28 November 2014

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

“Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more.” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 68:24-35


As a nation chosen by God, Israel throughout the Old Testament was distinctive not only for religious belief and relationship with God, but also for clear norms of behaviour which set them apart from neighbouring tribes and races. Many of these concerned sexual morality. Here we seem to find Paul beginning to lay down norms for the new, Christian community. Again, Paul is strengthening that sense of group identity which comes not only from shared thinking but from common behaviour. He wants the Thessalonians to realise that their new identity affects and controls every part of their lives. Their goal is sanctification, the total cleansing which comes only from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and which is the will of God for them (verse 3). "He wills that I should holy be; what can withstand his will?" 

There are rival brands of identity on offer - that which is characterised by "impurity" or that which is characterised by holiness (verse 7). It appears that sexual mores have been part of the initial instructions for this young church too, as Paul refers to instructions already given (verse 2). Paul, writing now to follow this up, advocates monogamy in marriage, contrary to the normative Greco-Roman standards, which allowed sexual freedom for a married man. Such behaviour exemplifies a non-exploitative inner attitude.

In verse 1, Paul uses the same Greek word as in 1 Thessalonians 2:12, 'peripatein', here translated "how you ought to live", indicating a manner of life rather than merely a lifestyle. He is saying 'be of a particular identity' rather than just 'behave in a particular way'. As well as exhorting, he also encourages the Thessalonians; they are already doing this (verse 1) but they need to do it "more and more".

To Ponder

  • In your opinion how well has the Christian Church in this generation conveyed the message that following Christ is about a way of living, not a list of rules? How might it do better?
  • How easy or difficult do you find it to follow the call of discipleship which is, at times, counter-cultural? What do you think could help you?
  • The psalm today speaks of our worship, the epistle of our living - how can these be so integrated that the 'Reign of Christ' is demonstrated in the holiness of believers 24/7?

Bible notes author

Jill Baker

Jill Baker lives in Glasgow and is glad to be part of the small but distinctive Methodist Church in Scotland. She is a local preacher and local preachers’ tutor in the Strathclyde Circuit, where her husband Andrew is superintendent minister. For Jill, the past 20 years have included all sorts of roles within Methodism – further afield (as a mission partner in the South Caribbean) and closer to home (with WFMUCW, MWiB, leading pilgrimages and as part of various committees and groups) and is currently the Vice-President of the Conference 2017/2018. When not engaged in these ways, Jill enjoys walking in the beautiful mountains of Scotland, gardening and writing; she blogs at and "Thanks, Peter God", her book about the life of her son, Peter, who died in 2012, was published in 2016.