Vol. IX — No. 12 March 24, 1968
1 Thessalonians 4:1-7
Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles, which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
In Christ Jesus, who has called us not unto uncleanness but unto holiness, Fellow Redeemed:
The teaching which distinguishes the Christian religion from every other religion is tie doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Perhaps the most familiar passage of the New Testament is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God loved. God gave. We receive by faith in His Son and so have everlasting life. One of the most familiar passages of St. Paul is the word that he once wrote to the Ephesians (2:3-9): “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Both negatively and positively Paul stresses the point of how a man, any one, is saved: by grace, not of yourselves; the gift of God, not of works. Another familiar passage is Paul’s conclusion to his extensive presentation of man’s sin and God’s plan for man’s salvation, as recorded in Romans 3:28: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” By faith, not by deeds or works—this is the distinctly Christian doctrine of salvation.
Each and every other religion shifts the emphasis from what God has done for man for man’s salvation to what man must do for himself in order to gain or merit salvation. we should always keep clearly in mind that there are essentially only two religions in the whole world: the one revealed by God which proclaims salvation as God’s gift to man through faith in Christ Jesus and the other developed by man in a great variety of forms but which always contains this same basic feature—the obligation for each man to work out his own salvation according to some plan or formula devised by man. we should recognize also that this man-made religion of works has infiltrated almost all of the so-called Christian denominations.
This morning we are going to examine one of the objections that human reason has always filed against the teaching of salvation by grace. In many different ways man has down through the ages maintained that if you tell people that they are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, they will lose all motivation for moral living and for the doing of good works. There are those who maintain that the doctrine of grace is the greatest obstacle in the world to the promotion of decent living and godly virtues among men. They insist that only if people are told and assured that their good living and good works will be rewarded in the world to come—that only then will people be motivated and moved to doing good works and living clean and decent lives. The Christian response to that argument is that any and all motivation by the hope of merit may indeed move a person to live decently outwardly, but that anyone so motivated cannot please God who searches the hearts and that anyone so motivated cannot possibly merit salvation, but will most certainly lose his soul. The Christian furthermore testifies that holiness of living is not hindered by the preaching of salvation by grace, but rather that holiness of living is in fact the correlate of the gift of salvation. Just as husband and wife are correlates, that is, things that belong together so that where one is the other belongs, so also are the gift of salvation and holiness of living correlates. This is precisely the Point that St. Paul makes in our text, namely that—
In this section Paul warns against the two outstanding vices of paganism, sexual and commercial vileness and greed. Let us observe how he approaches the subject: “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.” Paul is exhorting, admonishing, pleading, urging the Thessalonians. He does this in connection with Jesus Christ. The Thessalonians had been won for Christ and through Christ they had received the gift of forgiveness and with that life and salvation. But our Lord never gives His forgiveness to encourage a man to sin. Mo, the Lord forgives past sin and with that forgiveness gives the strength to combat sin. As a correlate to the knowledge of salvation in Christ Paul had taught the Thessalonians how they ought to walk to please God. He had taught them not to misuse the grace of God as an occasion to sin but rather to grow in sanctification, to abound more and more in good works, to become more consistent in godly living. In writing Paul is once again reminding them of the instruction that he had given them when he was with them personally: “For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.” His present writing was to recall to their minds all the previous instruction that he had given them.
Once again Paul emphasizes the basic fact that holiness of living is the necessary correlate of the possession of salvation by faith in Christ. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification.” It is the will of the same God who spared not His own Son but sent Him to be our Savior that we lead sanctified, holy, clean, God-pleasing lives here on earth.
And then Paul goes directly to one large area of social relationships, that between men and women. He instructs them once again, as he had when he had been with them personally, “that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel—that is, take a wife for himself—in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.” Paul is contrasting the way Christian men and women should conduct themselves over against each other with the way things were commonly done among the Gentiles. What was common among the Gentiles? Sexual lust and the free and uninhibited satisfying of such lusts were simply the commonly acceptable way of living. It was believed that just as the body becomes weary and needs rest, just as it becomes hungry and thirsty and needs food and drink, so also a body has sexual needs which must be and should be satisfied as is convenient. The idea of a man confining his sexual relations to a single woman within the bonds of marriage was simply foreign to popular thinking and to the common way of life. Fornication was the way of life among the Gentiles. What is more fornication was actually elevated to the position of a form of religious worship. Women would prostitute themselves as a religious service, and men would use such women both to satisfy their carnal lusts and at the same time perform a religious act of worship. Homosexuality and the most unnatural sexual relationships were accepted as all part of the pattern of acceptable living among the Gentiles. When one realizes this, one can understand why the church convention at Jerusalem warned the Gentiles against fornication and why these warnings appear so frequently in Paul’s epistles to the various congregations.
