1 Thessalonians 4:3
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) For.—The word further enforces the appeal to their memory: “Ye know what commandments . . . for this (you will recollect) is what God wants;” “a commandment given through the Lord Jesus,” being, of course, identical with “God’s will.”

Your sanctification.—In apposition to the word this. The mere conversion, justification, salvation of us are not the aim of God: He would have us holy. The general idea of sanctification passes however here, as the following clauses show, into the more limited sense of purification.

Fornication.—The word is often used in late Greek for any kind of impurity, as, e.g., 1Corinthians 5:1, of incest; but here it must be understood in its strict sense. To the Gentile mind, while the wickedness of adultery or incest was fully recognised, it was a novelty to be told that fornication was a “deadly sin;” hence the strange connection in which it stands in the Synodal letter to the Gentile churches (Acts 15:20; Acts 15:29; Acts 21:25). This consideration also makes it easier to understand how St. Paul can praise these Gentile Thessalonians so heartily, although they need earnest correction on this vital point. It is a true instance of the sacerdotal metriopathy (or, compassionate consideration) towards the ignorant and deceived. (See Hebrews 5:1-2.)

1 Thessalonians 4:3-6. For — As we solemnly assured you, and charged you to keep continually in remembrance; this is the will of God, your sanctification — That, as God hath chosen us from the rest of the world to be a people dedicated to his honour and service, we should not pollute ourselves with those abominations which are so common among the heathen, but that we should be perfectly holy in heart and life; and therefore, to mention one single branch of the contrary; that ye should abstain from fornication — And every other kind of lewdness, so commonly practised among those who are unacquainted with the true religion. This beautiful transition of the apostle, shows that nothing is so seemingly distant, or below our thoughts, but we have need to guard against it. That every one of you should know — Should learn and accustom himself to exercise that holy skill; how to possess his vessel — His body; for this word in some other passages signifies the body, (1 Peter 3:7 :) Giving honour to the wife as the weaker vessel. That is, as weaker in body. (1 Samuel 21:5,) And the vessels, bodies, of the young men are holy. The body was called by the Greeks and Romans a vessel, because it contains the soul, and is its instrument. The apostle’s meaning may be, Let every man consider his body as a vessel consecrated to the service of God, and let him dread the impiety of polluting it by any vile, dishonourable indulgence whatever, or by putting it to any base use. Or, as some think, by his vessel, he may mean his wife. In sanctification and honour — In a chaste and holy manner, answerable to that dignity which God has put upon it by making it his temple. Not in the lust of concupiscence Εν παθει επιθυμιας, in the passion of lust; not indulging passionate desires; as the Gentiles — The heathen; who know not God — To any saving purpose; and are ignorant of that pure and sublime happiness which arises from contemplating, adoring, imitating, and having communion with him. That no man go beyond

