Living as the Church: Holy Bodies
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
Sunday, April 22, 2018
Over the last several weeks we have been working together through Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians. As you remember, Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia and had a sizeable population. It was a wealthy and influential center of trade and culture. It was also a haven for pagan worship, cults, and immorality. Smack dab in the middle of this darkness was a small church of Christian believers. This particular church was established by the Apostle Paul, Timothy and Sylvanus as they successfully preached to the Jews in the synagogues and the Gentiles in the city. However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive to a world that turns a deaf ear. As such, Paul and company were forced to leave this fertile ground prematurely due to persecution from the Jews. Having to leave these new spiritual children was devastating to the missionaries. Chapter 3 states that when they could bear this separation no longer, they sent Timothy to see how they were doing. To Paul’s great relief, the light of this church was still shining brightly in the midst of the darkness. Paul pens the letter of 1 Thessalonians to encourage and exhort this body of believers. He also writes to challenge them to walk in such a way as to please God and to do so more and more (1 Thess 4:1). It is in this context that we approach our text for the day.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, ESV)
Imagine with me, if you will, a young man. Perhaps this young man was a Gentile convert in the church of Thessalonica who learned about Jesus Christ from the teachings of Paul. Growing up in a pagan culture, he has been surrounded by the corruption and immorality all around him. As such, he has been a willing participant in this immorality. But, now, for the first time in his life, he is attracted not just to the physical beauty of women but to the spiritual beauty as well. He meets a young woman in the congregation, also a follower of Jesus, who has grown up in the culture. He gets to know her and comes to love her. Yet, neither has learned how to approach relationships with the moral purity required of a disciple of Christ. As it turns out, there is still a bit of the world in them both. This immorality surfaces in their relationship bringing predictable consequences. They soon discover that as they follow Christ, things can’t stay the same. There is a connection between our sanctification and our sexuality. This is what Paul will address in these verses.
I bring up this example for a couple of reasons. First, this is probably not far removed from the testimonies of those in the congregation of the Thessalonian church. While they had come to faith in Jesus Christ, they would still need to understand what is means to walk in purity. Second, this story is very similar to my story, and, I suspect, the stories of others here today. Much like Thessalonica, we are surrounded by a culture that encourages and enables immorality. Media, movies, and internet hit us with a constant barrage of graphic sexual images and innuendo. We live in a generation that seeks to eliminate sexual boundaries, change the biblical understanding of marriage, and redefine gender. Our culture has pushed for sexual revolution and freedom from any restriction upon sex. Today, we are experiencing the consequences of this freedom. Yet, Paul’s message is not for our culture. This is a message to the Church of Jesus Christ. My friends, we need Paul’s message to the Thessalonians every bit as much today as the day it was written.
God’s Will for My Life - Sanctification
Many of us struggle to discern God’s will for our lives. Usually, this involves a difficult decision or choice. We wish that God would just speak to us with a voice from heaven. “My will for you is to buy this car, not that one.” What we are seeking is God’s permissive will in our choices. As His children, God allows us to make these choices freely while we seek his guiding hand. While wrestling to make decisions based on God’s permissive will is a part of the Christian experience, there is another aspect of God’s will in which there is very little confusion and even less wiggle room. We call this God’s perfect will. Recognizing God’s perfect will is quite easy because He has clearly revealed it to us in His word. It is usually found in statements like this “This is the will of God: your sanctification.” (1 Thess 4:3, ESV).
What is God’s will for us? The answer is easy: our sanctification. If we aren’t careful, we can spend so much time pondering what God wants us to do that we miss what He has clearly told us to do. God’s will for us is our sanctification. Now, if sanctification is what God requires of us, then we need to have a very good understanding of what it means. For our purposes today, let’s define sanctification as “the ongoing process of the saved person becoming holy through the empowering work of the Holy Spirit.” Today, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, trusting in the work of salvation gifted to you through His death, burial, and resurrection, you are now in the process of sanctification. God has declared you sanctified by the blood of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a wonderful and amazing truth! But, sanctification is still a process. It’s a process which requires action on the part of God’s people. God did not go through the trouble of sending his Son to die for us so that we could stay the same, comfortable in our sin. Instead, God saved us so that we would be made holy. This is a process that should continue for the entirety of our lives until the day we stand before our Lord.
