Some thoughts on 1 Thess. 4:1-8
“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.”
Growing in spiritual maturity is something that Paul discusses in many of his writings. Working in college-age ministry gives me the opportunity to answer many questions about holy living and righteous conduct. Often students simply want to know what they can do, and still be saved. That is, how much sin is tolerable in my life? Is the current amount of worldliness acceptable to the Lord? How far can we push the envelope and retain right standing with God? However, when raising these questions, they have missed the point of holiness entirely.
The goal to living out the Christian walk is not to try to appease your desire and please God. Rather it is to please God’s desire alone. One author wrote,
“The purpose of believers is to please God in all things. We are to abound in the work of faith and to live lives that are worthy of the calling we have received. We are to produce fruit in keeping with repentance and to honor God in private and in public. The Christian life is a bit like climbing a ladder. The higher we climb the more we are transformed into the image of God.”
Followers of Christ are not designed to give into any of their desires. The Bible tells us to give no place for our flesh. Paul continues to emphasize this point later on in this passage. When we give into our flesh (via sex, drugs, etc.) we are pleasing ourselves.
In this passage Paul is encouraging the saints at Thessalonica to continue living lives that please God. He says, “as in fact you are living” which tells us that Paul felt the need to give the church a charge of encouragement to keep doing the simple act of pleasing God. By “simple” we mean, not hard to comprehend. This was not a deep theological concept to grasp. It was something they undoubtedly had heard before and were understood well. The BKC agrees and notes,
“The present message came to them with the same authority. Sometimes Christians want to hear new truth when what they need is exhortation to excel still more, to press on to greater experiencing of old truths which they are already practicing to a limited degree.”
Many times we already know what to do, but just need to be reminded on a consistent basis.
The same challenges that faced the church in Thessalonica are still issues today. The sexually charged atmosphere that was present in the early church would be similar to what we see in our present culture. The amount of sexual themes that are ingrained in our entertainment and marketing are overwhelming. This is the immorality that Paul exhorts the church to abstain from.
Self-Discipline was the message that Paul preached to church. Self-denial is how we please the Lord. One commentary said,
“Paul called his readers to avoid it (Sexual Immorality), implying the need for exercising self-discipline, enabled by God’s Spirit. Christians are to avoid and abstain from any and every form of sexual practice that lies outside the circle of God’s revealed will, namely adultery, premarital and extramarital intercourse, homosexuality, and other perversions.”
In order to grow in Christ we must get past the idea that we are trying to stay out of Hell. Our lives should be lived out to please God and not ourselves. Through spiritual discipline we put our desires on the shelf, and embrace what God wants for our lives. Spiritual mature people will do whatever it takes to please God, no matter how it makes them feel. There should be a longing in the heart of every believer to please God. This is the true sign of spiritual maturity. Richard Foster said,
“The primary requirement (for a believer) is a longing after God.”
David also agreed in Psalm 19:14,
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.”
I believe modern Christianity has left true holiness in pursuit of a holiness that involves self-gratification over Biblical-sanctification. True reformation must have people willing to give up their own desires, dreams, passions, goals, pride, beauty, and seek only to please the one who matters, Jesus.
 Tim Shenton, Opening Up 1 Thessalonians, Opening Up Commentary, 76 (Leominster: Day One Publications, 2006).
 John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, 1 Th 4:2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985).
 John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, 1 Th 4:3 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985).
 Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth p. 2 (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988).