Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, April 16th, 2024
the Third Week after Easter
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
1 Thessalonians 4

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-3


1 Thessalonians 4:1. And to please God, so ye would abound more and more.—R.V. inserts “even as ye do walk after God.”

1 Thessalonians 4:2. What commandments.—R.V. “charge”; margin, “charges.” “The Greek word signifies an announcement, then a command or advice publicly delivered” (Findlay).

1 Thessalonians 4:3. Your sanctification, etc.—“The reception of Christianity never delivers, as with the stroke of a magician, from the wickedness and lusts of the heathen world which have become habitual; rather a long and constant fight is necessary for vanquishing them” (Huther). The sanctification here is first negative—abstinence.


Earnest Exhortations to a Higher Sanctity.

Purity is the perfection of the Christian character. It is the brightest jewel in the cluster of saintly excellencies, and that which gives a lustre to the whole. It is not so much the addition of a separate and distinct grace as it is the beauteous and harmonious development of all the graces in the most perfect form. As Flavel has said: “What the heart is to the body, that the soul is to the man; and what health is to the heart, holiness is to the soul.” Purity is the sound, healthy condition of the soul and its vigorous growth towards God. In the concluding prayer of the preceding chapter the apostle indicates that God will, through His Spirit, fill the Thessalonians with love—the great distinctive feature of a genuine and higher sanctity. He now urges upon them the necessity of earnest and persistent endeavours after its attainment. Human agency is not annihilated, but stimulated by the divine. Observe:—
I. That a higher sanctity consists in living under a sense of the divine approval.

1. Religion is a life. “How ye ought to walk” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). A walk implies motion, progression, continual approach to a definite goal. Religion is not an ornament to wear, a luxury to enjoy, a ceremony to observe, but a life. It penetrates every part of our nature, throbs in every pulse, shares every joy and sorrow, and fashions every lineament of character. We make sad mistakes; but there is goodness hived, like wild honey, in strange nooks and corners of the world.

2. Religion is a life modelled after the worthiest examples.—“As ye have received of us how ye ought to walk” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). The Thessalonians not only received the wisest counsels from their teachers, but they witnessed their holy and consistent lives; and their attention was constantly directed to the all-perfect example—Christ Jesus. It is the tendency of all life to shape itself after the character of its strongest inward force. The love of God is the mightiest power in the life of the believer; and the outer manifestation of that life is moulded according to the sublime pattern of the inner divine ideal.

3. Religion is a life which finds its chief joy in the divine approval.—“And to please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). It is, possible, then, so to live as to please God. What a powerful incentive to a holy life is the thought, the Lord taketh pleasure in His people! We can rise no higher in moral excellence than to be acceptable to God. To enjoy the sense of His approval fills the cup of happiness to the brim. In vain the world frowns or demons rage, if God smiles. The learned and pious Donne, when taking solemn farewell of his friends on his deathbed, said: “I count all that part of my life lost which I spent not in communion with God or in doing good.”

4. Religion is a life capable of vast expansion.—“So, ye would abound more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). Life in its healthiest and intensest form is happiness. As we advance in the religious life our happiness increases. “All the while,” says Fuller, “thou livest ill, thou hast the trouble, distraction, and inconveniences of life, but not the sweets and true use of it.” God has made every provision for our increase in holiness; we are exhorted to it, and most really promote our highest good and the divine glory in attaining it. There is no limit in our elevation to a higher sanctity but our faith.

II. That the necessity of a higher sanctity is enforced by divine authority.—“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

1. A higher sanctity involves a conformity to the divine nature.—God is holy, and the loftiest aim of the believer is to be like Him. There is to be not only an abstinence from all that is impure, but a positive experience of its opposite—purity. By faith we participate in the divine nature, and possess qualities analogous to those which constitute the divine perfections—mercy, truth, justice, holiness. The grand purpose of redemption is to bring man into holiest fellowship with God.

2. A higher sanctity is in harmony with the divine will.—“For this the will of God, even your sanctification.” Not only the attitude and tendency of the soul, but all its active outgoings must be holy. Such is the will of God. What he proscribes must be carefully avoided; what He prescribes must be cheerfully and faithfully done in the manner He prescribes it. His will is here emphatically expressed; it is supported by abundant promises of help; and it is declared that without holiness no man shall see the Lord. The will of God is at once the highest reason, the strongest motive, and the final authority.

3. The divine will regarding a higher sanctity is enforced by duly authorised messengers and well-understood precepts.—“For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:2). The divine will is expressed in definite commandments. The apostle did not assume authority in any dictatorial spirit. He delivered unto others, and powerfully enforced what he had received “by the Lord Jesus.” He taught them to observe all things whatsoever the Lord had commanded—all those things, only those, and no others. These precepts were well known, “For ye know what commandments we gave you.” Obedience should ever be in proportion to knowledge. Knowledge and practice are mutually helpful to each other Knowledge, the mother of practice; practice, the nurse of knowledge. To know and not to do is to incur the heaviest condemnation. A certain Stoic, speaking of God, said: “What God wills, I will; what God wills not, I will not; if He will that I live, I will live; if it be His pleasure that I die, I will die.” Ah! how should the will of Christians stoop and lie down at the foot of God s will! “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

III. That the possession of a higher sanctity is repeatedly urged by earnest exhortations.—“Furthermore then, we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). Doctrine without exhortation makes men all brain, no heart; exhortation without doctrine makes the heart full, leaves the brain empty. Both together make a man. The apostle laboured in both, and it is difficult to say in which of the two he displayed most earnestness. In addition to all he had urged before, he beseeches and exhorts the Thessalonians to press onward to higher attainments; in which we have a fine example of the combination of a tender, brotherly entreaty, with the solemn authority of a divinely commissioned ambassador. Some people, says a certain writer, are as thorns; handle them roughly and they pierce you; others as nettles—rough handling is best for your safety. A minister’s task is an endless one. Has he planted knowledge?—practice must be urged. Is the practice satisfactory?—perseverance must be pressed. Do they continue in well-doing?—they must be stimulated to further progress. The end of one task is the beginning of another.

