1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
 God's Purpose for Your Life

 Copyright 2009 (c) American Journal of Biblical Theology 
www.biblicaltheology.com     Scripture quotes from KJV


A question that I have often used to guide a person in considering their own purpose in life is, "For what reason do you take up space on this earth, consume its resources, breathe its air and do so for all the years of your life?"  In answering that question, we find ourselves drawn to God's purpose for creating us in the first place.  We see several statements in scripture that provide guidance in answering this very complex and profound question.  Consider ..

Isaiah 43:7. Every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.

God created mankind for His own glory, for His own purpose.  Most people go through life without any concept that this is fully God's intent for every individual whom He created.  People tend to live lives that are fully intended to fulfill entirely their own desires, striving to get all that is possible out of this life for their own benefit, only to find that the gathering of the things of this world do not satisfy that deep and basic need for purpose.  The reason for this frustration is simple.  When we life a life for our own purposes, we never accomplish anything greater than ourselves.  However, when we understand that we were not created for our own purpose, but for God's purpose, we find that we are designed to accomplish something far greater than ourselves: serving and glorifying the God who created us.  Why would anybody desire to serve God?  Why would we want to be obedient to a God who teaches us to think of others before ourselves?

When I was a child, I was orphaned by a mother who, while her husband was in prison, surrendered her five children to the ward of the State of New York so she could start a new life with a new man in a new place.  She abandoned her husband and children to pursue another relationship.  Orphaned as a toddler, I remained in the State system until adopted at the age of four years to a caring family that attended a Christian church.  At four years of age I was old enough to quickly realize the tremendous change that had taken place in my life.  It is told that shortly after the adoption was completed, I proudly declared to the social worker in charge of my case, "This is my Daddy."  As I went through my young and adolescent years I never wanted to bring any reproach upon my parents.  I did not want them to ever regret what they had done for me.  Consequently, in the years of my upbringing, my basic desire and motive was to be obedient to my parents.  Certainly, I was as precocious as any young boy and was certainly involved in events that would not have been approved by my parents, but even at those times they were on my mind, and I was very restrained and careful to avoid causing my parents any form of disappointment.

Why did I choose to obey my parents?  I was aware of the change in my life that they brought, I was aware of the value of the love that I experienced for the first time, and I did not want to bring any disappointment to those who loved me unconditionally.  When God created us, He had a plan that in many ways is similar in context to this testimony.  God's desire for all people is that we would honor Him.  When a person turns their life over to God, we are adopted into His family, creating a dramatic life change as His Holy Spirit comes into our lives.  We can recognize what God has done for us, and our response to Him should be similar to that of the young adopted boy.  When opportunity arises we should proclaim with joy that "This is my Daddy." clearly identifying ourselves with the Heavenly Father who loves us and saved us from destruction.  Likewise it should be our desire to be obedient to Him because of our love for Him and in appreciation for what He has done, so that we would never bring reproach upon the Kingdom of God.  When we truly understand what God has done for us, serving Him is not a difficult task, but rather an only option that brings true and lasting peace, lifting our lives out of our self-centered existence to a life of ministry that is far greater than ourselves.

1 Thess. 4:1.

Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. 

The church in Thessalonica to which Paul writes this first letter has experienced such a rebirth.  When Paul, Timothy, and Silas traveled through this city on Paul's second missionary journey, they proclaimed the gospel to them, and a church was born.  A body of believers turned from their destiny of separation from God and received the Holy Spirit, experiencing that tremendous life change that God empowers.  Their response was an appropriate appreciation for what God had done, a growing love for Him, and a growing desire to be obedient to Him.  The Holy Spirit certainly guides us in finding that road to obedience, but as we travel on it, we find that there is always further to walk.  We find that we can always learn to love God more, to love others more, and continue to mature in the faith.  No person is completely matured in the faith, giving us all room to grow.

