1 Thessalonians: 4:7-10

1-thessaloniansPaul continues to address personal    holiness —

(1 Thess. 4:7-8 ESV)  7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

“Impurity” refers, of course, back to fornication or sexual immorality. What God wants is “holiness.” Well, what is that?

We tend to think of “holy” in terms of ritual. That is, because the auditorium is holy (or as we say in north Alabama, it’s not holy but it can be made unholy — at which point we imposed restrictions on the assumption that God requires ritualistic holiness), we must sing at 30 beats a minutes, since very slow is very reverent and so very holy. We must not talk to our brothers and sisters since holiness requires silence in God’s presence — not that God has any special presence in the auditorium but we’re supposed to act as though he is. Coats and ties are holy. Jeans are not. Dresses are holy. Pantsuits are not. And on it goes.

But Paul has something entirely different in mind. He’s not urging the church to return to the cultural norms of the early 1950s. Rather,

We have seen that Paul solidly resisted any ‘paganization’ of the message of the one God, while also solidly insisting that the ekklēsiai [congregations] he established and served were not marked out by the symbolic universe of mainline second-Temple Judaism. Indeed, we have come to the striking conclusion that Paul’s worldview had as its central symbol the unity and holiness of the ekklēsia [church] itself, grounded in what he believed to be true about the Messiah and the spirit, and grounded beneath that again in the one God, the creator, who had now acted surprisingly and decisively to fulfil the ancient promises, while also appearing to overthrow the expectations of those who were most eagerly awaiting just that fulfilment.

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:563.

That is, “holy” in the NT sense has nothing to do with ritual or ecclesiology (the theology of worship and church organization). Rather, it’s about the nature of God himself.

(Lev. 11:44a ESV) For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.

Of course, the ministry of Jesus and the NT reveal God’s holiness through Jesus. Indeed, with the shift in the nature of the Kingdom, the coming of the Messiah, the resurrection, and so many other things, “holiness” had to be rethought in Kingdom terms.

If the [Christian] world-view was to stand up, shorn of the traditional cultural symbols of Judaism and refusing to take on board the symbolic praxis [practices] of paganism, it needed to put down roots more carefully and explicitly, and those roots needed to be the roots of serious human thinking that would penetrate deep into the soil of the being and character of Israel’s God, the creator. That is the task, fuelled at every point by reflection on Israel’s scriptures, to which Paul constantly summons his hearers.

If the ekklēsia [church] of God in Jesus the Messiah, in its unity and holiness, is to constitute as it were its own worldview, to be its own central symbol, it needs to think: to be ‘transformed by the renewal of the mind’, to think as age-to-come people rather than present-age people, to understand who this God is, who this Messiah Jesus is, who this strange powerful spirit is, and what it means to be, and to live as, the renewed people of God, the renewed humanity. This is a worldview, in other words, which will only function if it is held by humans with transformed minds, and who use those transformed minds constantly to wrestle with the biggest questions of all, those of God and the world.

N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:567 (emphasis mine).

That is, to be holy as a Christian isn’t obeying a bunch of rules (although there are rules we should obey, of course). Nor is it inventing rules to impose on ourselves (quite the opposite, in fact). It’s understanding who God, Jesus, and the Spirit are so that we can become like them (and so we’ll obey the rules are that real and that matter to God because it’s become our new nature). Paul’s point in mentioning the Holy Spirit was that, because the Spirit is holy, we must be holy. The name matters.

We usually define “holy” in Bible class as “set apart,” but that definition just won’t do for Paul’s purposes. Set apart how? Set part to be what? to do what? Do we adopt eccentric practices just to show our differences?

In the church I grew up in, the preacher loved to quote —

(Tit. 2:14 KJV) 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

His idea was the world should see us as odd, and so when he preached odd sermons asking us to do odd things, well, the very oddness of it all made it holy! But that’s a misunderstanding of how “peculiar” was used in 1611. In Jacobean English, “peculiar” meant, as the Greek means, something belonging to a particular person. We are a peculiar people because we belong to Jesus. And, of course, because we belong to Jesus, were are anxious to do good works — to be like our King and Savior.

So, yes, we’re set apart, but we’re set apart to be like Jesus. And as we’ve covered here many, many times, the NT always speaks of our being like Jesus in terms of service, sacrifice, submission, and even suffering.

And the Spirit’s work is to transform us into people who bear the image of Jesus (look like Jesus) —

(2 Cor. 3:17-18 ESV)  17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit transforms us to be like the Holy One — and this is what Paul has in mind.

