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Living Holy Lives
“For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:7, NIV).
Our lesson reiterates the fact that what we are breaking apart on a weekly basis what was a letter written by Paul to the Thessalonians in his time. We will see that the author of our lesson agrees that the letter builds on what was said previously. So it is important to keep the context. We will read from Sabbath and Sunday. According to our lesson,
The three opening chapters of 1 Thessalonians focused primarily on the past. In chapters 4 and 5, however, Paul turns to the future. There were things that were lacking in the faith of the Thessalonian believers (1 Thess. 3:10), and he wants to help them remedy these deficits. The letter would begin the process, but more could be done only after Paul and the Thessalonians could get together again.
Beginning with 1 Thessalonians 4:1, Paul builds on the friendship he had affirmed in the first three chapters to offer practical advice for the Thessalonians’ everyday life.
Paul’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 contains a number of key words that anticipate the content of 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18. The prayer is about “abounding” in “holiness” and mutual “love” in light of the second coming of Jesus. All of these themes point to specific passages in chapter 4.
In our text for today (1 Thess. 4:1- 2) Paul picks up on the language of “abounding” in 1 Thessalonians 3:12…there is a parallel between 1 Thessalonians 3:12 and 1 Thessalonians 4:l; Paul invites the Thessalonians in both places to “abound more and more” in their love for each other and for everyone.
Paul began the work of building their Christian framework while he was with them, but now he is impressed by the Holy Spirit to fill in the gaps (1 Thess. 3:10) and clarify their understanding. The result would be “more and more” of what they were already attempting to do, which is live a life worthy of their calling.
Paul begins chapter 4 with, “Finally, then” (NKJV). In chapters 4 and 5 he is building on the previous chapters, where his friendship with them is the basis for the practical counsel he will now give. They had made a good start. Now he wants them to continue growing in the truths that they had learned from him.
Two mentions of Jesus in this passage (1 Thess. 4:1, 15) are particularly interesting. They indicate that Paul was passing on the teaching of Jesus’ own words (which were later preserved in the four gospels). Paul was offering more than just good advice. Jesus Himself commanded the behaviors that Paul was encouraging. Paul, as Christ’s servant, was sharing the truths He had learned from Christ.
Now, this behavior that Paul was encouraging would be the outcome their continual abounding in holiness and mutual love. What is the behavior or conduct? Paul encouraged sexual purity, living a quiet life, to be kind to one another, mind their own business, and work with their own hands. All these would distinguish them from those who did not know God. The latter did not abound in holiness and mutual love. So, Paul tells them that the way to do this is to allow God to do His will: which is their sanctification or holiness. We find this in verses 3 and 7. Now, according to our lesson verse 3 builds on verse one. Let us read the two verses,
1 Thessalonians 4: 1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.
1 Thessalonians 4:3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;
According to our lesson: Paul reminded the Thessalonians of how they were to “walk” (NKJV)-“live” in many translations-a Hebrew concept used to describe daily moral and ethical behavior. In verse 3 he uses another Hebrew concept to describe spiritual life and growth, “holiness” or “sanctification.”
We should interject here that it is only by faith that we please God (Hebrews 11:6). Paul was telling them to continue to live by faith even more. So, this means that sanctification is by faith. Our lesson continues to further define the use of the word sanctification in verse 3 and 7. Let us read verse 7,
1 Thessalonians 4:7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
Our lesson states that a typical definition of holiness is “set apart for sacred use.” But Paul gives the term a more specific meaning in this letter. Holiness is the condition the Thessalonians will be in at the return of Jesus (1 Thess. 3:13). But in chapter 4 Paul chooses a form of the concept that emphasizes process rather than outcome. It is a noun of action: “sanctifying” more than “sanctification.” It is the will of God that we be engaged in this process (1 Thess. 4:3). So, if it pleases God that we remain engaged in this process, this means it must be by faith.
So, what is this process of sanctification? Before, we answer the question we should establish that any contemporary study of "holy living" must include the context of the unique Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. To understand the heavenly sanctuary God has given us the earthly sanctuary and its services and sacrifices. Because, what happened in the earthly is a representation of what happens in the heavenly. Every day ceremonies of sacrifices were made for forgiveness of Sin. By faith and figuratively all the sins forgiven daily were accumulated in the sanctuary for a year. Once a year other ceremony of sacrifice was made to cleanse the Sanctuary from these Sins. The Sins were blotted out. This event pointed to the time – of age - when all the Sins of the World, placed on the Heavenly Sanctuary, would be cleansed. The Sins are blotted out. We are living in this age now: the Cosmic Age of Atonement.
However, the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary is a work that includes the people and extends to them. (The earthly sanctuary also represents what happens in us). It provides for the perfection of their character in Christ on the one hand; and on the other hand in the final destruction of sin and sinners and the cleansing of the universe from all taint of sin. It is Christ fully formed in each believer. The sanctuary itself cannot be cleansed so long as God's people continue to pour into it a constant stream of sinning. The stream will be stopped at its source in the hearts and lives of God's people. The ministry of Christ in the Most Holy Apartment does make "the comers thereunto perfect" (Heb. 10:1) and does perfect "forever them that are sanctified" (vs. 14). This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Blotting out all self from us and in it stead writing in our hearts and mind the commandments and statutes of God. For this to happen we must permit it to happen. And, I pray we do.