Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1122 MP3 Audio File Video File

God's Will—Your Holiness

(1 Thess. 4:1-3)

Delivered 07/03/22

This morning we are continuing our study of the first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. Today we begin a new section with chapter 4. Most of Paul's letters can be divided into a doctrinal section and a practical section. In this epistle, however, rather than beginning with doctrine, there is a personal and historical section in which he demonstrates his thanksgiving for the Thessalonians, reviews his ministry, and shows his deep concern for them in their sufferings and present state. Paul explained what prevented him from returning to Thessalonica in order to encourage the Christians. Then as we come to chapter four, Paul moves to a series of exhortations which deal with the Christian walk.

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Yeshua, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV

"Finally"is the Greek particle loipon, a particle of transition often found toward the end of a letter. It means "for the rest" and is not necessarily implying that he was ending the letter but marking a transition in the subject matter.

"Brothers"—is the Greek word adelphos from alpha (as a connective particle) and delphus (the womb). The fact that he calls them "brethren" indicates that these people had experienced the new birth. Paul often uses this term to start a new subject.

"We ask and urge you in the Lord Yeshua"Paul uses these present active indicatives to emphasize continuing action. The verb "we ask" is the Greek erotao, which is normally used between those who are of equal rank or status. Erotao in other contexts means simply "to make a request," but in exhortations, the meaning is the much stronger ("beseech" or "entreat"). This is the only word used by Yeshua in His prayers to the Father.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, John 14:16 ESV

Paul was appealing to them as fellow believers in the Savior.

"Urge" is parakaleo which means "appeal to, exhort, encourage." It appears in letters where the authors strongly urge the believers to adopt some kind of conduct. This word is more emphatic, especially when used with the words "in the Lord Yeshua."

"That as you received from us""received" is paralambano. It is an aorist active indicative pointing to the time Paul was with them personally. This is the Greek term that means "receive traditional teachings from another." What Paul wrote in the following verses was nothing new to the Thessalonians. Over and again, he urges the Thessalonians to recall what they already knew.

"How you ought to walk"—the Greek word translated as "walk" here is peripateo, (from peri, "about, around," and pateo, "to walk"). This is a present infinitive. Walk is a biblical metaphor for lifestyle.  Christianity was originally called "The Way." So, how are we to walk? John tells us.

whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:6 ESV

Our lifestyle is to be like Christ's. Paul tells us how to walk like Christ.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 ESV

Only as we live in dependence upon the Spirit's power can we walk as Christ walked. He lived His life in dependence on the Spirit and so should we.

Notice the word "ought" here. It comes from a Greek word meaning, "it is necessary" or "one must." It refers to inner necessity or the compulsion of duty according to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [University of Chicago Press], by William Arndt and Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., p. 172. It means that we're not free to decide how we want to live as Christians. We have been bought with the blood of Christ. We are under obligation to live in a way that glorifies and pleases Him. The Greek text reads "just as you received from us how it is necessary for you to walk so as to please God."

"And to please God"—Paul has already talked about this in chapter 2.

but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:4 ESV

The basic desire for each of us should be to please God by everything we say and do. That's the key to the Christian life. The man who is outside of Christ lives to please himself. But we are to live to please Christ. Look at John's words again.

whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:6 ESV

We are to walk as He walked. Compare this with what Yeshua said.

And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him." John 8:29 ESV

How would you like to be able to say that? How strong is your desire to please God? What are you willing to sacrifice, what pain are you willing to endure that you may live in a way that is pleasing to God?

Learning to live and please God is a matter of biblical instruction. It is neither natural nor innate. Without the Word, there is simply no way any of us are going to be able to walk as we should and be able to please the Lord.

When Paul talks about pleasing God, I wonder if he has Enoch in mind. In Genesis 5:22 the Hebrew has "Enoch walked with Go," while the Septuagint (LXX) has "Enoch pleased God." In Hebrews 11:5, the LXX is quoted.

