Thursday, January 31, 2008

Honour and Holiness in Sexual Relations

When reading 1 Thessalonians 4 the chapter breaks at verse 8, so today we'll do verses 1-8. It is a fair chunk, and I don't want to make this post too long, so we'll see how it goes. We didn't get all that far yesterday, so we'll repeat the experience starting at verse 2. :)
2For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6that 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. 7For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
So the Thessalonican church has been reminded to more and more want to live for Jesus the way they have been taught.

In verse 2 Paul reminds them that their "how-to's" come from Christ himself. So what does that mean in some practicalities?
  • abstain from sexual immorality (v 3)
  • control your own bodies in holiness and honour (v 4)
  • not getting carried away but the lusts of your body (v 5)
  • not transgressing or wronging a brother in that regard (v 5)
Why? Because GOD is the avenger in all these things. God calls us to holiness. So if we don't live lives of holiness we are disregarding God, not man, but GOD himself who has given us the Holy Spirit.

So let's go through these more slowly.
First ... sanctification: Clarke (in e-sword) says :
God has called you to holiness; he requires that you should be holy; for without holiness none can see the Lord.This is the general calling, but in it many particulars are included. Some of these he proceeds to mention; and it is very likely that these had been points on which he gave them particular instructions while among them.
I like how Matthew Henry puts it
All that is contrary to chastity in heart, speech, and behaviour, is contrary to the command of God in the decalogue, and contrary to that holiness which the gospel requires.
"abstain from sexual immorality" - In the KJV this is translated as abstain from fornication. I thought I would look up exactly what fornication means, OneLook dictionary tells me that fornication is sexual relations between persons not married to each other, and that in some cases it means deliberate sexual relations that deliberately and willfully interfere with marital relations. That last part surprised me, puts a different spin on it doesn't it? Really shows the seriousness and nastiness of what being sexually immoral is all about.

One thing many commentators pointed out was that fornication was not considered as a sin among the heathen. So new Christians would need to be reminded of this. That even if the gods of the people around didn't require sexual purity... the God of the bible did.

"Control your own bodies in holiness and honour" that surprised me. The bodies of the ESV in the KJV is vessels. And that word vessels is taken to mean different things by the commentators. Some think is means body as in one's own body. Others take it to mean the body one marries. Wow...that was a shocker. Gill explains the confusion:
By which may be meant, either a man's wife, or his body, and it is not very easy to determine which, for the Jews call both by this name.
To read Gill's whole explanation go here. Either way, the exhortation is still the same. Treat the body in a holy and honourable way, whether it's your own, or the one you married.

"not getting carried away but the lusts of your body" is where things go a bit astray depending on how one translates that word "vessel". If one translates it meaning the one you married, then this passage refers primarily to how they "come together", to not getting carried away with one's own passions when you do so, and having to be respectful of the person you are with.

But if one translates this meaning one's own body...then it gains a broader perspective. How does one live your life as a Christian. Do you give way to the things that you lust after or do you hold yourself to a higher standard? It goes beyond the marriage bed.

I have to admit...I don't know which perspective is correct. Can they both be? Or is Paul just being very specific with this church ...helping them see how God calls us to purity and holiness in all aspects of sexuality both in and out of marriage?

I'll have to think on this some more, and that said, I'll finish this up tomorrow. I feel somewhat dissatisfied not knowing "just" the right answer for this.

What do you think?

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