1 Thessalonians 4 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

1 Thessalonians 4
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verse 1. - Furthermore; literally, finally; for the rest - introducing the closing or practical part of the Epistle. The apostle uses the same word elsewhere at the close of his Epistles (comp. 2 Corinthians 13:1; Ephesians 6:10; Philippians 4:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). Then; or rather, therefore; connecting this exhortation with the closing verses of the last chapter: In order that you may be established un-blamably in holiness at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, you must do your part, you must earnestly strive after holiness. We; to be restricted to Paul. Beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus; or rather, in the Lord Jesus; that is, in fellowship with him - the sphere or element within which the apostle besought and exhorted the Thessalonians. He wrote as the organ or instrument of the Lord Jesus. That as ye have received of us. Paul here appeals to the exhortations which he gave them during his residence among them at Thessalonica. How ye ought to walk and to please God; how you ought to conduct yourselves so as to please God. The walking was the means of pleasing. The R.V., after these words, on the authority of manuscripts, adds, "even as ye do walk." So ye would abound more and more. The apostle acknowledges their Christian walking; they had already entered upon the road; their conduct was sanctified; but he exhorts them to abound therein with still greater care and fidelity.
For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.
Verse 2. - For ye know; appealing to their memory in confirmation of what he had said. What commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus; or, through the Lord Jesus; that is, not merely by his authority, but by means of him, so that these commandments did not proceed from Paul, but from the Lord Jesus himself. We have here, and indeed in this chapter throughout, an assertion of the inspiration of the apostle: the commandments which he gave to the Thessalonians were the commandments of the Lord Jesus.
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
Verse 3. - For this is the will of God. The phrase, "the will of God," has two significations in Scripture: the one is the determination of God - his decree; the other is his desire, that in which he delights - a will, however, which may be frustrated by the perversity of his creatures. It is in this latter sense that the word is here employed. Even your sanctification; complete consecration; holiness taken in its most general so. use. Our holiness is the great design of Christ's death, and is the revealed will of God. Some (Olshausen, Lunemann) restrict the term to moral purity, and consider the next clause as its explanation (comp. Romans 12:1). That ye should abstain from fornication; a vice fearfully prevalent among the heathen, and which, indeed, they hardly regarded as wrong. Especially it was the great sin of Corinth, from which the apostle wrote, the patron goddess of which city was Venus.
That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
Verse 4. - That every one of you should know how to possess. The word here rendered "possess" rather signifies "acquire." The R.V. renders the clause, "that each one of you know how to possess himself of;" hence it admits of the translation, "to obtain the mastery over." His vessel. This word has given rise to a diversity of interpretation. Especially two meanings have been given to it. By some it is supposed to be a figurative expression for "wife," in which sense the word is used, though rarely, by Hebrew writers. Peter speaks of the wife "as the weaker vessel" (1 Peter 3:7). This is the meaning adopted by Augustine, Schott, Do Wette, Koch, Hofmann, Lünemann, Riggenbach; and, among English expositors, by Alford, Jowett, Ellicott, and Eadie. This meaning is, however, to be rejected as unusual and strange, and unsuitable to what follows in the next verse. The other meaning - "one's own body" - is more appropriate. Thus Paul says, "We have this treasure," namely, the gospel, "in earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4:7; comp. also 1 Samuel 21:5). The body may well be compared to a vessel, as it contains the soul. This meaning is adopted by Chrysostom, Calvin, Grotius, Bengel, Olshausen, Meyer; and, among English expositors, by Macknight, Conybeare, Bishop Alexander, Wordsworth, and Yaughan. In sanctification and honor. What the apostle here requires is that every one should obtain the mastery over his own body, and that whereas, as Gentiles, they had yielded their members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, they should now, as Christians, yield their members servants to righteousness unto holiness (Romans 6:19).
Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:
Verse 5. - Not in the lust of concupiscence - not in the passion of lust (R.V.) - even as the Gentiles which know not God; and therefore from whom nothing better was to be expected. The moral sense of the heathen was so perverted, and their natures so corrupt, that they looked upon fornication as a thing indifferent.
That 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.
