7 Christian Arguments for Sexual Purity
Topic: Expository Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
7 Christian Arguments for Sexual Purity | 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Good morning! Turn in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. This week, we’re starting the second half of the book of 1 Thessalonians. Chapters 1-3 were part one; chapters 4-5 are part two. This is where Paul moves from encouragement, prayer, and narrative to instruction and teaching. He’s still encouraging, as we are going to see, but now he is going to get into some specific issues; and the first issue he tackles is sexual immorality.
The Greek word for “sexual immorality” in v. 3 is the word porneia, from which we get our English word “pornography.” It’s the same word translated “fornication” in the King James Version. One commentator defines porneia this way: “any kind of sexual relation outside of heterosexual marriage, whether it was fornication, adultery, homosexuality, incest, prostitution, or bestiality.” Until the last sixty years or so, I think most Americans would have agreed that all of these items are sin. But my how things have changed. By straying from God, we have also strayed from biblical morality, and nowhere is that more evident than when it comes to this area of sexual ethics.
This morning, I’m going to give you seven arguments from this text against sexual immorality. But before I do, I want you to give me some of arguments from the culture in favor of sexual immorality.
As we begin today, I want you to see that these arguments are not new. Anyone ever hear of a guy by the name of Cicero? (He wrote The Republic, and his writings had a massive impact on our founding fathers.) Here’s a quote from a commentary on 1 Thessalonians about Cicero’s views on sexual immorality. “Cicero, who spent some time in Thessalonica during the mid-first century B.C., argued in favor of this freedom for youths. He commented, ‘Let not pleasures always be forbidden.… let desire and pleasure triumph sometimes over reason,’ but only if these pleasures do not do damage to oneself or others. He went on to argue that after hearing the voice of pleasure and concupiscence, the empty desires of youth, the young person could give himself to the interests of both domestic and public life” (Gene Green).
Is there anything from that argument that sounds familiar? The notion of following your heart; the idea that “as long as nobody gets hurt, it’s okay”; this sort of “kids will be kids, they’ll grow out of it” mentality–it all sounds very much like thing that are said today, doesn’t it?
And yet, in many ways, the Thessalonian culture was actually worse than our culture is today! For instance, many of the cults in those days actually promoted sexual license! As well, the treatment of women and slaves in that culture was often very bad. Slaves were considered “human property,” and nobody would have batted an eye if a slave master used his “property” to fulfill his perverted desires. Also, there was no shame about prostitution! In fact, the Greek goddess Aphrodite was considered the patroness of prostitutes!
But don’t get the idea that there wasn’t any ethic! People made in the image of God always draw a line somewhere, even if they end up turning morality upside down. So, for instance, adultery was still widely condemned (although that was more because it was viewed as a sin against the other woman’s husband). And although married men were expected to be immoral, among the women, immorality was not tolerated! So you see how they twisted God’s standard.
It was into this culture that Paul spoke in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. And his words are just as appropriate today as they were back then. So let’s read (1 Thess 4:1-8).
My title today is “7 Christian Arguments for Sexual Purity.” Argument #1:
- Holiness is God’s Will for Your Life (v. 3).
Christians love to talk about God’s will, don’t they? “Who does God want me to marry?” “What car does He want me to buy?”–these are good questions to ask, and we ought to apply Biblical wisdom to decisions like these. But we must not forget that the most important aspects of God’s will are clearly laid out in Scripture. Can I tell you God’s will for your life? (This is going to be golden; you’ll want to right this down!) God’s will for your life is (drumroll please) ... holiness. God wants you to be holy (v. 7)! Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God didn’t call you for uncleanness! He called you in holiness! That’s His plan for your life! And you know what? If you will focus on living a holy life, many of your questions about God’s will will resolve themselves. So you focus on your sanctification.
The word “sanctification” in v. 3 is very important theologically. Does anyone know what it means? It refers to the process of becoming more like Jesus. That is where all of us live day-to-day! God justified me (that happened the moment you got saved) and one day, He’ll glorify me; but in between, He’s doing this slow and gradual work in my life called “sanctification.” He’s setting me apart from the world and making me more like Jesus. Sanctification is God’s work, but does that mean I don’t have to work? No! Absolutely not! We are to work hard at our own sanctification!
The Greek word for sanctification in v. 3 can refer either to the process of sanctification or its result, which is holiness. So we could also translate v. 3, “For this is the will of God, your holiness….” God wants you to be holy, set apart from the world.
In what ways are we to be set apart from the world? Well, there are a number of different ways, but what is Paul emphasizing in this passage? (sexual purity; v. 3) Again, God’s will for your life is holiness
- Sexual Self-control Is Honorable (v. 4).