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. Hebrews 11:5 ESV

In our text in Thessalonians Paul seems to combine the two concepts. To please God, we must walk with Him in the light of His Word.

          "Just as you are doing"this phrase is missing in some of the Greek manuscripts. It is missing in Dc, K, L, and the Textus Receptus texts. It is present in MSS א, A, B, D*, F, G and also in the Syriac, Coptic, and Vulgate translations. The early manuscripts have it and the later ones omit it. This implies that it was dropped out accidently. The UBS4 rates its inclusion as "A" (certain).

Paul knew that the believers in Thessalonica were living their lives to please the Lord and he encourages them to "do so more and more."

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Yeshua. 1 Thessalonians 4:2 ESV

The word "Instructions" here is a rare military word for authoritative commands handed down through the ranks. To obey God's commandments, we first must know them. Which means that if we are going to walk to please the Lord we need to be reading the Word on a regular basis.

Yeshua said that all of God's commandments are summed up in the two great commandments: to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). But again, you need to study God's Word to learn specifically how those two commandments are to be obeyed in every situation.

"We gave you through the Lord Yeshua"—Paul is saying that the basis for his appeal that they please God is grounded in the teaching and authority of Yeshua himself.

Gordon Clark in his commentary of 1 Thessalonians writes, "Though it is not the main point in this passage, the verses contribute to the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. God given propositions must be true, and God given commands must be right."

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

"For this is the will of God"—there is no definite article before the word "will" in the Greek, highlighting that this is one dimension of God's will. When the Bible talks about God's will, it can be referring to one of two things: (1) God's sovereign will or providence (His predetermined plan for everything that happens in the universe), or (2) His moral will which is revealed in the Bible and which tells us how to live. Look at "will" in these two passages.

You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?"  Romans 9:19 ESV
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

Does the term "will" mean the same in both of these passages? No. Romans 9 uses the term "will" to speak of God's secret will of decree, His sovereign will. And 1 Thessalonians 4 uses the term "will" to speak of God's revealed will of precept or His moral will. God's sovereign will is always carried out. His moral will, on the other hand, is not. Do people commit sexual immorality? Yes. But it is God's moral will that they not commit sexual immorality, and if they violate His will, they will suffer the consequences.

The term "will" itself is ambiguous. We must determine its meaning from the context. "The Ten Commandments" are God's perceptive or moral will. They command men to do this and to refrain from that. They state what ought to be done, but they neither state nor cause what is done. God's sovereign or decretive will, however, causes every event.

Let me show you a great description of a disciple of Yeshua.

not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, Ephesians 6:6 ESV

These last eight words sum up God's moral will for all believers. This is what life is all about. We are to be "doing the will of God from the heart." God created us. He is the author of life, and if we are ever going to live life to the fullest, it will be by living in the will of God. Does that make sense?

Our guide for life and conduct is the moral will of Yahweh. We don't know what His sovereign will is until it is past. But we know His moral will, and that is what we must concern ourselves with. So, we can never blame our disobedience of God's moral will on His sovereign will. We are not responsible for His sovereign will; we don't know what it is. But we are responsible for His moral will. Knowing that Yahweh is sovereign in all things does not give us the right to ignore His precepts.

Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, Ephesians 5:17-18 ESV

God's will is that believers be controlled by the Spirit.

Now what is it that Paul says is God's will? "Your sanctification"—this is the Greek word hagiasmos. It means "to make holy, separation from sin." Our holiness pleases God. God is pleased by our holiness because He is holy, and He wants us to be like Him in our everyday life.

Yahweh's will for the Thessalonian believers was sanctification. This is His will for all believers, even for us today. So, let's talk about sanctification. First, I want you to understand the traditional view of sanctification. It is taught that sanctification is the activity of God that liberates the Christian from the power of sin. Sanctification imparts the righteousness of God to man. Traditionally, sanctification is categorized into three aspects:

1. Positional sanctification—this is that state of holiness imputed to the Christian at the moment of his conversion to Christ. This is positional.  In other words, if you are in Christ, you are holy, you are set apart for Yahweh.