I would add that our sexual fidelity remains Paul’s focus. Because we are to be like Jesus, we should emulate his faithfulness. Just as Jesus is faithful to the church, we men must be faithful to our wives.

1 Thess 4:9-10

(1 Thess. 4:9-10 ESV) 9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,  10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,

This sounds very much like —

(1 Jn. 2:7-8, 27 ESV)  7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard.  8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. …

10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. …

27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie  — just as it has taught you, abide in him. 

Of course, neither John’s Gospel nor 1 John had yet been written. And yet Paul is plainly influenced by Jesus’ words recorded in John 13:34-35, indicating either the inspiring work of the Spirit or else that Paul had been taught this by the apostles themselves. Either way, those textual critics who assume that Paul developed his theology separate from the rest of the apostles would struggle to explain this.

Both Paul and John credit the Spirit or God (the “anointing” in 1 John 2:27 is an allusion to the Spirit) with teaching “love one another” directly. Paul and John both say that no human agency is needed for this lesson to be taught. It’s the work of the Spirit to teach love to followers of Jesus.

It’s not obvious what form this love took. Paul says “that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.” More what?

We tend to think of “love” as a feeling or emotion. So is Paul saying to love more intensely. It seems improbable.

Does he mean that the Thessalonian church should support the gospel meetings of the surrounding churches? That they should pray for them? You see, in contemporary Church of Christ practice, there is precious little joint ministry, worship, or anything else. We’ve turned autonomy into isolation. Other than the occasional lectureship (largely attended by the preacher and not the elders) we do next to nothing together.

V. 10 speaks in terms of what the church did for the benefit of its sister congregations. Therefore, Paul is speaking of an active love that produces some real benefit for the person loved.

Most likely, Paul is reflecting on the way the Thessalonian church lent economic aid to needy believers in other parts of the province. He notes elsewhere that the Macedonian Christians were known for their poverty (2 Cor. 8:1–2); yet despite this, they gave! In fact, the way the author speaks about “doing this” is similar to how he describes giving economic aid for the saints in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:8, 10–11, 24, in light of the context of 2 Cor. 8–9; cf. 1 John 3:17–18).

Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002), 206.

I think that’s a very likely understanding of Paul’s words. Loving the saints includes acts of charity when needed — and a Jewish rabbi would especially see love in these terms (as would a follower of Jesus) because the Torah (and the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels) teach and re-teach this lesson. The fact that we don’t see this in Paul’s words shows how far removed we are from apostolic teaching.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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18 Responses to 1 Thessalonians: 4:7-10

  1. JohnF says:

    Shirts -Ties – Pant Suits – Dresses. The principle of coming to God “unclean” (OT ritual clean / unclean should NOT be considered sinful — it was not) is fairly consistent, Moses, Isaiah, etc. It is that desire to show respect / reverence that lies behind the apparel in which we approach God (no, we have no “vestment” in NT theology. But to come unnecessarily “dirty” or in apparel that intentionally shows disrespect or lack of reverence should be discouraged. Mickey Mouse t-shirts in serving the Lord’s Supper I found problematic of a deeper disrespect.

    James 2:1-6
    My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. NASU

    The poor man in this example had little or no option to be “clean.” But when I CHOOSE to be “dirty” I have an attitude problem.

  2. Larry Cheek says:

    So does this mean that you come to the assembly dressed as a man in fine clothes. Otherwise, the man in fine clothes would be looked upon as being “in charge”. The real problem here is doing any judging about clothes.
    If you were going to an area where fine clothes and cleanliness is unattainable, and you did not come as “dirty” as they are, could you administer to them on their level? If they respected you for your clothes then the center of your message has been compromised.

  3. Alabama John says:

    There is such a thing as showing respect which is lost on a lot of folks these days.
    Some dress for meeting with their brothers and sisters in Christ in a way they would never dress to meet with their childrens teacher or a future employer.
    T shirt, shorts, sandals when they know they are to pray, speak, teach, serve the Lords Supper disturbs me and many others too.
    Offer to buy them some modestly decent clothes for next time and they act insulted.
    Maybe they are down deep an exhibitionist??
    Not showing respect causes a loss of respect for them that they might not realize.

  4. JohnF says:

    It is the attitude problem as I pointed out . . . to dress in a tuxedo could easily be as inappropriate as Mickey Mouse t-shirt. The key point is that our apparel should reflect respect — in whatever culture that is — and however that respect is expressed.

  5. Larry Cheek says:

    Well stated. But, many times we have multiple cultures and society statuses in the same assemblies. To cater to either is not healthy, to all. It looks to me that it would be advisable to be closer to the normal than to the top or bottom.

