First Thessalonians 013 – Flee Sexual Immorality (part 1)

First Thessalonians 013 – Flee Sexual Immorality (part 1)
1 Thessalonians 3:13‒4:2 • Dr. Andy Woods • January 29, 2023 • First Thessalonians


First Thessalonians 013 – Flee Sexual Immorality (part 1)
1 Thessalonians 3:13‒4:2 • Dr. Andy Woods • January 29, 2023

All right well, let’s open in a word of prayer.  We’ll get started.  Father, we’re grateful for Your truth today, grateful for Your word, grateful for, at least I am, cooler weather, grateful for the rain.  I do ask that You’ll be with us today in our study of Thessalonians and also the book of Genesis, as we’re dealing with things that were written, in some cases, 4000 years ago in Genesis, or 3500 years ago, to be exact.  So only Your Spirit can take these ancient texts and documents that You have preserved for us and apply them into our lives in a meaningful way.  And so we remain this morning totally dependent on Your ministry of illumination to do that for us.  And so in preparation for that ministry, Father, we’re going to just take a few moments of silence to do personal business with You, confess sins privately, if need be, not to restore our position, but restore fellowship so that we can receive freely today from Your Word.

We’re thankful, Lord, for the promise of 1 John 1:9, and I do ask, Lord, that as Sugar Land Bible Church meets today from beginning to end in every area, that Your Spirit and Your will would have its way in our lives.  We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people say, Amen.

Happy, I think, last Sunday in January.  It’s hard to believe that January is almost over.  I just remember being at the end of December saying, “I can’t believe we’re in a new year.” And the new year is 1/12 behind us.  Can you believe that?

1 Thessalonians 3:13

We’re just sort of wrapping up, we just have one more verse in it.  This section of the book of Thessalonians, and you can open up to 1 Thessalonians 3:13, where the Apostle Paul is looking backward to his relationship with the Thessalonians.

He had planted the church at Thessalonica.  He was driven out of that area by unbelieving Jews.  The unbelieving Jews then targeted Paul’s flock, and they were trying to basically, when Paul was gone, wean his converts away from Paul back to themselves.

And so one of the things that they did, very, very sadly, is they stirred up a bunch of lies about the Apostle Paul.  In the legal system, we would call that defamation of character.  When you speak it, it’s slander.  When you write it, it’s libel.  And I think Paul, when you put the two Thessalonians books together, was a victim of both slander and libel.  And it’s sort of hard as a minister, particularly an apostle, to offer any correction to the flock if you’re discredited in the eyes of the flock.

So, Paul has to respond to these spurious attacks against his character, which he does in the first three chapters.

Attack number one, to the Thessalonians from the unbelieving Jews.  Your conversion isn’t real.  You just got talked into something.  Paul responds to that in Chapter 1.

The second attack against Paul is his motives were impure.  Paul responds to that attack in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16.

And then the third attack beginning in 1 Thessalonians 2:17 going through the end of Chapter 3 is the reason Paul left is he doesn’t care.

So it’s in that section that Paul explains that he does care.  After all, he always planned to visit them, 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18.  After all, he was concerned about their future glorification, Verses 19 and 20.  After all, he sent his very best to look in on them, a man named Timothy in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-6.  And number four, Paul was emotionally relieved at the good report Timothy brought from the Thessalonians, something a man who doesn’t care wouldn’t do, 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10, and so Paul sort of concludes that whole section by showing how much he does care by praying for them.

He had already told them that he had been praying for them night and day.  And then you go to 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, and you get some insight into his prayer.  I mean, what exactly was he praying?  So the prayer, Chapter 3:11-13 can be divided into three parts.

The first part of his prayer is he desired to return to them, Verse 11.

The second part of his prayer is he prayed for their progressive sanctification, their continued growth in Christ Jesus.

And then the third part of his prayer, which we’re going to look at briefly here in Verse 13, and then we’ll be moving from there into Chapter 4 this morning, is he prays for their favorable ruling at the bema [βῆμα bḗma] seat judgment, the judgment seat of rewards.

So with all of that being said, take a look at what he says in 1 Thessalonians 3:13:

“So that we may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”

So notice first of all, he wants to establish them.  That’s a point that he made earlier in the chapter, and we looked at this in more detail back in Verse 10 last week, where in the second part of Verse 10 he says, “… and may complete what is lacking in your faith.”

