An Exhortation For Purity   --   Gil Rugh

An Exhortation For Purity


Gil Rugh

Copyright © Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, Nebraska

GR1123  -  1st Thessalonians 4:1-12

The following text is taken from sermons preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff and may contain some material from adjacent sermons in the series.

Review 1 Thess. 3:1-13

In our last study we examined 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13. In verses 1-5, Paul continued showing how much he cared for the Thessalonians. He could no longer stand not knowing how the Thessalonians were holding up under the pressure they were facing. He said, "...when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone." Paul felt isolated and alone when Timothy left him to return to Thessalonica. But he cared enough for the Thessalonians to send Timothy to them.

Timothy was sent to "...strengthen and encourage you as to your faith" (vs. 2). Paul sent Timothy, "God's fellow-worker," (vs. 2) to the Thessalonians in order to build them up. This was as good as Paul going himself. One learned that Paul's main focus in his ministry was to build up other believers. Why do we need to be built up? So that we will be able to endure the persecution and affliction that is certain to be a part of our Christian lives.

Paul was concerned that the "tempter" (vs. 5) had tempted the Thessalonians to turn away from the faith, and not knowing this was bothering him. Being able to "endure" (vs. 5) it no longer, he had to send Timothy to find out whether or not his labor had been in "vain" (vs. 5).

In verse 6, Paul was given great news. He said, "But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you." Paul's concern, that the Thessalonians were going to turn away from the faith, was unfounded. Timothy reported that they were continuing strong in the faith. Not only that, but they missed Paul as much as he missed them. Paul's point was that "...we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord." Our lives in Christ should be spent invested in serving Him by ministering to others, even in the midst of persecution. This is what Paul meant when he said, "if you stand firm in the Lord."

Paul wanted to return to Thessalonica and be with them again, and he depended on the Lord to bring him there. He asked God to remove the obstacles that had been placed in his path by Satan (vs.11) so that he may return and help them on the path to maturity.

Finally, verse 13 illustrated the reason we are to continue growing in love for one another, and "to all men." Paul said, "so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints." When we are living out our maturity in Christ, we will be able to help others mature as well. We will be "unblamable in holiness before our God and Father." This will occur "at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints." Paul is saying that at the rapture of the church, every believer in Jesus Christ will be caught up in the air to meet Him and those who have already died and gone into His presence. Following the rapture, every believer will be judged at the Bema Seat. It is here that the true effect of our ministry will be exposed before the Lord Jesus Christ.

I Thessalonians 4:1-12

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 may excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by (the authority of) the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; (that is,) that you abstain 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; (and) that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is (the) avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned (you). For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. Consequently, he who rejects (this) is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for (anyone) to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you; so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.


In light of what Paul has told the Thessalonians concerning their relationship, his ministry among them, and their response to the gospel, he lists some things they need to keep in mind concerning their personal relationship with Christ. 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 may excel still more." Paul is asking them, and encouraging them in the name of the Lord to walk in a manner pleasing to God. This is the standard that Paul holds for believers. We are not to live to please ourselves, but rather we are to walk to be pleasing to God.

Paul says, " you received from us instruction." This is something that the Thessalonians had received information about. Again, it is amazing, when one considers how little time Paul spent with the Thessalonians, how much material he must have covered. Remember, these are new believers in Christ. Paul had gone in and shared the gospel with them, and they believed. Now he gives them something of a perspective on their new way of life in Christ.

What kind of instruction did Paul give them? He says he told them how they "ought to walk" The word "ought" is a strong word that is often translated "must." Paul's instruction is a "must" to the Thessalonians. It is not a question of whether we want to live our lives so that they our pleasing to the Lord. It is a necessity. It is a demand and obligation placed upon every believer. This is encouraging because this verse proves that there are no believers who are better than others. In other words, living a life that is pleasing to God is not something reserved for a select few believers. Paul says everyone must walk in a manner that pleases God.

Note what is put in parentheses. Paul says, "(just as you actually do walk)." Paul is not writing them because they failed. Remember, Paul has already commended them on their walk (3:6). Paul is saying, "Your walk has been good. You are pleasing to the Lord. But I want you to "excel still more." He wants them to over flow and abound in their walk. Here we see a perfect example of Paul's attitude. He isn't satisfied with the status quo. He doesn't say, "Well, you're walking well with the Lord, so I'll be on my way." He says I want you to do even better, so that your walk is even more characteristic of Jesus Christ.


Paul continues in verse 2. He says, "For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus." Paul is very serious in his exhortation. He says that the Thessalonians know the "commandments" that he had given them. The word "commandments" is very strong. In fact, it is a military word used to give "orders." These "commandments" are to be obeyed by the Thessalonians, just as "orders" are obeyed by soldiers.