Lessons.The believer is called to the attainment of a higher sanctity

1. By the voice of God.

2. By the voice of His faithful ministers.

3. And by the aspirations of the life divinely planted within him.


1 Thessalonians 4:3. Uncleanness Inconsistent with a Profession of the Gospel.

I. Our sanctification is the will of God because He is the avenger of all such as do things contrary to that purity which He enjoins.

II. Because God has called us, not to uncleanness, but to holiness.

III. Because God has given unto us His Holy Spirit.—The Spirit is called the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Holiness, not only because He is essentially and perfectly holy in Himself, but because He is the Author of holiness in believers. These considerations are motives to stir up and animate our wills to obey and co-operate with the will of God.—R. Mant.

Why was the Spirit sent? or, We must needs be Holy.

I. The coming of the Holy Ghost is to make us new creatures by giving us the strength to become so.

II. Since sanctification is declared to be the special work of the Holy Ghost, this clearly proves the difficulty of that work.

III. The work of sanctification is something more than merely driving out the evil one.

IV. Love and devotion to God are necessary to holiness.

V. Strength—the strength of the Holy Spirit—is necessary to defend holiness.A. W. Hare.

Verses 3-7


1 Thessalonians 4:4. How to possess his vessel.—R.V. “to possess himself of his own vessel.” With the long list of names in view of those who interpret “vessel” as meaning “body,” it is almost daring to hint at another meaning. The list, however, is strong of those who regard the expression as a figurative designation for a wife, and 1 Peter 3:7 decides us.

1 Thessalonians 4:5. Not in the lust of concupiscence.—R.V. “not in the passion of lust.” “The word passion signifies not so much a violent feeling as an overpowering feeling, one to which a man so yields himself that he is borne along by evil as if he were its passive instrument; he has lost the dignity of self-rule, and is the slave of his lower appetites” (Findlay).

1 Thessalonians 4:6. That no man go beyond and defraud.—R.V. “transgress, and wrong.” “More exactly, that none overreach and take advantage of his brother in the matter. ‘The matter’ of the last two verses.… The apostle sets the wrong in the strongest light: it is to cheat one’s brother, and that in what touches most nearly the sanctities of life” (Ibid.). The Lord is the avenger.—The heathen deities, so far as they were anything, were oftener patterns than avengers of such things, and they who made them were only too like them.


Distinctive Features of a True Sanctification.

It is comparatively easy for some minds to grasp the broad outlines of a grand undertaking, but they fail in working out the details. It is a fatal defect, and involves the ruin of the whole scheme. The peculiar genius of minds like these is to deal with things in the mass; but they have not the ability or the patience to master a numerous and complicated series of minute particulars. They are more theoretical than practical; they are strong in the concrete, but feeble in the abstract faculty. So it is possible to form a bold conception of some great, leading Christian virtue, to expatiate on its exquisite beauty, to exalt in grandiose terms its supernatural dignity, and to enforce with magisterial importance its superlative necessity, but all the while to be lamentably deficient in practical attention to the thousand and one little details which, in every-day life, constitute the essence of the virtue. Sanctification is an aspect of the Christian life, facile and seductive in theory, but difficult and commonplace in practice. It is the essence and perfection of the Christian life, and is attained, not by some magical feat of the mental powers, but by patient plodding, stern conflicts, and hard-won moral victories. It is the sublime but little understood science of living aright, in the sight of God and man. Secretary Walsingham, in writing to Lord Burleigh, said: “We have lived long enough to our country, to our fortunes, and to our sovereign; it is high time that we began to live for ourselves and for our God.” In the above verses are portrayed the distinctive feature of a true sanctification. Observe:—
I. A true sanctification consists in the maintenance of a personal chastity.

1. This involves an abstinence from gross sensual indulgence. “That you should abstain from fornication” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). A word that designates, not only the actual transgression known by that name, but all the sinful lusts of the flesh. This vice is a prolific source of many other vices. It is like the fabled Hydra, or many-headed snake, of which it is said that when one head was cut off another grew in its place. Fornication is the root of extravagance, drunkenness, disease, poverty, profanity, murder, and irreparable infamy. It is a sin the most bewitching, the most prevalent, the most fatal in its tendencies, and against which the most terrible vengeance of Heaven has been declared. It brought the flood on the world of the ungodly, fire and brimstone upon Sodom, pestilence upon the Israelites, and destruction upon the nations of antiquity. Prior to Christianity it was hardly regarded as a vice. The apostolic teaching revealed its enormity, denounced it with righteous indignation, and supplied the spiritual weapon by which it is to be slain.

2. Involves a rigid maintenance of bodily purity.—“That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour” (1 Thessalonians 4:4). The vessel of the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and whatever would defile or disgrace that sacred shrine must be carefully avoided. The apostle seems to imply there is a kind of art in chastity which all should practise. “That every one of you should know”—should have skill—the power of self-control. Christianity is the science of sciences, the art of living well, and no small skill is necessary in regulating the exercise of the Christian virtues. To possess—to rule the body in purity, keep a diligent guard upon the senses (Job 31:1; Proverbs 23:33; Genesis 39:6-7), avoid the company of the sensual; be temperate; be industrious; continue instant in prayer.