One of the things we pointed out as we’ve gone through this letter to the Thessalonians is Paul was not interested simply in their justification before God, evangelism in other words, he was interested in their growth.  Paul was an obstetrician, a doctor that helps with the birthing process, but he was also a pediatrician, because he wanted the Thessalonians to mature and to grow correctly.  And if you don’t understand those two facets of Paul’s ministry, you really can’t make sense of a lot of the things he does and says.

For example, this right here on the screen is his first missionary journey.  And you see that in Acts 13 and 14.  This is where he went into southern Galatia.  And the blue arrow, if you can see that, is the incoming trip.  And then he gets to, let’s see there, Derby.  Turns right around and the red arrow is his trip home.  And you look at that and you say, well, why in the world would he do that?  I mean, you look at Derby and you look at Antioch, Syrian Antioch, which is on the northern tip of the nation of Israel, which is where he started all three missionary journeys, why didn’t he just, once he hit Derby, why didn’t he just take the land route back to Antioch?  He actually goes the opposite direction.  He goes exactly back where he came from.

And the answer to that is Paul wanted to make sure that the churches that he had planted on the incoming route were growing properly as he went home.  So he didn’t take an evangelistic route here.  I mean, if someone who was just an evangelist was taking this route, they would have gone in, planted the churches, got to Derby, and just took the land route back to Antioch.  You notice that Paul does not do that.  He takes a stranger route, but it’s not strange if you understand Paul, where he retraces his steps.

So in the blue line end, he’s doing the work of an obstetrician, help birthing.  And on the way back, he’s doing the work of a pediatrician, where he is helping the newborn children grow correctly.

So in the body of Christ, God has put different gifts into the body of Christ.  There’s a gift of an evangelist.  There’s other spiritual gifts.  One of them we mentioned is the gift of a pastor-teacher.  I’ve seen pastors that have both gifts, but it’s sort of rare.  An evangelist is an obstetrician.  A pastor-teacher is a pediatrician.  Making sure that the flock is maturing properly.

So you see Paul exercising both of those ministries, and that’s what he’s talking about there in Verse 13 when he says so that he may establish your hearts.  He wanted to see Thessalonians established.

Why?  Because they were baby Christians, brand new Christians, and they were being persecuted by the very people that persecuted Paul when he was in Thessalonica.  And a new Christian is really vulnerable to sort of not losing their salvation, but if you’re not taught correctly, the doctrine of suffering, and the gospel is not presented to you correctly, the moment you hit suffering you’re going to think, “Well, wait a minute.  They all told me that this was supposed to be my best life now.  And what’s gone wrong?” And so you’re particularly vulnerable as a new Christian when you suffer because you think that somehow you missed the plan and purpose of God.

If you’re taught correctly at the beginning, you start to understand that suffering is necessary as a Christian – not to save you, you’re already saved, but to help you grow correctly.  In fact, you really can’t grow into the full stature of Christ and learn to depend upon God through trials, and how in the world would you ever learn to depend upon God through trials if you never have any trials?

So the adversity that we go through as Christians is designed specifically by God to assist us in our maturity and to assist us in our growth.  But if no one’s ever explained that to you or taught you correctly, all of these new Christians would just think, “Goodness, we must be outside of God’s will.”  Or they would become embittered against God.  “God, you said you loved me and yet all these problems have taken place in my life.”  And they would just sort of move into immaturity.  They would move into carnality.  They would apostatize from the faith.  And so that work where he’s retracing his steps is very, very significant.

1 Thessalonians 3:13, “So that he may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father.”

He is also here praying for their practical holiness.  Not their positional holiness.  They already have that.  He’s praying for their practical holiness.  He’s praying that their lifestyle will catch up or start to mirror or emulate the position that they already have as holy people in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter Chapter 1:15-16, quoting the book of Leviticus really, says,

“but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.'”

And that’s really what growth is as a Christian.  It’s not becoming sinless, but hopefully you’re sinning less as we learn to walk the Christian life under God’s resources.  I’m certainly not the man I should be, but I praise the Lord I’m not the man I used to be.  I can look back in my life and I can see some growth.  When I hit some issues, I say to myself, “Well praise the Lord.” I’m not reacting the exact same way to that issue that I reacted to it a year ago or two years ago.  I’m a growing Christian and gradually what’s happening is my practice is mirroring my position.

Unfortunately, because of very bad teaching, a lot of people think that “Boy, I better live the Christian life, so I don’t lose my salvation.”  “Oh, I better live the Christian life right to prove that I have salvation to begin with.”  That’s not the proper motivation for growth.