Verse 6. - That no man go beyond; or, transgress. And defraud; or, as it is in the margin of our Bibles, oppress, or, overreach; wrong (R.V.). His brother. Not an exhortation against dishonesty, or prohibition against all attempts to overreach in usual mutual intercourse, as the words would at first sight seem to imply, and as some consider it (Hofmann, Lunemann, Riggenbach); but, as is evident from the context, a continuation of the former exhortation, a prohibition against impurity. In any matter; or, more properly, in the matter, namely, that about which I have been discoursing. "An example of the modest reserve and refined delicacy which characterize the holy apostle's language in speaking of things which the Gentiles did without shame, and thus, by a chaste bashfulness of words, commending the duty of unblemished purity in deeds" (Wordsworth). Because the Lord is the Avenger of all such; either of all such as are thus defrauded or of all such sinful practices. As we also have forewarned you and testified.
For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
Verse 7. - For God hath not called us unto; or, for the purpose cf. Uncleanness; moral uncleanness in general (comp. 1 Corinthians 6:15). But unto; or, in; in a state of Holiness; or sanctification; the same word as in the third verse; so that holiness is the whole sphere of cur Christian life.
He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
Verse 8. - He therefore that despiseth; or, as it is in the margin, rejecteth (R.V.). What is rejected is either the above commands to moral purity, or the Christian calling to holiness, or, better still, Paul himself, as the organ of God. Despiseth; or, rejecteth. Not man; that is, not me, as if the commands were given from myself - were of mere human origin. But God; the Giver of these commands. So also Peter said unto Ananias, "Thou hast not lied unto man, but unto God" (Acts 5:4); and our Lord says, "He that rejecteth you rejecteth me" (Luke 10:16). Who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit. If this is the correct reading, then the apostle here again asserts his own inspiration, and that in the strongest and plainest terms. The best manuscripts, however, read, "who giveth his Holy Spirit unto you" (R.V.) - a strong enforcement of holiness, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit was given them for the express purpose of producing holiness within them.
But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
Verse 9. - The apostle now proceeds to a new exhortation. But as touching brotherly love. Brotherly love is the love of Christians to Christians, that special affection which believers bear to each other; a virtue which was carried to such perfection in the primitive Church as to call forth the admiration of their heathen adversaries. This virtue is often inculcated in Scripture (Hebrews 13:1; 1 John 3:14), and is distinguished from love in general (2 Peter 1:7). Ye need not that I write unto you; a delicate and gentle reproof. For ye yourselves are taught of God. We are not here to think of the new commandment of brotherly love given by the Savior, nor on the Divine compassion exciting us to love; but "taught of God" by the influences of the Spirit on their hearts and consciences to love one another.
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;
Verse 10. - And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia. Not only to those in Thessalonica, but to all believers in your country and neighborhood. But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; that ye make progress in brotherly love - that it increase in purity, in warmth, and in extent.
And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
Verse 11. - And that ye study; literally, that ye be ambitious. To be quiet; to avoid unrest, to live in peace. Worldly ambition excludes quietness and prompts to restlessness; so that the apostle's admonition really is, "that ye be ambitious not to be ambitious." The unrest which disturbed the peace of the Thessalonian Church was not political, but religions; it arose from the excitement naturally occasioned by the entrance of the new feeling of Christianity among them. It would also appear that they were excited by the idea of Christ's immediate advent. This had occasioned disorders, and had caused several to neglect their ordinary business and to give themselves over to an indolent inactivity, so that Christian prudence was overborne (comp. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). Perhaps, also, the liberality of the richer members of the Church was abused and perverted, so as to promote indolence. And to do your own business; to attend to the duties of your worldly calling, to avoid idleness. And to work with your own hands. From this it would appear that the members of the Thessalonian Church were chiefly composed of the laboring classes. As we commanded you. A precisely similar exhortation is given in the Epistle to the Ephesians: "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good" (Ephesians 4:28).
That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.
Verse 12. - That ye walk honestly; that is, honorably; seemly. Toward them that are without; without the pale of the Christian Church, toward those who are not Christians, whether Jews or Gentiles, the unbelieving world. So also, in another Epistle, the apostle says, "Walk in wisdom toward them that are without" (Colossians 4:5). That ye may have lack of nothing; either neuter, of no thing; or perhaps rather masculine, of no man; that ye be under no necessity of asking assistance either from heathens or from fellow-Christians; inasmuch as working with your hands will put you in possession of what is necessary for life; whereas idleness necessarily involves poverty and dependence on others.
