This begins a study of experiential (practical) sanctification. The first two chapters were devoted primarily to doctrine. The third chapter had to do with the inspector’s report — Timothy brought back a report from his inspection of the situation at Thessalonica. Now we go on to some potential practical problems which may have existed among the Thessalonian believers.
By way of introduction we need to understand the three phases of sanctification and the meaning of the word. The word “sanctification” means to be set apart unto God. The word itself means separation and there are three different phases of separation. The first type of sanctification is positional. Positional sanctification takes place at the moment of salvation; it is something you never lose. Phase one of the divine plan is salvation. The moment you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ you enter into union with the Son of God, and this is positional sanctification. Jesus Christ is set apart unto God the Father as of the Resurrection, Ascension, and Session. When Jesus Christ rose again from the dead He walked on the earth for forty days and then He ascended into the presence of the Father. When God the Father said to God the Son, “Sit thou at my right hand,” at that moment Jesus Christ, the first member of the human race to do so was separated unto God the Father in a very special way. And when we personally receive Jesus Christ as our Savior we enter into union with Him and therefore we share everything that Christ has. Christ is set apart unto the Father; we share that “set apartness” which is known as positional sanctification. Then, after we believe in Christ we enter into God’s plan and we are in fellowship with God. After salvation we get out of fellowship through sin.
To be in fellowship means to be in practical or experiential sanctification, and when we are in fellowship with the Lord not only does the Holy Spirit control the life but practically we are set apart unto God. This is the positive side of separation. Then, of course, there is a third sanctification which we will enjoy in eternity and this is the possession of a resurrection body. This is described in 1 John 3:1,2 which tells us that we are going to have a body exactly like His body, the same thing is said in Philippians 3:21. Eternity reveals to us what is known as ultimate sanctification; ultimately we will be in resurrection bodies and living in His presence. The sanctification which will be described in this chapter has to do with practical sanctification or experiential sanctification.
“Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.”
Finally then is in view of the fact that Timothy’s report had come through and things were very good on the whole, and in view of the fact that there were only three or four problems which could be very quickly ironed out, Paul said let us get on to a very important principle.
Request is a special request by Paul and exhort is a little stronger word. In the Lord Jesus means on the basis of the fact that you are in union with Christ. So we keep on making this request of you, and as a matter of fact, we keep on exhorting you Paul said.
Paul had personally taught them the Word of God and was referring back to his Bible classes before he left. They had personally listened to him teach the Word of God and therefore had taken in doctrine. The word received in Greek means to take someone to one’s side and to give them information which they can’t miss. The source of their doctrine was the Bible teaching of the apostle Paul while he was still in Thessalonica. In these particular phrases Paul was making it very clear that he had something to add to what he had already taught, or perhaps by the word exhort he meant to show them the application of certain things which they had already learned. It was really a case of following up in some areas where they had “missed the boat.”
As to how you ought to walk has to do with the doctrine of the plan of God, the believer’s walk in time. The matter of salvation had already been settled. The walk of the believer starts with his salvation and terminates with his departure from this earth in one of two ways. He can depart by physical death and/or the Rapture, whichever takes place first. The word to walk expresses purpose. It is the purpose of the believer to represent the Lord Jesus Christ in time. Christ is absent from the earth, He is seated at the right hand of the Father, and it is the purpose of every believer to represent Him on earth. Walking has to do with our purpose on earth. Our overall purpose for remaining on this earth is to represent Christ. Everything we do is a part of our Christian service. That is what it means by walk. Walking is fulfilling the function of service, whatever it happens to be. We are here for a purpose; it is no accident that the Lord keeps us on this earth. It is therefore possible for the believer in this life to please God by executing the Christian Way of Life.
That you excel still more means it is possible for the believer to overflow in to others lives. This is the overflow of blessing from your life to someone else. Blessing can overflow from your life to others when you are pleasing God, not when you are pleasing men. However, it is only potential depending on your utilization of what God has provided.