The proper motivation for growth is see what God has said about you.  You’re at the point of justification and then you start to look at your life and you start to say, “You know, I guess me talking that way or reacting that way or harboring this thought or that thought or looking at this website when I shouldn’t be looking at it or going to that movie when I shouldn’t have gone to it, but that really doesn’t fit who I am as a Christian.  It doesn’t really fit my position.

You start to adjust your life according to who you already have been decreed or declared to be.  That’s basically what growing in Christ is about.  This is what Peter is getting to when he says you should be holy in your behavior.

Why is that?  Because God has already said you’re holy positionally.

1 John 3:2-3 says, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.  We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.  And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him [Jesus] purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

Wow, the Lord is coming back, and the Lord has already told me that I am purified, positionally.  Well, maybe I should start to purify myself.  In other words, I don’t plan on adding to my position in Christ.  That was a free gift.  But what I can do is I can allow my lifestyle to catch up with who I am in Christ Jesus.

And that’s why you see these sort of exhortations in Paul, like in the book of Ephesians, where he’s talking about silly talk and coarse jesting and sexual immorality.  You see some of this in Ephesians 5.  And he says these are just unfitting.  Don’t be involved in these things because they’re just unfitting for God’s holy people.

These things kind of, and I dropped my papers here.  The moment you talk about sanctification, God tests you.  These things are just not consistent with who you are as a Christian.  They’re not fitting.  And I hope you understand that the moment you trusted Jesus as your Savior, what happened is the positional righteousness of Christ was transferred to your account in a nanosecond.  And God the Father looks at you as if you’re just as righteous as Jesus.

You may not feel just as righteous as Jesus.  We may not always act just as righteous as Jesus.  But it is a positional declaration of truth that you, right now, if you’re in Christ, having trusted in Christ for salvation, God the Father looks at you as if you were just as righteous and pure as His Son.

Philippians 3:9 says, “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law,” – In other words, this positional righteousness that we have is not something that we got any other way other than allowing the Lord to give it to us as a gift.  “not having a righteousness of my own … but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,”

I’m not planning on standing before the Lord one day in my own righteousness.  I’m planning on standing before the Lord one day in transferred righteousness.  The Protestant Reformers called it alien righteousness, meaning righteousness that is not your own.

And so, the moment you trusted Christ, God took the purity of His Son and applied it to your account.  That’s why Romans 6:11  talks about “reckon things so.” In other words, the word there at Romans 6 is logizomai (λογίζομαι).  It’s an accounting term.  You look into the books of accounting and they’re not going to lie to you unless you work in Washington, D.C. or something where they cook the books.  But if it’s good accounting, I mean the balance statement is not going to lie.  It’s an objective mathematical fact.

And so, you see this objective mathematical fact that cannot lie that you are just as righteous as Jesus.  And you didn’t receive that righteousness because you earned it.  You received that righteousness because it was transferred to you.

And you say to yourself, I can’t believe I have this.  Gosh, maybe I shouldn’t get so upset on the freeway at people.  That’s not really fitting who I am.  Maybe I shouldn’t hold a grudge against so-and-so anymore.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so angry about things.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick tempered.  Maybe I should kind of change some of my speech because if I don’t do that, it doesn’t really fit who I already have been declared to be.

So this is what the Apostle Paul is getting at there when he says, “so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father.”  (1 Thessalonians 3:13)

And then look at the last phrase there, Verse 13, “at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”

You’ll notice there that practical holiness is linked to eschatology.  Eschatology is the study of the end.  What does the Bible reveal about the future?  And you’ll notice that when you study what the Bible reveals about the future, it automatically has a purifying effect on God’s people.  Because when you study eschatology, you start to understand that a lot of the things that are so important to us and a lot of the things that we’re invested in are just going to burn anyway.

So, why pour so much sweat into something that God has already marked for destruction?  Why not instead invest my life into things that are going to stand the test of time?  This is why 2 Peter 3:10-11 links daily life, Verse 11, to eschatology, Verse 10.  That’s exactly what Paul was doing at the end of 1 Thessalonians 3.  Peter says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.”

A thief in the night is not the rapture.  The rapture is a happy thing, as we’ll be studying.  A thief in the night is a sad thing, a negative thing.  So a thief in the night is the unbelieving world being totally slept off guard by the coming judgment of God.

It’s like the unbelieving world was completely and totally caught off guard when the flood waters hit, despite Noah and his warnings.  “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)

All right, everybody, that’s your lesson for the day.  We’ve got our charts filled out.  Close your Bibles and let’s all go home.

