1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication:
I. PURITY OF HEART.
1. The will of God the rule of the Christian life. To please God is the strongest desire of the true Christian; and we please him by obedience. The Lord delighteth not in outward observances as he doth in "obeying the voice of the Lord." The Christian's prayer is, "Thy will be done." The standard of that obedience is the obedience of the angels in heaven. It is above our reach; but it is what we are bidden to aim at, what we are told to pray for in our daily prayers. It should be the effort of our lives to lift ourselves up, by the grace of God assisting us, nearer and nearer to that heavenly rule. Without that grace we are helpless; but "I can do all things," says St. Paul, "through him that strengtheneth me."
2. The will of God is our sanctification. He willeth that all men should be saved; but salvation is possible only through sanctification; for without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Sanctification is the separation from all that is evil, the entire consecration of the whole man to the service of God, the gradual conforming of the human will to the blessed will of God. Christ is our Sanctification. "He of God is made unto us Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Sanctification." Faith brings us near to him, and he becomes our Righteousness; then the work of sanctification begins. It is a progressive work, slow and gradual. The more the believer grows in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, the more does that blessed knowledge exert its hallowing power. The beauty of holiness, the sweetness of fellowship with God, the glories of his coming kingdom, are more and more deeply felt. Then, when the affections are set upon things above, and the heart's love is centered upon God, the soul reacheth forth after Christ, longing above all things to be like him, yearning after holiness with a strong, intense desire, eagerly striving to purge itself from the defilement of sin, and to advance ever onwards in the work of sanctification; and that because the Lord. Jesus Christ dwelleth there himself, and the pulses of his love beat in the converted heart. He is our Sanctification. He abideth in his people's heart by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All holy desires, all good counsels, all just works, come from him - from his inspiring, elevating present. This is the will of God; this is what God would have us to be. It is a very high and heavenly state; yet in its various degrees it must be by the grace of God within our reach. For he is the God of truth; his promises are not deceitful; his commandments do not mock us with a standard impossible of attainment.
II. PURITY OF LIFE.
1. Chastity. The apostle is writing to converts who but a short time before had been heathens. It was necessary to speak very plainly and solemnly on this subject; for the heathen commonly regarded that impurity, which is so great a sin in the sight of God, almost as a thing indifferent. But the will of God is our sanctification, and sanctification involves purity. Without sanctification we cannot see the Lord; but the pure in heart shall see him. God is light; in him is no darkness at all. There is something awful in the stainless purity of the starry heavens. As we gaze into them, we feel ourselves oppressed with an overwhelming sense of our own uncleanness. It is a parable of the ineffable purity of God. In his sight the heavens are not clean. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil; therefore only the pure in heart can see his face. That inner purity covers the whole spiritual life. It implies freedom from all lower motives - all that is selfish, earthly, false, hypocritical; it is that transparency of character which flows from the consciousness of the perpetual presence of God. But that inner purity, which is so large an element in sanctification, involves the perfect purity of the outward life. Religion is not morality, but it cannot exist without morality. It transcends morality, but it implies it. This was not the teaching of the religion which the Thessalonians had abandoned. That admitted immorality. Their very gods were immoral. They were served, not by purity of life, but by sacrifices and outward rites often leading to impurity. Hence the urgency of the apostle's appeal Amid the evil surroundings of a heathen town, living in an atmosphere of depraved public opinion, new converts were exposed to constant and great dangers. St. Paul reminds them that holiness, without which there is no salvation, is impossible without chastity. Fornication is not, what they once deemed it, a thing indifferent. It is an awful sin against God. Christianity has taught us this. We know it well. We wonder at the light way in which heathen writers speak of abominations which now we shrink from naming. But the sin exists still in terrible strength. It hides itself, indeed; it walketh in the darkness; Christianity has driven it there. But still, alas! it slays its thousands and its ten thousands. It cuts a soul away from God with a fearful rapidity. It fills the man with impure images, unholy desires. It drives out of the heart the thought of God. The soul that is tainted with this foul leprosy cannot pray. It cannot endure the thought of the presence of God in his heart-searching nearness, in his awful purity. Impurity destroys the possibility of the slightest approach to that sanctification without which we cannot see God. Hence the necessity of the apostle's earnest words, "The will of God is your sanctification; and there can be no sanctification if ye live in uncleanness."
2. Honor. The unclean life of the heathen cities was full of sin and shame. The Christian life is truly honorable. The Christian's body is a holy thing. It has been dedicated to God. It is "for the Lord" (1 Corinthians 6:13). The Christian must acquire a mastery over it in honor. He must yield his "members as instruments of righteousness unto God." The Christian husband must give honor to his wife. Christian marriage must be honorable, for it is a parable of the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church. The life of holiness and purity is a thing to be honored. Those who honor holiness honor God, who is the most holy One, the one Fountain of holiness.
3. The knowledge of God. The heathens knew not God. They might have known him. He had manifested in the works of creation his eternal power and Godhead. But they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man. Their false gods resembled men, not only in their form, but also in their sins and uncleanness. Men had framed a conception of Deity from their own corrupt nature, and that conception reacted powerfully upon their character. Their gods were like them, and they were like their gods. The Thessalonian Christians had learned a holier knowledge. They must not live like the heathen, who knew not the true and living God. Their knowledge must act upon their life. They must be pure.
4. Impurity is a sin against man. "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." Impure desires assume the form of love; uncleanness usurps and degrades the sacred name of love. The sensual man ruins in body and in soul those whom he professes to love. He uses words of tenderness. He is the most cruel, the deadliest enemy in his wicked selfishness. He cares not for the nearest and holiest ties. He sins against the sanctity of matrimony. He brings misery upon families. Seeking only the gratification of his own wicked lust, he transgresses and wrongs his brethren. But his sin will bring swift punishment upon him. The Lord is the Avenger in all such things. He called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification. Sanctification is the very sphere in which the new life moves and energizes. Uncleanness is utterly alien to it. The Lord who called us in sanctification will punish with that awful vengeance which belongeth to him all who for their wicked pleasure sin against their brethren.
5. It is a sin against God. God hath given us his Holy Spirit. He hath given that great gift "unto you," the apostle says - to you Thessalonians. He gave it once, he is giving it still. It is this great fact which makes uncleanness in Christians a sin of such exceeding awfulness. Their bodies are the temples of God the Holy Ghost. To bring impure thought into that most sacred presence, to defile that body which he has taken to be his Church and shrine, is an outrage, an insult to that Divine Majesty. Such a man hath done despite to the Spirit of grace. Of what punishment shall he be thought worthy? The Spirit of purity cannot abide in an impure heart. He will depart, as he once departed from Saul. There are awful things in Holy Scripture said of those who resist the Holy Ghost, who will not listen to his still small voice speaking in the heart, but continue to vex him by willful and persistent disobedience, till at last his voice is heard no more, and his gracious influences are quenched. It is enough to fill the thoughtful Christian with shuddering awe when he reflects on that sanctification which the Word of God requires, and contrasts it with the fearful prevalence of sins of impurity.
1. Long after holiness, pray for it, struggle for it with the deepest yearnings of the heart, the most earnest efforts of the life.
2. Flee from the slightest touch of impurity - the thought, the look, the word. It is a deadly poison, a loathsome serpent; it stingeth unto death.
3. Remember God the Holy Ghost dwells in the Christian's heart. Keep thyself pure. - B.C.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: