Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. – 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 (ESV)
Our culture has become saturated with sexual images even as it has twisted sex into being primarily about self-gratification rather than God’s good gift designed to promote the spiritual, emotional, and physical bond of a man and woman in the holy union of marriage. That is, modern American ideas about sex are pervasively selfish.
In this sort of culture, it can be challenging to cultivate a right view of sex, and every bit as challenging to guard not only our bodies but also our eyes and our hearts in pursuit of sexual holiness. Here’s the thing: It was every bit as difficult in First Century Thessalonica. Really! Thessalonica was not a small Jewish town in Galilee where life revolved around the local synagogue. Thessalonica was a port city where pagans indulged in sexual immorality as a matter of course. Think about the city of Pompei – the Roman city which was completely destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. Because the city was buried in volcanic ash, we are left with one of the best preserved cites in the entire ancient world. As we excavate the city, we keep discovering these brightly painted frescos on town walls and in the houses of wealthy people, and one of the common scenes we see are paintings of naked people engaging in sexual acts. If you think smart phones and iPads have made it difficult to keep sexual images away from the eyes of your children – and they have! – the children of ancient Pompei were exposed to pornography every time they walked through the street. We have every reason to believe that this would have been true in Thessalonica as well.
For all the problems in modern American society, we are still living with the remnants of a Christian heritage. Thessalonica had no such heritage to restrain its sexual immorality. Apart from this tiny church, the people in Thessalonica have never been impacted by Christian ethics at all.
This was the culture that the Thessalonians lived in. This is the culture that the Thessalonians were saved out of. Cultivating physical holiness in the church, in terms of sexual practice, must have been every bit as hard for them as it is for us. But think about how brightly this would have made the Christians stand out for their sexual morality – like stars against the night sky – and consider how their sexual holiness would have flowed over into happier marriages, essentially a zero-divorce-rate, and stable loving homes for covenant children to grow up in.
A great deal is at stake in whether the church allows the world to press us into its mold, or whether being “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds” we pursue holiness in the area of sexual morality.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 32
Q. 32. What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?
A. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.