Study Notes

1Thessalonians 4:1-12


In his first epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul is covering three broad topics: their past, their present, and their future. In chapters two and three, he reminded them of their past - how he had come to Thessalonica and shared the gospel with them, and how they responded to it. Now, in these first twelve verses of chapter four, he will address their present. The rest of the letter will cover the future that awaits all of us.

4:1-2 Excel In Walking And Pleasing

For the three weeks Paul was there, he had covered quite a bit of area in his teaching. We can be sure that he started with the gospel. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul detailed the message of the gospel:

1Cor. 15:1, 3-6 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you... that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time...

When Paul preached the gospel, this is what he presented: Christ's death, His burial, His resurrection, and the validation of the resurrection with witnesses.

You'd think that we could spend three weeks just covering those subjects - indeed, we just did while going through the gospel of John. But Paul didn't stop there in the three short weeks he was with the Thessalonians. Not only had he covered the basics of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but we find from his letter that during that time, he also had taught them about repentance, serving God, the rapture of the church, the second coming, about suffering persecution, about eternal rewards, about predestination, and about how to walk this Christian walk.

And this is what he's reminding them about: walking the walk, pleasing God.

He says, "You've already received instruction about how we should walk, about how we should please God." You've got it in your head, but it is something that needs to continue to perfect itself in your lives.

This is true for each of us. How many of us are aware that unforgiveness is a sin? But how many of us continue to hold onto that unforgiveness? There are plenty of sins I could list that each of us know are sins, yet they have not been evicted from our lives. That's what Paul is addressing:

1Ths. 4:1 ...We request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more.

The word excel there means to abound, to exceed, to overflow, to make excellent. This word is used in Greek to describe a flower going from a bud to full bloom. Paul's saying, "Hey guys, you're already on the right path, but keep pressing on, excel at this, bloom into the full beauty of the Christian walk."

And now he's going to address a specific subject regarding this Christian walk that we need to learn to excel in.

4:3-7 The Will Of God

He begins by telling them "this is the will of God." A lot of people spend a lot of time wondering and worrying about the will of God. "Should I do this or that? Should I go here or there? Should I say one thing or another? What's God will for me?"

Interestingly enough, when you do a Bible study regarding the will of God, you discover something amazing. We discover that the instructions about His will focus not on the directions we're taking, or the decisions we're making, but the lives that we're living. Here are some examples,

1Pet. 2:15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.

1Ths. 5:18 in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 5 says,

Eph. 5:17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Then it goes on to explain, "Don't get drunk, always give thanks, wives should behave this way in a marriage, and men should behave this way, children obey your parents," and it continues on like that. So the fact is, you already know what God's will for your life is: excel in your Christian walk and live to be pleasing to God! The problems we have knowing God's will is when we're walking in the world's ways. We feel insecure about every decision, because, frankly, no matter what decision you make, you're out of the will of God! That's why Romans 12 says,

Rom. 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

If you want to know if the direction you're taking, whether it's a job change, a fiance, a location move, etc., is in the will of God, don't keep praying, "Hey God, left or right? Up or down? This or that?" Pray, "Lord, is my life in your will? Am I giving thanks in every situation? Am I fulfilling my role in my marriage? Am I living in a way that is pleasing to you? Am I walking a straight walk?"

If your life is in the will of God, your direction will also be in the will of God.

Your Sanctification

A major part of the will of God is this: your sanctification. That's one big word that no one outside the church ever uses. What does it mean?

It means to be separated out for God's use.

Every once in awhile, when I get sent to the store to pick something up, I'll grab a cup of Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie Ice Cream. It is my all-time favorite treat in the world. Occasionally, the family needs to be addressed: "Okay guys, listen up. I don't ask for much, and you know that if it's in the fridge, it's up for grabs. But this is different. This is MINE. Nobody will eat my cup of Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie Ice Cream if they want to live to see another sunrise." In other words, that cup of Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie Ice Cream is sanctified. Nobody will open it but me. Nobody will be allowed to partake of it but me. Nobody will enjoy the taste of its creamy richness but me. Nobody. It has been completely sanctified, set apart, for my use.

You have been sanctified, set apart, for God's use. He bought you to be His own. He purchased you with His blood. And if you've received salvation from Him, you are completely His.

Abstain From Sexual Immorality

Now Paul gets blunt: "This is what I'm getting to. You remember the commandments we gave you: You need to walk in the will of God, you need to be sanctified, and the issue I'm specifically addressing is sexual immorality."

God created sex. He created it for pleasure and reproduction: both within the covenant of marriage between husband and wife. But sin has completely corrupted sex. Just look at your day:

You wake up in the morning to the radio as your favorite disc jockey is reading jokes making fun of the latest sex scandal rocking Washington.

You open the newspaper up at breakfast to see full page ads of guys and girls in their underwear.

You turn on the TV to catch the weather, and commercial after commercial advertises the morning's talk shows like, "My fiance doesn't know I'm a man." "My wife won't give up her boyfriend!" "My mom's dating a man half my age."

You drive to work listening to a country singer singing about picking up a girl in a bar and taking her back to his place, or any of a thousand other songs about adultery and sex outside of marriage.

