First Baptist Church Waynesboro, GA

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 | Pastor Justin Braun

December 02, 2023 FBCWaynesboro
First Baptist Church Waynesboro, GA
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 | Pastor Justin Braun

Happy Lord’s Day! It is good to be face to face before the Lord together this morning.


We are in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 today. And, in the words of the 1990 recording artist Salt-n-pepper, “let’s talk about sex.” Our passage is one of those that may be a little uncomfortable for us, yet it is crucial for us if we want to please God. The headline of the chapter is: “Walk This Way” – Paul gives instructions about how the Thessalonians must walk/live to please God. There are three particular areas he focuses on in the first 12 verses. The Thessalonians are to please God in their sexual behaviors, in their love for the church, and in their civil life. This morning we are focused on the first eight verses and sexual holiness.

Main idea: Be distinct from the world: honor God & His people by practicing sexual holiness.

Would you stand with me in honor of reading God’s word…

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 | Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are “Walking”, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your holiness{sanctification}: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to “possess his own Vessel” {control his own body} in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

This is the word of the Lord… May he carve it’s eternal truth on our hearts.


You may be seated.


Paul wants the Thessalonians to walk to please God and asks them to recall the instructions they have already received. It’s important to note that the Thessalonians are walking to please God – just as you are “Walking”, – And still Paul believes it necessary to encourage them to do it more. He says, in verse one: “You are walking to please God – Great! Keep up the Good work! Keep grinding. Keep growing.” It’s a good reminder to us that even when we are walking in holiness we can always use instruction and encouragement to keep walking. It is good to push and challenge one another toward greater godliness.

TR – That’s what Paul does to start off this section. He tells them they are doing great and that he wants them to keep doing great. Look at verse 2 again…

1 Thessalonians 4:2-3 | 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your holiness{sanctification}: that you abstain from sexual immorality;

Paul is not giving the Thessalonians new instructions, he is reiterating what they already know – “repetition is the mother of learning” after all. And what he thinks is important for them to remember at this point is God’s will for their lives.

Now, often when Christians talk about God’s will the conversation is more than a little fuzzy. Part of the reason it gets cloudy is that we don’t have proper categories. So let me give you three: (1) God’s will of Direction – what should I do in every and any specific situation (This is where we must use wisdom, take council, and make decisions since God does not intend for us to play hide-n-go seek until we divine exactly where he would want us to go school, or what job he would want us to take, or who to marry, or when to retire. We have to use wisdom for this. God’s will of direction is what we often seek, but really can’t know. We have to obey his revealed will and act faithfully. That’s the first category. His will of direction. (2) God’s will of decree – This is everything God has ordered to take place from eternity past. It cannot be thwarted or stopped (3) God’s will of Desire – this is how God wants us to live. God’s will of desire can be disregarded.

And it is God’s will of desire that Paul has in mind here in our text. The Bible is very clear about God’s will of desire for us – obedience to God’s commands. How this bumps up against God’s will of direction is this: You are free to do what you want as long as it is consistent with God’s will of desire. If you are being obedient to the clearly revealed commands of God you are cleared to follow your passions in whatever direction you choose. You can think more about that later.

For now, let’s turn our attention to the question: What is God’s will of desire for the Thessalonians and for us? V3 – Holiness.1 Many translations opt for the word Sanctification here which is fine. They are just trying to help you recognize that Paul is summoning us to a grow in godliness. But holiness is the more literal translation and is opted for when the same source word shows up in verses 4 & 7 and in 3:13. Holiness is the principle Paul wants us to consider.

The main idea in the section is that Christians are to be distinct from the world. The call is to be holy as God is holy and to live, verse 5, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles (pagans – remember Paul is writing to a Gentile church so he is calling those outside of God’s people Gentiles and considering those Gentiles in the church part of renewed Israel)…not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles/pagans/the world who do not know God.” In other words, Christians are to live in a way that is distinct from the world because they do know God. They know God and live in a manner consistent with his holy Character. We aim to please God not to earn his favor, but because we are his children. We have been adopted and therefore want to live up to the family name. God’s holy people aim to live holy lives. {Magnolia – boys water to please}

Which brings us to the first concrete instruction Paul gives as it relates to being holy, distinct from the world: sexual holiness. Paul explains this by calling us to abstain from sexual immorality. You know the Greek word for sexual immorality “πορνείας,” it comes from “πορνεία” – you can hear

our word “porn” in it. The word is a catch all for any and every type of sexual immorality. “πορνεία” includes any sexual activity outside of the covenant of marriage. To be more explicit it includes: fornication, sodomy, homosexual activity, incest, adultery, and bestiality. Leviticus names all of them. It’s a good thing too because our culture’s rejection of marriage has taken us down an incredibly slippery slope of degeneracy. There are more and more arguing for the legitimacy even of pedophilia and of bestiality.2 The Bible rejects all of these as “πορνεία”, as sexual immorality. There is nothing new under the sun. Sex and sexual immorality did not begin in the 60’s. Sexual sin was prevalent in Paul’s day. It is widespread in our day. And it still must be rejected by Christ’s holy people. TR – Paul now gets even more precise about how he expects the Thessalonians to conduct themselves with sexual purity. Look at verse 4…

