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Bible Commentaries

Dunagan's Commentary on the Bible

1 Thessalonians 4


I. General admonition to please God: 4:1-2

II. Specific admonition concerning fornication: 4:3-8

III. Exhortation for increased brotherly love: 4:9-10

IV. Admonition to the lazy: 4:11-12

V. Comfort to those sorrowing over the state of deceased Christians: 4:13-18

“In the first main part of the letter Paul has explained the circumstances which prevented him from returning to the church at Thessalonica in order that he might encourage and instruct the members. Now in the second main part he proceeds to write the kind of instructions that he would have liked to pass on to them orally” (Marshall p. 103). “Christianity is eminently practical, there is an inseparable connection between doctrine and duty, between faith and life” (Erdman p. 52). The above comment should remind us of a valuable truth. The New Testament letters contain the information concerning what Jesus would say to a congregation, if He were still upon the earth ( 1Co_14:37 ). God would not have told the Thessalonians something different, even if He had spoken it directly and audibly from heaven. There is no difference between the quality or content of an audible message from God verses a written communication which He has inspired a man to write. Stott has the following observations concerning this section of Scripture:

“One of the great weaknesses of contemporary evangelical Christianity is our comparative neglect of Christian ethics, in both our teaching and our practice. In consequence, we have become known rather as people who preach the gospel than as those who live and adorn it. We are not always conspicuous in the community, as we should be, our personal honesty and integrity or for the stability of our homes in which unfaithfulness and divorce are practically unknown and children grow up in the secure love of parents. God's commandments include such mundane matters as our daily work (4:11-12) and penetrate even into the personal privacies of sex and marriage (4:3-6); that God judges those who are sexually selfish (4:6). There is an urgent need for us, as pluralism (tolerate everything but the truth) and relativism spread worldwide, to follow Paul's example and give people plain, practical, ethical teaching . And right from the beginning converts must be told that the new life in Christ is a holy life, a life bent on pleasing God by obeying his commandments” (pp. 76,77).

This section probably reveals what might have been either troubling some Christians in Thessalonica, or what could very easily trouble them if they were not careful. Some writers suggest that this section may also be a response to questions (either oral or written) from the congregation in Thessalonica (compare 1Th_4:1 with 1Co_7:1 ; 1Co_7:25 ; 1Co_8:1 ; 1Co_12:1 ).

Chapter 4:13-18

Morris notes, “The Thessalonians had welcomed the teaching they had received (concerning the Second Coming). But with the passage of time and the march of events questions arose in their minds. The one which occupies our attention at this point is, ‘What becomes of believers who die before the Second Coming?’ This question must have arisen quite early in the history of the church. We get the impression that the Thessalonians had understood Paul to mean that the Parousia (Second Coming) would take place within their lifetime. They had become perplexed when some of their number died. Did this mean that they had lost their share in the events associated with that great day?” (p. 136). Now Paul did not teach that the Second Coming would definitely happen in their lifetime ( 2Th_2:2-3 ; 1Th_5:1 ). Yet it is reasonable that certain individuals had misunderstood him, for he was misunderstood on other topics ( 1Co_5:9-10 ; Rom_3:8 ; Rom_6:1 ), and is still misunderstood by many people in the denominational world to this day.

Verse 1

1Th_4:1 “Finally then, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as ye received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, even as ye do walk, that ye abound more and more”

“Finally”: Marking not the end of the letter, but a transition to a new topic. The first major division of this letter dealt with his rejoicing in them and a defense of his character. For the most part the remainder of the letter will deal with exhortations and admonitions to live the Christian life in all situations and in all our dealings with others. “Beseech and exhort”: “Paul's exhortation to the Thessalonians is meant very seriously. He underlines it with the double injunction, ‘we beseech and exhort you’. The combination gives emphasis to the Apostle's request” (Morris p. 117). “In the Lord Jesus”: Paul knew that he was speaking for the Lord (2:13; 2Th_3:6 ff). He was always self-conscious about the true author behind his exhortations. “As ye received of us how ye ought to walk”: This and 4:2 emphasize that truth that Paul is not giving any new instructions. He had taught them these truths while with them. Hence, nothing new was being sprung on them. The real cost of being a Christian is not being disclosed after they become Christians. “We exhort you that, just as you learned how to live, so you may live” (Marshall p. 104). “Ought”: Consider how Paul dealt with brethren. He urged them, entreated them, and he did his best to persuade them. At the same time, he plainly stated that what he was ‘begging’ of them was mandatory. We can use tact in our teaching, we can present a doctrine in a very positive light, and yet at the end of the day, we still have to remind people, “this is something one is morally obligated to perform”.

“Walk”: “To live. This may connect with the fact that a favorite designation of Christianity in the earliest days was ‘the Way’ ( Act_9:2 ; Act_19:23 ; Act_24:22 ). Or it may be that the metaphor suggested itself from the idea of continual, if unspectacular, advance” (Morris p. 118). “And to please God”: “So as to satisfy God” (Mof). “How to behave in a way that pleases God” (Ber). It is possible for the Christian to "walk with God" ( Gen_5:22 ; Mic_6:8 ). “Pleasing God as the foundation of which Christian ethical behavior is built. Several points may be made in favor of ‘pleasing God’ as a guiding principle of Christian behavior. How can we claim to know and to love God is we do not seek to please Him? Disobedience is ruled out , our incentive will be not so much to obey the law as thereby to please the Law-giver . If our goal is to be perfectly pleasing to God, we shall never be able to claim that we have arrived. Instead, we are summoned to please Him more and more (2)” (Stott pp. 78, 79). “The whole Christian life is God-centered. The Christian does not ‘walk’ with a view to obtaining the maximum amount of satisfaction for himself, but in order to please his Lord” (Morris p. 118). The above comment should really make us think about "the preaching that we like to hear". The primarily purpose of teaching, is not to make the listener feel better about themselves, or to make life easier for them, rather it is to inform a man or woman how to life a live that is pleasing to God. The main question that the Christian is confronted with on a daily basis, should not be “am I happy?” Rather, “is God pleased with my life?” ( 2Co_5:9 ; Col_1:10 ).

