The Expository Files

Obligated By The Facts

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

In Bible reading and study, it is necessary to see how things are connected. For example, it is essential to recognize how obedience is connected to faith (Jas. 2:14-26). Likewise, we need to understand how sin and consequence are connected (Rom. 3:23). There is no convoluted, mysterious process you have to learn to see these connections; no formula you acquire through academic training. You just read and study and think, using the mind God gave you; applying that mind to the Word He gave you. In Bible reading and study we will not get the point and not be in position to respond properly, if we neglect to see how things are connected. {The word "context" relates to how words and phrases are connected.}

Here is a connection we ought to see: there is a connection between facts and obligations! In His Word, God generously  responds to our need to be informed, by giving us facts; truth from God, stated in factual expressions. Then, in His Word, God directs us to engagement in obligations. It is essential for us to see how the facts and obligations are connected. We will never get serious about the obligations, until we learn and accept the facts. Facts from God obligate us to respond as He directs. Observe this in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8.

Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is  the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 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. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.

Look into the passage for facts.

Fact #1 - "You received from us how you ought to walk and to please God."

Keep in mind this is Paul, writing to the church in Thessalonica. They had received apostolic instruction (Acts 2:42), about how to walk and to please God. Today, in book stores and libraries, you will find a whole section of books about how to do various things. They are sometimes referred to as "how to" books. They are considered to be practical, providing instructions about how to build various things or learn behaviors. The New Testament is the book we have about how to respond to God; how to be a disciple of Christ; how to think; how to feel; how to speak; how to act and react. Put this down as a fact revealed by God  through the apostles. Paul said, "you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God."

Fact #2 - "You know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus." This is repetitive but the purpose is to emphasize, God has revealed through the apostles the instruction we need! "Commandments" are orders given by authority; what we ought to do; what we should not do; how we should behave to please God and honor Christ. We have - on the pages of the Bible - commandments given through the Lord Jesus. He has the authority to issue orders, for God gave to Him "all authority," (Matt. 28:18). Our duty is to learn those commandments, and live by those orders from Deity.

Fact #3 - "God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness." This is in verse 7: "For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness." When you think of the gospel, think of God calling sinners. When the gospel is faithfully proclaimed, God identifies our problem, which is sin. When the gospel is faithfully proclaimed - God tells us of His provision to forgive us in Christ. When the gospel is faithfully proclaimed - God tells us what we should do to respond; to obey the gospel - to come out of sin, into the waters of baptism, into fellowship with Deity. Now, why would God call us out of sin and into fellowship with Him? That we might be holy (1 Pet. 1:15,16). God calls us to respond to Christ, that we might live to please Him; to walk in His ways. So when I accept God's call and after I'm baptized - if I participate in any uncleanness, God didn't call me to live that way! God "did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness." This is a fact. When people who have been baptized fall back into sin and thus, participate in uncleanness instead of holiness - they are not living as God called them to live! When I participate in anything that is not in harmony with God's will, I am not responding to His call . . for His call is "in holiness."

Fact #4 - "He who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit." Notice the pronoun "this" in verse 8. Include everything from verse 1 through verse 7 in "this." Concerning the teaching written by Paul in this passage -  "He who rejects this" is guilty of more than just rejecting what men say. He is rejecting God, who gave His Holy Spirit to the apostles to write this! {There is an interesting grammatical construction here. Look again at 1 Thess. 4:8, where it says - "He who rejects this..." Do you recall some other verse in the New Testament that has this same kind of construction? "He who...," followed by instruction - then, a result is stated. Jesus said, in Mark 16:16, "He who believes and is baptized, shall be saved." This is the same construction in 1 Thess. 4:8, but the behavior and result is negative. "He who" rejects this teaching; he who does not accept these facts - has rejected God.}

Four facts are given by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:1-8. "You received from us how you ought to walk and to please God." "You know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus." "God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness." "He who rejects this, does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit."

Now we need to shift gears. You remember, when we read and study the Bible, we must observe how things are connected. Facts are given, and based on those facts from God, obligations enforced. Notice how obligation is firmly set in the passage: "We urge and exhort." "You should." "You ought." "You should abstain." "You should know." "No one should."

What do these words and phrases signal? Obligation. What is "obligation?" It is what should be done. The constraint of conscience, by which we do what we should do. We are obligated by the facts!


