2) 1 Thess 4:1-12

1.2.2 The ‘holy People’ theme in 1 Thess 4:1-12

The above headings (a-f) will be used in discussing this passage.

  1. The Thessalonians are separated from the nations and set over against them.p.18
    The Christian is to live “…not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;” (v.5). The Thessalonians themselves are Gentiles, so this verse only makes sense in the light of the Old Testament imagery of Israel and the Gentiles.
  2. The Thessalonians belong to God by Covenant. p.19
    “…but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (v.8) The only place that this expression is found in the Greek O.T. is Ez 36:27, 37:14. The context of those quotations is dominated by the Covenant.
    And then in verse 9 Paul writes, “…you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God…”, probably alluding to the promise of the New Covenant in Jer 31:34. “…the combination of these two prophetic texts is widely attested in Jewish tradition in contexts concerning messianic times, and with particular reference to the immediacy of God’s teaching.”p.20 The context of the Jeremiah allusion is also the Covenant and so it is evident that “…Paul wishes to recall to the Thessalonians their unique Covenant relationship with God.”p.21
  3. By his presence God sanctifies the Thessalonians and demands that they be holy.p.21
    In the Old Testament, it is God’s presence that both demands holiness and makes holy. “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” (Lev 20:7-8. See also 21:8,23; 20:26).
    In 1 Thess 4:7-8 we read “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” “This is the theological perspective of 1 Thess 4:8b where Paul grounds his exhortation to holiness by appealing to the fact of God’s continuous, sanctifying presence.”p.21
    In the passage preceeding this one we also find the idea of God making and estalishing their holiness:
    Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thess 3:11-13)
  4. The Thessalonians are to be pure and united as God’s holy community.p.22
    For the Old Testament, holiness involves, in the first instance, abstension from everything that might render members of the community unfit for preparation in Israelite cult [worship]p.23
    There is an analogous separation and consecration seen in 1 Thess 4:3,4,5,7:
    “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; … For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”
  5. The Thessalonians must be pleasing to God and subject to his dominion.p.23
    People of Old imperative → Covenant Law → observances → pleases God within covenant relationship
    Christians imperative →           ??           → conduct → pleases God within covenant relationship
    “In the christian community, the whole concept of Covenant Law has been transformed (it is significant that the word νομός [law] does not occur in our passage, or anywhere else in the letter).”p.23 Nevertheless the ethical demands on the new community can still be formulated, which can be seen by looking at verses 1 & 2.
    “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” (1 Thess 4:1-2)
    The metaphor of walking in a way is very common in the Bible and God’s Law is his way. Furthermore, throughout the Old Testament, to do what is pleasing to God is synonymous with obeying his laws. So although pleasing God is no longer connected with observing the Mosaic Law, “…its basic implications can be formulated as concrete directives and handed down as authoritative tradition…”p.24
  6. …so that God may be God in his People and before the nations.
    In the Old Testament, God’s purpose in separating a People for himself is that he might ‘sanctify his name’—make himself recognized for what he is—in Israel and before the nations.”p.24
    Old Testament motifs associated with this:
    1. “— ‘knowing Jahweh’.”p.25 To ‘know God’ in the OT is to serve him exclusively and Jeremiah prophesies a perfect knowledge of Jahweh in the New Covenant (31:34)
    2. “—The prohibition of idolatry.”p.25 The Thesslonians are to keep away from sexual immorality (v.3) unlike the nations who do not ‘know God’ (v.5). “By correlating πορνεία [sexual immorality] with the motif of not ‘knowing God’, Paul indicates that christian holiness is no more, and no less, than ‘recognising God for what he is’.”p.26
    3. “—Israel before the nations.”p.26 This strong O.T. theme is echoed in 1 Thess 4:12 “…so that you may live properly before outsiders” “…Christians are to be seen (εὐσχεμονως!) as a holy People, for only thus can ‘outsiders’ be induced to acknowledge God’s presence in the community, and thus glorify him.”p.27

The conclusion is that:

In our examination of the earliest extant passage of Paul’s paraklêsis (exhortation) we have detected elements and motifs which justify the conclusion that Paul shares with his readers the presupposition that Christians for the holy People of God, with characteristics analogous to those of the People of old…p.27

But does this chapter of 1 Thessalonians represent how Paul would argue when ethical problems need to be addressed? To answer this we will turn to 1 Corinthians.

The fact is, however, that 1 Corinthians provides us with extensive evidence that when Paul was faced with a ‘real life’ situation—and one which required him to summon all his resources of ethical argumentation and pastoral persuasiveness—he framed his paraklêsis in exactly the same thought-context, and accompanied it with exactly the same motifs, as we find in the more formal and leisurely exhortation of 1 Thess 4:1-12p.27-28

Updated 2009-09-27 (build:50) by Andrew Fountain