This is a Bible study on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12.

Source: The Outlook, 1980. 3 pages.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 - An Exhortation to Godly Living

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

In all of the Pauline epistles there is a doctrinal section and a section dealing with the practical life of those whom he is addressing. Usually the doctrinal section comes first according to the rule: the prac­tical life is based on the doctrines which are con­fessed. In this epistle he follows a somewhat differ­ent order. He spoke of practical matters from the beginning of this letter and later he will deal with a doctrinal matter.

The Christian "Walk"🔗

He does begin a somewhat different topic at the beginning of this chapter. He begins to speak of practical matters more specifically than he has done in the first three chapters. He has a very healthy at­titude to life and seeks to instill this attitude in the hearts of his readers. Doctrine may be perfectly sound but the life of a believer must correspond to the faith he professes. He therefore admonishes the Thessalonian Christians to live in such a manner that they may therein please the God they are serv­ing. The Bible often speaks of life as a "walk." They have received instructions how they were to walk while the Apostle was with them. This was not his own teaching, but he spoke with the authority of his Lord. He has also discovered that they do seek to walk in such a way that they may be approved of God. For this he is thankful, yet, he would have them "abound more and more." They have not attained to perfection — and that is the ideal set before them. Now that they have come to the faith they must en­deavor to walk "worthily of God, who calleth you in­to his own kingdom and glory" (2:12). They are, therefore, to remember the instructions which he gave them while he was with them.

"Called to Holiness"🔗

The will of God for their lives is their sanctifica­tion. When a person has received salvation he has in­deed received a great gift, but there is more to it. To be justified is wonderful, but God's purpose doesn't stop there. One of the greatest weaknesses among men, is that they stop here. They are saved! What more can be desired? There are even some who be­lieve that they can then do as they please. Paul shows them that God desires their sanctification! Their lives are to be "set apart" for His service. He demands a life of devotion and of gratitude for the salvation which they have received. They are there­fore to abstain from fornication. This sin is singled out because it was so common in the heathen world of that day. Women were held in low esteem and the readers of this epistle lived in one of the important and busy cities of that day. There immorality was common. The person who professes faith in Jesus Christ may not live as the majority of the people of that day lived. They are set apart! The sanctifying work of the Spirit of God is taking place in their lives. They must co-operate in this work.

Holy Marriage🔗

This sanctified manner of life is also to be re­flected in the marriage relationship. The immorality of the day had undermined the marriage relation­ship, in fact, it became the first victim of that immorality. God's people are to live in a different man­ner. Each man is to take a wife according to the rules of the Word of God. God has instituted mar­riage and He also lays down the rules for it. The taking of a wife is to be done according to the holi­ness which is to characterize Christians. They are to marry in the Lord. They are to hold the wife in honor! This is the opposite of the manner of the heathen of their day. They are not to live with their wives in the passion of lust which disregards all decency. This the Gentiles do, and these Christians may not live as the Gentiles. For, those people do not know God (Romans 1) and as a result they are a law unto themselves.

There is considerable difference of opinion on the meaning of verse 6. Some believe that the author is here dealing with a different subject from the one treated in the previous two verses, that he here deals with the matter of defrauding a brother in business dealings. However, I believe that he is still dealing with the subject of immorality. No one should go beyond what is proper in the matter of ob­taining a wife or living with her. Whenever men do go beyond what is proper, they defraud someone else, they take someone else's wife or daughter. Im­moral conduct always brings injustice to another. The brother who is defrauded may not even be aware of the injustice which has been done him, but God sees and He is avenger!

We forewarned you and testified to you about these things, says the Apostle, while he was with them in Thessalonica. We should not lose sight of the many things he taught them in that short time he was with them. He had to bring the gospel so that they might know the way of salvation. Besides this, he taught them the proper manner of life. All in the space of a few weeks! What is the secret of such comprehensive teaching? He brought them the whole counsel of God! He preached the Word! He did not lead them to salvation and then allow them to flounder.

The conclusion of the whole matter is this: God called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification. He has given wonderful gifts and He demands the thanks for those gifts. No uncleanness can ever be approved by Him. Real faith produces "fruits" of vir­tuous living. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Justification must lead to sanctification.

Those who might reject this teaching of Paul are not just rejecting him but are also rejecting God. He is fully persuaded that the message he brings is in­deed the Word of God. In this, of course, he is simply repeating what his Lord had also taught. The rejectors obviously reject God because He has sent His Spirit Who testifies to the truth of the Word spoken. They thus reject the works of the Spirit. That Holy Spirit is at work in making Christians more holy.

