October 12, 2011

Thursday after the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 126, 128, 1 Kings 8:54-63, 1 Thess. 4:1-12
Evening - Ps. 121, 122, 138, Job 1:1-12, Mt. 10:32-11:1

Commentary
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

The Thessalonian Church seems to have been remarkably free of the theological and practical errors that plagued so many churches of that time. Maybe it was because the church was so new the false teachers hadn't discovered it yet. Maybe it was because the false teachers stayed away out of fear that they would be persecuted along with the Christians. Certainly the persecution contributed to their faith and unity, for the false teachers stayed away, and the false and lukewarm believers left. Only the true believers stayed, and they needed each other so much they did not think about fighting and dividing over the foolish things that often divide modern churches. Thus, Paul does not spend time in this letter exhorting the people to repent of sin and heresy. Instead, he calls upon them to "abound more and more" and "increase more and more" in the things they are already doing (4:1, 10).

His exhortations in verses 2-12 are not given because the Thessalonians do not know or do the things of God. They know the commandments they were given by Christ through Paul (4:2). The exhortations are given to remind them and encourage them to continue to increase in the things of Christ.

Paul uses the word, "sanctification" to describe the process of abounding and increasing in one's walk with God. As it appears in English, sanctification derives from the Latin word for holy. This meaning is made clear in its many English derivatives, such as sanctity, sanctuary, and sanctify, meaning, holy, holy place, and, to make holy. Thus, sanctification means to be made holy, or to be set aside for God. In Greek it means to make pure, and since God is absolute purity, it means to become more like Him. Sanctification, then, is the life long process of becoming more and more holy, or, more and more like God in your character and actions, and more and more the person God intends you to be, and less and less the person you were before you trusted Christ and began to walk with Him.

Paul makes this point in verses 4-12. The "vessel" of verse 4 is the body. To possess it is to keep it, and we are to keep our own bodies in (here's that word again) "sanctification." Our bodies belong to Christ as surely as our souls. So we are to honour Him with our bodies. The most obvious meaning of this is sexual purity rather than lust or, "concupiscence" (4:5), but there are other applications as well; clean living, healthy lifestyles, and sobriety are examples. Fraud (4:6) refers to impropriety in business, which is just another means of theft. "Uncleanness" is the life of sin and disregard for God. It is the opposite of the life of quiet Godliness and sanctification (4:11) to which Christians are called (4:7). For those interested in such things, the word translated "sanctification" in verse 3, "holiness" in verse 7, and "holy" as in "Holy Spirit" in verse 8 are all forms of the same Greek word, "hagios." So, though our English version uses two words to translate it, in the Greek they are all the same.

To despise what Paul teaches here is not just to despise Paul, but to despise God. How does this apply to those who distort the Bible's message? How does this apply to those who stay away from the Church, or attend churches where the Gospel is distorted? How does this apply to those who refuse to heed the Biblical teachings of a Godly minister?

While verses 5-8 describe things that are in opposition to the life of holiness. Verses 9-12 tell of things that are in accord with it and of its essence. As Paul wrote, "as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you." You already know and practice it, so "increase more and more" (4:11). Integrity in all dealings with others is an important part of Godliness. We should do our own business (4:11) rather than expecting others to take care of us. "Those without" (4:12) are those outside of Christ. We are to conduct ourselves with integrity and honesty toward them. As we do our work and earn our livings in integrity and honesty we will provide the things we need for ourselves and families. This honours God, and is an important part of the sanctified life.