One day, Frederick the Great of Prussia was walking on the outskirts of Berlin when he encountered a very old man walking in the opposite direction. “Who are you?” Frederick asked his subject. “I am a king,” replied the old man. “A king!” laughed Frederick. “Over what kingdom do you reign?” “Over myself,” was the proud old man’s reply. This old man was on to something. Each of us is “monarch” over our own lives. By that I mean we are responsible for ruling our actions and decisions. To make consistently good decisions, to take the right action at the right time, and to refrain from the wrong actions requires character and self-discipline. To do otherwise is to lose control of ourselves—to potentially destroy our witness or disqualify ourselves from ministry. When we are foolish, we want to conquer the world. When we are wise, we want to conquer ourselves. This begins when we do what we should, no matter how we feel about it.
Today, in 1 Thess 4:1-12 we will learn how to do what we should. It is important to recognize that we have arrived at the center of the book of 1 Thessalonians. To clearly see this, it will be helpful to return to the theme of the letter found in 1:9-10. In these two verses, Paul summarizes the three components of the argument of his book.253 He writes, “(1) For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols (2) to serve a living and true God, and (3) to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” The first section entails 2:1-3:13; the second section deals with our present text (4:1-12); and the third and final section encompasses the remainder of the book (4:13-5:28). The structure of the theme verses in 1:9-10 point readers to the center of the letter: “to serve the living and true God.” Or as I shall suggest, “walk His way.” In the twelve verses of 1 Thess 4:1-12, Paul exhorts us to walk His way by being sexually pure, loving other believers, and working not meddling.
In these first eight verses, Paul explains that God’s will is for us to become holy (“sanctified”) like Jesus. In 4:1-2 he writes, “Finally then,254 brethren, we request255 and exhort256 you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received257 from us instruction as to how you ought258 to walk and please259 God (just as you actually do walk260), that261 you excel still more.262 For you know263 what commandments264 we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” Paul begins this chapter with the word “finally.”265 Have you heard the latest definition of an optimist? It is someone who believes the preacher is almost finished when he says “finally.” From a purely statistical point of view, it is interesting to note that in chapters 1-3 there is a total of 43 verses, and in chapters 4-5 there are a whopping 46 verses to add to the total! So the question is, “What does Paul mean when he says ‘finally?’” I would suggest it is almost like a change of gears as he moves into overdrive. He ups the ante. He raises the stakes. The word “finally” serves as the punch line.266 In chapters 4-5, Paul moves from the theological to the practical. Paul continually affirms believers in their position and encourages them in their practice.267 In 1 Thessalonians, he affirms that the Thessalonian believers are positionally chosen (1:4), yet he exhorts them to practically live out this positional truth by walking in obedience (2:12). In this passage, he encourages the Thessalonians with their present “walk”—their lifestyle of faith.268 The Christian life begins with a step of faith, but that step leads to a walk of faith. Christianity is not a sprint; it is a walk of perseverance along the way marked out for us by Jesus Christ. The biblical metaphor “walk” is an appropriate term that most likely came into use because Christianity was originally called “The Way” in Acts.269 What is of particular interest here is that Paul uses the word “walk” to bookend this section. The Greek word peripateo (“walk”) is used twice in 4:1 and again in 4:12 where the NASB renders it “behave.”270 Hence, the thrust of this passage is that you and I would walk with God, which entails seeking to please Him by receiving His instruction and obeying His commandments.271 Will you make a conscious decision to walk His way? It will be difficult, if not impossible, to continue to work through this passage unless you choose as an act of your will that you are going to obey God, whether you like it or not and whether you feel like it or not. I urge you with all that I am to walk His way.
Now the $6 million question is, “How do we please the Lord and walk His way?” There’s a simple answer—by doing the will of God. In 4:3-8, Paul insists that Christians must maintain their sexual purity. In 4:3-6a, Paul gives three specific instructions.
