Much like some of Paul the Apostle’s other New Testament letters, 1 Thessalonians chapter four can be separated into different sections. The first portion of 1 Thessalonians chapter four covers verses 1-12 and provides practical instruction on several important topics. The rest of this chapter is prophetic in nature and concerns Jesus’ future return. That subject occupies verses 13-18 of chapter four and extends into the opening verses of 1 Thessalonians chapter five.
The practical instruction that marks the beginning of this chapter starts from the very first verse…
“Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2).
Paul used the phrase “Finally then…” as a literary bridge to signal his readers that he was about to change subjects and transition into the final portion of this letter. That portion began with an exhortation to “abound more and more” in pursuit of a life that is pleasing to God. Unlike those mentioned earlier who were “…unpleasing to God and against all men” (1 Thessalonians 2:15 BBE), Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to translate their growing maturity in Christ into actions that reflected the reality of their relationship with Him.
He then used the term “walk” as a word-picture to help communicate this idea. This simple figure of speech communicates more than it may seem at first glance. You see, walking serves as an excellent analogy for our relationship with Christ. For instance, walking is generally slower than other forms of transportation and is often difficult when the terrain is rough or the weather is bad. In much the same manner, there are no high-speed thoroughfares or easy paths on the road to spiritual maturity.
Walking also serves to build positive characteristics like strength and endurance. These are qualities we might not develop if we took shortcuts or traveled an easier road in our relationship with Christ. One commentator offers an important reminder concerning this idea…
“Paul was thankful for the growth he saw in the Thessalonians, but still looked for them to abound more and more in a walk that would please God… This means that Christian maturity is never finished on this side of eternity. No matter how far a Christian has come in love and holiness, he or she can still abound more and more… Those who do not know God do not have the spiritual resources to walk pure before the Lord; but Christians do. Therefore, Christians should live differently than those who do not know God.” (1)
(1) David Guzik, 1 Thessalonians 4 – Confidence in the Coming of Jesus © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/1-thessalonians-4/
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
There is a debate that has been waged among groups ranging from the scientific and academic communities all the way to friends, neighbors and co-workers. That debate involves this question: “Does a Creator really exist?”
This represents more than just a theoretical discussion, for the acknowledgement of a Creator carries profound implications. Perhaps the most important implication involves an obligation to live in a manner that is consistent with the Creator’s purpose for our lives. This is often sufficient to provoke a negative response from those who would prefer to live as if a Creator did not exist or avoid the nagging suspicion that we might eventually have to give an account for our choices in life. (1)
On the other hand, those accept God’s existence eventually come to different question: “What is God’s will for my life?” For some, the answer to that question begins and ends with the peace they feel when deciding upon a course of action. However, “feelings” are a notoriously poor foundation for good decision-making and it is possible to feel peaceful about a decision that is far outside the will of God.
Instead, it is far better to first ensure that we are following God’s will in those areas where His desires are known. As we seek to follow God’s direction in those areas where His will is clearly expressed, we may find His path is clarified in other areas as well.
We find one such area in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 where we’re told, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Another is contained within the New Testament epistle of 1 Peter: “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15 ESV).
A third example is referenced within the book of the Old Testament prophet Malachi: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Malachi 6:8).
We can look to these Scriptures as “macro directives” concerning God’s will. If we are attending to God’s revealed will in these foundational areas of life, we should be well-positioned to make God-honoring decisions in other areas. We’ll consider some additional declarations of God’s will from the Scriptures next.
(1) See related discussion beginning here
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV).
As we seek to determine God’s direction for our lives, it’s important to respond appropriately in those areas where His guidance is clear. In addition to what we read here in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 regarding sexual conduct, the Scriptures also provide us with some additional “macro directives” concerning God’s will…
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
“Therefore, pay careful attention to how you conduct your life — live wisely, not unwisely. Use your time well, for these are evil days” (Ephesians 5:15-16 CJB).
“You must get on with your work, not only when someone is watching you, as if you were just trying to please another human being, but as slaves of the Messiah. Do God’s will from your heart. Get on with your tasks with a kind and ready spirit as if you were serving the master himself and not human beings” (Ephesians 6:5-7 NTE).
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV).
“Don’t become like the people of this world. Instead, change the way you think. Then you will always be able to determine what God really wants—what is good, pleasing, and perfect” (Romans 12:2 GW).
We should also remember that Jesus had something important to add regarding the subject of knowing God’s will: “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17 NIV). The word for “chooses” in that passage means to wish, determine, or be inclined. (1) Therefore we can say that our preferential desires have a role to play in knowing God’s will, at least in part.