Whoops!  There’s another Verse there.  “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be …”  (2 Peter 3:11a)

In other words, an awareness that this is coming.  I mean if you know the Titanic is going down, you’re not going to spend your waning moments arranging the deck chairs in the Titanic.  You’re trying to get off the Titanic, you’re trying to get others off the Titanic, you’re trying to warn people, but you would never do that unless you had specific knowledge that the ship is sinking.

That’s what eschatology does.  It tells you exactly what’s about to be destroyed.  So you can make corrections in daily life now while there’s still time.

“Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct (which is what we’re talking about here) and godliness,” (2 Peter 3:11)

That’s what the previously quoted Verses that I gave in 1 John 3:2-3 said also.  Once again, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him (in other words, the person that’s thinking about the return of Jesus) purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

In other words, these eschatological passages are there to change our behavior in the present.  And because of eschatology, we should be people of hope.  Amen.

Oh, you guys, you’re always talking about the end of the world.  You’re gloom and doomers.  You’re pessi-millennialists.  All this sort of stuff.

Are you kidding me?  I’m one of the most optimistic people because of eschatology.  Because I know that in the end, God wins.  So I walk through life with all of its problems, you know, this terrible fatality thing that just happened to me on Friday night, all of these things you see, I can actually look at something like that and still have hope because I know it’s temporary.  Evil is temporary.

What is happening now won’t always be.  God is coming back to execute justice and to make things right.  And because I live like that, I can look at different incidents or events in the world and still be a hopeful person.

So you’ll notice here that Paul writing to Titus links hope to eschatology.  “Looking for the blessed (what?  Hope, which is something we’re optimistic about.  Well, what is that hope?)  And the appearing, (this is eschatology) of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  (Titus 2:13)

If I know that the any moment appearance of Jesus is a reality, then that’s my blessed hope.  I walk through life with hope.  So you’ll see with all of these passages that I’m referencing here, kind of using 1 Thessalonians 3:13 as a springboard, that they’re all linked to daily life.  It’s not just eschatology for the sake of eschatology.

My professor, J. Dwight Pentecost, in his book Prophecy for Today, says, and I heard him actually say this in class one time, and at the time I really didn’t believe it was true, but I did my own study, and I think what he said is completely accurate.

He says, “A short time ago, I took occasion to go through the New Testament and to mark each reference to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and to observe the use made of that teaching about His coming.  I was struck anew with the fact that almost without exception, when the coming of Christ is mentioned in the New Testament, it is followed by an exhortation to godliness and holy living.”

Which would explain why God has devoted 27% of His Word to eschatology.  27%, over a quarter of the Bible, contains in it material that predicts the future.  Now, some of those prophecies have come to pass.  Some haven’t.  But 27% – and this number, because people think we just cooked the books here and made up this number.

No, it comes from J.  Barton Payne, who was just a scholar, who was a man that was actually very hostile to our interpretation of the end times dispensationalism.  But he wrote a book.  It’s very thick.  It’s called Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, something along those lines.  I’ve got it on my shelf.  He just wanted to go through the Bible and figure out how much of the Bible was devoted to the subject of eschatology.  How many passages did God give us that were eschatological at the time they were written?

In fact, the very first eschatological passage in the whole Bible is Genesis 3:15, where it’s a prediction that there’s coming one from the seed of the woman, Jesus, who will take the serpent’s head, Satan’s head, and crush it.  I would argue that the whole rest of the Bible is a clarification of what Genesis 3:15 means.  It goes into more detail.

But it doesn’t take God long in His Word before He starts talking about eschatology.  And J. Barton Payne wanted to figure out, how much of the Bible was prophetic at the time it was written, and his number is 27%.  And you can get his book and see all the passages that he references and see exactly how he gets that.

This is why prophecy 2 Peter 1:19 “… is a lamp shining in a dark place …”.  Would you say our world is in a dark place?  See, you keep yourself sane in a dark world.  We have the word of prophecy, which is a lamp (2 Peter 1:19), shining in a dark place that we would do well to pay attention to.

You’ll notice specifically the language, 1 Thessalonians 3:13, “… at the coming of our Lord Jesus (look at this) with all His saints.” Did you catch that?  What does that mean?  He’s coming back with all His saints?  Well, of course, I’m so glad you asked that because Paul’s going to explain that in the next chapter.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which is probably our greatest treatment of the doctrine of the rapture found anywhere in Scripture.  Paul’s going to explain that the rapture is going to begin with the dead in Christ.  ” … the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up … so we will be always together with them, always with the Lord.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

1 Thessalonians 4:15 says, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” He goes on, and he says, “With the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them (Who’s the “them”?  The “them” is the dead in Christ.) together with them in the clouds …”.

