Lesson 10: To Abstain From Sexual Immorality Page 1 of 3 (series: Lessons on 1 Thess.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Tom Lowe

Lesson 10: To Abstain From Sexual Immorality (1Thessalonians 4:3-8)

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (NIV)
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 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. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

Lesson 10

Paul now proceeds to deal with what is lacking in their faith (3:10). In Lesson 9 we established that Paul encouraged the Thessalonian believers to deal with what is lacking in their faith. The encouragement he offered was not haphazard, and it appears from 5:14{1] that he had three groups chiefly in mind:
1) The weak who were tempted to indulge in impurity (4:3-8).
2) The idlers who were the most disturbing element in the church (4:9-12; 5:12, 13).
3) The faint-hearted who were anxious both about their dead (4:13-18: the only distinctly new teaching in the Epistle), and about their own salvation (5:1-11).

The apostle believed that there were certain subjects and doctrines in which they needed further guidance and instruction. Chief among these was the misunderstanding that had arisen concerning the second coming of the Lord Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13; 5:11); but before Paul dealt with that subject there were a few things he wished to say to them about morals and their conduct toward each other―Lesson 10.

No sin caused more chaos for Greek and Roman cultures than abuse of sex. Thessalonica was a lot like many 21st-century communities and cities. They had no restraints on sexual immorality. In individuals or societies, sexual impurity eventually leads to pain, loss, misery, and social decay.

1} “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (NIV)

3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified{2
Paul is not advocating his own ideas; he is enforcing God’s will. This is not the will of God in its entirety, but God’s will specifically as it relates to sexual purity. Sanctification{2] is both a gift and a demand. It is a gift in that believers are objectively holy in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30); it is a demand in that it is the will of God that they should become subjectively transformed into Christ’s likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). And the necessities such a demand involves “the separation of the spirit from all that is impure and polluting and the renunciation of the sins toward which the desires of the flesh and of the mind lead us.”

Sanctification{2] of the believer is a work of the Spirit of God. We need to review the threefold aspect of it, because this is so very important:
1) Positional sanctification means that Christ has been made unto us sanctification.
2) Practical sanctification is the Holy Spirit working in our lives to produce holiness in our walk.
3) Total sanctification will occur in the future when we are conformed to the image of Christ Jesus.
The meaning of the word sanctification is “to be set apart for God.” The moment a lost sinner comes to Christ and accepts Christ as Savior, that person is set aside for God’s use. Sanctification is synonymous with consecration, full dedication, and entire devotion to God. Sanctification is the act of making holy, or the state of one who is made holy in the Lord Jesus. But we are told in Hebrews 12:14, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

“Holy” defines the character of God, the Holy One of Israel. The only holiness you and I possess as believers is the holiness of God in Christ. “Christ is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:28-30). “Ye are complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10). Our holiness is in Christ: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

God has a right to command our sanctification—our complete surrender and entire devotion. We should be completely set apart and dedicated to Him—soul, spirit and body—in every phase of life. When we are born again we are sanctified positionally; we are translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13); but sanctification is progressive and involves our assimilation of God’s divine nature. It was probably progressive sanctification that Paul had in mind here; the process by which his readers were conformed to the image of Christ in daily experiences by proper response to the Word and the Spirit of God.

that you should avoid sexual immorality;
The great tragedy today is to hear of some Christian worker who has become involved in sexual sin. Paul says that you cannot be involved in sexual sin and at the same time be used of God.

Every form of sexual vice was so widespread in Greek society (is our present situation so very different?) that the weak were strongly tempted to relapse into the practices they had been accustomed to regard with indifference. “What they as Christians needed to remember was that consecration to the true and living God was not only religious but ethical. Whether they had actually tumbled into the abyss or were standing on the precipice is not certain. In any event, Paul’s warning with its religious sanction and practical directions sufficed; we hear nothing of “the weak” in the second letter.”

Paul makes it very clear, there shouldn’t be any confusion—he said, “You should avoid sexual immorality.” “Sexual immorality” is a broad term that can include any sexual relationship outside marriage, including adultery, homosexuality, incest, prostitution, bestiality, and sexual relationships between singles. At times it is used in a more restricted sense (fornication, not adultery, as in Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21), but here it indicates all forms of “sexual immorality,” including adultery (Matthew 5:32; 19:9).

Paul’s word “avoid” means “keep completely separate from.” His word for “sexual immorality” was porneia, from which we get our English word pornography. The word refers to “illicit sexual relations of every kind.” Christians must separate themselves from every kind of immoral sin—regardless of the popular opinion polls on human behavior. God is never governed by opinion polls. He knows what is best for us because He created us. To a Christian the will of God is clear; holiness and sexual immorality are mutually exclusive.

There are a few questions that Jesus may ask us in the future, such as: “Did you present your body to Me?” Do you realize that your body belongs to Me, that it is to be surrendered to Me?” The Bible asks, “don’t you realize that you yourselves are the temple of God, and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Special notes and Scripture

[2} Sanctification—sanctification is a very wonderful word, but I am afraid that it is greatly misunderstood. If you go through the Scriptures, you will find that sanctification has several different meanings. When it is used in reference to Christ, as it is here, it means that He has been made over to us sanctification—and you cannot improve on that! Therefore, it does not simply refer to a sinless state, but rather that we have been set apart for God.

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