Today’s Daily Light:
Continued: God’s Will (Continuing the 4 point article by Pastor Steven Cole)
#1: God’s will is for His people to be sexually pure or holy.
Thessalonians 4:3-8 “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”
We saw in verses 1 & 2 that as believers, we are under obligation to walk and please God by obeying His commandments. Now, Paul specifically zeroes in on the need for sexual purity or holiness:
- Holiness means to be set apart unto God, who called us out of darkness into His light.
“Sanctification” (NASB) means “holiness.” To be holy is to be set apart from this evil world unto God. Paul repeats the word three times in our text for emphasis (verses 3, 4, & 7). In verse 7, Paul links sanctification with our salvation: “For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” God’s calling refers to His effectual call to salvation. He took the initiative to rescue us from His judgment and wrath by sending His own Son to bear the penalty that we deserve. But now, having been bought by the precious blood of Jesus, God commands us to be holy, even as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
The Bible uses “sanctification” or “sanctify” in three senses: First, there is positional sanctification. Every believer is set apart in Christ (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11;Heb. 10:14). Second, there is progressive sanctification, the process by which we become holy in all our behavior (1 Pet. 1:14-15). Third, someday we all will achieve perfect sanctification, when Jesus returns and we will be like Him, with all traces of sin removed (1 John 3:1-3).
Dr. Ryrie used to illustrate this by a little girl with a lollipop. She wants it all for herself, but she sees her friend coming and is afraid that she will have to give it to her. So, she licks it all over. Now it is “positionally sanctified.” It belongs totally to her. Then she begins appropriating that lollipop for herself as she progressively licks it. Finally, it will be totally “conformed” to her, when she finishes it. In our text, verse 7 may be referring to our positional sanctification. God has called us in the sphere of sanctification, or holiness. But in verses 3 & 4, Paul is referring to our growth in holiness, which as we saw last time, comes from walking daily with the Lord. Specifically, here Paul focuses on sexual purity:
- Holiness means abstaining from sexual immorality.
The Greek word (porneia) refers to any kind of sexual relation outside of heterosexual marriage. This includes sex before marriage, adultery, homosexuality, incest, prostitution, or bestiality (Green, p. 190; cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:9-11). Paul is not calling us to moderation of our sexual impulses, but to total abstinence outside of the marriage bond. As he wrote (Eph. 5:3-5):
But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
As Jesus made clear, sexual immorality begins on the heart or thought level. To look on a woman with lust is to commit adultery with her in your heart (Matt. 5:27). He also said (Mark 7:21-23),
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.
So to win the battle for sexual purity, you must control your thought life, which requires controlling what goes into your mind. You cannot look at sensuous movies or TV shows or internet content and be morally pure. You can’t avoid looking at all the sensuously dressed women who parade around in our culture, but you can avoid the second look. And, you can immediately redirect your thoughts by following Romans 13:14: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” But, to do that requires control:
- Holiness in the sexual realm requires self-control.
In verses 4 & 5, Paul explains what he means by abstaining from sexual immorality: “that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” The problem is, Paul’s explanation is not exactly clear! There are two main views:
Some argue that “possess his own vessel” should be translated, “acquire his own vessel,” where “vessel” refers to a wife. Many godly Bible scholars hold to this view. The Greek verb as used elsewhere in the New Testament means “to acquire,” not to “possess” or “control.” This would line up with 1 Corinthians 7:9, where Paul teaches that if you lack self-control, you should marry rather than burn with lust. When Paul says that a Christian should “possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion,” he means that rather than basing marriage primarily on sexual attraction, as we often see in the Hollywood crowd, there should be a sanctity about the married relationship. It portrays the exclusive love that exists between Christ and His church (Eph. 5:22-33). Thus marriage should be held in honor and the marriage bed should be undefiled (Heb. 13:4; 1 Pet. 3:7).
The second view is that “vessel” refers to a person’s body and that “possess” has the meaning of “controlling, gaining mastery over, or keeping.” The verb can have that nuance (G. K. Beale, 1-2 Thessalonians [IVP Academic], p. 117). Paul’s other uses of “vessel” refer to persons or their bodies (e.g.Rom. 9:21-22; 2 Cor. 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:21). So Paul was exhorting not only the men (as the first view would imply), but both men and women to control their bodies by restricting sexual activity to one’s marriage partner (1 Cor. 6:15-7:9). I lean toward this view.
But both views require self-control in the sexual realm and Paul taught both views elsewhere. God gave heterosexual marriage as the legitimate place for sexual relations. And, whether single or married, both men and women need to control sexual lust, beginning on the thought level. We must guard our thought life and put a huge fence around our marriages as sacred. You may think that no one knows what you’re thinking or looking at, and that as long as you don’t get physically involved with a woman or man who is not your spouse, no one will get hurt. But that’s fallacious on two counts: First, God knows your heart and you can’t be close to Him while you’re entertaining sinful lust. Second, looking at porn or looking lustfully at women is like tolerating cracks in a dam beneath the water level. No one can see them but if they’re not fixed, eventually the dam will collapse and there will be a lot of damage. That leads to the second point: (Point 2 tomorrow)
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