“Even as ye do walk”: They were having success at pleasing God! “That ye abound more and more”: “But you are to excel in it still further” (Mof). “Continue to live this life better and better” (Wms). “That you live more and more closely to that ideal” (Tay). “Paul lets them know that he is not unmindful of their achievement. But the Christian can never rest satisfied” (Morris p. 119). "Abounding more and more" is God's answer to those who are looking for a bare minimum or a quota that they can meet ( 1Co_15:58 ; 1Th_3:12 ; 1Th_4:10 ; Php_1:9 ).

Verse 2

1Th_4:2 “For ye know what charge we gave you through the Lord Jesus”

“For ye know”: “Again Paul looks back to the days of his visit to assure them that he is doing no more than lead them along the way he had then showed them” (Morris p. 119). “In order to preclude the charge of being guilty of issuing arbitrary orders” (Hendriksen p. 99). “Charge”: A mandate or command. “To command or charge is frequent, and is often used of military orders” (Vincent p. 34). “Thus a word with a ring of authority” (Morris p. 120). “Through the Lord Jesus”: The highest possible authority resides behind the commands that Paul has given and is once again reminding them, this is a clear claim of inspiration ( 1Th_2:13 ). “The point is clearly that the commands are to be thought of as the commands of Jesus to His church and Paul is merely His agent in passing them on to his readers” (Marshall p. 106).

Verse 3

1Th_4:3 “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication”

“This is the will of God”: “This is a thing willed of God” (Rhm). God's will can be understood ( Eph_5:17 ), and God clearly expresses His will. Why would God speak to mankind ( Heb_1:1-2 ), if not to be understood? “Sanctification”: A state of purity or holiness. “That you should be pure” (TCNT). “Separated and set apart for pure and holy living” (Amp). See 1Pe_1:15-16 . One is purified from sin at conversion ( 1Co_6:11 ), but personal purity demands continual work ( Heb_12:14 ). “We cannot get a one-shot inoculation of sanctification that will permanently guarantee our immunity against sin” (Fields p. 104). “Some denominations hold to a doctrine that after a person has been saved, he may have a second work of grace, a sanctification by baptism of the Holy Spirit, in which all desire for and the practice of sin is taken out of his nature” (Fields p. 103). Evidently the apostles did not believe or teach such a doctrine, even in reference to their own lives ( 1Co_9:27 ; Gal_2:11-14 ; 1Jn_1:8-10 ). “That ye abstain from fornication”: “Abstain from sexual vice” (Mof). “Fornication”: “The noun covers all forms of illicit sexual intercourse. These are incompatible with the relationship has to be viewed in the light of the fact that the body of the Christian belongs to God ( 1Co_6:19 )” (Morris p. 122).

“It is not surprising that the apostle begins with sex, not only because it is the most imperious of all our human urges, but also because of the sexual laxity--even promiscuity--of the Greco-Roman world. Besides, he was writing from Corinth to Thessalonica, and both cities were famed for their immorality. It may be doubted, however, whether Corinth and Thessalonica were any worse than other cities of that period in which it was widely accepted that men either could not or would not limit themselves to their wife as their only sexual partner. Professor F.F. Bruce sums up the situation: ‘A man might have a mistress who could provide him also with intellectual companionship; the institution of slavery made it easy for him to have a concubine, while casual gratification was readily available from a harlot. The function of his wife was to manage his household and to be the mother of his legitimate children and heirs” (Stott p. 81). “So long as a man supported his wife and family there was no shame whatsoever in extra-marital relationships (among unbelievers)” (Barclay p. 231). At this point we learn a very valuable lesson concerning why people misinterpret the Bible. The Bible is very clear about condemning fornication ( 1Co_6:9 ; Rev_21:8 ). Thus, anyone who argues that sex outside of marriage is lawful in the sight of God, needs to honestly admit, that they do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God. The problem is not interpretation rather it is a lack of faith. When it comes to sin moderation is not enough, we must completely abstain. Here we again learn that the standards and values of contemporary society do not determine what is right and wrong. In Greek society the sin of fornication was lightly condemned. “Continence was regarded as an unreasonable demand on a man. Yet the leaders of the church did not compromise for one moment. They knew that God required of them the highest standard, and they had no authority to lower that standard. Thus they refused to allow the church to be determined by the ideas of contemporary society” (Morris p. 121). Since culture did not determine truth, right and wrong, for the First Century Church, neither should it be allowed to determine truth and morals for the 21st Century Church. God's truth transcends all cultures ( Rev_21:8 ; Rom_3:4 ; 1Pe_1:23-25 ), and it will be the standard by which all cultures will be judged ( Joh_12:48 ; Rev_20:11-12 ; Mat_25:31-32 ).