1 Thessalonians 4:4-6 | abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

First, let’s deal with some translation stuff. You probably have a foot note on verse 4 that lets you know the Greek literally says, “that each one of you know how to possess his own vessel.” “Possess his own vessel” is a metaphor, a picture. The question is what is it a metaphor for? There are 3 primary suggestions: (1) as adopted by most is the belief that possess his own vessel means possess his own body. (2) in the same vein as this interpretation, but more specific. The metaphor is thought to be a depiction not just of the body but of a body part: the male sex organ – this one is often rejected because it just makes everyone uncomfortable (3) “Possess his own vessel” refers metaphorically to a man’s wife.

It is the last position that I think is right. Let me briefly explain why I think Paul is encouraging the Thessalonian men to live with and enjoy their own wives. First, the expectation in the culture is that basically everyone will be married, so it makes sense in that regard. Second, verse 6 brings to the foreground the fact that sexual immorality is a sin against one’s brother. Third, in the Bible conversation about sexual morality always happens against the backdrop of God’s good design for marriage. Fourth, There is lots of extrabiblical literature from the same time period that uses just this metaphor to refer to a man’s wife.3 Fifth, There are a number of references in rabbinic literature to wives as “vessels,” at times with sexual connotations.4 Sixth, Peter uses this language in his first letter.

1 Peter 3:7 | Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Seventh, I think the metaphor would been familiar to the Thessalonians in this regard, especially the Jews among them. Listen to how Proverbs describes a man’s wife as a cistern which is a type of vessel and how it speaks of God’s judgment against sexual immorality just like our text…

Proverbs 5:15-23 | 15 Drink water from your own cistern,

flowing water from your own well.

16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,

streams of water in the streets?

17 Let them be for yourself alone,

and not for strangers with you.

18 Let your fountain be blessed,

and rejoice in the wife of your youth,

19 a lovely deer, a graceful doe.

Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;

be intoxicated always in her love.

20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman

and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?

21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,

and he ponders all his paths.

22 The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,

and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.

23 He dies for lack of discipline,

and because of his great folly he is led astray.

All that to say, I think Paul’s prescription here is not merely for self-control of one’s body – though sexual self-control is certainly required. Paul is arguing positively for husbands to enjoy sexual intimacy in its proper context. His teaching is consistent with the proverb – drink from your own cistern, delight in your wife. Do not be like the world drinking from various cisterns whenever your thirst arises. Do not sin against your brothers by participating in sexual immorality with their wives.

The bottom line is this: The sexual practices of God’s holy people must be holy, distinct from the world.

Paul provides a handful of reasons why Christians must practice sexual holiness: (1) v1 – you know that sexual purity pleases God. (2) v7 - God has called you to himself not for impurity, but for purity, for holiness. (3) v8 – God has given you the gift of his Holy Spirit so that holiness is possible. (4) v6, 8 – Sexual immorality is a sin against others and God. (5) v6 – God will avenge sexual immorality.

è The 8 verses all collaborate to teach us that we Christians are to be distinct from the world by practicing sexual holiness.

Now, we must ask: How do we fight “πορνεία”?

(1) First, we must understand the beauty of God’s design for marriage and honor it. Each man is to “possess his own Vessel.” Each man is to have his own wife. Each woman is to have her own

husband. Each has been made for the other. Husband and wife are fit for one another like a lock and key, a violin and a bow. Marriage is where music is made. God designed it that way. God created sex as the covenant sign which seals the union of a husband and wife. Sex is the human signature on the divine marriage license. God intends marriage – and sex within it – for partnership (“It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a helper fit for him”), pleasure (“they shall become one flesh”), and procreation (“Be fruitful and multiply”). And he intends for it to picture the gospel… Ephesians 5:31 | 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Marriage and sex are an enacted parable of the Union of Christ and His Church. If we are to be a church that honors God by sexual holiness we must teach the wonderful truth about sex, marriage, and the glory of God.

Parents, teach your children – in age-appropriate ways – about God’s design for marriage and sex. Situate sex inside of God’s story of the world. You must teach your children the truth about marriage and sex because the world is full of lies. The world wants to teach your children a false story about sex and marriage. The world will tell them sex isn’t sacred; that sex is just a normal bodily appetite to be satisfied, like eating; that sex should be had however, whenever, with whomever or whatever. The world will teach them that God’s good design of sex only within marriage is oppressive, dehumanizing, and backwards. You must teach your children the true, the good, and the beautiful now. You wouldn’t put off life-saving instruction with any other topic. You know, “I’ll teach my kids about what to do if the house is on fire once they begin to ask questions about it. The get out, stop, drop, and roll stuff is just too awkward. It can wait.” Don’t wait until the house is on fire. Talk to them now.

In our current culture there are plenty of occasions for children to ask questions already. Use these as opportunities to teach your children about the truth about the world by telling them the true story of God’s world. Help them to understand that the world is fallen and under the spell of the ancient dragon. Let them know that He will whisper in their ears one day that they should do what they feel and ignore the holiness that God’s word calls them to. When your little one asks you what the multi-colored flag means explain it is flown by those under the serpent’s spell and because of that they hate God’s good design for marriage and family. Prepare them for what is before them.

One of the reasons the church has struggled on sexual matters is because of our refusal to talk and teach our children about it. Then they grow up without any sort of immune system and fall sick with the ideology of the sexual revolution. The world’s story sounds better than God’s to their untaught ears. Fathers & Mothers teach your children a better story and give them a strong immune system. Talk to them about marriage and family.

Kids, you need to know the world is full of people who will lie to you. There are lots of people in the world that hate Jesus and want you to hate him too. But listen, you need to know you can always trust mommy and daddy to tell you the truth. You can trust them to teach you the truth of God’s word. If you are confused about something someone teaches you or says to you, ask your mommy and daddy. You can talk to them about anything. God has given them the responsibility to care for

you and to raise you to love Jesus. Your parents are a gift to you from God. Trust them. Listen to them. They are training you to fight with the King against the snake.

TR – Parents, we must teach the truth about marriage and sex to our children in age-appropriate ways, and we must practice sexual holiness in our marriages.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 | This is the will of God that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to possess his own vessel in holiness and honor…

~Husbands, possess your own vessel, drink from your own cistern, rejoice in your wife. Wives, enjoy the love, attention, and affection of your husbands. Delight in being the object of beauty that holds his gaze. Relish being your honeybee’s honeysuckle. You are the beloved of your husband, say with the bride of Song of Songs: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; 5 Husbands, possess your own vessel. Wives, let him possess you.

TR – we must understand, teach, and honor God’s good design for marriage if we are to be a church marked by sexual holiness.

(2) The second way we can build sexual holiness as a church is by remembering who God is and who we are. Verse 7 reminds us that we are holy, distinct from the world. God has made us his own and calls us to sexual purity. Christian, you are not your own you were bought at a price; you are not your own, but belong to God. You are his. Live in light of who you are in Christ.

Maybe you’ve failed to be sexually holy. Maybe you’re currently failing in this arena. Don’t stay there. Your sexual failure doesn’t define who you are. If you are in Christ, you are holy. Repent afresh and be cleansed of all sin and all unrighteousness. Don’t let your shame keep you from Christ. Remember who you are and return to Christ like the prodigal son.

You know the story. The younger brother forsakes the father for the pleasures of the world and goes off into the far country. He loses everything in wild living…finds himself hoping to eat a little pig slop. Then, he comes to his senses and… I’m just going to read it.

Luke 15:17-24 | 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Struggling Christian, remember who you are. It’s never too late to come home. Your sins do not define you. You belong to God.

Non-Christian, your sins do not have to define you. You can turn from them and be welcomed into the Father’s house with open arms through the blood of Jesus. Those who trust Jesus have all their sins cleansed by his precious blood. Jesus died in the place of his church – in the place of every sinner who turns to him in faith – he died so we might be forgiven of sin. And he rose from the dead so that those who trust in him can be free from death and share in a resurrection like his. Be forgiven today. Take hold of eternal life and the hope of the resurrection to come. Jesus washes all kinds of sinners clean…

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 | 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified (made holy, set apart, made distinct), you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

The blood Jesus shed on the cross can get out the deepest stains. Those who have been called by Christ have been washed and called to live pure lives. Church, we can build a culture that encourages sexual holiness by remembering we are God’s holy people and living like it.

(3) We can build a culture that encourages sexual holiness by taking seriously the warning of Scripture. Verse 8 shows us the one who disregards the Bible’s instruction on sex without remorse or repentance disregards God himself. Verse 6 teaches us that God is the avenger of these things. We should fear the wrath of God.

This week a pastor friend of mine shared a story about when he first started in youth ministry. The mother of one of his students told him that she had put her daughter on birth control. She explained, “I’m a realist. Kids will be kids. They’re going to have sex. I want to make sure my daughter is protected from any unwanted pregnancy.”

My brother’s heart broke at the words. He hurt for the mother and her daughter. He thought it was probably pretty confusing for the girl. If her mother was putting her on birth control wasn’t that an indication that her mom expected her to fornicate? And if her mother really believes that fornication is no big deal then why would she pursue purity?

