1 THESSALONIANS CHAPTER 4.
Warning Regarding Various Sins. 1 Thess. 4, 1-12.
Concerning concupiscence: V.1. Furthermore, then, we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that, as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. V.2. For we know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. V.3. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication; v.4. that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; v.5. not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles, which know not God. It is a wise pastor that can make a cordial commendation precede a necessary correction. The report of Timothy had, in general, been very favorable, but he had not withheld from the apostle the fact that certain abuses stood in need of correction. But Paulís tone of cordial affection does not change: Moreover, now, brethren, we beg you and beseech in the Lord Jesus that, as you have accepted of us how you should lead your lives and please God, even as you have led them, that you excel still more. The apostle here opens the hortatory part of his letter, basing its admonitions and warnings entirely upon the doctrine which he had just laid before them in such an appealing way. It is in this sense that he calls the Thessalonian Christians brethren, that he begs them, that he entreats them in the Lord Jesus, on the basis of whose redemption and for whose sake all Christians endeavor to lead such lives as are in conformity with their calling, such lives as will please the Lord. There is not a hint of faultfinding in the entire passage. It is not a new burden which the apostle is trying to lay upon their unwilling shoulders; he is merely reminding them of instructions which they had received from him and from his fellow-laborers. Those instructions included also apostolic advice as to how they should conduct themselves in harmony with the obligation resting upon them as Christians, in order to please God. The Thessalonians had learned from the apostle and his companions in just what way they should conduct themselves in the various situations and exigencies of life, just how they should arrange their lives in the light of the Word of God. St. Paul willingly concedes and praises the fact that they had been willing to accept and follow instructions, that they were, on the whole, leading Christian lives. Since, however, a Christian is always in the making and never attains to ultimate perfection in this life, therefore the apostle begs and entreats that they should aim to excel ever more in their Christian life.
Paul now substantiates his admonition: For you know what instructions we gave you on the authority of the Lord Jesus. The instructions or commandments concerning their sanctification had not been given by Paul at random or according to his own ideas, but on the authority of Christ, and therefore these injunctions were in full force for all times. With all these facts the Thessalonian Christians were fully familiar, and more, the apostle had commended their willing obedience to the Word which had been preached in their midst, chap. 2, 13. Without further argument, therefore, he now refers to the summary of the doctrine concerning their sanctification: For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you desist from fornication, that every one of you know that he should get his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in the passion of lust like also the Gentiles that do not know God. This is Godís will, not His entire good and gracious will toward the Thessalonian Christians, but that part to which their attention needed to be drawn at this time, a point in which they should excel more and more. It is Godís will that the Christians should grow in sanctification, that they should flee from sin more and more, that they should consecrate themselves to Him, that they should walk in newness of life. Paulís specific warning concerns the sin of fornication, of intercourse outside of holy wedlock. To this sin the converts at Thessalonica were exposed, partly on account of the filthy heathen cult which was practiced there, partly on account of the fact that there was always danger of becoming tainted with licentiousness in a large seaport. The Christians must abstain, desist, from such sexual impurity, they must flee from its contaminating influence. For, as they know, the only way in which the desire for procreation should find its expression should be in this way, that every one have his own wife, that marriage be entered upon in sanctification, with due propriety, as a Christian duty and vocation, and in honor, Col. 2, 23; 1 Pet. 3, 7, with the proper regard for the wife as an heir of salvation, or at least as standing high above all beasts, with a full sense of the moral dignity of the relationship. All sinful abuse, all carnal excesses, are excluded by this plain statement of the apostle. And he emphasizes his meaning by a disgusted reference to the passion of lust such as was found among the Gentiles that did not know God. Marriage was not instituted for the gratification of wild and untamed passion; such behavior characterizes people that are without all reverence toward God, whom they do not know, and for whose will they do not care. Christians will be careful to lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed also in the married state.
