Setting

In the first half of the epistle, Paul wrote mainly about his past ministry to the Thessalonians, both in presence or in absence. But he feels that recounting the past and expressing his affection for the believers is not enough (thus the words “finally then...” in 4:1). He now devotes the rest of the epistle to giving specific instructions about the various aspects of Christian living and urging them to live in a manner in accord with the expectation of the Lord’s return.

Key Verse

(4:1)

Did You Know...?

  1. “Sexual immorality” (4:3) “In the first century moral standards were generally very low, and chastity was regarded as an unreasonable restriction.” [ref] Sexual sins, including adultery, homosexuality, and prostitution, were rampant in ancient Rome. “Adultery was so common as to attract little attention…, and practically every well-to-do woman had at least one divorce.” [ref]
  2. “Brotherly love” (4:9): Translates philadelphia, a Greek word that outside the NT almost without exception denoted the mutual love of children of the same father. [ref]
  3. “Work with your own hands” (4:11): The Greeks in general thought manual labor degrading and fit only for slaves. Christians took seriously the need for earning their own living, but some of the Thessalonians, perhaps as a result of their belief in the imminent return of Christ (see 2Th 3:11), were neglecting work and relying on others to support them. [ref]

Outline

  • Urging and Exhortation
    (4:1-2)
  • Life of Sanctification
    (4:3-8)
  • Life of Love and Responsibility
    (4:9-12)

General Analysis

  • 1.

    How do the last verses of chapter 3 lead into the present passage?

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    In the last chapter, Paul prayed that the Lord may make the believers increase and abound in love so that He may establish their hearts blameless in holiness. The present passage continues this thought and urges the believers to abound in love and to lead holy lives. While it is the Lord Jesus who makes it possible for believers to be loving and holy, the believers also have the duty to obey the Lord’s command to love and be holy.

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Segment Analysis

  • 4:1-2

    1.

    Paul writes, “We urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus….” What does this indicate about the nature of Paul’s instructions in this passage?

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    Paul is not giving a strict order here, since the Thessalonian believers already know the commandments (2). Instead, Paul makes an appeal out of love and reminds them the importance of spiritual growth. And he does so “in the Lord” because what he instructs are not based on his authority but on the commandments of the Lord Jesus.

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  • 2a.

    “You should abound more and more.” What does Paul ask the believers to do more and more?

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    They should abound more and more in living a life that pleases God (1). In other words, they should please God more and more.

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  • 2b.

    What does the command to “abound more and more” tell us about the right attitude toward Christian growth?

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    Christian life is not static. We ought not feel complacent but always aim for constant spiritual growth (cf. Php 3:13-14).

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  • 4:3-8

    3.

    What will of God is stated specifically in this paragraph?

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    That we should be sanctified by abstaining from sexual immorality.

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  • 4.

    What is the meaning of “sanctification”?

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    Being sanctified means being set apart for holiness (cf. 7). When we were baptized into Christ, we received sanctification (1Cor 1:2; 30; 6:11; Heb 10:10; Jude 1). This sanctification refers to our position in Jesus Christ. But God’s sanctifying work is a continual process by God in the lives of believers (1Thess 5:23; 2Thess 2:13; Heb 10:14). As believers, we need to respond to God’s sanctifying work by walking according to the will of the Holy Spirit and cleansing ourselves of all impurity (cf. 1Thess 4:4; 2Tim 2:21). We need to set ourselves apart from the ways and patterns of this world and dedicate ourselves wholly to God (Rom 12:1- 15:7; 2Cor 6:14-18)

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  • 5.

    How does abstaining from sexual immorality relate to loving others?

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    When a person commits sexual immorality, he is taking advantage of and defrauding another person (6). A person who is involved in a sexual relationship before marriage is disrespectful to the other person’s body and soul, and is depriving his and the other person’s future spouse of a pure and undefiled relationship. A person who commits adultery is hurting not only himself and the other person, but he is also destroying his and the other person’s spouse and children. Adultery results in hatred, divorce, broken families, and eventually, serious problems in society. Thus, if we love others, we will abstain from sexual immorality.

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  • 6.

    What is the most important reason for abstaining from sexual immorality?

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    The sexually immoral will ultimately have to answer to God, for he has lived contrary to the purpose of God’s calling and he has rejected God (7,8). God’s vengeance will come upon him because he has taken advantage of and defrauded others by his immorality (6; cf. Heb 13:4).

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  • 7.

    Why do you think Paul mentions in verse 8 that God has given us the Holy Spirit?

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    God has given us His Holy Spirit in order to sanctify us (2Thess 2:13). So God’s will for our sanctification should be very clear to us, who have received the Holy Spirit. If we choose to live in immorality, we would have no excuse because we knew God’s will and had the help of God but still deliberately rejected His will.
    Furthermore, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, not our own. Committing sexual immorality is a sin against our body and a desecration of the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:18-20). If we choose to defile the temple of the Holy Spirit, we are clearly rejecting God.

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  • 4:9-12

    8.

    What is the extent of the love of the Thessalonians?

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    They love all the brethren who are in all Macedonia.

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  • 9.

    What is Paul asking them to do concerning love?

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    Paul urges them to increase their love more and more.

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  • 10.

    In what areas of your life can you increase your love more and more? Set some concrete goals.

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  • 11.

    What kind of “quiet life” should Christians lead? Why is such a life necessary?

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    We need to mind our own business and work with our own hands. A quiet life is one in which a person is self-sufficient and does not create trouble for others (12). When people are idle, they tend to become busybodies and troublemakers. This was the situation with some of the believers at that time, including some in the church in Thessalonica (2Thess 3:10-11; 1Tim 5:13; Tit 1:10).
    If we lead quiet lives, we will not become a burden to others or cause trouble. We can also glorify the name of God among unbelievers.

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