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
Verse 13. - With this verse the apostle proceeds to another subject, namely, to comfort those who were mourning the death of their friends. It would appear that the Thessalonians were in perplexity and distress concerning the fate of their deceased friends, fearing that these would miss those blessings which they expected Christ to confer at his advent. Their views of the time and nature of the advent and of the future state in general were confused. They expected that Christ would come immediately and establish his kingdom on earth; and consequently they feared that those who had died would be excluded from it. But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren; a phrase often used by the apostle, when he makes a transition to new and important matters (comp. Romans 1:13; Romans 11:25; 1 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 2 Corinthians 1:8). Concerning them which are asleep; or, are fallen asleep. The death of believers in the New Testament is frequently called "sleep." "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth" (John 11:11). Of Stephen it is said that "he fell asleep" (Acts 7:60). "Many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (1 Corinthians 11:30). "Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished" (1 Corinthians 15:18). "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (l Corinthians 15:51). "He fell asleep" is a common epitaph on early Christian tombstones. It is to be observed that it is not of the dead generally that the apostle speaks, but of the dead in Christ, and especially of those members of the Thessalonian Church who had died. That ye sorrow not. Some suppose that sorrow for our deceased friends is here utterly prohibited; inasmuch as if we had a firm belief in their blessedness we would rejoice and not mourn. But the sorrow here prohibited is a despairing and an unbelieving sorrow; we are forbidden to sorrow as those who have no hope, no belief in a blessed resurrection. The tears of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus have authorized and sanctified Christian sorrow. "Paul," observes Calvin, "lifts up the minds of believers to a consideration of the resurrection, lest they should indulge excessive grief on occasion of the death of their relatives, for it were unseemly that there should be no difference between them and unbelievers, who put no end or measure to their grief, for this reason, that in death they recognize nothing but destruction. Those that abuse this testimony so as to establish among Christians stoical indifference, that is, an iron hardness, will find nothing of this nature in Paul's words." Even as others; literally, as the rest; namely, the heathen. Which have no hope; no hope of immortality beyond death, or no hope of the resurrection. The heathen, with very few exceptions, had no hope of a future life, and hence they mourned over the death of their friends as an irreparable loss. This disconsolate feeling is apparent in their writings (for examples, see Lunemann, Alford, and Jowett, in loco).
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
Verse 14. - For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again. The apostle's argument proceeds on the supposition that Christ and believers are one body, of which Christ is the Head and believers are the members; and that consequently what happens to the Head must happen to the members. Our knowledge and belief of a future state, and especially of the resurrection, is founded on the resurrection of Christ (comp. 1 Corinthians 15:12-20). Even so them also which sleep in Jesus; or more literally, through Jesus. Will God bring with him; namely, with Jesus. These words are differently construed. Some read them thus: "Even so them also which sleep will God through Jesus bring with him" (De Wette, Lunemann); but this appears to be an awkward construction; as we must then render the clause, "will God through Jesus bring with Jesus." It is, therefore, better to refer the words, "through Jesus," to the first clause. It is through Jesus that believers fall asleep; it is he who changes the nature of death, for all his people, from being the king of terrors into a quiet and gentle sleep, from which they will awaken to eternal life.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
Verse 15. - For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord; or rather, by a word of the Lord. The apostle does not refer to those portions of the gospel which record our Lord's discourses concerning the last things; nor to some sayings of Christ preserved by tradition; but to a direct revelation made unto himself by the Lord. We know from Scripture that Paul had many such revelations imparted to him (comp. 1 Corinthians 11:23; Galatians 1:11, 12). That we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord. These words are the occasion of an important discussion. It has been affirmed that the apostle here asserts that he himself expected to be alive, with the majority of those to whom he was writing, at the Lord's advent; that, according to his expectation, Christ's second coming was close at hand. "Those who are alive and remain" are distinguished from "those who are asleep," and in the former class the apostle includes himself and his readers. And a similar declaration is contained in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51). Such is the view adopted by Grotius, Olshausen, Koch, Neander, Lechler, Baur, Winer, Reuse, Lunemann, Riggenbach; and, among English divines, by Alford, Jowett, Stanley, and Conybeare. Some of them suppose that Paul changed his opinion on this point - that whilst in his earlier Epistles he taught the immediateness of the advent, in his later Epistles he renounced this hope and looked forward to his own departure. There does not seem to be any ground for this opinion. On the contrary, it would appear from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, written only a few weeks after this Epistle, that Paul did not expect the advent immediately, but mentions a series