The discerning reader will observe that standards have not changed over the centuries. The way of life of the Gentiles of old is the way of life for the majority today. The standard of a man confining his sexual relations to a single woman within the bonds of matrimony is today considered outmoded Puritan or Protestant ethics. The State last week contained an article on sexual relationships on the modern large university campus. It is quite commonly found that couples live in an adulterous common law relationship which is not frowned upon but rather condoned. It is argued that for a coed and a male student to share a common apartment is the most economical way of living and is a psychological aid against loneliness, loss of identity and frustration on a large, impersonal university campus. It is also argued that such an arrangement is more honest than separate dormitories for men and women, which are policed in an effort to keep the men and women from cohabiting with one another. So now we have the concept of “honest” adultery. That doesn’t make too much sense to a child of God. But it does mean that adultery and fornication are now freely paraded before society in open defiance of God’s commandments. In addition to these campus trends we have the current Hugh Heffner Playboy philosophy which makes fornication an innocent indoor sport for the modern successful male. The charge of sin for such activity would be considered blasphemous to this new, but ever old breed. What is new today is the fact that the churches are by endorsing situation and contextual ethics beginning to cast their approval upon fornication and adultery. But these modern trends and the approval they find in much of society and even among some churches do not change the everlasting word of the Lord that each man should take unto himself a wife in sanctification and honor and that no child of God should become a slave to sexual lusts or a devotee to fornication.
The second area that Paul speaks of is—
Our sanctification should also manifest itself in this way “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.” Life was much more simple in those days than it is today. Today the business transactions continue all through the day—feeding the parking meter, using a pay telephone, buying food supplies, paying utility and repair bills, buying insurance, purchasing all kinds of consumer items, performing services, doing a job, filing income tax returns. Most of our transactions today are much more complicated and more impersonal than in the days of St. Paul. But the personal factor remains despite the more complicated and more impersonal nature of the business transaction. And one factor that remains constant in this personal factor is the natural desire of man to take advantage of his fellow man. The desire to make “a fast buck,” to get more than one gives, to come out on top in a transaction is part and parcel of human nature. That is why the admonition is as necessary today as it was centuries ago—“that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter.”
It has been said that you never really learn to know a person until you have had a business transaction with him involving an exchange of money. Think of how people try to take advantage of friendships. Think of the trouble caused in families between husbands and wives, between parents and children, among the children over money matters. Think of how ordinary decent and honest people seem to lose their standards of honesty when dealing with strangers. Think of how honest people tend to become dishonest when dealing with the government in tax matters. There is in the sinful nature of each and every one of us the natural tendency to look out for ourselves, to try to get an advantage, to come out on top. It’s easy to pass off such practices as just good business or sharp dealing. It’s more natural to pat oneself on the back and to commend someone for being sharp than it is to repent, make restitution for ill gotten gains and give each man his due.
Let us realize that any and all dishonesty in any and all business transactions in life is incompatible with our calling as children of God. “For God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” All relationships with members of the opposite sex and all business relationships are to be conducted according to God’s standards as revealed in His commandments. This, and only this, is well pleasing unto the Lord. When our Lord gives us salvation free and without cost, He is thereby providing us with the motivation to live as His children in holiness. If any child of God imagines that he can receive salvation but persist in fornication and dishonest business practices, he is fooling himself. For the same God who gives salvation is the God who is the avenger of all such who violate His commandments. The gift of salvation is never license to sin, but always motivation to holiness of living. By faith in Christ Jesus we have been made sons of God and heirs of eternal salvation. Let us in every relationship in life live as such sons of God and heirs of salvation. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.