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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: October 30, 2020
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
1 Thessalonians (L 10)
Welcome to HBS and thanks for being here.
Please open your Bible at 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8:
The Believer’s Call to Holiness
It’s not widely known that in Paul’s writings his doctrinal teachings are usually followed with practical application. That’s primarily due to the fact that most church groups do not instruct people in Pauline Doctrine or the commandments the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ gave to him so that he could give them to us. But here we have yet another example of this truth, but I noticed a variation. In chapters 1-3 he teaches important church doctrines by recalling his ministry among them and God’s work in and through them. Then he follows with the practical application, but then an extensive passage on the Lord’s coming for His own at the Rapture, followed by a closing appeal. Why this variation? Excellent question and I’m glad you asked. I believe it follows the general divisions of I and II Thessalonians into faith, love, and hope and in that specific order. In chapters 1-3 he recalls how his labor of love at Thessalonica began, as in faith, the Thessalonians not only turned to Christ from idols, but then stood fast in Him. Then, in chapter 4, the subject is love, “even their sanctification” to God. This in turn is followed by a section on the coming of Christ Jesus for His own, which Paul refers to as “our blessed hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Titus 2:13-14).
That being said, we now enter the practical section of 1 Thessalonians, and make no mistake, what Paul writes here are the very commands of God, as in all his other writings (1 Corinthians 14:37). Above we find Paul’s strong appeal for the true Believer’s walk or how the members of the Body of Christ are to conduct themselves in the world regarding “sexual purity” (4:3-8); “brotherly love” (4:9-10); and “earning one’s living” (4:11-12); and there’s the rub, (something that presents a difficulty). Even if churched-people hear of or learn about Paul’s Church Doctrines through personal Bible study these same folks fail to take the next obvious step in their walk, i.e., they do not apply these dispensational truths to their lives. So, what good is it to learn about these significant practical teachings and the appeals to put them to use in your life, but then fail to do that very thing. Thus, Paul begins this section of his letter “beseeching” the Thessalonian saints, and “exhorting” them, as the Lord Jesus Christs’ bond servant, to recall how he had taught them “how ye ought to walk and to please God,” “ ye would abound more and more” (4:1).
I’ve said this before but it’s worth bringing up again the assembly at Thessalonica was the model church; they set the bar, so to speak, when it came to practicing the various aspects of the faith not only amongst themselves but throughout Macedonia. Nowhere in this letter do we find our apostle Paul correcting or criticizing these Believers. Instead Paul commends and praises them. He knows it wasn’t that long ago when they had turned to God from idols, and prior to that time they had taken part in the vile sins associated with pagan idolatry. We took a this problem in the previous lesson, if I recall. Thus, in chapter 4, he exalts them to walk circumspectly as Believers in Christ. He begins in verses 4:3-8 by dealing with the purity of life that should characterize all Believers for they had been called into wholesomeness:
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:” (4:3)
The students of God’s Word ought to know in the KJV Bible, in both the O.T. and the N.T., “holiness” and “sanctification,” with a few exceptions, hold the same meaning. In the O.T. both words come from the single Hebrew root, godesh, while in the N.T. both come from the single Greek root, hagizso. According to most Bible scholars, both of these root words simply mean “to set apart” or “to separate.” But here’s the thing, although it’s true that these words represent the organic meaning, elsewhere in scripture we find the meaning significantly expanded. For instance, in Genesis 2:3; Exodus 3:5; Matthew 6:9; and 2 Corinthians 11:2 (plus many other passages) this word is rendered “sanctified,” “hallowed,” and espoused,” but in each case the meaning is, “set apart, as sacred unto God,” “consecrated,” and “dedicated.” For example, Jerusalem is called the “holy city” (Matthew 4:5), “the sanctuary” of the tabernacle, “the holiest of all” (Hebrews 9:3-8), The KJV is called “the holy Scriptures” (Romans 1:2), and the Spirit of God, “the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30).
It would positively affect the hearts of many Believers today if they would stop and realize that both in their salvation and in their sanctification it has been God’s good purpose not merely to “set them apart” from the world-at-large but also to “set them apart” as consecrated unto Himself. By no means is this a negative imposition of “do’s and don’ts’ but a positive one, speaking of God’s love toward the Believer in Christ rather than of their love toward Him. I mention this because I believe that’s what Paul had in mind when he exhorted these Believers to keep morally pure. I also note that he did not say, “This is the will of God, that ye should abstain from fornication,” but, “This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should (for this reason) abstain from fornication (adultery; lasciviousness);” Therefore, the following thought guiding this truth ought to be: “How can I disobey and grieve the One who loved me enough to die in my place and knows me as His own?” (See Romans 8:15, 9:26; Galatians 3:26).