3. Involves a masterly restraint upon the passionate outgoings of evil desire.—“Not in the lust of concupiscence; not in the passion of lust; even as the Gentiles which know not God” (1 Thessalonians 4:5). Ignorance is the origin of unchastity; and the apostle shows to what extent of wickedness man may go who knows not God. An old writer says, “Ignorance is a master, a mother-sin; pull it, thou pullest all sin.” Concupiscence is the rudimentary stage of evil desire; unchecked, it spreads through the soul, inflames the passions, and rises into an ungovernable tempest of lust. Evil must be restrained in its earliest manifestation, banished from the region of thought. The longer it is harboured, the more powerful it becomes.

“We are not worst at once—the course of evil
Begins so slowly and from such slight source,
An infant’s hand might stem its breach with clay;
But let the stream get deeper, and philosophy shall strive in vain
To turn the headlong current.”

II. A true sanctification consists in the universal exercise of strict justice.

1. That no violation of justice is allowable. “That no man go beyond or defraud his brother in any matter” (1 Thessalonians 4:6). The prohibition extends not only to acts of unchastity, but to all the transactions of life. The value of a commodity is governed by its use, its relation to the immediate wants of man. In nature that which has life and sense is more excellent than an inanimate creature; in this view an insect is superior to a diamond. But with regard to use, a loaf of bread is of more value than a thousand insects. Justice requires there should be a fair proportion between a thing and its price. To exact a price which is beyond the worth of the commodity sold, or to give a sum which is below its due value, is to overreach on the part of either the seller or the buyer. The commercial world of the present day might ponder with advantage the lessons to be learnt from the practice of an ancient Christian simplicity. The man who begins a course of dishonesty by defrauding a stranger will soon reach the point of cheating his dearest brother and chuckle at his unjust success.

2. That every violation of justice will be certainly punished.—“Because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified” (1 Thessalonians 4:6). The rogue will not always triumph; and his ill-gotten gains may be the instruments of his curse. An all-seeing Eye watches all his sinuous trickeries, and an unseen Hand rests on all his covetous accumulations, and by-and-by the blow of vengeance will be swift and terrible. The successful robber is apt to lull himself into a false security; he has escaped disaster so often and so long that he begins to fancy his villainy may be continued with impunity. But their “judgment lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not,” for “the Lord is the avenger of all such” (seeProverbs 22:22-23; Proverbs 22:22-23; Proverbs 22:10). Not that we are to act honestly from the fear of punishment; but while striving to act rightly from love to God and a lofty sense of duty, it is also salutary to remember that vengeance belongeth unto the Lord, and He will recompense. Where human justice fails, the divine vengeance will supply the deficiency, that injustice may not escape unpunished.

III. That a true sanctification recognises the supreme authority of the divine call.—“For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7). A holy life gives no licence to sin. Everything is in favour of holiness—the caller is holy (1 Peter 1:15), the instrument holy (John 17:17), and the Spirit, the immediate worker, is the fountain of all holiness. Religion is a holy calling, because it leads to holiness; and though it finds us not holy, yet it makes us so. They answer not their calling who commit any manner of sin. Unmercifulness, cruelty, fornication, and uncleanness are not of God. In every temptation to evil remember the divine calling.

Lessons.A true sanctification

1. Provides for the chastity of the whole man.

2. Governs all the transactions of daily life.

3. Responds to the highest call of God.


1 Thessalonians 4:6. Reason for Conscientiousness.—A man was once asked why he was so very particular to give good measure—over good—and he replied: “God has given me but one journey through this world, and when I am gone I cannot return to correct mistakes.”

Respect for Conscientiousness.—Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, once remarked respecting one of his pupils who was in the habit of attending to all his duties conscientiously and faithfully, “I could stand hat in hand to that boy.”

1 Thessalonians 4:7. Christian Holiness.

I. The nature of holiness.—Conformity to the nature and will of God. Not to be confounded with virtue.

II. The origin of holiness.—It is immediately connected with regeneration. No holiness in man previous to this.

III. The progress of holiness.—The seed, the tree. The dawn, the day. The child, the man.

IV. The objects of holiness.—In reference to God, to the moral law, to duty, to sin.

V. The influence of holiness.—“There is an energy of moral suasion in a good man’s life passing the highest efforts of the orator’s genius. The seen but silent beauty of holiness speaks more eloquently of God and duty than the tongues of men and angels.”—G. Brooks.

Verse 8


1 Thessalonians 4:8. He therefore that despiseth.—Margin and R.V. “rejecteth.” He who pushes aside sanctification in his preference for uncleanness will have to reckon with God Himself.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF 1 Thessalonians 4:8

A Word to the Despiser.

I. The Christian minister is spiritually commissioned to exhort men to holiness.—“Who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit.” The apostles were endowed for their special ministry by the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost; they were infallibly guided into all truth; they wrought miracles; and their word was with power. Though miraculous gifts are no longer bestowed, Christian ministers are nevertheless called and qualified by the divine Spirit; they are empowered to proclaim the will of God and to urge men to reconciliation and purity (2 Corinthians 5:20). The Rev. F. W. Robertson was once hesitating in the pulpit of a brother-clergyman which of two sermons he should preach. Something whispered to him, “Robertson, you are a craven; you dare not speak here what you believe.” He selected a sermon that seemed almost personal in its faithfulness and power. But it was the message given to him for that hour.

II. That the most faithful exhortations of the Christian minister may be despised.—This is done when men reject the word spoken, refuse to listen to it, neglect to meditate upon it, and decline to enter upon the course of holy living which it counsels. This conduct shows:—

1. The voluntary power of man.—He can resist the truth or accept it. He is responsible for the exercise of all his moral powers, and therefore incurs guilt by any abuse of those powers.

