The Agora
Waiting For His Son - Thessalonians

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VI. Exhortations (4:1-12)

A. The Traditions (4:1,2)

v. 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.
v. 2
"For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus."


v. 1 "Furthermore then": Here begins a drastic change of thought. The "then" or "therefore" points back to all of 1Th 2 and 1Th 3: 'Since our relations with you have been so close, since we have labored so diligently among you, since you have suffered thus far for the gospel's sake, and since we love you and pray for you continually, therefore we ask you, brothers, to remember...'

"Beseech": "Erotao": signifying to ask: as a beggar would ask for alms (Acts 3:3), or as one would ask a question (Mat 21:24). It is used to describe Christ's prayers to the Father (John 14:16; 16:26; 17:9,15,20). The only occurrences in Paul's letters are here: 1Th 5:12; 2Th 2:1; and Phi 4:3. In each case the word denotes a direct and urgent appeal.

"Exhort": "Parakaleo" -- to call alongside, to comfort, to encourage. This word has been used earlier (1Th 2:11, 3:2).

"As ye have received of us": That which the new believers had received from Paul and the others were the "traditions" -- formal, organized teaching (cp Col 2:6,7; Rom 6:17; Phi 4:9).

"How ye ought to walk": In Greek, this phrase reads, "The How it is Necessary to Walk" -- as though it were a formal compilation: what we might entitle "the Principles of Daily Living" (compare "the Faithful Sayings" of the Pastorals). This sort of traditional catechism was apparently in use in many locales. It was indeed necessary for new converts not at first appreciative of the big practical moral difference between the old pagan life and the new Christian life. "Walk" here is a Hebraism -- the "halakah" -- rules for daily living. In this Hebrew sense "walk" has now become standard terminology, as (in the first century) the equivalent, "The Way", became standard (John 14:4-6; Acts 9:2; 16:17; 18:25,26; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14; etc).

"To walk and to please God": That is, "walking so as to please God", with possible reference to Enoch. In Gen 5:22 it is written that "Enoch walked with God." But the LXX has "Enoch pleased God", which is directly quoted in Heb 11:5. To walk with God is to please God. Contrast this with 1Th 2:15 -- those who pleased not God.

"Abound more and more": To overflow exceedingly (cp notes, 1Th 3:10,12).

v. 2 "Commandments": "Instructions" (NIV). Paul makes use of a military word, "parangello" -- the verb form of which means "to give orders or commands" -- as in Acts 1:4: "He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem." The noun form is used here and only in three other places: 1Ti 1:18 ("this charge I commit unto you"), Acts 16:24 (the charge given to the Philippian jailer), and Acts 5:28 (the charge given the apostles by the Sanhedrin). In these passages may be seen the strong force of this word, the moral imperative. These "instructions" were, very literally, marching orders!


These verses mark a sudden change in the tone of Paul's letter. In absolute earnestness and surpassing intensity Paul is urging upon his readers the necessity of daily obedience to God, in every facet of one's life. He can see the dangers that frequently attack the new believer, particularly in regard to the lowering of spiritual and moral standards. And he wants fervently to guard them against going back to the "world" from which they had been delivered.

* * *

The commandments which Paul gave to the Thessalonians had come first from "the Lord Jesus" (v 2). There is perhaps also a connection here with the "burden" laid upon Gentile believers by the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:28,29), which included refraining from fornication. This provides a connection with the verses that immediately follow, concerning sexual purity (1Th 4:3-8), suggesting that the commands from the Lord Jesus were Mat 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12.

* * *

These two verses, with their emphasis upon a formal, written code, or "tradition", serve as a "heading" to introduce the sections concerning sexual purity (vv 3-8) and brotherly love (vv 9,10) and diligence (vv 11,12).

B. Sexual Purity (4:3-8)

v. 3
"For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
v. 4
"that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor;
v. 5
"not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:
v. 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.
v. 7
"For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
v. 8
"He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit."


v. 3 "The will of God": "Thelema" comes from the verb "thelo", which means "to will" in the sense of "purpose", "resolve", "design." It is not just a passive wish, but an active purpose which God holds for His children. Everything he does is with the intent of fulfilling this purpose. (Rom 8:28). The concept of "the will of God" encompasses not only His overall plan of salvation for mankind in general (1Ti 2:4; Rom 1:10), but also His detailed plans for the lives of individual believers.

"Even your sanctification": God's will for His people is that they be holy, even as He is holy (Lev 11:44,45; 1Pe 1:15,16). "Hagiasmos" (from "hagios" -- "holy") refers to the process of becoming holy, and therefore implies effort by the believer as well as the purpose of God; sanctification does not come about automatically or without effort. Notice the precise order in 1Co 1:30, where Paul says that Christ is made to us:

(1) "Wisdom...
(1) Learning the Truth
(2) Righteousness...
(2) Baptism, covering of sins
(3) Sanctification, and
(3) An ongoing effort to live a holy life, and
(4) Redemption."
(4) The glorification of the body.

It is perfectly plain that all four steps are essential to the believer.

"That ye should abstain from fornication": One feature (and by no means an incidental one) of the sanctification of believers is sexual purity. There is no room in true Christian theology for the view that the body does not matter, but only the mind or the "spirit." A pure mind and an impure body are totally incompatible; the believer must be continually concerned with the life of the flesh as well as the life of the spirit.

"Porneia" (fornication) is the equivalent of the Old Testament "zanah" and includes every sort of sexual sin; it comprehends even the more limited term "moicheia" (Old Testament "naaph") -- adultery. "Porneia" includes harlotry (the root word, in fact, signifies "to sell"), premarital unchastity, extramarital infidelity, and even incest, homosexuality, and bestiality (although these last are not in Paul's mind in this particular verse). In its root meaning of buying and selling, it includes the sins of purchasing and reading and viewing pornographic materials, and coveting in one's own heart that which is unlawful (Mat 5:28; cp 1Th 4:6). "Porneia" is even used in the figurative sense to refer to idolatry and moral confusion (Rev 18:3), because one who follows false gods has "sold out" himself in a cheap and degrading way, and has been "unfaithful" to the true Lord.

v. 4 "How to possess his vessel": The difficulty in translating this phrase is seen in the NIV -- where the text itself has "to control his own body" but the margin has "to live with his own wife" or "to acquire a wife." There are at least these possibilities, and the proper understanding of the phrase revolves around the two words "ktasthai" (acquire, or possess) and "skeuos" (vessel).

"Skeuos" is used literally of household utensils and containers (Mark 11:16; Luke 8:16; Rev 2:27; 18:12), and metaphorically of persons who are instruments for somebody's purpose (Acts 9:15). Men in general are referred to as the vessels either of God's mercy or His wrath (Rom 9:21-23). The human body is pictured as a piece of pottery, a fragile vessel (2Co 4:7). In certain ways the wife is even a "weaker vessel" (1Pe 3:7) than is the husband.

"Ktasthai" may signify either to acquire (as at one moment) or to possess and maintain and control (on a continuing basis). It does not seem likely that Paul would have been interested in his converts learning how to obtain a wife, having elsewhere stated that it is good not to marry (1Co 7:1); therefore the third of the three possibilities ("to acquire a wife") should most probably be eliminated. This leaves the other two views -- and the choice must hinge on which of the two figurative meanings of "vessel" (either one's own body or one's wife) is more likely in this context.

Either view seems reasonable and permissible, but a comparison with the practically parallel 1Co 7:2-5 would favor the translation of "to live with his own wife":

"But since there is so much immorality ("porneia"), each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband" (v 2, NIV).
The verses that follow (vv 3-5) then suggest the definition of "ktasthai" / "possess" in 1Th 4:4, ie, to "fulfill his marital duty" by "not depriving each other." All a man's sexual desire should be directed toward his wife. To desire otherwise would be to imitate the Gentiles (1Th 4:5). And to act otherwise, following lustful thoughts with sinful actions, would be to "defraud" another man (v 6) -- that is, the husband of (or the one who will later become the husband of) the woman who is partner to his adultery. And Paul does not even mention the obvious fraud perpetrated against the wife herself!

"Sanctification and honor": Sanctification of the man himself, and honor -- respect, care, concern -- toward his wife.

v. 5 "Concupiscence": "Epithumia" means very strong desire, and can be used in a good sense (1Th 2:17; Luke 22:15; Phi 1:23). Most characteristically, however, it indicates an evil desire, and that a very fierce, even a violent, desire. It is used elsewhere of sexual passion in an evil sense (Rom 1:26; Col 3:5).

"Even as the Gentiles which know not God": The Gentiles, those with no concepts of the Law of Moses or Christian principles, know nothing of holy and honorable behavior. Their guiding principle is passionate desire because they do not know God (Eph 4:17,18; 1Co 1:21; Gal 4:8; 2Th 1:8; cp Psa 79:6; Jer 10:25). Such reprehensible behavior is a consequence of their refusal to respond to God's revelation of Himself (Rom 1:18-32).

v. 6 "That no man go beyond": To over-reach, to cross a forbidden boundary, or to trespass (sexually) on territory which is not one's own.