Sanctification And Sexual Purity
Paul lays out for the Thessalonians three particular areas in which they were to focus their sanctification. First, they were to abstain from sexual immorality. Second, they were learn how to control their bodies in holiness and honor. Third, they were not to transgress and wrong their brothers and sisters sexually. Let us examine each of these areas more closely.
In verse 3, Paul exhorts the reader to “abstain from sexual immorality.” The word that the ESV translates as “sexual immorality” is the Greek word porneia. From porneia we get the word pornography. Strong’s Concordance defines porneia as “harlotry (including adultery and incest); figuratively idolatry: fornication” (1890). This idea of sexual immorality covers a lot of ground. It encompasses anything that is outside the bounds of what God has declared sexually permissible. Genesis 2 lays the groundwork for what is permissible by showing us God’s original intended design for sexuality.
“Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:18-25)
Notice in these verses the context in which sexuality was given to mankind. God created man and let him experience life alone with no helper. So, God created a helper suitable for him. God brought the woman, which He had created, to the man and the two became “one flesh” within the context of marriage. One man, married to one woman. Moses helps us here by telling us that this married couple was “naked” and not ashamed. Sex was a good thing! God invented it, it was his idea. Sex was a wedding gift to the married couple. There was nothing about sexuality for which they should feel ashamed. But like any gift, sex can be abused. For instance, water is a good gift; however, water out of control brings destruction. Trouble happens when we take that beautiful wedding gift, meant to be shared and experienced by a husband and wife on their wedding night and we open it early, shamefully doing that for which the gift was never intended. That is sexual immorality. Brothers and sisters, we need to stand for God’s intended purpose of sexuality! Why should all sexual activity happen between a husband and wife? Because that is God’s original design according to Genesis 2. Why do we maintain that all sexual activity should be confined between a man and woman? Because that is God’s original design according to Gen 2.
We must also understand that God’s standard for sexual purity does not change in the New Testament. Hebrews 13:4 states, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” What is the standard for sexuality in this verse? Marriage. It is meant to be a place where sex can be experienced in all purity. When a believer dabbles in any sexual activity outside of the marriage bed, it defiles God’s purpose for sex and the marriage bed. When God calls believers to abstain from sexual immorality, it is a call to avoid any sexual activity not held within the bounds of marriage.
Sanctification, according to verse 4, requires that “each one of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. ” Paul makes clear that it is not good enough for those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord to continue to live like the unsaved. To be made holy, a believer must learn how to control his body. Jesus made it clear that this begins at the heart level. In Matthew 5:27 He states that to look on a woman with lust is to commit adultery with her in your heart (Matt. 5:27). He also said (Mark 7:21-23), “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” Thus, to gain mastery of our bodies we must control our thought life. We cannot live in sexual purity if we continue to fill our minds with the sexual immorality of the world. This means that I must consider carefully what I allow to enter my mind. Brothers and sisters, what are we watching on TV? What movies do we allow to enter our households? What kinds of music are we listening to? What types of books do we read? As we are out in the community, on what or on whom do we let our eyes linger longer than we should? If I were to ask to see your cell phone, what would I find in your search history? What do we allow our minds to dwell on and fantasize about in the privacy of our rooms? Let us not be deceived into thinking that we can continue indulge in the sensuality and somehow grow to be morally pure. We must learn to control our bodies.