2. The blinding folly of sin.—It darkens the understanding, perverts the will, petrifies the affections, and banishes the good that elevates and saves. Sin is also a force—a stealthy, remorseless, destructive force; wherever it breathes, it blasts and withers; wherever it plants its sharpened talons, it lacerates and destroys; and the disorder, the moral anarchy, the writhing agony of a groaning world bear witness to the terrible ravages of man’s great enemy. To wilfully reject the overtures of righteousness is to relinquish the inheritance of eternal life, and to doom the soul to the endless miseries of spiritual death.

III. That to despise the faithful exhortations of the Christian minister is to despise God.—“He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God.” The contempt of the true minister does not terminate in his person alone, but reaches the majesty of that Being by whom he is commissioned. To disregard the message of an ambassador is to despise the monarch he represents. The Saviour declared, “He that despiseth you, despiseth Me” (Luke 10:16). As the edicts proclaimed by the public herald are not his own, but the edicts of the prince who gives them authority and force, so the commands published by the divinely commissioned minister are not his own, but belong to Him whose will is the law of the universe. It belongs to God to reveal the law, freighted with His sanction and authority; it belongs to man to declare it. The exhortation, whether uttered by a Moses, who was commended for the beauty of his personal appearance, or by a Simeon Niger, who was remarkable for his physical deformity, is equally the word of God, to which the most reverential obedience is due. To despise the meanest of God’s ministers is an insult to the majesty of Heaven, and will incur His terrible displeasure. In Retzsch’s illustrations of Goethe’s Faust there is one plate where angels are represented as dropping roses upon the demons who are contending for the soul of Faust. Every rose falls like molten metal, burning and blistering where it touches. So is it that truth acts upon the soul that has wilfully abandoned its teachings. It bewilders when it ought to guide.


1. The divine commands concern man’s highest good.

2. Take heed how ye hear.

3. To despise the divine message is to be self-consigned to endless woe.

Verses 9-10


1 Thessalonians 4:9. Ye have no need that one write to you.—St. Paul admits the brotherly love amongst them. It was adroit on his part, therefore, to make uncleanness an offence against brotherly love. Taught of God.—Is an expression only found here in the New Testament. We are reminded of Isaiah 28:26. The mother-wit of the farmer who had no “school of agriculture” is traced by the prophet to God; he is God-taught to distinguish his methods. So these Thessalonians took to brotherly love naturally, as we say.

1 Thessalonians 4:10. We beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more.—Brotherly love is a good thing, of which St. Paul evidently thought too much could not be had.


Brotherly Love the Proof of a True Sanctification.

Love is the bond of perfectness, the golden cincture that binds together and beautifies all the other graces of the Christian character. Christianity has rescued man from barbarism and slavery. It was the first to advocate and insist upon the common brotherhood of humanity, and, by inspiring in the heart the love of Christ, has made it possible for men to love each other as brethren. This was the most striking feature of the Christian spirit in the early times, and to which even the enemies of the Church bore testimony. In the second century the scoffing Lucian declared: “It is incredible to see the ardour with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator has put it into their heads that they are all brethren.” The mutual exercise of love towards the brethren is an indisputable evidence of spiritual regeneration (1 John 3:14); and in this chapter the apostle evidently alludes to it as the proof of a true sanctification. Observe:—

I. That brotherly love is divinely taught.—“For ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9).

1. It is commanded by Christ.—“These things I command you, that ye love one another” (John 15:17). This is a lesson the world never taught, and cannot teach. The natural heart is essentially selfish and cruel, and delights in fierce aggression on the rights of others, and in angry retaliation for fancied wrongs. Brotherly love is a fruit of Christianity, and is a powerful influence in harmonising the warring interests of humanity. If love prevail, other graces will not be absent.

2. It has the example of Christ.—He frequently reminds His disciples of what should be the scope and character of their love towards each other—“As I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” The same glorious example was also the constant burden of the apostle’s teaching, “Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us” (John 13:34; John 15:12; Ephesians 5:2). Brotherly love should be pure, humble, self-denying, fervent, unchangeable.

3. It is its own commendation.—“But as touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write unto you.” Love is modest and ingenuous in its exercise, making itself felt without obtrusiveness, and almost hiding itself underneath the multitude of benefits it creates. We should not hesitate to commend whatever good we see in others. The great Searcher of hearts does not pass over any good thing in a Church, though otherwise clouded with infirmities, without a laudatory notice (Revelation 2:2-3). A word of prudent commendation will often stimulate the soul in its endeavours after holiness.

4. It is a grace divinely wrought.—“Ye yourselves are taught of God.” The heart is powerfully inclined to the exercise of this grace by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit, not independent of but in conjunction with the outward ministry of the word. The invariable method of divine teaching is explained in Jeremiah 31:33; Acts 16:14. Those are easily taught whom God doth teach.

II. That brotherly love must be practically manifested.—“And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia” (1 Thessalonians 4:10). Love is not limited by locality or distance; it is displayed, not only towards those we know and with whom we have Christian communion, but towards those whose faces we have not seen. The foreign missionary enterprise is a magnificent monument of modern Christian charity. Love should be practically manifested in supplying, as far as means and opportunity will allow, each other’s need, in bearing one another’s burdens, in forgiving one another, and, if necessary, in kindly reproving one another. During the retreat of Alfred the Great, at Athelney, in Somersetshire, after the defeat of his forces by the Danes, a beggar came to his little castle there and requested alms. When his queen informed him they had only one small loaf remaining, which was insufficient for themselves and the friends who had gone abroad in quest of food with little hope of success, the king replied: “Give the poor Christian one half of the loaf. He who could feed five thousand men with five loaves and two small fishes, can certainly make that half of the loaf suffice for more than our necessities.” Accordingly the poor man was relieved, and this noble act of charity was soon recompensed by a providential store of fresh provisions with which the foraging party returned.