Young people and singles, perhaps you are thinking, “What kind of sick humor is this? God puts this sex drive in us then says, ‘Oh, but you have to wait.’ It’s cruel.” This is kind of like buying your 16-year-old son a brand new Lamborghini, parking it outside, and then saying, “It’s yours. It’s paid for, but there are no keys, and you can’t drive it.” So every day he has to walk by and look at it, sit in it, but cannot drive it. He has the car but nowhere to go. Is God crazy? No, He is very smart. God understands there are consequences to premature oneness. His design is for you and me to have this beautiful thing called intimacy and oneness in marriage, where two become one for life. When we choose to ignore God’s design, there are consequences.291
[Tear off a single piece of scotch tape, and begin sticking the tape to different people’s pants, shirts, and foreheads.] Each time I stick this tape on someone, when I pull it off, pieces of that person’s clothing stick to the tape. The more people I stick the tape to, the more adhesive was lost. This piece of tape is designed to stick things together, yet the more I use it on people’s clothing, the less sticky it becomes. The same thing happens with our sexuality. Sexuality is who we are. We want to be able to stick together through thick and thin so that we can enjoy the oneness waiting for us. When we go outside God’s principles, our stick-ability in marriage is diminished. Many of us are married and wonder why we don’t have the ability to have a cohesive relationship. This may be the reason why. God is not a killjoy. He’s just smart. He said oneness is what we are to pursue.292
In 4:6b-8, Paul shares three incentives to pursue sexual purity.
Perhaps, you’ve found yourself lost in the above instructions and incentives. If so, here are some other suggestions that may be helpful to you.
Before we move on, I really want you to hear that it is never too late to walk with God. Many of you have already sinned sexually. It is God’s will that you move on. God makes it clear that He will welcome you back and restore you to fellowship. As we trusted the finished work of Christ for salvation, so we trust His finished work on the cross for our sin (1 John 1:9-2:2). What Paul is saying in this section is that through our relationship with God, we can have the power and the discipline to stay sexually pure; or if we have already messed up, we can begin right now. God is simply waiting for you to confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and go and sin no more. Or, if you prefer, walk His way.
[Why should you serve God by being sexually pure? For the simple reason that God loves you and wants the best for you.]
The transition from holiness to love is not a difficult one (cf. 3:11-13). God’s love is a holy love, so our love for God and for one another ought to motivate us to holy living. The more we live like God, the more we will love one another. If a Christian really loves his brother, he will not sin against him (4:6).305 Paul writes, “Now306 as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God307 to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge308 you, brethren, to excel still more.” In these two verses, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they should demonstrate “the love of the brethren.” The Greek word behind this phrase is philadelphia, which means “brotherly love.” In the New Testament it is used exclusively of the love Christians are to show to each other.309 Outside of the New Testament philadelphia is used only of love for blood brothers or sisters.310 The idea seems to be that believers should have a fondness for one another. This only occurs when the agape love of 4:10 is first implemented. The word “love” (agapao) in 4:10 is a different word for love than in the first phrase of 4:9. The word here is a self-sacrificing love produced by the Holy Spirit. This requires believers making a conscious decision of their wills to love and forgive one another. Paul reveals that the Thessalonians are exuding love for not only one another but all the brethren in their entire region. They are a model church, yet Paul urges these believers to “excel still more.” How can we accomplish this? First, it is important to recognize that the church is made up of individuals and families. Therefore, it is essential to love believers closest to you. If you don’t love those people closest to you, you won’t love the body of Christ at large. So if you are married, the most important person in your life is your spouse. You need to love your husband or wife with every fiber of your being. Obviously, you can do this by being sexually pure. But you can also listen to your spouse, verbally affirm your spouse, and support his or her dreams. If you have children or grandchildren, you must love those precious souls with unconditional love. One way I have found of doing this is adopting an area of their interest. If they like a sport, a type of music, or a particular hobby, do that with them—even if you don’t like it. If you are a student or a single, you are called to first and foremost love other believers in Christ. This means prioritizing your friendships with those in youth or college groups above those of your coworkers or friends. As a church, we are called to love people within our body. One of the most tangible ways you can do this is by simply reaching out to people on Sunday morning. This is as simple as greeting someone who looks new or lonely and seeking to befriend that person. Additionally, we are expected to love those believers outside of our church walls. On Friday, I had a phone call with a seminarian who is looking for a pastoral job, and he told me about a Presbyterian church in Eastern Washington that learned of a Hispanic Charismatic pastor in their community who wanted to go to seminary but couldn’t afford it. They decided to foot the bill! Theologically and philosophically these churches have very little in common, but they love Jesus and they love one another!