In other words, when the rapture happens, let’s say it happens this afternoon.  I have a book out there arguing it’s going to happen this afternoon.  No, that was a joke.  I’m just joking about that.  We don’t know when the rapture is going to happen.  I hope it will happen in our lifetime.

But let’s say it does happen this afternoon.  What exactly is going to happen?  Well, the dead in Christ will rise first.  But all the Christians over the last 2,000 years that died prior to the rapture, they will be put in resurrected bodies first and will start to descend.  And then we who are alive and on the earth at the time will be caught up to join them in the clouds, and there’s this giant reunion in the sky.

Paul’s going to call this a mystery because this is something that really has never been revealed before.  It’s never been fully unveiled before.  But it is unique information concerning how the church age will end.

So when Paul in Verse 13 says, “At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints,” that’s what he’s referring to.  He’s referring to something that he’s going to explain more in the second half of Chapter 4.

So you’ll notice, as we have said, concerning one of the unique characteristics of the Thessalonian letters, the second bullet point there, every Chapter of the book ends with a reference of the return of Jesus to the earth.  Either in the rapture or in the second coming, I think most of these texts are rapture passages.  So you recall that when Paul got to the end of Chapter 1, how did he wrap up Chapter 1?  Verse 10.

“and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

How did he end Chapter 2?  It’s right there in Verse 19.

“For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19)

Well, how does he end Chapter 3?  It ends with the same theme.  And you know that because that’s what we’re talking about.  Here, Verse 13,

“… at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” (1 Thessalonians 3:13)

But Paul’s going to end Chapter 4 with a reference to the return of Christ.  Our fullest rapture presentation is found anywhere in Scripture.  And then when you get to the end of Chapter 5, around Verse 23, he ends that Chapter with a reference to the return of Christ.

So obviously this is a subject that’s pretty strongly on his mind.  I mean this is early in his ministry.  This is what he’s talking about all the time.  Jesus is coming back.

I did enjoy, I will say, the Left Behind movie, which I went and saw with my family.  I thought it was pretty well done.  There was a couple of tweaks I would have given it if they didn’t ask my opinion, but they didn’t.  But I always appreciate Christians trying to get out there into the arena of the movies and try to present Biblical truth in a way that people can understand it.

So if you get a chance to see that movie, you might enjoy it as well.  But whether the movie is good or whether the movie is not good, the truth of the matter is the Bible, which is our ultimate authority, right, indicates that Jesus is coming back.  And if you believe Jesus is coming back, then you live differently, you talk differently, you act differently, you prioritize your life differently.  And this is why Paul is ending every chapter in Thessalonians with a reference to the return of Christ.

And because 2 Thessalonians is written in close proximity to 1 Thessalonians, he’s going to continue on talking about the return of Christ into 2 Thessalonians.  It’s just they had been blown off course by a letter allegedly coming from Paul giving them a confused understanding of the end times.  And Paul had an opportunity to correct that in Chapter 2.  But the tone of his focus on the return of Jesus that we see in the first letter is going to continue on in the second letter.

So once you hit the end of Chapter 3, that’s sort of a transitional marker in the book.  Paul has successfully defended himself against the charge of not caring.  He’s refuted now the three major charges that have been issued against him.  And now you move into Chapters 4 and 5 where he’s no longer looking backward to his relationship with them, trying to sort of rehabilitate his character and have been assaulted.

But now he’s in a position to look forward where he’s dealing with specific correction that they need.  And he’s answering specific questions that they knew he they had because Timothy brought this information back to Paul when he was in Corinth.

So Chapters 1 through 3 is largely personal experience looking backward.  Chapters 4 and 5 is practical exhortation looking forward.

So as we move into Chapters 4 and 5, here’s the things he starts to deal with.  And he goes right for the juggler.  Sexual immorality Chapter 4:1-8.  Laziness.  Why work if Jesus is coming back.  Why hold a job?  He deals with that in Chapter 4:9-12.  Then he’ll deal with eschatology, Chapter 4:13 through Chapter 5:11, where he’ll deal with the rapture, End of Chapter 4.  And then the coming day of the Lord.  The tribulation.  Chapter 5:1-11.

