1 Thessalonians 4: 1 – 12 Living to please God
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 each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, 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.
Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
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Once again, Paul commends the Thessalonians: “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living.”
However, there is scope for them to do even better: “Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.”
It would seem that the community has been disrupted by sexual sin, which seems to have involved the exploitation of one or more of the church members: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, 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.”
Paul deals with this very discreetly. He doesn’t address those involved by name. Instead, he expresses his teaching in terms of the Jewish law, as a matter of purity or holiness. There is a nuance, though, that the NIV translation doesn’t catch.
Verse 6 in the NIV is translated as “and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.”
The King James translation is “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.” The Greek uses words that are appropriate to business; the KJV recognises this, while the NIV translation doesn’t.
Verse 6 is right in the middle of the teaching on sexual ethics. What would it mean to “defraud a brother” under such circumstances? The obvious answer is sexual activity with his marriage partner. Paul is equating cheating in marriage with cheating in business – or theft.
Perhaps for the 21st century we need to acknowledge the particular emphases of both translations; the “cheating” element of the KJV and the reciprocal nature of the NIV where it says “brothers and sisters”. It’s wrong to cheat with someone else’s spouse.
I think, too, that it’s worth noting that the gospels record Jesus saying very little about sexual sin. He was far more concerned with hypocrisy and lack of love.
Perhaps, also, we should acknowledge here that the relationship between husband and wife is a very delicate matter. To take one’s marriage vows lightly would obviously be wrong – but matters such as domestic abuse don’t necessarily surface before marriage. Every case is different, and needs sensitive intervention rather than immediate condemnation. After all, even if sin is involved, God’s desire is to save the sinner not condemn them!
Paul, having dealt with that pastoral issue, returns to encouragement. He wants the Thessalonian church to win the respect of outsiders, by minding their own business and leading a quiet life. Good advice! A community who show unity, love for each other, and who work hard, are a good advertisement for their faith.
May we show such virtues in our life together as a church.
Thank you for calling us to follow you. Please help us to witness to your love through the example of our lives.
In Jesus’ name, Amen