Verse 4

1Th_4:4 “that each one of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honor”

“That”: Connecting 4:3 and this verse together. Paul is still dealing with the subject of abstaining from fornication. “Each one of you”: The same exact moral standard is required of all Christians, regardless of their background, social or economic strata, environment or upbringing. Judgment will be on an individual basis ( 2Co_5:10 ), therefore the purity of another Christian cannot save me. Holiness does not rub off and no man or woman has enough holiness to spare for someone else. “Know how”: “Paul explains more positively what is meant by abstaining from immorality in terms of the action which his readers should take in order to avoid this sin” (Marshall p. 107). The word “know” is a perfect active infinitive meaning that each one of them (and us) should learn and know the way to maintain his own purity (Denton Lectures p. 127). “Learn the habit of purity” (Robertson p. 28). Carefully note that moral purity has some "know how" connected with it. Virtue is the result of being impressed with certain truths ( 2Pe_1:5-6 ).

“Possess”: “The verb can be used in the sense ‘to gain mastery over’” (Marshall p. 109). “Himself of his own vessel”: The question among commentators is, “What does the word vessel refer to?” Basically two views exist. The word vessel refers to the body of the believer ( 2Co_4:7 ; 2Ti_2:21 ; Act_9:15 ). Or the word refers to the wife of the believer ( 1Pe_3:7 ). The wife view has two basic variations. Paul is saying here basically the same thing he said in 1Co_7:1-2 , that is, marriage is a safeguard against or the only God-given context for sexual intercourse. Hence, this is one way to avoid fornication. Or, there is a proper and improper way to view one's wife. One is also being sexually immoral if they merely view their wife as an object to satisfy their sexual desires. I prefer the body view, because it seems to me that it harmonizes better with the context, yet in the end both views are basically inseparable. Marriage will stop a person from fornicating, unless they learn how to control themselves first, and a Christian man must first learn how to view his own body properly, and his own urges, before he can have the right perspective concerning his wife.

“In sanctification and honor”: “Purely and honourably” (TCNT). Stott notes, “The fact that marriage is the only God-given context for sexual intercourse does not mean that within marriage there is no need for restraint. We have all heard or read about, and some have experienced, the selfish sexual demands that are sometimes made by one married partner on the other, but marriage is not a form of legalized lust , it is possible for sexual partners in marriage to wrong or take advantage of each other. The fact is that there is a world of difference between lust and love, between dishonorable sexual practices that use the partner and true lovemaking which honors the partner, between the selfish desire to possess and the unselfish desire to love, cherish and respect. The Lord himself sees even the intimacies of the bedroom. He hates every kind of human exploitation” (pp. 85-86). Even though these passages may not be exactly teaching the above, the concept is right. It is wrong to treat another person as an object ( Mat_7:12 ; Mat_22:39 ). It is wrong to turn even sex in marriage into something that is nothing more than pure selfish lust ( 1Pe_3:7 ).

“And honor”: Which seems to be saying that when one abstains from fornication, one is first of all treating oneself with respect. One is thus properly valuing the importance of one’s soul and body ( 1Co_6:19-20 ). Carefully note that God knows such can be done. “We shall not become a bundle of frustrations and inhibitions if we embrace God's standard, but only if we rebel against it” (Stott p. 84). Morris notes, “The honor due to the body as such is one of the great contrasts which Christianity offers to the loftiest systems of heathen philosophy (e.g. Platonism and Stoicism)” (p. 124). Consider for a moment that when one treats God with respect in turn they are treating themselves with respect as well. Disregarding God leads to a disregarding of one’s best interests. Obedience leads to honor but sin only leads to shame.

Verse 5

1Th_4:5 “not in the passion of lust, even as the Gentiles who know not God”

“Not in the passion of lust”: “And not for the mere gratification of his passions” (TCNT). There is a passion that is healthy, but this passion is being fueled by pure lust. Lust is pure greed. The adulterer is not satisfied with one woman. This reveals that the real "root" cause of lust is selfishness. Hence, getting married, changing one's environment and so on will fail to control lust, if the root cause is not faced and confronted. God knows that we can overcome lust. “The God-empowered man rules his body. He is not caught in the grip of lustful passions he is quite unable to control” (Morris p. 124). “Some men think that nothing can be done about sexual passions except to gratify them” (Fields p. 106). Again, such verses demonstrate that we are not inherently depraved or born with inherent evil desires, because Scripture is repeatedly exhorting mankind to flee, abstain, and depart from such things as lust ( 2Ti_2:22 ), and such a departure is even to reach down into our hearts ( Mat_5:28 ). Recently I heard someone argue, “Well, just because it is inborn, does not mean that you have to act upon it”. But, God requires more than that . God requires that we also abstain from it mentally and emotionally as well.

“Even as the Gentiles who know not God”: “The heathen knew gods as licentious as they are themselves, but not God” (Robertson p. 29). Marshall notes, “Paul's characterization of its typical (the Roman Empire) way of life was justified. It would be possible to offer a similar verdict on modern western civilization, as represented by its films, TV and novels, and as reflected in the statistics for marital breakdown” (p. 110). Engaging in fornication is living like an unbeliever and lowering oneself to the level of one who is ignorant of God. When we lose hold of God, when we abandon Him, we are in essence abandoning ourselves ( Rom_1:18-28 ).