In the beginning of this letter we find that Paul was greatly encouraged by Timothy's report of the faithfulness of the Thessalonian church, how they had maintained the faith in their absence, and had become known in the area for their love for one another, for other Christians, and for those in the communities around them.  Still Paul understands that living in faith is characterized by a pattern of spiritual growth.  Consequently, despite the good report, Paul recognizes that the Thessalonian Christians would profit from his encouragement and instruction.   Basically Paul begs them (beseech) and encourages them (exhort), calling upon the authority of Jesus Christ, that they should walk in a manner that would please God, and that their experience of the peace and joy that comes from a life that is immersed in the power of the Holy Spirit would continue to grow..

How do we life a life that pleases God?  Scripture contains much instruction on obedience to God, including: 

Deuteronomy 10:12-13.  And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, 13To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?

In this passage, the first imperative is to fear the LORD, a command that instructs us to fully learn who God is, and by so doing, recognize Him for the awesome and wonderful God that He is, responding in an attitude of profound respect and love towards Him.  Not until we have done this can we truly walk in all his ways, living a life that is obedient to Him, doing so because we love him and desire to serve the Lord with all of our heart and ...  soul.  If this is our response to God, obedience is not characterized by trying to follow a rule book, but rather it is a spontaneous characteristic of our sincere desire to please Him.  As a toddler my desire was to please my parents, so my response was obedience.  No rule book was needed.  Likewise when we seek to obey God, we will keep the commandments of the LORD as our nature changes from a self-centered and lost soul to one who loves the Lord and seeks to obey Him out of our love for Him.  As we do this we find God's purpose in our life.  

This verse also implicates that a life that is lived to please God will abound more and more.  Jesus described that abundance when he stated, 

John 10:10.  The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

A life that is lived in obedience to God will be abundant in the things that matter:  peace, love, joy, etc.  There is no inference here that abundance refers to monetary gain, or mammon.  Actually, we can see from limitless examples that abundance in the things of this world do not bring peace, love, joy, etc.  It is only through obedience to God, inspired by our love for Him, that we will realize our true purpose in life.

GOD'S PURPOSE IS THAT WE BE SAVED.

1 Thess. 4:2-6

For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. 3For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: 4That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; 5Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: 6That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. 

What is God's will for your life?  Much has been written and taught on this subject.  In recent years, a very popular thesis has been presented by Blackaby and King, entitled "Experiencing God:  Knowing and Doing the Will of God."  Published in a variety of forms including books and study courses, its popularity is indicative of the desire of Christians to know God's will in their lives.  Blackaby's teaching is neither complex or scholarly.  It is simple, and biblically based.  God's will for us is not found through an analysis of a complex formula, memorization of a list of rules, or by living a monastic experience.  It is simply found by listening and responding to what God tells us through His Word, through prayer, through circumstances, and through other Christians.  

Here Paul clearly states some of what is clearly God's will for us; specific direction for two areas of our lives that are clear and simple.  Based on the authority of Jesus' teaching, first it is God's will that we be saved.  Stated as even your sanctification, before anyone can please God, they must turn their lives over to Him (Hebrews 11:6).  Without salvation, man does not have the seal of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and will be exposed at the final judgment when those  whose names are not written in the "Lamb's Book of Life," will be separated from God for eternity.  Without salvation, all men are doomed to eternal separation from God.  A person can go through their lives appearing to be good in every way, yet fail to please God in any way because of their lack of true faith. 

GOD'S PURPOSE IS THAT WE DILIGENTLY SEEK RIGHTEOUSNESS.

God's purpose for us is not finished at the point of salvation; it is just getting started.  Sanctification is both an event and a process.  It is an event that takes place once in an individual's life when they turn their heart and life over to the LORD in faith.  From that point on, though we still struggle with sin, we stand before God without sin because of the work of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary.  It is not our righteousness that brings us to the throne of God, but rather the righteousness of Jesus. 