First Timothy is one of the few times in the New Testament that the word "commandments" is used in instructing another believer. Paul says, "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart." (1 Timothy 15). He uses the same word in 1:18; "This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight." We get an idea of the force behind Paul's commandments to the Thessalonians. The ultimate authority for the commands, that Paul has given, was Jesus Christ, Himself.

The importance of this command is seen when we begin to zero in on certain areas of conduct, such as Paul does in 1 Thessalonians. The one he selects first is sexual conduct. And he says that God demands that believers conduct themselves with sexual purity. We are to walk in a manner that is pleasing to Him.


Paul outlines his first commandment in verse 3. He says, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality." Again, I am amazed that Paul is addressing the Thessalonians, who have demonstrated the reality of their faith through persecution, to watch out for sexual immorality. Perhaps this is a reminder of the danger of sexual immorality because it besets believers so often. And given the society in which the Thessalonians lived, it would have been as bad, or worse than it is for us today. It was not considered unusual to carry out sexual intercourse with different partners on a regular basis. Nor was it considered unusual to have many extra-marital affairs, or to be involved in many sexual relationships when one was not married. The common practice of the day was that one had a wife to take care of the home and the children, a mistress for sexual and intellectual pleasure, and the service of prostitutes strictly for the practice of sexual activity. This is what was considered normal in Thessalonian society.

Obviously, the danger of forming a church in such a society is that the morals of the society will influence the church so much that God's standards will be set aside. In like manner, our society today doesn't call an extra-marital sexual relationship "adultery." Instead, we call it an "affair." Society has tried to add some sparkle to the immorality that is running rampant. One can even read magazine articles citing the "benefits" as well as the "dangers" of affairs. This doesn't sound quite so bad as talking about "adultery" or "immorality." Soon, the young people in our church begin to accept these standards, and they forget what God has said. No wonder Paul was concerned about the purity of the Thessalonians testimony.

It seems like we spend a lot of time trying to determine the will of God. As believers, we can find the will of God in the Word of God, and according to verse 3 His will is "sanctification." This word is related to two other words-holiness and saint. Remember, in 3:13 he said, " that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father." God's will for the believer is that we be set apart for Him in holiness.

What particular area is Paul referring to? "...That you abstain from sexual immorality." The word used for "immorality" is "fornication." It refers to sexual sins of all kinds, both among the married and the unmarried. As believers, we are to "abstain," or "refrain" form all kinds of sexual sin.


Paul develops his command in verse 4. He says, "That each of you know how to posses his own vessel in sanctification and honor." There has been some discussion as to the meaning of the phrase "posses his own vessel." Some would understand this phrase to mean "posses or acquire his own wife." While I think that it is true that each of us needs to acquire our own wives in the context of sanctification and honor, I don't believe that this is the thrust of this passage. I believe that Paul is referring to "his own vessel" as our own bodies. Each believer needs to posses his own body in sanctification and honor.

The body is referred to as a "vessel" in 2 Timothy 2:21. Paul says, "Therefore, if a man cleanses himself of these things; he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work" The word is used in a similar context in this verse, referring to our own sanctification. In like manner, Paul refers to our bodies as "earthen vessels" in 2 Corinthians 4:7. Again, these references point to the fact that Paul is stressing the use of our own bodies in 1 Thessalonians 4:4. We are to exercise control over our own bodies by drawing upon the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to be set apart to God for His purposes. When we are sexually impure, we dishonor the body. We no longer are treating the body as a vessel that belongs to God.

(See also 1 Samuel 21:5)


Paul illustrates the contrast between a child of God and an unbeliever in verse 5. He says we are to posses our own bodies in honor, "not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God." The danger is that the pattern followed by the believer is set by the unbeliever, resulting in godless living. The tragedy is that this pattern begins to be established as young believers are surrounded by unbelieving young people, and it even continues into adulthood.

Paul says, as believers, we are not to posses our bodies " lustful passion." The contrast is that the believer is to have control of his body, while the unbeliever cannot control his own body. The believer has control of his body because of the work of redemption that Christ has accomplished. The unbeliever, however, is controlled by his passions, and that leads to lustful activity. The word "passion" emphasizes the feelings that control a person. They are the desires that dominate us, and control us, leading to lustful activity.

The word "lustful" is the active part of the cravings and desires. The "passion" manifests itself in "lustful" activity - the pursuit of sexual immorality. We see this connection in Romans 1:18-24. Paul says "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). What does this lead to? "Therefore, God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them" (Romans 1:24) Paul continues in verses 26-28; "For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions (lesbianism, homosexuality) ...they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer." Isn't this eye opening? It is part of the punishment of God that those who reject Him will become slaves to their own passions, and those feelings will control them, leading them to all kinds of impure activity.