Verse 6

1Th_4:6 “that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in the matter: because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as also we forewarned you and testified”

“Transgress”: “You cannot break this rule without in some way cheating your fellow man” (Phi). “Often in LXX, mostly in the literal sense of overpassing limits” (Vincent p. 36). “The force of crossing a boundary--here of crossing a forbidden boundary, hence trespassing (sexually) on territory which is not one's own” (Stott p. 85). “To overreach” (Morris p. 126). “And wrong”: To be covetous, i.e. (by implication) to over-reach: get an advantage, defraud, make a gain. Being a “consenting adult” does not make one immune from exploitation and sin. Morris rightly points out, “It reminds us that all sexual looseness represents an act of injustice to someone. Adultery is an obvious violation of the rights of another. But promiscuity before marriage represents the robbing of the other of that virginity which ought to be brought to a marriage” (p. 126). People often attack monogamous marriages, and point out the current divorce rate or the abuses that happen in marriage, and argue that such justifies the sinful alternative they have chosen. Yes, abuses happen in some marriages, yet remember this, i n every living-together, homosexual or adulterous relationship someone is being exploited! The very fact that God labels all sexual activity outside of marriage as "fornication", which comes from the Greek word for prostitute, is clear evidence that all such relationships are not based on true love ( 1Co_13:4 ff), but rather upon selfishness, a love which is bought or sold, a love that views the other person as an object or possession, a love that is willing to sacrifice the soul of the other person, for their own momentary pleasure.

“No one can commit fornication without defrauding and wronging someone. It is a sin that always wrongs and hurts others, and not just ourselves . By it men wrong someone's wife, or future wife, someone's sister, someone's marriage or future marriage” (p. 107).

“His brother”: Especially if such fornication involved a brother's wife or daughter. “In the matter”: That is, in the matter being previously discussed, unlawful sexual activity. “The Lord is the avenger in all these things”: Compare with 1Co_6:9 ; Gal_5:21 ; Eph_5:6 ; and Rev_21:8 . “Avenger”: carrying justice out, a punisher. “Regular term in the papyri for legal avenger” (Robertson p. 29). “We must not understand vengeance in the sense of the settling of private scores, but rather of the administration of an evenhanded justice” (Morris p. 127). “Heathen gods were often pictured as indulging in human vices. But the true God is the avenger of vices” (Fields p. 107). “While this concept must not be distorted into something like the petty, spiteful and often unjust revenge we see among human beings, neither must its content be softened into something like the impersonal natural consequences of one’s sins. Vengeance is an intensely personal act, coming from the heart and will of one who has experienced wrongdoing against himself. Thus God’s vengeance is something He deliberately and personally inflicts” (Cottrell, God the Redeemer, p. 290).

“As also we forewarned you and testified”: Compare with Gal_5:21 . Truth did not change for Paul. In this letter he taught them exactly the same moral commandments that he taught while with them. “Evidently when the apostles of Christ once spoke, their teaching was not to be modified later to suit someone's pleasure and convenience” (Fields p. 107). Notice that Paul gave new converts what they needed, “Plain, frank, practical, authoritative, uninhibited just what new converts need, especially if they are exposed to pagan standards and pressures” (Stott p. 86). Here we see the relevance of the Bible, because on this point our modern society demonstrates that it cannot handle sex outside of marriage as more than the ancient world could, just look at the statistics concerning divorce, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy out of wedlock.

Verse 7

1Th_4:7 “For God called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification”

“Not for uncleanness”: “God's call to us does not permit an impure life, but demands purity” (TCNT). See 1Pe_1:16 ; 1Pe_2:11 . Christianity does not give us the right to engage in immorality, and grace is not an excuse to sin ( Rom_6:1 ). “In sanctification”: In gives us rather the thought of atmosphere, of the settled condition in which He required them to live out their lives” (Morris p. 128). “Christian purity is a subject that cannot be overly taught!” (Denton Lectures p. 133). It is a topic is that often stressed in Scripture, Php_4:8 ; 1Ti_5:22 ; 1Jn_3:3 ; 1Pe_3:2 ; Tit_2:5 ; Mat_5:8 ; 2Co_7:1 ; 1Pe_1:6-9 .

Verse 8

1Th_4:8 “Therefore he that rejecteth, rejecteth not man, but God, who giveth His Holy Spirit unto you”

“Rejecteth not man, but God”: Another clear claim to inspiration. The instruction and subject matter that were given in this letter were God's commands ( Luk_10:16 ). “Rejecteth”: The word here means to set aside, cast off, despise, or frustrate. “Note that it is in the voluntary power of a man to resist or accept truth. But it is not in man's power to escape the consequences of that choice” (Fields p. 108). One cannot reject the Bible, without rejecting God ( Joh_12:48 ). Neither can on separate a love for God from obedience to His commands ( Joh_14:15 ). And one does not have to reject every verse in Scripture to reject God ( 1Sa_15:26 ). The rejection of any command is a rejection of God. “Who giveth His Holy Spirit unto you”: This congregation did possess spiritual gifts (5:19-20), gifts that they would have received through the laying on of Paul’s hands ( Act_8:18 ).

Love of the Brethren

“Something which should give modern Christians much food for thought is the way in which the early church was characterized by love. ‘Behold how these Christians love one another’ is hardly the comment which springs spontaneously to the lips of the detached observer nowadays” (Morris p. 129).

Verse 9

1Th_4:9 “But concerning love of the brethren ye have no need that one write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another”

“Love of the brethren”: ( Rom_12:10 ; Heb_13:1 ; 1Pe_1:22 ; 2Pe_1:7 ). “For ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another”: Paul did not need to dwell on this subject or write a lengthy discourse, because he had already taught them, while with them. The phrase "taught of God" does not refer to some mysterious teaching, rather one is taught of God when they accept His inspired teaching ( Joh_6:44-45 “And they shall all be taught of God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me”; Jer_31:34 ; Mat_28:19-20 ). What a privilege to be taught of God. When we read our Bibles we tend to forget that we are sitting at the feet of the Creator, we are listening to the Master Teacher, and we are in God's University ( Jer_9:23-24 ). Notice the contrast here: Lust and Love. The selfish exploitation of others and brotherly love. The "love" that the world is fascinated with, and the "real love" practiced by the Christian ( Joh_13:34 ). This verse should remind us of something. Concerning many subjects, the first priority is not additional instruction rather we just need to apply and practice what we already know.