In verse 6, Paul emphasizes the importance of self-control by urging the Thessalonians to make sure that “no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you”. Sexual purity is not just an individual matter. According to Paul, sexual immorality not only affects us but it damages those around us. The passionate lust of the Gentile seeks to use others for their own pleasures rather than to seek their best. This plays out every day in high schools all over the country. Imagine a group of boys hanging out in the hallway when an attractive young lady passes by. As she does, this group quietly begins a discussion in which that “rate” the various aspects of her body. Is she a 10, a 9, a 6? Has this activity helped this young woman, created in the image of God, to draw near to Him? OR, have these young men taken advantage of her body for their own pleasures? Let’s assume that this young lady has purposefully chosen to dress in a way as to draw the attention of these boys. Has she helped these young men, created in the image of God, to protect their purity? OR has she taken advantage of their weaknesses for her own pleasures? Consider the young couple that is in a sexually immoral relationship outside of marriage. They may claim to love each other. But, is this a loving act that seeks the best for the other person and helps that person remain in right relationship with God? OR is it a selfish and lustful act in which these individuals are using each other for their own sexual immorality? Imagine a husband who has not taken the call to control his body seriously. Secretly, he has allowed the seed of sexual immorality to grow in his life. He then pressures his wife to fulfill every fantasy and urge that he has stored away. Is this a loving, selfless, and giving act that will result in marital intimacy? OR is this man using his wife for his own selfish purposes? Brothers and sisters, let us take seriously Paul’s warning that God is the avenger of such things. Surely, David would never have given Bathsheba more than a fleeting glance if he would have known the consequences of his actions for her, his family, Uriah, Bathsheba, and the nation of Israel.
Sanctification And The Holy Spirit
Given the powerful nature of our sexual drive, how can we possibly begin to walk in purity? The good news is that unlike the Gentiles who do not know God, the Holy Spirit has been given to Christians. We have the very power of God which enables us to live in purity. Thus, we must learn to walk in the Spirit if we are to have victory over the flesh. I must consistently reorganize my affections, forsaking the temporary pleasures of the body in order to have the lasting joy that can only be had by a right relationship with God. In Galatians 5:16, Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” He goes on to enumerate some of those sinful desires, which include immorality, impurity, and sensuality. He adds that one fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control. So a daily step-by-step walk of dependence on the indwelling Holy Spirit is the key to resisting sexual temptation and developing sexual purity.”
Walking in step with the Holy Spirit also requires that we take certain other actions. First, we must begin with confession. The truth is that some of us have been trying to profess Christianity while we simultaneously live a secret life of sexual immorality. My friend, if this describes you, it's time to confess your sins. With the confession of sin comes the promise of forgiveness. John tells us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 9). God is faithful! There is no sin that He is not aware of and completely willing to forgive. If we do not confess our sins to God then we cannot be cleansed. We will remain in sexual immorality.
Yet, there is another aspect of confession to consider. We must confess our sins to one another. James calls us in James 5:16 to “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” It is by the confession of sin to God that we receive forgiveness. It is by the confession of our sin to each other that we receive healing. This definitely requires a step of faith. Could it be that God is calling you to take a scary step of confession? Husbands, are there secret sins that you need to finally confess to your wife? Students, are there secret sins that you need to confess to your parents? Wives are there secret sins that you need to finally confess to your husband? Singles, are there struggles in your purity that you need to confess to one another?
When dealing with sexual immorality, as much as probably any sin issue requires us to seek accountability. Thankfully, God did not leave us to deal with this alone. Not only is He with us through the Holy Spirit, He also gave us the body of Christ. We were not meant to do this alone. Who do you trust, that you can be completely honest and transparent with, that will help you hold to the standard of sexual purity?
I would like to conclude with this: God’s will is your sanctification. As believers we are called not to grieve the Spirit, but to walk in step with the Spirit as we relate to others in sexual purity. We are called to glorify God with our bodies.
Strong, J. (1890). Strong's exhaustive concordance of the Bible. Abingdon Press.
 Cole, S.J. (Oct, 9, 2016). Sexual Purity (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Retrieved fromhttps://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-11-sexual-purity-1-thessalonians-43-8