“For this is the will of God, your sanctification” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3a
Paul is inspired to write the Thessalonians that their sanctification involved, “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” (4:3b-6). While this may pertain to a particular situation in the lives of the Thessalonians, it certainly is God’s desire for all His children. What do we learn about the sanctified life from these verses?
First, God’s will to be sanctified involves abstaining from “sexual immorality” (4:3b). Paul says being sanctified involves, “that you should abstain from sexual immorality.” “Sexual immorality” is translated from a single Greek term porneia which is translated by the words fornication, adultery, unchastity, prostitution, immorality, and even idolatry. We derive the word pornography from this term. Sexual immorality is something that comes from a state of the heart (Mat. 15:19; Mark 7:21). It is a result of rebelling against God (Rom. 1:28-32). It is a work of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19). It is a grief to God and those who serve Him (2 Cor. 12:21). It should not have any place among God’s people (Eph. 5:3). In Christ we should put sexual immorality to death in our lives (Col. 3:5).
And that is what Paul exhorts the Thessalonian believers to do, abstain from sexual immorality. The word “abstain” (Greek apĕchŏmai) means to hold oneself off, to refrain from, to abstain. The grammar of this term (Present/Middle/Infinitive) refers to a constant ongoing (Present tense) action. It refers to an action a person does to or for himself (Middle voice). It is an action as in to abstain (Infinitive Mood). When we put it all together we are to always hold off sexual immorality for our own good. It is a work of the Holy Spirit in us to live a sanctified life. But there is a part we play in this; something we are responsible to do; a cooperation with Him.
Sexual immorality is not only a physical act but also involves mental fantasy. Jesus said, “you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mat. 5:27-28). Jesus said we should make every effort and take drastic measures to avoid such sins of the mind and heart (Mat. 5:29-30). We aren’t to literally pluck out our eyes or chop off body parts like some religions do. But we are to take drastic measures that may include throwing out a TV, computor, IPad, or IPhone if it is being used to watch pornography.
“Sexual immorality” refers to and is defined as any sexual interaction mental or physical outside of the marriage bond. To be clear, this would involve anything that stimulates people sexually outside the marriage bond. The marriage bond is sacred and holy. Marriage was instituted by God for the union of one man and one woman in a life covenant lived out in the sight of God (Gen. 2:23-25). Marriage was created by God for procreation (Gen. 1:27-28). Marriage was created by God so that a man and a woman in a life commitment to each other made in the sight of God could freely and guiltlessly enjoy sexual pleasure (Heb. 13:4). That alone is holy sex.
Second, God’s will to be sanctified involves taking care of our own bodies (4:4). Paul writes, “that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.” The term “vessel” (Greek skĕuŏs) simply refers to an instrument, a vessel, implement, equipment, apparatus, or utensil. Paul is obviously referring here to our bodies and in particular our sexual equipment. We should know how to use our sexual body parts with sanctification and honor. The word “honor” (Greek teemay) is interesting. It means here to treat our bodies and particularly our sexual organs, with dignity, respect, honor, and in a valued way. Are you treating your body and the body of your spouse in an honorable way? Is your spouse treating your body in an honorable way?
Our bodies are not for the purpose of sexual immorality (cf. 1 Cor. 6:13, 18). Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 cor. 6:19). We, including our bodies, belong to God (1 Cor. 6:20). We have been purchased with the precious blood of Jesus! Therefore we have no right to take what God has made holy and use it for unholy purposes such as sexual immorality.
Third, God’s will to be sanctified involves having an unworldly standard (4:5). Paul tells the Thessalonians that their attitudes should be, “not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” The word “passion” (Greek pathos) means inordinate, uncontrolled emotion. The word “lust” (Greek ĕpithumia) means yearning or longing for what is forbidden. If you watch TV or go to the movies it’s not difficult to deduct “passion of lust.” Everywhere people are portrayed as struggling with or giving into their uncontrolled passions for what is forbidden. Adulterous affairs, crimes of passion, stealing, cheating, it’s all a part of what is done “like the Gentiles who do not know God.” What is your standard of living? How do you approach the area of sex? Like the world with no limits, no true godly love, carefree sex with no commitments, indulging in sexual fantasy that pays no attention to the persons involved? What is your standard? Is your standard sanctified; is it holy?
Fourth, God’s will to be sanctified involves honesty with others (4:6). Lastly Paul says, “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.” The words “take advantage of” come from a single Greek term (hupĕrbainō) and literally mean to step out of line with, to go beyond acceptable limits or parameters of decency, or transgress. The term “defraud” (Greek plĕŏnĕktĕō) means to be covetous, to manipulate someone in an unjust way, to take advantage of someone, or to exploit. Paul is defining sanctified behavior as not being selfishly aimed at profiting off of others. The sanctified person does not seek to profit themselves at the expense of others. Instead the sanctified person should be others oriented. Paul in another epistle said, “esteem others better” than yourself (Phil. 2:3). We are to have the mind of Christ, not a selfish, carnal, others-using attitude toward people (cf. Phil. 2:1-11). The things warned against by Paul are all contrary to the love that disciples of Jesus are supposed to have (John 13:34-35; Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 13:4-8). The sanctified life is a life that leads to honesty with others and looking out for the best interest of others. Are you others oriented or a me-first type of person? Do you take advantage of people sexually? Do you manipulate people to serve your own purpose and passions? Or do you live within the scriptural parameters of God’s word; especially as it pertains to sex?
What about the will of God in your life? Are you living in a way that even considers discerning or finding God’s will for you? Are you a living sacrifice, fully surrendered to God? Are you saying to God, “Not my will but Your will be done in my life?” This is all part of living a life of sanctification. Is this life yours? Now that you know God’s will, will you obey it, will you do it, will you live it? God’s will is for us to live sanctified lives.