"Defraud": "Pleonekteo" means "to take advantage of" (NIV). It is related to the Greek words for coveting, which almost invariably have a sexual connotation (ie, Eph 4:19; 5:5; Col 3:5; 2Pe 2:14; 1Co 5:10,11; 6:10).

"In any matter": "In the matter" (already under discussion) -- ie, sexual practices. "In this matter" (NIV). There is no suggestion here of fraud in other matters, such as business dealings; Paul is dealing exclusively with sexual matters.

"The Lord is the avenger": "Ekaikos" is used elsewhere of a magistrate (Rom 13:4). The "Lord" is Jesus, who will have divine authority to avenge or punish, in a judicial capacity, when he returns (1Th 2:19; 3:13; 2Th 1:8; 1Co 4:5). Believers are not to seek vengeance on those who have wronged them, but to leave the matter in the Lord's hands (Rom 12:19, citing Deu 32:35).

In modern English "avenge" and "vengeance" have taken the sense of acting out of personal vindictiveness, whereas in the Bible the thought is rather that God takes the side of the victims of crime and wickedness and secures justice for them.

"As we also have forewarned you and testified": Paul had previously taught the Thessalonians of such matters, although the instruction necessarily had had to be brief.

v. 7 "For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness": Paul has been the instrument of calling the Thessalonians to a new and holy life in Christ (1Th 2:12), by the gospel message. By the same message, they must learn and remember that they have become "a new creation" -- former things are passed away. Though the grace of God is available to cover their sins, they must not suppose that it is of no consequence whether or not they sin. "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Rom 6:2).

God has called us not for ("epi") impurity, but in ("en") sanctification. "For" expresses purpose, but "in" expresses even more: it conveys the sense of atmosphere, of the settled, immutable condition in which believers should live. This atmosphere for the believer is sanctification. It is the very air he breathes!

v. 8: Supplying the ellipsis: "Therefore he who rejects this instruction rejects not only Paul as a teacher, but also God." (The understanding of "not/but" as "not only/but also" is a very common Hebraism). In like manner, God comforted Samuel when he was rejected by the people:

"for they have not (only) rejected thee, but they have (also) rejected me, that I should not reign over them" (1Sa 8:7).
And Jesus, confronted with the impenitence of Israel, tells his disciples:

"he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me" (Luke 10:16; cp Luke 7:30).
Paul is claiming the authority of God in giving this warning:

"God, who has given unto us (Paul, Silas, etc) His Holy Spirit." (The suggestion, in some versions, that this Holy Spirit was given to "you" would surely nullify Paul's warning and exhortation here. If they all had received Holy Spirit inspiration, what further need of specific instructions?)

"Who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit": The giving of the Holy Spirit (to Paul at least) is closely associated with the sanctification of believers. But it must not be presumed that the Holy Spirit, acting as an independent agent, and without the participation of the believer, can achieve sanctification. Instead, sanctification is achieved, on an ongoing basis, by the believer's taking heed to the word which Paul, animated by the Holy Spirit, was communicating to them. Jesus prayed that believers be sanctified by the Truth, and he added that "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17,19). The saints are made holy by their understanding of, and submission to, "the truth."


These words were almost certainly written in Corinth, a city notorious for almost every form of vice. They are strikingly similar to words later written by Paul to believers in Corinth:

"Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1Co 6:18-20).
* * *

The Holy Spirit would not have moved Paul to sound this warning against sexual vice unless it were necessary. Moral corruption in the cities of the Empire was so general, and the people so familiar with it, that even believers felt little shock or surprise anymore. Something very similar is true today, especially for those of us who live in or near large cities. Immorality of every sort is practiced, and even condoned by the previously "respectable" parts of society. Even some "church leaders" seem to have trouble understanding or defining "sin." Our young people especially need to ponder the words of Paul here, and be on their guard. An affectionate love of Christ, and a solid Bible knowledge, will provide a shield against the arrows of the enemy. Let us develop an awareness of our own innate weaknesses, and recognize that even we, who think we stand, can all too easily fall.

