1 Thessalonians 4:1-5
Furthermore then we beseech you, brothers, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus…
With this chapter commences the hortatory part of the Epistle.
I. EXHORTATION TO ADVANCE IN ACCORDANCE WITH WHAT HAD BEEN DELIVERED TO THEM OF THE DIVINE WILL. "Finally then, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as ye received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, even as ye do walk, - that ye abound more and more." The announcement which is made by "finally" of the close of the Epistle is to be taken as meaning that the remaining part is to be taken up with that which is now introduced. There is a natural transition from the prospect of being unblamable in holiness, with which the personal part of the Epistle ends, to this hortatory part. The exhortation is very affectionate in tone. The Thessalonians are addressed as brethren. And there is not the simple form, "We exhort you," but it is preceded by a less frequent form (only once used by Paul beyond these Epistles to the Thessalonians), "We beseech you," which is the language in which friend earnestly presses home a request on friend. "We exhort you" is more the language in which a teacher earnestly presses home duty on his hearers. "We exhort you" is, moreover, defined and heightened by the addition of the words "in the Lord Jesus." The three Christian teachers found the element of their exhortation, net in themselves, but in him who, as Savior, has a right to rule all lives. It is implied that the tone of Christ toward us is that of earnest exhortation, in which he perfectly reflects God; for it is said, in 2 Corinthians 5:20, that God exhorts, which should have been the translation there. There had been delivered by the teachers to the Thessalonians the knowledge of the true God, and, as they had formerly sought to please their false deities, so, when they came to the knowledge of the true God, it became their duty to please him. There had also been delivered to them how they ought to walk and to please God, i.e. to say, tiffs had been presented to them in considerable detail, so that they could readily follow the course of life that was pleasing to God. To their credit it could be said that they were following in their God-pleasing course, and what is pressed home on them is, that they should abound more and more in it. "The Lord make you to abound," is language which has already been used; and this exhortation to abound more and more, which recurs in the tenth verse, may be said to be the watchword given to the Thessalonians. However much we have walked and pleased God, we have not done it enough. Let us abound more and more in the course that is pointed out to us in the Bible as pleasing to God.
II. APPEAL TO THEIR MEMORY IN CONNECTION WITH WHAT HAD BEEN DELIVERED TO THEM OF THE DIVINE WILL. "For ye know what charge we gave you through the Lord Jesus." There is not a happy change made from "commandments" in the old translation to "charge" in the revised translation here. There is an obscuring of the idea, which is that the Divine will has been delivered in the form of commandments. There were the ten commandments of the moral Law. These, possessed by the Israelites, placed them far in advance of the heathen around them. Coming out of heathenism, it would be a great boon to the Thessalonians to have these fixed in their memory. Presented along with Christian considerations, they would become Christian commandments. There were other Christian commandments, of which we have examples toward the close of the Epistle, which would be reiterated and reinforced until they also were fixed in the memory. In these commandments Paul and Silas and Timothy were only the medium of delivery. Given by the authority of the Lord Jesus, they were to be regarded as his commandments. These being now to be referred to, they are indirectly asked to call them to mind.
III. PURPORT OF THE DIVINE WILL.
1. Generally. "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification." It was affirmed by William of Ockham that "if God had commanded his creatures to hate himself, the hatred of God would ever be the duty of man." It was a violent supposition to make of him, whose will is absolutely wedded to holiness, and who can only command his creatures to be holy. The will of God is here said to be our sanctification. This is a word which is very often used in a passive sense. "Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness." The Greek word here has, however, the active sense. The way in which we are actively to advance the work of our sanctification, is by yielding up our will to the will of God in all that he requires of us from moment to moment. 'By abounding more and more in the course that is pleasing to God, we shall more and more die unto sin and live unto righteousness, more and more be made according to the Divine idea, from our inmost life to its most outward manifestation.
(1) Fornication. "That ye abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in the passion of lust, even as the Gentiles which know not God." This is one of the commandments in which the Divine will finds expression. In 1 Corinthians 7:2 marriage is put forward as the remedial course against fornication. The form here is, that there can be the possession of a wife in consistency with sanctification and honor. This is put in favorable contrast with another possession belonging to Gentilism, possession in the passion of lust, i.e. in which the morbid sensual desire acquires the force of a passion. The fact of fornication being so rife in the Gentilism with which they were surrounded, and out of which they had lately come, is the reason why the Thessalonians are specially guarded against it. What was to be accounted for in the Gentiles by their ignorance of God, was not to be excused in them who had been blessed with the knowledge of God.
(2) Adultery. "That no man transgress, and wrong his brother in the matter." This sin is not named, but only that mentioned in which it differs from the preceding. Being an overreaching and wronging, not a neighbor, but a Christian brother, in the matter involved, it is "doubly flagitious."
IV. WARNING. "Because the Lord is an Avenger in all these things, as also we forewarned you and. testified." In Ephesians the warning is, "Let no man deceive you with empty words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience." In Colossians it is similar: "For which things' sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience." The idea here is that the Lord is Avenger in all the things that have been referred to. "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." As Judge, he is to be thought of as Righter between man and God. When men give themselves up to sensuality, God has a controversy with them. And, by appeal from God against men, Christ comes in as Righter in the controversy, to vindicate the holy character of his Father's laws, to punish for the unholy use of his Father's gifts. From the immediate context we are also led to think of Christ as Righter between man and man. He is the Righter of the slave who is trampled upon without pity by his unlawful owner. He is the Righter of the man who has the purity and peace of his house invaded by the adulterer. When with the Thessalonians, the teachers had made this their teaching clear. In view of judgment they had warned them, and solemnly testified to them, that these things would not go unpunished.
V. THE HOLY OBJECT OF THEIR CALLING. "For God called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification." The thought is similar to what is expressed in the third verse. There is this difference, that the will of God there is here connected with a historical point. Let them remember the great turning-point from heathenism to Christianity. Then God graciously called them in the gospel of his Son. And to what did he call them? It was not to a life of uncleanness, but, in keeping with the holy life of Christ, in keeping with the holiness of God vindicated on the cross, it was to find the sphere of their calling in the pursuit of holiness.
VI. THE REJECTER. "Therefore he that rejecteth, rejecteth not man, but God, who giveth his Holy Spirit unto you." This is drawn as a conclusion from the object of their Christian calling. There is not singled out an actual rejecter among the Thessalonians. But, should such a rejecter arise among them, let it be known that he is not a rejecter of man in his interests and rights, but a rejecter of God, who has laid down laws and limits for his creatures. He is especially a rejecter of God, who gives, to those whom he has called in Christ, his Holy Spirit. Sanctification is pre-eminently the Holy Spirit's work. And for any of them to indulge in the sins referred to, would have this as its gravest condemnation, that it was a thwarting and grieving of the Spirit in his holy strivings. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.