Here is the part of the conversation that struck a chord with me. My friend, said, “What bothered me most is that the woman acted as if the worst possible result of sexual immorality was having a baby. She had it exactly wrong. A baby is the fruit of sex. A baby is a blessing from God. Sex is supposed to be between married couples. Sex that produces children is one of God’s greatest gifts. The curse of fornication is not a baby. The curse of fornication is everlasting torment under the wrath of God in Hell. Those who persist in unrepentant sexual immorality will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”6

~I share the story because I think many Christians think like that girl’s mother. Fornication is no big deal because everybody does it. Jesus doesn’t really expect his people to pursue sexual purity. But he does. Sexual holiness is the will of God for his people. Friends, we need to take seriously the warning of Scripture. The greatest danger of fornication is Hell. Take seriously the Bible’s warnings about porneia. the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

(4) We can fight against porneia by fighting together against fornication and porn. We can win the fight against sexual immorality when we work together and depend on the Holy Spirit. That’s verse 8 – God has given his Holy Spirit to us. Holiness is not a hypothetical category; it’s the path we are called to walk in. And so we have discussed some practical ways to fight for it. At this stage, we need to address the two primary lions devouring Christians: fornication and pornography.

We can start with fornication. Unmarried folks, especially you younger brothers and sisters, Do not set yourself up for failure in your relationships. Do not date people that do not love Jesus – that’s a command from Paul in 1 Corinthians. Do not yoke yourself together with an unbeliever. If you are courting or dating another Christian, do not act like you are married before you are. And do not wait forever to get married – the longer you wait to get married the more likely you are to become entangled emotionally and physically in ways that dishonor the Lord. If you aren’t going to marry the person you are dating, don’t date them. If you are going to marry them get married and stay married. Marriage is good. Young marriage is good. Protect yourself from sexual immorality by taking marriage and family seriously. When pursuing marriage don’t put yourself in a position to compromise sexually.

Young Men, this is primarily your responsibility. Do not try to get alone with the person you are pursuing – you know what I mean. Get to know each other, sure. But do not give opportunity to immorality. Fight for the holiness of both you and your sister-in-Christ. Plan for and pursue sexual purity in your relationships, and in your private life.

Pornography is everywhere. In fact, statistics show Most children have seen some pornography by the age of 10. At one point pornography was estimated to make up about 30% of internet traffic. The statistics about how many men and women view pornography regularly are stomach lurching. Friends, pornography rewires your brain in a twisted way.7 It makes you weak. Viewing it contributes to kidnapping, sex trafficking, slavery, abortion, pedophilia, and sexual exploitation.8 Viewing pornography is sexual immorality. It is “πορνεία”. So what can be done to fight against it?

First, Fight with someone else. If you are struggling with pornography, you need to know I love you, FBC loves you, and we are NOT ashamed of you. Pornography is something you have to overcome. Many Christians have fought the battle and won. You can too.

Second, recognize porn is bad for you spiritually, physically, relationally. It is sin against God, it is a sin against your own body that actually changes your brain chemistry that can result in erectile

dysfunction. It lowers testosterone levels and the ability to recall and remember information.9 Pornography is bad for you.

Third, if you want to fight pornography, you need to tell someone about your struggle and have them help you set up “speed bumps” to help when you are tempted. Ultimately, success will depend on your desire to live with integrity and holiness. But “speed bumps” can be really helpful. Some examples are: Computer filters like Covenant Eyes. Screens only in shared spaces. And Weekly check-ins with an accountability partner.

Fourth, it is important to identify the times you are most tempted to view pornography and the things that trigger your desire for it, then to take action to prepare yourself to withstand the temptation at those particular moments.

Fifth, find more productive ways to spend your time and relieve stress. Develop holy habits: give yourself to more Bible reading, prayer, running, do pushups, develop a new skill. Find ways productive ways to replace pornography in your life. Let your love for Christ eclipse your lust.

Sixth, remember again that you are loved by your brothers and sisters in Christ and gear up for a long-term battle. Addictions are not generally overcome overnight. Be committed to ordinary everyday faithfulness over the long haul – a long obedience in the same direction. Porn is horrendous. It makes you weak. It encourages you to live a lie. It must be repudiated in your life. You must defeat it. But know that your church will not look down on you if you stumble and need help getting back to your feet. Do not be ashamed to repent and ask for help. The church is here to fight for you and with you. 1 Thessalonians 1:9

Church, we really can please God by living holy lives. He really has given us his holy Spirit who will produce holy fruit in us. Yes, our commitment to sexual holiness will make us distinct from the world. But that’s the point – we do not belong to the world. We belong to God. We have not been conquered by the devil’s sexual revolution. His head will be crushed beneath our feet. We will reign with Christ. So let us fight sexual immorality, let us fight for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Let us commit ourselves to walking to please the Lord to whom we belong.10