C. Brotherly Love (4:9,10)

v. 9
"But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
v. 10
"And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more."


v. 9 "Brotherly love": The Greek "philadelphia" expresses natural affinity and affection for one's relatives. This word was taken over by the ecclesia and elevated to a spiritual level in describing the close ties in God's own "family" (Rom 12:10; Heb 13:1; 1Pe 1:22; 3:8; 2Pe 1:7).

"Ye need not that I write unto you": Paul has had occasion to remark on the way the Thessalonians displayed love for one another. He had referred to their "labor of love" (1Th 1:3), of which he had received word through Timothy (1Th 3:6).

"Taught of God": This represents one word in the Greek, a word that occurs here alone in all the New Testament. (A similar expression is found in John 6:45.) God's coming Kingdom will be marked by the fact that all Zion's children will be taught of God (Isa 54:13). There is a natural interpretation of this verse -- and one which renders unnecessary any theorizing about "an indwelling Spirit": God, in all His loving provisions for mankind (Mat 5:44,45), and especially in the gift of His Son for those who believe (John 3:16; 1Jo 3:16), is constantly teaching us by example how we ought to love one another.

"Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God: for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1Jo 4:7-11).

v. 10 "And in deed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia": Again, Paul refers to the reports of their faith and love that have "sounded out" throughout their own province, and even beyond (1Th 1:7,8) -- this all in the short time of a few months!

The rapid link-ups among the new ecclesias in Macedonia, which this verse and the verse in chapter 1 imply, is a fine model for modern-day communities which profess the same love for one another.

"Increase more and more": As exemplary as they had been, Paul must urge them to increase further (1Th 3:12). This phrase is almost identical with that of 1Th 4:1; which like (1Th 3:10,12) alludes to the overflowing springs of water near Thessalonica. Greater love is always a possibility for believers, because the ultimate example of love in Christ himself (John 13:34; 15:12) is infinite and unapproachable.


The readers have been exhorted, first of all, to purity (vv 3-8). They are now exhorted to love (vv 9,10). Having been warned against the cardinal vice of the pagan world, they are urged to increase in the fundamental virtue of the Christ-like life.

* * *

Do we need anyone to write to us "as touching brotherly love?" The subject, says Paul, is fundamental. We are taught of God to do it: we are taught by God's own example in giving His only begotten Son to die for us on the cross; by that Son's whole preeminent life; perhaps especially by his washing of his disciples' feet just before he suffered:

"For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15).
Such matters may be comprehended more easily than almost any other teaching of Scripture. Comprehended easily, no doubt. But how difficult to apply the lessons!

"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35).
This is Christ's test of discipleship. We might want to propose other tests, with which we would feel more comfortable; but how wise and fitting is this one. What sort of faith do we have if it does not compel us to love the men and women who share it? What sort of faith do we have if it does not compel us, out of an eager yearning in love, to share it with the poor, suffering souls around us?

The reaction of many of us, whenever the subject of love is mentioned, is either one of shyness or fear or else a feeling that it is not practical. If we are shy or afraid, it is because we have a wrong conception of its nature. We think that it has something to do with emotion and sentiment. It has not! Neither is it impractical any more than Jesus himself or Paul or Peter or John were impractical. Just how practical, how sweetly reasonable, this love is, is seen in the previous chapter:

"And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints" (1Th 3:12,13).
The end: their being established in holiness at the Judgment. The means to that end? Their increasing in love. The end cannot be attained without the means.

D. Diligence (4:11,12)

v. 11
"and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
v. 12
"that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing."


v. 11 "Study": "Make it your ambition" (NIV); "aspire" (RSV). The verb "philotimeisthai" ("philo": love; "timee": esteem or honor) signifies ambition, or the love of honor. It occurs twice elsewhere in the New Testament, surprisingly in good senses: Rom 15:20 ("So I have strived -- been ambitious -- to preach the gospel") and 2Co 5:9 ("We labor -- are ambitious -- that we may be accepted of him.")

"To be quiet": "To lead a quiet life" (NIV). The opposite of being a "busybody" (2Th 3:11). It was used of looking after one's own business and keeping out of public life. It may refer also to the cessation of argument (Acts 21:14). Clearly it denotes tranquillity of life. Paul may have in memory the recent incident in Thessalonica itself, where "certain lewd fellows of the baser sort", lazy and boisterous men with nothing better to do, were easily stirred up against the preaching of the gospel (Acts 17:5-9).

Similar exhortations to quietness and sobriety and against laziness and trouble-making form important parts of all Paul's "Pastoral Letters" (see, for examples, 1Ti 3:2,3,7; 5:13-15; 2Ti 3:2-4,6; Tit 1:10,11; 2:2-4,6).

