As Christians, How Should We Now Live?
“Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you should do so more and more.” 1 Thess. 4: 1
This message is for Christians, and more specifically, for the subset of Bible believing Christians who adhere to the directives of the Holy Scriptures and see them as the source of truth and as an authoritative revelation from God to all Christians throughout the ages. I personally believe that the Bible is the revealed Word of God and that all true Christians must hold to it as the sole authority and standard to measure all other proposed truths against. If you don’t agree with this or if you have some other source of truth that takes precedence over the authority of the Bible, then this message will most likely not be a benefit to you.
The Bible is more than a historical record, and its relevance is as applicable today as it was centuries ago. Its verses were written by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, the divine Holy Spirit of God was able to cause what was written to have relevance from the time it was written until the end of this age, when the Lord Jesus Christ returns at His second coming.
I am stressing these points about the authority and relevance of the Scriptures because I want to look closely at the instructions that were written in the 4th chapter of 1 Thessalonians and were established by the author, the apostle Paul, as instructions for how the Thessalonians should live as converted Christian. Again I say it – these instructions are applicable to us today also.
Paul lays out 3 areas or categories of instruction as follows: 1) holiness, 2) love of the brethren, 3) hope. I would like to drill down into each of these areas, looking more closely at the verses and discussing their relevance for us today. I see in these exhortations a practical direction for us to follow that will help us to live out the remainder of our Christian lives in a way that is pleasing to God, as Paul suggests.
“For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus” 1 Thess. 4: 2
Notice first that Paul had previously instructed them on these topics, possibly even multiple times. Notice also that Paul states that these instructions were given “through the Lord Jesus” meaning that they have been revealed to him by God, and have divine authority, therefore they should not be taken lightly. Also, note that under each of these 3 categories, Paul mentions specific topics of instruction that encompass the guidelines for Christians to live their lives. We must recognize that there are more topics that could be included than these that are mentioned, but these were the ones that Paul thought were important and relevant to the Thessalonians, and also that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write and include, so we must also see them as relevant for guidance to us today.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification (or being made holy)….” 1 Thess. 4: 3
The dictionary.com definition of the word sanctify is “to make holy; to set apart as sacred; to consecrate” and “to purify or free from sin”. The original Greek word used here is hagiasmos meaning “purification, i.e. the state of purity” and also refers to the effect of this purification, that is, “the sanctification of heart and life.” The word is translated as holiness, sanctification or consecration in today’s English versions of the Bible.
There are two ways of looking at sanctification, the first being that it requires a setting apart or separation. For Christians, we need to be separated from the world. Looking deeper, we must realize that the world is focused on the things of the flesh, or more specifically, focused on satisfying the strong desires and longings of our physical bodies. As Christians we need to shift our focus from physical things offered by this world to spiritual things that have been promised to us from God through His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to approach life with an attitude that our physical life here on earth is temporary, but our future life in the kingdom of God is permanent. We need to store up our treasures for the future life in heaven. We are to be like pilgrims, aliens, and strangers here on earth, just passing through on our journey to our true future home.
This shift of focus is internal and changes the way that we think, resulting in a definitive, distinct difference between us and the world. This is the separation that Paul is speaking of. Christians are not instructed to remove themselves physically from this world but rather to recognize that they are not “of this world” and that they must not love the things of this world.
Prayer of Jesus to the Father: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” John 17: 13-17
“Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.” 1 John 2: 15-16
People who are in the world have their minds and hearts set on the things that this world has to offer them and this is what consumes them, demanding all of their attention and energy. Sadly, many Christians allow their physical desires to take over their attention and focus, maybe not in their words, but in their deeds and thoughts. A good test for this is the amount of anxiety that is in our lives – high anxiety and stress would indicate that our hearts are set on the things of this world rather than on heaven. Examine yourself to see if you are walking in the faith with your heart set on heaven.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8: 5-6
The second way of looking at sanctification is from the idea of purity and holiness. We need to recognize that the Lord has instructed us to be pure in our thoughts and actions. This requires that we put to death the deeds of the flesh that we once practiced before our conversion, when we were in the world with our hearts set on pleasing ourselves and advancing our position in this world, looking for the praises of men and the pleasures and riches that this world has to offer.
Paul mentions a specific topic in his reminder to the Thessalonians:
“…that you abstain from unchastity; that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God;” 1 Thess. 4:3-5
Paul specifically addresses here the issue of having sex outside of marriage (i.e. unchastity). The strong physical desires that are associated with sexual activity have made sexual immorality an issue throughout the ages, and it is especially relevant today.
Consider our western culture here in America and the sexual attitude that prevails. Almost every TV program and movie has a message that promotes sexual promiscuity or a segment that exposes sexual immorality either explicitly shown or implied. Even some commercials are sexually explicit and promote immoral sexual activity. Pornography is easily accessible for even the young pre-teens of our society. Our children are being raised to think that fulfilling our sexual passions (and even in some cases sexual perversions) is normal and acceptable, and certainly not restricted to marriage.
The sexual standard set forth by our western culture is that as long as you are having sexual relations (i.e. intercourse) with one person that you “love”, your actions are acceptable; only when people have casual sex with multiple partners are they looked down. In fact, I would say that for men the standard is even lower than for women, where multiple partners is okay as long as they are not in a “committed” relationship or married, and as long as the partners they choose are not prostitutes.