What does it mean that our love should “excel still more?” It means that we should increase in our sympathy for those in need, patience for those who are struggling, and tolerance toward those with whom we disagree. We can’t be satisfied with our past performance. We must excel still more in our love for others. Research shows that when the unchurched are asked what they are looking for in a church, the answer is always the same: They are looking for a caring church. Not just a friendly church, a relevant church, or a church with plenty of programs for the kids. As good and essential as those things are, they don’t touch the deepest heart cry of this generation, which is for a place where they can be loved truly and deeply. When the people of the world find such a place they stand in line to get in. This was the primary attraction of the early church. They had no buildings, no fancy programs, no large budgets, no radio, no TV. They had none of the things that we consider essential for success. Yet nothing could stop them. In just three centuries, Christianity conquered the Roman Empire. How did this happen? It was said of the early Christians, “Behold, how they love one another.”311 If we want to walk His way, we will love other believers.
[Why should you serve God by loving other believers? It pleases God and serves as a witness to the world.]
In this third and final section,Paul argues that our work is a witness. People are watching. We are witnesses! He puts it like this: “And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave [“walk”]312 properly313 toward outsiders314 and not be in any need.” These challenging words should be understood in the context of 4:13-5:11, which teaches Christ’s return. Furthermore, in 5:14 there is yet another warning against slackness.315
This past week, I met with my men’s group at a deli where we have met for over a year. During the past several months, I’ve noticed a hardworking young woman who buses tables, washes windows, and mops toilets. I have been so impressed with her that I decided to approach her and commend her on her work ethic. After doing so, I told her that I would be glad to fill out a comment card expressing my appreciation. She said, “Why don’t you tell my manager? And tell him I need a raise.” I was happy to comply, because I know her manager. You can imagine my shock when her manager said, “She was just complaining to me about how she doesn’t want to do her job. But she will only be here for four more weeks.” The young woman ran over and attempted to explain herself but I was a bit underwhelmed. As we talked, I wondered if this young woman was a believer. (At this point, I was hoping that she is not!) I told her, “Someone (God) may be trying to tell you something.” By that I mean, “Keep working hard, but have a good attitude.” I then asked her, “What are your future plans?” She said, “I am going to return to BYU.” I laughed at the irony. Instead of Christians receiving a bad name, this time it was the Mormons. The point is this: God longs for us to use our work as a witness. He wants us to represent Him in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. As we do so, we will see others drawn to Christ.
Let me say it again: Walk His way. When you walk His way life is not usually easier but God is glorified in and through you, and eventually the world sits up and takes notice. Will you be a Christian who is characterized by sexual purity, love for the brethren, and a godly work ethic? If so, you can change your world. For when you learn to conquer yourself and allow God’s Spirit to reign in and through you, your life and the lives of others will be changed for eternity. Walk His way.
1. Is my “walk” (i.e., personal behavior) pleasing to God (4:1-2)? What tangible examples of Christian maturity can I share from my own life? Am I seeking to “excel still more” in my obedience to God’s “instruction” and “commandments?” What specific area of my life is God presently working on? Am I aggressively responding to His leadership?
2. When I think of “the will of God” (4:3) what immediately comes to mind? Do I regularly reflect on my sexual purity (4:3)? How do I strive to maintain my purity? What have I learned from my failures and sins in the sexual realm? How can I teach others to learn from my mistakes? In what ways do I need to grow in my thoughts, words, and actions? Read Ephesians 5:3-5. Does this passage serve as my consuming passion? Why do I tolerate impurity when the Lord is clear that I “must” walk and please God (1 Thess 4:1b)?
3. Am I willing to take God’s Word at face value? Will I obey the Lord in all that He says (e.g., sexual purity, love for believers, a godly work ethic)? Do I recognize that when I fail to do so I am “rejecting” God (4:8)? How can I be a disciple that is “humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at God’s word” (Isaiah 66:2b)? Who can help me grow to become this type of submissive disciple? Will I contact this person today?
4. Will I make a conscious decision to love other believers in Christ (4:9-10)? How can I grow in my brotherly fondness (Greek = philadelphia) for fellow believers? At this very moment, is there a believer who I am struggling to love? How can I express love and compassion for this person? Will I take the initiative to seek this person out and attempt to bless and not curse? Read Romans 12:9-21. Am I using this passage as my measure of love for those believers who I know and serve with?
