Teaching series from 1 Thessalonians

Christian Sexuality

1 Thessalonians 4:1-10

Teaching t22465


Brief review of the letter’s setting. Up to now, Paul has been celebrating their conversion (1:1-10), reminding them of how he related to them when he was with them (2:1-13), and assuring them of his love even though separated from them (2:17-3:13).

Now he begins to instruct and exhort them in how to live the Christian life (read 4:1-3a). The Christian life is about living in order to please God, about being “sanctified”—set apart from sin to pursue God’s will. He had begun to instruct them on this when with them, and they had responded well. But he urges them to “do this more and more”—to keep growing and gaining new ground in their relationships with God. The Christian life is never “treading water”—we are either growing or regressing!

Paul’s instruction begins with instruction about sex. God wants to make radical changes in our sexual lives. He wants us to live out this key part of our lives according to His will, to please Him, and to demonstrate His wisdom and goodness to a watching world. Paul’s instruction addresses the who, what, why and howof Christian sexuality ...

WHO: To whom does this instruction apply?

Paul is addressing Christians (4:1 – “brothers and sisters”)—people who have personally received the living Jesus into their hearts, who have received His gift of complete forgiveness, and who have bowed to Him as the Lord of their lives. This is what it means to become a Christian, as we saw in chapter 1. It is to Christians that this instruction on sexuality applies. The order is: First become a Christian, then embrace and live out Christian sexual ethics. This has two important implications.

First, for those of you who are not Christians, you are listening in this morning on a way of life that is very different from what your culture promotes, and (probably) very different from what you think and believe and feel. Paul didn’t impose Christians sexual ethics on non-Christians, and I’m not going to do this to you. This is a complicated area, but Christians should focus on living this lifestyle out before you rather than on judging you or pressuring you to live this way. As you listen in, remember that the key question for you is not: “Will you change your sexual behavior?” but: “Will you receive Christ?” Christ wants to meet you where you are, and forgive you and enable you to experience His Father’s love. And then, on that basis and with His help, He will begin to change your life, including your sexual lifestyle. Three responses are possible:

  • “I know I am sexually messed up, and I want help!”
  • “I’m not convinced I need to change sexually, but I am willing to meet Christ.”
  • “I am unwilling to change sexually, so I don’t want to meet Christ.”

If you can say either of the first two, just open the door of your heart and ask Christ to come in. If you are dug in on the third response, just realize that you’re turning down an amazing offer that many of us will tell you is the best gift we’ve ever received. If you are ever willing to reconsider in this life, Christ’s offer stands.

Second, for those of us who are Christians, this is for all of us. This is not Paul’s opinion—it is the will of our Lord (4:2 – “in the Lord Jesus;” 4:3 – “by the authority of the Lord Jesus;” 4:8). We belong to Jesus, and we are under Jesus’ authority. We have admitted that we are sinners, needing not only Jesus’ forgiveness, but also His moral direction because we are prone to err and deceive ourselves. We don’t reserve the right to pick and choose from His direction, nor do we look to our thoughts/feelings/urges or cultural mores for direction. We bow to His authority as Lord, trusting His love and wisdom as proven at the Cross, and are willing to let our Good Shepherd guide us and change us in every areas—including our sexual lifestyles.

WHAT: What is Christ’s will for our sexual lifestyles?

Read 4:3b-6a. Paul answers this question both negatively and positively. Let’s begin with the negative—to abstain from (apecho) sexual immorality. Porneia means all sexual relations outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage.

This is the clear and consistent teaching of the entire Bible. Read and explain Gen.2:24,25. Jesus explicitly affirmed this in Matt.19:5,6. Read or refer to Heb.13:4a. All sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage (heterosexual shacking up or cohabitation; adultery; homosexual encounters or relationships; sexual abuse; pornographic involvement; etc.) are against the Lord Jesus’ will.