Currently there is much in the news about politicians and Hollywood celebrities who are being accused of sexual abuse. We wonder why there are so many situations that result in rape and/or unwanted/non-consenting sexual encounters, especially where drugs and alcohol are involved – these are symptoms of the deeper problem of promoting sexual activity outside of God’s instructions. Rather than treating the symptoms, we should deal with the root of the problem by going back to God’s instructions regarding chastity, training our children in this truth. Unfortunately, it may be too late for our society to change in this area, but we as individuals can make the necessary changes in our life and set an example for others and pass on these truths to our children (or train them in this if they are young).
As Christians we need to have a different attitude towards sexual activity. We need to follow God’s direction and view sexual relations as something that should be limited to a married couple. Also, as was instructed by the Lord Jesus, we must not only change our external, physical actions, but also our internal thoughts; Jesus said that lusting after a man’s wife is the same as committing adultery with her.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5: 27-28
Paul continues in Thessalonians 4 with more instructions:
“…that no man transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, for the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we have solemnly forewarned you.” 1 Thess. 4: 6
Some versions include the following translation:
“…that no man defraud his brother in business,” 1 Thess. 4:6 (alternative translation)
In the first, original translation, the key is to consider what is meant by “this matter”. It could either mean the matter of holiness and sanctification in general, or more specifically, the matter of sexual unchastity. In the alternate translation, we can assume that Paul intended to specifically warn against defrauding other Christians in business transactions, adding a new topic to his discussion.
Included in both translations is the idea that defrauding people is ungodly and should never be found among Christians. We must be aware that it is very easy to clean up our external, visible actions but to leave the internal or hidden things of the heart and through-life unchecked.
The type of defraud that Paul was warning against would apply to people nowadays who attend gatherings with other Christians, but continue in sexually immoral activity (like viewing pornography, lusting in their thought life, or even worse, having secretive sexual activity like adultery or fornication).
Being dishonest in our business dealings would apply today to the many types of businesses that knowingly defraud their customers by promising things that are not delivered, or similar deceptions. Christians should never be involved in questionable business ventures, even if they are “legal” according to the government laws, but underhanded in reality.
Notice also, that in these verses Paul exhorts his Christian brothers in the area of finding a Christian mate for marriage:
“… each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the heathen who do not know God;” 1 Thess. 4: 4-5
On this topic I must admit that I have much to learn and have been seeking the Lord to show me how this selection of a wife should occur. I believe that our society and culture in America has moved so far from the proper view of dating, courtship, and marriage that we must get God’s redirection on this completely, removing all of our previous understanding.
Taking a wife in “holiness and honor” I believe means that we should look for a Godly character, humility, and a heart that loves the Lord as the guiding factor in our selection of our mate, and not be completely focused on sexual attraction. Please, if you are single looking for a mate, seek God for direction and instruction in this most important decision that will impact greatly the remainder of your days.
Paul’s final warning on this topic of holiness:
“For God has not called us for uncleanness but in holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” 1 Thess. 4: 7-8
Our purpose for reading and studying the Scriptures is not so that we can claim to be Biblical scholars or to be able to quote verses from any part of the Bible, but rather, we read and study so that the Word of God will transform us; we read so that we can become lovers – lovers of God and lovers of our neighbors.
Love is the ultimate goal of the Christian and all things that we endeavor to accomplish should be related to love. God is not interested in quantity but He wants quality. Christian quality is measures by our ability to walk in true love as God defines it in His Word.
Paul encouragement in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 includes growing and continuing in love for the brethren (fellow Christian believers). Again I would remind you that loving our fellow Christians is not the only area of love that is important. The Bible instructs us that we need to love God, our neighbors, and even to love our enemies. Paul is encouraging and supporting their existing good attributes of loving their brothers and sisters in the Lord and he exhorts them to do so even more.
“But concerning love of the brethren you have no need to have any one write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by Got to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brethren throughout Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, to do so more and more,….” 1 Thess. 4: 9-10
It is interesting that Paul follows this encouragement to continue loving one another with practical instructions about their conduct. This may at first seem unrelated to loving one another but in fact it is directly related since our actions and conduct can greatly impact other people. Paul makes it clear in other verses of Scriptures (e.g. Romans 12) that adhering to the commandments of God’s law is equivalent to walking in love. Therefore, our actions are an important part of walking in love. Here’s is what follows verse 10:
“….to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you; so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody.” 1 Thess. 4: 11-12
Clearly, Paul is showing that loving others is more than just feeling emotional warmth towards them. It’s even more than helping them when in need, or more than forgiving them or feeling compassion for them. Love also involves being fair towards others and not taking advantage of their kindness towards us. It involves carrying our own weight and doing our part to provide for our own needs, never presuming upon the generosity of others. True love means that we are maturing and growing as Christians, becoming strong and independent. It means that we are able to not only take care of ourselves but also to be used by the Lord to help others in need. This too should be our goal; it should be our understanding about how to truly walk in love.
The last part to be included in Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians is his encouragement regarding our future hope in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and how we don’t need to view death like people in the world do (those without hope).
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thess. 4: 13-18
Christians need to live their lives with the understanding that death is not the end for us, and that those who die are not lost and gone forever. Rather, there is a day that will surely come when Jesus will return and we will be transformed with new resurrected bodies, and meet with Him up in the air. Halleluiah!
May the Lord continue to make clear to us how we should walk and to live our lives until He returns. May He show us how to be sanctified, how to walk in love. May He make the reality of His future return even more real to us. This is my prayer for all who read this. Amen.