In Sanctification and Honor

February 14, 2010 at 1:03 am (Articles, Attitudes, God's Will, Godly Living, Purity) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

(From 1st Thessalonians 4:1-8)

Once upon a time I felt called to be an example of purity.  I use the terminology “felt called,” but what I really mean is that, as I studied scripture, I began to see the emphasis the Lord put on purity.  In the Old Testament, Yahweh bemoaned His apostate bride’s “adultery” as she sought other lovers—bringing foreign gods into her life and heart and worship system.  In the New Testament He proclaimed that our bodies are His temple and His spirit dwells within us.  When we transgress His commandments regarding fornication and adultery, we are sinning against our own bodies—His temple.  It’s adultery against Him.  It makes Him as sick as did Israel’s child sacrifices to Molech and the pagan orgies around the golden calf.  “Flee immorality,” Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers.  “Every sin that man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”  (1 Corithinthians 6:18-20)

At first I embraced my call to purity as a call to lifelong singleness.  I’ve always been a bit dramatic.  If the Lord wanted me to be an example of purity, what better way could there be than to never marry and demonstrate to the world a life spent in self-control and single-hearted devotion to the Lord?  But as I continued to study the word, I discovered that the most perfect picture of purity is Christ and His bride, the church.  Purity is so much more than abstinence or a vow of celibacy.  It’s a lifelong journey of sanctification and it can certainly include a God-glorifying marriage.  In fact, Paul wrote to the Corinthians telling them that, while singleness was great for those whom God had supernaturally gifted in that manner, for those supernaturally gifted in another manner,  marriage was the wise safeguard against immorality.  (Check out 1 Corinthians 7).

When he gave instructions for the training of younger women, Paul made it clear that purity doesn’t end at marriage.  “Older women are to…train the younger women,” he wrote his disciple Titus, “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure workers at home, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”  (Titus 2:3-4)  Married or single, God’s call to purity extends to all of us and reaches into every corner of every relationship.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, reminding them of God’s will in the issue of purity:  “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more.  For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.  For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.  For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.  Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)

This is important, ladies.  Paul warned, he requested, he exhorted and he wound up with a reminder that the person who rejects God’s will in the issue of purity is rejecting God who gives the Spirit’s empowerment.  “Walk so as to please God,” Paul implores, “and excel still more!”  We can’t be too pure.  God’s desire is for His people to be sanctified—set apart and made holy and He has a plan for how to accomplish this.

Abstain from Sexual Immorality

The Roman Empire in which Paul’s readers lived was a decadent match for our own modern age of “free love.”  Immorality was praised in the arts, just as it is today.  It was worshiped in the temples and proclaimed in the palaces.  The concept of choosing a lifestyle of purity was counter-cultural and difficult.  Many of Paul’s readers had walked out of this world-view, by God’s grace, and to them Paul extended God’s mercy.  “Many of you were once fornicators…adulterers…but you were washed clean.”  He wrote to the Romans reminding them, “just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.”  (Romans 6:19)  Paul wanted his readers to know that they were washed clean from past sins, and also given empowerment, through the Holy Spirit, to resist future sins.  There’s a world of difference between slaves to impurity and lawlessness and slaves to righteousness—a world that far exceeds technical “virginity.”  God wants His people to be so far removed from impurity and immorality that they are controlled and driven by righteousness.

The statistics prove God’s wisdom—and the consequences of rejecting it.  When I taught abstinence in the schools as an outreach of a Christian Crisis Pregnancy Center, I was blown away by the seriousness of the facts—fornication doesn’t even lend itself to happily ever after, regardless of your personal convictions.  The sexual progression chart we shared was rather telling as well—it began with “hanging out” and showed that as soon as affectionate touch occurs, the battle becomes a war against your own body.  Paul commanded believers to flee immorality.  This is God’s will!  This is what pleases God!  A warning, a request, an exhortation: sexual sins are not something to be approached with caution.  We are to flee!  If we’re commanded to flee, then even the first step down an inevitable sexual progression is a step in the wrong direction.