A warning against covetousness: V.6. That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter, because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. V.7. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. V.8. He, therefore, that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit. The apostle here points to a second vice, one which is often mentioned together with uncleanness, cp. Eph. 4, 19; 5, 3. 5; Col. 3, 5, that of avarice, of greed: That no one overreach and defraud his brother in business, because that the Lord is an avenger concerning all these things, as we have said to you before and testified. The description given in these words fitly characterizes the sin of covetousness; for the greedy person goes beyond the limits set by the Law of God; he resorts to trickery and cheating. This will invariably result in fraud, in the deliberate attempt to get the better of every deal, to enrich oneself at the expense of oneís neighbor. Undoubtedly this vice was common in the great Aegean seaport and was not regarded as anything reprehensible, just as the average businessman in our day deems it an evidence of extraordinary astuteness if he can indulge in profiteering without being detected. But the apostle holds up a warning finger, saying that the Lord is an avenger with respect to all these things. The sin may not become manifest before the eyes of men, but before the eyes of God nothing is hidden, and His punishment will strike the wicked in due time. The Christians being subject to the same sinful desires as all other men by reason of their evil flesh, Paul had included this warning in his instructions to the Thessalonians; he had, before, in an earnest testimony, told them the same thing,
With reference to both vices he therefore adds: For not has God called us for uncleanness, but in sanctification. The holy God wants clean hearts; to that end and object He called the believers, working faith and love in their hearts by His call. A Christian cannot live in any form of uncleanness with regard to any of the commandments; if that had been Godís purpose in calling him, He would become a servant of sin. The apostle, therefore, extends his warning: Wherefore, then, he that despises does not despise man, but God, who gave His Holy Spirit to you, To disregard the precept and warning which Paul here issues does not mean a mere despising of men. That in itself may be bad enough, but could at least be condoned. No, it is Godís will which the apostle has proclaimed with regard to these sins, and every one that despises his instructions thereby becomes guilty of despising God. Such a person is all the more culpable in the sight of God because the Lord, in issuing the call, in working conversion, gave His Holy Spirit, thereby granting the power to walk in newness of life. Any person that has once been converted and then deliberately indulges in such sins as here mentioned by the apostle, drives the Holy Spirit out of his heart and thus receives to himself damnation, unless he repents of his sin before it is too late. This fact cannot be emphasized too strongly in our days when indifference and worldliness is raising its head in the midst of the Christian Church. 1)
The apostle urges brotherly love and sober industry: V.9. But as touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. V.10. And, indeed, ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia; but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more, v.11. and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; v.12. that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing. This passage is another masterpiece of pastoral exhortation, for it combines a ready acknowledgment of the progress already made in sanctification with a tactful reminder of the fact that the goal has not yet been reached: But concerning brotherly love you have no need to be written to, for yourselves are people taught of God to love one another. With what effective skill Paul brings out his point! By representing the situation in such a way as to call them men taught by God Himself, through the Holy Ghost in the Word, and stating that under the circumstances his writing concerning brotherly love would be superfluous, he places this virtue before their eyes with the sharpest accentuation, putting all those to shame that were not practicing this love at all times. The apostle names a case of which he personally knows: For, indeed, you do it toward all the brethren in entire Macedonia. There was a lively intercourse between the Christians of those days, not merely in the home congregation, but also with the brethren in Philippi, Berea, and elsewhere in Macedonia. Toward all these Christians the members of the Thessalonian congregation were practicing brotherly love as it was required.
But the goal had not yet been reached; they could not yet speak of perfection: But we exhort you, brethren, to abound yet more, and to make it a point of honor to live quietly, and to attend to your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we announced to you, that you may lead your life honestly toward those without and have need of nothing. The Thessalonians were to strive for ever greater perfection, also in the matter of brotherly love, since there are so many factors that tend to hinder its proper growth. At the same time, however, instead of seeking a false renown by their works of love, they were to strive most zealously, set their heart, soul, and honor upon that point, to lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. Nothing so aids to this end as minding oneís own business, tending strictly to oneís own affairs, not meddling with those of other people, an undertaking which almost invariably engenders strife. Also they should work with their own hands, they should be earnestly engaged, every one in his own occupation; for the devil finds work for idle hands, as the example of David shows. This commandment belonged to those which Paul had given from the beginning, for he may have foreseen the danger which would lead enthusiasts to expect the coming of Christ at any minute, and therefore to neglect their work with the plea that it was useless under the circumstances. Paul wants the Thessalonian Christians to lead a life that is honest, becoming, respectable, decent in the presence of the unconverted heathen. For by working in the manner as here outlined they would be provided with the necessaries of life and would thus be chargeable to no outsider for help. Note: It is altogether fitting that this passage find its application in all the relations of the believers as such toward the unbelievers. To ask the aid of enemies of the Cross in the matter of building churches or schools or charitable institutions is to declare that the Gospel has lost its power to make the hearts of the Christians willing to perform the work which the Lord has given them to do.
Information about the Resurrection of the Dead. 1 Thess. 4, 13-15.