  6. dwight says:

    If you went to a cowboy church, dressing in a tie or dressing in a t-shirt might be “disrespectful”. Ironically the only one condemned in the scriptures are those that dress up to impress in nice clothes, not those who dress down. I would point out that in the early church they assembled in their homes, so they probably dressed as if they were going to another’s home, but in some of the assemblies some were over dressing. If people came to my house to worship, my only think would be they were clothes, but as we go more to the ceremonial aspect of a temple worship, the clothes ante is stepped up. For some reason if we got together and prayed and sang at our houses, the worship somehow changes when we change venues. The same people doing largely the same worship, but our expectations change depending on the building,
    Now many say, well we dress up for a wedding or a funeral and while true, we would do this no matter which venue it was in, whether in a house or in a building, so if we are going to apply this thought equally, we must dress in our nice clothes (not casual) when we worship at our house.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    JohnF and Alabama John,

    What does the NT say about showing respect by our attire in the assembly? Pretty much nothing.

    You see, they didn’t get Sundays off in pre-Constantine Rome. They went to work on Sunday just like on Monday. Therefore, their assemblies were generally early or late — before or after work. And no one had time to walk home in between work and church to change clothes. Clothes were incredibly expensive and many didn’t own formal wear of any kind. Therefore, people wore their work clothes to church — whatever that might have been. As I recall, Jesus owned only the clothes he wore. Clothes were very expensive, and the poor generally owned no change of clothes – and so they couldn’t have changed clothes for church. They wore what they owned.

    Should we respect God? Of course. Should we respect our fellow Christians? I think so. Does that dictate a particular style of dress? Not much.

    Went I was in high school, you wore a suit to a funeral or wedding. I’ve now been to many weddings and funerals where most of the men did not wear suits — because they didn’t own suits. And because they grew up in a culture that does not consider suits necessary to show respect. Their clothes were generally clean and freshly pressed. But no coats and ties.

    (Matt. 11:7-9 ESV) 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

    Jesus declares that John’s simple, coarse clothing marked him as a prophet — and as someone NOT dressed like a king. Nice “soft” clothes were just for those with great wealth and power. God’s prophet dressed the way the poor dressed.

    (Lk. 12:22-23 ESV) 22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

    Jesus seems clear that clothing is not to be a major concern for his followers. “Do not be anxious about … what you will put on.” Sounds like a command to me.

    (1 Tim. 6:6-8 ESV) 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

    Clothing is, nonetheless a necessity. But once we have that need met, we need to be worried about things. After all, our clothes won’t be resurrected. (I assume God will clothe us himself.)

    (Jas. 2:2-4 ESV) 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

    We are COMMANDED not to make distinctions among our members based on clothing. Indeed, to judge based on clothing makes us “judges with evil thoughts.”

    (1 Pet. 3:3-4 ESV) 3 Do not let your adorning be external– the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

    I think we’re pretty clearly told not to judge people by their clothing.

    Shorts and sandals are standard wear for young people — and among men, the shorts are rarely immodest. We let women wear sandals all the time without complaint.

    I well remember a college student who attended our Sunday night services wearing track warm ups. Some members were outraged at this obvious lack of respect. (This was many years ago.) It later came to light that the young man ran track for UA and didn’t have time to change clothes after practice — and so he came in his warm ups rather than miss a service. But most of us would not attend church wearing the “wrong” clothes even if it meant skipping Sunday night services over and over — because we know how our members react. They judge the clothing and not the heart.

    Where I grew up, there was a rule among the women that you never wore the same dress on Sunday night as on Sunday morning — or else people would think you “have nothing to wear” and would bring shame upon your family. I well remember my sisters sitting home rather than go to church in the same clothes that they’d worn Sunday morning. I, of course, considered this absurd. After all, we’d been attending that church for 20 years. They knew our wardrobes as well as we did! But the women were brutal in their judgments.

    The NT says don’t judge by such things. I’m inclined to take that at face value. I know of no passage that associates clothing with “respect.” And so I won’t judge someone’s heart by his choice of clothing. I mean, pretty clearly this person is at church. Why would someone attend church just to intentionally show disrespect to God? That’s not a very strong theory. It’s far more likely that the member who dresses contrary to your church’s convention is wearing clothes that, in his or her world, shows respect. And I will judge accordingly.

  8. JohnF says:

    The intent expressed to me in person was to intentionally show disrespect to societal norms as shown in apparel deemed to be culturally appropriate for church. It was INTENDED to show disrespect for his fellow believers. FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE. Yes, I know it is OT, but apparel of the high priest (Aaron) was important. Peter says we are a royal priesthood (Major premise). The priests were to show respect in their appearance (Minor premise). We should show respect in our appearance (Conclusion). How that respect is shown may have many different forms (application).