Now this prohibition has almost always been radically counter-cultural, because fallen human societies always lower their sexual ethics in many ways to accommodate their sexual lusts. It was totally counter-cultural for Israel in the midst of Canaanite culture—yet God called them to it. It was totally counter-cultural for 1st-century Christians in the midst of Greco-Roman culture—yet God called them to it. And it is totally counter-cultural for us in the midst of 21st-century American culture—yet God calls us to it.

This is why Paul specifically calls Christians to turn away from letting our sexual lusts dictate our sexual behavior (4:5). We can’t always prevent sexual lusts from emerging in our minds, but we can choose not to obey them or justify them. So Paul calls us to turn away from sexually immoral behavior in general—and specifically not to become involved in adulterous relationships (4:6a).

So as followers of Jesus, we must say two things to ourselves and to one another:

We are all sexually broken. We have different inordinate sexual lusts, for different reasons, and different degrees of sexual damage—but we are all in this together as sexually broken people who desperately need Jesus’ healing in this area of our lives.

We are all called to a life of sexual sacrifice. Single people are called to strict chastity—a life of sexual abstinence. Married people are called to a life of strict fidelity—giving ourselves sexually to our spouses only and turning away from all sexual pursuits outside of our marriage relationship.

Paul answers “What?” positively in 4:4. We should use our bodies according to God’s design (“holy”) and in ways that bless and serve others (“honorable”) rather than use them for our own pleasure or ego-boost and at others’ expense. Sexual self-control is a crucial aspect of Christian love, which is sacrificially serving others for their good.

One implication of this is that we should avoid sexual legalism—trying to figure out how close to the fire we can get without getting burned, how much we can do without “crossing the line.” That is the wrong question, not only because it leads to more serious sexual sin, but more importantly because it is focused on self-gratification! The questions we should be asking Jesus as we relate to others is “How can I respect his/her sexual abstinence or fidelity? How can I safeguard his/her honor and dignity? How can help him/her to grow closer to the Lord? How can I help him/her become more like Jesus?” When we ask the Lord these questions, He will answer us and help us to live this way!

WHY: Why is sexual purity so important?

There are many, many biblical answers to this question. I wish I had time to give all of them, but I have to limit myself to Paul’s answers in this passage, which are two:

Because sexual impurity is deeply damaging to us and others (read 4:6b,7). It is wrong for preachers to use 4:6b as a club to threaten Christians with God’s rejection or condemnation if they commit sexual sin. The rest of the Bible explicitly promises Christians complete and permanent exemption from God’s condemnation (e.g., Rom.8:1). Rather, Paul is warning us that even though we are forgiven, sexual sin will cause real damage to us and to others connected to us. We are made in God’s image, designed for sexual purity. We live in God’s universe, designed for God’s moral will. When we violate the moral structure of the universe and our own souls, we will not escape a ripple-effect of injury. “We cannot ultimately break God’s moral laws; we break ourselves upon them.”

For 40 years now, I've been working among the human wreckage of the sexual revolution—real people who have been damaged and broken by its lies (2Pet.2:19).

I'm not just talking about the danger of STD's, which is killing millions of people all over the world.

I'm talking about the lie that “casual sex is no big deal,” because there is no such thing as casual sex. I’ve seen the wound in people’s souls when they give a part of themselves that they can never have back, and then the other person leaves. I've seen what happens to early-teen and even pre-teen girls and boys who have sex out of peer pressure (rather than love or even desire for pleasure) to “get it out of the way.” And they are not allowed to say it hurts, because it would be heresy to admit this. I've seen students describing their sexual activity as “hooking up” and “just another contact sport.” No wonder they are cynical about real love—you have to harden yourself to deaden the pain!

I'm talking about the lie that having multiple sexual partners before marriage will help you find someone who is sexually compatible, despite the reality that those who have had sex only with their spouses report much higher sexual satisfaction.

I'm talking about the damage of guilt and boredom and poor sexual performance in marriage because of all the porn and other partners people compare their spouses to—not to mention how porn is a multi-trillion dollar industry that systematically dehumanizes real people into sexual objects.

I'm talking about the lie that living together will help you succeed in marriage, when the reality is that people who cohabit are way more likely to get divorced and report a much higher incidence of marital infidelity.

I'm talking about the long-term, multi-faceted damage to millions precious children born out into fatherless families—no matter what word games we play with what “family” means.

I'm talking about the way adultery rips a family apart and tears up the children of divorce (for which adultery is the number one reason cited).

How much more of this human wreckage do we have to reap before we're willing to drop the denial and admit that sexual immorality destroys lives? We're like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand while the lion chews its back-side. There is no such thing as “victimless” sexuality immorality! God is so insistent on this issue because He loves us and knows what is best for us.

Because sexual impurity destroys our intimacy with Jesus. Read 4:8. God’s Spirit is the Holy Spirit—He personally leads us and helps toward holiness (sanctification). He sensitizes our consciences about sexual sin, and He personally urges us to flee sexual selfishness and pursue self-giving love. When we resist or reject His guidance of our sexual lives, we are resisting and rejecting the Lord. This does not destroy our identity as God’s children, but it does destroy our intimacy with Him. His Word goes dead, the plug on our prayer lives are pulled, and we begin to avoid other spiritually healthy Christians. If this controversy persists, it can lead to a total spiritual breakdown in which we lose all closeness with God. This is our greatest treasure, to be close to Jesus, to have no controversy with Him, to walk in the light with Him (1Jn.1:5-7), to experience fresh revelations of His love for us (Jn.14:21,23). No amount of sexual pleasure or human admiration or security is worth this price!

HOW: How can we pursue sexual purity & receive sexual healing?

Many are so busted up in this area that they feel hopeless. But there is real hope because Jesus Christ changes lives! Paul doesn’t directly answer this question here. But here is a summary of the Bible’s answer:

It starts by saying: “Lord Jesus, I will embrace sexual purity as Your way of life for me.” Decide to trust Him rather than our broken culture, your peers, and your own desires. Bow to Jesus’ moral authority over this whole area of your life (vs. justifying; rationalizing; saying “Stay out!)

It then means saying: “Lord Jesus, I will take the specific step You’re asking me to take toward sexual purity.” Jesus has a personalized plan for your sexual sanctification; He has a step for you to take. Ask Him, telling Him you are willing to follow—and He will reveal this to you. EXAMPLES:

He may call on you to stay away from the bars and clubs that tempt you to hook up.

He may call on you to tell your boyfriend or girlfriend that you’re done having sex. And if you can’t follow this commitment, He may call on you to end the relationship at least for now.

He may call on you to admit your specific current sexual sins to a brother or sister, to ask them to pray with you for liberation, and to listen to their advice about how to get free.

He may call on you to turn decisively from the flirting and fantasizing you’re doing with that person who is not your spouse.

He may call on you to tell someone about the guilt you bear from sexual sins committed (by you or by other against you) long ago.

He may call on you to commit to a program of Christian counseling or a support group for sexual healing.

I don’t know what this step is, but Jesus knows what it is—and He is ready to tell You and take this step with you so you can get more freed and healed. Will you take it?

It means saying: “Lord Jesus, I will walk down this path with other brothers and sisters who also want this way of life.” Is it a coincidence that Paul immediately follows 4:8 with 4:9,10 (read)? No, because a key part of sexual sanctification is real involvement in Christian love relationships.

Here is where you find strength with other like-minded brothers and sisters.

Here is where you find healthy accountability and wise counsel and support.

And here is where you find a substantial cure for the deep loneliness that makes sexual temptation so difficult to resist.

You cannot succeed in a lifestyle of sexual purity without these Christ-centered friendships. Who are you going to open your life up to in this way? (PROMOTE HOME GROUPS HERE)


Summarize. Let’s live to please God in this area! Let’s hear from some of you who have experienced God’s work in this area.