God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.



© Rosemary Bardsley 2023

Paul now moves on to give instructions about the Christian life. He refers to this as ‘how to live in order to please God.’

There are two quite different ways that this can be understood:

One is self-focused: trying to make God pleased with me, so that he will never reject me.
The other is God-focused: wanting to make God smile, because I love him so much.

One is concerned about keeping myself secure.
The other is concerned with God’s joy and God’s pleasure.

One says “How can I keep God on my side?”
The other says “How can I best glorify God?”

One is basically a works-based relationship with God, trying to gain something from God.
The other is a grace-based relationship with God, arising out of all that God has already freely given.

Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he had already instructed them about the Christian life (when he was still with them), and that they were in fact following those instructions (4:1). But now he urges them to be even more diligent in this, because those instructions were given by the authority of the Lord Jesus (4:1, 2).

Think about your life as a Christian:
When you do the right thing, is it because you are trying to make God love you, or because you are convinced that he already does love you?


When a preacher or teacher is reminding you of a biblical command about how to live, do you regard that as the word of human being which you can either accept or reject, or do you see it as the authoritative command of the Lord Jesus Christ?



In the prevailing Greek culture there was great sexual ‘freedom’, much like in our culture today. It was more or less expected that men would seek sexual satisfaction outside of marriage. There was little or no shame or guilt attached to various sexual choices.

Today it is not much different:

Today, it is more or less expected that young people will lose their virginity during high school years.

Today, it is more or less expected that marriage comes only after living with a person for several years.

Today, it is more or less expected that marriage will end in divorce.

Today, sexual choices that were rare just a few decades ago, are common-place.

Truly, today Christians stand just as much in need of commands and warnings about sexual purity as these Thessalonian believers to whom Paul was writing. Our society, like theirs, is filled with sexual immorality. So Paul commands these Christians to ‘avoid sexual immorality’ (4:3). The word translated ‘sexual immorality’ is porneia, [from which we get our English ‘pornography’]. The Greek word is a broad term embracing the whole spectrum of sexual sins – every sexual choice and action that God forbids.

What sexual unions does God forbid?
In Leviticus 18:1 – 30 God list a range of forbidden sexual relationships. Read this chapter and answer these questions:
What sexual unions are forbidden by God?



What reasons does God give for these very restrictive sexual boundaries?


How much does God hate these practices?


A.1 God’s will: our sanctification, especially in matters of sexual purity
In 1Thessalonians 4:3 Paul wrote ‘It is God’s will that you should be sanctified’ and then immediately explained this by saying ‘that you should avoid sexual immorality’. (Note that Paul is talking about something that is God’s will; he is not just stating his own preferences.) To be ‘sanctified’ is to be set apart: to be distinct, to not follow the crowd or the majority. In the biblical context, it means set apart by God for God, for his special purpose, no longer common, no longer ordinary. In the context of a Greek city with its lax sexual standards, this being set apart applied particularly to sexual choices – that Christians ought not to take their sexual standards from their contemporary society. Rather, Paul says:

‘each of you should learn to control his own body’ – instead of letting their body and its desires control them.

‘in a way that is holy...’ – ‘holy’, like ‘sanctified’, means ‘set apart’ – dedicated to God for his use and his glory. Our sexual choices and standards should be those determined by the God we belong to, not the standards and practices of the culture in which we live. As Jesus taught and prayed: those who believe in him do not belong to the world any more. We are still in the world, but, having been born again by his Spirit, the world no longer dictates who we are. We belong to Jesus. We belong to his kingdom. (Read John 15:18 – 19; 17:14 – 19.)

‘... and honourable’ – their sexual choices, what they do with their bodies, either honour God or dishonour him, either honour themselves, or dishonour themselves. As Christians, our sexual thoughts, choices and actions should all be made with God’s honour as our goal, not our personal, temporary pleasure.

‘not in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God’ – this again stresses the ‘set-apart’ identity of Christians. They are not ‘the heathen’ any more. They are now believers – people who have turned away from their heathen beliefs and their heathen standards, to the God who is holy. They now know God, and God is now in charge of their lives, not their uncontrolled lusts.

‘and in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him’ – the word translated ‘takes advantage of’ means something like ‘defrauds’. What is Paul talking about here? Just adultery, in which a marriage is violated, and the other spouse defrauded? Or could he be including other sexual practices? Whatever sexual sin Paul had in mind when he said this, the same principle applies across the board: that all of those sexual practices that God forbids end up wronging, defrauding or taking advantage of another person. In one way or another they show disrespect both for self and for the other person. Both I myself and the other person were created by God to be his image bearers; to disrespect human beings is to disrespect God who created them in his image. And when that human being is a believer, that person is doubly precious to God, redeemed by the blood of his Son. Hence Paul says:

‘...no one should wrong his brother...’ – in particular, no one’s sexual choices, thoughts and actions should defraud or take advantage of a fellow-Christian. 