III. That brotherly love is susceptible of continuous enlargement.—“But we beseech, you, brethren, that ye increase more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:10). Notwithstanding the commendation of the apostle, he exhorts the Thessalonians to seek greater perfection in this grace. What is the sun without light? What is fire without heat? So what is life without love? The rich seek to increase their store, the wicked add to their iniquities; the saint should not be less diligent in increasing unto every good word and work. “A child that stayeth at one stature and never groweth bigger is a monster. The ground that prospereth not and is not fruitful is cursed. The tree that is barren and improveth not is cut down. So must all increase in the way of godliness and go forward therein. Unless we go forward, we slip back” (Jewell) The growth of charity is extensive, as it adds to the number of the objects loved, and intensive as to its inward fervour and tenacity. The more we apprehend the love of God to ourselves, the more our hearts will enlarge in love to Him and all saints. True brotherly love crushes all self-love, and is more anxious to hide than pry into the infirmities of others. Seldom is a charitable man curious, or a curious man charitable.


1. That brotherly love is the practical manifestation of the love of God in man.

2. That brotherly love should be constantly cultivated.

3. That brotherly love is a crowning feature of the higher Christian life.


1 Thessalonians 4:9-10. Brotherly Love—


An evidence of practical holiness.


An affection divinely taught.


Should be constantly manifested.


Grows by diligent cultivation.

Verses 11-12


1 Thessalonians 4:11. Study to be quiet.—R.V. margin, “Go: be ambitious.” “An example of St. Paul’s characteristic irony: the contrast between ambition and quiet, giving a sharper point to his exhortation, as though he said, ‘Make it your ambition to have no ambition!’ ” (Ibid.). To do your own business.—To be occupied with your own affairs.

1 Thessalonians 4:12. That ye may walk honestly—The adverb here is used to match the verb—to walk with a dignified and gentlemanly bearing. St. Paul’s ideas of gentlemanliness—“working with the hands”—would not suit the youth of gentlemanly habits who wants to be adopted where he will have nothing to do. And may have need of nothing.—What a nobly independent soul! What a splendid text these verses would make for some plain words to Christians who indulge in sharp practices, or waste until they have to throw themselves on any one who will support them!


A Pacific Spirit another Proof of a True Sanctification.

To pass from the subject of brotherly love to the necessity of maintaining a quiet and peaceable disposition was for the apostle a natural and suggestive transition. Love and peace are twin virtues—“Two lovely berries moulded on one stem.” Brotherly love can have no place in the heart from which peace has fled and where war and discord reign. The quiet spirit is not a weak, meaningless, cowardly condition of mind, but contains in it all the elements of patient endurance, unconquerable bravery, and inviolable moral power. It is not the quietness of the shallow lagoon, on whose surface the heaviest storm can raise but a few powerless ripples; it is rather the profound calm of the ocean, which, when roused by the tempest, is overwhelmed in its impetuous onset. Christ is likened to the lamb—gentle, harmless, pacific; but when His fury is once let loose upon the ungodly, the distracted victims will shriek for the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. A pacific spirit is another practical evidence of possessing the genuine sanctification so earnestly commended by the apostle. Observe:—
I. That a pacific spirit is to be studiously cultivated.—“And that ye study to be quiet” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). The word “study” signifies to seek after an object with a holy and active ambition, as though it were the highest honour to possess it. How different this is from the restless spirit of the world! There is nothing some people dread so much as being quiet. They delight in a row; and if one does not happen as frequently as they wish, they make one for themselves. The political agitator, the avaricious money-getter, the fiery advocate of war, all seek to attain their selfish ends in the midst of tumult and confusion. Nor is the sacred circle of the Christian Church, which should ever be the abode of peace and harmony, free from the violence of the irrepressible disturber. There are some people who never will be still; you cannot hold them still. They are full of endless suggestions for other people to carry out. Their tongue is a perpetual clatter. They fly from one department of work to another, and create distraction in each. They are always on the go. No sooner have they related to one, with such evident satisfaction, the details of the latest uproar they were in, than they are off to brew another. They try one’s temper; they harry one’s nerves; they break one’s peace most cruelly. To such people it would be the severest task to obey the apostolic injunction, “That ye study to be quiet,” and yet no one in the world has more need to do so than they. A pacific spirit cannot be secured without much self-denying effort; but it is a jewel worth all the trouble and all the sacrifice (Proverbs 20:3; Colossians 3:12-15).

II. That a pacific spirit is attained by a persevering industry in personal duties.

1. That personal duties have the first claim upon our efforts. “Do your own business” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Attend first to your personal concerns—whatever comes within the compass of your general or particular calling. The man who is inattentive to his own special duties cannot with any reason dictate as to the duties of others. To do one’s own business is the best safeguard against idleness and meddling curiosity. Solomon declared, “Every fool will be meddling.” An officious interference with the business of others creates discords. All strifes—domestic, social, ecclesiastical, and political—may be traced to meddlesomeness. The meddling man is a fool, because he gratifies his own idle curiosity at the expense of his own well-being and the happiness of others. See that the business you do is your own business, and that you let that of your neighbours alone. “Be not eavesdroppers, hearkening what is said or done in your neighbour’s house. Wide ears and long tongues dwell together. They that love to hear all that may be told them do also love to blab out all they hear” (Jewell).