Sanctification is also a process.  Our own righteousness is like "filthy rags."  However, it is God's purpose that His children repent of their sinful lifestyle and grow in the righteousness that is demonstrated in their lives. Jesus was illustrating this necessity for following God's will when he said, 

Matthew 7:21.  Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

The first imperative for obedience following the necessity for salvation, involves personal integrity.  The example given is in the area of sexual purity.  Why does Paul place this subject in such an important point in his description of God's will for our lives?  First, we should understand the culture from which the Thessalonian church was formed.  Unlike many of us who came from a basically Judeo-Christian culture where such teaching is already paramount, these people came from the Greek hedonistic culture where sexual satisfaction was lifted to religious stature.  The basic and driving Greek philosophies promoted sexual gratification above all other areas of conduct, and in this way, were not really that much different from the Baal worshippers that the Jews in Canaan were exposed to.  The Greeks did not have a fundamental teaching of sexual morality.  As a consequence, this is one area that the Thessalonian church would need the greatest amount of instruction.  This teaching was clearly different from anything they had ever known.  They needed to know that sexual immorality (fornication) is not a part of God's will for their lives.  The Greek life was characterized by unbridled lusts for the gratification of all base desires (concupiscence).  Like the action of an addictive drug, a lust that is fulfilled is replaced with only a greater lust, fully compounding and consuming the one who is trapped in this hedonistic spiral.  Such a person will lose respect for others, seeing them only as objects to be exploited.  Such a lifestyle usually leads to self-deprecation and self-destruction.  The word that is used for sexual immorality is the Greek pornea, the basis for the English word, pornography.  One only needs to look at Greek art to see the depths of concupiscence to which their culture fell, a culture that venerated the position of boys above women as sexual objects.

Paul counters this societal norm with that statement that our body, our vessel, is to be maintained in sanctification and honor.  This one teaching alone would serve to separate the Thessalonian Christian from the predominant Greek culture.  Our society today is also driven by concupiscence, though in a broader context than the Greeks.  We have a level of wealth and comfort today that would have been unthinkable in the time of the ancient Greeks.  The lusts of today's society still model those of the Epicurean Greeks, but includes lusting over much more than just sexual gratification.  

GOD'S PURPOSE IS THAT WE BE HOLY

1 Thess. 4:7-8.

For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. 8He therefore that despises, despises not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.

This call to purity is a theme that permeates much of Paul's teaching to those of Greek influence.  To the Corinthians, Paul wrote:

1 Cor. 6:19-20.  Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

When a person accepts Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to abide in their hearts.  This is what Jesus was referring to when he stated that he would rebuild the temple in three days (Matthew 26:61.)   When Jesus was crucified, the veil of the temple was destroyed.  Three days later Jesus arose and with that resurrection came the new covenant with us, a covenant that included the seal of the Holy Spirit irrevocably given to all who would place their faith and trust in Him.  Under this covenant, our body is no longer our own, but as God's temple, is to be understood as such.  We are called to a life of holiness.  Our lives have been separated out from this lost world for God's purpose, not our own.  God's purpose is holy, and likewise we are to be holy.  When we despise the holiness of our own bodies, we despise God.  Consequently, it is clearly God's will that we live lives that are characterized by integrity.  Our lusts for worldly gratification are to be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit who will fulfill that need in our lives.  Where we seek fruitlessly for gratification from this world, the Spirit will fill us with those things that we are really seeking for:  abundance in the things of God, peace, love, and joy in our spirit.

GOD'S PURPOSE IS THAT WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER

1 Thess. 4:9.

But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. 

Again, Paul was encouraged by Timothy's report of the faithfulness of the Thessalonians.  He was aware of how their church was characterized by love.  Consequently, there is a veiled compliment in Paul's statement here.  He notes that, as he points out the brotherly love that they show for one another, they do not really need to be instructed or reminded of it.  However, this kind of love (phileo) is a form of love that does not require the power of the Holy Spirit to exercise.  So, Paul goes on to also note that they have received instruction from God, through His Holy Spirit, to also love (agape) one another.