Observe two primary obligations revealed in the passage: Abounding & Abstaining!! Abounding, in verse 1 - "You should abound more and more." Abstaining, in verse 3 - "You should abstain from sexual immorality." The facts put us under obligation, to abound more and more. The facts put us under obligation, to abstain from sexual immorality.

Abound!

This word "abound" in verse 1 means, to multiply; to increase; overflowing. The word is used by Paul in Romans 5:20 - "where sin abounded, grace abounded much more." Sin abounded; that is, sin increased; multiplied (see Rom. 1:18ff). But grace  increased; grace was multiplied by God to provide the remedy for sin. Now to "abound" in 1 Thess. 4:1 means - to grow in the right direction; to increase in doing right; to multiply, to overflow in your solid engagement in the way of life God has directed. Being a Christian is not just something that happens when you are baptized! That marks your entrance into a way of life that is right - that you increase in; that has greater expression in your heart and life from day to day. This means growth in knowledge; growth in participation; growth in attitude, in devotion, in your plans and priorities. We are obligated by the facts to grow; to abound more and more.

Abstain!

The facts given by Paul lead to this assertion of duty, of obligation: abstain from sexual immorality. This is abstinence! The dictionary says: "The act or practice of refraining from indulging an appetite." In our society and nation today we are not at a good place with regard to abstinence. There is a hedonistic interpretation of freedom, that individuals should be permitted the indulgence of their appetite (without regard to law, others or self-destruction). You will hear people talk about their right; their freedom to smoke, to drink, to engage in the fulfillment of their appetites as they please. This viewpoint is sometimes given a patriotic flavor: the personal right to activate your fantasies; to eat, drink and be merry. And this philosophy seems to have found its' full application in regard to sexual behavior.

The Humanist Manifesto says:

"We believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct. The right to birth control, abortion, and divorce should be recognized ....neither do we wish to prohibit by law or social sanction sexual behavior between consenting adults. The many varieties of sexual exploration should not in themselves be considered 'evil' .....a civilized society should be a 'tolerant' one. Short of harming others or compelling them to do likewise, individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their lifestyles as they desire."

This is the argument for tolerance of behavior God says is wrong and harmful; destructive. This is the case argued by unbelievers, to let everybody alone in their sin. Abstinence from sexual activity outside of a legitimate marriage is considered an abridgement of one's rights! In this atmosphere of promiscuity - it will be good for us to go back to the facts from God: "You received from us how you ought to walk and to please God." "You know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus." "God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness." "He who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit." We are obligated by the facts - revealed by God - to abound in what is right, and to abstain from what is wrong. Abstain from sexual immorality.

"Sexual immorality" is rendered in some translations, "fornication." May I remind us of the facts of divine creation. God created us with the capacity for sexual appetite and sexual behavior. But He put that privilege in marriage; between husband and wife! To engage in this activity prior to marriage or outside of marriage is to fail to conform to the law of God. Hebrews 13:4 affords us clear and factual instruction: "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled . . . but fornicators and adulterers, God will judge." Look at the verse, in Heb. 13:4. If you find it helpful, think of this in terms or right sex and wrong sex. Right sex is - the intimacy of husband and wife, within a God-approved marriage. Wrong sex is - anything outside of that! ANYTHING, outside of that! "Fornication" is defined as "every kind of unlawful sexual" activity. Claims of political freedom do not change this. In Titus 2:11-12, God's grace teaches us to say "no" to worldly passions; to participate in the generosity of God, by letting His Word govern our appetites. 1 Cor. 6:18 teaches abstinence: "Flee from sexual immorality." The Bible story of Joseph shows - you can say "no." The Bible story of David shows the trouble you get into - when you indulge your appetite. We are obligated by the facts, by the truth from God - to abound in what is right; and to abstain from sexual immorality.

This is one of the strongest statements in the Bible for spiritual growth, and against sexual immorality. Don't miss the warning here: "Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit." If I reject the obligation to grow, I reject God. If I reject the obligation to abstain from immorality, I reject God. If I reject the obligation to abound and abstain, I reject God, and verse 6 says, "the Lord is the avenger of all such..." When I fail to grow, or when I participate in any form of immorality - I call upon myself, the vengeance of the Lord. Yes, we are obligated by the facts given by the God of truth.

 

By Warren E. Berkley
 From Expository Files 10.8; August 2003

 

 

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