1 Thessalonians 4:4-8 (part two) “How Should We Then Live?”

November 3, 2016


The Roman culture in Paul’s day was marked by sexual immorality. The pagan temples were rampant with immorality, even its priestesses were prostitutes. In Corinth there were reported to have been 1000 temple prostitutes. Demosthenes expressed the generally amoral view of sex in the ancient Roman Empire: “We keep prostitutes for pleasure; we keep mistresses for the day to day needs of the body; we keep wives for the faithful guardianship of our homes.” So Paul, in writing to first-century Christians about sexual purity was unheard of and almost unknown virtues. Christians were to take their moral standards from God, not from Roman culture.

Is it much different today? With a national leader publicly redefining sex. With movies and television shouting sex on nearly every program. With internet pornography available to everyone who has access to a computer.  When a prominent Christian counseling and seminar leader is being sued for “defrauding” several secretaries. For many today, sex is simply something they want. And the mere fact that they want it makes it right in their mind. This lust and sexual immorality have had devastating effects on marriage and family, that as promiscuity has soared so have divorce rates, abortion, single parent families, children without intact families, AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, broken hearts, and the like. Never mind all this. For many, wanting sex makes it right, and precludes anyone from telling them what to do.

Former NFL Quarterback Joe Theismann, allegedly explaining to his soon-to-be-ex second wife as to why he had an affair: “God wants Joe Theismann to be happy.” –Sanctity of Life, C. Swindoll

Paul writes “…for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:2).

The Bible is very clear about how to deal with immorality, “Flee also youthful lusts…” (2 Timothy 2:22). “Flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). “Flee in Greek means, “to escape, shun.” When an enemy is so powerful that God tells us to escape, shun, or run away, we need to pay attention! It cannot be ignored, because it will not go away! Run like your life depended on it, and your spiritual life does! The Word of God here admonishes us to abstain, to flee, and to keep myself away from sexual sin. It tells us that our “sanctification,” which is God's will for us means that we are to abstain from sexual immorality in any of its forms. We're to abstain from it with a sense of seriousness and urgency, as though we were doing so to protect our very lives. “…fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).

Verse 4a: “…that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel (his own body)…”


The Greek word that's translated "vessel" simply refers to anything that is meant to hold something. Paul uses it as a figure of speech for the body. The Bible teaches us that our bodies are not our own; but that they belong to God. “ Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Some teach that “vessel” here is referring to a “wife,” but that does not fit the context.  “We have this treasure in earthen vessels (the human body), that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” ( 2 Corinthians 4:7).  “Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

“I am sorry that the RSV, which is normally an excellent translation, does not include the margin reading ("how to control his own body") in the text because it is more accurate. The reason for this disparity is because neither the word wife nor the word body appears in the Greek text. Vessel is the word that is used there: “that you may know how to handle your vessel in holiness and honor.” People differ as to what Paul meant by vessel. It may be that it means a wife, although I doubt that. It is clear from the context that he is talking about our bodies. They are the vessel, as he tells the Corinthians, “the temple of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 6:19a, RSV).”–Ray Stedman

“Paul was admonishing the Thessalonians to control their bodies, the unredeemed human flesh that is the beachhead for sin and immorality (cf. Ro 7:18; 8:5-8, 23). For that reason, Paul urged believers to kill the flesh (cf. Rom. 13:14; 2 Cor. 7:1), live by the Spirit (Ro 8:13), and dedicate their bodies to God and allow His Spirit to renew their minds so that the body would not control them (Ro 12:1-2). As in today’s culture, the culture of Paul’s day operated largely according to physical appetites and impulsive, superficial emotions. (The words of the slogan “If it feels right, do it” are of contemporary origin, but the philosophy they express is not.)” –John MacArthur

“The body is a  vessel designed by God to be the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit abides in us; and whatever we do to our bodies, we do to the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is really saying, let your spirit rule over your flesh. To possess anything, means you have control over it. This is what is being said then, have control over your flesh and walk holy before your Lord In this verse, ‘to rule your own body’ means to control the desire for sex. The use of the body in sex is right only between husband and wife. Even then, it must be an act of love and with the agreement of the other person. This is because a husband and wife must show respect for each other. This is the holy and right use of sex. All other acts of sex are wrong. Christians should know that they and their bodies belong to the Lord. The Holy Spirit lives in the bodies of those who believe in God (1 Corinthians 6:19). Wrong sex does not give respect to the body and it is sin against God.” –Ian Mackervoy, easyenglish.info


Every believer must learn how to bring his body under full control of the Holy Spirit, to gain continuous mastery over it in a way that is holy and honorable. Character is revealed by what you do in secret, when no one else is around to see.

Verse 4b: “…in sanctification and honor…”

Remember the historical context, which helps us understand why Paul hones in on abstention from sexual immorality as so crucial to our sanctification process. For example, Cicero, a leading Roman politician and philosopher of the first century wrote: “Mind you, if there is anyone who thinks that young men ought not to visit prostitutes, he is certainly narrow-minded (no doubt about it), and completely out of step with our present liberal thinking. In fact, he has nothing in common with the customs and behavior of previous generations, who were quite broadminded on the subject.”

Another Roman author wrote: “Provided you keep away from married women, virgins, young innocents, and children of respectable families, love anyone you want.”

“Sanctification” (hagiasmos) means, separation to God,  set apart as holy, to be set apart from sin to God for the purpose of living a pure and holy life.

Sanctification includes all aspects of the life of a believer. It is a synonym for salvation, the critical work of the Holy Spirit at conversion whereby we are set apart--born of the Spirit. Once that has taken place, the Holy Spirit continues to work in us to make us more holy. That is the process of sanctification, and it continues throughout our lives.” –John MacArthur

“And honor”

“Honor is basically, the worth ascribed to a person or the value ascribed to a thing. It refers to the worth or merit of some object, event, or state. It is a valuing by which the price is fixed, an estimation of the value of a thing. It is an attitude towards person or thing commensurate with its value. Honor means respect. In other words, your body is to be so holy that it is worthy of respect toward the God who owns it, toward the God who dwells in it, toward the God whom it represents, toward the church of which it is a part. You're to live your life not asking how far can I go, but how far can I stay away and be utterly set apart from sin and bringing honor to my body which is God's which should be used for the glory of Christ.” – preceptaustin.org

Verse 5a: “…not in passion of lust…”

“Passion” in Greek is pathos which primarily denotes whatever one suffers or experiences in any way. That which is endured or experienced. Experience of a strong desire. Hence, an affection of the mind, a passionate desire. It is a drive or force that does not rest until satisfied. Used by Greeks of either good or bad desires. Pathos describes an inward emotion aroused by some external object; in this case by an impure object prompting sexual sin. It is a desire that does not rest until it is satisfied. There is a kind of person who is the slave of his or her passions and who is driven by his or her desires.

Paul presents a stark contrast with the pagan worldview. The point is that combining these two words in the phrase “passion of lust” it conveys an very strong expression, emphasizing the strength of unbridled desire. Such behavior is the practice of the heathen. Paul is plainly stating that the sexual conduct of believers should be different than the prevailing pagan permissiveness that abounded in every quarter. Self-control is a characteristic of a Spirit filled, Spirit led life. One of the fruit of the Spirit is “self-control” (Galatians 5:23). Christians must allow the Holy Spirit to control them and not allow their desires to dominate them and make them the slaves of passion. The passions of the old nature rise up and say “give me, give me, give me” but believers don't have to give in to them. This is operating, not in our strength but based on the truth that “you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).  Therefore we have the inherent power to put aside any sexual activity that is not God permitted and God glorifying.

Trench compares passion to the diseased condition of the soul and lust to the active disease that springs out of that condition. The combination of the two terms (passion and lust) indicates the surrender of an individual to his passions so that he is overwhelmed and carried away by them.

Pathos means excited emotion, uncontrollable desire, compelling feelings, overpowering urges. Although there could be legitimate passion for the right thing (a passion for God), all 3 New Testament uses of pathos are in a bad sense.

Romans 1:26,27, “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions (pathos). For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”

Colossians 3:5, “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion (pathos), evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

1 Thessalonians 4:5, “…not in lustful passion (pathos), like the Gentiles who do not know God…”

Verse 5b: “…like the Gentiles who do not know God…”

“Gentiles” in Greek is ethnos which refers to non-Jews or the heathen. When preceded by the definite article (the) in Greek, means the nations which is synonymous with the Gentiles a description implying those who practice idolatry and are ignorant of the true and living God. All of mankind can be divided into Jew and Gentile, so Gentile is a synonym for anyone who is non-Jew.

“who do not know God…”

Not knowing God is the root cause of lust. Those who know God do not live like the heathen. Those who do not know God do not have the spiritual resources to walk pure before the Lord and therefore by default live like the lost world. How tragic when genuine believers get caught in the web of sexual sin and live like people who do not know God!


Believers no longer have to live like the Gentiles who are driven by their passions of lusts for sexual gratification. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and .

Paul says that when believers are crucified with Christ they become separated from the dominion of the sinful nature as a result of their identification with Christ in His death. Crucifixion with Christ means death and brings about separation from the reigning power of the old sinful life and conversely brings freedom to experience the power of the resurrected life of Christ by faith.

Verse 6a: “…that no one should take advantage of…”

“Take advantage” “go beyond” (KJV) in Greek is huperbaino meaning to step over a boundary, to break over a barrier, to go beyond prescribed limits, to exceed the proper limits, go over the line, go beyond the bounds, go pass the law. Clearly the idea is to go to far. Figuratively, as used here in the only New Testament, huperbaino means to overstep certain limits and so to transgress or sin against. The idea is don't sin against another person by stepping over the line and exceeding the lawful limits. The English word transgress is means to go beyond the limits set by moral principles, standards, laws, etc.

Verse 6b: “…and defraud his brother in this matter…”

Defraud means to selfishly, greedily take something for personal gain and pleasure at someone else’s expense. Webster’s Dictionary says that to defraud is to get something by dishonesty or deception and stresses depriving one of his or her rights and usually connotes a deliberate perversion of the truth.

That is a good picture of what happens in illicit sex for the perpetrator is taking something away from the other person! Whenever believers seek to satisfy their physical desires and obtain sexual pleasure at the expense of another individual, they have violated this command.

“His brother” Paul uses “brother” here not in the restricted sense of a brother in Christ but in the general sense of a another person, not necessarily another Christian man. Sexual immorality wrongs the partner in the forbidden act by involving him or her in behavior contrary to God’s will and therefore under His judgment. There is no other instance in Paul’s writings of this use of “brother.” Paul’s point is that just as stealing is a sin against one’s neighbor, so sexual immorality is a transgression against others.–Adapted from J. Hampton Keathley, III

 Verse 6c: “…because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.”

“Avenger” in Greek is ekdikos, it  refers to one who exacts a penalty from a person, an avenger, a punisher. The ekdikos is the one who exacts satisfaction for a wrong by punishing the wrongdoer or by inflicting punishment in retaliation for an injury or offense.

The only other Biblical use of ekdikos is in Romans 13:4, “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger (ekdikos) to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”

God will punish sexual immorality, and that no one gets away with this sin even if it is undiscovered.

“Given the loose morals and sexual laxity throughout the ancient world in the first century, the readers might have been wondering ‘Why is this so important? After all, everybody's behaving this way, so why shouldn't we?’ This sounds very modern doesn't it? With Situation ethics. Relative values. Well, Paul anticipates such a question and proceeds to give 4 reasons we should strive to cultivate sexual purity:

1) The Lord is the Avenger! God satisfies justice by inflicting the due punishment upon the wrongdoer. This reason appeals to the fear of the consequences of disobedience.

2) God has not called us to impurity.

3) God has called us in sanctification (holiness).

4) If we reject this warning we are rejecting God!” –Adapted from, preceptaustin.org

There are plenty of reasons why we should avoid sin like the plague. The primary and foremost reason is to not dishonor, shame and hurt our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That should always be our overriding motivation for living holy, obedient lives, and avoiding sin and disobedience at all times. But on a very personal level. There are consequences to our sins, in other words, and if we persist in known sin, we will all one day face the music – if not in this life, then certainly in the next one. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Galatians 6:7,8).

Listen Christian! What do you get for a few moments of sexual sin?


•You grieve the Lord, the holy spirit (Ephesians 4:30).

•You drag the name “Christian” through the mud.

•You lose the joy of your salvation (Psalm 51:12).

•You make Satan very happy.

•You hurt others around you.

•You bring shame to your church family

•You will suffer a lifetime of regrets.

•You discredit your own name.

•You will may never be able to  forgive yourself.

•You lose your self respect.

•You leave a broken home. (needing to be repaired!)

•Your marriage is destroyed. (needing to be repaired!)

•Your family torn apart. (needing to be repaired!)

•You lose the respect of your children. (needing to be repaired!)

•Your ministry as you knew it is ended. (needing to be repaired!)

•Your standing before God is impaired.

•And you ultimately suffer the wrath of almighty God! 

Is it worth it?


“Christians are not exempt from sexual sin. If you are such a person who has fallen into fornication, adultery, pornography, homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, or any other sexual deviation, then you need to stop. You need to confess your sins to the Lord and break off your relationships that lead you or tempt you into further sin.  This may be hard to hear, but it is what is necessary.

The sexual drive is a very powerful one. It is so strong that it can alter a person's thinking and emotions. It can harden the heart and move us to irrational and sinful decisions. God has created sex for the marriage bed and for there alone. He wants you to be pure in mind and body, reserving the sexual union for the proper context of marriage so that you might properly honor God and your spouse. Failure to do this is to commit grievous sin.  But all is not lost.” –carm.org, Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry


If you have committed sexual sin, all is not lost for you! God forgives all sin! Jesus paid the price for all sin on the cross, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). All you need to know is that you must confess your sin to God and repent of it. This means you stop doing it. You are called by God to purity, not to sexual immorality.

If you have committed this sin, what can you do? Repent! To repent means to turn, to have a change of mind. In this case, repentance means to turn from sexual sin. It involves the decision to make a change of behavior and/or attitude about sexual sin. Biblically, repentance means to turn from sin with a heartfelt desire to change and not do it again.

So is there hope for the Christian who commits sexual sin? “My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous” (1 John 2:1 NLT). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

The wonders of conviction of sin, forgiveness, and holiness are so interwoven that it is only the forgiven person who is truly holy. He proves he is forgiven by being the opposite of what he was previously, by the grace of God. Repentance always brings a person to the point of saying, ‘I have sinned.’ The surest sign that God is at work in his life is when he says that and means it. Anything less is simply sorrow for having made foolish mistakes— a reflex action caused by self-disgust.” –Oswald Chambers

In over 50 years in ministry, I have regularly counseled people who are haunted by the shame of their sexual sin, even years later. They  should have put it behind them and moved on with their lives. Mentally they know they have been forgiven, but they still feel shame and guilt. And I have never, ever had one say to me that it was worth it!

Verse 7,8: “For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.”

“The effectual call of salvation was a call to holiness, not unholiness. God has not called us for the purpose of impurity. It isn't grace so that sin may abound. Paul's point is that the very nature of God's calling and justification is a calling to sanctification. He called us to Himself for the purpose of sanctifying us, making us holy, making us pure, making us sinless. You have a holy, pure, and sinless God who brings salvation through His holy, pure and sinless Son, who then applies that salvation through His holy, pure and sinless Spirit in order to produce a people who are holy, sinless and pure. And thus the heart of the Apostle is to present the church without blemish and without spot, holy before God.” –John MacArthur

Paul devoted a lot of space to the theme of sexual purity because it was a critical problem in the church of that day. It is also a critical problem in the church today. For many people, marriage vows are no longer considered sacred, and divorce (even among believers) is no longer governed by the Word of God. There are “gay churches” where homosexuals and lesbians “love one another” and claim to be Christians. Premarital sex and “Christian pornography” are accepted parts of the religious landscape in many places. Yet God has called us to holiness. He said with utmost clarity that His will for us is to walk in holiness by abstaining from sexual immorality!

“For lust is a shameful sin, a crime that should be punished. It is a fire that burns all the way to hell. It would wipe out everything I own” (Job 31:11,12).

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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