The bounds of chastity, or of matrimony; or overreach, as some render υπερβαινειν; and defraud — Or, exceed toward, his brother, in any, or in the, matter — Namely, of which the apostle had been speaking. Beza, Le Clerc, and some others, understand this as a prohibition of injustice in general; but the context seems to determine its meaning to that kind of injury by which chastity is violated. Probably the apostle intended here to prohibit three things; fornication, (1 Thessalonians 4:3,) passionate desire, or inordinate affection in the married state, and the breach of the marriage contract. Because the Lord is the avenger of all such — Will severely punish all such gross misdeeds; as we also have forewarned you, &c. — As I formerly testified to you when I preached to you in Thessalonica. For God hath not called us — In so extraordinary a manner, and separated us from the rest of the world; to uncleanness — To leave us at liberty to defile ourselves with any kind of sin; but unto holiness — Of heart and life. He therefore that despiseth — The commandments we give by authority from God, and according to his will; despiseth not man — Only or chiefly; but God — Speaking in and by us; who hath also given unto us — Who are his divinely-commissioned teachers; his Holy Spirit — To guide us in what we deliver. What naked majesty of words! how oratorical, and yet with how great simplicity! a simplicity that does not impair, but improve the understanding to the utmost; that, like the rays of heat through a glass, collects all the powers of reason into one orderly point, from being scattered abroad in utter confusion!4:1-8 To abide in the faith of the gospel is not enough, we must abound in the work of faith. The rule according to which all ought to walk and act, is the commandments given by the Lord Jesus Christ. Sanctification, in the renewal of their souls under the influences of the Holy Spirit, and attention to appointed duties, constituted the will of God respecting them. In aspiring after this renewal of the soul unto holiness, strict restraint must be put upon the appetites and senses of the body, and on the thoughts and inclinations of the will, which lead to wrong uses of them. The Lord calls none into his family to live unholy lives, but that they may be taught and enabled to walk before him in holiness. Some make light of the precepts of holiness, because they hear them from men; but they are God's commands, and to break them is to despise God.For this is the will of God, even your sanctification - It is the will or command of God that you should be holy. This does not refer to the purpose or decree of God, and does not mean that he intended to make them holy - but it means that it was his command that they should be holy. It was also true that it was agreeable to the divine will or purpose that they should be holy, and that he meant to use such an influence as to secure this; but this is not the truth taught here. This text, therefore, should not be brought as a proof that God intends to make his people holy, or that they are sanctified. It is a proof only that he requires holiness. The word here rendered "sanctification" - ἁγιασμὸς hagiasmos - is not used in the Greek classics, but is several times found in the New Testament. It is rendered holiness, Romans 6:19, Romans 6:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 1 Timothy 2:15; Hebrews 12:14; and sanctification, 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and 1 Peter 1:2; see the Romans 6:19 note; 1 Corinthians 1:30 note. It means here "purity of life," and particularly abstinence from those vices which debase and degrade the soul Sanctification consists in two things:

(1) in "ceasing to do evil;" and,

(2) in "learning to do well." Or in other words, the first work of sanctification is in overcoming the propensities to evil in our nature, and checking and subduing the unholy habits which we had formed before we became Christians; the second part of the work consists in cultivating the positive principles of holiness in the soul.

That ye should abstain from fornication - A vice which was freely indulged among the pagan, and to which, from that fact, and from their own former habits, they were particularly exposed. On the fact that they were thus exposed, and on the reasons for these solemn commands on the subject, see the Acts 15:20 note, and 1 Corinthians 6:18 note.

3. For—enforcing the assertion that his "commandments" were "by (the authority of) the Lord Jesus" (1Th 4:2). Since "this is the will of God," let it be your will also.

fornication—not regarded as a sin at all among the heathen, and so needing the more to be denounced (Ac 15:20).

What in the former verse he called commandments from Christ, he here calls the will of God; or he had some further duties to lay before them, which he had not yet given commandments about, which were the will of God. There is the secret and revealed will of God, and his revealed will is about things to be believed or practised. The latter is here meant, so that the will of God is put figuratively here for the things he willeth, or commandeth of us. And that which the apostle first mentions is sanctification, which is often taken for holiness in general, which consists in men’s conformity to the will of God both in the heart and life. But I think not so taken here, but for chastity, as opposite to the sin of uncleanness, as the apostle explains it in the next words. For to