"To do your own business": "To mind your own business" (NIV) (not that different from "to be quiet"). It may be a warning against undue interference in ecclesial affairs, in matters best left to the chosen elders -- or even to excessive, meddlesome interest in the personal affairs of one's neighbors.

"And to work with your own hands": The Greek cultures despised manual labor, with an elitist attitude that expected slaves to do this sort of work. This philosophy was rejected by Paul, as to his own way of life (1Th 2:9; 1Co 4:12) and in his teaching (Eph 4:28; 2Th 3:7-10). In this, as in other ways, the believer refused to take his standard from the community in which he lived. Rather, he held that all things he did should be done as though serving Christ directly (Col 3:17). And he remembered that Jesus himself had been a manual laborer (Mark 6:3).

v. 12 "That ye may walk honestly": Or, in a "seemly fashion" (Rom 13:13; 1Co 14:40 -- same word); literally "in good form." The contrast is given in 2Th 3:6: "disorderly." Paul is here concerned with the effect to be made by believers on non-Christians. Similarly, he writes elsewhere:

"Walk in wisdom toward them that are without" (Col 4:5).
And he exhorts the elders to "have a good report of them which are without" (1Ti 3:7). Compare also 1Co 10:32,33 and 1Pe 2:12.

"That ye may have lack of nothing": Or, equally possible, "that you will not be dependent on anybody" (NIV). Either way, the sense is the same. If all the able-bodied members worked with their hands they would be able to support themselves and their dependants, and not fall into poverty and become a continual drain on the generosity of others. It was taken for granted that those who were destitute through no choice of their own would be supported by the church (Eph 4:28; 1Ti 5:3-8).


The word "ambition" is a word that most people dislike; it speaks of ruthlessness and the willingness to sacrifice others in the pursuit of selfish ends. Ambition, however, need not be evil; much depends on the aim. The word signifying "ambition" is used three times in the New Testament, although the KJV translators obviously shrank from giving it its proper rendering: calling it "studying" (1Th 4:11), "striving" (Rom 15:20), and "laboring" (2Co 5:9).

In the first of these three Paul refers to an ambition which by normal standards is no ambition at all, but quite the reverse. "Be ambitious to be quiet." This ambition carried into effect would have a profoundly beneficial effect on ecclesial life; indeed it would transform it. It would put an end to gossip and lead to the accomplishment of many positive works. No longer would a whisperer (literally, "busybody") alienate his friend (Pro 16:28), for "where there is no talebearer (literally, "busybody"), the strife ceaseth" (Pro 26:20).

So the faithful follower of the Lord will be "ambitious" to share with his neighbors the knowledge of the gospel (Rom 15:20). He will be "ambitious" to be accepted by Christ at his coming (2Co 5:9). And at the same time he will be especially "ambitious" to mind his own business, to work with his own hands, and to be quiet and gentle and peaceable, controlling the tongue, that "little member" so full of deadly poison (James 3:5,8). Surely worthy "ambitions!"

* * *

Verse 11 presents a paradox: "Strive to be quiet." It is only one of a number of very instructive paradoxes in the New Testament: Consider the following:

* * *

One must not be guilty of idleness. No religious theories, no study of prophecy, not even an early or immediate expectation of Christ's coming can excuse one for neglecting his daily work. Manual labor is honorable and dignified. Such labor is the believer's duty whether the end is approaching or not. He may have glimpsed the glories of the future age, but he lives still in the necessities of the present. When the Lord does return, he will find his servants doing nothing better than working quietly at their assigned tasks, caring for themselves and their families, while using every spare moment to preach the Truth and serve the brotherhood.

* * *

Paul tells us "to walk honestly toward them that are without." From experience all will agree that it is relatively easy to live the Christian life in the company of fellow believers. But it is much more difficult to be true to our professions when we are among those who have no understanding of, nor sympathy for, our faith. But this is all the more reason to be especially diligent in "living the Truth" in the presence of outsiders. For one, it will be a protection against ourselves being entrapped into their way of life. And secondly, it may serve to call out from the world those who are attracted by the character and the genuineness of our lives, to come to Christ themselves. What better reasons could we possibly think of to be loyal and honest employees, kind and merciful supervisors, pleasant and helpful neighbors, and law-abiding and peace-loving citizens?

"I therefore beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called" (Eph 4:1)

"Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life" (Phi 2:14-16).

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