1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

1 Thessalonians 4:1‑12  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 11
1. Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.
2. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.
3. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
4. That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor;
5. Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles who know not God:
6. That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.
7. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
8. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit.
9. But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
10. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;
11. And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
12. That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.
The first two words of this chapter connect very distinctly what the apostle here says with the subject introduced at the close of the preceding chapter (ver. 13). There he spoke of the holiness of God our Father, before whom the whole responsible issues of the Christian’s life will be manifested; here he turns with concern and emphasis to the consideration of the moral condition common to the whole pagan world, out of which the gospel had called these Thessalonian saints. And, seeing that he appeals to them in a manner so forceful and authoritative, it may be well first to give, as nearly as possible, the exact rendering of this passage according to some of the best authorities, so as to be able to better appreciate the earnestness with which the apostle addresses himself to a subject, the importance of which, in its practical bearing, he evidently rates most highly.
“Furthermore, then, brethren, we beg [or beseech] you and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that even as ye have received from us the way how ye ought to walk so as to please God, as indeed ye are walking, that so ye would abound still more.
For ye know what commandments we gave you through [or by] the Lord Jesus.
For this is God’s will concerning you, your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication; That each one of you know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor.
[Not in lustfulness of desire, even as the nations who know not God.]
Not overstepping the rights of and wronging his brother in the matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all these things, even as we also told you before and have solemnly testified.
For God has not called us for [i.e. in that condition characteristically, for] uncleanness, but in [i.e. in the very elements of] holiness.
He therefore that in this matter disregards his brother, disregards not man [merely] but God [the God who has also given His holy Spirit to you.”
Reflecting on this passage it is not easy to say which is the more to be admired, the delicacy and gentle tact with which the apostle addresses himself to the subject, or the authoritative non-compromising firmness with which he handles it. It was a subject that demanded his utmost skill, and we see at a glance the inspiration of the Spirit in the way he treated it, setting forth in a few short sentences its various aspects in the clearest light, and connecting in the most comprehensive way each issue with the highest Christian principle involved, and so raising it from the plane of mere social morality to the highest level of divine truth and Christian responsibility.
As is well known, the sin fornication (used here with a general and comprehensive meaning) was lightly thought of in the Gentile world. It was regarded indeed as an indifferent thing; while in some cases — true in both ancient and modern times, as in India under British rule to this day — it was even consecrated in the name of religion. It is a common and pernicious vice in the fallen family of man; an offense against the soul; the cause of bitter strifes in the world “teterrima belli causa” (quoted by Alford); a sin in the sight of God, which, when He separated a people to Himself from the nations around, He definitely prohibited under penalty of a curse, by the seventh commandment.
Assuming that there are five commandments in each table of the law, the seventh commandment in the second table stands opposite to the second commandment, against idolatry, in the first, that is, the grievous evil against God, that brought His judgment on the pagan world, stands correlatively placed opposite the great social evil of man against himself and against his neighbor.
We can understand, therefore, how the apostle is moved to use to them in regard of this matter the very strongest language, both in the way of entreaty and command, founded alike on personal affection and on Divine authority, so as to direct their walk in a manner, pleasing to God. Nor was it now for the first time that he addressed them on this subject. He had done so already; but he repeats and enforces his exhortation, because of the need there was to retain their minds and to cultivate them in the new atmosphere of holiness, into which they had been lately called, from out of the impurity of their former pagan life. He had set before them the “how” they were to walk and please God, which, he adds with a touch of refined delicacy and encouragement, they were actually doing; but he desires that they would abound more arid more. This was the true test of life and spiritual energy; for it is certain that where there is no growth in holiness there must be decay. We live, not in the sufficiency of what we have acquired, but in the energy of acquisition. The vital question is not whereto we have attained, but the goal of pursuit, the energy of attaining (Phil. 3:7-167But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. 12Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 13Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 15Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. 16Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. (Philippians 3:7‑16)); when the latter fails, the failure of the former is inevitable. Let us know, let us “follow on to know the Lord” (Hos. 6:33Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth. (Hosea 6:3)).
But he does not rest his exhortation merely on his own entreaties. He passes from them to the commands he had given them by the Lord Jesus, through whom, as the mediating channel directly from God Himself, the apostle had delivered them to the Thessalonian saints: and so he adds, “For this is God’s will, even your sanctification,” that is, (in the words of another), “It is not merely the fact that God wills so; but it is a matter of God’s will. It is of such a character that God Himself wills it.” And this will of God means, is put in apposition with, “that ye should abstain from fornication,” that each should “possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor... not overstepping the rights of and wronging his brother in the matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all these things, even as we told you before and have solemnly testified.” More stringent language, more pathetic appeal, more authoritative commands, or more solemn warnings could not be well conceived. And the style of the apostle’s address to them recalls to mind the words of the Lord Jesus when He said, “He that heareth you heareth Me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me, and he that despiseth Me despiseth Him that sent Me” (Luke 10:1616He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me. (Luke 10:16), cf. John 13:2020Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. (John 13:20)).
