COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 4:3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: 4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; 5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God." KJV (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2)
The passage before us is a particularly relevant one for our time. It deals with the heavenly view of morality, and it is essential that the body of Christ be well acquainted with it. Our society has returned to the view of morality held by the ancient Greeks, who deified their lusts, exalting self gratification and pleasure. Immorality is by no means confined to the non-Christian world. It has entered into the church, and is a now a major problem. Often, it is treated as though it was a mere weakness. There are even recovery ministries that major on restoring "fallen leaders," who have not heeded our text. One of the primary problem areas among young people is immorality - even in many churches. None of these situations are innocent, and they are not to be treated as though they were in any way tolerable. When immorality breaks out among those wearing the name of Jesus, decisive action is to be taken. In Scripture, such outward sins rank second only to idolatry. In a society that is driven by fleshly lusts, this text becomes as critical today as it was to the Thessalonians. It provides us with the only proper view of our bodies, and urges us to learn how to possess them in such a manner as will bring glory to God and purity to our own lives.
THE WILL OF GOD SUCCINCTLY STATED
" 4:3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication." The "will of God" is never regarded lightly or as optional in Scripture. Jesus said "whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother" (Mk 3:35). The Holy Spirit makes intercession for the saints "according to the will of God" (Rom 8:27). Through His death, Jesus delivered us "from this present evil world, according to the will of God" (Gal 1:4). The "will of God" is something believers are to do "from the heart" (Eph 6:6; Col 4:12). The promise of God is said to be only for those who have "done the will of God" (Heb 10:36). When it comes to practicality, Peter contrasts the will of God with "the lusts of men" (1 Pet 4:2). John affirms, "he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:17). The "will of God" is His desire and purpose. His power and grace are devoted to the execution of His will. It is the only thing that is acceptable to Him, for only those who do His will shall "enter into the Kingdom of heaven" (Matt 7:21). When, Therefore, we speak of "the will of God," we are on holy ground. It is not to be considered some secret Divine determination that has no relevance for us.
SANCTIFICATION. Here is a word that is common in Scripture, yet uncommon in the professed church. Wherever it is mentioned in God's Word, it is always pivotal, central, and given great emphasis. There are three ways in which it is used. The first applies to a once-for-all transaction accomplished by Christ's death (1 Cor 1:30; 6:11; Heb 2:11; 10:10,14, 29; 13:12). The second refers to the work of the Holy Spirit, who through conviction and leading sets the believer apart from this world to be blessed by God (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2). Our text deals with the third use of the word, which focuses on the believer's personal and perceptive involvement in the "good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom 12:2). It is in perfect harmony with the other meanings of the word. Practical sanctification is bound upon those who have been sanctified by Christ's death, and the work of the Holy Spirit.
The word "sanctification" means holiness, or purity. It involves pure and upright behavior in those who have been set apart for God. The concept of sanctification was introduced on the night of Israel's exodus from Egypt: "Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine" (Ex 13:2). In the Levitical, or ceremonial, law this was expanded. The altar, the laver, and all of the vessels associated with them were "sanctified," or set apart to God (Lev 8:11). The high priest was sanctified (Lev 8:12). The people were also required to sanctify themselves and be holy: "Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God" (Lev 20:7). Something sanctified is given to the Lord, and is not to be defiled with purely self interests. The altar could not be used for family cookouts. The laver could not be used for ordinary cleansing. The vessels used with these could not be utilized for personal purposes. They belonged to the Lord. The people were to keep themselves holy-separate from false gods and defiling influences. They belonged to the Lord. He had chosen them, delivered them, and provided for them. They were exclusively His.
FORNICATION. Thus, in our text, the will of God is related to moral purity-to not prostituting our body for fleshly gratification. God has provided marriage as a lawful means for such satisfaction. Outside of the bounds of marriage, all bodily intimacy is "fornication." The solemn edict is, "abstain from fornication." This is to be done aggressively, as Paul exhorted the Corinthians: "Flee fornication"-run away from it! (1 Cor 6:18). To fail to do so is to allow the body to control us, failing to bring it into subjection (1 Cor 9:27).
The Spirit makes this quite clear. Fornication excludes one from the fellowship of believers. Saints are solemnly told to "withdraw" from anyone claiming identity with Jesus who is "a fornicator." In fact, they are not even to eat with such a person (1 Cor 5:9-11). The saints are to see to it that no fornicator rises among them (Heb 12:15-16). Such people will NOT inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:11). This is classed among the things of which it is said, "they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:19-21). It is "not once" to be named among the people of God (Eph 5:3).