abstain from fornication is the will of God. And by it is meant all unchasteness, either of persons married or unmarried; and that either in the heart, or in speech, or in the eye, or lascivious gesture, as well as in the very act itself. It was a sin common among the Gentiles, especially the Grecians, and judged as no sin. And therefore it is particularly mentioned and forbidden to the believing Gentiles by the council of Jerusalem, lest they should apprehend it not to be an evil, Acts 15:20. For it is not so evident by the light of nature as many other moral evils; and therefore the apostle tells the Thessalonians that it is the will of God they should abstain from it, and that is a sufficient ground either of doing or not doing. This will of God is expressed in the seventh commandment, which though the Jews well knew, yet these new converted Gentiles might not yet so well understand. And therefore the apostle in his several Epistles to the Gentile churches doth dehort them from it, especially the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and that by many arguments. It is a sin which corrupts and effeminates the mind, captivates the heart, consumes the flesh, and wastes men’s estates. So that this will of God that forbids it is a good will, Romans 12:2, as all the commandments of God are said to be for our good, Deu 10:13. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification,.... Which is another reason to enforce the above exhortation. "Sanctification" is internal or external. Internal sanctification is the work of the Spirit of God, and is a principle of spiritual life in the soul, a divine and spiritual light in the understanding, a flexion of the will to the will of God, and a settlement of the affections on divine things, and is an implantation of every grace in the heart. External sanctification arises from this, and lies in holiness of life and conversation; and is what is chiefly designed, as appears both by what goes before, and follows after: and this is "the will of God"; the will of his purpose and decree; for in the same decree that he wills the salvation of any by Jesus Christ, he also wills their sanctification in heart and life, and here and hereafter: and this is his approving will, or what is well pleasing in his sight, being agreeable to his nature, and divine perfections, particularly his holiness, in which he is glorious; and it is his will of command, and what he requires in his law, which is holy, just, and good, and perfectly agrees with the sound doctrine of the Gospel, and the revelation of his will in both.

That ye should abstain from fornication: which is particularly mentioned, abstinence from it being a branch of external holiness; and because that this sin was common among the Gentiles, and not esteemed a sin by them; as also to observe to these Christians, that as simple fornication was not to be allowed of, much less other acts of uncleanness, as adultery, incest, sodomy, and the like, which were iniquities that greatly prevailed among the Heathens. The Syriac version renders it, "from all fornication"; on this subject the apostle enlarges in some following verses.

{2} For this is the will of God, even your {b} sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:

(2) This is the sum of those things which he delivered to them, to dedicate themselves wholly to God. And he plainly condemns all filthiness through lust, because it is altogether contrary to the will of God.

(b) See Joh 17:17.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Thessalonians 4:3. Further specification of τίνας παραγγελίας, according to its contents. τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν θέλημα τοῦ Θεοῦ] for this (the following) is the will of God.

τοῦτο] not the predicate (de Wette, 2d ed.), but the subject (comp. Romans 9:8; Galatians 3:7; Winer, 5th ed. p. 130 [E. T. 199]), is emphatically placed first, accordingly not superfluous (Pelt).

θέλημα τοῦ Θεοῦ] without the article, as the will of God is not exhausted with what is afterwards adduced. The words are without emphasis; they resume only the idea already expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4:2, although in another form. For a command given διὰ τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ is nothing else than θέλημα τοῦ Θεοῦ.

ὁ ἁγιασμὸς ὑμῶν] namely, your sanctification, in apposition to τοῦτο and the subject-matter, whereas τοῦτο was only a preliminary and nominal subject. ἁγιασμός has an active meaning, your sanctification (ὑμῶν, the genitive of the object), i.e. that you sanctify yourselves, not passive (Estius, Koppe, Usteri, p. 236; Olshausen, Baumgarten-Crusius), so that it would be identical with ἁγιωσύνη, 1 Thessalonians 3:13. Calovius, Wolf, Flatt, de Wette, Koch, Alford, and others take ἁγιασμός as a “quite general” idea, under which not only ἀπέχεσθαι κ.τ.λ., but also 1 Thessalonians 4:6, are specified as particulars. This view, in itself entirely suitable, becomes impossible by the article τό before ὑπερβαίνειν, 1 Thessalonians 4:6. This does not permit us to consider 1 Thessalonians 4:6 as a parallel statement to ἀπέχεσθαι, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, and εἰδέναι, 1 Thessalonians 4:4, but places the statement τὸ μὴ ὑπερβαίνειν κ.τ.λ. evidently on the same level with ὁ ἁγιασμὸς ὑμῶν. Accordingly τοῦτο receives a double specification of the subject-matter in the form of apposition—(1) in ὁ ἁγιασμὸς ὑμῶν, and (2) in τὸ μὴ ὑπερβαίνειν, 1 Thessalonians 4:6. Thus the meaning is: For the following is the will of God, first, that ye sanctify yourselves, and then that ye overreach not, etc. But from this relation of the sentences it follows that ἁγιασμός must denote holiness in a special sense, i.e. must be considered in special reference to sins of lust, thus must be used of striving after chastity (Turretin, Pelt, Schott, Olshausen, Bloomfield, and others).