This is a characteristic of sin-it enslaves. This is the reason that we, as believers, are not allowed to participate in sinful activity. Although we have been set free from sin by the death of Christ, that does not mean we can go dabble in sin, and then come back out whenever we want to. Why? Because sin is enslaving, and before we know it, sin can take hold of us, and control us, and we fall into a downward spiral.

Sin always starts the same way. We think it is fun and enjoyable. We think we are in control. But when all is said and done, the result is lives that are ruined. This is what Paul is referring to in 1 Thessalonians. Unbelievers are under the control of sin, while believers are in control of their own bodies, because of the grace of God.


Paul issues a strong warning in verse 6. He says, "and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you." Paul warns them not to "transgress and defraud his brother." This is a phrase that means "to go beyond what is proper." This is what happens in sexual sin. A third party is always wronged and defrauded. For example, in a marriage relationship devastated by the sinful activity, the husband or wife is always wronged. Even in a relationship outside of marriage, a third party is defrauded. When you are having a sexual relationship with someone you are not married to, you are defrauding someone else. The purity of our bodies belongs to the person to whom God intends us to marry. One can see the truth that, from God's perspective, someone has been wronged.

This is a serious matter, and yet sometimes we fail to recognize this truth. What a tragedy that so many young people today have sexual intercourse before they are married. Not only are the two people who are involved in the sin suffering for it, but a third party has been wronged as well. Something that belongs to them has been taken away. You may say, "So what? Everyone does it, and besides, it was pleasure packed." Well, the "so what" is found in Paul's next statement. He says, "the Lord is the avenger in all these things." We may think that we got away with something, and perhaps no human ever finds out. But the "eyes of the Lord run to and fro across the earth, observing the good and the evil." He knows what we do, and He is the "avenger of all things." This is a very strong statement. As we saw in Romans chapter 1, God pours out His wrath on those who are controlled by their passions. The result is the ruin that is brought into their lives and the lives of others. Ultimately, they will culminate in the day for all those who will stand before Him in judgment.

This was not new for the Thessalonians. Paul says, "just as we told you before and solemnly warned you." Isn't it amazing how much material Paul taught the Thessalonians in the short time he was with them? He says, "we...solemnly warned you." You see, we will have to give an account to God. He is looking over these things. We need to keep that in mind in our daily lives. We sometimes think we can sneak off and do these types of things on the side, but we forget we are doing it in the full view of God Himself, who takes it as a personal affront that must be dealt with.


Paul continues listing his reasons whey we ought to maintain our purity in verse seven. He says, "For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification." We have to understand the purpose of God for calling us to Himself. Obviously, it is not for "impurity." He has called us into the realm of "sanctification," therefore we are to live our lives in the context of one who has been set apart by God for Himself. This is to be the controlling factor in all that we say and do. 

In 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul says, "Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside his body, but the immoral man sins against his own body." This is similar to what Paul is saying in 1 Thessalonians. We honor our bodies when we live in sanctification. Paul continues, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own" (1 Corinthians 6: 19)? You see, as believers, our physical bodies are no longer our own, but God's. He has purchased it through Christ's death on the cross, and now we are to use it in a way that honors Him.


Paul reiterates the point that God's standard does not change in verse 8. He says, "Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you." Although the world has tried to whitewash immorality by giving it different titles, God says "If you reject these commandments, you are rejecting Me." You may say, "But we live in a different day and age. Our culture is different. Our society is different. Our morals our different." God knows all of these excuses. The truth is clear, "he who rejects this is not rejecting man but God."

It should come as no surprise that unbelievers reject God-they are under the control of sin, but Paul's concern in his letter to the Thessalonians is that the church doesn't adopt those same standards, and indulge in sexual immorality. If they do, they are rejecting God, "who gives His Holy Spirit to you." The point is that God has provided the Holy Spirit for us as believers, to empower us and enable us to live sanctified lives. The provision of the Holy Spirit is constantly being given to us, but when we choose to indulge in sexual impurity, we are rejecting God's provision for us to live a pure life. This is encouraging to us because it reminds us that we need never be overpowered by our passions and lusts.

I am concerned that there has been a breakdown in the church of Jesus Christ concerning sexual purity because there has been a breakdown throughout the world. The breakdown of the family, and the collapse of morals has been brought into the church. The result is that young people are growing up with worldly morals.

We need to realize that we are to be sanctified. It is no different today than it was in Thessalonica. If anything, Thessalonica was worse! Yet Paul still calls us to set aside the world. There is no way to combine the two. Those who are under the control of their passions are ungodly. Are we to think that we can decide how close to godlessness we can get without going over the edge? May it never be! The goal of our lives is to see how close we can get to being like our Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the difference in living a sanctified life.


