God's Will is for us to be Sanctified
1Th. 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication;
1Th. 4:4 that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor,
1Th. 4:5 not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
Many believe that Paul is writing from Corinth to the church in Thessalonica. He has a deep love and concern for these followers of Jesus Christ who are living for him in the midst of a very secular society. The people of Thessalonica were commonly engaged in pagan practices of worship which included sexual acts. The pagan religions gave license to all kinds of sexual behaviors and deemed them appropriate for worship. Corinth was one of the worst towns for this and I'm sure the daily activity of the temple prostitutes was on Paul's mind as he was writing to the people of Thessalonica. But this God whom we serve is different from the pagan gods. The God who created us is a holy God and had declared, "Be holy, for I your God am holy." It was always Yahweh's intent that his people would be a holy people. And this meant not being influenced by the practices that the world had deemed acceptable. Again -- the kingdom of God is counter-cultural.
Paul is simply reiterated the fact that God calls his people to be a holy people. It is God's will that his people be sanctified! And sanctification is an act of God, but it is also an act of participation on the part of God's people. It is God who makes his people holy, but it is also a holy people who choose not to participate in the unholy things of this world. Paul goes on to list the things which may be a problem to the people. The first is "fornication" or, in the Greek, "porneia." Subjecting oneself to "porneia" does not lead to holiness. Therefore each one is to practice self-discipline and not to wade into the tempting waters of destruction. It is the pagans who engage in worship that encourages them to succumb to their lustful passions and thus further distanced from a personal relationship with our holy God.
A number of years ago I was visiting Corinth. In the archaeological digs they have discovered that people would create plaster casts of body parts that were ill and would present those before the god whom they believed would heal them. I was amazed at the piles of genitalia. More than likely the community was severely afflicted with Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) which resulted in painful sores and even senility. And yet this was tolerated by society for they had deemed it a part of their worship.
Today's society has deemed most everything acceptable and is pressing the Christian community to "tolerate" all types of behaviors. We must recognize that this letter was written specifically to believers so responsibility for holy living must begin with those of us who have declared allegiance to Jesus Christ. Paul did not tell the Thessalonican believers to go and make the pagans stop doing what they were doing -- he told the believers to not participate in what the pagans were doing. This holy living must begin with each one of us who is a follower of Jesus Christ. It's easy to point fingers at others to divert attention from ourselves.
God wants his people to be a holy people. As followers of Jesus Christ we must recognize that this is the call of God on our lives and we must participate with him in being his holy people. Therefore we are to abstain from "porneia," and honestly, this is a big problem among Christians! The problem is pornography being broadcast into every electronic device which we own. No longer does someone have to go to the "adult" book store, but instead they can hide under their covers in the darkness of night and have it broadcast directly to their smart phone.
This is why we are admonished to control our own bodies. But maybe that control goes beyond sexual practices. Does the call to be God's holy people mean that we practice spiritual disciplines -- and if so, what do they look like? John Wesley said that this verse means that you have one wife and you fulfill the passions of your flesh with her and her alone. However, I think that the verse goes beyond this and includes daily discipline in terms of the spiritual life.
The younger generation today is more concerned with the discipline of health than my generation may have been. They want to eat good healthy food and they work out regularly to take care of their physical health. I recently had a young Christian person tell me that they don't want to have to be paying health care benefits for those who have not taken responsibility for their personal health and that they see this as un-Christlike. Ouch!
God's desire is that all of his people be a holy people. And this translates to his people participating in a holy relationship with him. It also means that we practice spiritual discipline when it comes to our personal lives because we don't want to drag God into filthy places. But the spiritual discipline must begin in the place of a personal relationship. I find it hard to believe that an individual who spends an hour or so in the word and in prayer can then go and tune into pornography on their computer. Somehow I believe the two are connected. If we put our relationship with a holy God first, then he will help us with the struggles of the flesh. The flesh wins over when we do not put God first. God's will is that we all be sanctified!
Lord, please help me to live in the power of your presence in all things. Amen.