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV

2. Progressive sanctification—traditionally this refers to the process in our daily lives by which we are being conformed to the image of Christ. It is the process of becoming what we are in Christ. This happened during the transition period. A text that is often used to support this view is 2 Corinthians 3:18.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV

This is talking about progressive sanctification, but it does not refer to us. It is talking about the transition saints—those who lived between the first and second advent of Christ. They were being transformed from the Old Covenant glory to the New Covenant glory. The context of this chapter is the two covenants.

For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 2 Corinthians 3:9 ESV

These are the two glories. They were moving from one to the other. They were growing into a living temple of God.

you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua the Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 ESV

They were being "built up" into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. The Church is a Temple, and the Temple was being built during the transition period. So, during the transition period the Church was growing into a dwelling place for Yahweh. During the transition period the Old Covenant was fading away. The book of Hebrews was written at around A.D. 64-67. At this time, the Old Covenant was still in effect, but 8:13 says it was ready to pass away.

During this transition, the Church was growing to maturity. Her members were "being built" for a dwelling place of God. During the transition period the Church was growing into the image of Christ. This is speaking about position and not practice. This growth was completed in A.D. 70 when the Lord returned, consummating the New Covenant.

So progressive sanctification is something that happened to the first-century saints and not to us. They were growing in their positional holiness. Now let me say this: I believe that we are to be growing in practical holiness. As you walk with the Lord, your life should reflect His values and attributes. But we are not growing into Christ's image positionally. We are complete in Christ.

3. Ultimate sanctification—traditionally this is said to be that state of holiness that we will not attain to in this life but will realize when we are finally in the presence of God/

Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2 ESV

This was written in the first century. For us He has already appeared. He said He would in that very generation. Notice what the writer of Hebrews says.

For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; Hebrews 10:37 ESV

The Greek here is very expressive and emphatic. The author used a word which signifies "a little while," and then for further emphasis, added a particle meaning "very." This he still further intensified by repeating it. Thus, literally rendered, this clause reads "For yet a very, very little while, and He that shall come will come."

Most Christians would say that the Lord has not yet returned, not even realizing that they are making the writer of Hebrews a false Prophet. But the problem is that it wasn't just the writer of Hebrews who said that Yeshua was to return in the first century. More significantly, Yeshua Himself taught this, making Him also a false Prophet if He did not return in the first century.

So, what about believers living beyond A.D. 70? What does sanctification mean to us? First of all, sanctification is synonymous with being in Christ. We are set apart; we are holy. This is our position. But I believe that there should be a "practical" or "experiential" aspect of sanctification to us. I believe that Yahweh has called us to live holy lives. Before we talk about our need to live holy lives, let me say this: I believe that as Christians, all of life is a matter of grace. We are brought into Yahweh's eternal kingdom by grace, we are positionally and practically/experientially sanctified by grace, we are motivated to obedience by grace, we receive strength to live the Christian life by grace, and we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace. The entire Christian life is lived by grace.

As Christians living under grace, I believe that we are called to live holy lives.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

Is this still the will of God for His people? Beyond A.D. 70, does God now not care how you live? No. His will hasn't changed; He still wants us to live holy lives.

but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." 1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV

Yahweh wants us to live holy lives because He is Holy and we are to be like Him.

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. Ephesians 5:1 ESV

As believers we are to imitate our Father. Do you know your heritage? By that I mean the status acquired by a person through birth. Looking into your family lineage, can you say you have a great heritage? Looking into our spiritual lineage, I can assure you we have a "holy heritage." Peter speaks of the self-description our Heavenly Father places upon Himself. The words of Peter are a reiteration of Yahweh's already proclaimed declaration of Himself found in the book of Leviticus 19:2: "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy." Yahweh our God is holy. We hear it in the voice of the seraphim in Isaiah 6 that God is holy.