  9. Alabama John says:

    The amount taken off becomes wrong and disrespectful to our church worship and even those others of us in the assembly.
    So, the question begs just how much?

  10. Dwight says:

    John F, the clothing you are referring to worn by the priest was commanded by God and they just didn’t wear this fancy clothing to conform to societal norms, which of course they weren’t as they were much fancier than the society around them. The rest of society didn’t wear what the priest wore and the priest on a daily basis didn’t wear what they wore when they were doing priestly things. Considering that we are called priest, then we should be in priestly mode all of the time and thus dressed priestly.
    I agree with Jay in this and have the same thinking.
    Let us consider the differences of the Jews and the Romans. The Jews dressed normal in Jewish attire, the poor Romans in their poor attire and then the wealthy Romans dressed normal as they were wealthy Romans. There were multiple cultures in play and yet Paul’s instructions cut across the norms of their culture and instead went after the fact that those who dressed up, probably the wealthy Romans, as they braided their hair, should defer to dressing more demurely, probably more like the Jews or poor Romans, so as to not deflect from their unity. So Paul through society and culture out the window.
    I remember a time when I would not go to assembly because I had just gotten off of work and was filthy and I soon realized that this was wrong on two accounts. 1. It shouldn’t matter to me what I look like if I want to associate with other saints. 2. It shouldn’t matter to the other saints what I look like to associate with me. Unfortunately I found that people had more of a problem with #2, the I did with #1. We trained people to see clothing as a way to judge others of bad intentions.

  11. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    In the church I grew up in, the preacher loved to quote —

    (Tit. 2:14 KJV) 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

    Jay, the same can be said for “distinctiveness.” One of our well known conservative preachers recently wrote:

    What I find curious about the cries for change is the fact that the kind of change some are demanding will destroy our distinctiveness, the very characteristic that has brought growth to the Lord’s church through the years. Why is it that some of our “learned” brethren want to compromise the truth, soften our positions on doctrinal matters, and apologize for our exclusiveness?

    I guess he doesn’t recognize the irony…endeavoring to be distinctive and exclusive contradicts the plea for unity. And there is the obvious ‘fact’ that those who disagree “want” to compromise the truth…

  12. dwight says:

    Kevin, I agree, but the argument is that since the coC is the pinnacle of truth, that all others must unite with the coC or be distinctively wrong as the coC is distinctively right. It is the old argument that we can’t unite with them…they must unite with us. Never mind that overall the churches in the towns in the NT were all wrong, but in Christ just the same.

  13. Mark says:

    We all know that distinctiveness as defined by the conservative preacher means following the “franchise agreement.” It is not just being distinct from the world, which we are supposed to be, but distinct from all other groups calling themselves Christians.

  14. Alabama John says:

    That is exactly why a site like this and all ya’ll that participate is so important today.
    Most of the current coC would not agree or even as we say “set foot” on this site.
    Around here, some won’t even enter a denominational church for a members funeral, much less do so for a sermon or study.

  15. Mark says:

    AJ, Some would not go in to another cofC if they had a kitchen.

  16. Alabama John says:

    Mark, its amazing how some will not associate with others but, I remember well and sing often about all of us “If we never meet again this side of heaven, I’ll meet you on that beautiful shore”. I sure look forward to meeting all on here and all those we love and miss, waiting for us all.

  17. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    Dwight, I agree, but I am not so certain that the thinking within our fellowship is always that clean. It seems to me that many want to be “distinctive” for the sake of being “distinctive” rather than for the sake of truth. I know many who actually revel in being the “remnant” and the “few who have discovered the small and narrow Way.” It’s a badge of honor and a testament to our intellectual abilities and exegetical prowess. Rather than identifying the nations as…well…idolatrous nations that do not know Jehovah or Christ, many in our fellowship have identified other denominations as “the nations.”

  18. Dwight says:

    Kevin, That is probably true, but in our heads it is more nobler than that. I know for many years and current conservative coC doctrine is that denominationalism is sinful and thus denominations are sinful and we should be with them. Well some problems…1.) the scriptures never argue that denominationalism is a sin, 2.) Christians are a denomination of Christ and there is a hierarchy of God to Jesus to man 3.) if calling yourself after a man is sinful, then Israel was sinful in their inception and using any other name then YHWH was sinful.
    So we have made a decision to be sectarian over something that we are and was never condemned. But still we think we have the scriptural high ground. It is Pharisaism at its worst. We want to be different and Holy so we create reasons to be.

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