“Now in addition, brothers, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that just as you learned from us how you can walk in the way that pleases God—just as you are doing—we ask and encourage you to excel even more at this.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1)
It can be difficult enough to walk in a way that is pleasing to God, but it is even more difficult if you do not know what it is that pleases God. The apostle Paul understood this as he wrote to his friends in Thessalonica. He knew they lived in a culture that did not understand God’s purposes or plans for our sexuality—intimacy, bonding, procreation and pleasure all within the marriage bond—nor did that culture generally strive to protect each other from sexual exploitation. The apostle, who never shied away from difficult subjects, approaches this sensitive topic head on, and in so doing reminds us that Christians are to look out for one another as we seek a life partner for intimacy.
I have worked to translate 1 Thessalonians 4 in a way that is faithful to the Greek text, but also communicates clearly the topic at hand, especially in the first eight verses.
On to the translation:
1 Thessalonians 4:1-18
A Translation by Randal Cutter
4:1 Now in addition, brothers, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that just as you learned from us how you can walk in the way that pleases God—just as you are doing—we ask and encourage you to excel even more at this.
4:2 For you know what commands we gave to you through the Lord Jesus.
4:3 It is God’s will that you all grow in holiness, abstaining from illicit sexual conduct;
4:4 that each one of you learn how to acquire a sexual partner* in holiness and honor,
4:5 not in sexual passion like the nations that do not know God;
4:6 and that no one cross the line and take greedy advantage* of a brother or sister in this matter.* For the Lord is the avenger in all such matters, just as we told you before and warned you about.
4:7 For God has not called us to impurity, but to holiness.
4:8 Therefore, the one who rejects this teaching does not reject man, but the God who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
4:9 Now about brotherly love,* you have no need that anyone write to you. For you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.
4:10 That is obvious because you demonstrate love to all the brothers in all of Macedonia. But we encourage you, brothers, to excel even more at this.
4:11 In addition, make it your goal to lead a quiet life, to pay attention to your own affairs, and to work with your hands, just as we commanded you;
4:12 in order that you walk in a way that is pleasing to outsiders, and so that you do not have need of anything.
4:13 Now, I do not want you to be ill-informed,* brothers, about those who are sleeping, so that you do not grieve like those who do not have hope.
4:14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in this same way, God through Jesus will also bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
4:15 For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are living and left behind at the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
4:16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ will rise first.
4:17 Then we who are living, who are left behind, will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. For this reason, we will always be with the Lord.
4:18 So then, encourage one another with these words.
4:4 Acquire a sexual partner: Paul uses the standard idiom for a sexual partner. That idiom is literally, “acquire a vessel.” That idiom indicates that Paul views the first readers of his letter as mostly male, since the female was the sexual vessel who received the male seed in scholarly thought.
4:6 Take greedy advantage of a brother or sister: The word Paul uses for greed is one that emphasizes a sexual lust that exploits another. Paul’s concern is that his readers follow God’s path of commitment in marriage before entering into a sexual relationship. To do otherwise was to allow the lust for sexual pleasure to eclipse true love for one’s sexual partner. Paul warns against taking advantage of someone in this way.
4:6 Of a brother or sister: In the Greek language, Paul uses only the word, “brother.” He was communicating that if one exploited a female whom he did not intend to marry, he was exploiting someone’s future wife. Both the woman and the man thus were exploited by the one controlled by passionate lusts. For clarity’s sake, I have added the word “sister,” since female believers were also clearly within Paul’s frame of reference.
4:9 About brotherly love: The real issue in this discussion on sexuality was true brotherly love. Paul is building on their obvious brotherly love, and complimenting them on it, in order to help them understand that what he is saying is just an extension of that love.
4:13 I do not want you to be ill informed: Paul changes topics in this verse to deal with a misunderstanding that the Thessalonians had about those who had already died. Paul shares words of encouragement, and outlines what can be expected for believers who have died. While we still, obviously, grieve the loss of a loved one, this good news inspires hope that helps us cope with all such losses.
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Image credit: Bible by Randal Cutter/iPhone 6s/Photoshop Oil Paint Filter