Brotherly Love🔗

Love of the brethren is a common New Testament theme. John writes about it in his Gospel and also in his epistles. Paul also mentions it again and again. Of course, this belongs to the very nature of the Christian life. As a result, Paul does not feel that he has to write at length about this subject because they are taught of God. Anyone who believes the gospel from the heart will naturally love his brother. Note that he speaks of love to the brethren. That is a different love from that to those who are outside of the brotherhood. Today love is often the only theme men know — but the Apostle makes it very clear what love is and then does not engage in an elabora­tion of the obvious. Where true faith has been in­stilled in the heart, this love will become evident. He therefore also makes mention of the fact that these Christians do show this love to the brethren in "all Macedonia." Living in the kind of city that Thessalo­nica was, they come in contact with believers scat­tered throughout Macedonia and their dealings with these believers reveal the faith they have embraced. This is wonderful, and Paul is very pleased with it. Yet, he would urge them to "abound more and more" (see vs. 1). There is always room for improvement, and they are to be encouraged to persist in their Christian walk.

Learn to be Calm🔗

The words "and that ye study to be quiet" are not very clear to anyone reading this epistle in our day. It would be a better translation to read: "and be ambitious to live calmly." Then one sees that the Apostle is urging them to try to live as calmly and soberly as possible. This does not mean that he is cautioning them against a zeal for the gospel or against a zeal for holy living. His own life shows that he is filled with a consuming zeal for the cause of Jesus Christ. What does he have in mind? He is writing to the Thessalonian church which is "worked up" to the extreme concerning the return of Christ. This is a theme which has often been neglected in the history of the church, but it can also be over­emphasized. This theme of the Lord's return had been overemphasized among the Thessalonians. He urges them to strive to live calmly. They must be about their "own business." They have meddled in the affairs of others and are making it difficult for the leaders in the church who do not share the ex­treme feelings about the return of the Savior.

Diligent Workers🔗

One of the things which is necessary for the calm life which he encourages is that they work with their own hands. Apparently the great majority in this church were laboring people. But, if Christ will return soon, why work? That is the extreme to which their faulty view of the return of Christ had led them. Manual labor is not to be held in contempt. They will not be engaged in a lesser activity if they are found working with their hands when the Lord comes again than if they were engaged in prayer or some other "spiritual" activity! Of course, they also do not know the time of His return. Let the church, the people of God, go diligently about its business, regardless of the time. His people are called to be faithful! They are to be obedient! Again he refers to the fact that he had instructed them in these mat­ters while he was with them! Certainly, the coming of our Lord must color the whole life of believers — but not in the sense that they may neglect their work and calling in the day in which they live.

This command to do the work to which they have been called is also necessary for them to make the proper impression on those who are outside of the circle of believers. If they are not faithful in doing their common work, but look only for the return of Christ, they will be judged as extremists by those who are without. The person who is only able to talk about and engage in "spiritual" things, has lost his balance. It is totally unnatural and we should be nat­ural concerning spiritual things and spiritual about the natural things! There is also another very prac­tical side to the issue: the one who stops working with his hands is not going to be able to support him­self and will become dependent on others. The Apos­tle admonishes Christians to work diligently with their hands so that they will not suffer any material need. Our Lord has indeed commanded His people to take care of the poor, but He also wants His follow­ers to work so that they will not be in need but will be able to help those who are in real need. Poverty in itself is no virtue! It is to be avoided if at all possible.

So the Apostle has given them some guidelines for the godly life. Here the words are addressed to people laboring under a false conception concerning the time of the return of Christ; but these words are timeless. They are needed in our time.

Questions for Discussion:🔗

  1. What is the nature of a truly Christian life? Is it one of commandment upon commandment? How are freedom and commandment related in a Christian life?

  2. Paul was in Thessalonica only a few weeks. What does his example of teaching and preaching say to us in our mission work? What does it say to those who believe that everything must be made very simple?

  3. What is sanctification? How does it differ from justification? Is it important to know the difference? Some never get beyond the joy of being saved. What do you think of that attitude? Is it dangerous?

  4. How does our faith influence our marriage rela­tionship? Family relationship?

  5. Are the labors of our hands "good works"? (L.D. 33) Is work a blessing? Explain.

  6. Is it an indication of true spirituality if one al­ways talks about spiritual things and neglects his daily work?

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