“That no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”
Paul spends time in 1 Thessalonians 4 reminding his original audience what it means to please God in their sanctification or growth in holiness, particularly with respect to sexual ethics (vv. 3–8). Given that the Thessalonians lived in a culture where sexual decadence was the norm, a reminder of these things was prudent, though it appears that the Thessalonians were pleasing God in this area of holiness overall (vv. 1–2). Nevertheless, it never hurts to go over the basic theological and moral teachings of the Christian faith again, so Paul repeats in verses 3–8 what he taught the Thessalonians when he ministered among them.
With respect to the Christian sexual ethic, we seek to obey the Lord here because He is our Creator and thus has the right to impose His law on us. But God does not have arbitrary reasons for His laws; they are, in fact, intended for our good and for the good of others. We see this, for instance, in 1 Thessalonians 4:4, where we are told to control our bodies “in holiness and honor.” Sexual sin is, among other things, dishonoring and degrading to human beings. Many people argue that we enjoy emancipation and an elevation of dignity when we indulge in whatever sexual activity we want, but we end up dishonoring ourselves and other people when we break God’s law. We become slaves to corruption rather than free people (Titus 3:3; 2 Peter 2:19). As John Calvin comments on 1 Thessalonians 4:4, “The man that prostitutes his body to fornication, covers it with infamy and disgrace.”
Today’s passage explains that the divinely revealed sexual ethic promotes our well-being. Paul says that no believer should “transgress and wrong his brother” by engaging in sexual immorality (v. 6). The wronging in view here has to do with defrauding another person of something. Since the Apostle says that our bodies belong not to ourselves but to our spouses (1 Cor. 7:4), sexual immorality steals from other people because we are using for ourselves what rightly belongs to someone else. This is particularly easy to see in the case of adultery, narrowly considered, but it is also true of extramarital sex between unmarried people and other sexual sins.
Paul also states that God has not called believers “for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4:7). When the Lord brings us to faith in Christ, He sets us apart for Himself. We betray the holy status conferred on us in our conversion when we commit sexual sin.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Sexual sins are sins against the Lord, but they are also sins against other people. Our pursuit of sexual purity is a tangible way we can love our neighbors as ourselves, for sexual immorality hurts people besides ourselves and it makes us more apt to overlook sin in other areas of our lives. May our love for our neighbors motivate us to sexual purity this day and always.