There is, in my judgment, altogether too much laxness on this matter in the nominal church. While I know of no one who encourages such immoral involvements, it is countenanced under the guise of professed concern. Our concern must be found in turning people away from such transgression. To be sure, there is forgiveness for those who foolishly have stumbled past the light in order to gratify their lusts. When forgiven, Jesus will say to them what He said to the woman taken in the act of adultery: "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:11). There is absolutely no room for laxness in this area. This is the "will of God," and our holiness and acceptance depends upon our abstinence.
EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW HOW
" 4:4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor." Here is something for every member of the body of Christ. None are excluded, old or young, male or female, bond or free. Further, this is not something to be accomplished by rote, or lifeless routine. Rules, no matter how masterfully they are constructed, will not be able to accomplish this Divine mandate. If the Ten Commandments, written by the finger of God Himself, could not keep people from fornication (Num 25:1-9; 1 Cor 10:8, how much less will rules concocted by fallen men do so! That, of course, is one of the primary points of Colossians 2:20-23): law-any law--cannot diminish the power of lust.
SHOULD KNOW. The word "know" does not refer to an intellectual recollection of a requirement. The word, taken from eivde,na, means to understand, perceive, and be very sure of. It is something that is recognized, and about which there is no doubt whatsoever. Each believer is responsible for seeing the sense of this, and going about to accomplish it. God has made every provision for such understanding. The Law provides the Divine mandate against immorality. Grace will teach us to deny such lusts (Tit 2:11-12). The Holy Spirit will lead us in putting to death such sinful inclinations (Rom 8:13). The Apostles' doctrine provides extensive reasoning on the matter. (1) The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord. (2) Our bodies are the members of Christ. (3) To commit fornication is prostitution, an act whereby a person becomes one with another. (4) A fornicator has sinned against his/her own body. (5) Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. (6) We have been bought with a price. (7) We are to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor 6:13-19).There is no room for ignorance on this matter. Professed Christians who commit fornication have quenched and grieved the Spirit, hardened their hearts, stopped their ears to the teaching of grace, made a place for the devil, and removed the armor of God. They are not innocent.
POSSESSING OUR VESSEL. Our bodies are vessels - "earthen vessels" (2 Cor 4:7). David knew this of old time when he and a band of men were in flight from Saul. Coming in to Ahimelech the priest, David sought bread for his band. When told only the holy bread was available, David answered, "Of a truth women have been kept from us about these three days, since I came out, and the vessels of the young men are holy" (1 Sam 21:5). The NIV, in reference to the word "vessels," or "things," adds the footnote, "bodies."
A "vessel" is an apparatus or implement to be used, in this case, for honorable purposes. While there are certain lusts and desires inherent in the body, its chief purpose is not to carry out those wayward appetites. Rather, we are admonished, "glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6:19). Although they are the weakest and most vulnerable part of our constitution, the Spirit admonishes us, "present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" NASB (Rom 12:1). He goes on to say this is involved in NOT being conformed to this world, in order that we might "be able to test and approve what God's will is-His good, pleasing and perfect will" NIV (Rom 12:2).
Make no mistake about this, if we do not "possess" our vessels, or "keep under" our bodies, bringing them into subjection (1 Cor 9:27), they will manage us, eventually leading us into the lake of fire. No person who has failed to possess his vessel had advanced in the Kingdom. In fact, such people are actually closer to the devil and the world than they are to God and to heaven. This is something we are to "LEARN,"NIV acquiring spiritual expertise in this intensely personal part of our makeup.
SANCTIFICATION AND HONOR. Other translations say "holy and honorable," NIV
"holiness and honor," NRSV While holiness is essentially a spiritual trait, it does not exclude our bodies. It is a contradiction to imagine that our spirits can reflect the glory of God while our bodies reflect the nature of the world. Our bodies should not detract from our profession! A vessel that is sanctified, or holy, will be "useful for the Master, prepared for every good work" (2 Tim 2:20-21). Many people are not used by God simply because they have not learned to possess their body in holiness and purity. Knowing our body is the "temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 6:19) is reason enough to keep it from being defiled by sin. In addition to fornication, James reminds us that the tongue can defile "the whole body" (James 3:6).
Possessing our bodies in "honor" is using them for the highest and most noble purposes. If God has purchased our bodies (1 Cor 6:19), and they are "members of Christ" (1 Cor 6:15), the honorable use for them is employment by the King of kings. This involves God being glorified by what we do with our bodies. Jesus put it this way, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt 5:16). And how is it that men can "see your good works?" It is by beholding the activities of your body, for they have no other means of beholding your real person.