And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"  Isaiah 6:3 ESV

The living creatures in Revelation 4 also describe Yahweh as "holy" in this same three- fold to signify His absolute holiness. Yahweh our God is holy! This might be a good time to ask what it means to be holy. Holy, in the simplest definition, means "to separate." To be holy is to be distinct, separate, in a class by oneself. Sproul puts it this way:

"The primary meaning of holy is 'separate.' It comes from an ancient word that meant, 'to cut,' or 'to separate.' Perhaps even more accurate would be the phrase 'a cut above something.' When we find a garment or another piece of merchandise that is outstanding, that has a superior excellence, we use the expression that it is 'a cut above the rest." [R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1985), page 54]

When the Bible calls God "holy," it means primarily that Yahweh is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be "other," to be different in a special way. The same basic meaning is used when the word "holy" is applied to earthly things.

To be holy is the opposite of being "common" or "profane." Yahweh is holy in that He is utterly different and distinct from His creation. His people must also be distinct, separate from the heathen attitudes and actions which characterized them as unbelievers.

We are to be holy in every aspect of our conduct. Holiness is not to be compartmentalized into certain "religious" areas of our life. Holiness is a way of life that affects everything we do. Holiness is a lifestyle rather than mere conformity to a list of rules.

J. Hampton Keathley lll writes: "‘Will' is thelema, ‘what is willed.' It points to the sovereign will and plan of God for the Christian." Does it? So, let me ask you. Is the believer's sanctification God's decretive will, his sovereign will? If we are talking about our positional sanctification the answer is yes. But in this context, Paul directly defines sanctification in 4: 3 by commanding the Thessalonians to "avoid sexual immorality." Is it God's decretive will, his sovereign will, that believers "abstain from sexual immorality"? No! God's sovereign will always happens. Here it is clearly God's moral will of command since 4:3-6 consist of commands, and these commands can be "rejected. "

So, God's will for the believers at Thessalonica (and I believe for all believers) is that "You abstain from sexual immorality"—the word "abstain" is the Greek word apecho which means "to hold back, keep off, be distant." In the middle voice, as used here, it means "to hold oneself from, avoid." The middle voice draws attention to the subject's personal participation in the action on himself with vested interest.

The Thessalonians were to respond to sexual temptation like Joseph did when he refused the overtures of Potiphar's wife (Gen 39:7–12). After several failed attempts to get Joseph to have sex with her, Potiphar's wife grabbed Joseph by his garment and said

"Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. Genesis 39:12 ESV

This is exactly what Paul told the Corinthians to do.

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:18 ESV

So, the Thessalonians were to abstain from sexual immorality. What exactly is sexual immorality? The Greek word translated as "sexual immorality" is porneia. Word studies find that porneia in the LXX had strong associations with harlotry. The term is rooted in a word meaning "to sell" and referred originally to prostitutes and prostitution. Over time, it came to mean "the one who visits a prostitute." It was then applied to adultery.

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (often referred to as "Kittel" for its main editor, Gerhard Kittel) tells us the following:

After the Old Testament the term came to mean all sorts of sexual perversion. In non-inspired, extra-biblical literature, the term is used of "unnatural vice" and of sodomy. The Testament of Benjamin 9:1 says, 'Now I supposed, from the words of the righteous Enoch, that there will be also evil-doings among you: for ye will commit fornication with the fornication of Sodom.' There is a porneia of Sodom. We trust that our readers can understand the implications of this condemnation of homosexuality and perverse sexual relations—a condemnation that would include acts not defined as 'normal' relations. This is in concert with the findings of the rabbis in their debates and discussion.

So, Kittel tells us that the rabbis believed "unnatural forms of intercourse" would also be porneia. That said, it is apparent that in Yeshua's day sexual activity with a person one is not married to would meet the definition of porneia. A man and woman who are physically intimate with one another and are having sexual relations would easily fit the definition and standard use of porneia in Yeshua's time. To be physically intimate with someone who is not your spouse (to make physical contact with another person in a sexual way) is porneia.

