The Call of God to a Holy Life
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
1st Thessalonians 4
1Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.
2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.
3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:
6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.
7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
Paul begins to give further instruction to these new believers. Remember that they lived in the Roman world, where, just as in the Grecian Empire before it, the public and private morals were very corrupt. Sexual sin, in particular, was rampant.
Corinth was far worse!
In Corinth, at that same time, where the church had even greater contamination, there was a gigantic temple to Aphrodite. It was called a “temple,” but the acts of “worship” involved having sexual relations with the temple prostitutes (for money.) The Encyclopedia Britannica records that in its heyday, that “temple” had 10,000 prostitutes, both male and female. Business was booming! I assume that sexually transmitted diseases were also flourishing there.
In Thessalonica, no such religiously oriented prostitution existed. But there was still the ungodly influence of the World, just as there is today. Paul begged the believers to live the way the apostles had taught them during their brief stay there. (That is what “beseech” means: “beg!”) They had been taught what sort of lifestyle pleased God. Paul begged them to “abound more and more” in that walk with God. They were to be growing in that relationship.
The Apostles’ Teaching
We can go through the Pauline epistles and see what sort of other things he is “likely” to have told them. Some they probably already knew, as some of these “new” believers in Christ were already well-taught Jewish believers, and others were Gentile proselytes to Judaism.
They all were gaining an understanding of the God of the Bible and a beginning of awareness of His Holiness. Some of the things Paul taught may have seemed to be “new,” and those were probably rooted in the “upgrades” that Jesus pointed out. He sharpened the understanding of the believers, to realize that sin is not just “outward actions:” It also includes the root thought or attitude that fostered the eventual actions.
Why is Sexual Sin a Good Example to Use?
In Romans 7, Paul used the example of covetousness. It is one of the prohibitions in the ten commandments and it is one that is entirely inward, though it will certainly bear outward fruit.
Still today, there are people who teach that “you cannot sin in your mind.” They teach that “until it results in an outward action, it is not sin.” Jesus refuted that, saying that when a person is angry without cause, they are in danger of judgment. In the same passage, He taught that when a man looks upon a woman to desire her, (That is what “lust” means: “desire.”) that he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. That is where sin begins. Every man who is honest with himself already knows this. But we can expand that concept to every other sin.
All sin begins in the heart! And that should not be a surprise: Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” So how can we escape such a cycle of sin and death?
What does it mean to be Holy?
Verse three states that we are to be holy: we are God’s private property. That is what “sanctification” means: It means that we have been declared to be “holy.” It means that we are set aside for God’s private and exclusive use.
Remember that the vessels in the Temple of God were Holy, too. On more than one occasion, the temple was raided, and the vessels were stolen. In Daniel 5:3, 4, we see that the Babylonian king Belshazzar took those stolen vessels and drank from them, specifically “drinking as an act of worship to his idols.” He and all his family, friends and servants drank from those holy vessels and praised the gods of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone. That was an blatantly blasphemous desecration of God’s property!
Result of Defilement
But here is the question to consider: having been defiled in that manner, were those vessels less holy? Were they not still God’s private property? The fact is, they did belong to God. When they eventually were returned to the temple, they had to be washed, and reconsecrated for Temple use: but after that cleansing, they were once again used for their intended purpose.
When we fall into sin, no matter how great or small, we are taking God’s private property and using it in a manner that shames Him, just as Belshazzar did! We still belong to God, but we are defiled by the sins we commit. Until that sin is confessed and fellowship is restored, we are just as defiled as those holy temple vessels had been by the wicked acts of Belshazzar and company.
It is interesting, too, that, in verse 4, God chose to use the word “vessels” here, regarding us. (What vessels?) Since there was so much information about the “vessels” of the temple, and what happened to them, it is interesting that God chose to refer to our bodies as “vessels.”
In Romans 9:21-24, Paul pointed out that physical “vessels,” made of clay, by a human potter, could be destined for honor or dishonor, according to the intent of the maker. A flowerpot, for example, is usually made of cheap, common, red clay. It is used to hold beautiful ornamental plants, but it is relatively weak, very porous, and fragile.
Fine china, in contrast, is made of expensive kaolin clay. It can be fired at extreme temperatures and, as a result, it is much harder and stronger. Ironically, toilets and other such “vessels” are also made of kaolin clay. Their intended use is not the same as it is for “fine china.”
What is our intended Use?
But what the vessel is made of is not the question, here. The real question is, “What is its intended use?” We are intended for God’s use. Yes, we are weak and fragile, and we have many “frailties” built into us. But we are made for His honor. Especially after being born again, we belong to Him and are expected to live in such a way as to honor Him. We cannot claim that “our frailties made us do evil.” We choose to sin.
