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1 Thessalonians 4:1-3 (part one) “How Should We Then Live?”

When I read this passage my mind went to the 1976 publication by Francis Shaeffer, titled, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. As one of the foremost evangelical thinkers of the twentieth century, Francis Schaeffer long pondered the fate of declining Western culture. In this book he analyzed the reasons for modern society's state of affairs and presented the only viable alternative: living by the Christian ethic, acceptance of God's revelation, and total affirmation of the Bible's morals, values, and meaning. (Book is available at Amazon).

This verse begins the final section of this letter. Paul and his team had many converts in Thessalonica and had taught them how they should live as Christians. They should always live to please God. It is natural for us to want to please those whom we love. Therefore, Christians, who love God, should want to serve and obey him.

So, How Should We Then Live? If we are honest about what is involved in truly following Jesus Christ we have to recognize that following Jesus is more than just knowing the right stuff. Following Christ is a lifestyle. And when we follow this lifestyle it will put us at odds with the culture around us.

Paul and his team were only with the Thessalonians for three weeks (Acts 17:2-3). But the Thessalonians were dramatically converted to Christ; and though he was with them for only a short time, much Biblical truth was imparted to them. By the time he left, he was able to look back and say that he had taught them how they ought to walk with Christ, how to live the kind of life that is pleasing to God; and made sure they knew the commands and specific instructions that Christ taught His disciples to follow. They were trying to live as Paul, Silas and Timothy had taught them. Now Paul urges them to continue and to live pure lives.

Verse 1a: “Finally then, brethren…”

“Finally” does not mean he is finished. It means he is beginning the closing section of the letter, with practical instruction on how God wants His people to live. “Finally” is not the best word to use here since it commonly implies that the conclusion is next. A better translation would be “for the rest,” or “furthermore.” The use of the Greek expression loipon has the idea of something left over. That is, all that remains is to offer these exhortations and instructions.

Verse 1b: “…we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus…” “Furthermore, brethren, we beg and admonish you…” (AMP)

The combination of the two verbs “urge and exhort” expresses Paul’s sense that it was of paramount importance to maintain the Christian character. The two verbs enforce each other and add emphasis to the request being made. Having prayed for their establishment in holiness, Paul now exhorts and instructs them to that end. The prayer that they may be blameless in holiness at the Lord's return cannot be realized without the cooperation of those for whom the prayer is made. Paul therefore urges his beloved converts to excel in their striving after a holy walk.

Paul's urgent plea is made in the Name and by the Authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. This commands the attention of the Thessalonians and of us.

Verse 1c: “…that you should abound more and more…”

“Abound” means abundant, to exceed the ordinary, overflow, an exceeding measure, have a plentiful amount.

Romans 5:20, “But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more…”

2 Corinthians 9:8, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”

Ephesians 6:7,8,” In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence…”

Christian maturity will not be fully accomplished until we come into the very presence of God in heaven. No matter how far a Christian has come in love and holiness, he or she can still abound more and more.

Verse 1d: “…just as you received from us…”

“As you received” Paul is reminding them of instructions he had given them on his first visit. He is not asking them to do something new. Paul, Timothy and Silas missionaries had not only declared the way of salvation to the Gentiles but they had also discipled these young converts, instructing them in how to live so as to please God. Now Paul reaffirms this teaching before he proceeds to supplement it. These passages help us understand what Paul meant when he wrote…“Night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith” ( 1 Thessalonians 3:10). What was lacking in their faith constitutes the instructions and exhortations found in chapters 4 and 5.

Verse 1e: “…how you ought to walk…” Verse 1f: “…and to please God…”

“Ought” in Greek is dei. This word is also root of doulos, (bond-servant), it refers to what is not optional but needful (binding) out of intrinsic necessity or inevitability. Dei in this context denotes the inner compulsion of duty and stresses the moral obligation resting upon the Thessalonians because of their personal relationship to their Lord, as bondservants to their Master. Every believer ought to walk as a bondservant (one who serves his master because of love).

When I taught a leadership class in college, one of the points I always drilled into my students was: “Our responsibility is to make our boss successful.” Jesus is our Master (boss), our Lord, we ought to live in such a way as to make Him successful (promoting Him as Savior and Lord).

“Walk” in Greek is peripateo, meaning literally to go here and there in walking, to tread all around. to walk, conduct my life, live (in an ethical sense). Peripateo signifies the whole round of the activities of the individual life. Most New Testament uses are figurative and refer to one's manner of life, one's moral conduct or one's life-style. Life is often represented as a journey. The NIV translates this verse as, “…how to live in order to please God.”