This is important because the New Testament book of James tells us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). This reminds us that a knowledge of God and the Scriptures carries a responsibility to live accordingly.
(1) G2307 thelema https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=esv&strongs=g2307
“God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT).
What can we do to help ensure we are aligned with God’s will? Well, we can start with a commitment to seek God’s direction in prayer. For instance, Job 12:13 and Psalm 32:8 each provide us with an incentive to pray…
“To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his” (NIV).
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you” (NIV).
The following Scriptures also provide encouragement in this area…
“…if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:3-6 NIV)
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
Another suggestion involves setting aside a time to read a portion of the Bible each day. For instance, the New Testament letter of 2 Timothy tells us “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV). Therefore, a person who develops a good working knowledge of the Scriptures along with a commitment to act upon them is someone who is well-equipped to make good choices. Psalm 119:11 also identifies the importance of internalizing God’s Word when it tells us, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (KJV).
Remember that the Biblical book of Romans tells us, “…everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4 NIV). As we examine the lives of the people who appear within the Scriptures, we gain the opportunity to follow their good examples and avoid their mistakes.
Finally, we should not overlook the value of Godly counsel as we seek the Lord’s direction for our lives. Psalm 1:1-2 emphasizes the importance of obtaining trustworthy, God-honoring advice when it tells us, “Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.”
Taken together, these suggestions can help us follow God’s direction in the decisions of daily life.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).
The word “sanctification” is a theological term that involves separation from sin and dedication to God. We can find a more precise description of this important doctrinal concept in the following definition: “the act or process by which people or things are cleansed and dedicated to God…” (1) One commentator expands on this idea with the following illustration…
“Just what does it mean to be sanctified? Suppose one were living in the time of Christ and wanted to make a gift to the temple. He would bring his gift of gold coins and lay them on the altar. What happened to those gold coins? The moment they were given to God they became sanctified. They were set apart for holy use. The sanctification did not change the character of the gold coins, but it did change their use and the purpose for which they were directed. So, every true Christian has been set apart as holy to God, even though he falls short of perfection.” (2)
In the New Testament, the concept of sanctification finds its foundation in Christ. For instance, Jesus made an important declaration concerning Himself as He spoke with the religious leaders of His day: “…why do you say that I’m dishonoring God because I said, ‘I’m the Son of God’? God set me apart for this holy purpose and has sent me into the world” (John 10:36 GW).
So just as Jesus was set apart for God’s purposes, those who are in Christ are set apart as well. The Biblical letter to the church at Ephesus offers a further illustration: “God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3-4 NIV). In light of this, we can say that sanctification is a work of God through Christ.
However, it is also appropriate to add that every man and woman of God is involved in this process as well. We can revisit 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 to illustrate this idea: “For this is the will of God— your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality, that each of you learn how to maintain control over his own ‘vessel’ in holiness and honor” (Mounce, emphasis added).
This implies that God’s people are responsible to learn, grow, and participate in this ongoing process of sanctification, at least to some degree.
(1) New Dictionary of Theology, (Leicester/ Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1988) pg. 613
(2) John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, pp. 34-35. Quoted in Notes on 1 Thessalonians 2020 Edition, Dr. Thomas L. Constable https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/1thessalonians/1thessalonians.htm#_ftn131
“For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality, that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 NET).
In the original language of this passage, the phrase “sexual immorality” is derived from the word porneia, a word that serves as the basis for our modern-day word “pornography.” In general, “sexual immorality” encompasses any type of sexual expression that goes beyond God’s design for human sexual relationships. Jesus defined that standard in the New Testament Gospel of Mark…
“…at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’” (Mark 10:6-9 NIV).
So Jesus drew our attention to God’s initiative in establishing the marriage institution. He also provided us with the appropriate parameters for sexual relationships by way of these quotations from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24. Those parameters involve a God-initiated, monogamous relationship between a genetic male and a genetic female who have joined in a Biblically lawful marriage as husband and wife. Physical relationships that fall outside these Scriptural parameters come under the general definition of “sexual immorality.”
Jesus expanded that definition to include internal expressions of sexual immorality as well…
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
Two commentators also identify the similarities between first-century views of sexuality and modern-day attitudes toward sexual expression…
“Paul gave these commands to a first-century Roman culture that was marked by sexual immorality. At this time in the Roman Empire, chastity and sexual purity were almost unknown virtues. Nevertheless, Christians were to take their standards of sexual morality from God and not from the culture.” (1)
“Immorality was common among heathen peoples. It may be that, in his report of the general steadfastness of the Thessalonian Christians, Timothy had mentioned some cases of moral laxness which occasioned this exhortation.” (2)
In light of this, we can say that Paul the Apostle’s letter to the Thessalonians entered a culture that embraced sexual promiscuity. Therefore, this counsel would have been poorly received by many within the culture of that time, just as it is also rejected among many today.
