1) 1 Thess 4

2.1.1 The ground of the imperative in 1 Thess 4:1-12

This passage, which we have already seen to be crucial for an understanding of the context of the imperative, also throws much light on the ground of the imperative and the manner in which it impinges on the Christian.p.53

The following four questions will be considered:

(a) What are the precise ethical implications of Paul’s sources (Ez 36:27 & Jer 31:38) here?

The two prophecies are substantially the same. God intervenes in “…the ‘heart’, the core of the moral and religious personality…”p.53

…the novelty of the New Covenant is not simply the fact that God’s ‘law’ will be interiorised (c.f. Is 51:7), but the fact that it is God himself who will intervene (interiorly) to transform man’s moral and religious personality so as to induce him to obey. …God’s interior intervention produces obedience to the Law—to God’s will. … What Ezechiel promises is that God’s spirit, put into men’s hearts, will enable them to obey; or rather, God’s personal activity (ποιήσω) will impel them (freely) to obey.”p.53-54

It is implicit in Jer 31:38 “…knowing Jahweh is the result of Jahweh’s putting his law in men’s hearts.”p.54

It is important to note that Paul gives far more prominence to the ethical rôle of the Spirit than he does to the charismatic rôle (e.g. Joel 3:1-5).

(b) Does Paul take cognizance of these implications?

Although there is certainly a community aspect here, “Everything goes to show that in 1 Thess 4:8b [God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you], Paul is referring to the inward communication of the Spirit in the hearts of individuals.”p.56

It is important to note that in v.8 God’s activity is continuous (present tense) and the Christian:

…is not simply sanctified and then left alone with his (now transformed) personality; rather, he remains in constant union with a divine source of activity. This, as we shall see, is of immense significance for Paul’s understanding of the Christian’s moral activity.p.56

It might be thought that God’s activity is some kind of “‘super-ethical energy’ that operates in man”p.57 but this is seen to be otherwise when we look at the expression “taught by God” in v.9. The O.T. (LXX) context of this word διδάσκειν (teach) is that of forming or training rather than instructing. “What is communicated necessarily issues in action, for it is addressed not so much to the intellect as to the will; better still, it is addressed to the whole man.p.57

in this sense, ‘teaching’ presupposes God’s sovereign claim on man’s will, for it involves the authoritative moulding of his being and conduct in conformity with God’s demand.p.57

This is certainly the case in v.9 where the teaching flows into the action of loving one another. The action of God in placing the Spirit in their hearts (v.8b) and impelling them into love (v.9) are not two separate events, but are one and the same thing.

(c) In what way does God’s inward activity (the content of v.8b & 9) ground christian obligation?

In v.8a Paul envisages the possibility of a negative action on the part of the Christian. The verb ἀθετεῖν (alpha privative) basically means to ‘set aside’, ‘set at naught’, ‘render ineffectual’, and in the LXX and New Testament most often has as object (the authority of) a person or the binding force of a law, commandment etc. However the verb is also used in contexts which have nothing todo with the spurning of authority, but rather with rendering inefficacious a power or activity, preventing in from having its proper effect.p.58-59

Paul is therefore talking about the possibility of the Christian “actually nullifying the effects of God’s activity within him by resisting the impulse of the Holy Spirit.”p.59

In the Old Testament, the consecrating power of God was his external presence in their midst, and so he demands: “Be holy because I am holy”. However now, “The christian imperative might be formulated: ‘Be holy because I am holy (sc. and deploy my sanctifying activity in the core of your being.)’.”p.60

The ultimate principle of unity between indicative and imperative in pauline ethics lies not in the Christian himself (’become what you are’), but in God’s holiness, which is both indicative and imperative, for holiness must sanctify and so demand holiness.p.60

The Holy Spirit himself provides this unity between the indicative and the imperative: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Gal 5:25)

(d) how are the motivations used by Paul in 1 Thess 4:1-12 related to the imperative underlying v.8b-9?

Merk finds three motivations in v.6b-8:

  1. the future judgement of the Kyros, v.6b
  2. God’s call, realised in the past, v.7
  3. God’s present and continuing) gift of the Spirit, v.8bp.61

However, “will of God” (v.3) should also be included as a motivation, and in fact should be taken as the basic motivation. “The basic, unifying motivation is, therefore, God’s activity in the present …all that he has done in the past, and will do in the future, is to be understood in relation to what he is doing in Christians now.p.62

The motivation in v.10 to walk more and more in brotherly love is “in effect: ‘you are already doing great things (cf. 1:3): all the more reason, therefore, to increase your efforts and make even greater progress!’p.62 However he is not complimenting their own human achievement but bringing it up as evidence that God is working in them and they are being taught by him (v.9). So the ultimate motivation can be put like this:

‘since God is at work—and you can already see what he is doing—then make further progress (by co-operating more and more with his activity)’p.63

This may be summed up as follows: “Because it sanctifies, God’s interior activity demands holiness; because it impels to agapê, it demands growth in agapê.”p.63 God’s inward renewal must not be resisted by sinful behaviour but they must second it by walking in holiness and love. The choice is to disregard this renewal or walk in it more and more.

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