ὁ ἁγιασμὸς ὑμῶν is further epexegetically explained—(1) negatively by ἀπέχεσθαι ὑμᾶς ἀπὸ τῆς πορνείας, and (2) positively by εἰδέναι κ.τ.λ., 1 Thessalonians 4:4. In an entirely erroneous manner by Hofmann, according to whom the stress is to be laid on θέλημα τοῦ Θεοῦ, τοῦτο is to indicate ἀπέχεσθαι κ.τ.λ., and ὁ ἁγιασμός is a parenthetic apposition. Moreover, “a contradiction” to the praise of the church, expressed elsewhere in the Epistle, is not contained in the exhortation, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ff. (Schrader), as the reception of Christianity never delivers, as with the stroke of a magician, from the wickedness and lusts of the heathen world which have become habitual; rather a long and constant fight is necessary for vanquishing them.1 Thessalonians 4:3. ἁγιασμός (in apposition to τοῦτο, θέλημα without the article being the predicate) = the moral issue of a life related to the Ἅγιος (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:8), viewed here in its special and negative aspect of freedom from sexual impurity. The gospel of Jesus, unlike some pagan cults, e.g., that of the Cabiri at Thessalonica (cf. Lightfoot’s Biblical Essays, pp. 257 f.), did not tolerate, much less foster, licentiousness among its worshippers. At Thessalonica as at Corinth Paul found his converts exposed to the penetrating taint of life in a large seaport. As the context indicates, ἁγ. ὑμῶν = “the perfecting of you in holiness” (ἁγ. in its active sense, ὑμῶν genitive objective: so Lünemann, Ellicott, Bahnsen). The absence of any reference to δικαιοσύνη is remarkable. But Paul’s dialectic on justification was occasioned by controversies about ὁ νόμος which were not felt at Thessalonica. Besides, the “justified” standing of the believer, even in that synthesis of doctrine, amounted practically to the position assured by the possession of the Spirit to the Christian. In his uncontroversial and eschatological moments, Paul taught as here that the experience of the Spirit guaranteed the believer’s vindication at the end (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10) and also implied his ethical behaviour during the interval. The comparative lack of any allusion to the forgiveness of sins (cf. e.g., 1 Thessalonians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 3:13) does not mean that Paul thought the Thessalonians would be kept sinless during the brief interval till the parousia (so Wernle, der Christ u. die Sünde bei Paulus, 25–32); probably no occasion had called for any explicit teaching on this commonplace of faith (1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Corinthians 15:11).3. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, &c.] The connection will be clearer if we render thus: For this is God’s will—it is your sanctification—that you abstain from fornication, &c.

It was not some counsel or wish of his own that he pressed on the Thessalonians under the authority of Christ; it was nothing less than God’s holy will: the primary ground of this charge. At the same time it was their sanctification. God’s will and their consecration to Him are the double reason for their leading a chaste life; and these two reasons are one, the latter springing out of the former. God had chosen them to be His own (comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:4). And He willed that their sanctification should be realised and carried into effect in the important particular about to be stated. This will of God was proclaimed in His “call,” by which the Thessalonians had been summoned to a pure and holy life (ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:12). In all endeavours after purity it is our best support to know that God wishes and means ms to be holy; that His almighty help is at the back of our weak resolves, Who both “puts into our minds good desires” and “brings the same to good effect.”

