COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 4:6 That no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. 7 For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. 8 Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit." NKJV
(1 Thessalonians 4:6-8)
The thrust of the passage before us is the sanctification of the believer. This is personal sanctification, or holiness, whereby the individual becomes " an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work" NIV (2 Tim 2:21). God is working in the whole world, which is "full of His glory" (Isa 6:3). The question is not whether or not God WILL work, but through whom He CAN work. From this point of view, the body of Christ is the vehicle through whom the Savior works. That is why it is called "the fulness of Him that filleth all in all" (Eph 1:23). Here is where He pours forth His Spirit, His nature, and His power. Things related to God's "eternal purpose" are accomplished by Jesus working through his people. However, this working is not accomplished independently of their involvement, or through a mere process of spiritual automation. It is not achieved by sudden and irrational compulsions that are mysterious and overpowering. Rather, it takes place within the framework of the fellowship of Christ, into which we have been called (1 Cor 1:9). This "fellowship" involves cleansing ourselves of all filthiness and flesh and spirit, and perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord (2 Cor 7:1).
GOING BEYOND AND DEFRAUDING YOUR BROTHER
" 4:6 That no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified." Holiness involves selflessness, and a refusal to exploit the people of God. This text has particularly to do with the matter under discussion: abstaining from fornication, and learning how to possess our vessel in sanctification and honor. It is not, however, confined to acts of immorality that flow from "concupiscence," or base and aggressive lusts.
TAKING ADVANTAGE. Other versions read "go beyond," KJV "transgress," NASB "overreach," DUOAY-RHEIMS and "overstepping the rights." DARBY Taking advantage is going beyond what is proper, and crossing over a line God has drawn. It is being so zealous to satisfy self that the rights of another are trampled under foot. The picture is of one person who is stronger than another overriding them, and taking advantage of them. In the matter of "concupiscence" (verse 5), it is like David taking Uriah's wife to himself. Having lusted after her, when he had inquired about Bathsheba, David was told she was "the wife of Uriah the Hittite." This was like a moral wall that stood between David and his desire. Yet, he went "beyond," going over that wall, using his authority as king to advantage himself without regard to Uriah. That is why this sin is called "the matter of Uriah the Hittite" (1 Kgs 15:5). By this, the Spirit means this was a situation in which the rights of Uriah were violated, and he was taken advantage of.
In a day when adultery is altogether too common in the professed church, it is good to get our bearings about such sin. When, for example, a man is drawn to the wife of another, particularly a brother, and becomes involved with her, he has taken advantage of his brother. As our text will affirm, this is not a light matter.
DEFRAUD HIS BROTHER. To "defraud" a brother is to exploit, cheat, and increase material possessions at the expense of a child of God. The law spoke of defrauding in this way, "You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning" (Lev 19:13). When replying to the young man who inquired about eternal life, Jesus referred to "the commandments." Among them He sited "Defraud not" (Mk 10:19). I understand this to refer to the text above (Leviticus 19:13).
There is a twofold meaning to "defraud." The first is to cheat or rob, unlawfully and selfishly, taking something from another. The second is withholding the rights of another. An example of this is a husband or wife withholding marital rights from the other (1 Cor 7:5).
A self-centered society thinks nothing of going beyond and defrauding others. Many a person has gained advantages at the expense of others. It is as though they robbed and cheated others in order gain and prosper. This kind of conduct is never in order, but it is particularly wrong among those who wear the name of Jesus. The flesh is bent on pleasing self, without regard to others. However, it must not be given any place among the saints.
One way to ensure transgressing against and defrauding brethren does not take place, is to "know no man after the flesh" (2 Cor 5:16), particularly the people of God. To the best of our ability, we must seek to know one another in Christ, nurturing and caring for the "new man." If we fail to do this, we are giving the advantage to the flesh, which loves to exploit and take advantage of others. Our aim is to keep the "old man" upon the cross!
THE LORD IS THE AVENGER. Exploitation of the people of God is strictly forbidden. But it is more than a mere law. When one takes undue advantage of the saints, the Lord God will take up their case. Such incidents will not be forgotten. The saints themselves may be treated like lambs for the slaughter. They will hold their peace like Jesus, and may even knowingly allow themselves to be defrauded (1 Cor 6:7). Yet, "the Lord is the avenger of all such" as exploit His people. The consideration of this will keep us from seeking purely selfish interests. Remember how the Lord took up the cause of Abel, whose blood cried out to Him from the ground (Gen 4:10-12). He also took up the cause of Uriah against David (2 Sam 12:9-12). God has declared, "To me belongeth vengeance, and recompense" (Deut 32:35). Confirming this is not a trait confined to the period of the Old Covenant, the Apostles affirm it is still in place (Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30).