5. Am I so conscientious about my work, so skilled at what I do, so helpful to the people around me, that it makes them wonder why I work the way I do (4:11-12)? How can I improve my skills and attitude? If Jesus were working beside me, how would my work attitudes and actions change? What will it take for me to realize that Jesus observes all that I do and that His Spirit is grieved when I don’t work as unto Him? Read Ephesians 6:5-9 and Colossians 3:22-4:1.
252 Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. Permissions: Feel free to reproduce and distribute any articles written by Keith Krell, in part or in whole, in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way or charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. It is our desire to spread this information, not protect or restrict it. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: by Keith Krell, Timeless Word Ministries, 2508 State Ave NE Olympia, WA 98506, 360-352-9044, www.timelessword.com
254 The strong conjunction oun (“therefore,” omitted in NIV), closely links the two major portions of the letter (1:2-3:13; 4:1-5:22). Michael W. Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 124.
256 Paul uses the verb parakaleo (“exhort,” “encourage,” “urge”)54 times in his 13 letters. It is noticeably present in 1 Thessalonians (2:12; 3:2, 7; 4:1, 10, 18; 5:11, 14).
257 The word translated “received” (paralambano) is used for accepting instructions passed on as fixed traditions from teacher to follower. Paul speaks in these terms about doctrinal traditions as well as ethical instruction that he passes on to his converts and expects them to keep (cf. 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:1-3; Gal 1:9; Phil 4:9; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6).
258 The word “ought” is the Greek word dei, which means “it is necessary.” This is a very strong word.
260 The KJV/NKJV does not include this phrase which is a textual variant that seems to be genuine.
262 The word translated “excel” means “be outstanding, be prominent, excel” (see also 1 Cor 15:58 cf. 2 Cor 8:7ab; Col 2:7). In 1 Thess 4:1, 10 the addition of the adverb mallon (“still more”) leads to a definition of “progress more and more.” See BDAG s.v. perisseuo 1b b.
263 Paul uses the verb oida (“know”) throughout 1 Thessalonians (1:4, 5; 2:1, 2, 5, 11; 3:3, 4; 4:2, 4, 5; 5:2, 12).
265 The Greek word loipon (“finally”) typically introduces a new, sometimes concluding section in Paul’s letters.
266 Sam Gordon, Hope and Glory. Truth for Today (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2005), 127.
268 Wiema writes, “The verb peripateo literally means ‘to walk’ but has the metaphorical sense of ‘living one’s life.’ It is not only one of Paul’s favorite words to describe the Christian life (it occurs 32 times in his letters), it is also one of his more strategic terms as it is used to introduce themes that the apostle considered to be fundamental. This metaphorical use of ‘walking’ to describe moral conduct has its roots in Paul’s Jewish background (approximately 200 of the 1547 occurrences of the Hebrew verb “to walk” in the Old Testament are metaphorical).” Jeffrey A.D. Weima, “1 Thessalonians,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 419.
270 The Pauline use of the verb peripateo (“walk”) makes for an interesting study: Rom 6:4; 8:4; 13:13; 14:15; 1 Cor 3:3; 7:17; 2 Cor 4:2; 5:7; 10:2-3; 12:18; Gal 5:16; Eph 2:2, 10; 4:1, 17 [2x]; 5:2, 8, 15; Phil 3:17-18; Col 1:10; 2:6; 3:7; 4:5; 1 Thess 2:12; 4:1 [2x], 12; and 2 Thess 3:6, 11.
271 The word “commandments” (paraggelia) was used of military commands passed down the ranks.
272 The definite article (“the”) is absent in the Greek text indicating that this is part of God’s will, not all of His will.
273 Paul uses the phrase “the will of God” in Rom 1:10; 8:27; 12:2; 15:32; 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; 7:9-10; 8:5; Eph 1:1; 6:6; Col 1:1; 4:12; 1 Thess 4:3; 2 Tim 1:1; cf. Mark 3:35; Heb 10:36; 1 Pet 2:15; 4:2, 6, 19; 5:2; and 1 John 2:17.
274 The word hagiasmos (“sanctification”) is used in Rom 6:19, 22; 1 Cor 1:30; 1 Thess 4:3, 4, 7; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Tim 2:15; Heb 12:14; and 1 Pet 1:2. In 1 Thessalonians, the term is referring to experiential sanctification, not positional sanctification.