Then there’s some sort of miscellaneous questions that I think they had for him concerning ministry imbalances.  He deals with that in Chapter 5:12-15.  And then he’ll end the 1 Thessalonian letter on a note of progressive sanctification, admonishing them to live the sanctified Christian life through God’s resources.

So we can take Chapter 4, the first 12 Verses, and divide it up as follows.

  • He makes some statements about their general conduct, Verses 1 and 2.
  • He gives them a negative command. In other words, stay away from this.  And he deals with sexual immorality, Verses 3-8.
  • And then he gives them a positive command, Verses 9 through 12, about brotherly love.
  • And he actually weaves into that discussion information about laziness. Because if you’re not working to provide for yourself, you’re always going to be intruding into the life of your neighbor, asking for things that you yourself are able to provide, and Paul will explain there that kind of posture is not a loving posture.

So, let’s go ahead and start here with Chapter 4:1-2.  What does he say there in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2?  He says,

“Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1–2)

And he begins by saying, “Finally, brethren…” and he goes on for two chapters.  Which as a preacher, I mean, I kind of like that.  I think I gave you the joke last time, right, about the son that asked his father, “What does it mean when the preacher says ‘finally’ and the father said to the son, ‘It means absolutely nothing.'”

So, the reason he’s saying “finally” is because he’s now transitioning.  He’s answered the objections against his character, and now he’s dealing with specific correctional issues about the Thessalonians that he knew about coming from Timothy.  Because Timothy had given this report that Paul had expressed relief at back in Chapter 3, but with that report, came other issues he became aware of, so now as his credentials as an apostle and his character is restored, he’s now in a position to make these corrections.  So that’s why he says “finally” because he’s transitioning.

You’ll notice the word “brethren.”  “Finally, brethren …”.  You go back to Chapter 2:17, “But we, brethren, …” because he’s dealing with a Gentile audience, Paul being Jewish, he’s not using brethren as for all fellow Jews.  He’s using brethren in the sense that Jesus mentioned the term in Matthew 12:46-50, where Jesus says, “Who is my mother?  Who are my brothers?  Who is my sister?  Are not they the ones that do the will of my heavenly Father?”[1]

So in other words, Paul is addressing them as Christians.  He’s dealing with issues that Christians struggle with.  He’s not dealing with the lost.  He’s not doing the work of an obstetrician here.  He’s doing the work of a pediatrician.  He’s helping the growth of the newborn child.

1 Thessalonians 4:1, “Finally, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that as you received instructions from us …”.  What he’s doing there is he is asserting his apostolic authority.

Verse 2, he’s going to talk about commandments from us.

Verse 8, he’s going to say, “So he who rejects this is not rejecting man, but God, who gives the Holy Spirit to you.”

What he in essence is saying is, what I’m speaking is Scripture.  What I am speaking has the equal level of authority of any statement you find of Jesus Christ in the Gospels.  What I am speaking is of equal authority to anything you’ll read in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.  Because this was the function of an apostle.  The function of an apostle was to be a revelation of new truth concerning the church age.

And this is why he’s so concerned about his reputation.  Because if his reputation is tarnished, they’re not going to receive what he is saying as apostolic truth.  But since his reputation has been rehabilitated, what he’s saying is you’re now in a position to receive direct Scripture from me.

So when Paul writes and when Paul comments, you take it on the same level as any other statement that is made concerning Scripture in the Gospels or in the Old Testament.  More on that in just a minute.  “Finally, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus as you received from us instructions as to how you ought to walk and please God.” That is a tremendous summation of Christian living.

What most people, because they come from sort of legalistic backgrounds, what most people are looking for in the Bible is they want it to read where it covers every single issue of life.  They want to be able to open up the Bible and point to it, “Okay, I should do this.  I shouldn’t do that.” And if the Bible read that way, it would be a lot bigger than these 66 books.  It would read like the United States tax code.  It would just go on and on and on.

So the Bible is not going to do that for us, particularly in the church age.  What the Bible does do is it gives overarching principles that we can follow.  And you simply apply those principles to daily life.  So one of the great principles of the Christian walk is seeking to be pleasing to God.  Now, that can be applied to almost any situation you’ll ever run into in your life.

Should I be involved in this conversation or not?  Well, the question is, is it pleasing to God?  Should I watch this movie or look at this channel or not?  Well, is it pleasing to God?  Should I do this?  Should I do that?  Well, which of these choices would be pleasing to God?

