They were giving out copies of the Evangelical Magazine at the conference today. It includes the fifth article on 1 Thessalonians. It doesn't really make clear that the article is on parts of 1 Thessalonians 4. It reads more or less as follows:
Christians are sanctified (separated to God) the moment they believe. As Temple vessels were holy (set apart for special use) Christians are set apart to God's use. This positional sanctification, like a full stop, takes a moment. Progressive sanctification, like a drawn line, goes on throughout life, incomplete until death. Paul writes of the latter. God's will is that we be increasingly set apart to him, ever more holy to please him.
We need God's instruction. Paul never assumed that conversion leads automatically to holiness but taught people how to please God with letters full of teaching. He wanted not only to evangelise but … make disciples ... teaching them to obey everything ....
Some holiness is almost spontaneous. Interestingly, Paul also says they lived that way already. As with brotherly love, God had taught them. Paul was aware of their love, their tendency to please God. It is difficult to trace where we do good because taught and where it flows from faith and love. Why am I reading this? Because taught not to neglect Christian instruction or because instinctively seeking God? Who knows? Some good is almost spontaneous.
Avoid complacency. No resting on your laurels! As with love, Paul urges more and more holiness. However far you have gone, there is room for progress. You do few obviously sinful things but what about words? You say little that is evil but what about thoughts? You avoid doing bad but what good replaces it? Onward and upward is our motto.
Further, it is God's will that you should be sanctified. Do not oppose him. Paul reminds them that God punishes for all such sins. Why would we want to do things that bring God's wrath on the disobedient?
For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. God did not call you with the idea you would stay as you are. Do not lose sight of his purposes.
Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. God's commands cannot be rejected. Paul subtly adds that God does not expect us to act alone. I say “lift this weight”, nothing happens. I say “lift this weight; I'll help”. That is different. This is what God does. “Be holy” he says. “Obey”. He also sends his Spirit. Paul pleads in the Lord Jesus. He gave instructions originally by Christ's authority. It is all about him – justification, sanctification; beginning, going on.
Avoid sexual immorality; learn self control
The call to sanctification has implications. Paul highlights avoiding sexual immorality. Our appetites vary in strength - person to person, time to time. A desire for intimacy, for sexual pleasure is not wrong but must not reign. This is often difficult. Today temptation is ubiquitous with the rise of the Internet. Paul says each must learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, ignorant of God. Avoiding sexual immorality entails self-control. Passion cannot reign. Paul is probably in Corinth where hundreds of sacred prostitutes left the temples nightly to ply their trade. A Christian must flee prostitutes and pornography, either remaining celibate or confining sex to the marriage bed - not always easy. We must learn to control all our appetites. Pagans, ignorant of God, unsurprisingly disregard God's rules against adultery, homosexuality, etc. We who know God must be self-controlled, treating our bodies in holy, honourable ways. The (slightly cryptic) warning against wronging a brother or taking advantage in this reminds us that others are often involved. We must both control our bodies and avoid causing others difficulties. How goes it? Is your body under control, avoiding passionate pagan lust? Are you taking care not to create problems for others?
The mention of not wronging a brother leads to a note on brotherly love. Paul does not need to write on this as they almost spontaneously love each other. Yet he urges more and more. Perhaps your fellowship is similar. You evidently love each other. Nevertheless, do so more and more. Work at it. We can always do more.
Careers advice for holiness seekers 1
Verse 12 may seem unconnected. The Thessalonians must obey so their daily lives will win the respect of outsiders and so they avoid dependence on anyone. It is about relationships – insiders, then outsiders. In reverse Be holy to win the respect of outsiders; avoid dependence. Progressive sanctification is necessary also because of its effect on outsiders. Holiness can repel unbelievers but if we live as described, Christianity is attractive. The Thessalonian letters reveal a growing problem in the church. Some poorer members felt that as Christ was coming soon, richer members should finance them and they need not work. It is a little like Christians today living on state handouts and evangelising on the streets. Paul strongly opposes such thinking. He wants them not to be dependent on anybody. As for brotherly love, there is a balance. Think of the contrast Carry each other's burdens … each one should carry his own load (Gal 6:2-5). We must help each other and ourselves.
Careers advice for holiness seekers 2
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. Should Christians be ambitious? Yes and no. Their ambition should be to have none. Live a quiet life. Do not seek adventure. As a rule of thumb, stay as you are. Married? Stay married. Single? Do not seek marriage, though it is no sin. Dead end job? Fear not; move up if you can. Stay in the same place, the same job; keep the same friends, if possible.
Mind your own business. Similarly, do not delve into other people's business, volunteering here and there, offering help to all. May be God will expand your horizon of influence but do not seek it.
Work with your hands. Greeks despised manual work, a view Paul opposed by precept and example. If you can, do an honest job for an honest wage. Eldership is noble but be slow to assume God wants you. Holiness is not by way of a monastery but getting on with mundane sometimes drudge-inducing lives, working hard, unambitiously minding our own business, which includes sanctification. God wants you to please and obey him. Be holy. Shun sexual immorality, learn self control, practice brotherly love, lead quiet lives, mind your own business, work hard. This is how to live.