Friday of Week 21 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

The latter part of Paul’s letters usually includes some practical exhortations to the particular church to which he is writing. Here, he tells the Thessalonians that to conserve their holiness they are to recall what the apostle taught them in the name of Christ at the time of their conversion.  

Specifically, all forms of sexual misconduct are to be avoided, in consideration of the truth that God sanctifies his faithful by the presence of the Holy Spirit in them. He begins by making his appeal and exhortation in the name of the Lord:

…we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus…

He does not talk to them arrogantly, but does speak with authority in the Lord Jesus.

When he was with them he had instructed them on how to live in ways that please God and he is happy that they are so doing, but he urges them to make even more progress in the way of the Lord.  Paul uses this metaphor often of the Christian way.  It points to steady progress in a forward direction. They are well aware of the instructions Paul and his companions gave on the authority of the Lord Jesus. 

The word ‘instructions’ is used of authoritative commands and has a military ring. God wants all of the Thessalonians to be holy.  ‘Holiness’, as we saw yesterday, means ‘set apart’ (Greek, hagios), being different from other people who live according to different standards.  It is identifying with God’s will, which comes to us through Christ and makes us holy.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  But, taking the English root, ‘holiness’ is related to ‘wholeness’.  The ‘holy’ person is a ‘whole’ person, in which every part speaks of unity and harmony with God, with those around one, with the environment and with oneself.

Paul then spells out a particular area of being holy with which he is concerned.  He exhorts the Christians to sexual integrity and self-restraint.  The implication is that, from what Timothy has told him, there are some problems in this area.  Therefore, he wants them to keep away from all sexual immorality and each of them to guard their body in a way which is holy and honourable.  This can refer either to a man’s own body or that of his wife, as in several rabbinic texts.  For a married man to have sex with another person is to violate his wife. Paul’s doctrine on moral behaviour, which is based on the earliest Christian teaching, invests ordinary day-to-day life with a new depth: it has the seal of Christ on it. 

In the first century AD moral standards were generally very low, and chastity was regarded as an unreasonable restriction, especially by men (but under the same standards of the time, married women were expected to remain faithful to their husbands; unmarried women to be virgins before marriage). Paul, however, would not compromise on God’s clear and demanding standards. They are not to give way to:

…lustful passion, like the ‘gentiles who do not know God’…

The warning was needed, for Christians clearly were not immune to temptation in a hedonistic environment.

Unrestricted sexual activity is to use others for one’s pleasure and totally in conflict with the commandment to love others and to respect their dignity and personal integrity.  It is to degrade the dignity of one’s own body and that of others. So Paul says that no one should ever sin by taking advantage of a brother or sister in such matters, because the Lord always “pays back” sins of that kind, as Paul had emphatically stated in the past.

Sexual sin harms others besides those who engage in it.  For example, in adultery, the spouse is always wronged.  The Lord’s ‘vengeance’ is in the price that one pays for betraying one’s own integrity and the dignity of the other person.  God punishes such behaviour insofar as it carries its own punishment.  Such behaviour can never bring happiness and, at its worst, can result in debauchery, injury, disease, and death.   This is so evident in the rampant spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

On the contrary, God has called all to be holy and not immoral. And anyone who rejects this teaching is rejecting not human authority but God, who gives us his Holy Spirit. 

The prophet Ezekiel foretold that the Spirit would be given to the messianic people.  This reference draws attention to the continuity between the church of Thessalonica and the giving of this gift to the early Christian community on the day of Pentecost.

And here is still another reason for chastity: sexual sin is against God, who gives the Holy Spirit to believers for their sanctification.  It is a kind of sacrilege where not only the object of sexual desire, but the Spirit within that person is violated.

We live in a world rampant with sexual licence and it is easy to be affected by it.  Love and affection and some form of expressing our sexuality are important in everyone’s life, but it must never be done at the expense of one’s own integrity or the integrity of another person. We do not make our human values; we recognise and acknowledge them as coming from a source beyond ourselves.

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