I mean, if you live your life saying, my goodness, I want every choice I make to be pleasing to God, that’s going to have influence over almost all of our choices, isn’t it?  So that’s the overarching principle in the church age for the walk of the believer.  Is it pleasing to God?

And he also says here that they are actually progressing in this.  As to “… how you ought to walk and please God” just a little parenthetical note here, “(just as you actually do walk) …”.  Hey, you’re making progress.  You’re going in the right direction.

I mean, my fears have been dissuaded that the tempter was going to come in the midst of your trials and somehow convince you away from the things of God.  But I got this report from Timothy, and I’m just alleviated at the report because you’re taking these baby steps in the correct direction.

And then he says “… that you excel still more.”  I want you to continue these baby steps into adulthood in your progressive sanctification.  And by the way, just think what you’re going to be in Christ when I finish what the theologians call the “Pauline corpus.” Meaning the “Pauline body of truth.” Thirteen letters.  The list of those thirteen letters gives you the date when those letters came into existence.

And when Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, they didn’t have any of this.  At best, what they had was Galatians, if they even had it.  Because it would have been circulated out of modern-day Turkey into what we would call Europe today.  So we don’t even know if they had Galatians.  They certainly didn’t have the book of Revelation because that’s not written until AD 95.  They certainly didn’t have 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, because those aren’t written until the late 80s into the 90s.  They didn’t have Peter’s two letters, because those were written in AD 64.  And most of the letters that Paul would later write, they didn’t have either.

I mean, at very best, they’re dealing with one letter.  Maybe they had Matthew’s Gospel that I think was the first Gospel written.  But I don’t think they had any of the other Gospels.  And what he’s saying is, I’m thrilled that you’re making steps with the limited revelation that you do have.  I mean, you’re doing great.  Considering the fact that you’re in the church age and dealing with very limited data.

And just think the steps into adulthood you’re going to take once you have the complete Pauline corpus.  Thirteen letters.  And you have the general letters.  You’ve got Hebrews and the Peter letters and the Johannine letters.  And you’ve got the book of Revelation.

So at best, they probably had Galatians maybe.  They might have had the book of James at this point.  They might have had Matthew’s Gospel.  And these people were growing based on those three books, if they had them at all.  Now, I don’t mean to be overdramatic about this, but what a rebuke that is to us in the 21st century who have the whole enchilada or a Jewish metaphor would be the whole shawarma.

You have a complete revelation of God.  And yet, our walk, in comparison to the Thessalonians is somewhat or can be somewhat not impressive.  I’ll put myself into that category.  I mean I really don’t know if I would have reacted to trials the way the Thessalonians had reacted to them.  I don’t react the right way when I’ve got a complete Bible and they didn’t even have that.

What does Jesus say?  I think this is a Scripture that will come up in the main service Luke 16:10, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”  (Luke 12:48)

I mean, we’re supposed to be living the Christian life.  We’re supposed to be moving into adulthood because we have a completed canon.  I mean, we’re supposed to be giving the times investigating this and seeking to live it out.

And the Thessalonians were making greater strides than many of us with limited data.

So that’s what he’s saying is you’re going to excel all the more.  I mean, wait till you receive this book that I’m writing right now.  And I’m going to give it to you called Thessalonians.  And that’s why he says you should receive this as the very Word of God because I’m an apostle.

Think how well you’re going to do with this book, and then I’m going to write 2 Thessalonians.  Think how well you’re going to do with that.  And later on I’m going to write Corinthians.  These people didn’t even have Romans yet.  Romans is like bread and butter, right?  That’s just like basic Christianity.  They didn’t have that.

They didn’t have Ephesians.  They had no idea how a church should function because they didn’t have the pastoral letters yet.  Yet, they’re making baby steps.

See, with God, it’s not really an issue of how much you know.  It’s are you being faithful to the few things you do know and do understand.  I understand that at a church like this it’s overwhelming for a lot of people because we go into a lot of detail about different things, and they’re not used to teaching at quite that level.

But the truth of the matter is there’s things you do know, although you might not know everything.  And God wants to know are you going to be faithful with what you have?  That’s why the Thessalonians are commended because they were faithful to what they had in the midst of tribulation.

You look there at 1 Thessalonians 4:2 and He says, “For you know what commandments we…” Who’s the “we”?  That’s us apostles.  “For you know what commandments we gave you (look at this now) by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”

When I talk, it is absolute scriptural authority, Paul says, because I’m an apostle called into apostleship by Jesus Himself.  Paul, as a result of that, had no problem taking his statements and his writings and putting them on the exact same level of any Scripture that they already knew or had understood.

