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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lenschow

Living by God's Standards

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

1. Recognize the Context:

Previous Context:

Chapter 3 concludes with two brief prayers from Paul. The first prayer was in response to his desire to see the Thessalonians again in person. Paul petitioned God the Father and the Lord Jesus to direct him and his missionary friends to Thessalonica. He was confident both members of the Trinity would make this reunion possible.

In verse 12, Paul prayed for the love of the Thessalonians to increase and overflow. Paul believed this love would abound for each other or those in the believing community. But also, it was to overflow for everyone else or those outside the Christian church. In verse 13, Paul prayed their hearts would be strengthened. The prayer continues that they be blameless and holy at the coming of the Lord Jesus.

2. Read the Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

3. Reflect on the Scripture: Verses 1-2 provided a general introduction to the content found in chapter 4. The Thessalonian community had received instruction from Paul concerning how to live in order to please God or how to “live lives worthy of God” (2:12). Paul affirmed this was in fact, how they were living. Then he encouraged them to continue to live this way (2:12) because the authoritative instruction they received from him came from the Lord Jesus (2:13).

In verse 3, Paul identified one aspect of God’s will for the believing community, namely, how they could please God. They were to be sanctified or holy. This word and the concept of holiness was rooted in the Old Testament, with specific reference to God and his people. God was holy, and the people of Israel were called to be set apart and distinct from the nations around them. They were to live in such a way as to reflect his character. For Paul, this was precisely how the Thessalonian church was called to live.

In verses 3-8, Paul concentrated on being sanctified in the area of sexual ethics. Within some circles of Greco-Roman society, sexual fidelity was encouraged. However, for the most part, a premarital or extramarital sexual lifestyle was allowed and encouraged. Sexual promiscuity was also an essential aspect in the temple worship of various goddesses, including Dionysus, Isis, and Aphrodite.

Therefore, Paul reminded these new believers this type of sexual activity was no longer who they were. As people called to live differently from the culture around them, they were to avoid sexual immorality (porneia in Greek). The word Paul used here is an all-inclusive term that would have included all forms of premarital or extramarital sexual activity.

In verse 4, Paul called for self-control (Gal. 5:23). They were to learn to control their own bodies in a way that is holy and honorable. To live a life pleasing to God, a holy life, they must control their sexual desires and conduct. In verse 5, Paul contrasted their sexual behavior with those who don’t know God. The pagans live in passionate lust, but the Thessalonian church was called to live holy and honorable.

In verse 6, Paul’s exhortation dispels the belief (commonly held today) that sexual activity is simply an individual, private matter. Sexual sin has the potential to significantly impact those in a local church setting, as well as the broader Christian community. Paul warned of the seriousness of such sin, which will result in punishment. However, there can be forgiveness and healing in a situation involving sexual immorality.

In verse 7, Paul restated the call to live pure and holy, which reflects the character of God. To reject this teaching is to do so at one’s peril. Paul concluded with a reminder God doesn’t simply set the standard, but he makes it possible for believers to live this way because he has given his Holy Spirit.

4. Relate to life:

Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.

To pray:

Today, prayerfully consider what a God-pleasing life looks like for you.

Today, prayerfully consider what it means for you to live a holy life. Consider all areas of your life.

Today, prayerfully reflect on God’s sexual standards as presented in this passage.

Today, thank God he has given his Holy Spirit so that you can live a sanctified life.

To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) From your prayerful consideration of pleasing God, living a holy life, honoring God's sexual standards, what is one action step you can take today with the Holy Spirit’s help?

If this is an area of struggle for you, talk to God, and find someone in your faith community, you can confide in and receive accountability. If there isn't anyone, ask God to provide someone.

At the end of your day, take a few minutes to do a little spiritual inventory. Were there moments and activities in the day that reflected a desire to please God? Were there moments and activities in the day that indicated a desire not to please God? Take time to talk to God and perhaps write or journal about it.

To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passages).

Use a concordance or a website like and search other verses on holy, holiness, sexual immorality.

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