In contrast, the angelic hosts were created with none of our frailties, and yet a third of them chose to follow Satan into rebellion, despite knowing their Creator face to face. The reason God offers His Grace to us and not to them is that we have not seen Him, and we have no idea of the enormity of our rebellion. God says we received Grace because we sinned ignorantly. The angels did not sin ignorantly: they knew their Creator personally, and had seen His glory in person.
Possessing our Vessels
We are immortal spirit beings, dwelling in bodies of mortal flesh. We will exist somewhere, forever, either with the Lord, or apart from Him. Unlike the Spirit of God, our spirits have a “starting point,” at conception. Jeremiah 1:5 makes it clear that God knew us before He created us: He says His foreknowledge precedes the creation of each new spirit. And, from conception, that spirit lives in a body (sometimes called a “temple” or a “tabernacle”…a tent) of flesh. How we use that body, and how we use our minds, will either honor God or fail to do so. Paul teaches that, as born-again children of God, we are to walk with God in a manner that honors him.
Defrauding your Brother
How we live also affects others: For example, if you are unfaithful to your spouse, it doesn’t just affect you. It affects your spouse, and it affects the person with whom you committed adultery, and their other relationships are affected in turn. Children are affected, too: sometimes scarred permanently by the sins of their parents.
We cannot undo the effect of our sin. All we can do is confess it, and stop it! We are told to renounce that kind of behavior and live as the people of God. You cannot serve the flesh and simultaneously serve God. And in verse six, God warns that He still judges sin: don’t get the idea that people are “getting away with” anything.
This is not just an admonition to married people, either: the word he used here, translated as “fornication,” is “porneia.” It is a broader term than “adultery:” it simply means “sexual sin.” It is where we get our word, “pornography.” Satan begins his attack in the mind, luring us to lewd thoughts and tempting through the eyes and ears, as he lures us to sin.
But we are given the weapons of warfare to combat that attack: 2nd Corinthians 10:4, 5 says, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but are mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imagination and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”.
Casting Down Imaginations!
That rather rules out the idea that “our inner thoughts are ok, so long as we don’t act on them,” doesn’t it? And the fact that the weapons are not carnal tells us that we can’t fight this battle in the flesh. Finally, he says that every thought is to be taken captive to the obedience of Christ.
“Secret sin” is not a secret! God is completely aware of every thought we entertain, for better or worse. Our lives are completely open to His gaze. I don’t know about you, but that is not an entirely comfortable thought, to me. It means that when I am thinking wrong thoughts (regardless of what kind) I am “doing” what those thoughts entail, right in front of God. I am defiling myself in His presence, even though I may protest that “I didn’t do anything!”
We are called to cast down our imaginations of sin (of every kind, not just sexual sin) and bring every thought into obedience to Christ.
God has not called us to remain in uncleanness, but to accept our new position (being “holy unto the Lord,”) and live that way!
He Who Despises
Is everyone going to respond well to this message? No…unfortunately, even among born-again believers there is a tendency to rebel. We all still have a Sin nature. But God warns us here, that if we despise this commandment, and rebel against it, we are not rebelling against man’s rules, but against God…the very God who gave us the Holy Spirit to seal us as His property. That is serious business, and sometimes has terrible consequences.
Sin Always has Consequences
Ananias and Sapphira died, physically, because they attempted a “secret sin:” God called them on it, and He made an example of them. He took them home on the spot.
We don’t always know what the consequences will be. I have known more than one believer who fell into sexual sin and contracted incurable diseases: One of them died of that disease. It all could have been avoided by stopping the sins where they began: in the heart.
Anger management is another area that can have terrible results. More than one believer has succumbed to anger, and ruined his or her testimony, or marriage, or has even been imprisoned because of his or her sin.
Ann and I knew a pastor who permanently lost his ministry, because of theft…shoplifting! (What a foolish choice!) And yet, it begins in the heart, just like every other sin. It had already affected his ministry, before he was finally caught. He confessed that he had been plagiarizing his sermons, too…(he called it “stealing” those sermons.) That whole sad story was completely avoidable! And so is the damage we incur in our own lives by our sins.
Embrace the Holiness of God! Allow Him to transform you from the inside, so that your life begins to reflect His holiness and so that His Love can freely flow through you. Only the Holy Spirit can empower you to live in such a way as to continually exhibit His Grace.
Lord Jesus, help us to apply the principle of practical holiness in our daily lives, so that we do not allow the enemy a foothold in our lives, but rather walk close to You, and in safety.