Paul begins his conclusion for this section in verses 9 and 10; "Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for any one to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more." Paul goes from addressing sexual impurity to addressing the great love of Christ that they are to demonstrate in their love for one another. This is a reminder of how careful we need to be concerning the dangers involved in not controlling our bodies. The Thessalonians were an example of that control. They were not like the Corinthians. They were a church that lived through the power of the Holy Spirit. They did not dabble in immoral lifestyles and reject the commands of God. But they need to be careful to maintain that godly lifestyle and continue to have a god-honoring testimony.

They are characterized by "love of the brethren." This is "philadelphia," or "brotherly love." Paul says "You don't have any need for anyone to write to you about brotherly love." This is an amazing testimony for this church. They are identified by their love for one another, and love is the identifying mark of a believer (John 13:3 5).

How is this possible? Paul says they have been "taught by God to love one another." This type of love is "agape" love. It is a self-sacrificing love provided only by God. So the Thessalonians are characterized by the two kinds of love- "philadelphia," and "agape." God gives us His Spirit in our lives to teach us how to love one another as believers, and then He produces that love as well.

Not only did the Thessalonians love one another, Paul says "...indeed, you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in Macedonia." They had a love for the brethren that went throughout the whole province, and Paul is encouraged by that. But then he says, "excel still more." Again, Paul was not content with a certain level of achievement. He was continually pushing on and upward. This is to be our ambition. As he told the Corinthians, "we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him" (2 Corinthians 5:9). This is his message to the Thessalonians.


There are three things our ambition should include. In verse 11 Paul says, "and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you." This verse indicates that perhaps some of the Thessalonians were not working as hard as they should have been. Perhaps they have become so excited about their life in Christ, expecting the Lord to return at any moment, and not wanting to miss it, that they have become negligent at work.

Paul addresses this situation in 2 Thessalonians as well. He says, "For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busy bodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread" (2 Thessalonians 3:11,12). One can see that Satan never rests. He works as hard as he can to drag down believers in one way or another. The church at Thessalonica, while characterized by "love," evidently had some in the body who were being somewhat lazy. The command is to "work" in order to live a quiet and tranquil life.

As believers, we need to have the right balance. Paul says our ambition is to lead a quiet life. Well, anyone who knows about the life of Paul knows that his life wasn't quiet. But remember, everything he stirred up was centered around the gospel. Evidently, some in Thessalonica were just stirring the pot with a purpose of unsettling things and causing problems. We as believers are not to be causing problems, but rather to lead a quiet life. This does not mean that I will sacrifice the truth of the gospel (Christ didn't do that, and neither did Paul), but by the same token, we are not just to go somewhere to stir up trouble. The areas in Paul's ministry where he had difficulties resulted from his presentation of Christ. But in other areas he was above reproach. He conducted himself in a manner that was above question. This trait is to characterize all believers.

The second thing involved with living a quiet life is "attend to your own business." Paul is saying, "concentrate on your own responsibility." Instead of being concerned with others, tend to your own obligations first.

Third, they were told to "work with your hands." They were to be occupying themselves with a job. This backs up his previous command. If they were not busy with a job, they were not minding their own business. They would have had too much time on their hands. And this is what happened in Thessalonica. They started to get too involved in the business of other believers. When this happens, it is no longer possible to live a quiet life.

This applies to us today as well. Sometimes believers spend too much time stirring up political or social issues that don't center on the preaching of the gospel. But Paul's command is clear. We are to be leading a quiet, tranquil life, above reproach.


We are to be living this way "so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need." There are two issues involved in this verse: our testimony before unbelievers, and meeting our own needs. The two go hand in hand. If a person comes to trust Christ, and instead of providing for his family, he becomes a lazy, undisciplined worker, he is not attending to his own business. Following this, he goes off and stirs up problems in the lives of other believers. What kind of testimony is that? How open do you think an unbeliever will be toward the gospel if he thinks this is how all believers act?

Paul also says we are to not to be in "need." We should be dedicated to providing food, clothing, and shelter for our own families. It is not your job to provide for my family if I am capable of providing. I am to be diligently working at a job in order to do that. We need to be careful that we are functioning in the way that God has outlined. It doesn't matter what job you have, or if you hate your job. The point is that each believer is to provide for his own family.

The point of this entire section of 1 Thessalonians can be summed up by the phrase, "walk in a manner worthy of the God that calls you into His own kingdom and glory." This is true in all areas, whether it is sexual impurity, or working to provide for your family. This is one of the incredible things about being a believer. We are privileged to be challenged by God and enabled by Him to live lives that are pleasing to Him. This is our purpose as believers in Jesus Christ.

Where are you at in your relationship with Christ? Have you ever come to trust Him as your personal Lord and Savior? If you have, you have the privilege and the responsibility to walk in a manner that is pleasing to Him. In fact, this is a must.

If you have not trusted Him, you are under the control of the passions and lusts that enter your life. But if you realize that you are a sinner before a righteous and holy God, putting your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation, you will be saved for all eternity, and freed from your slavery to sin.

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.

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