Bible. The Bible is the word of God, not the word of men. Paul then reminds us that we have been given the Holy Spirit, who helps us to live a life of holiness (vv.7-8).
We can take three points from this passage. First of all, the goal of every Christian is to live a life that pleases God. We should always be focused on avoiding sin, and as we do this we should get better at it as time goes on. We have the Holy Spirit to help us and we need to allow Him to live through us. Having the Holy Spirit though does not mean that we have no personal responsibility to God to avoid sin.
The second point is that we specifically are called to “avoid sexual immorality” (v.3) of any kind. Again, the use of the active verb “avoid” denotes a personal responsibility to God, not just a dependence on the Holy Spirit. God singles out sexual immorality because this is a sin against the body, the temple of God. Christians’ bodies are temples of God because they house the Holy Spirit. This is why sexual sins are particularly displeasing to God, and are mentioned so frequently in scripture. Also, sexual sin typically causes another person to sin. So it is an offender of both people. God calls sexual immorality a sin of those “who do not know God”, for which they will be punished. It is not the behavior of a Christian, in the eyes of God.
Thirdly, if Christians do not please God through their daily living they are rejecting God. They are in sin. They are failing in God’s will for them to always be in the process of being sanctified. They have no excuse in the eyes of God because they are indwelt with the Holy Spirit who is always present as their helper. They are not rejecting men. They are rejecting God, which is far worse.