By Dr. Robert E. Picirilli
In chapter 4 Paul’s tone changes. Up to this point, he has reviewed events that led to writing the letter:
• The founding of the church (ch. 1)
• His ministry there (ch. 2)
• Timothy’s visit and report (ch. 3).
Now Paul turns to the practical needs of the Thessalonians. The rest of the letter is instruction.
The general subject of 4:1-12 is introduced in verses 1, 2: “How ye ought to walk and to please God.” The Christian’s life is his “walk.” This refers to his or her daily, steady Christian progress. In these first two verses, Paul emphasizes the authority behind his teaching: “We exhort you by the Lord Jesus” and “commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.” No preacher of the gospel speaks on his own authority. Rather, he speaks under the authority of the Lord Jesus (cf. Matthew 28:20).
Paul speaks of three specific matters:
1. Sexual purity (vv. 3-8). Sexual purity is part of the sanctification (holiness of life) that God desires (v. 3). It requires three specific things:
• Self mastery (vv. 4, 5),
• Honesty with others (v.6)
• Complete obedience to a holy God (vv. 7, 8).
Verse 4 mentions a vessel. Some think this “vessel” is a metaphor for a wife (as in I Peter 3:7). Those who subscribe to this view believe Paul is here urging marriage to prevent fornication (cf. I Corinthians 7:2-9). I agree with others who think the “vessel” in this verse is a metaphor for one’s own body (as in II Timothy 2:27). Paul is here teaching that self control is necessary to avoid sexual sin. In other words he is preaching that Christians should possess the opposite of unrestrained lust (v.5).
Verse 6 appears to mean that sexual sin always defrauds someone like a spouse or fiancé. The King James says “in any matter.” The Greek translation is “in the matter:” In other words, this is the matter under discussion.
In verses 7 and 8 Paul writes that our holy God has called us to a holy life. A rejection of this teaching in this letter is not a rejection of a man (like Paul) but of the God who has put His holy Spirit in us. Note the little “h” on “holy:” we get so used to the name that we forget that “holy” is an adjective describing the kind of Spirit/God He is and the nature of His influence on us. Anything unholy in our lives is a practical denial of God’s Spirit.
2.Brotherly love (vv. 9, 10). The briefness of the treatment of this issue may mean there was no great problem. Paul acknowledges he need not say much on this subject. He preaches that they are already practicing the divine commandment of brotherly love (vv. 9-10). But he wants them to increase in this grace. Brotherly love is such a fundamental characteristic of true Christianity (cf. John 13:35) that we need frequent reminders and careful instruction about how to practice it.
3. Honest toil (vv. 11, 12). There was a problem in the church with some not working but rather sponging off of others for their needs. (This is dealt with at greater length in II Thessalonians 3:6-15.)
This may have resulted from a wrong application of the doctrine of Christ’s soon coming, but neither epistle makes that certain. Perhaps these were just lazy people taking advantage of the good-heartedness of their fellow believers. Either way, they were creating disruption rather than the “quietness” (v. 11) that Paul exhorts them to seek. The message: Christians ought mind their own business and work with their hands.
We should live in such a way for two reasons (v. 12):
• To insure a reputation for honesty in the eyes of sinners (“them that are without“).
• To provide for our basic needs (“have lack of nothing“). Paul says much here about the dignity and Christianity of labor.
There is much more to the Christian walk than these verses reveal. Paul merely discusses here the specific needs at Thessalonica. Yes, there is much more, but the three matters discussed reveal much about how to live in a way that pleases God. Sexual purity, love within the fellowship, and good, honest work remain essential Christian issues. In short, the walk that pleases God is the one in accord with His own character, thus manifesting the same character in us.