of events which would intervene before its occurrence (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). And in this Epistle he represses the curiosity of the Thessalonians about the precise time of the advent by telling them that it was beyond the sphere of his teaching (1 Thessalonians 5:1, 2). We consider, then, that the apostle speaks here as a member of the Christian body, and uses a very common form of expression - that we Christians which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord; but not at all intending to express his confidence that he himself and his converts would be actually alive at the advent. "He spake," says St. Chrysostom, "not of himself, but of Christians who would be alive at the day of judgment." Such is the view adopted by Chrysostom, Calvin, Bengel, Hofmann, Lunge, Macknight, Ellicott, Bishop Alexander, Wordsworth, and Vaughan. At the same time, it must be remembered that the time of the advent was expressly concealed (Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:7), and that it might occur at any period; and, by reason of their proximity to the first advent, the primitive Christians would be deeply impressed with the possibility or even probability of its occurrence in their days. Christians were to be living always in readiness for this great event, and thus it became a matter of expectation. "Strictly speaking, the expectation of the day of the Lord was not a belief, but a necessity in the early Church; clinging as it did to the thought of Christ, it could not bear to be separated from him; it was his absence, not his presence, that the first believers found it hard to realize" (Jowett). Hence Paul might not regard the advent as far removed into the distant future, as wholly impossible to happen in his days, but as an occurrence which might at any time take place; but he did not teach anything definite or certain on the subject. Shall not prevent; go before or anticipate, obtain the preference over, get before, so that those that are asleep might be left behind and fail of the prize. Them that are asleep; those who are dead, so that they, the living, should be glorified before them, or perhaps hinder their glorification.
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
Verse 16. - For; assigning a reason for the above assertion, "because." The Lord himself; not merely the Lord as the chief Person and Actor on that day, in contrast to his saints, but emphatic, "the Lord himself," the Lord in his own proper Person. Shall descend from heaven; where the crucified and risen Jesus is now enthroned, seated at the right hand of God. With a shout; a word denoting a commanding shout as that of a leader to his host when he leads them into the battle, or of the army when it rushes to the fight. Some refer this shout to what follows - the voice of the archangel and the trump of God; but there are three particulars here mentioned. Others attribute it to Christ himself. With the voice of the archangel; or rather, of an archangel. There is only one archangel mentioned in Scripture (Jude 1:9); the word denotes, not "chief angel," but "chief or ruler of the angels." Accordingly, same suppose that Christ himself is here meant, as to him alone, it is asserted, does this title belong; but the Lord and the archangel are here evidently distinguished. Others strangely imagine that the Holy Ghost is here meant. Others fix on the archangel Michael (Jude 1:9). Christ is represented as accompanied by angels to the judgment; and it is futile to inquire who this leader of the angels is. And the trump of God; even as the trumpet sounded at the giving of the Law from Sinai. Also the advent of Christ to judgment is represented as heralded by the sound of a trumpet (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52). "We are to recognize three particulars, following each other in rapid succession - the commanding shout of the King himself, the voice of the archangel summoning the other angels, and the trump of God which awakens the dead and collects believers" (Riggen-bach). And the dead in Christ shall rise first. Some suppose that the reference here is to the first resurrection; that the righteous, "the dead in Christ," shall rise before the wicked, "the dead not in Christ;" and that a thousand years, or the millennium, will intervene between the first and second resurrections (Revelation 20:4, 5). But this is an entirely erroneous supposition. All that is here asserted is that the dead in Christ shall rise before the living in Christ shall be changed; there is no contrast between the dead in Christ and the dead not in Christ, nor any allusion to the resurrection of the wicked.
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Verse 17. - Then we which are alive and remain; or, are left; that is, the saints who shall then be found alive on the earth. The apostle classes himself among the living, because he was then alive. Shall be caught up. The expression describes the irresistible power with which the saints shall be caught up, perhaps by the ministry of angels. Together with them; with the dead in Christ who are raised. In the clouds. Our Lord is described as coming to judgment in the clouds of heaven (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7). According to the Old Testament representation, God is described as making the clouds his chariot (Psalm 104:3). To meet the Lord; in his descent from heaven to earth. In the air. Not that he shall fix his throne in the air, but that he passes through the air in his descent to the earth. And so shall we ever be with the Lord; shall share a blessed eternity in the vision and participation of his glory. The apostle does not here describe the solemnities of the judgment; but stops at the meeting of Christ and his risen saints, because his object was to comfort the Thessalonians under bereavement.
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
Verse 18. - Wherefore comfort one another with these words; on the ground of that Divine revelation which I have made unto you.

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