Tell me: what’s the last word in that verse? (honor) And what’s the opposite of honor? (shame) Is shame a biblical motivator? Of course! Paul uses it right here in this verse! He says that sexual self-control is honorable, which of course is to imply that sexual promiscuity is what? Shameful! It’s shameful! Paul says, “Shame on you for doing that!”
As I mentioned earlier, it’s a fascinating observation that because we are made in God’s image with a conscience, human beings adopt moral systems that they try to adhere to. Even atheists do this. For the atheist, morality may mean that you recycle, or maybe that you don’t eat meat. Morality for a gang member may mean loyalty to his gang. We saw that for Greco-Roman men, it meant not committing adultery, even though it no one would have batted an eye if you hired a prostitute.
So the issue is not so much that unbelievers feel no shame (although I guess that may be true in some extreme cases), but that they feel shame for all the wrong reasons! The New Testament continually tells us that we should not be ashamed of Jesus! But you should be ashamed of sexual sin!
Many unbelievers wear their immorality like a badge of honor. Haven’t we seen this in the political realm over the past two elections cycles? People have discovered that it is to their political advantage to be gay, lesbian, or transgender; so they boast about their immorality–they wear it like a badge of honor! It is not honorable to give yourself to passionate lust! It is honorable to possess your own vessel in holiness
The word “vessel” in v. 4 reminds me of 2 Timothy 2:20-22: “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. 21 Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. 22 Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” The vessel in v. 4 is your body, your physical body. And God wants you to possess your body in sanctification, or “holiness,” not in passionate lust, like the Gentiles!
Sexual self-control is honorable.
- When You Commit Sexual Immorality, You Are Acting Like Someone Who Doesn’t Know God (vv. 4-5).
This one stings, doesn’t it? You know who does that kind of thing? It’s the Gentiles–people who don’t even know God!
It’s fascinating that Paul uses the word “Gentiles” in this context. Why is that interesting? Because most of the believers in the Thessalonian church were Gentiles! According to the Jews, there were two races–Jews and Gentiles. Jews and everyone else. And it wasn’t just ethnicity that separated them; it was also religion. But early in the history of the church, Christians began referring to themselves as a third race–the new humanity. Think of these Thessalonians! They didn’t fit in with the Gentiles anymore. But they weren’t Jewish, either! They were something totally new! What were they? They were Christians! And so for that reason, even though they were still Gentiles ethnically, Paul could say to them in this verse, “Don’t act like Gentiles! You’re not a Gentile anymore!”
Why do the Gentiles do what they do? Because they don’t know God! What do you expect? They don’t know God! They have no knowledge of His character and what that means for how they should live. They have not seen His Son dying for them on the cross; they do not love Him! So why should they care if they are offending Him; they don’t even know Him!
But you, believer, you know Him! He loves you and you love Him. He is your fiancé; you’re engaged to Him. Why would you betray Him like that? Don’t you know Him?
When you sin sexually, you are acting like someone who doesn’t even know God.
- Sexual Sin Is Not Love, It’s Exploitation (v. 6).
This one is so important, because unbelievers typically frame their sexual immorality in terms of love. For instance, we have The Love Store here in Victorville; you see it advertised on the billboards off of I15.
Paul would say, “That’s not love.” I mean, can we just stop for a minute and fight for the meaning of a word? Sometimes semantics aren’t worth fighting over; but sometimes they are, when the words are really important. The word “love” is really important! Sexual immorality is not love! It’s what–according to v. 5? It’s lust! When you commit immorality with another individual, you are not being nice to that person! You are exploiting him or her for your own gratification!
The word “exploit” really resonates in our day and age, doesn’t it? The #Metoo movement has produced a heightened sensitivity to sexual exploitation, and that’s a good thing! The problem with the #Metoo movement is that it frames morality exclusively in terms of consent! As long as you have two consenting adults, you can do whatever you want! But God’s Word would say that if you tempt someone to sin, you are exploiting that individual, whether or not he or she consents!
I think it’s also important for us to remember that all pornography involves exploitation. One of the ways in which the insanity of our society is manifested is that we decry sexual harassment and yet wink at pornography! How do you think that stuff was created? Men, when you view pornography, you are supporting a big business built around sexual exploitation. What if that was your daughter?
Now, to be fair with the text, the word “brother” in v. 6 is clearly masculine. It’s not a gender-neutral word. The NIV translates that word “brother or sister”; but that’s not the best translation. The best translation is “brother.”
You say, “What sense did Paul have in mind when he referred to Christian brothers being exploited in this area?” Based on what we know of that culture, I think it’s unlikely that he has in mind women exploiting men. It’s more likely that Paul is thinking of men exploiting men by committing adultery with their wives or other members of their household
Now, just to be clear, we are not to think that this was a widespread problem in the Thessalonian church. After all, Paul just spent three chapters commending this church for its godliness! Also, in 4:1, he doesn’t say, “Start doing these things,” he says essentially, “Keep up the good work!” But perhaps a couple church members were flirting with immorality; or maybe Paul just knew that this was going to be a temptation, so he took the time to address it.
