A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12. Conclusion.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 Paul has addressed himself to the two areas of sex/marriage and work. Both are creation gifts, having been instituted by God in Genesis 2. Both are still parts of everyday human experience. And Paul gives us here a Christian perspective from which to view them. Two aspects of this perspective are particularly noteworthy.
The first is the call to *unselfishness*. We are to please God (1) and to love one another (9). To these fundamental simplicities the apostle reduces our ethical obligation. Christian morality is not primarily rules and regulations, but relationships. On the one hand, the more we know and love God, the more we shall want to please him. Children quickly learn what pleases or displeases their parents. Husband and wife understand each other so well that they know instinctively what to do and what to avoid. Similarly we are to develop a spiritual sensitivity towards God, through his Word and Spirit, until in every dilemma it becomes safe and practical to ask ourselves ‘Would it please him?’ On the other hand, love for others leads us to serve them. Whatever we wish others would do to us, we shall want to do to them. It is a wonderfully liberating experience when the desire to please God overtakes the desire to please ourselves, and when love for others displaces self-love. True freedom is not freedom from responsibility to God and others in order to live for ourselves, but freedom from ourselves in order to live for God and others.
Secondly, Paul issues a call to *growth*. We are to please God ‘more and more’ (1), and we are to love one another ‘more and more’ (10). Christian complacency is a particularly horrid condition. We have constantly to be on our guard against vanity and apathy. In this life we never finally arrive. We only ‘press on towards the goal’ (Phil.3:14). Our justification is indeed *hapax* (‘once and for all’); but our sanctification is always *mallon* (‘more and more’).
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The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.