(1) David Guzik, 1 Thessalonians 4 – Confidence In The Coming Of Jesus 2. (3-6a) The command to be sexually pure. © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/1-thessalonians-4/
(2) Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, 1 Thessalonians Chapter 4. Immorality. Love. The Lord’s Coming [pg. 627] Copyright © 2000, 2007 by Halley’s Bible Handbook, Inc.
“that each one of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honour, not in the passion of lust, even as the Gentiles which know not God” (1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 RV).
We can view this reference to “possessing one’s own vessel” in at least two different ways. The first involves mastery over one’s body, especially in the area of sexual expression. Several different Biblical versions have taken this translational approach…
“that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor” (ESV).
“learn how to control your own body in a pure and respectable way” (CEB).
“that each of you know how to manage his sexual impulses in a holy and honorable manner” (CJB).
In these examples, the word “vessel” is used to represent the body in much the same manner as it is used in 2 Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”
However, it is also possible to associate this passage with a virtuous marriage relationship. That approach is featured in the following Biblical translations…
“Respect and honor your wife” (CEV).
“that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor” (RSV).
“Each of you should know that finding a husband or wife for yourself is to be done in a holy and honorable way” (GW).
As with our first example, we can find support for this approach from another portion of the Bible. In this instance, we can turn to 1 Peter 3:7 where we read, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”
Regardless of the approach we take in analyzing this verse, this passage encourages us to maintain a God-honoring attitude of self-control. This is a representative quality of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and as one commentator has observed, “If you cannot possess yourself of your own nature, be possessed by the Holy Spirit. God giveth His Holy Spirit for this purpose.” (1)
The undesirable alternative involves “passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God…” (NIV). While passion has a rightful and honorable place in a God-honoring marriage relationship, “lust” describes the mindset of a person who uses others in an effort to fulfill his or her desires. Lust may also involve varying degrees of selfishness, exploitation, or victimization and thus is incompatible with God’s character.
(1) Meyer, Frederick Brotherton. “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:4”. “F. B. Meyer’s ‘Through the Bible’ Commentary”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbm/1-thessalonians-4.html. 1914.
“that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified” (1 Thessalonians 4:6).
We often associate the idea of “defrauding someone” with a person who engages in a dishonest or deceptive business practice. However, this passage tells us that illicit sexual activity also involves a type of fraud from a Biblical perspective. One commentary provides us with some valuable background information that helps explain this connection…
“The Greek word used here, pleonekteo, refers to taking advantage of someone, especially for financial or material gain. It is possible that Paul is concerned with believers taking advantage of one another in terms of finances. However, the context of the passages suggests that Paul is still addressing the issue of sexual immorality (vv. 2–5). In this case, he is urging believers to avoid taking advantage of each other in sexual matters. Such behavior not only would represent a moral failure, but also would damage the community of believers and its reputation within society.” (1)
While the obvious victims of this type of fraud are the marital partners of those who engage in such relationships, we should remember that such offenses are ultimately perpetrated against God. As we’re told in 1 Corinthians 6:13, “…The body is not to be used for sexual immorality, but to serve the Lord; and the Lord provides for the body” (GNT). While human legal systems judge the offenses that have been committed against other human beings (and then only imperfectly), God judges such violations with full clarity and complete objectivity.
This directs our attention back to something mentioned earlier in 1 Thessalonians 4:4: “…each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable” (NIV). A person who prayerfully seeks to develop this ability under the direction of the Holy Spirit is someone who is least likely to defraud another person in this area.
Finally, this passage reminds us that it is inappropriate to take sexual advantage of those who are physically or emotionally vulnerable. The problem is that it is virtually impossible to catalog every circumstance, situation, or environment that might potentially lead us to engage in this type of behavior. Therefore, we should prayerfully seek to recognize our own susceptibility in this area (as well as those of others) and seek to avoid those situations where our bodies and emotions are likely to eclipse our better judgment.
(1) Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (1 Th 4:6). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
“For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8).
One commentary makes an intriguing statement regarding this passage that is certain to be dismissed by large segments of modern-day society…
“…holiness is not asceticism. Human sexuality can be expressed legitimately and honourably within the bounds of marriage. Sexual immorality, by contrast, is essentially selfish and dishonourable.” (1)
While many would certainly reject this latter assertion, we can illustrate the validity of this idea with a case in point. Let’s take the example of two singles who live and/or sleep together but remain unmarried. If the couple in our scenario is reluctant to commit to one another in marriage, the question becomes, why?