Paul’s connection between being sanctified (being set apart for God) and sexual purity is an affirmation of the truth that those who have been redeemed by God through the death of Jesus his Son no longer belong to themselves: they belong to God. He has bought them with a price.

How do these verses help you to understand that sexual impurity is outlawed for those who belong to God?
1Corinthians 6:9 – 11


1Corinthians 6:19, 20


Galatians 5:16 – 25


Ephesians 5:3 – 6


Colossians 3:5 – 8


A.2 God’s judgement on sexual sins
In 1Thessalonians 4:7 Paul reminds the Thessalonians of what he had previously taught them: that God will punish those who engage in sexual sins. They have no place in God’s kingdom. This same warning is given in some of the above references, as well as in Hebrews 13:4 and Revelation 21:8. (In most of these references sexual sins are not the only sins mentioned; the same warning applies to all sins.)

Is Paul saying we can lose our salvation? That if we engage in sin, including sexual sins, we are not in his kingdom? If that is the case then Paul is denying the grace-based gospel that he preached. Paul’s point is that it is totally inappropriate for God’s holy people – people he has set apart for himself – to engage in the same sins that attract his judgement on those who are not saved. If they were not saved, then these sexual sins would bring God’s judgement upon them. How inappropriate, therefore, for God’s dearly loved children, redeemed by the blood of Christ, and indwelt by God’s Spirit, to be ‘just like the heathen who do not know God’ (verse 5) to engage in such things!

A.3 God’s call
To strengthen his warnings against sexual immorality Paul refers to God’s call (verse 7). God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Here Paul draws our attention to the reason or purpose that God called us to himself and saved us. He did not save us so that we could live however we want: he saved us so that we could live for him – for his glory, for his honour. Salvation from sin’s punishment never means that sin is okay. Forgiveness does not set us free to sin. Rather, salvation sets us free from sin’s hold and dominion, so that we can increasingly live for God as the Holy Spirit works within us, transforming us into the image of Christ (2Corinthians 3:18).

Because the Holy Spirit is at work in all who have been saved by Christ, any rejection of Paul’s command about sexual purity is not the rejection of a mere human, but a rejection of God who has given us his Spirit (verse 8).

What parts of Paul’s teaching in 4:3 – 8 are difficult for you to understand or to accept?


How does the culture you live in make it hard to remain sexually pure?


If sexual sins are not a problem for you, what other sins would Paul’s warnings apply to for you?


In 1Thessalonians 4:9 & 10 Paul briefly mentions brotherly love, and says that there is no need for him to say anything about that, because God has already taught them to love each other, and for other believers in other places in Macedonia. But he still urges them to love each other more and more (verse 10), just as he had prayed in 3:12 that the Lord would make their love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.

Why is love among believers so important?


What did Jesus say about this in John 13:35?


How would the context of opposition and persecution make love for each other particularly important?



Some people crave excitement, but here Paul calls us to the opposite – ‘make it your ambition to live a quiet life’. Perhaps the prevailing opposition and persecution provided more than enough excitement!

Paul mentions a number of elements in this ‘ambition’. What do you understand each of these to mean?

‘lead a quiet life’

‘mind your own business’

‘work with your hands’

What are Paul’s two reasons for this command?



Paul has two reasons: (1) He anticipates that this ambition, this attitude to life, will be noticed by unbelievers and gain their respect. In the context of opposition and persecution this is even more important. Nothing in the believers’ lifestyle should offend. The only offence should be the message of Christ that we proclaim. (2) That this kind of life – a life with a solid work ethic – will make believers independent; they will be earning their own living and not cadging on others.

This second reason was quite relevant to the Thessalonians. Paul had heard that there were some who had given up working. He has already referred to the hard work that he, Silas and Timothy did during their stay in Thessalonica so that they would not be a burden to anyone (2:9). He will warn against idleness again in 5:14, and more sternly again in his second letter (3:6 – 15).

What is your response to Paul’s commands in 4:11, 12?


How does this ‘ambition’ contrast with the mindset of the secular culture you live in?


How much is this ‘ambition’ to live a quiet life, mind your own business and work hard part of the Christian mindset today?