2. That personal duties demand genuine hard work.—“And to work with your own hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). The claims and enjoyments of religion do not release us from the necessity of toiling for our daily bread and providing things honest in the sight of all men. True religion rather consists in doing all the work of life with consistency, diligence, and perseverance. Manual labour is not the only form of genuine industry. The industry of some of our public men is something amazing. There is no greater foe to piety than idleness. It is the beginning of many other evils, and has been the origin of many a career that has ended with the prison and the gallows. An idle man is always something worse. His brain is the shop for the devil, where he forges the most debasing fancies and plots the most pernicious schemes. Many take more pains to go to hell than almost the holiest to go to heaven. Hièrome used to say that a man who labours disheartens even the devil himself.

3. That industry in personal duties is enforced by apostolic precept.—“As we commanded you” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). The apostle frequently took occasion to enforce upon his converts the importance of diligence in one’s daily business, and set them an example in his own conduct (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8). Honest labour is not beneath the dignity of any, and he who works the hardest has the greater influence in enforcing industry upon others.

III. That a pacific spirit, combined with diligence, recommends Christianity to those outside the Church.—“That ye may walk honestly towards them that are without” (1 Thessalonians 4:12). Industry is no small part of honesty. A lazy man can never be an honest one, though his chastity and fidelity were as renowned as Joseph’s, if that were possible to a mere idler. A restless, trifling busybody does unspeakable damage to religion. Many, who are Christians by profession, are often more heathenish in practice, and the blindest among the aliens are swift to detect and pronounce judgment on their dishonesty. The unbelieving world, on the other hand, is impressed and attracted by the peaceful and diligent behaviour of the faithful. Human nature is powerfully influenced by appearances.

IV. That a pacific spirit, combined with diligence, ensures an honoured independence.—“And that ye may have lack of nothing” (1 Thessalonians 4:12). It is more blessed to be able to give than to receive. What a mercy it is neither to know the power and misery of those temptations which arise from pinching poverty, nor yet to be necessitated to depend upon the cold-hearted, merciless charity of others. The patient, quiet persevering plodder in the way of Christian duty may not always be rewarded with affluence; but he is encouraged to expect, at least, a modest competency. And the very spirit he has striven to cultivate has enriched him with an inheritance, which few possibly attain—contentment with his lot. He whose is the silver and the gold will care for His loved and faithful servants (Psalms 37:25).


1. Quarrelsomeness and indolence cannot co-exist with a high degree of sanctity.

2. To secure the blessings of peace is worthy of the most industrious study.

3. The mightiest aggressions of the gospel upon the world are made quietly.


1 Thessalonians 4:11. Study to be Quiet.

I. Make it our meditation day and night and fill our minds with it.

II. Put our meditation into practice.

III. We must unlearn many things before we can be taught this.

1. Cast out self-love.

2. Covetousness.

3. Pull back our ambition.

4. Bind our malice.

5. Empty ourselves of all suspicion, surmising, and discontent.

IV. Mind our own business.

1. Because it is becoming.

2. Brings advantage.

3. It is necessary.

4. We are commanded to do so.—Farindon.

Mind your own Business.

I. The Bible contains little encouragement for the idler.

II. The text enjoins diligence not only in business, but in one’s own business.

III. The counsel of the apostle is supported by the best wisdom of the world.—“It becomes a man,” said Herodotus, “to give heed to those things only which concern himself.”

IV. The apostle takes it for granted that ours is a worthy business.

V. Only by diligence in the care of your own souls will you be able to do really effective work for Christ.A. F. Forrest.

Verses 13-14


1 Thessalonians 4:13. Them which are asleep.—The R.V. reading changes the perfect participle (“them who have fallen asleep and continue to sleep”) unto the present, “them that fall asleep,” as they drop off one after another. See on the expression our Lord’s beautiful words, Luke 8:52; John 11:11 f.


Sorrow for the Dead.

The Thessalonians who cherished a vivid expectation of the near approach of the second advent of Christ appear to have fallen into a misconception as to the relation of their deceased friends to that glorious event. While believing that the pious dead would ultimately be raised again, they feared they would not be permitted to share in the joy of welcoming Him back to His inheritance of the redeemed earth and in the triumphant inauguration of His reign. “It was just as if, on the very eve of the day of the expected return of some long absent father, a cruel fate should single out one fond expectant child, and hurry him to a far distant and inhospitable shore.” But all their fears and perplexities were dissipated by the sublime disclosures contained in this epistle.
I. That sorrow is a merciful relief to a soul bereaved.—Sorrow is nowhere forbidden. It may be an infirmity, but it is at the same time a solace. The soul oppressed and stricken by the weight of a great calamity finds relief in tears.

“O ye tears! O ye tears! till I felt you on my cheek,
I was selfish in my sorrow, I was stubborn, I was weak;
Ye have given me strength to conquer, and I stand erect and free,
And know that I am human, by the light of sympathy.”

The religion of the Bible does not destroy human passions. We do not part with our nature when we receive the grace of God. The mind that is capable of a real sorrow is capable of good. A griefless nature can never be a joyous one.