At the end of v. 6, Paul issues a strong warning about sexual sin, which leads us to point number five.
- The Lord Will Punish Sexual Sin (v. 6).
The Lord will take the side of the wronged individual and avenge the exploited brother. Now let’s just get our bearings here. Who is the one being punished? An unbeliever? No, it’s a brother! This is pretty strong language for a warning against Christians! “Don’t exploit another believer because God avenges exploited people.” And the fact that Paul had already warned the Thessalonians about this matter adds additional gravity to this statement.
So it’s Christians who are being punished. But who is doing the punishing? (“the Lord”) Who is that a reference to? It’s a reference to Jesus (vv. 1-2). Why does Paul refer to Jesus as Lord three times in this passage? Do you know what “Lord” means? It means “master.”
Christian, Jesus is Lord of your life. You submitted to Him when you trusted Him as Savior, so He is your Master now. And He will leave no stone unturned. His lordship extends to every square inch of your life. He demands lordship over your sexuality. And He will hold you accountable. If you commit sexual sin, you can expect to answer to Him.
I hope this passage serves as a warning to anyone who may be dabbling in sexual sin. It doesn’t start with full-blown adultery, folks. It starts with neglecting your spouse or complaining about him or her to others. It starts with not guarding your thoughts, men. It starts with a lunch date or a text thread, women. It starts with an “innocent” hug. Please! Be warned! Do not go down that road! Think of the brothers or sisters you will be defrauding. And remember, God will avenge those believers. So do not toy with sin!
Avoid sexual immorality because God judges sexual sin.
- If You Reject These Instructions, You Are Rejecting God Himself (v. 8).
Back in 2:13, Paul commended the Thessalonians for receiving the gospel not as the word of men, but as the very word of God. Now he is saying that this instruction about sexual ethics carries the same authority.
You cannot receive the gospel but reject God’s commands for you as a Christian. It doesn’t work that way. You cannot pick and choose. Either it’s all from God, or it’s all from men. It cannot be both. So Paul is just reminding the Thessalonians, “If you reject this teaching, you’re not rejecting me, you’re rejecting God.” Back in v. 1, Paul said, “We urge and exhort you in the Lord Jesus,” or “by Jesus’ authority.” He says the same things in v. 2: “We gave you these commands through the Lord Jesus.”
As your pastor, I do not have the authority to just arbitrarily tell you what to do. So if I try to tell you to invest in some Canadian gold mining company, you can ignore me. J But when I show you from the Bible what God expects from you, you better sit up and listen. You better wrestle with those texts and you better do what they say. If you don’t, I won’t take it personally, but God will.
If you reject these instructions, you are rejecting God Himself.
- God Gave You His Holy Spirit (v. 8).
This is like Paul’s clinching argument. Why should the Christian avoid sexual immorality? Because God gave you His Holy Spirit! Boom! Case closed! And we’re left wondering, “Paul, why is that your closing argument?” We don’t understand why that is so compelling–which may be an indictment against us.
God cares so much about you being holy that He gave You the third person of the Trinity–someone for whom holiness is such an important part of His intrinsic nature that the word “holy” is part of His name! He is the “Holy Spirit”! And if you walk in Him, Galatians 5:16 says that you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh!
Why would you give your body to sexual sin when such tremendous provision has been made for your holiness? Why would you choose your sin over the smile of such a beautiful, loving God? Do you even begin to understand how deeply the Spirit is grieved when you commit this kind of sin? Do you even care? Or has your heart become that callous?
One of the most compelling arguments for sexual purity is that God gave you His Holy Spirit.
As we conclude, I know I’ve been strong today. Both the topic and the tone of this passage require that. However, if there is someone in this room who is struggling with sexual impurity in one way, shape, or form (and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there was–in fact, I would expect it), I invite you to be courageous and to talk to me or Pastor Kit or a mature lady in this church who can help you with that struggle. One of the hardest aspects of sanctification is kicking old habits. Just ask anyone in our church who has struggled with substance abuse (and there are a lot of those people here, too.) Sexual sin is often just as addicting–if not more so–than drugs! So if you’ve spent years of your life engraining this habit, don’t expect it to die easily! Gaining freedom over this temptation is going to take a lot of time in the Word, a lot of prayer, a lot of hard work, and probably a lot of time. What’s more, you’re going to need people “in your corner,” so to speak, pulling for you, holding you accountable, and giving you biblical direction. So swallow your pride and quit trying to beat this on your own. We love you, and we’re here for you.