1 Thessalonians 4:1-18

Submitted by admin on Sun, 2007-01-21 12:24.

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Paul made his request and directed the encouragement to his brothers in Christ, doing so “in the Lord Jesus.” The apostle thereby indicated that he acted as the representative of God’s beloved Son. While with the Thessalonians, Paul had given them instructions about how to conduct themselves in a manner pleasing to God, and they were “walking” or conducting themselves accordingly. At this time, he requested and admonished them to please God to a greater degree in their conduct, continuing to make progress in living as his approved servants. (4:1)

Paul reminded the Thessalonians that they knew or were fully aware of the instructions he had given them “through the Lord Jesus.” When referring to these instructions, orders, or charges as being given “through the Lord Jesus,” Paul indicated God’s Son to be their source. (4:2)

God’s will for believers was their “holiness” or purity, reflecting his holiness as his people. This required that they refrain from engaging in any kind of sexual immorality. Each of them should “know” or understand how to take possession of his own vessel in “sanctification and honor.” The expression “vessel” could either refer to a person’s own body or to a wife. If understood to refer to the body, the thought would be that the individual should maintain his body in a chaste state. (4:3, 4) If the “vessel” denotes a wife, the counsel would be similar to the admonition Paul gave to the Corinthians: “‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:1, 2, NRSV)

Numerous translations interpretively render Paul’s words to the Thessalonians as applying to a wife. “Respect and honor your wife” (CEV), “that each of you know how to acquire a wife for himself in holiness and honor” (NAB). Other translations are explicit in referring to the body. (NIV, NJB, NRSV, REB) Whether the specific reference is to the body or to the wife, the basic point would be the same. The marriage bed should remain undefiled, and an immoral man is not treating the wife in a pure and honorable way. Likewise, sexual immorality constitutes a misuse of the body, a failure to maintain it in a state of purity and honor.

Anciently, as today, sexual immorality was widespread. In the first century, it was one of the corruptions associated with idolatry. Believers, as Paul admonished, were not to be like people of the nations who did not know God or had no relationship with him and who freely indulged their passionate lust. (4:5)

Paul urged believers not to injure or exploit a brother “in the matter.” If directly related to the previous words, this “matter” relates to upholding a brother’s right to moral purity. The Contemporary English Version makes this meaning explicit in the way it paraphrases Paul’s words, “You must not cheat any of the Lord’s followers in matters of sex.” In the footnote, however, the application is to matters “in business.” The apostle added a sobering reason for upholding the rights of one’s brother. “The Lord is an avenger concerning all these things.” As Lord and Judge, Jesus Christ will require an accounting. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” “For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.” (Luke 6:46; 2 Corinthians 5:10, NRSV) The Thessalonians were fully aware of the Lord’s role as avenger, for Paul had told them about this while with them and had solemnly affirmed it. (4:6)

God’s “call” to individuals to be his people, his children, was a call to holiness or a life of purity, not impurity. Whoever disregarded the moral teaching that called for living an exemplary life disregarded God, not man or some human authority. It was God who had given his holy spirit to believers, and the spirit exerted a powerful influence that opposed impurity. (4:7, 8; see the Commentary section on Galatians 5:16-18.)

Regarding the kind of love or affection that should exist among believers as “brothers” in the family of God’s children, Paul did not see a need for anything to be written. As he said to the Thessalonians, “For you are taught by God to love one another.” They had come to know the greatness of God’s love as revealed through the giving of his beloved Son to effect a liberation from sin and death. (See the Commentary section on 1 John 4:9-11.) They were, in fact, showing love for all the brothers in Macedonia, but Paul desired that they continue to grow in this aspect of their lives. (4:9, 10)

According to Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, certain ones among the believers had drawn the wrong conclusion about the nearness of the arrival of Jesus Christ in glory. Believing the event was at hand, they felt there was no reason for them to work, expecting fellow believers to provide for them. (Compare 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12) This may well be the reason Paul gave the admonition in his first letter for the Thessalonians to live quietly, caring for their own affairs and working with their hands, as he had instructed them while with them. When acting in harmony with the apostle’s admonition, they would have been “walking” or conducting themselves respectably in the eyes of persons outside the community of believers and would not be in need of anything on account of indolence. (4:11, 12)

It appears that one or more among the believers in Thessalonica had died. This apparently is the reason Paul wanted his Thessalonian brothers not to be in ignorance about those who had fallen asleep or had died. His desire was that they not sorrow as did persons without hope, persons who were totally overcome by grief and had no hope of any kind to mitigate their sadness. Believers had faith that Jesus had been raised from the dead. This faith provided the basis for the hope that God, “through Jesus,” would bring “with him” (with Jesus at his arrival or at the start of the presence) those who had fallen asleep or who had died. The words “through Jesus” may indicate that God would raise the dead through or by means of him. Another possibility is that the “ones sleeping through Jesus” are the dead in Christ who would be resurrected and whom God would bring with his Son at the time of the glorious arrival. (4:13, 14)

Apparently Paul referred to authoritative teaching of Jesus Christ when indicating that what he said was “by the word of the Lord.” While on earth, Jesus did tell his disciples that he would “return in the glory of his Father with his angels and then repay each one according to his action.” (Matthew 16:27) At that time, according to Jesus’ words, he would “send out his angels with a great trumpet blast,” and they would “gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other end.” (Matthew 24:31) For those who had died to receive their reward would require their being raised from the dead. As for those alive at Christ’s arrival in glory, they would be gathered to him. Likely Paul had additional teaching from the Lord that made it possible for him to say that, with reference to entering upon their reward, those who would survive until the arrival of the Lord would not precede those who had died. Accompanied by a word of command, an archangel’s voice, and God’s trumpet, Christ would descend, revealing himself as having returned in glory, and the dead in Christ or believers would rise first. Afterward all believers then alive would be “caught up in clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” making it possible for them always to be with him. According to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (15:51-54), the living believers would experience a change from a corruptible body to an incorruptible body. The words about the hope for those sleeping in death, words solidly based on the Lord’s teaching, would enable the Thessalonians to comfort one another about any from among them who may die or may have died. (4:15-18)