Many believers distinguish the biblical concepts of "adultery" and "fornication." Adultery is "sex by a married person with someone other than the spouse" while fornication is "sex between two unmarried people." But "porneia" actually describes a much larger class of activities and is not restricted to "intercourse between unmarried people." It is, in fact, the root from which we get our word "porno." It covered the same broad class of behaviors as "porno" does today.

What does the Scripture say about porneia? As a whole, the New Testament uses porneia in at least four ways.

  1. Voluntary sexual intercourse of an unmarried person with someone of the opposite sex (1 Cor. 7:2; 1 Thess. 4:3).
  2. A synonym for adultery (Matt. 5:32; 19:9), which is sexual relations with someone other than one's spouse.
  3. Harlotry and prostitution (Rev. 2:14,20).
  4. Various forms of sexual sin such as homosexuality and bestiality.

Porneia, then, is a broad term used to cover any form of sexual sin. It was any kind of sexual relation outside of heterosexual marriage to include fornication, adultery, homosexuality, incest, prostitution, or bestiality.

Clearly, God's will for believers is sexual purity. But the Thessalonians lived in a pagan environment in which sexual looseness was not only practiced openly but was also encouraged. In the Greek and Roman cultures, porneia was a very common practice. The ancient writer 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."

In that pagan society, much of the worship of gods involved engaging in porneia as a means to become one with the gods. The Thessalonians lived in a sexually promiscuous culture where the goddess Aphrodite (the most popular deities in Thessalonica) was the symbol of sexual license and the patroness of prostitutes. Men could go to pagan temples and commit immorality with priestesses as an act of religious devotion. Various forms of extramarital sex were tolerated and even encouraged. Prostitution was considered a priestly prerogative, and extramarital sex was sometimes an act of worship. And many of the spiritual rights within their temple were porneia. It was a very common practice in that culture. And so, Paul is exhorting the Thessalonians to live a pure life, a sanctified life, a life that is set apart unto God and to keep themselves from the common practice of porneia.

The church today needs this exhortation just as much as the Thessalonians did—if not more. We live in a world where sexual temptation is more readily accessible than at any other time in history. When I was a young man, it wasn't easy to view pornography as it is now. Today anyone with a cell phone, which all kids seem to have, can look at any pornographic material they choose to. We live in a society that is lowering and lowering the resistance continuously by overexposing us to all of this and laughing at it and treating it so lightly that we no longer think anything of it.

John Stott argues, "One of the great weaknesses of contemporary evangelical Christianity is our comparative neglect of Christian ethics, in both our teaching and our practice." (The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians [IVP Academic], p. 76)

I agree. The church today is flooded with immorality. I was counseling a young couple that wanted to get married. They told me that they believed it was God's will for them to get married. So, I asked them if they were having sex. They both turned a pretty shade of pink. I told them that I don't know God's sovereign will for them and neither did they, but I did know his moral will and shared with them.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

They were violating God's moral will while claiming to know his sovereign will.

Look at what Paul said to the Ephesians.

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV

These two statements parallel each other so that to imitate Yahweh is equal to walking in love. The entire Christian life could be summed up as a life of imitating Yahweh as beloved children as we walk in love.

Paul turns from the theme of self-sacrificial love in verse 2 to its opposite in verse 3—self-indulgent sexual sin.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Ephesians 5:3 ESV

The adversative conjunction "but" here puts everything in verse 3 in contrast to verse 2. What Paul is saying is that sexual sin is a violation of love. You cannot truly love another, in the biblical sense, and practice sex with him or her outside of marriage. It is impossible; they are mutually contradictory. Therefore, you cannot combine the two. There is no such thing as sexual relations done in love outside of marriage.

Our culture is very immoral, but we, the Church, are to be different. We are not to imitate the world. It is God's will that believers live a holy life of sexual purity.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

Our text in 1 Thessalonians 4 is a very socially relevant passage. It touches on homosexuality, pornography, transsexuality, bestiality, incest, adultery, premarital and extramarital sex, sexually transmitted disease, abortion, and casual sex—all expressions or ramifications of porneia.

So, how do we deal with this? How do we avoid porneia? We'll discuss that next week.

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