It is not unusual for a church to testify that its people love one another, and that love may be a primary characteristic of their fellowship.  However, Paul's use of the two words for love is herein instructive.  Is the love that we have for each other a phileo love that the world demonstrates, or is it the agape love that comes only from God?  Phileo love is a wonderful and strong bond that is shared between friends and family, inspiring all manner of care and sacrifice.  However, phileo falls short of God's expectation for His children.  How can one know the difference between these two forms of love?

We may be reminded of Jesus' restoration of Peter following Peter's denial of Jesus during the passion.  John records (21:16 ff.) Jesus' questioning Peter when He asked, "Do you love me" three times.  Jesus asked Peter, "Do you agape me?", and Peter responded, "Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo you".  Twice Peter answered with the word phileo.  The third time Jesus lowered his request and asked Peter, "Do you phileo me?"  Peter was grieved because Jesus changed this word.  Peter again answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo you". 

The expression of agape love is the very foundation of the Christian life.  Consequently, it is important that we understand the difference between phileo and agape.  We teach that agape love is a higher love, inspired only by the power of the Holy Spirit, but how do we recognize it?  There is one area where agape stands out above phileo:  agape love is given without any condition and without any hypocrisy (Romans 12:9).  It is easy to withhold phileo love towards another.  We may withhold it when we are angry with or hurt by another.  We withhold it when we express the sins of pride and prejudice.  Phileo love is given to whom we choose based upon the conditions we choose.

True agape love comes only from the power of the Holy Spirit rather than our own pride.  It cannot be withheld and it is given to all people unconditionally.  This is the same love that God has for His creation.  Such unconditional love is so different in its demonstration than phileo, that it is obvious when seen. 

1 Thess. 4:10.

And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;

Again, Paul compliments the Thessalonians on the truth that they already demonstrate God's love to one another and to all others in the region.  However, Paul does not stop there.   He recognizes that we are never fully mature in the faith, so Paul firmly encourages them to understand that that love in them must continually increase.  As Christians, we will never be perfect in spiritual maturity.  There will always be room for growth.  Consequently, we should recognize this and never become complacent or stagnant in that growth.  All too-often Christians think that they are special or better than everyone else.  They might think that they have arrived at some superior spiritual level and need to grow no more.  Actually, such attitudes demonstrate spiritual immaturity.  These are not attitudes of love, but attitudes of sinful pride.  Such attitudes stifle growth in the church and bring reproach upon the Kingdom of God.  By showing the Thessalonians that they must continue growing in their love (agape) for one another and for others, he is heading off such attitudes. 

GOD'S PURPOSE IS THAT WE BEAR SPIRITUAL FRUIT

1 Thess. 4:11-12.

And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; 12That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.

Finally, Paul gives even more instruction on ways in which the Thessalonians can be living lives that fulfill God's purpose for them.  First Paul encourages them to "study to be quiet."  Herein the King James version might not be so helpful in understanding this verse.  Taken literally, being "quiet" is in conflict with proclaiming the gospel.  In our language, the word "quiet" is first interpreted to referring to sound.  However, when the Greek is investigated, we find a much broader range of meaning.  When we look at the ways that this Greek word is used, we see an underlying theme of tranquility of spirit.   Certainly, self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and when exercised, our lives will be characterized by an inner strength and peace to which Paul is referring to.  People should be able to see Christians as being at peace in times of conflict, not given to outbursts of anger, criticism, or violence.  The first reaction to conflict should be one of strength and direction. 