One potential response is that one or both partners are seeking to determine if they are sexually compatible before entering a marriage commitment. If that is the case, then it seems fair to ask how many “tests” might be necessary for the couple to reach a conclusion regarding their sexual compatibility and how long their “research project” might last. And what if one partner finds another person who appears to be sexually preferable during that period- what then?
Of course, those who engage in such relationships may like the fact that they are unencumbered by a marital commitment. They may appreciate the advantages of a sexual relationship without the obligation and responsibility that goes along with a marriage vow. Others many simply enjoy the convenience that accompanies a “friend with benefits.”
Unfortunately, there is a sobering truth that may lie hidden at the core of such relationships. Even if one or both partners believe they are in love with one another, these relationships may be little more than business arrangements where each partner agrees to meet each other’s mutual needs. At worst, one or both partners are simply using one another for their own gratification.
While many 21st century cultures recognize these types of domestic partnerships, 1 Thessalonians 4:8 takes a decidedly different view: “Therefore, whoever rejects these instructions isn’t rejecting a human authority. They are rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (CEB). We can return to the source quoted earlier for some closing thoughts on this topic…
“Few things have contributed more to the downfall of believers than sexuality. However mature one might be, the constant bombardment from a society that does not know God (v.5), coupled with the nature of sexual desires, provide ready ammunition for the Tempter (see 3:5). Paul’s implied remedy is the continuing presence of the Spirit in the believer’s life.” (1)
(1) Asbury Bible Commentary, Holiness and Sexuality (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8) Copyright © 1992 by The Zondervan Corporation.
“But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more;” (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10).
1 Thessalonians 4:9 opens a subsection of this letter that contains various exhortations to Godly living in a number of areas of life. The first is related to brotherly love among the people of God.
In the original language of this passage, the term “brotherly love” is translated from the Greek word philadelphia. “Philadelphia” in turn is derived from the ancient Greek word phileo, a word that means, to approve of, to like, to treat affectionately or kindly, to welcome, befriend. (1)
Phileo describes the type of love that can be found among those who share a common interest. For example, when a group of close friends get together for a time of social interaction, the affection, acceptance, fondness, and camaraderie that exists among them is often reflective of this type of love. Other synonyms that can be used to describe the idea of phileo include words such as fraternity, community, and brotherhood.
Since human love is sometimes tainted with the qualities of selfishness, manipulation, and/or self-gratification, phileo probably represents the purest expression of love that most people will ever experience outside a relationship with God in Christ. On the other hand, love for one another (even those who differ from us) is a characteristic that should serve to identify the people of God.
In a world that often recognizes (and enforces) the rigid separation of those who hold different viewpoints, cultural observances, and political opinions, the unity that Christians experience as members of the body of Christ is greater than any characteristic that might divide us. We could also say the same of differences in wealth, social status, personality type, emotional makeup, or any of the other dissimilarities that individual Christians might possess.
For the man or woman of God, the defining qualities of love given to us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 serve to guide and direct the choices and decisions we make in our relationships. And when it comes to the expression of brotherly love, it’s difficult to improve upon the counsel given to us in the New Testament book of Ephesians…
“Be humble and gentle in every way. Be patient with each other and lovingly accept each other. Through the peace that ties you together, do your best to maintain the unity that the Spirit gives” (Ephesians 4:2-3 GW).
(1) G5368 phileo Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g5368
“that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
In our current age of 24/7 celebrity news, tabloid television, provocative headlines, and social media influencers, the passage quoted above may have more relevance than ever. However, its important to understand this verse in light of its context in order to make a suitable application.
You see, some may erroneously associate this directive with the kind of life that displays little or no ambition. Others may mistakenly associate this passage with weakness, fear, or trepidation. But as one source observes, “He told them, in effect, that the best way in which Jesus Christ could come upon them was that he should find them quietly, efficiently and diligently doing their daily job.” (1)
Unfortunately, the natural human desire for approval, recognition, affirmation, and validation may prompt us to go beyond the parameters of this verse in a variety of subtle ways. In the words of one commentary…
“Everyone needs a certain amount of approval from others. But those who go out of their way to secure honors or to win popularity become conceited and show they are not following the Holy Spirit’s leading… Because we are God’s sons and daughters, we have his Holy Spirit as the loving guarantee of his approval. Seek to please God, and the approval of others won’t seem so important.” (2)
God may lead us to achieve great things if we quietly and consistently seek to honor Him in attending to the duties and responsibilities of daily life. In the meantime, we would do well to remember the counsel given to us in Romans 2:7: “He will give eternal life to those who patiently do the will of God, seeking for the unseen glory and honor and eternal life that he offers” (TLB).
