I Thess. 4:3b. “. . . .that ye should abstain from fornication.”
We talked about this yesterday, but I feel a need to be more specific about what the word fornication involves. It is what we English teachers would call a collective noun; that is, a noun that denotes a collection of persons or things regarded as a unit. For example, the word team is a group made up of individual members. The same is true of an audience, congregation, club, society, and so on. Fornication, then, is a noun denoting several types of illicit sexual behaviors.
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the word used in this verse is porneia, from the root words porneuo, porne, and pornos. Pornos indicates a male prostitute, and denotes debauchery among men. Porne is the feminine of pornos, indicating harlotry or female prostitution. (Included in all these words, and very important especially in the culture Paul addressed, was the practice of idolatry.)
Porneuo means to act the harlot; to indulge the unlawful lust (of either sex); to practice idolatry; to commit fornication. And finally, in the verse we’re looking at today, porneia encompasses all harlotry, including adultery and incest; and including idolatry.
One of my favorite sources, D. Edmund Hiebert (The Thessalonian Epistles) has this to say:
“Fornication was one of the conspicuous forms of immorality in all areas of the pagan world. It was regarded as a matter of indifference and even defended as a necessity of nature, like eating and drinking. The well-known proneness of the pagan gods to sensuality had a degrading influence on public morals. Fornication received ritual sanction in some of the religious cults of the day. Adultery was a common subject of poetry and all the arts were employed to make it a pleasing and seductive practice.” (p. 167)
Then, as it should not now, Christianity was not to adapt its moral standards to the practices of contemporary society. Rather, Christianity should stand in utter contrast to what the unbelieving world deems as acceptable, normal, and up to each individual to decide. Because of the sanctity of marriage and the marital bed, Christians were to remain abstinent until marriage; after marriage, sex and sexuality were to remain sacred to the married couple.
The so-called “new morality” that was fostered by the hippie movement of my generation is really not new at all. The idea that a couple needs to “try out sex” before they get married in order to prevent divorce is laughable. Certainly the statistics on the success of those who cohabit before marrying bear out the fallacy of the idea that practicing sex before marriage prevents divorce. Here is just one link among many, many others that will show you what I mean: http://www.rayfowler.org/2008/04/18/statistics-on-living-together-before-marriage/
It is also important to point out here that fornication is more than just illicit sex. It covers the whole gamut of sexual indulgence, from pornographic pictures, books, movies and magazines to topless dancers and the sex slave trade. We live in an evil world. We MUST be vigilant in our exposure to it, to the way it influences our thinking, dress, behavior and entertainment choices.
Years ago, I heard a speaker at a women’s conference say that if you’re going to err, it is better to err on the side of the conservative. We should choose to go too far in the direction of purity than in the direction of impurity.