In this section of the letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul transitions from the relational to the doctrinal. In the first three chapters he expressed his love for the church, commended them for what they were doing right, and encouraged them to keep up the good work. But in the fourth chapter he exerts his authority as an apostle, addressing matters of correction and instruction. (Note: I will comment on verses 1-12 today and save verses 13-18 for tomorrow’s blog.)
The everyday aim of the Christian life is to please God (v.1). Pleasing God means thinking and behaving in ways that bring Him glory, obey His commands, and fulfill His will. We can always do “more and more” of that (v.1).
From the moment you are saved until you “meet the Lord in the air” (v.17), the will of God is that you become more and more holy. Becoming holy (“sanctification”, v.3) is the ongoing work of God in your life to purify your heart and mind from sin and its influence, and to make you distinctively Christlike. Becoming progressively more holy is not something you can accomplish in your own strength. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and you must surrender to His sanctifying ministry in your life.
This process of sanctification is about removing and replacing: removing sinful attitudes and actions and replacing them with godly ones. Apparently sexual sin was the greatest threat to the collective holiness of the Thessalonian church (v.3-8). Paul urged them to “abstain”, to “control their bodies”, and to not give in to “the passion of lust”. Thessalonian culture was extremely immoral. Some of the new believers there had been saved out of a lifetime of immorality, and they needed Paul’s “solemn warning” that God would punish any sexual sin that occurred within the church (v.6).
Remember that the process of sanctification is about removing and replacing. To remove the sin of immorality was only half of the process. To complete the process Paul urged his friends to replace the so-called love of sexual hook-ups, one-night stands, and extramarital affairs with the true love of brothers and sisters in Christ (v.9). He was talking about the love they had learned from God — unselfish, unconditional love that results in grace and mercy and sacrifice. It is the love of God that causes the church to be different from the world, yet compels us to engage “outsiders” with the gospel (v.12).
Are you surrendering to the ongoing work of God in your life to make you holy? Are you more holy today than you were six months ago? Is there anything you need to remove from your life? With what are you going to replace it?