One scholar closes with a penetrating analysis of this passage…
“The Gk. word for this term often denoted the attempt to garner civic honor and recognition through outward displays of generosity by the wealthy. Paul’s use of the term turns that concept on its head: the Thessalonians should be zealous for the honor that comes not through self-assertion or an ostentatious show of personal greatness, but through humble, industrious, and unimpeachable behavior.
This exhortation, pertinent to all Christians, had a particular urgency in Thessalonica, where the Christians had already been falsely accused of sedition (Acts 17:6–9). By living lives that were respectable and unpretentious, the Christians in Thessalonica were to allay any lingering suspicions. This remains the call for all believers.” (3)
See related discussion here
(1) Barclay, William. “1 Thessalonians 4:9-12”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-thessalonians-4.html. 1956-1959.
(2) Life Application Study Bible NKJV (Galatians 5:26). Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
(3) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2137). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“…seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you” (1 Thessalonians 4:11 HCSB).
Few would disagree that the world already has enough gossips, meddlers, and self-appointed “supervisors.” Those characteristics represent a few of the personality traits addressed by the passage quoted above. One commentator builds upon this idea with a satiric observance: “The three classes addressed here are fanatics, busybodies and loafers; and, as Hendriksen noted, ‘Often one and the same person is all three!’” (1)
We will save a discussion on the subject of gossip for a later date as Paul the Apostle will go on to address that topic in the book of 2 Thessalonians. For now, we should recognize that these qualities should not be found among those who belong to the family of God. Instead, the Scriptures remind us of the need to honor others (Romans 1:10), put up with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2), and live in peace with others as much as possible (Romans 12:18).
In the context of 1 Thessalonians 4:11, this means refraining from injecting ourselves into the affairs of others, especially in debatable matters. While it is Biblically appropriate to admonish one another in the case of sinful behavior (Matthew 18:15-17), this passage counsels us to mind our own business when it comes to areas where others make decisions that reflect a debatable point of view. It may also involve gently but firmly reminding others to observe such boundaries as well.
However, this does not mean that we must remain silent as others consider a course of action that seems ill-advised. In such instances, it might be appropriate to ask permission before offering a suggestion or opinion. For example, we might say, “Would you consider an alternative approach” before presenting our opinion as a potential option. This demonstrates respect for others and helps remove the stigma attached with “telling others what to do.” It also provides the assurance that we have acted responsibly if our suggestions are rejected.
It is always appropriate to pray for others and ask God to provide wisdom, guidance, and direction in their decision-making process. If we seek to act as facilitators who direct others to Jesus’ leadership instead of assuming such responsibilities for ourselves, it can help to ensure that we live in harmony with one another. Finally, we should also keep the following admonition in mind whenever we are tempted to mind another person’s business…
“Who are you to criticize someone else’s servant? The Lord will determine whether his servant has been successful. The servant will be successful because the Lord makes him successful” (Romans 14:4 GW).
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:11”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-thessalonians-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“…make it your ambition to live quietly and peacefully, and to mind your own affairs and work with your hands, just as we directed you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders [exhibiting good character, personal integrity, and moral courage worthy of the respect of the outside world], and be dependent on no one and in need of nothing [be self-supporting]” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 AMP).
As we seek to honor God with our resources, we can look to Him to provide for our needs and enable us to serve as a conduit of His blessings to others. This is especially true in light of what we read in 2 Corinthians 9:8: “…God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves and more than enough for every good cause” (GNT). To borrow a quote from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this will enable others to “…see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
However, this passage brings another message from Jesus to mind…
“Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much, and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much. If you haven’t been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? If you haven’t been faithful with someone else’s property, who will give you your own?” (Luke 16:10-12 CEB).
These passages remind us that those who profess to follow Christ have been entrusted with a responsibility. Part of that responsibility involves living in a way that others cannot legitimately define as lazy, belligerent, or meddlesome. For example, the qualities of industriousness and personal responsibility reflect well upon the individual and the God that he or she claims to serve. In addition, a quiet, hard-working person is someone who elicits respect from others, even if they are unwilling to admit it.
The second portion of this verse carries another important implication…
“We gather from this passage, and from 2 Thessalonians 3:11, that some of the believers in this church believed that the Second Coming of Christ was very near, and in their zeal, abandoned their jobs. Paul gets into the social implications of the gospel when he tells them to look after their families and continue their secular work. According to verse 12 it would be wrong and harmful to their testimonies to depend upon the church to feed their families. Furthermore this might cause actual poverty and economic recession. These verses are then significant for the Christian work ethic.” (1)
We’ll consider this possibility at greater length when we reach the book of 2 Thessalonians.