You may recall the souls who were "under the altar," who cried out for their blood to be avenged (Rev 6:10). They were told to "rest for a little season" until other of their brethren would be martyred (Rev 6:11). However, and make no mistake about this, their blood will be avenged! God is ever mindful of His people, and will correct all injustices against them.
Let the knowledge of this be a deterrent against any temptation fo exploit the people of God. Also, it will remove any thought of avenging ourselves, or coming to our own defense. God will correct all injustices. He does not need our assistance in the matter.
CALLED TO HOLINESS
" 4:7 For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness." Not only are we to refrain from exploiting the brethren because God will avenge them, the life to which God has called us forbids such activity. The statement before us confirms the Spirit is elaborating on the grievous sin of concupiscence, or base moral lusts. It is as though this was the depth of corrupting self interests. However, as this verse affirms, our calling extends further than mere external piety, although that is an absolute essentiality.
UNCLEANNESS. Other versions read "to impurity," NASB, "to be impure," NIV and "to be immoral." NJB The concept "uncleanness," or "impurity,"is foreign to our culture. Countless people do not consider that sin makes a person unclean in God's sight. The word "unclean" is found 194 times in Scripture, and "uncleannness" 40 times. The word "unclean" means worthless, something that is waste, and indecent for men and women. The particular emphasis in our text is that "uncleannness" is something God will NOT accept, and to which He never draws a person. It is a work of the flesh, which excludes men from the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21). It is "not once" to be named among the saints (Eph 5:3). "Uncleanness" is also a part of our natural makeup, which is to be "put to death" (Col 3:5).
The concept of uncleanness was developed under the Law, and that with considerable emphasis. Something that was itself "unclean" made the person who touched or consumed it "unclean." Under the Law, if a person touched anything "unclean," he himself became "unclean." The first articulation of this is in Leviticus 5:2. "If a person touches any unclean thing, whether it is the carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean livestock, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and he is unaware of it, he also shall be unclean and guilty." An unclean person was to be "cut off from his people" (Lev 7:21). The eleventh chapter of Leviticus mentions "unclean" no less than thirty-two times. First, the Lord identified what was "unclean," then the admonition was made to abstain from it. The reason for abstinence was that the individual became unacceptable to God and man when touching the unclean. The prophet Haggai revealed that uncleanness is transmitted to the individual when something unclean is touched, while holiness cannot be transmitted in that manner (Hag 2:13-14).
Men may be tempted to think that being sorry for transgression and uncleanness is sufficient, but it is not. There must be a washing, or a cleansing, from sin. That is the glorious provision of the New Covenant. Initially, we are "washed" (Acts 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11). But it does not and cannot stop there. Continual cleansing must take place, and is thereby provided in Christ Jesus. As it is written, "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin . . . If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:7,9). It is imperative that every believer quickly avail themselves of this cleansing whenever it is needed. To be "unclean" has eternal ramifications.
Sin, which is essentially being self-centered, contaminates the individuals, rendering them unacceptable to God and unsuitable for Divine service. That is why God has not called us to be unclean, or defiled. He never leads a person into defilement. He does not call anyone into a self-indulgent life. Solemnly we are told, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you" (2 Cor 6:17).
HOLINESS. Other versions read "sanctification," NASB and "a holy life." NIV Holiness involves two things: consecration and purity. It is more than being without visible or outward sin. It is being completely devoted to God. Conversely, being wholly devoted to God necessarily results in being without moral taint-living a pure life. The call of God is, "But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Pet 1:15-16). The taint of earth is not to be upon the children of God! Those who labor for Him to retrieve the lost and perishing are admonished to do so "hating even the garment spotted by the flesh," or "the clothing stained by corrupted flesh" NIV (Jude 23). In this text, "holiness" particularly emphasizes moral chastity, though it is not confined to it. There is an internal aspect to holiness as well as an external one.