Verse 10

1Th_4:10 “for indeed ye do it toward all the brethren that are in all Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, that ye abound more and more”

“For indeed ye do it”: Credit where credit is due. God is not unfair or unreasonable. People, even new converts can apply His teachings ( 1Jn_5:3 ). “All the brethren that are in all Macedonia”: This would include the brethren in Philippi and Berea. “All their fellow believers have been objects of their affectionate regard or recipients of their loving help” (Erdman p. 56). “Since Thessalonica was an important commercial centre and port, it is very likely that Christians from other towns in Macedonia would visit it. They would be glad of hospitality from the local Christians ( Heb_13:1-2 ; 1Pe_4:9 ), since in the ancient world it was difficult for travelers to get decent accommodations except from friends” (Marshall p. 115). “But we exhort you---abound more and more”: “We urge you to still further efforts” (TCNT). “Christians must never be weary in well doing. To sit back satisfied with what one has done is to sound the knell of effective Christian service” (Morris p. 131). Christianity is the abounding life ( 1Co_15:58 ). It is the life of how much I can do for God, or what else can I do? We need to "abound" because things will always happen or come up which will "test" our love for one another ( Eph_4:31-32 ; Col_3:13 ).

Concerning Work

Stott notes, “Paul moves on in this section from chastity to charity, from control of sex to the importance of work. It seems clear that there was a group in the Thessalonian church who needed a very different kind of instruction and exhortation” (p. 87). “This is the first indication that we have had in this Epistle that there were some who were to so excited by all the wonderful things in the Christian faith that they were not bothering to earn their living” (Morris p. 132). Most feel that this neglect of working was due to speculations about the Second Coming. Stott notes, “But why had some Thessalonian Christians abandoned their jobs? Several suggestions have been made. Some think there was a scarcity of work in the city. But Paul implies that the idle are unwilling, not unable, to work ( 2Th_3:10 ). Others believe that they had adopted either the Greek disdain for manual crafts or the super-spiritual idea that Christians ought to be preaching, not laboring. It seems probable that some had misunderstood Paul's teaching about the Parousia (Second Coming) and had stopped working in the mistaken belief that it was imminent” (p. 88).

Hendriksen observes, “Although there is nothing here that proves a connection between conditions in the church and excitement about Christ's expected return, such a connection is, nevertheless, probable. See on 2Th_2:1-2 . Note also that here in 1Th_4:1-18 the three admonitions are immediately followed by instruction with reference to the second coming” (p. 105).

Verse 11

1Th_4:11 “and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your hands, even as we charged you”

“Study”: To be fond of honor, that is, emulous (eager or earnest to do something): to labor, strive, study. “Endeavour to live quietly” (Mof). “To be ambitious, to aspire, to strive” (Hendriksen p. 105). “Quiet”: "Seek strenuously to be still. It denotes tranquility of life. Paul is very anxious to recall them to a balanced outlook. If the Lord were coming soon, then the best way for them to be found was doing their ordinary work” (Morris p. 133). “The idleness of the Thessalonians was apparently accompanied by a feverish excitement” (Stott p. 89-90). Barclay notes, “The best way in which Jesus Christ could come upon them was that He should find them quietly, efficiently and diligently doing their daily job. It is not hysterical and useless waiting but quiet and useful work” (p. 233). “Do your own business”: Evidently some will not accept this instruction ( 2Th_3:11 ). “To have the habit of attending to their own affairs. It is amazing how much wisdom people have about other people's affairs and so little interest in their own” (Robertson p. 30). “To work with your hands”: “The Greeks were a restless people, often given to intermeddling in the business of other people” (Fields pp. 110-111). “Fanatics, busybodies, and loafers, nearly every church has them! Often one and the same person is all three” (Hendriksen p. 105). “It was the Greeks who despised manual work as degrading to free men and fit only for slaves. Christianity came into direct collision with this view. Paul the tentmaker reinforced the example of Jesus the carpenter and gave dignity to all honest human labor ( 2Th_3:8-10 ; Eph_4:28 )” (Stott p. 90).

Notice how this section follows the section on brotherly love. “It is an expression of love to support others who are in need, but it is also an expression of love to support ourselves” (Stott p. 90). Stott also notes that these "non-workers", are called "disorderly" ( 2Th_3:6 ). “In classical Greek this word was applied to an army in disarray, and to undisciplined soldiers who either broke rank instead of marching properly or were insubordinate. He also pointed out that the same Greek word is found in Egyptian papyri, with the meaning to "play truant" (p. 87).