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2478). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
If the book of 1 Thessalonians is the earliest chronological letter among Paul the Apostle’s Biblical writings, then 1 Thessalonians 4:13 marks the first appearance of a literary device he often used to introduce an important topic: “…we do not want you to be uninformed” (ESV). Variations of this phrase also appear in Paul’s letters to the churches at Rome and Corinth and serve to draw our attention to the critical information that follows.
In this instance, Paul felt the need to clarify the state of those believers who had passed from this life…
“When Paul first went to Thessalonica, he taught the Christians about Christ’s coming to reign and the events that would follow. But in the meantime, problems had arisen regarding those saints who had died. Would their bodies remain in the graves until the last day? Would they be excluded from participation in Christ’s coming and in His glorious kingdom? To answer their questions and to allay their fears, Paul now describes the order of events at the time of Christ’s coming for his people.” (1)
Paul also explained his motive in seeking to address this subject: “…so you will not grieve like people who have no hope” (NLT). This passage provides us with some valuable insight, for human beings react to the presence of death in a variety of ways. For instance, some become highly emotional in response to the passing of a loved one while others are quiet and reflective. Some weep silently alone and others prefer to gather together to honor the life of the deceased.
No matter how we handle the grieving process, there are two underlying views that ultimately influence the way we respond when others pass from this life. The first is a sense that we have lost the deceased forever. The second is the belief that his or her passing is simply “goodbye for now.” Paul sought to encourage the Thessalonians (and modern-day readers by extension) in the form of this response: “…I want you to know what happens to a Christian when he dies so that when it happens, you will not be full of sorrow, as those are who have no hope” (TLB).
We are sure to find strength and comfort regarding this difficult subject as we go on to examine the final verses of this chapter.
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (p.2037) Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NIV).
This passage employs the word “sleep” as a figure of speech that helps make an unfamiliar concept easier to grasp. In this instance, sleep is used as a metaphor to represent the physical death of those who are in Christ.
To help explain this comparison, let’s take the example of someone who retires to bed in the evening and later awakes to the dawn of a new day. In this respect, the act of going to sleep involves a transition from one day to another. In a similar manner, death (like sleep) is a transitional state for those who follow Jesus. But unlike the act of sleeping through the transition of one day to another, death involves our transition from this temporary, physical life to eternal life with God.
In this respect, it has been said that our friends and loved ones in Christ who pass from this life are not unlike a group of companions who have left us to depart for a lengthy trip. While we look forward to reuniting with them in the future, there may be great sadness over the fact that our reunion might not take place for quite some time.
We can also look to Jesus’ example in responding to the loss of a loved one. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus passed away, John 11:35 describes His reaction: “Jesus wept.” In much the same way, we may bereave our loss or mourn the fact that we no longer have the ability to enjoy the company of those we love. Nevertheless, we should not “…grieve over them and be like people who don’t have any hope” (CEV).
When a man or woman in Christ passes from this life, our sorrow should be tempered by the knowledge that our separation is temporary. In the words of one source, “Knowing the bright future of believers who have died gives hope in the midst of grief. Paul did not deny that the death of a believer brings grief to his or her loved ones (cf. John 11:35). Nevertheless he insisted that Christians need ‘not grieve’ as those ‘who have no hope’ grieve.” (1)
(1) Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Thessalonians 2020 Edition [4:13], https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/1thessalonians/1thessalonians.htm
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:14 ESV).
Before we consider the reference to Jesus’ return in this passage, we should pause to examine the statement that precedes it: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again…” (GNT). You see, a proper understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection is at least as important as a proper understanding of His life and teachings. The Apostle Paul underscored that importance in the Biblical letter of 1 Corinthians…
“If Christ hasn’t been raised, then your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins, and what’s more, those who have died in Christ are gone forever. If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19 CEB).
First, Jesus’ death is recorded in all four gospel accounts of His life (Matthew 27:35- 50, Mark 15:27-37, Luke 23:33-46, John 19:23-30). Each gospel also documents Jesus’ resurrection from His burial tomb as well (Matthew 28:1-15, Mark 16:1-13, Luke 24:1-42, John 20:1-29).
In addition, Jesus’ resurrection was attested by many who encountered Him following His crucifixion including…
- Mary Magdelene (John 20:11-16).
- Mary Magdelene and another woman named Mary (Matthew 28:1, 9).
- Simon Peter (Luke 24:34).
- Two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-22).
- The disciples together as a group (Luke 24:33-43).
- The disciples together with Thomas (John 20:26-29).
- Seven disciples together (John 21:1-14).