In its broadest sense, holiness is the fruit, or result, of being made "free from sin, and become servants to God" (Rom 6:22). It is a state to be perfected "out of reverence for God," and is accomplished by "cleansing" ourselves of "all filthiness of flesh and spirit" (2 Cor 7:1). From another view, "holiness" is a part of the "new man" which we are to "put on," making him the dominant part of our persons (Eph 4:24). "Without holiness," we are apprized, "no man shall see the Lord" (Heb 12:14). The reason for this is quite simple: God has called us to holiness. That was the objective of His summons. Therefore, to allow uncleanness into our lives is the result of resisting that call, quenching the Spirit, and refusing to hear Him.
WHEN MEN DESPISE GOD
" 8 Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit." Other versions read, "He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit," KJV "he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you," NASB "he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit," NIV and "Anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human rules but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you." NLT The weight of these words is obvious. This is not a mere philosophizing, or holding out a goal that is a mere ideal, and does not have to be met.
HE WHO REJECTS. The person who "rejects this" is the one who refuses to live a holy life. This is the one who obstinately and determinedly lives according to the flesh. Such perceive this world to be the primary one, and their desires as preeminent. The word translated "despise" KJV or "reject," means to cast something from us as contemptible and unworthy of our attention. It is illustrated in the word of Paul to the rejecting Jews in Antioch of Pisidia: "seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life" (Acts 13:46). The idea is that of thrusting it away in disgust and utter disregard of its value. Rejecting, in our text, is viewing what as been said as though it were, at the very best, optional. It is ignored as though it was the private opinion of a mere man. The danger of rejecting is seen in profane Esau. It is said of him, "For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected" (Heb 12:17). Those who reject the Word of the Lord will be themselves rejected by God (Heb 6:8).
DOES NOT REJECT MAN. The Word of the Lord may be spoken by men, but it is not to be regarded or originating with them. Earlier, the Thessalonians had been commended for the manner in which they received the Gospel: "when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe" (1 Thess 2:13). God takes the rejection of His Word personally. It is important to note that the Word of God effectively works only in those who receive it. Rejecting it is always serious. There is no guarantee in Scripture that those who reject His Word can recover from that rejection. That does not mean such are hopeless. It does mean care must be taken not to be in that category.
This statement relieves proclaimers of responsibility for the reaction of people to the preached Word. If we deliver the truth, and men spurn it, we must not take the matter personally, allowing the entrance of fleshly thoughts. Such have not rejected man, but God. That is the way it is. They are guilty of pushing God's message from them, choosing to live in an unclean rather than a holy manner. Just as surely as holiness involves choice and deliberation, so uncleanness and unholiness is preceded by choosing. No personal falls into holiness inadvertently, and no person becomes immoral or unclean accidentally.
THE HOLY SPIRIT. The KJV and NKJV reads, "also given us His Holy Spirit." Later versions read "who gives His Holy Spirit to you." In the case of the first reading, some have surmised that Paul is referring to his own inspiration, as though he said, "God has inspired me to say this, and if you reject what I say, you have really rejected the One who inspired me." The "us," in this case, would be inspired writers. This is certainly true. However, I do not believe it is the intent of the passage.
Here, the "us" refers to those who are in Christ Jesus, all of whom have been given the Holy Spirit. This precise language is used elsewhere in reference to the Holy Spirit: namely that He has been given to all believers (Rom 5:5; 2 Tim 1:14; Tit 3:5-6; 1 John 3:24; 4:13). In this case, the meaning of the text is this. God has given you the Holy Spirit to teach and lead you. Through Him, you can be taught of all things, particularly regarding the matter of holiness. Because of Him, you are able to distinguish what is clean and what is unclean. Through Him you are also led to mortify the deeds of the body. To refuse to be holy, therefore, involves a quenching and grieving of the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19). The Holy Spirit is thus resisted (Acts 7:51).
Refusing to give heed to the admonition to be holy involves more than rejecting the person who spoke the word. It involves more than repudiating the Scripture. It is a rejection of God Himself who sent His word to us, and has given us His Holy Spirit to enable it to be fulfilled in us. You see then what a serious matter it is to refuse to be holy, and insist upon being unclean. God has thereby been rejected. His Word has been despised. His messengers have been held in disdain, and the Holy Spirit resisted, quenched, and grieved. May there be a renewal of moral and spiritual purity among those who wear the name of Jesus.