Verse 12

1Th_4:12 “that ye may walk becomingly toward them that are without, and may have need of nothing”

“Walk becomingly”: “Walk reputably” (Rhm). “Your conduct may win respect” (TCNT). “Live influentially” (Wms). “The believer must always bear in mind the impact of his line of conduct on those who are without faith” (Morris p. 134). “Toward them that are without”: That is, non-Christians ( Col_4:5-6 ). “When we Christians prove that our Christianity makes us better workmen, truer friends, kinder men and women, then and only then are we really preaching” (Barclay p. 234). “Christians will never please everybody, but at least they can avoid bringing themselves into disrepute by failing to live up to the accepted standards of the society in which they live. Paul concludes, Christians must aim not to be dependent on anybody, especially those outside the church who will take a poor view of them if their religion makes them a public nuisance and burden” (Marshall p. 117). “His argument is that to work for one's own living is a mark of love, because then we do not need to depend on the support of fellow Christians, while deliberately to give up work is a breach of love because then we become parasites” (Stott p. 88). Idle people who live off the goodness and generosity of others are not living in love

Closing Comments

Stott concludes this section by saying, “The first is the call to unselfishness. Similarly we are to develop a spiritual sensitivity towards God, through His Word until in every dilemma it becomes safe and practical to ask ourselves, ‘Would it please Him?’ On the other hand, love for others leads us to serve them. Whatever we wish others would do for us, we shall want to do to them. It is a wonderfully, liberating experience when the desire to please God overtakes the desire to please ourselves, and when love for others displaces self-love. True freedom is not freedom from responsibility to God and others in order to live for ourselves, but freedom from ourselves in order to live for God and others. Christian complacency is a particularly horrid condition. We have constantly to be on our guard against vanity and apathy. In this life we never finally arrive ( Php_3:14 )” (p. 91).

First Thessalonians

Verse 13

1Th_4:13 “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope”

“We would not have you ignorant”: A common expression that Paul uses ( Rom_1:13 ; Rom_11:25 ; 1Co_10:1 ; 1Co_12:1 ; 2Co_1:8 ). Paul wrote so Christians would not remain in ignorance, therefore the letters that compose the Bible must be understandable and within the comprehension of the average person. In addition, God never fears the possibility that His word might fall into too many hands. God wants Christians and all people to have access to His revelation ( 1Ti_4:13 ; Col_4:16 ; 1Ti_2:4 ). “Concerning them that fall asleep”: That is, Christians who have died. Death is spoken as a "sleep". Unfortunately some have taken this is mean that the dead are unconscious, yet such is not the case ( Luk_16:19 ff; Luk_23:43 ). Stott notes concerning Paul's statement in Php_1:21-23 , “And Paul, in contrasting this world and the next, wrote that for him life meant ‘Christ’ and death meant ‘gain’. He could hardly regard death as ‘gain’, however, still less as ‘better by far’, unless he believed that it would bring him a closer, richer, fuller experience of Christ than he was already enjoying on earth” (p. 96). Death is spoken as a sleep because the stillness of the body resembles sleep, death is a rest from frustrating labor ( Rev_14:13 ), and death like sleep is only temporary, both are followed by an awakening.

I have always been somewhat intrigued by the various groups who believe that death means a cessation of existence. In fact the same groups believe that hell is the same thing, only an eternal cessation. Yet this is the same theology that is basically held by atheists and humanists, they also believe that one ceases to exist at death. Something has to be wrong, when a professed "believers" hell is equivalent to the atheists "heaven"!

“That ye sorrow not”: Paul is not forbidding sorrow rather he is teaching that a certain kind of sorrow is not appropriate in reference to the death of a Christian. “Even as the rest, who have no hope”: “That you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (RSV). Death is the point of no return. At death ones fate is sealed ( Luk_16:19 ff). People who die outside of Jesus Christ have no hope. This definitely drives a stake through the heart of the Mormon teaching that one can be baptized for dead relatives (yours or otherwise), and the Jehovah Witness teaching that all unbelievers will get a second chance to obey the gospel at the Judgment. Or, the doctrine that God will just end up saving everybody, and the teaching that God is so loving that He will not allow any to end up lost. Stott notes, “Mourning is natural, even for a while emotionally necessary. If Jesus wept at the graveside of his beloved friend Lazarus, His disciples are surely at liberty to do the same. What Paul prohibits is not grief but hopeless grief” (p. 94). This should inform us that even in our sorrow, we can cross the line. Our sorrow should not lead us to despair or a state of feeling hopeless, and especially in our sorrow we are never allowed to question or criticize God.

Various writers point out that the tombs from the time tell us the hopelessness that the ancient world felt in face of death: “Some of the pagan epitaphs say things like these: ‘Live for the present hour, since we are sure of nothing else’. ‘I lift my hands against the gods who took me away at the age of twenty though I had done no harm’. ‘Traveler, curse me not as you pass, for I am in darkness and cannot answer’” (Fields p. 112). Years ago I encountered an article which listed the various dying words of renown atheists: Hobbs: "I say again, if I had the whole world at my disposal, I would give it to live one day. I am about to take a leap into the dark". Ingersoll: "O God, if there be a God, save my soul, if I have a soul, from hell, if there be a hell." Caesar Borgia: "While I lived, I provided for everything but death; now I must die and am unprovided to die”. Fields notes, “It has been well suggested that Christians should mourn for those who are living in sin, and not for the dead who are in the Lord” (p. 113). Carefully note that true hopes and false hopes exist. Various people in the ancient world, believed in an afterlife, but "hope" is not merely a desire, hope is a confident and expectant desire. Unbelievers may have "wished" for a better life but God said, they died in a hopeless condition. Vincent noted, “The speculations and surmisings of pagan philosophy do not amount to a hope” (p. 40).

Morris notes, “When Paul counsels the Thessalonians not to sorrow as the pagans do he is not urging them to endure with a deep Stoic calm the buffetings of fortune which they cannot avoid. Nor is he counseling a callous indifference. Rather, he is rejoicing in the complete victory which Christ has won. Those who have died have simply fallen asleep in Christ. Clearly in the face of this prospect there is no reason for despair” (p. 138).