You look up and see a billboard advertising some product by having a half-naked man or woman model holding it or standing in front of it.

You get to work, and the married guys are flirting with the single women with skirts that only cover half their thighs, telling the same jokes you heard earlier on the radio.

You go home for lunch and turn on the TV. Channel after channel of soap operas feature women in lingerie and men in tiny swimsuits falling into bed with each other.

You get home from work and turn on the TV. Now the sexual immorality is multiplied. Sitcom after sitcom making light of homosexuality, adultery, masturbation, and pornography.

Time to get out of the house... let's go to the movies! Need I say more?

What part of your day exposed you to sexual immorality? Almost all of it.

Now let me ask you a pointed question: As you walked through this wicked, corrupt society, were you seduced, or were you sanctified?

Did you abstain from it? Sure, maybe you didn't engage in the sex act, but did you leave the TV on? Did you pay money to watch the movie? Did you put that CD or cassette in the player? That's not the sanctification that is God's will for you. The book of Hebrews tells us to pursue...

Hebr. 12:14 ...the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.

God doesn't just hope for your sanctification - He insists on it.

Possessing Your Vessel

The fact is, we're surrounded with it. You can't be in today's society without being exposed to it. But you can control your thoughts - you can take charge of your sanctification. You have been given a body, an earthen vessel, and you can possess that vessel of yours in sanctification and honor.

You have a choice to either give in to lust as those who don't know God, or to take control of your body and save that passion for the marriage bed.

Hebr. 13:4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the {marriage} bed {be} undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

God will judge. Every person you've committed immorality with, every woman or man you've lusted after, every one of them is somebody's husband, wife, son, or daughter. And when you lust or fornicate with them, you're defrauding them. And God will avenge that Himself.

4:8 Not Rejecting Man But God

Maybe you've hardened your heart against this Word. It's not up to me to convince you. If you're rejecting this, you're not rejecting me, you're rejecting the Holy Spirit who is gently calling you to repentance. And you know, that's the beauty of teaching the Word of God. Paul told pastors to

2Tim. 4:2 ...Reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

And so I can trust that if I bring these things out, then I can patiently wait for God to do His perfect work in your heart.

4:9-10 Excel In Love

Paul continues to encourage them in the Christian walk and pleasing God, now focusing on encouraging them to love.

Loving people is tough, because honestly, most people are unlovable. At least in our flesh they are. But God has a deep, passionate love for all people - even the ones that are offensive. The ones who hurt you with what they say, offend you by how they act, and disgust you by how they live. And it's not up to us to love them in our human character, it's up to us to let God love them through us. The apostle John wrote,

1John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Love is from God, and God is love. No wonder Paul said,

1Ths. 4:9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for {anyone} to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another

If you submit your heart and life to God, you will be amazed at how easy it is to love the unlovable.

4:11-12 Lead A Quiet Life

This is Paul's third and final exhortation regarding their present walk. First, abstain from sexual immorality. Second, have love for people. Thirdly, he says,

1Ths. 4:11-12 ...Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you; so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

Making it your ambition to lead a quiet life. Leading a quiet life is not something I'm particularly good at. By nature, I'm a trouble-maker, an attention-getter, and a loud music player. But for the last ten years or so, I've been working on living a quieter life. My ambition is to mellow out, to let God smooth those rough edges off of me.

The more I thought about this week, the more amazed I was to think of how many Christians I've known that disregarded this commandment. Now, I don't want to come down on anybody, or name names, but I do want to point something out. If a Christian is out in public protesting this or that, breaking the law, and making a nuisance of himself to get arrested and make a point, that's in violation of this commandment. If a Christian is out there on a stage screaming unintelligible words to a crowd banging their heads and slamming in a mosh pit, that's in violation of this commandment.

As Christians, we're called to live quiet lives. Of course we don't take that to extremes. There's nothing wrong with being a Christian musician, or publicly making your point in peaceful protest. And sometimes just obeying the command to preach the gospel will cause an uproar. But we must examine ourselves: Is it my ambition to draw attention to myself and make a big noise? Or is it my ambition to lead a quiet life?

Work With Your Hands

Instead, we are to "attend to our own business and work with our hands." There are far too many people in the world that don't mind their own business, and who are freeloading, and unfortunately, many of them are in the church.

The Thessalonian church had their share of meddlers, gossips, and freeloaders. Paul will address this more specifically in his next epistle, saying,

2Ths. 3:10-12 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.

The old expression says, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop." It's a true statement.

Eccl. 10:18 (KJV) By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.

When someone isn't busy, they're in prime location for sin. There's just too much opportunity to fall into gossip, lust, slothfulness, and the like.

Behave Properly Toward Outsiders

And Paul explains the biggest reason of all for avoiding this: being a good witness of God. With proper behavior, we will not be in undue need. Christians should never default on a loan because of laziness or unwillingness to work. Certainly, there will be times that you find yourself in a financial disaster, but may that disaster never be self-inflicted to to poor stewardship or slothfulness.

The world should never look at the people in the church and see slackers, gossips, beggars, and goof-offs. As the book of Colossians says,

Col. 4:5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

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