V. The Authentic Walk (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12)
V. The Authentic Walk (4:1-12)
4:1 Almost all of Paul’s letters follow a simple pattern. They begin with encouragement and prayer, and about halfway through, they turn to instruct and challenge readers. In chapter 4, we see that Paul is making this turn.
Specifically, Paul wants to see them live and please God. It can be easy to begin the Christian life well, but following Jesus is not just a single step. It’s about putting one foot in front of the other for a lifetime. Thankfully for the Thessalonians, Paul sees little reason to rebuke them in this. He simply says, as you are doing this (pleasing God), do this even more. In other words, keep letting your life and words point toward Jesus.
4:2 Paul is about to give some ethical and moral guidance about what this walk looks like, but the details are slim. That’s because the Thessalonians already know what commands he gave through the Lord Jesus. They do not need to hear a long discourse about right and wrong because they know right and wrong already.
I suspect we are like the Thessalonians, but we might say that we don’t know enough to follow God’s will. If we are honest, however, our problem is not that we don’t know God’s commands—it’s that we are not obedient to what we already know. To that Paul would say, “Remember what Jesus said? Don’t ask me for the next lesson unless you’re obeying that.”
4:3 What is God’s will for the Thessalonians? Simple: their sanctification, which Paul connects to sexual immorality. Paul knows that believers need to be sanctified in a lot of areas, but he starts with the topic of sex on purpose. He knows that if Jesus can help us to win in this matter, we can win in any other. Indeed, if Jesus helps us to walk away from pornography or to stop sleeping around, then he’s really the Master of our lives.
4:5 At the root of sexual strongholds is not sex itself. Our lustful passions are not just bodily passions, and overcoming them is not just a matter of better discipline. When we succumb to sexual strongholds, we are worshiping the wrong thing. In committing acts of sexual immorality, then, we are not just making a mistake. We are proving that we are like the unsaved Gentiles, who don’t know God. Sexual immorality is a fruit of an idolatrous root—of the worship of pleasure over God, something that should not be true of believers who possess the Spirit. And if we worship our way into sin, the only solution is to worship our way out of it.
4:6 One of the most attractive lies about sexual immorality is that we can get away with the thrill and not experience negative consequences. But Paul reminds us that the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses. He sees what we are doing, even if no one else does.
4:7 Living an authentic kingdom life doesn’t start with obeying commands. It starts with understanding who we are in Christ. God tells us who we are before telling us what he wants us to do. Thus, when Paul wants to give the Thessalonians motivation to stay sexually pure, he does not just say, “Watch out! God will get you!” He reminds them of their identity in Christ: God has not called us to impurity but to live in holiness. Though we do not stay pure to earn God’s love, we are to stay pure because God loves us.
4:9-10 If the Thessalonians had avoided sexual immorality but were gossiping and back-biting, verses 3-7 would be much shorter and verses 9-10 would be much longer. But apparently Paul felt that the Thessalonians were demonstrating Christian love to each other well. About brotherly love, he says, you don’t need me to write you (4:9). Paul’s advice on the topic is therefore short and sweet: do this even more (4:10). Paul has nothing to say other than, “Keep walking that walk.” Unlike most churches, the Thessalonian church seemed to have mastered the art of loving each other.
4:11 Evidently, some of the Thessalonians had gotten so excited about Jesus’s return that they had quit their jobs. But Paul reminds them to work with [their] own hands, because their laziness had become a liability to their friends and neighbors. Waiting expectantly for Jesus’s return does not mean that we stop working and sit around doing nothing, wasting time until the rapture. It means we work differently, looking to Jesus (and not our work) for our hope.