1 Thessalonians series – Message 7 – 31 May 2020 – 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

The seventh message in the series asks the question, “What is God’s will?”

You are welcome to watch the video and/or read the notes below. I found this passage extremely challenging personally to apply to my own life as well as to preach.


One of the most frequently asked questions asked by Christians is this: “What is God’s will for my life?”

In verse 3, we are told what God’s will is- “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” He then goes on to apply that sanctification to a specific issue – sexual purity, probably because that was one of major sins present in the surrounding culture, as it is today. The principles taught in this passage apply to whatever sins we struggle with. Sanctification covers the whole of life – what we do because we are His, and what we avoid because we are His.

Holiness is God’s call upon our lives because He is holy and because it is good. While there is the promise that those who live godly will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12), holiness also satisfies our souls, it aligns us with God’s will, it blesses others, it brings glory to God.

So, let’s look at this text with open minds and hearts.

I) We are called to please God (v1-2)

This is something important; it is urgent (“we ask and urge you”). It is not optional (“ought” in this verse has the sense of “you must”). It is not just one-off bits of obedience, but about lifestyle (“walk”).

“To please God”. We are called to give pleasure to God by how we live. People often focus on things like “what is God’s will about where I live, but the NT talks about God’s will in terms of how we live.

This is confirmed by v2: “For you know” – God’s will for our lives is not a secret. He tells us in His word. Also, Paul is repeating earlier instructions because they need to hear them again. In the same way, because we forget and are prone to wander, we need to go back to God’s word again and again.

V2 also reinforces the importance of pleasing God. Paul says the “instructions (lit: ‘military commands’)… through Jesus Christ.” Paul is not making these up, they are from Him. Just as we saw Paul affirm Christ’s deity in Ch 3, so here we see Him affirm Christ’s authority as Lord over His people. Christ commands us to please God.

II) By doing His will, which is sanctification (v3)

We are called to please God by doing His will. It is His purpose for your life. Just as the Son said, “Yet not my will, but Yours, be done.” It is as the Lord’s Prayer – “Your will be done.”

God’s will (in the sense of how He desires us to live) is sanctification. This is the process by which the Holy Spirit transforms believers’ thoughts, motives and behaviour to conform to the holiness of Christ. It is growing separation from sin’s defilement. It is the demonstration of that separation to God in our lives – not our outward behaviour only, but our thoughts and attitudes also.

III) In which we abstain (hold ourselves away) from sin

“Sexual immorality.” This is broadly referring to all sexual relations and activity outside of marriage as the Bible defines it. To many people, this statement is offensive, but this is what God’s word says, and we must be true to God’s word. Anything outside of this is not God’s will.

As mentioned already, this is not the only thing that Christians are called to abstain from, but it was a huge challenge then (when the letter was written) as it is today. To keep sexual relations to within heterosexual marriage is rare in these days, even among those who profess to be Christians. It is a challenge, but we cannot change the scriptures. This is God’s will.

Paul then tells them how and why they should abstain from immorality. In doing this, He gives principles that are helpful in fighting any sin.

