Thessalonica was the capital of Roman Macedonia and set along an important trade route. In this city was a hive of activities—activities that were considered normal by the pagans but to be avoided by the Thessalonian Christians. By living in this counter-cultural way they would have stood out in sharp contrast to their non-Christian neighbours.
The reason is because God has called them to be holy. It is His will that they be sanctified. It is for this reason that Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 commands them to abstain from sexual immorality:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;
By believing the gospel and choosing to live in a way that pleases God, they were saying that they were going to stop living in the old sinful ways. This meant living differently from those around them. This is why Paul continues in verses four and five to contrast how believers live with how unbelievers live:
that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God;
The two ways of living are mutually exclusive. It’s like watching two football teams play against each other. It is impossible to cheer for both.
Like the Thessalonians, we too are surrounded by a culture that lures us into sexual immorality. To remain sexually pure is made harder by how much sexual imagery is crammed into the media, in advertising, in the programmes we watch and the books that we read. Subtle sexual references are creeping into programmes specifically aimed at children. From a young age we are exposed to all these, so to turn around and say that we don’t want to live in that way is bound to raise eyebrows. But God has called us to live holy lives; the choice is ours.
In verses six to eight of chapter 4, Paul gives a further warning:
and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
Like all sin, sexual immorality is damaging to all those involved. Paul warns the Thessalonians in verse 6 that God doesn’t let sin go unpunished. Sin is serious and that is why the warning is solemn. To sin is to reject God—the very God that they had accepted when they believed the gospel. Hence, to engage in sexual immorality is to go back to the former position they were in before they received the gospel.
The same choice is before us today: will we go forward with God or back to our old lives without God? What will we choose?
Written By Ruth Lawrence for YMI