II. That sorrow for the dead is aggravated by ignorance of their future destiny.—“I would not have you to be ignorant concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The radius of hope is contracted or expanded in proportion to the character and extent of intelligence possessed. Ignorant “sorrow is a kind of rust to the soul, which every new idea contributes in its passage to scour away. It is the putrefaction of stagnant life, and is remedied by exercise and motion.” The heathen, who have no satisfactory knowledge of the future life, give way to an excessive and hopeless grief. Du Chaillu describes a scene of wailing for the dead among the Africans. “The mother of poor Tonda,” he writes, “led me to the house where the body was laid. The narrow space of the room was crowded; about two hundred women were sitting and standing around, singing mourning songs to doleful and monotonous airs. As I stood looking, filled with solemn thoughts, the mother of Tonda approached. She threw herself at the foot of her dead son, and begged him to speak to her once more. And then when the corpse did not answer she uttered a shriek, so long, so piercing, such a wail of love and grief that tears came into my eyes. Poor African mother! She was literally as one sorrowing without hope, for these people count on nothing beyond the present life.” It was the dictum of an old Greek poet—a man once dead there is no revival; and those words indicated the dismal condition of unenlightened nature in all lands and in all ages. What an urgent argument is here for increased missionary efforts among the heathen!

III. That sorrow for the dead in Christ is soothed and moderated by the revelation of certain great truths concerning their present and future blessedness.

1. That death is a sleep. “Them also which sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). The only part of man to which the figure of the text applies is the body. As to the soul, the day of death is the day of our birth into a progressive and eternal life. It is called a departure, a being with Christ—absent from the body, present with the Lord. Sleep is expressive of rest. When the toil of life’s long day is ended, the great and good Father draws the dark curtain of night and hushes His weary children to rest “They enter into rest.” Sleep is expressive of refreshment. The body is laid in the grave, feeble, emaciated, worn out. Then a wonderful process goes on, perceptible only to the eye of God, by which the body acquires new strength and beauty, and becomes a fit instrument and suitable residence for the glorified soul. Sleep implies the expectation of awaking. We commit the bodies of the departed to the earth in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection. They wait for “the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body.”

2. That the dead in Christ will be roused from their holy slumber and share in the glory of His second advent.—“Will God bring with Him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). The resurrection of the dead is a divine work. “I will redeem them from the power of the grave.” Christ will own His people in their persons, their services, and their sufferings. They shall receive His entire approval, be welcomed by Him into His everlasting kingdom, and crowned by Him with glory and the affluence of incorruptible bliss.

3. That the resurrection of Christ from the dead is a pledge of the restoration and future blessedness of all who sleep in Him.—“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Christ Himself is the resurrection, not only as revealed in His word and exemplified in His own person, but as specially appointed by the Father to effect it by His own power (John 5:25; John 6:39). The word of God sheds a light across the darkness of the grave, and opens a vista radiant with hope and immortal happiness. “Let me penetrate into Thy heart, O God,” said an afflicted saint, “and read the love that is there. Let me penetrate into Thy mind, and read the wisdom that is there; then shall I be satisfied—the storm shall be turned into calm.” A vital knowledge of Christ silences every murmur and prepares for every emergency.


1. An ignorant sorrow is a hopeless one.

2. To rise with Jesus we must live and die to Him.

3. Divine revelations regarding the future life greatly moderate the grief of the present.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-14. The Sleep of the Faithful Departed.

I. The dead are said to be asleep because we know they shall wake up again.

II. Because they whom men call dead do really live unto God.

III. Because they are taking their rest.

IV. Death is changed to sleep, so that it becomes a pledge of rest and a prophecy of the resurrection.


1. We ought to mourn rather for the living than for the dead.

2. In very truth it is life rather than death that we ought to fear.—H. E. Manning.

1 Thessalonians 4:14. The Resurrection of the Body.

I. The heart seeks it.

II. The Bible declares it.

III. The redemption of Christ secures it.A. F. Forrest.

Verses 15-18


1 Thessalonians 4:15. We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord.—“We must recognise that Paul here includes himself, along with the Thessalonians, among those who will be alive at the advent of Christ. Certainly this can only have been a hope, only a subjective expectation on the part of the apostle” (Huther). Shall not prevent.—The meaning of “prevent” is “to go before.” But the connotation came to have more prominence than the meaning, so it came to signify to stop (by standing in the way). R.V. gives, “shall not precede.” It is the same word as in 1 Thessalonians 2:16 (in another tense). The apostle says, “We shall not arrive before them.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16. With a shout.—Like the ring of command heard over the noise of battle. “We must not look for literal exactness where things are depicted beyond the reach of sense” (Findlay). With the tramp of God.—The trumpet here, like that in 1 Corinthians 15:52, is the military trumpet.

1 Thessalonians 4:17. Shall be caught up.—The idea conveyed by the word is that of sudden or violent seizure, as when the fiery messengers carried off the prophet Elijah, or as when St. Paul was “caught up” to the third heaven.


The Second Advent of Christ.

Among the words of consolation in the valedictory discourse of Christ to His disciples was the promise, after His departure, He would come again and receive them unto Himself. Time has sped noiselessly along; events of vast magnitude have rapidly succeeded each other, and left their lessons for the ages to ponder; nations have passed through the throes of suffering and revolution; generation after generation has gone down to the grave; for nearly nineteen hundred years the Church has been strained with profound, intense, and anxious expectancy: but still the promise remains unfulfilled. Will He come? Are the hopes of the Church doomed to be for ever unsatisfied? Must the bodies of the pious dead be for ever shut down in the sepulchres of land and sea? Will the wrongs of the universe never be redressed? If questions like these flit for a moment across the mind, it is not that the Church has lost confidence in the promise. Faith in the second advent of Christ is more widely spread and more firmly held to-day than ever. Long waiting has sharpened the longing, brightened the hope, and clarified the vision. In these words the apostle assures the Thessalonians of the second coming of Christ, furnishes some important particulars of the event, and points out the bearing of the glorious doctrine in consoling the sorrow of the bereaved.
I. That the second advent of Christ is the subject of divine revelation.—“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15). In a subject of such vast moment the apostle was anxious to show that he had the highest and most incontrovertible authority for the statements he uttered. He had a special revelation from heaven, and spoke under the direct and immediate inspiration of the divine Spirit. The second advent of Christ is emphatically taught in the Holy Scriptures (cf. Matthew 24:3; Matthew 25:31; Mark 8:3; John 14:3; Acts 1:2; Acts 3:19-20; Romans 8:17; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Timothy 4:1; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:5; 2 Peter 3:12; Jude 1:14).

