I Thess. 4:4. “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication.”
Important: The will of God; sanctification, abstain, fornication.
This is not Paul’s opinion. It is the clear will of God that we stay away from all forms of sexual impurity. We live in a culture and a time in which sexual impurity has become nothing more than a relative term. I hear comments like, “You have to follow your heart; you have to do what’s right for YOU!” almost every day that I work. The same philosophy is promoted by movies, TV, music, literature—an endless barrage of “do your own thing.”
But the Bible says it is God’s will that we abstain from fornication. How clear is that? Let’s take a look at the words.
God’s will: This is not merely God’s opinion, preference, or a choice He is giving us to make. He wills it. He demands it. It is a clear path He has pointed out for us to follow.
Sanctification: hagiasmos has the basic idea of being set apart for or dedicated to God because of the atoning work of Christ. It is not the state of holiness, but the process of being made holy, becoming in character and conduct that which God desires us to be. He is holy. We are to be becoming holy, as He is. The next several verses clearly line out the practical aspect of growing in holiness of character. Specifically, we are told to abstain from fornication, to know how to posses one’s own vessel, and to avoid wronging a brother.
Abstain: To hold one’s self off from, to keep away from. The word includes the idea of constantly keeping aloof from fornication. It indicates that we must choose to be mindful, aware, alert to temptation; we must choose to go the other way, to never let our guard down for a moment.
Fornication: The word is used here to denote every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse. That concept, unlawful sexual intercourse, raises problems in our society because, really, nothing is unlawful any more. So we need to spend a little time figuring out how this applies to believers.
In his book on I Thessalonians, William Alexander states that moral evils are always spiritual evils of the first magnitude. I never understood this idea as well as I do after spending several years in the counseling office. People who have been victimized by sexual abuse are fundamentally changed in their hearts and souls. It is so traumatizing that it can take years to recover, even for a believer. Sometimes it is even harder for a believer because of the lingering sense of guilt suffered by the victim. But that is a subject for another post. My point here is that all sexual sin is both a moral and a spiritual issue.
We are not told that Timothy reported any specific instances of immorality in the Thessalonian church. This warning seems to be more of a preventive nature than of rebuke. However, sexual license existed in full measure then, as it does now. The warning was timely and important.
There is nothing new under the sun. The lax moral climate in which we live is not new. It has existed since before the Flood, and will continue to exist until God binds Satan forever. The thing believers need to understand is that we cannot shape our own ideas of morality on the basis of what the unbelieving world says is okay. We must not adapt our own practices to the practice of contemporary society, not matter how we rationalize our desires. If God says it’s wrong, then it’s wrong.
I Cor. 6:13-20 teaches that our bodies belong to God; they are the temples of the Holy Spirit. We are not our own; we are bought with the blood of Christ; we are to keep ourselves pure from sin.
So let’s be specific. What does the word fornication cover? “All forms of illegal sexual intercourse” is pretty broad, unless we understand that God’s Word states clearly that sex is a holy and precious gift meant for a man and his wife; that it symbolizes the relationship between Christ the Bridegroom, and His bride, the Church. It is not sinful in that context; indeed, it is to be celebrated, valued, enjoyed.
Anything outside of that context is sin.
We’re going to take a closer look at the word fornication tomorrow.