Verse 14

1Th_4:14 “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with Him”

“For”: Such ignorance and hopeless is inexcusable, for” (Hendriksen p. 111). “If we believe that Jesus died and arose again”: This is the fundamental and foundational stone of Christianity ( 1 Corinthians 15:1-3; 17-19 ). The "if" in the sentence does not express any doubt, rather Paul is saying that such hopeless despair is completely incompatible with the person who believes in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Stott notes, “If God did not abandon Jesus to death, He will not abandon the Christian dead either” (p. 98). Because His resurrection is the proof and promise of our and the resurrection of every believer ( 1Co_15:23 ).

The resurrection of Jesus is not that hard to prove and neither is it difficult to believe in: The witnesses were credible men, who gained very little materially from preaching such a message ( 2Co_6:4 ff). Jesus definitely did die on the cross. Hence there is no room for any kind of "swoon theory" ( Mar_15:44-45 ). The disciples did not see a vision or convince themselves that He had been raised, because hallucinations do not move bodies ( Luk_24:36-39 ). The Jewish and Roman authorities had every incentive to keep the body in the tomb ( Mat_27:62-66 ). Nobody could have stolen the body, for the tomb was securely guarded. Where is the great and wise Jewish objection or argument against the resurrection? All we find is a poor excuse that would not even hold up in small claims court ( Mat_28:11-15 ). The very fact that people today try to explain away "what happened to the body" is proof that everyone, believer or unbeliever, Christian or skeptic, disciple and atheist all believe that on the third day the tomb that Jesus was placed in, was empty!

“Even so”: The Christian dead will be raised just as Jesus was raised. “If this is what we believe about Jesus, this is what follows from it” (Marshall p. 123). “Them also that are fallen asleep”: Deceased Christians. “In Jesus”: Lit., through or by means of Jesus. It is "in" or "through" Jesus that one is delivered from the terror of death ( Heb_2:14-16 ; Rev_1:17-18 ). To fall asleep in Jesus is to die "in the Lord" ( Rev_14:13 ). It is also through or by means of Jesus, that our souls will be reunited with our glorified bodies ( Joh_5:28-29 ; Joh_6:44 “and I will raise him up on the last day”).

Morris observes, “In this context we are reminded of the historical facts of the death and resurrection. These things really happened. The Christian confidence is not the result of some philosophical speculation, nor the elaboration of a religious myth. Rather, it rests on a sure historical foundation” (pp. 140,138).

“Will God bring with Him”: The same God who raised Jesus ( Rom_4:24 ; Rom_8:11 ; Rom_10:9 ; 1Th_1:10 ), will also raise all the Christian dead. I think some writers might be on the right track when they point out that Paul is saying something more here, than just the fact that deceased Christians will be raised. The phrase "bring with Him", may mean nothing more than the fact that the bodies of deceased Christians will not be left behind, but it may mean more. The real concern of the Thessalonians may have been, no so much the resurrection of their deceased friends, but whether or not deceased Christians would "miss out" on the glorious events at the Second Coming. Paul may be saying, that all the deceased faithful, will be present when Jesus comes, that is Hades will be immediately emptied out, and the deceased will be reunited with their resurrected and glorified bodies in the same realm and time that the living are changed and everyone, living or deceased will share in this great day. This would mean that when Jesus comes, we often forget that all the departed faithful will be coming with Him, to be reunited with their resurrected bodies (4:17). This section of Scripture offers absolutely no support for the modern Premillennial idea of a rapture, that is, a silent and secret coming of Christ for Christians only, because the “coming” mentioned in this chapter is loud (4:16); final (4:17); is at the exact same time that Jesus comes to punish the wicked (5:1-3); thus it is not merely for the living Christians (4:14).

Verse 15

1Th_4:15 “For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep”

“By the word of the Lord”: “We do not say this on our own authority” (Vincent p. 40). Paul is claiming direct revelation ( Gal_1:12 ; Gal_2:2 ; Eph_3:3 ). This same expression is often used to describe God's messages to His prophets ( Mic_1:1 ; Hos_1:1 ; Jer_1:2 ; Luk_3:2 ). “If we had only Paul's hopes or opinions as support for our hope it would not be very solid assurance. Since the Lord Himself informed Paul about this matter, we place our total reliance upon it” (Fields p. 115). Sometimes people ridicule Christians for placing their complete trust in the Scriptures, as if Christians are the only ones who place their confidence in something. The bottom line is that Christians place their trust in the word of God, everyone else places their trust ultimately in the words of men, either their own and the words of others. Now, who looks foolish?

“That we that are alive”: Christians will be alive on the face of the earth when Jesus does come. Evil will never be able to destroy the church ( Mat_13:36-43 ).

Unfortunately, even some Christians have taught that Paul believed that Jesus was going to come within his own lifetime, because he says, "we" that are alive. How quickly people forget that in this very same context Paul says he does not know when Jesus will come (5:1-3). In other passages he places himself among those that will be raised ( 1Co_6:14 ; 2Co_4:14 ). Actually Paul is simply using the same type of language we would use today. "We" may be among those alive when Jesus comes or "we" may be dead. Stott notes, “Now the call for watchfulness does not necessarily mean that the Parousia will come in our life-time, but only that it may” (p. 101).