- The disciples together as a group (Matthew 28:16-20).
- The disciples together as a group (Acts 1:4-9).
- 500 people (1Corinthians 15:6).
- James (1 Corinthians 15:7).
- Paul (1 Corinthians 15:8).
Finally, the Biblical record of Jesus’ crucifixion is supplemented by several extra-Biblical sources as one author attests…
“Perhaps no other fact surrounding the life of the historical Jesus is better attested to than His death by crucifixion. Not only is the crucifixion account included in every gospel narrative… but it is also confirmed by several non-Christian sources. These include the Jewish historian Josephus, the Roman historian Tacitus, the Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata, as well as the Jewish Talmud…
Josephus tells us that ‘Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us…condemned him to the cross…’ …From a perspective of historiography, Jesus’ crucifixion meets the historical criteria of multiple, independent and early eyewitness sources including enemy attestation. John Dominic Crossan, non-Christian critical scholar and co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, states, ‘That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be…’” (1)
(1) Aaron Brake, The Minimal Facts Of The Resurrection Retrieved 16 March 2020 from https://crossexamined.org/the-minimal-facts-of-the-resurrection/
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
This passage references an event that has come to be known as the “rapture of the church.” We derive the term “rapture” from an ancient version of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 known as the Vulgate. That translation renders “caught up” as raptus, thus providing us with the word “rapture” and an easy way to identify this Biblical doctrine.
While many hold various ideas and opinions regarding “the rapture,” it’s best to build our view upon the information given to us in the passage quoted above. (1) We can begin by saying that Paul the Apostle received this information directly from Christ, for he says, “…we tell you this by the word of the Lord” (NET). Because of this, we can say that this disclosure originated with Jesus Himself.
We can also make the following observations from this passage…
- Jesus will personally descend from heaven to lead this event with an upraised voice.
- There will be some degree of angelic involvement. The reference to “…the voice of an archangel” has led some to speculate that the archangel Michael will be involved in the events that accompany the rapture.
- There will be a definitive signal from a sounding horn. Contemporary readers of this passage should be familiar with this reference for modern-day societies still use various types of horns to direct our attention to an emergency situation, an alert condition, or a call to action.
- The men and women of God who are already in the Lord’s presence will receive new bodies, followed by those who are alive at the time of Jesus’ return.
- That meeting will take place in what modern-day audiences would identify as the lower atmosphere or the region where birds and aircraft travel.
- Jesus will never be separated from His people again following this event.
To borrow a phrase from the closing verse of this chapter, this future reality should serve as a great comfort to God’s people.
(1) As well as the information given to us in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. See related discussion beginning here
“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 ESV).
One of the more challenging aspects of this passage involves the language used by Paul the Apostle in describing the events surrounding Jesus’ return. For instance, “…we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord” seems to imply that Paul expected Jesus to return within his lifetime. Since that was not the case, what are we to make of this statement?
We can address this question three ways. First, we might say that Paul was using this term in an editorial manner, much as we have already done several times within this very study. One commentator captures this idea with the following explanation: “When I say `we,’ I mean those who are living, those who survive to that day.” (1)
Another source compares the Biblical letters to the Corinthian church to make an important point: “In this verse Paul speaks of himself as one who would be alive at Christ’s coming (see also 1Co_15:51-52). However, in 2Co_4:14 and 2Co_5:1, he speaks of the possibility of his being among those who will be raised. The obvious conclusion is that we should look for the Lord to come at any moment, yet realize that we may be called to reach heaven by way of death.” (2)
Finally, one scholar offers a third option…
“…Paul may simply be expressing his own hope here, without affirming that he would in actual fact be alive when Christ returns. After all, Christ’s return is the blessed hope (cf. Titus 2:13) of all believers. Had Paul wanted to affirm that he would be alive when Christ came back, he could have said very clearly, ‘I will be alive and remain until the coming of the Lord.’ But he did not say this. The ‘we’ could have implied a hope he had without making any affirmation about whether he would or would not remain alive until the rapture.” (3)
(1) Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956) pg.87 quoted in Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:11”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-thessalonians-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
(2) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (1 Thessalonians 4:15), pg.2037
(3) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (p. 492). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
“For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 NET).
As mentioned earlier, this passage references an event that has come to be known as “the rapture of the church.” To understand how the Rapture fits into Biblical history, it helps to examine another future event known as the Tribulation period.
Jesus offered some insight into this time period in chapter twenty-four of Matthew’s gospel. In Matthew 24:21-30, Jesus described the interval that will precede His return as a time of “…great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21). (1)
Although there is a great range of opinion regarding certain aspects of the Tribulation, it’s fair to say that many expect the following elements to characterize this period…
- A seven year length of time (2) in which God will bring the current state of human history to a close.