“For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”
Apparently a problem for some believers in Thessalonica was the application of the doctrine they had learned. They had enough information to be able to complete and fulfill the principle of practical sanctification but they have failed to apply what they know to the situation. What commandments is a synonym for Bible doctrine which Paul had taught them, which was enough to get them started in the realm of practical sanctification. By the authority of the Lord Jesus means the Lord permitted Paul to come to Thessalonica and teach them doctrine.
“For this is the will of God, for your sanctification; that is that you abstain from sexual impurity; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.”
One of their problems was in the realm of sexual relationships. It is God’s will that we live in the area of practical sanctification. There are some problems which are incompatible with living in fellowship and some of the Thessalonians were now faced with this reality. Sanctification is synonymous with the will of God.
Practical or experiential sanctification is based on a believer response to the principles and mandates from God. A believer cannot continually reject God’s commands and the principles found in His Word and be set apart to God. The problem addressed by Paul was common in most of the Greek cities. It was practiced in their temples and was therefore commonplace. Many of these believers had come to Christ right out of the heathen temples and they had been practicing these things for a long time. All of a sudden they find that the pattern had to be broken and some found it a little difficult. Therefore, they ask, how do we handle it?
Each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor not in lustful passion means these believers had the doctrinal information they needed. What is a vessel? A vessel is a container. Your body is a container and your body contains your soul and your spirit. Knowledge of doctrine is the first step in solving any problem of practical sanctification. It is the knowledge and application of doctrine which you have in your soul that resolves your problems in the field of practical sanctification.
What does it means to possess your vessel? It means to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. You do not possess your vessel when the sin nature is in control. Obviously, when the sin nature controls things, you are not “possessing your vessel,” you are not solving anything. The Holy Spirit must control the vessel. So possessing the vessel is the filling of the Spirit. This means that every believer must know how to be filled with the Spirit to solve this problem or any other. The filling of the Spirit provides the divine power to meet these problems. Honor is the result of being in fellowship with God and being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Lustful passion is a reference to both overt adultery and mental adultery. Overt adultery is having sexual relations with someone to whom you are not married. Mental adultery was introduced by Christ on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:27-28. Proverbs says you are what you think, and if you think sexual lust you have sinned.
One of the great dangers in the Christian life is to give pain and sorrow to others. And one way to do that is adultery. Transgress is a word for sin and defraud means to take advantage of a believer or to cheat him. And for those who engage in adultery, the Lord is One Who disciplines. Paul had warned them ahead of time because he knew the pattern exhibited by the Gentile pagan world from which these believers had come.
“For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So he who rejects this is not rejecting man but God Who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”
Even though we possess the righteousness of God, we will not realize the full aspect of this until we receive a glorified body at the Rapture. (I Corinthians 15:50-53) In the meantime, we still possess a sin nature, which tempts us to commit personal sins. It is our responsibility as Christians to learn and apply the Word of God and to control our sin nature. We can do this only through the power of the Holy Spirit. There is a war being waged within every believer. It is a battle to see who will control your soul. Each of us holds the key - it is called volition or free will. God did not make us robots. He gave us the freedom of choice. (Galatians 5:16-26)
Sanctification is the Greek word “hagiasmos” and literally means to be set apart to God. It is the same word used for “saint” and “holy.” Therefore, all believers are saints and all believers are holy. However, sanctification is in three stages for the believer and these stages must always be distinguished in order to accurately interpret the Word of God. The first is positional truth, the second is experiential truth and the third is ultimate truth. Each is a separate and a distinct stage in the life of the believer. Once again, in this passage sanctification refers to experiential sanctification.
Verse 8 says that when a believer rejects the accurate teaching of God’s Word, he is not rejecting the messenger, he is rejecting God. Defying God by rejecting His Word, which includes all (not just some) of His commandments and principles, is a “slippery slope” that leads only to disaster for a believer. A believer who defies God is doing is grieving and quenching the work of God the Holy Spirit.