II. That the second advent of Christ will be distinguished by signal tokens of terrible majesty.

1. There will be the triumphant shout of the divine Redeemer. “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Just before Jesus expired on the cross He cried with a loud voice, and though there was the ring of victory in that cry, it sounded more like a conscious relief from unutterable suffering. But the shout of Jesus on his second coming will be like the loud, clear, joyous battle shout of a great Conqueror. That shout will break the silence of the ages, will startle the universe into attention, will raise the dead, and summon all people into the presence of the victorious Messiah. Formerly He did “not cry, nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street” (Isaiah 42:2). But now is the revelation of His power. “Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence” (Psalms 50:3-4).

2. There will be the voice of the archangel (1 Thessalonians 4:16).—The angelic hosts are arranged in an hierarchy of various ranks and orders. The archangel is the chief of the heavenly multitude. In response to the majestic shout of the descending Lord, the archangel lifts up his voice, like the loud cry of the herald announcing the glorious advent, and the sound is caught up and prolonged by the vast hosts of celestial attendants.

3. There will be the trumpet-blast.—“With the trump of God,” with trumpet sounded by the command of God—such a trumpet, perhaps, as is used in the service of God in heaven. Besides the shout of Jesus and the voice of the archangel, the sound of the trumpet will also be heard in the host. It is called in 1 Corinthians 15:52 “the last trumpet”; and in Matthew 24:31 we read, “He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect.” Among the Hebrews, Greeks, and ancient Latins it was the custom to summon the people with the trumpet. In this way God is said to gather His people together (Isaiah 27:13; Jeremiah 4:5; Jeremiah 6:1). The whole passage is designed to show that the second advent of King Messiah will be attended by the most imposing evidences of pomp and regal splendour.

III. That the second advent of Christ will be followed by important consequences to the people of God, living and dead.

1. The pious dead shall be raised. “We which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. And the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16). The living at that day—who, it would seem, would be spared the necessity of dying and seeing corruption—shall, nevertheless, have no advantage over the dead. Before any change takes place in the living to fit them for the new condition of things, the dead in Christ shall rise first, and be clothed with immortality and incorruptible splendour. Whatever disadvantages may be the lot of some of God’s people over others, they are ever recompensed by some special privilege or prerogative. The best state for us is that in which God places us. And yet every man thinks another’s condition happier than his own. Rare indeed is the man who thinks his own state and condition in every respect best for him.

2. The living and the raised shall unite in a simultaneous greeting of their descending Lord.—“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). The living, after passing through the wondrous change from mortal to immortal, shall not anticipate for a single moment the newly raised bodies of the pious dead, but together with them, in one reunited, loving, inseparable company, shall be caught away in chariots of clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and greet Him in the descent. He comes to fulfil His promise (John 14:3)

3. All believers in Christ shall be assured of eternal felicity with Him.—“And so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). For ever with the Lord in familiar companionship—in rapturous communion, in impending glory, in ever-enchanting revelations. With Him, not occasionally, or for an age, or a millennium, but uninterruptedly for ever, without the possibility of separation. How great the contrast with the brightest experiences of this changeful life! There are three things which eminently distinguish the heavenly life of the soul—perfection, perpetuity, immutability.

IV. That the contemplation of the second advent of Christ is calculated to minister consolation to the sorrowing.—“Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). A community in suffering creates a community in sympathy. “If a thorn be in the foot, the back bows, the eye is busy to pry into the hurt, the hands do their best to pluck out the cause of anguish; even so we are members one of another. To him that is afflicted, pity should be showed from his friend” (Job 6:14). The best consolation is that which is drawn from the revelations of God’s word. There are no comforts like Scripture comforts. The bereaved were sorrowing for their loved ones who had been smitten down by death, and were full of anxiety and uncertainty about the future. Shall they meet again, or are they parted for ever? The teaching of inspiration on the second coming of Christ assures them that their departed relatives shall be rescued from the power of death, that they shall meet again, meet in glory, meet to part no more, to be for ever with each other and with the Lord.


1. The Church is justified in looking for the second advent of Christ.

2. The second advent of Christ will bring an everlasting recompense for the suffering and sorrow of the present life.

3. The record that reveals the second advent of Christ should be fondly prized and constantly pondered.


1 Thessalonians 4:15-18. The Second Coming of Christ and Sorrow for the Dead.

I. The final period of the world the apostles left undetermined.

II. Though ignorant of the final period of the world, they were confident it should not come till the prophecies respecting the destiny of the Church were accomplished.

III. The Church, being ignorant of the day in which Christ should come to judge the world, should be always ready for that event.

IV. Sorrow for the dead is compatible with the hope of a Christian.

1. When it proceeds from sympathy.

2. From the dictates of nature.

3. From repentance.—Saurin.

1 Thessalonians 4:18. The Duty of comforting One Another.

I. We must observe a rule and method in this duty.

II. This method is taught not in the school of nature, but of Christ.

1. In general we must comfort one another with the word of God.

2. We must comfort one another with the Scripture teaching on the coming of the Lord and the resurrection of the dead.—Farindon.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/1-thessalonians-4.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile