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Living to Please God April 22, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12.

Summary: Paul begins by intimating to the Thessalonians that they are already living rightly; he then allures them to make progress in the teaching that they had received from him.

Paul then asserts that God has called the Thessalonians to be holy before Him; in particular, they must not submit to any of the base desires of their flesh. While unbelievers cover their bodies with infamy and disgrace, they must keep their bodies pure from all uncleanness. He also exhorts them to behave righteously and harmlessly toward their neighbors, as God will judge them if they inflict injury on their neighbors. Indeed, God has rescued them from unchastity, and He calls them to be sanctified. He then infers that anyone who rejects his exhortations actually despises God, as He has given them His Holy Spirit so that they can distinguish between holiness and impurity.

Paul now states that the Holy Spirit has engraved love on the Thessalonians’ hearts. Indeed, their love diffused itself throughout the whole of Macedonia; he then exhorts them to make progress in this regard. He also exhorts them to be peaceable and tranquil; each of them should be absorbed with the duties of their own calling, such as performing manual labor. Paul concludes by inferring that if the Thessalonians engage in manual labor, they would:

  • have enough money to live on
  • live honorably in front of unbelievers.

Thoughts: In verse 3, we see that Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to avoid the sin of sexual immorality. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The apostle derived this command from the fountain he had just mentioned, for nothing is more against holiness than the defilement of sexual immorality, which pollutes the whole person.

It is apparent that the sins of idolatry and sexual immorality are consistently condemned in the Old and New Testaments. Now in many cases these sins were linked by the practice of shrine prostitution, where idol worshipers sought to increase their fertility and agricultural productivity. Most likely the licentiousness that characterized ancient Greece was present in Thessalonica, though it may have been a more pressing problem in Corinth. In any event, sexual immorality has a special character that distinguishes it from other sins – which necessitates Paul’s injunction against it in this passage.

In verses 11 and 12, we see that Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to perform manual labor. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 11:

The apostle recommends manual labor for two reasons (verse 12). First, so they would have enough money to live on; and, second, so they would live in an honorable way in front of unbelievers. Nothing is more offensive than a person who is an idle good-for-nothing, who benefits neither himself nor anybody else, and who appears to have been born just to eat and drink.

Now this passage raises some questions regarding the economic climate in Thessalonica when this letter was written. Was the city prosperous? Were jobs available for those who wanted to work? Did some residents – mostly unbelievers – lounge about the city, whiling away the hours by playing games of chance? It seems that if the Thessalonian believers had been lounging about the city, Paul would have sharply rebuked them. In any event, Paul implies that industrious unbelievers frowned upon idleness; thus, the Thessalonian believers would harm the progress of the Gospel message in their city if they acted as if they had “been born just to eat and drink.”

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