“That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;”
Here it appears the word “vessel” may refer either to the Believer or to his spouse; let’s begin with this. The Koine Greek word for “vessel” is skuos, and is sometimes used of the goods contained within the vessel. In scripture, we find the word used of a “chosen vessel,” “one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor,” “vessels of wrath,” “vessels of mercy,” “vessels of gold and silver,” and “vessels of ivory, and all manner of vessels of most precious wood.” Thus, the Believer’s body is a “container,” as it were, either of what is good or of what is not good, and each Believer should learn to possess his or her vessel as one who is precious to God the Father and seeks to honor Him in all things. With that thought in mind 2 Timothy 2:21 states: “If a man therefore purge himself from these (here Paul refers to separation from those who deserted the faith of some by false teaching, but it surely would apply equally to anything that dishonors God), he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”
If “his vessel,” in verse 4:4 refers to his spouse, Paul’s exhortation carries equal weight, for Believers should treat their wives “in sanctification and honor,” Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:” (4:5).
Of the two possibilities I believe “his vessel,” as used here, actually refers to the Believer’s body for our immortal soul merely inhabits our earthly tabernacle or temporary shelter otherwise known as a “tent” (See 2 Corinthians 5:1-10). We are merely tenants who should possess these vessels in sanctification and honor, for a bad tenant can soon ruin a man’s house, whereas a good tenant will care for it and keep it in good order. How many people do you know that have not cared for their own vessel? I know people who have treated their bodies as though they were a tent for much of their lives, trying to serve two masters as it were, and are now experiencing the negative consequences of all those wrong choices. They’ve ruined their bodies by a variety of sinful activities and rendered them practically useless for God’s service. To such people our apostle Paul wrote: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
“That no go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.”
As to verse 4:6, the KJV Bible translation has added the word “any,” we know this because it’s in italics, which would make it refer to “any matter.” I don’t believe Paul’s speaking of “any matter” here, but actually continued his thought or the same general subject, i.e., that no Believer should “defraud his brother” in the matter (i.e., the matter being discussed here which is sexual impurity); because “the Lord the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.” To ensure we’re all on the same page moving forward fraudulence almost always enters into an illicit love affair. How so? Picture, if you will, and man and a woman sitting in a restaurant, holding hands across the table, and talking in whispers, i.e. acting affectionately. Suddenly the man asks the woman, “What would your husband say if he walked in and found us here, like this?” Now, in this instance the husband did not know about his wife’s infidelity, but God knows, and He is “the avenger of all such…”
“For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness (here we have the word hagiazo again and the sense here is, as it relates to one’s conduct, God would have the Believer to be wholly His). He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.”
In closing, Paul’s saying, “Rather than despising, not merely man, but God Himself, let us walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called…”(Ephesians 4:1-3) and indeed “possess our vessels in sanctification and honor” for this is “the will of God.”
Clearly, our conduct matters to God, so, in turn, it ought to matter to us. To that thought I’ll add God’s grace does not give one license to sin: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that dare dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:1-2)
Here Paul dealt with the dissenter at the back of the room, so to speak, who argued, “Shouldn’t we live a life of sin so we can receive more Grace?” Backing up a bit, in Romans 5:20 Paul introduced the idea “ He now wonders if someone might take this truth to imply that it doesn’t matter if a Believer continues to live a life of sin, because God will always overcome more sin with more grace. After all, if God loves sinners, then why worry about sin? If God gives grace to sinners, then why not sin more, and receive more grace? Believe it or not some people actually believe this to be true. For example, in the early part of the 20th century the Russian monk Gregory Rasputin taught and lived the idea of salvation through repeated experiences of sin and repentance. He believed that because those who sin the most require the most forgiveness, therefore a sinner who continues to sin without restraint enjoys more of God’s grace (when he repents for the moment) than the ordinary sinner. Therefore, Rasputin lived in notorious sin and taught that this was the way to salvation.
That was an extreme example of the idea behind Paul’s query but it certainly fits the malcontent's mindset: “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” To which Paul replied, ”God forbid.” In layman’s terms, Paul show us that God’s grace is to change our “want-to” because His grace ought to make us “want to” live a life pleasing to Him. God’s grace changes hearts and lives. It transforms how we think, act, and speak. It changes our motivation and desires, from living for self and temporal pleasures to living so as to bring honor and glory to God (See Romans 5:8-9).
God’s Word teaches us that grace does not give us license to sin, but instead, as we think of our Savior and His sacrificial payment for our sins on the Cross, that grace should discipline, motivate, and soften our hearts to obey Him and turn from sin. Grace gives one liberty to practice grace and power to live a life free from the bondage of sin. It’s the grace of God and the love of Christ that are to motivate us to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4) and live a life pleasing to Him. So, “possess your vessel in sanctification and honor” for is God’s will.
(To be continued)
GJ Heitzman’s ministry
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