V.13. But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. V.14. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. V.15. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. V.16. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. V.17. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. V.18. Wherefore comfort one an other with these words. It seems that the Thessalonian Christians, in their excessive eagerness concerning the second coming of the Lord, had stumbled into various misunderstandings. Their solicitude for their dead, for instance, caused them to fear that the latter would occupy a position secondary to that which they themselves, who would live till the second advent of the Lord, hoped to attain. This anxious concern incidentally tended to plunge them into a grief which came dangerously near being like that of the Gentiles. Therefore Paul combines admonition with instruction: But we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those that have fallen asleep, lest you grieve for them as do also the others that have no hope. It is true indeed that the faith of the Christians does not stifle and eradicate the natural affections. Christ Himself wept at the grave of His friend Lazarus. But even in this opening verse the apostle brings out two points that show the wide difference between the sorrow of the Christians and that of the unbelievers. In the first place, if Christians die, they fall asleep in the Lord Jesus, 1 Cor. 11, 30; 15, 20. Their death is like a gentle sleep, from which there will be a glorious awakening. For that reason, in the second place, the sorrow of the Christians at the death of their loved ones is altogether unlike that of the rest, of the outsiders, of the unbelievers, whose condition is aptly described by the words: They have no hope. When their friends and relatives die, they are gone, they are taken from them definitely, never to be seen again. Such a memory of a happiness lost beyond recovery, of a parting without the hope of meeting again, produces a hopeless, a terrible state.
But the Christians are in an altogether different position: For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so also those who fell asleep through Jesus will God bring with Him. That is the belief of all Christians, that Jesus truly died on the cross, but that just as truly He rose again on the third day. The believers in Christ, however, belong to Christ, they are partakers of all His work of redemption and of all the blessings which He earned through His vicarious suffering. Therefore the Christians, all those that have fallen asleep in Christ, trusting in His complete salvation, will pass through death into life. Just as surely as we believe in the crucified and resurrected Christ, just as surely as we are united with Christ in life and in death through faith, just so surely the Lord will lead us and all believers that have fallen asleep in Jesus with our Savior into the realms of eternal glory. That is the comfort of the Christians with regard to those friends and relatives whom they have laid to rest in the grave. They are at rest, they are asleep in the Lord; even in death they are the Lordís. When Christ, therefore, who is our Life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory, and all believers with us, Col, 3, 4.
The apostle now adds a word of instruction regarding those that will be living on earth at the coming of the Lord: For this we tell you by the word of the Lord, that we, the living ones, that remain over for the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede those that fell asleep. This was a word, a saying, of the Lord which had been preserved by the disciples and is here recorded by the apostle. When the last day comes, there will still be some believers living on earth, having been left over by God unto the return of Christ. But these believers will have no advantage over those that fell asleep in the Lord, whose bodies are lying in the grave. Both they and those that fell asleep in the Lord will be made partakers of the glory of their Lord and Savior. The Thessalonian Christians were evidently worrying lest their sleeping relatives and friends would not be present to see and receive Christ, the Victor, when He returns in the clouds of heaven for the Day of Judgment. They themselves, in the fervor of their first love, were so intensely eager for His coming, were so sure of His speedy advent, that this thought filled them with great anxiety. Paul therefore showed them that their fears were groundless.
He now also explains the sequence of events on the last day: Because the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a loud summons, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will arise first; thereupon we, the living ones, that remain over, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we always be with the Lord. The events of the last day are here unfolded before our eyes as successive acts. The first is that the Lord Himself, the exalted Christ, will appear in the clouds of heaven, visible, as He ascended up on high. With great power and might He will come down from heaven, Acts 1, 11. With a loud summons, with a shout of command, as a victorious captain going forth to the destruction of His enemies, with the voice of an archangel summoning the great host of the heavenly spirits, with a trumpet of God, a majestic note that will strike terror into the hearts of His enemies and cause the hearts of the believers to beat higher with exultant joy, the great King will descend from His throne. It will be, as Luther writes, like the coming of a great and powerful king or emperor in full battle array, filling the air with the clamor of battle-cries and trumpets. The shouting of the victorious Conqueror of death and hell will reach the dead in their graves, the believers will hear the voice of their Savior, and they will come forth from their graves with glorified bodies, ready to join Him in His triumphal pageant, 1 Cor. 15, 42-44; Phil 3, 21. That will be the first event of interest in this connection. But immediately afterwards the believers whom the Lord has left over till this day, who are still living in the flesh, will experience the power of Christís majesty in their own bodies. They will suddenly be caught up into the clouds to join the retinue of the King of kings. The mortality of their bodies will then also be left behind, this corruptible having put on incorruption, 1 Cor. 15, 52. 53. In the company of their exalted Savior the believers will then appear in glory before the whole world, to be forever with the Lord, wherein the essence of eternal bliss consists, to be in His presence, to see Him face to face, world without end. With the certainty of such joy before us, the admonition of the apostle surely ought to find willing ears and ready obedience: So, then, encourage one another with these words. There is a world of consolation and comfort in this short passage, which can barely be indicated in a brief explanation. 2)
Summary. The apostle issues a warning concerning sexual vice and covetousness, as sins of uncleanness, he urges brotherly love and industrious frugality, and gives information about the events of Resurrection Day, with a view of comforting the believers of all times.