Possess Your own Vessel

The context of this command suggests another angle of the purity issue.  Paul is dealing with purity and its effects on those around us.  The Greek word translated here “possess” actually suggests the concept of “acquiring” and the use of the term vessel perhaps refers, not to a man’s own body, but to that of his wife—who is the weaker vessel.  Paul’s command is to take a wife/acquire your own vessel in sanctification and honor—not in lustful passion like those who do not know God.  This fits with his teaching to the Corinthians, when he says, “Because of immorality let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”  (1 Corinthians 7:2)  The antidote to immorality is actually to pursue marriage—not as the pagans do, with selfish and lustful motives—but in set-apartness and honor, in purity, for God’s glory.  The answer to immorality is actually not whole-sale celibacy—monasteries and nunneries.  Paul condemns those who forbid marriage.  The answer to immorality is pure marriages that mirror Christ and His church—built on love for the Lord and sacrificial love for each other.  God created woman for the man’s sake—to be joined as one by God—and together to serve the Lord.

Do not Defraud

Paul adds one more element to the mixture: the issue of defrauding.  The basic meaning of the word is to “cheat”: to claim that which is another’s, to get too much, to be greedy.  His warning is sobering, “the Lord is the avenger in all these things.”  This whole section about purity and sanctification is wrapped within commands to love.  Paul wants his readers to be well-aware that the world has a skewed perception of love.  What the world may call “making love” God calls “sexual immorality” and what the world may hold up as “in love” God denounces as defrauding.  And He will avenge.  God holds up for us a different standard of love: a love that is self-sacrificing, that focuses on God and God’s glory and that seeks to point others in the same direction.  It is a love that gives, not seeks to snag whatever it can get.  “Love does not seek its own,” Paul writes in his famous “love chapter.”  We are to love our neighbor as our self.  We are to look out for the interests of others.  In all our relationships, we must keep in mind the interests of others, careful that we do not transgress and take what does not belong to us.  This is true whether we hope it may one day belong to us or not.  We are not to take what is not yet ours.  A wife’s body belongs to her husband and no one else is to ever ask her for any part of that.

Paul doesn’t lay down for us a pattern of romantic pursuit.  Scripture doesn’t seem to offer a step-by-step plan of how to seek a spouse.  But God has certainly made it clear what His goals are for a marriage that glorifies Him.  God’s will is for us to abstain from sexual immorality.  To flee youthful lusts.  To pursue righteousness.  God’s plan is to protect us.  God’s will is also for us to “acquire our own vessel” (this command is probably given to the men, but Paul wrote to the Corinthians for each woman to have her own husband) in sanctification and honor.  In our pursuit of marriage and in our marriage, we must carefully guard honor and holiness.  God’s plan is to protect our spouse.  Each of us is responsible for the protection of each other.  After marriage, Paul writes that the wife’s body belongs to her husband and the husband’s body, to his wife.  Before marriage, those “vessels” must be carefully guarded from everyone.  After marriage, they must be carefully guarded from all save one.  “Forsaking all others,” read the traditional marriage vows.  God’s will is also that we not cheat each other.  A wife’s body belongs to her husband, and until a marriage covenant is made, she has no husband.  God will avenge those who take what does not belong to them.  God’s plan is to protect our brothers and sisters—that we might not cheat them out of what is rightly theirs.

In every relationship, God’s will must guide our hearts and minds.  We are to seek to be set-apart, holy, pure.  We’re not to be like the pagans, full of lustful passions and selfish ambition.  Purity keeps us fleeing from sin, it guides us into godly marriage and it protects us from taking what is not ours to take.  And the goal always is to please God.  Married or single, God’s will is for us to be pure—to be set-apart.

Much of the commentary on the 1st Thessalonians passage has been shamelessly stolen from my father’s file-cabinet of Bible study materials and teachings on “Taking a Wife.”

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6 Comments

  1. Vanessa said,

    This was an excellent post – much to ponder on. I’m looking forward to the rest of your series!

  2. What Makes a Husband Jealous? « Pearls and Diamonds said,

    […] I worked over the post dealing with God’s Will: Your Sanctification, I came head to head with the issue of defrauding—cheating, taking what rightly belongs to […]

  3. Observations on the Survey « Pearls and Diamonds said,

    […] fits with scriptural patterns of men as pursuers and women as responders, as well as the passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 dealing with “not defrauding your brother.”  If men are to “take a wife” they should also […]

  4. Part Three: Love and My Brother « Pearls and Diamonds said,

    […] recently shared with you the results of a survey on purity.  The purpose of this survey was to instruct us so that we can love in wisdom—understanding more […]

  5. Coming Soon: Purity and the Greatest Commandment « Pearls and Diamonds said,

    […] Finding God’s Will:  In Sanctification and Honor […]

  6. The Purity Posts « Pearls and Diamonds said,

    […] Finding God’s Will:  In Sanctification and Honor […]

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