He then that in this matter disregards his brother, in whom also the Spirit of God dwells, disregards not man merely but God — the God who has not only called us in holiness, but has also given His Holy Spirit, thereby furnishing us with the power of realizing the purpose of that call.
1 Thessalonians 4:44That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; (1 Thessalonians 4:4), “his own vessel.” Some understand this to mean his wife; but the weightiest authorities take it to mean “his own body.”
But if the negative abstaining from evil was above the morality of the pagan world, the positive and essential nature of Christian life was beyond the conception of the human mind. The word used for love in the New Testament is not found in the whole range of classical Greek. It is not used by Philo or Josephus. Other words for love are there, but debased as they are by man’s passion, they are not used in the sacred writing.
The words for “philanthropy” and “brotherly love” are common; but the former meant little more than friendly decorum and hospitality; the neighborly feeling that considered the legal rights and welfare of others, and did its duty towards them, where self-interest did not clash; but hardly rose, if at all, to the spontaneity of a love that is above the prescriptions of law: while the latter was confined to the affections between blood relations, members of the same family.
Love does not in itself exclude affection, but it is the moral affection of conscious deliberate will, not the natural impulse of immediate feeling, so that it becomes self-denying and compassionate in devotion to its object. What it is, it is not for itself but for others (Cremer S.V.)1
Now the Thessalonian saints were “taught of God to love one another,” not by any code of ethics conceived by man. “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God” (John 6:4545It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. (John 6:45)), and the apostle here recognizes this underlying principle of divine teaching, the word of life rendered effectual in them by the operation of the Spirit of God: and love is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:2222But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, (Galatians 5:22)).
All this is alike beyond the mind of man and his practice. There is a saying of Aristotle’s, “The Deity exists not to love but to be loved.” Therein, with all his acuteness of mind, he betrays his utter ignorance of God. His god is an idol, the creation of his own selfishness; an idol that is natural to us all. And if, indeed, we have learned anything otherwise, it is because we “have been taught of God to love one another.” But how little we have learned it is a matter of sorrowful and humiliating reflection! These Thessalonian saints had learned something of it and were practicing it: and we can well understand how earnestly the apostle exhorts them to abound still more; not content with the progress they had made, but lovingly urging them on to increased energy of attaining.
But besides that he exhorts them to seek earnestly to be quiet, and to mind their own affairs, and to work with their hands at their ordinary calling, so that they should have need of nothing from any man, and thus present a seemly deportment and becoming demeanor “towards them that are without,” who were not Christians, and by the honest pursuit of daily toil maintain themselves in the conscious sense and the avowed testimony of honorable independence.
The appointed lot of man since Genesis 3:1919In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:19) has been “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread”; and the loyal acceptance of this judgment is alone his right and proper attitude, wherein he can look for and receive at the hands of God the mercy needed for his daily toil. But fallen man is a thief and a robber. Barabbas is his masterpiece. And the elemental propensity of his evil nature is to acquire, without honest labor in the fear of God, either by plunder or by begging. If he has power he will practice the former; if he has not, he will resort to the latter.
This was a subject of frequent admonition on the part of the apostle, as the spirit and practice of the world was ever before his eyes. For himself he set the example of an honorable independence, and he enforced it on others. It is inconceivable that a system of Christian ethics could be divinely set up in which it was ignored: and so he says to the elders of Ephesus with great emphasis, “Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.
And in very similar words he wrote to them afterward, “Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:2828Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. (Ephesians 4:28)).
Another important lesson is herein set forth, how that the topmost stone of the fabric reared high to the glory of God is based on the establishment of governmental principles connected with the most elementary factors of daily life. It is in vain that we pretend to the former if we ignore the latter.
Undiscovered Wealth
A poor farmer owned a piece of land, hard and rocky, from which only at the price of severest toil was he able to support his family. He died and bequeathed the farm to his eldest son. By an accident the son discovered traces of gold on the land, which, being explored, was found to contain mineral wealth of immense value. The father had precisely the same property that the son now possessed, but while the one died a poor man, the other attained to great wealth.
It is even so with Christians. All have received the same wonderful gifts of the grace of God, but some have never discovered their riches. For instance, think of the passage, “What know ye not that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you which ye have of God and ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-2019What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Corinthians 6:19‑20)). How many Christians are alive to this great truth? The realization of it makes all the difference between spiritual poverty and prosperity.
“He that gathereth not with Me scattereth.” There may be gathering, as we see, in looking round at what is called the church; but if it is not with Christ, the whole thing, vast as it is, is but scattering. One may be very ignorant about Christ, but it must be Himself around whom we gather.
Christ did not come to be occupied with the ten thousand vanities filling the hearts and minds of poor sinners down here; but He came from His Father’s bosom, to tell out all His Father’s love, that He might occupy their hearts with the joys of the Father’s presence. “If thou knewest” was ever on His lips.
“Thy will be done” is the keynote to which every prayer must be tuned.
1. To avoid disfiguring the text, quotations are not always put in inverted commas, but when it is deemed necessary their sour e is notified.