“Unto the coming of the Lord”: The word “coming” “became the official term for a visit of a person of high rank, especially of kings and emperors visiting a province. Thus the coming of Jesus will be a revelation of God and a personal, powerful visitation by Jesus, the King” (Stott p. 97). Some religious groups have tried to make the second coming into something impersonal, that is, like a coming of a better world. Yet Jesus is personally coming back! ( Act_1:11 ) “Shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep”: The word “precede” means to “prevent in the older sense of anticipate, be beforehand. The living shall not share the blessings of the advent sooner than the dead in Christ” (Vincent p. 41 ). “The word ‘prevent’ now means to hinder or restrain. But in 1611 when the King James version was translated, it meant to ‘go before’ or ‘come before’. It is from the Latin word praevenio, meaning ‘to come before, to get the start of’” (Fields p. 116). Thus Paul is saying, that those who have fallen asleep will not in any sense miss out on the events of the last day. They will not even be a second or two late in arriving. The living will not get a head start on them .

As we move into the next verse, Morris makes a very good observation: “This verse (4:16) makes us reflect on the very little that the New Testament has to say about the manner of the Parousia. Nowhere else have we as full a description of what is to happen as here. The point of it all is that the Scriptures are intensely practical in this matter. There are things that our curiosity would like to know, but the Bible is not there to gratify our curiosity . Rather, it is to help our Christian lives, and for that the important thing is that we should be ready whenever the Lord comes” (p. 142).

Verse 16

1Th_4:16 and Rev_20:5

Premillennialists try to connect these two sections of Scripture, especially keying in on the word "first" in 1Th_4:16 and linking that with the "first resurrection" in Rev_20:5 :

· Rev_20:1-15 is obviously figurative, because when has anyone on earth visibly seen the events described in 20:1-3? See also 1:1.

· Those resurrected in Rev_20:5 , are specifically singled out as those who had been beheaded (20:4). This is not a resurrection of all Christians, and neither is it a coming for Christians only.

· In Rev_20:1-15 , there is a 1000-year separation between resurrections, yet nobody that I know of teaches that "first" all the Christian martyrs will be raised and then 1000 years later, the other Christians.

· The word "first" in 1Th_4:16 does not mean the "first resurrection", because the Bible only views one resurrection ( Joh_5:28-29 ); happening at the “last day”, not almost the last day, and not 1000 years from the last day ( Joh_6:44 ). Instead the Christian dead are the first group raised in a grand event in which all the dead will be raised and all the living changed (4:17; 5:1-3).

· Consider the parable of the Tares ( Mat_13:40-42 ). The tares and the wheat are separated at the same time .


Verse 17

1Th_4:17 “then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord”

“Then we that are alive”: The devil will not be able to destroy the church, there will be faithful Christians on the earth when Jesus returns. “Shall together with them”: With the righteous dead. “Be caught up”: To seize, catch up or away. “Caught up means to ‘to seize, carry off, snatch out or away’. It is the same word used in Act_8:39 to describe how the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip after he baptized the Ethiopian” (Fields p. 119). “The suddenness, the swiftness, and the divine character of the power which is operative ( 1Co_15:52 )” (Hendriksen pp. 118-119). “There is often the notion of a sudden swoop, and usually that of a force which cannot be resisted” (Morris p. 145). The expression "caught up" is where people get the idea of a "rapture". Yet according to these verses this event is not secret nor is it silent (4:16). It does not happen seven, one thousand or 1007 years before punishment comes upon the wicked (5:1-3).

“In the clouds”: Notice that this reunion takes place in the clouds, and not upon the earth. Jesus is not coming back to set up an earthly kingdom, rather He is coming to deliver up the kingdom of God ( 1Co_15:24 ).

Also note that nothing in this section, dealing with the Second Coming mentions those things which Premillennialists are always taking about, such as the great tribulation, nuclear war, Russia, Israel, "signs", and so on. If popular Premillennial writers are right, then it sure appears like they have a better "inside" line to the secrets of God, than the Apostle Paul did. Because compared to what such men write (if they are right), Paul had a very poor and weak line of communication with God, and a very limited imagination.

“To meet the Lord”: The word "meet" is used of commonplace meetings, but it also can refer to "the formal reception of a newly arriving magistrate. It implies welcome of a great person on his arrival. It may well be that there is a touch of the formal here, with the thought of a royal reception. They were being presented to the King” (Morris p. 146). “And so shall we ever be with the Lord”: “This means that between Jesus Christ and the man who loves Him there is a relationship which nothing can break. It is a relationship independent of time” (Barclay p. 236). See Joh_17:24 ; Rev_21:3 ; Rev_22:3 .

Verse 18

1Th_4:18 “Wherefore comfort one another with these words”

“Comfort”: To call near, invite, invoke (by imploration, exhortation or consolation). “One another”: The responsibility is mutual. “With these words”: Hence something is wrong when people say, “I read the Bible, but I could not find any help or encouragement in what it says”, or “I did read the Bible but it did not do anything for me”. Let's resist the temptation to alter the message, just because something is wrong with the hearer! The person who views what Paul wrote as the word of God, will find encouragement and comfort, because "these words" settle the matter for that person. “It is interesting that he does not urge them simply to faint not. These tidings, he thinks, should impel them to be active in seeking one another out and strengthening one another. And well they might , for it is an inspiring thought that death makes no difference to our relationship to the Lord. The thought gives meaning to existence, and suggests the certainty of ultimate triumph. He (Paul) is not suggesting that he has made a guess, which he believes to be a good one, and of which they may care to make good use. He speaks ‘by the word of the Lord’. It is not one Paul's guesses or our own that our strength rests. It is on what God has revealed” (Morris pp. 147-148).

One more time as we close this section, be impressed with the restraint with which Paul writes about the greatest event yet to come in human history. Contrast his words with the multitude of theories that exist concerning the "last day". I think I will accept Paul's view, because he spoke God's word!

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Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". 1999-2014.