“Walking merely consists of two simple steps, repeated over and over again. It is not a complicated thing. In the same way, the Christian life is a matter of taking two steps, one step after another. Then you are beginning to walk. Those two steps (are seen in Colossians 3). Paul describes them as, ‘Put off the old man’ (see Colossians 3:5-10) and ‘put on the new.’ (see specific attitudes and actions in Colossians 3:12-Colossians 4:6) Then repeat them. That is all. Keep walking through every day like that. That is how Scripture exhorts us to live.” –Ray Stedman

1 Thessalonians 2:11,12, “…as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”

D. L. Moody quaintly but plainly phrased it…”Every Bible should be bound in shoe-leather.”

Verse 1f: “…and to please God…”

“Please” in Greek is aresko meaning originally to make peace, to reconcile someone, to be well disposed to someone. It came to mean to be satisfied with, to take pleasure in and then to take a pleasant attitude toward someone. In short it means to cause someone to be pleased with someone or something or to be pleasing to or acceptable to. Aresko can sometimes mean to strive to please to accommodate one’s self to the opinions desires and interests of others. “To please” means to give or be the source of satisfaction, pleasure or contentment to another. It is in present tense, this is to be one's continual practice or lifestyle.

“The Christian life is compared to walking. Walking becomes a visual aid to teach us how to live. By means of walking we move from one sphere to another; we seek to carry out certain responsibilities at work, at home, in the church, and in society. We do many things, some good and some not so good. But walking also means taking one step at a time, and with each step, while one foot is off the ground as we move forward, we are susceptible to being knocked off balance, to stumbling, or stepping into trouble.” –Keathley

Verse 2: “…for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.”

Paul one again reminds them of what he had already taught them (cf. 1:5; 2:1, 2, 5, 11; 3:3, 4). They are not being told something for the first time but reminded of what they already know. In the preceding verse the emphasis was on what the Thessalonians had received from their teachers, whereas here the emphasis is upon what the missionaries gave or imparted to their converts.

“Commandments” in Greek is paraggelia. It means the handing on of an announcement from one person to the side of another or the passing along of a message from one to another such as to what must be done. Paraggelia represents a directive from an authoritative source and was used of commands received from a superior and transmitted to others.

Paul not only taught them how to be saved but also how to live as saved people. Furthermore, the idea of commandments by the authority of the Lord Jesus adds a further emphasis to show that none of this is optional if we are to please God.

“Paraggelia was…a semi-military term and carries a tone of authority. It was used to designate a word of command received from a superior officer to be passed down to others. The plural indicates that instructions or orders had been given in specific moral areas. They had not left their readers in ignorance of what kind of a life was expected of Christians, and had given "their converts something like a systematic moral teaching.” Hiebert

It’s easy to understand how paraggelia evolved to be used of the order of a military commander and passed along the line by his subordinates. It demands obedience from an inferior to the order passed on from the superior. It is a call to obedience by one in authority. It is like giving a mandate, which is an authoritative command. It means to charge by way of proclaiming. It means to to request with a command or charge implied. It designates a command the execution of which is virtually taken for granted.

Verse 3a: “For this is the will of God…”

Discovering God's will is not necessarily a complicated process. He has given us many simple and clearly stated principles for life.

If you will choose to do God's will

And follow what is right,

God will confirm to you His truth

And give you greater light.

–D. De Haan–

The best way to know God's will is to say “I will” to God.

God's people have been confused and frustrated and have relied upon hunches and weird hocus-pocus to discover the will of God for their lives. They are filled with guilt, because God's will is a mystery to them. Is God playing some guessing game with His children? Is God some cosmic Easter Bunny who has hidden His will under a rock or behind a bush, and our goal is to find it? Every one of us is guilty of some of the weirdest tactics to discover God's will.

Here's the most important principle: God's will has more to do with what we are, and what we are becoming, than where we are or what we are doing. Once you learn this, it will be the greatest victory of your Christian life.

If I give myself to God, completely, without reservation, then who is running my Life? If “I delight myself in the Lord,” then every decision I make will be according to His will. If I am what God wants me to be, then wherever I am and whatever I do will be His will.

The Lord has a will and I have a need, to follow that will,

To humbly be still, To rest in it nest in it,

Fully be blessed in it following my Father’s will.

(Amy Grant)

Verse 3b: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

“Sanctification” in Greek is hagiasmos from hagios, meaning holy, set apart, consecrated, and it includes the ideas of consecration, purification, dedication and holiness. The dominant idea of sanctification is separation from the secular and sinful and being set apart for a sacred purpose, for God’s special use, all made possible by the atoning work of Christ. A sanctified person puts himself or herself at the complete disposal of God.