There’s a few Verses in the New Testament where the New Testament itself will tell you that the New Testament being formulated is just as authoritative as the Old Testament.  One of them is 1 Timothy 5:17-18.  Where it says, “The elders who rule well are considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”

Boy, I like that Verse right there.  “For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” (I don’t know if I like so much.  I don’t know if I like being compared to an ox.) and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”” (1 Timothy 5:18)

See the word “Scripture”?  “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.'” Deuteronomy 25:4.  It’s a quote from Deuteronomy 25.  “And the laborer is worthy of his wages.” That’s a quote from Luke 10:7.  That’s something Jesus said to the disciples when He was sending them out.  See what Paul just did in 1 Timothy 5:17-18?  He put Luke 10 on equal par with Deuteronomy.  Because He calls them both Scripture.

How about 2 Peter 3:15-16?  It says, “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote to you.” That’s Peter saying the things that Paul is saying are given by divine wisdom.  Then Peter says this, 2 Peter 3:16, “And also in his letters, speaking in them of things in which some things are hard to understand.” I appreciate that because I struggle with Paul myself sometimes.  “Which the untaught and the unstable distort as they do the rest of the Scriptures to their own destruction.”

Peter says Paul, although some of the things he says are not impossible to understand, notice, hard to understand.  This is Peter speaking of Paul’s writings.  He says Paul is writing with divine wisdom.

Paul will reference his apostolic authority elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 7:10.  See, this is a very strong rebuke to the mindset of red-letter Christianity.  We have in our study Bibles statements of Jesus in red letters.  Meaning, we think, well, those are the important things.  That’s not the way the Bible is set up.

Paul himself says that what I am saying is just as equal weight as Jesus Himself.  As equal weight with anything that’s revealed in the Old Testament.  Because Jesus made me an apostle.  And one of the apostolic functions is to be a revelatory agency of divine Scripture.

So we have these bumper stickers.  What would Jesus do?

When Jesus Himself in the upper room said, “I’ve got many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them right now.”  (Luke 16:12)  You’re not yet able.  “But when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.”  (John 16:13)  Meaning the apostles are going to take up their pens and they’re going to write the New Testament.

You know Jesus never wrote a single book of the Bible?  Did you know Jesus had no missionary activity outside the borders of Israel?  Well, gee, pastor, you sound like you’re down on Jesus.  Not at all.  He’s the Son of God.  He’s unequaled.

But Jesus Himself said, don’t look to Me for complete truth.  Look to Me for truth, but not complete truth, because the apostles are going to come along.  I’ve called them to be an apostle, and they’re going to start to pen truth that’s equal weight with anything that I’m saying.

Red-letter Christianity?  Are you kidding me?  I mean, if Jesus had a Bible today and was walking around, I guarantee you that He would be using this exact version here.  Because nothing is highlighted in red that He said.  I’m being a little facetious.

But this thing where you highlight what Jesus says in red gives people the impression that really nothing else matters.  That’s about as far from Biblical understanding as you could possibly get.

Paul would say this in 1 Corinthians 7:10 concerning divorce and remarriage.  Paul would say, “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, …”.  Not I, but the Lord.  In other words, I’m giving instructions, and these aren’t my instructions, this is what Jesus said.

But then, I don’t know, two to three verses later in 1 Corinthians 7:12, he says, “But to the rest, I say, not the Lord …”.  See, in Verse 10, it was…  this is what Jesus says, but not original with me.  But then he gets on to Verse 12 and he says, “Here’s something I’m going to tell you that Jesus didn’t tell you.”  How could he do that other than his understanding that he was an apostle of God who was called to reveal divine Scripture?

So Paul is saying here, what is coming from me is God’s Word to you.  It is just, it has the exact equal weight as Moses at Mount Sinai receiving the Mosaic Law.  Because Paul was functioning as an apostle.

So Paul, what do you want us to do?  Well, I want you to avoid sexual sin Verses 3-8.  And I want you to practice brotherly love Verses 9-12.  So we’ll look at those next time.

Father, we’re grateful for Your Word, grateful for Your truth, grateful for how it came together.  Help us to be good stewards of these magnificent oracles that You’ve seen fit to bestow upon us.  And more than making us good students, help us to be good practitioners.  We’ll be careful to give You all the praise and the glory.  We ask these things in Jesus’ name, God’s people said, amen.

[1] “While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”” (Matthew 12:46–50)