It’s so hard to find nowadays, you need a sign to help you find integrity.

1 Thessalonians 4:1—12

You hear a lot about “integrity,” especially during an election cycle. We often think of integrity in terms of one’s character and reputation. We think of a Christian with integrity as one who is dedicated and committed to Christ regardless of his environment. The test of his integrity comes when he finds himself in a difficult situation where living his faith doesn’t come easy. How he faces that demonstrates his integrity.

Living a life of integrity isn’t always easy, especially when we try to do it under our own steam. However, the Christian has help: he has the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will help us live right and make right decisions. Maintaining our integrity in a world where integrity is rare is a solid witness for Christ.

1. Live in Moral Purity, 4:1—8

a. The Christian Life. vs. 1, 2

Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

The NIV’s “ask…and…urge” and the KJV’s “beseech…and exhort” are phrases that indicate the seriousness of what is to follow. Paul doesn’t threaten or warn his friends, but he wants them to know how serious his next admonition is going to be. He had just written about being “blameless and holy” in God’s presence when He returns:

May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (3:13)

With verse 1 of chapter 4, Paul continues this thought. As far as he was concerned, purity in living is the goal of Christian character. Holiness isn’t so much an additional, separate grace as it is the end result of maturity in the faith. One writer has observed:

What the heart is to the body that the soul is to the man; and what health is to the heart holiness is to the soul.

At the end of chapter 3, Paul prayed that God would fill the Thessalonians with love in order to achieve holiness of life. While Paul understands that a holy life cannot be achieved apart from God’s help, he also knows that the believer bears a responsibility in its development; they must attain it. Human effort is not done away with by the Divine.

From what Paul wrote, the Thessalonians were well on their way in holy living. The phrase “as you are living” is Paul’s way of praising them. But his emphasis here, as it always in his writing, is on achieving, moving ever forward, making greater progress.

Paul and his friends had taught the Thessalonians about holy living “by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” In other words, holy living isn’t Paul’s idea, it’s God’s will for His people. He taught them how God wanted them to live, not how he wanted them to live. Paul didn’t teach opinions, he taught God’s Word. Like much in the Christian life, holy living doesn’t come naturally even to the most dedicated believer. We must be taught how to live right. Obedience should always be in direct proportion to knowledge; knowledge and practice go hand-in-hand.

b. Sexual Purity, vs. 3—8

The first phrase of verse 3 should be memorized by every serious Christian:

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified

There is no doubt that it is God’s will for believers to be holy. Holiness is not an option. But holiness takes many forms, just like sin. So, from a general statement about what God wants, Paul gives his readers a practical example:

that you should avoid sexual immorality

J.B. Phillips translates verse 3 in a way that makes Paul’s intention a little clearer:

God’s plan is to make you holy, and that entails first of all a clean cut with sexual immorality.

God makes us holy—He sanctifies us—but we play a part in the process. In the case of the Thessalonians, they needed to make a clean break from sexual immorality. We get a glimpse, perhaps, of the true state of the believers in Thessalonica. While Paul praised them for their attempts at holy living, it seems as though more work was needed. The Christians in this church were converts from paganism; from very sensuous religions that practiced sexual rituals in their worship. Many of the members of this large church had been raised in an environment where polygamy, homosexuality, and other sexual deviances were commonplace and accepted. To grow in their new-found faith they needed to completely do away with their old attitudes toward matters of sexuality.

...each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable… (verse 4)

This verse puts to bed the abominable notion that we can’t control our urges, or that “the devil made me do it.” In fact, we are able to “control our bodies” so as to live in obedience to God’s will that we be holy people.

But there is another way to interpret verse 4, and this is reflected in the GNT:

Each of you should know how to live with your wife in a holy and honorable way…

In other words, as this interpretation suggests, sexual satisfaction is to be found within the confines of a healthy marriage.

Regardless of the precise meaning of the difficult verse 4, the sense of this paragraph is clear. The Thessalonians and all Christians are to abstain from any form of sexual immorality in their efforts to cultivate a life of purity and holiness.

2. Increase in Christian Love, 4:9, 10

Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

In his letters, Paul almost always stressed love and unity within the church ahead of any teachings on morality. Here, though, the order is reversed. After dealing with the area of morality, Paul turns to the topic of love. Specifically, brotherly love between Christians. Brotherly love (philadelphias) is a translation of two words meaning, “love” and “brother.” Outside of the Bible, Greek and Jewish writers used “brotherly love” of the kind of love that exists within the family unit. The New Testament writers all glommed onto the word as a way to describe the love that ought to exist within the Church. Clearly, God wants Christians to view their relationship to each other as familial in nature.

Paul’s only directive is: “we urge you.” Paul’s teaching on “brotherly love” reveals something important as to its nature. The great apostle simply “urges” his readers to love each other as they have been “taught by God.” When it comes to “brotherly love,” it is implanted in every believer at their new birth. All they have to do is let that implanted love manifest itself.

The Christian church of Paul’s day was a true anomaly in a cold, heartless, pagan world. In a world were hatred, jealousy, and contempt reigned supreme, members of this new Christian church actually loved each other! It should be this way, today. Love for our fellows is clear evidence of the new birth; it is something unrepentant sinners don’t have.

This kind of philadelphia needs to increase in the Church.

3. A Life of Industry: Work Hard!, 4:11, 12

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you… (verse 11)

Paul moves quite naturally from relationships within the Church to the Christian’s relationship with his community. How should the Christian be seen by the community at large? According to Paul, hard working, above reproach, living and working in such a way as to bring respect from a community of sinners.

Make it your aim to live a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to earn your own living, just as we told you before. (GNT)

Ambition (one’s “aim”) is not a bad thing, in fact, Paul encourages ambition in the right direction. To lead “a quite life” is to be distinguished from the kind of life full of busyness that leads nowhere. One can be busy doing the wrong things; things that lead away from God, and that kind of ambition is wrong. A “quiet life” means a peacefulness of the mind. When selfish ambitions are one’s aim, there can only be unrest. But when Christ is the end desire of all we do, then He will be in control and rest will follow.

This kind of attitude will lead to two things. First, believers will mind their own business. It’s tempting to be like Mrs. Kravitz on the old “Bewitched” TV show. It’s tempting to be a nosy, meddlesome neighbor. Christians are to be mindful of each other within the Church, making sure our fellow members are doing well both in the Lord and in the world, but we should never cross the line (within or without the Church) of concern into being the kind of person who has an inordinate curiosity into the private affairs of others.

Second, believers are to work hard. Christians should never be lazy; they should never become a burden to their families or to society if they can help it. In the Thessalonian church, it seems that some of the believers were not working, and becoming restless because they believed the Lord was going to return at any moment. They were, in effect, lazy and sponging off the generosity of others. That way of life is not at all glorifying to God.

…so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (vs. 12)

So, when Christians are busy working and minding their own business, they will “win the respect of outsiders,” that is, people not part of the Church will respect them. The other benefit is that they will “not be dependent on anybody.” Another way to look at the phrase is like this:

…that ye may have lack of nothing. (KJV)

God will supply all our needs, but we are expected to our part! Hard work has its rewards, and one of them is that NEEDS are met.

Of course, our world today is vastly different from the world of the New Testament. Our economy is totally different from that of first century Thessalonica. But Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians is still relevant to the church today. Maintaining an honorable independence is essential in maintaining a good testimony to unbelievers. The work of the kingdom is always moving forward, as it was in the first century, through the lives of believers who go quietly, dutifully, and respectfully about their everyday chores.

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