- The appearance of a person known as the Antichrist. (3) This man will unite the entire world under a consolidated (and godless) religious/political system.
- The first half of this seven year period will seem relatively peaceful in certain respects. However, war, environmental devastation, economic catastrophe, widespread death, and cataclysmic destruction will mark the second half. (4) This length of time is sometimes designated as the “Great Tribulation” to distinguish it from the period that immediately precedes it.
- During this time, God will pour out His wrath and execute judgment upon those who have rejected Him in an attitude of rebellion and unbelief.
- The Tribulation period will conclude with a final battle that ends with Jesus’ triumphant return and His subsequent reign for a thousand years (the “Millennial Kingdom”). (5)
Much of the debate surrounding the rapture of the church centers on when it will occur in relation to the Tribulation. We’ll consider the major views regarding the timing of the Rapture next.
(1) See also Mark 13 and Luke 21:5-36.
(2) Based on the prophetic message given to the Old Testament prophet Daniel in Daniel 9:24-27.
(3) See also 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10.
(4) Daniel 9:27.
(5) See Revelation 13-19 for a detailed description of this period.
“For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 HCSB).
The rapture of the church is a subject of great interest to many both inside and outside the church. At the risk of greatly oversimplifying the dedicated work of those who have invested in the study of this subject, we can identify three primary views regarding the timing of the Rapture…
Pre-tribulation View. The pre-tribulational rapture position holds that those who have accepted Christ will be caught up to meet Jesus prior to the beginning of the Tribulation period. God’s people will be raised to eternal life during this time and will accompany Jesus in His triumphant return at the end of the Tribulation. While those who remain will have an opportunity come to faith in Christ following the Rapture, they will do so in an environment of extreme persecution.
Mid-Tribulation View. The mid-tribulational rapture position teaches that believers will also be caught up to meet Christ. However, that meeting will take place at (or near) the midpoint of the Tribulation. According to this view, God will rapture His people before He executes His judgment during the second half of the Tribulation period.
Post-Tribulation View. As the name implies, the post-tribulation rapture position holds that believers will caught up to be united with Jesus at the conclusion of the Tribulation. This view maintains that Christians will endure the entire Tribulation period and sees the rapture of the church and Jesus’ second coming as virtually simultaneous events.
While these chronological differences have sparked a great deal of debate, one commentator encourages us to maintain a healthy perspective regarding these views…
“The different views of the rapture may disagree over the timing of end-time events, but they all agree on the big picture: there will be a rapture and we will live forever with Jesus in heaven. In the long haul (after we’ve been with Christ for billions of years in heaven), the question of whether the rapture happened before or after the Tribulation period will seem utterly ridiculous. Perhaps we should all keep that in mind the next time we’re tempted to get into a heated argument about the timing of the rapture.” (1)
(1) Dr Ron Rhodes, What Does the Bible Say About…?: Easy-To-Understand Answers to the Tough Questions (pg. 253).
“Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).
The New Testament book of Ephesians contains a passage that relates to our look at these final verses from 1 Thessalonians chapter four…
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:1-2 NIV).
In the Biblical era, Satan and his demonic representatives were rightly viewed as inferior spirit beings. As such, they were thought to be unworthy of occupying any place other than the Earth’s atmospheric environment, a location that was far below God’s heavenly throne. This helps explain the reference to “…the ruler of the kingdom of the air” here in Ephesians chapter two.
While this may not seem to correlate with our current study, one source makes an interesting connection between these passages from the book of Ephesians and 1 Thessalonians chapter four: “The air is Satan’s sphere (Eph_2:2), so this is a triumphal gathering in open defiance of the devil right in his own stronghold.” (1)
Finally, we should pay special attention to the concluding verse of 1 Thessalonians chapter four: “…comfort one another with these words” (KJV). As we study the rapture of the church and other end-time related events, we should consider our pursuit of those topics in light of the comfort they bring to ourselves and other members of God’s family. If our studies in these areas serve to produce more contention than comfort, we may do well to reexamine our priorities.
We’ll close our look at this important portion of Scripture with some wisdom from the following commentator…
“The primary purpose of this passage is not to teach a scheme of prophecy, but rather to provide encouragement to those Christians whose loved ones have died. The comfort here is based on the following: 1) the dead will be resurrected and will participate in the Lord’s coming for His own; 2) when Christ comes the living will be reunited forever with their loved ones; and 3) they all will be with the Lord eternally (v. 17).” (2)
(1) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (1 Thessalonians 4:17), pg.2038.
(2) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Th 4:18). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.