  • “Control your own body (or vessel)” (v4). Sin uses the body. Therefore we need, through the Holy Spirit, to present our bodies to God. Not just body in terms of the flesh, but of the mind and emotions. The word “control” in other versions is translated “possess”. This is good, because the word means “taking ownership”. Often we say we can’t help it, but we are called to “take ownership/responsibility” for your body.
  • Seek what is right. v4b – sanctification and honour. See that your body is used in a way that is set apart for God and for His honour. This doesn’t mean that pleasure is forbidden – it just needs to be enjoyed within the boundaries set by God.
  • Don’t be passive (v5). “The passion of lust” consists of a passive word (passion) and an active word (lust). Sin takes advantage when we are passive (not resisting sin) and leads to evil desires (lust, which means desires to take and have for yourself). This is the essence of all sin.
  • Live as a child of God and not of the world (v5). “…not… as the Gentiles who don’t know God.” We don’t get permission to do things just because the world is doing them. We know the Holy One, the Creator, and our lives should reflect that.
  • Love others (v6). Don’t “transgress and wrong your brother.” Sin does not just damage you. Sexual sin, for example, hurts whole families. So does lying and pride and greed. Paul is saying “stop, out of love for others.”
  • Beware that sin has eternal consequences. God deals with sin justly – either on the cross for those who believe, or in hell for those who reject Christ. When Paul speaks in this way (which he does in some other passages also), it is important to understand what he means.
    • If you are saved, why are you living like those who are not, who will face the full penalty for their sin?
    • If you are living like this, you have to ask yourself, are you the Lord’s? If there is no desire for holiness, no grief over sin, then there is something wrong and you need to repent.
    • But it is important to understand that it is about direction, not about perfection. Paul is teaching about this because they are struggling with this sin, as Christians. So, this is not saying that if you sin sexually, or in any other way, that you are not saved, nor is it saying that we can’t have real struggles with particular sins that last a lifetime until we are released when we go to glory. But if there is no grief for sin at all, no sorrow for the fact that these sins that sent Jesus to the cross, then you really, really need to search your heart
    • Some people have very sensitive consciences and a message like this can shake your assurance. If you are grieved over your sin, if you desire to be holy, then this is a sign that you are saved. Flee to Jesus, look to the cross. See that you sin is paid for in full, and pray with passion for growing holiness in your life. And put to death those things that should not be there.
    • But if your conscience is hard and you are not bothered about your sin, then you need to cry out to the Lord to save your soul.

We find God’s will not in our feelings, but in sacred scripture (Deuteronomy 29:29). Which leads onto the final point –

IV) Because the ultimate authority is God (v7-8)

He has called us for holiness (v7), because He is holy. He has the right to do so, because He is God. Hence the solemn warning of verse 8: “Whoever disregards (rejects) this, rejects not man but God.”

If we argue with what this passage says about sexual immorality, or what the Bible says about any sin, we are not arguing with the church, or with Christian tradition, we are arguing with God Himself.

Sadly, it is true to say that often Christians talk about sexual ethics in a very unloving way, as if the Christian thinks they’re perfect (which they are not) and fail to differentiate between the sin and the sinner. Sometimes Christians appear judgemental because they forget that the standard of God’s word on sexual purity also includes the eyes and the mind and not just the body.

But even though the messengers of the church don’t always present the message in a right or helpful way, it doesn’t change the fact that the commands come from God Himself – and to reject them is to reject God.

If we say that we truly believe in Christ as Saviour, He is also Lord, and what He says in the final authority.

So, it may be that we have to rethink relationships. Should you be getting married? Should you be ending a relationship? Should you be stopping things that you look at or fantasise about?

I can’t say to you, “see me after the service.” But I can say to you, “It is time to seek the Lord and put the things right that need to be put right.”

But I want to end with good news.


Look at the end of v8 – “who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”

This is the good news: when facing sexual temptation, when facing any temptation, when struggling to repent of what God says “no” to, we are not alone. God has given us His Holy Spirit.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, where we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Often our view of the Holy Spirit’s work is limited to seeking God’s power for preaching, healing and deliverance.

We ask God for the power for spiritual gifts. But, do we ask God for purity?

Changing us into the likeness of Jesus Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the Holy Spirit who is given to us to enable us to walk in purity. In fact, the sentence that Paul writes here emphasises the word “Holy” (lit: the Spirit of Him, the Holy). We have the enabling from Him, which means you can ask Him for help. It means He will strengthen you as you flee from sin. It means you can trust Him to satisfy your soul so that He is enough when temptation calls.

Holiness is not a horrible or miserable thing. Going back to v1, it pleases God. The Heidelberg Catechism says that it reflects our gratitude to Him for redeeming us. Don’t we want to reflect back to Him who redeemed us that renewed image of Himself, that the Holy Spirit started in us when we were born again, is working in us now, and will complete when we stand before Him?

Holiness is a battle, which is why Paul needs to teach about it, but it is worth pleasing Him, and it is worth rejecting the lies that sin will bring satisfaction and peace, and instead finding satisfaction in Him alone. Because, to glorify Him is to enjoy Him.

Pray for grace to please Him.

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