Likewise, Paul's statement to "mind your own business" (NIV) can be easily understood, and in this case the King James Version might be a little easier to understand.  Our modern language might interpret this to leave other people alone, again contrary to the Christian calling to impact others for God.  Actually, Paul is calling upon the Christians to support themselves through diligent work as they also contribute to the support of those who cannot do so.  There was a small problem in the church at Thessalonica that Paul is herein addressing, and one that he will have to address more firmly in his second letter.   Some people in the church had decided to stop looking for work.  This problem had a two-fold source.  First, because of the persecution they were enduring, it was more difficult for people to find jobs.  These people just gave up and decided to live off of the goodness of others.  Some were doing the same for spiritual reasons:  they thought that Jesus' return was so imminent that they needed to quit working and devote themselves to prayer, but by so doing they were adding to those who needed to be supported by those who were working.  Paul tells each of these groups, who are quite able to work, to do so as they were instructed before so that they can stand with integrity before the others in their fellowship and help support those who cannot work.

The beginning of the fourth chapter of First Thessalonians shows a transition of thought from one that addressed his pleasure with the current state of the church to one of instruction in personal matters that still needed to be considered.  He saw a church that demonstrated love for one another, yet as a young church, needed direction in some important areas.  We can profit greatly from that instruction.  We see in Paul's words some guidance on how to live a life that is consistent with God's will for us.  Though these instructions were directed at the specific situation in the Thessalonian church, much of what is described relates to us today.

We find that God's will for is us is quite different that what we might consider the world's will for us, or even our own will for ourselves.

(1) GOD'S PURPOSE IS THAT WE BE SAVED..  There are many people who are members of Christian churches who do not have within themselves the power of the Holy Spirit.  Living lives that might appear good and nice, they are weighing their good deeds against their bad, hoping to be considered good by a judging God.  However, we know that no man is good, and only through faith in Jesus can anyone be saved. 

(2) GOD'S PURPOSE IS THAT WE DILIGENTLY SEEK RIGHTEOUSNESS We should live lives of integrity, free of the impurities that come from the gratification of our lusts.  A primary area of impurity for the Thessalonians and for many of us is in the area of sexual misconduct.  Since the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we are His Temple, and we drag Him into every indecent act we commit.  By so doing, we are profaning God, Himself.  Obviously, we should refrain from this type of conduct.

(3) GOD'S PURPOSE IS THAT WE BE HOLY.  Is is God's plan that His children be separate from the world, separated out for His purpose and for His glory.  Holiness includes a continual attitude worship and thanksgiving towards God that transforms our character, making us far different than those who do not know God.

(4) GOD'S PURPOSE IS THAT WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER.  Our love for one another should transcend that of phileo, brotherly love and be characterized by God's unconditional agape love for one another and for all others.  When we live such a life, we will be freed of the destructive influences of anger, criticism and violence, and be rewarded with the joy and abundance that the resulting relationships will produced.

(5) GOD'S PURPOSE IS THAT WE BEAR SPIRITUAL FRUIT.  We see that we have not arrived at spiritual maturity.  We must continue to seek to love more.  Our love for God, our love for other people, both have room for continued improvement, and through God's Spirit, and by His grace we can continue to grow in this area. We are also to take care of our own needs and those who depend upon us with labor and dignity.  We are not to use our faith as an excuse to unnecessarily depend upon others.  Through our labor we can also fulfill our commitment to care for those who cannot do so.

When we seek to fulfill these five purposes of God in our lives, we will find our lives transformed, raised from the muck and mire of the sins of this world to a life that is characterized by spiritual integrity.  It is God's purpose that His children stand out as they worship Him, as they continue to grow in their faith, and as they continue to grow in the peace and joy that comes from knowing that one is standing squarely in the center of God's will.  Seeking God's purpose is a never-ending task for the Christian as God works in one's life to empower and enable them to grow in grace, to grow in one's love for Him, and to grow in love one for another.

This is God's purpose for everyone whom He has created.  It is God's will that every person would be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). This is God's purpose of election that whosoever would call upon Him in faith would be saved (Romans 10:13).  Once one is safely in the fold of the Family of Christ, God's purpose for every believer is that they would grow in their faith, in their obedience, and in their love for Him.  This is quite the opposite of the purposes of this world and the evil one that dominates it.  Let us turn from the distractions of this world and turn fully to God so that we can, indeed, fulfill God's purpose for our lives.