Abounding More and More, Part 1 (The Christian Life)
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Thessalonica, is the second-largest city in Greece, with a population of 1.105 million in 2019. It is the capital of Greek Macedonia, the administrative region of Central Macedonia and the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace. It was founded in 315 BC by Cassander of Macedon, who named it for his wife Thessalonike, half-sister of Alexander the Great. Thessalonica was an important metropolis of the Roman Empire. In the Byzantine Empire, it was a secondary capital alongside Constantinople. It still has a nickname that translates into English as "the co-capital." Thessalonica fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1430 and remained under Turkish control until November 8, 1912, during the First Balkan War, when it became part of the Kingdom of Greece. Today, the city is renowned for its monuments from various cultures, festivals, and events, and is Greece's cultural capital.1
We are interested in this ancient city because Paul wrote a letter to the church there in about 59 A.D.
After establishing the first church in Macedonia in Philippi, Paul visited Thessalonica, the capital city of Macedonia. Persecution forced Paul to go from Philippi to Thessalonica, but this was according to God’s plan. Since Thessalonica was the center of trade and government for the province of Macedonia, the gospel quickly spread from there throughout all of Macedonia.
Paul wanted to stay and minister in Thessalonica, but persecution forced him to leave the Thessalonians after only a few weeks. This very young church showed exceptional growth and maturity, but it still needed much training and teaching. For this reason, Paul wrote the letter to the Thessalonians, which we are studying today.
This letter is affectionate and full of foundational teachings of the Faith. In the last part of chapter two and through chapter three, Paul repeatedly expresses his great desire to see the Thessalonians face to face. This desire came from the need for them to be established in their faith. When we looked at this last week, we saw that Paul demonstrated the importance of building each other up by his:
Encouraging each other and building each other up is a fundamental part of who we are as believers in Christ.
Throughout the letter, Paul tells the Thessalonians how well they are doing. He praises their testimony and the good reports he hears about them. In chapter four, verses one through twelve, he tells them to continue to abound still more and more.
By emphasizing their need to continue to increase, Paul shows us that we are expected to grow. We are saved by grace. We are saved by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. When we confess our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness, we are forgiven. Nothing is required except faith, believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, once we are born to new life in Jesus, we must continue and grow.
This process of growth is called sanctification. It is the process of becoming more like Christ. Sanctification means the process of being set apart for God. As believers, we must grow and become more like our Savior.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Paul commends the Thessalonians for their growth. He recognizes that they are progressing in sanctification and encourages them to continue increasing (or abounding). He names three areas for them to grow in sanctification.
- Pleasing God
- Sexual Purity
- Brotherly Love
Look at 1 Thessalonians 4:1 and consider the emphasis Paul puts on continuing in the process of sanctification.
1 Thessalonians 4:1 (NKJV) 1Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God;
Notice the words “urge and exhort.” Paul is stressing this as being very important. In the strongest language he can find, Paul says, “DO THIS!”
1 Thessalonians is a letter focusing on the basics. Neglecting any part of what Thessalonians teaches is to miss out on something essential. Paul’s urging and exhorting stress the critical nature of what he is saying.
Now, notice the words “you should” and “you ought.”
These words alert us to the fact that this is not a passive acceptance of something. There is something we must do. Action is required. Our efforts do not save us, but our participation in our sanctification is essential. We cannot grow without work. God is at work in us, and we must participate. We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
Philippians 2:12 (NKJV) 12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
The purpose or goal of working out our salvation is our sanctification. We are saved when we believe in Jesus. However, when we believe we begin the process of sanctification. This process of sanctification is the “should” and “ought” of Paul’s urging.
1 Thessalonians 4:2 says,
1 Thessalonians 4:2 (NKJV) 2for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
Notice the word “commandments.” The Lord Jesus gave commandments. For example, in John 13:34, He says, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another.” Jesus also said,
Matthew 5:17 (ESV) 17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
We know from Romans 8:4 that the righteous requirements of the Law are met in those who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law, and because of this, we are not under law but grace. This means that we do not need to earn merit with God. We cannot earn merit with God because our flesh is weak, and we are imperfect. Jesus won all our merit with God at the Cross.
However, as New Testament believers, we have been given a different set of commands, not a list of do’s and don’ts but a way to walk and to live. We are told to walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. We are told to love one another.
The commands that Jesus and the Apostles gave are harder than a list of do’s and don’ts, because these commands deal with heart attitudes. We please God by walking by faith. Hebrews 11:6 explains that without faith, it is impossible to please God. Pleasing God begins with walking by faith. We start by believing in Jesus. We believe that His death, burial, and resurrection was sufficient to save us from our sins and that we have new life in His name. Because of this faith, we obey the rest of His commands, the greatest of which is love. Because of our love for God and our faith in Him, we live life yielding our bodies to His Spirit (check out Romans 6).
Paul tells the Thessalonians to abound more and more. They were living and walking by the Spirit, and Paul is urging them to continue.
As believers, we must make it our goal to please God in everything. This was Paul’s goal. This was the goal he urged on the Thessalonians and was passed down to us. Pleasing God is the first aspect of the process of sanctification in which we must continue to grow.
The second aspect that we must continue to grow in is sexual purity.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 says,
1 Thessalonians 4:3 (NKJV) 3For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality;
The Scriptures single out sexual immorality. 1 John 2 tells us that the world consists of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. So, why pick on this one area?
We find the answer in 1 Corinthians 6.
1 Corinthians 6:18 (NKJV) 18Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.
“Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but...” this statement points out that there is something unique about sexual sin. That exceptional quality is explained in 1 Corinthians 6:16.
1 Corinthians 6:16 (NKJV) 16Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.”
In the sex act, two are made one. Our culture treats the casual hookup as if it is reasonable and natural. But God created sex for the joining of husband and wife, and we harm ourselves by treating it casually. In 1 Corinthians 6:17, the Scriptures compare this joining to what happens when we are united with Christ. It says, “he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”
In addition to the issue of two being joined together uniquely and powerfully, 1 Corinthians says our bodies belong to the Lord as His temple. We no longer belong to ourselves. We have been bought with a price, the blood of Jesus.
Our culture treats sex casually. We think we are wise and enlightened as we study human sexuality and gender. But we have become fools in ignoring God’s design, and we are paying for it in our own bodies.
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul lists several important aspects of sexual purity.
- Possessing one’s own body in sanctification and honor.
- Not wronging a fellow believer.
- Not rejecting God.
Verse 8 is of particular interest.
1 Thessalonians 4:8 (NKJV) 8Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.
Our culture’s morals reflect our rejection of God. This is evident in our sexuality. Gender is no longer clearly defined, and sex is anything two or more consenting individuals want to do.
As believers, we are called by God to be different, to be pure.
Sexual purity is closely related to pleasing God. It is part of presenting our bodies to God as living sacrifices.
1 https://turtledove.fandom.com/wiki/Thessalonica_%28City%29. Accessed July 23, 2020. Population figures updated from Wikipedia.