1 ¶ 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. 2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: 4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; 5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: 6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. 7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. 8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
In verse 3 we have the use of the word, “even,” to unite two ideas. Paul says that the Thessalonians sanctification is the will of God just as he says that Jesus Christ is the, “angel,” or appearance of God here.
Galatians 4:14 And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. (For the definition of an angel see Isaiah 63:9).
Notice the first mention of the word, “even,” and how it sets the tone for one of its uses elsewhere, although there are other uses.
Genesis 6:17 And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.
The vessel in verse 4 is a reference to our physical bodies.
1Peter 3:7 Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
“Concupiscence,” refers to a strong lust or sexual desire that is extreme. Sexual obsessions themselves are a religion of idolatry.
Colossians 3:5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
Paul tells the Thessalonians that he has told them how they should behave in a way that pleases God. He emphasizes their sanctification, or being set apart for God’s purpose.
Exodus 28:41 And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office.
This sanctification Paul emphasizes is abstaining from fornication, which is any sexual activity or desire that is not ordained by God, that is, anything apart from the sexual union and enjoyment of sex between a man and woman who are husband and wife.
This always requires the Christian to go against his or her culture. From the most ancient times many ancient religions such as that of Canaan, revolved around sexual behaviors, with temple prostitution of women (whores) and men (dogs – still a slang term for a male prostitute).
Deuteronomy 23:18 Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
Male temple prostitution, as well as female, was vigorously condemned by God, practiced even in relation to God’s Holy Temple against His will.
2Kings 23:7 And he brake down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the grove.
The Greco-Roman world that the Thessalonians lived in was also filled with fornication in the way of temple prostitution and sexual affairs, hetero- and homo-, as a part of cultural practice in no way associated with God’s plan for mankind.
The Greek’s most private behavior was influenced by public expectations. Homosexual and heterosexual behavior outside of marriage were not condemned but were either expressed through religious activities or social behavior identifying one party as the other’s superior in social ranking. It could be a man and a younger man or a boy or a man and a woman as long as they were not on an equal position of power and social status. What was condemned for men as immoral was a lack of self-control, regardless of what behavior was expressed. I recommend reading,”Against Timarchus,” by Aeschines and books like Women in the Classical World and Women in Antiquity. To be a moral Greek had nothing to do with the standard set by man’s Creator in the Bible. It only had to do with doing things accepted by the society in moderation.
Paul has called the Thessalonians out of their culture, to live in their culture, but not to practice as their culture taught and even insisted. All Christians are called to do the same. We must control the excesses of our sexual nature or, at least, to permit them to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. This is not prudery or mid-Victorian paranoia but focus on a life that is pleasing to God.
Paul here narrows his focus on adultery as you can see by his references to defrauding a Christian brother and holding him in contempt, which is essentially doing the same to God. Remember Paul’s criticism of the Corinthian church for accepting a man who had slept with whom we suppose was his step-mother and then his admonition to accept that man after he had repented of his sin.
1Corinthians 5:1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.
2Corinthians 2:6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. 7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.
Notice also how Paul exhorts a Christian husband and wife not to defraud each other by denying each other their sexual favors as it leads to fornication.
1Corinthians 7:3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. 5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
In our culture today we are bombarded by sexual imagery. Advertising and entertainment sexualize us at way too early an age. To live as a Christian is supposed to live in this culture requires one to oppose the culture and reject its values just as the Thessalonians were called to do. We often consider ourselves sophisticated and liberated by our lack of morality but what we have done is to condemn large segments of the youthful part of society to a lifetime of struggle, regret, disease, and heartbreak. Our culture is no less awash in self-destructive, exploitive, and manipulative sexual behavior than the ancient Greeks or Canaanites. It’s just that in our case we don’t call it religion. We call it being liberated, “normal”, feminist, free, or in tune with our feelings. Modern man is no less a fool than ancient man and Paul is telling the Thessalonians and ourselves to step out of that world and come to God’s way.