“Holiness (hagiasmos)…means here purity of life, and particularly abstinence from those vices which debase and degrade the soul. Sanctification consists in two things,1) in ceasing to do evil; and 2) in learning to do well. Or in other words, the first work of sanctification is in overcoming the propensities to evil in our nature, and checking and subduing the unholy habits which we had formed before we became Christians; the second part of the work consists in cultivating the positive principles of holiness in the soul.” –Albert Barnes. Barnes

Three stages of sanctification: 1) Positional sanctification, is the once for all setting apart of sinners as saints at the time of salvation when they are taken out of Adam and placed into Christ. “We have been sanctified (hagiazo) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). 2) Progressive (practical) sanctification, is the daily growth in grace, so that believers are becoming in practice more and more set apart for God's use. The primary means of sanctification is the Holy Word. The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and makes the child of God like the Son of God, as we walk in the Spirit and obey the Word. 3) Perfect (ultimate, total) sanctification, is when we are fully and completely set apart to God in heaven and is also known as glorification.

Verse 3c: “…that you should abstain from sexual immorality.”

It is no accident that the first instruction designed to produce greater holiness is abstinence from “sexual immorality” which alone can result in purity of life and being holy as God is holy. This phrase is explanatory of the negative aspect of sanctification and obviously deals with sexual conduct. Notice that personal pronoun you marks this as a demand upon the readers directly, and by application to all saints of every age.

The Bible makes clear watching pornography is sinful. First, the very word pornography comes from a Greek word porneia, which is translated sexual immorality in our English Bibles. Believers are commanded repeatedly in the New Testament to flee from all kinds of sexual immorality and impurity. Consider these uses of the word porneia in the New Testament:

Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

1 Corinthians 6:13, “The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.”

2 Corinthians 2:20, “…lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.”

Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Ephesians 5:3, “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints…”

James 1:14,15, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

Greek cities like Thessalonica, a port city were wide open to all kinds of sexual looseness, including immorality associated with their pagan idol worship. Pagan religions did not demand sexual purity of their devotees, and their so-called gods and goddesses were themselves grossly immoral. These so-called gods were half human, half god, and as immoral as the hearts of the vain imaginings of the men who hatched them and gave them a license to act according to their lewd desires. Their consciences became dull and hardened and the law of the conscience had little effect, “…for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves…” (Romans 2:14). There were even priestesses, who were little more than religious prostitutes in the pagan temples who were to help the men who came to “worship” the immoral idols. In fact it is a bit ironic that there were 1000 priestess prostitutes at the Temple of Aphrodite in Corinth, the very city from which Paul was writing these words about walking in holiness! Roman culture had few sexual boundaries and the Greek religion considered prostitution a priestly prerogative. The sanctity of marriage was so distorted that extramarital sex was actually considered to be an act of worship. Paul is saying in this section that for believers the “will of God” is holiness and that such a lifestyle excludes sexual immorality! No appeal to Christian liberty or freedom can justify fornication. Such appeals have no Biblical mandate and in fact only give rise to licentiousness.

“Words like immorality do not seem to register with many people. Let us put it plainly: immorality means no sexual wrongdoing; no pre-marital sex (no fornication); no extra-marital sex (no messing around with someone else's wife or being faithless to your own husband or wife); no homosexual sex (that is very clear in Scripture in many places); no pornography (no standing in the news section at the airport and flipping through Penthouse or Playboy magazine and getting yourself turned on by looking at the pictures; that is sexual fantasy and that is wrong, too, as Jesus pointed out). So to "flee immorality" means to have none of those things going on in your life.” –Ray Stedman

“Butterfly Man: the Internet is one of the most remarkable developments of our time. How astounding that with a few keystrokes you can find out the address of Uncle Frank in Schenectady, New York, or the recipe for a Brazilian fish dish, or the statistics for your favorite athlete. Of course, the Internet opens up a whole world of sinful choices as well. That's why many Internet providers offer a service to protect a family's computer from sites that promote immorality. One company used a comical-looking man dressed as a butterfly to represent the service, and in an advertisement showed him shielding children from various immoral activities.

Christians already have a similar resource, and it doesn't cost us a monthly fee. It's not the butterfly man—it's the Holy Spirit, who lives in the heart of each believer. As we seek guidance from God's Word and pray, He will enable us to detect and filter out the immoral. He can help us to keep from going where we shouldn't go, doing what we shouldn't do, and saying what we shouldn't say.

The world, like the Internet, has much we need to avoid. As we daily seek to “walk in the Spirit,” relying on His wisdom and power, we can stay clean.” –Dave Branon, Our Daily Bread

The Spirit gives us power to live

A life that's pleasing to the Lord;

He also guides us and provides

Direction in God's holy Word.


The Holy Spirit is our ever-present Protector.

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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