276 This definition has been modified from BDAG s.v. apecho 5.
278 “Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage) will you know that you have gotten a hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination.” Tim Keller, Belief in God in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton Adult, 2008), 114.
282 Later in 5:18, Paul says that it is God’s will for the Thessalonians to give thanks in all things. So God’s will includes obedience to Him in several areas.
285 In 2 Thess 1:8 Paul declares that God will deal out “retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Mayhue suggests, “This phrase probably has its origin in the Old Testament (cf. Ps 79:6; Jer 10:25).” Richard Mayhue, First and Second Thessalonians. Focus on the Bible (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 111.
286 The word huperbaino (“transgress”) is only used here in the NT.
288 This may refer to taking liberties with another brother’s family (cf. 4:9) or to the term “brother” could refer to any other human, similar to “neighbor” in 4:12. It is likely that the term is a generic reference to humankind.
289 The definite article (to)demonstrates that Paul is referring to 4:3-5.
290 Gordon, Hope and Glory, 146.
291 In his book, Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers, sociology professor Mark Regnerus says evangelical teens are slightly more sexually active than their non-evangelical peers. Non-evangelical teens have sex for the first time at age 16.7, versus 16.3 for evangelicals. Worse, 13.7% of evangelical teens have had three or more sex partners, versus 8.9% of their non-evangelical peers. World Magazine reports 80% of U.S. teens claiming to be born-again agree that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong, yet 66% violate their own beliefs. “Evangelical teens don’t have sex less than their non-evangelical friends; they just feel guiltier about it.” He credits the clash of cultures in the evangelical youth experience: urged to drink deeply from the waters of American individualism and its self-focused pleasure ethic, yet asked to value time-honored religious traditions like family and chastity. “Who can serve two masters? Teens need a pure community of true believers who teach the truth about sex, including its beauty in marriage.” Church Leaders Intelligence Report Enclosed - 05.14.08 OneNewsNow 3/29/08
292 Kenny Hibbard, “What’s a Single to Do?” http://preachingtoday.com/sermons/mediacollectionsn365/whatsasingletodo.html?start=3.
295 BDAG s.v. ekdikos.
296 Hibbard, “What’s a Single to Do?”
298 The repetition of “sanctification” in 4:3 and 7 forms an inclusio or “bookend” encasing the warning about immorality, all of which undergirds the reason Christians should please God. F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary series (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 81.
299 Michael Eaton, 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, England: Sovereign World, 1997), 57.
301 The unusual Greek construction to pneuma hagion (“the Spirit holy”) lays stress upon the Spirit as holy.
302 William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians. Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. and reprint ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew, 1963), 231.
303 Paul’s description of God’s giving his Holy Spirit “into you,” is an expression that echoes exactly the words of Ezekiel (see Ezek 37:6, 14 [LXX]; see also 36:27).
305 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Ready: 1 Thessalonians, Electronic ed.
306 The phrase peri de (“now about”) typically introduces new topics that were likely raised by the Thessalonians and communicated through Timothy back to Paul (1 Thess 4:13; 5:1; cf. 1 Cor 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12). Nevertheless, 4:9-12 is still related to 4:1-8 and 3:12-13. G.K. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 124.
307 The word theodidaktos (“taught by God”) only occurs here in the NT and seems to refer to the teachings of Jesus in the Upper Room (John 13:34; 15:12, 17). Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 90 and Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 125. An almost exact statement is made in Isa 54:13 and quoted in John 6:45. A similar idea is contained in the New Covenant promise of Jer 31:33-34. This appears to be the ministry of the Spirit spoken of by John (cf. 1 John 2:20, 27). See Mayhue, First and Second Thessalonians, 114. “Taught by God” refers to the teachings of Jesus in the Upper Room (John 13:34; 15:12, 17).
Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 90 and Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 125.
308 The Greek text has one command, “we urge,” an object, “you,” followed by four infinitives (4:10b, 11), and a final clause that gives the intended outcome (4:12).
310 BDAG s.v. philadelphia.
315 I. Howard Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. New Century Bible Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott Pub. Ltd., 1983), 117 and Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 128.
319 This is the way the NIV translates this phrase.