“Sanctification” is the act or process of making holy: then, in the second instance, it comes to denote the result of this process, the state of one who is made holy,—as in Romans 6:22, “You have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end eternal life;” similarly in Hebrews 12:14, “Follow after sanctification.” It is synonymous with consecration, i.e. devotion to God,—but to God as the Holy One.

Holy is the single word which by itself denotes the Divine character, as it is revealed to us in its moral transcendence, in the awfulness and glory of its absolute perfection, raised infinitely above all that is earthly and sinful (see 1 Samuel 2:2, Psalms 99, Psalm 111:9, Isaiah 57:15, &c). Now it is the character of God—“thy Maker … and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel”—that constitutes His right to the consecration of those to whom He is revealed. Our “sanctification” is the acknowledgement of God’s claim upon us as the Holy One Who made us. This involves our assimilation to His nature. In Him, first the character, then the claim: in us, first the claim admitted, then the character impressed. In short, Sanctification is fulfilment of the supreme command, “Be ye holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16; Leviticus 11:44; Leviticus 19:2; Leviticus 20:7).—See, further, notes on 1 Thessalonians 4:7, and ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:23; also on ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:10, for the difference between the two Greek words for holy used in this Ep.

St Paul makes chastity a part of holiness. He finds a new motive and powerful safeguard for virtue in the fact of the redemption of the body. Our physical frame belongs to God; it is a sharer in Christ’s resurrection, and in the new life received through Him. “Know you not,” he asks, “that your bodies are limbs of Christ,—a temple of the Holy Ghost, which you have from God? Therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). This is bodily sanctification. And faith in Christ effectually subdues impure and sensual passion.

The foul and heathenish vice of fornication was so prevalent in Greek cities and so little condemned by public opinion—it was even fostered by some forms of pagan religion—that abstinence from it on the part of the Thessalonians was a sign of devotion to a Holy God. But their purity was imperilled from the condition of society around them, and in many cases from former unchaste habits. The temptations to licentiousness assailing the first generation of Christians were fearfully strong; and all the Epistles contain urgent warnings upon this subject. The sense of purity had to be re-created in men gathered out of the midst of pagan corruption.1 Thessalonians 4:3. Θέλημα, a will) [a thing which God wills]. So ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, without the article. There are many wills, Acts 13:22.—) The mark of the subject.—ἁγιασμὸς ὑμῶν, your sanctification) The word, your [i.e. present sanctification, as contrasted with the past], recalls to the memory of the Thessalonians their former profane condition. Sanctification especially includes chastity.—ἀπὸ τῆς πορνείας, from fornication) Exalted Christians as they were, yet they required to be admonished respecting this sin; for the Gentiles had no scruples as to carnal lewdness.Verse 3. - For this is the will of God. The phrase, "the will of God," has two significations in Scripture: the one is the determination of God - his decree; the other is his desire, that in which he delights - a will, however, which may be frustrated by the perversity of his creatures. It is in this latter sense that the word is here employed. Even your sanctification; complete consecration; holiness taken in its most general so. use. Our holiness is the great design of Christ's death, and is the revealed will of God. Some (Olshausen, Lunemann) restrict the term to moral purity, and consider the next clause as its explanation (comp. Romans 12:1). That ye should abstain from fornication; a vice fearfully prevalent among the heathen, and which, indeed, they hardly regarded as wrong. Especially it was the great sin of Corinth, from which the apostle wrote, the patron goddess of which city was Venus. Fornication

Paul wrote from Corinth, where sensuality in the guise of religion was rife. In Thessalonica, besides the ordinary licentious customs of the Gentiles, immorality was fostered by the Cabeiric worship (see Introduction). About the time of Paul, a political sanction was given to this worship by deifying the Emperor as Cabeirus.

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