The Model Christian
Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Thessalonica as a sea-port was continually visited by foreigners from various other countries. These were prone to lead the young Christians, so recently brought out of paganism, into all kinds of temptation. The Apostle, therefore, reminded them, “God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (v. 7). There were snares set for the feet of these converts; such as impurity, selfishness, restlessnes, and idleness. Into these some had already fallen. Paul, realizing this possibility, besought them to walk so as to please God. The walk of the spiritual life suggests vigour, health, and activity. Over against impurity the Holy Spirit sets a clean walk; over against selfishness, a charitable walk; over against restlessness, a controlled walk; and over against idleness, a consistent walk.
The appeals of Paul in this chapter are actually called commandments by our Lord Jesus (v. 2).
The Clean Walk
“God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” We are chosen in Christ to be holy (Eph. 1:4). We are commanded to be holy (1 Pet. 1:16), and here we learn that we are called to be holy. A holy life is a life that pleases God. It is recorded of Enoch that he pleased God (Heb. 11:5). His walk with God meant vitality, ability, intimacy, humility, harmony, and victory. In such a walk we are to continue and abound more and more (v. 1).
The life of the believer expressed in the idea of walking is to be sanctified. ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification” (v. 3). To sanctify means to set apart from evil for a divine purpose. Sanctification has to do with the person rather than with his sins, as does justification. In Genesis 2:3 God sanctified a day, the seventh, and in such there was no sin. In the New Testament we read, “Say ye of Him (the Lord Jesus), whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest” (John 10:36)? Certainly in Christ there was no sin.
There are three terms of interest used in verses three to eight: the body (v. 4), the brother (v. 6), and the enabler (v. 8).
In regard to the body, we read, “That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour” (v. 4). Here the word vessel may refer either to the person’s own body or his wife, both are called vessels in the Scriptures. When we read, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels,” we are reading of the light of Christ’s glory that has shined into our hearts (2 Cor. 4:7). When we read, “Giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel,” the meaning is obvious (1 Pet. 8:7). Each brother should possess his own vessel in the sense of mastery, sobriety, holding the reins. The body is a good servant but a very terrible master. Paul asserts, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor. 9:27). He meant that he brought it into slavery; he made it his servant. The context here would suggest that each man should have a wife for himself, and not defraud his brother in this regard for that would be fornication. Surely such sin defiles the body (1 Cor. 6:18) and mars holiness.
It does indeed defraud the other brother (v. 6). A holy life is not only a clean life, but it is a love life. In it there is no envy, jealousy, or covetousness. The Saviour was holy and none of these evil features were found in Him. Unholy living defiles the body, defrauds the brother, and deposes God (v. 8). “God … hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit.” It is His power alone that produces holiness, and imparts the ability to live clean and sanctified lives. The Holy Spirit dwells in the sister as much as in the brother, and where He is resident, He rebukes sin and effects repentance.
The Charitable Walk
“But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another” (v. 9). “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour” (Rom. 13:10). It does not covet another man’s wife or any of his possessions. Love is the queen of all the Christian graces, the fruit of the Spirit, the badge of discipleship, the fulfiller of the law, and the evidence of divine life. How wonderfully the saints at Thessalonica arose to this is seen in the gift they sent by the Apostle to needy saints at Jerusalem. “Their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (2 Cor. 8:2). History records that famine and distress were prevalent at that time, and that affliction was a common experience among the saints. Notwithstanding their own trials, their love overflowed toward others. “Ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia” (Vv. 9-10). They had no favourites; their love went out toward “all.” “We beseech you,” added Paul, “that ye increase more and more.” They were not only to keep it up, but they were to allow it to develop to greater proportions.
Two Greek words, both rendered into English by the word love, appear in verse nine. One suggests a fondness through relationship; it is called “brotherly love.” The other suggests a strong sacrificial love. Of this we read, “Ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.” This is the word that is used to express divine love as in John 3:16.
The Controlled Walk
The Spirit of God exhorted these believers saying, “That ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business” (v. 11). The Thessalonians had a tendency to be noisy and nosey. They were to strive worthily to be quiet and restful.
Reverence is becoming rare in our assemblies today. The noise of chatter after many a solemn Gospel message has been an aid to the enemy of souls and a great disappointment to the soul winner.
Apparently some of those believers at Thessalonica had retired from business and had established a new line, that of being busybodies, meddling in other folk’s affairs ( (1 Thess. 3:11). Nosey indeed! The imminent return of the Lord seems to have upset some, and through a misunderstanding they had become idle. It may have been that some of the “honourable women” of whom we read in Acts 17:12 had been too liberal with their money, and some, profiting by their generosity, had ceased to work. Occasionally, kindness in one will result in ingratitude and laziness in another.
The Consistent Walk
This subsection closes with a command that influences our hands and our feet, our work and our walk: “That ye study to be quiet … and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing” (Vv. 11-12). Alas! some had given up the good effort of their earlier Christian experience (1 Thess. 1:3), their labour of love. They had become loafers as Dr. Moffatt indicates in his translation of 1 Thessalonians 5:14, “Now we exhort you, brethren, keep a check on loafers.” Paul was a striking example of how a Christian ought to work and walk; it, therefore, grieved him to see that some were “working not at all.” Alas! too many in our assemblies are not pulling their weight of responsibility. Life time is working time. “The night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4). We must remember that no work means no reward (1 Cor. 3:14).
It has been said that workless faith is never regarded, and that faithless work is never rewarded.
Perhaps some do not find opportunity for work because others are inclined to do too much. It might be better to say, some have too much to do because others do so little. We are near the end of the day of salvation; the sun is setting; supper time is nearly over. Let us do with our might what our hands find to do. Let our walk be clean, charitable, controlled, and consistent.
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In the assembly, as in business life, very few good ideas will work, unless you do.