Purity in Relationships

January 8, 2023 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: First Thessalonians

Topic: English Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:6

God created men and women, and He designed that a man and his wife would be united in a special way for mutual service and mutual joy and mutual connection. Sexual intimacy is a wonderful and powerful gift created by God to celebrate and to unite a man and his wife.

Tragically, because of the power of that gift, the abuse or the violation of God’s design brings disastrous consequences. Those consequences are seen in our individual lives and in our entire society. There examples are endless.

Biblically, we see an example of sin and the ensuing pain in the first chapters of the Bible. At the end of Genesis 2, Adam and Eve are naked and unashamed. But when we come to chapter 3, and sin enters the world, Adam and Eve, for the first time, feel shame about their bodies. And they sew fig leaves to cover themselves.

With the coming of sin came a vulnerability because others could now sin against us. We were susceptible and insecure. We were exposed and threatened.

Adam and Eve’s attempt to cover themselves wasn’t enough. Later, when God comes walking into the garden, Adam says to Him, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.

Those fig leaves weren’t enough to cover their shame. It was impossible for God to sin against Adam, but that didn’t matter. The fear and shame were connected to the presence of sin. Something had fundamentally changed in man’s nature. Adam and Eve’s body, which God designed for good, was now a vulnerability. Sin brought devastating consequences.

As the story of humanity progresses, we continue to see the connection between sexual sin, which rejects God’s original design, and human suffering.

The first mention of a breach in God’s design concerning marriage comes in Genesis 4. One of Cain’s descendants, a man named Lamech, takes two wives. It was an expression of greed and selfishness, and it eventually gave way to murder. Lamech boasts about it to his wives by saying: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain's revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold.

Lamech put himself in the place of God and it led to murder. One way or another, the rebellion of sexual sin always leads to, and is connected with , the pain and suffering of man.

That’s part of the reason why the Bible is so clear and explicit concerning sexual purity. God’s design and God’s commandments in this area are not difficult to understand, but because of our rebellious, sinful nature, they are exceedingly difficult to obey. So many times, we seek the passing pleasures of this life, rather than the eternal treasures of knowing and walking with God.

So, a Christian understanding of sexuality is a vital part of our spiritual life. Even though the Thessalonian church was a baby church, Paul taught these things when he first ministered to them. And then, as he writes to them later, he repeats it.

Look with me again at verse 1. Paul says: 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.

Obeying God in this arena of life is how we please the Lord. And we should be constantly growing in it. God’s will for your life, according to verse 3, is that you be sanctified. That means that the holiness of God is demonstrated in a practical way through your life. We are called to be lights in a dark world.

So many things have changed in the past 2,000 years, but the first-century Roman Empire wasn’t much different than our own regarding sexuality. The culture rejected and mocked God’s original, beautiful design, and it tolerated and promoted all kinds of wicked immorality.

So, God’s instruction for being holy is, “Stay away from all of that.” According to verse 3, God’s will is that we abstain from sexual immorality. That’s the first expression of holiness. Stay away. Run from what this culture promotes. This is the pursuit of purity at the level of your heart.

The second expression of holiness, the second element of God’s will for us, is verses 4 and 5: that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. So, we are to be pure at the level of our hearts and pure also at the level of our bodies. We can’t allow for a distinction between those. God cares about the condition of your heart, and He cares about what you do with your body.

Today, we come to verse 6 of Paul’s instruction, and it is a command for purity at the level of our relationships. We are to guard our hearts, we are to guard our bodies, and thirdly, we are to guard and protect one another.

This final element of God’s will comes to us in the form of a negative. Verse 6 tells us that God’s will is that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter.

“In this matter” means he’s still talking about the area of sexuality. And Paul uses two different words here to describe what it means to sin sexually against someone else. He says, “Don’t transgress,” and “Don’t wrong.”

The word “transgress” means to cross a line, or to go beyond a limit. This is the only time in the New Testament this particular word is used. It is to step past the boundary which God has set in place. That’s what is means to transgress.

The second verb, which ESV translates as “wrong” means “to take advantage of,” which is what some Bible translations use. Other translations use “defraud” or “violate the rights of.” The idea is that you have someone in a weaker and vulnerable position, and you take advantage of them for your own personal gain. It’s a form of stealing.

In the Greek version of the Old Testament, this word was used in Ezekiel to describe the rich leaders taking advantage of the poor. They should have been protecting them and helping them, but instead they exploit them. Speaking of Israel, Ezekiel 22:27 says, “Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain.”

That greedy, predatory heart can manifest itself financially, and it can manifest itself sexually. The prohibition here, though, is against taking advantage of someone else sexually. You do not cross that line with another person.

Now, this principle is true in any relationship, whether that be your spouse or not, or a believer or an unbeliever. But in writing this instruction, Paul is focusing on life inside the church. Clearly, there is sin outside the church. But within the family of God, there is to be no place for this.

Again, verses 6 says, “Do not transgress or wrong a brother.” The masculine form doesn’t mean it’s only being applied to men. Greek is similar to Spanish when the masculine form of a word is used sometimes to talk about everyone.

Paul is saying, “Do not sin against or take advantage of a brother or sister in the church.” There is no place for any of this in the church of God, among brothers and sisters.

In using the term “brother,” Paul reminds us that we are all part of the same spiritual family. We are all made in God’s image, and we all share the same heavenly Father. Our relationships in the church should be marked by purity and brotherly love, not by greed and covetousness.

Sadly, there are numerous examples in history of men who have used the church for their own wicked, selfish desires. And we’ll see some biblical examples of that in a moment.

Now, understanding what the words mean is one thing, but what does that look like practically? How does someone transgress or take advantage of someone else sexually? Let me share with you three possible categories, and I’ll be going from the more subtle ways it happens to the most violent.

The first way you can sin against someone sexually is through seduction. You seduce them into sin. You entice. You tempt them.

Now, both guys and girls can tempt others to sexual sin, but the predominant warning against this in Scripture is for women. And some of that is because of how susceptible we men are to lust. The Bible repeatedly calls women to modesty.

Many, many, many years ago, Western culture prized modesty. Parading your sexuality or flaunting or calling attention to certain parts of your body was scandalous. That was for prostitutes and adulteresses. Tragically, today our culture says that’s what makes you a woman. “If you got it, flaunt it! And don’t let anybody bring you down.”

That message is opposed to what it means to honor Christ. Ladies, being modest starts in your heart, and it shows up in how you dress and how you present yourself to others. To be modest means that you want the attention to be on Christ, not on yourself. An immodest heart wants attention, and there are different ways to do that. You can even be all covered up and still have an immodest heart.

Ladies, please understand that the Bible never says it’s a sin to be attractive. In fact, it even tells us about specific women who were beautiful in face and in form. But there’s a difference between being an attractive person and being a person who wants attention based on how you look.

The adulteress woman in Proverbs 7 speaks and dresses in a way to get attention. She is out to seduce someone. She cares more about her own self-confidence than she does about the glory and holiness of God.

To be clear, her sin is not being attractive. God designed women to be beautiful. In Genesis 6, even the demons took notice. But the fullness of a woman’s beauty, and the nuances of her body were designed by God to be a gift to her husband, and her husband alone.

So, when you read Song of Solomon, and you see the husband delighting in the beauty and the curves of his wife, tell yourself that’s a good thing. That blesses God. But sharing certain elements of your body either publicly or on your social media does not honor God, and it does not show love to your brothers in Christ.

I’ll let you women have more specific conversations here about this sort of thing, but keep in mind that even if the world says you look good in some dress or in some pair of jeans, and even if you feel better about yourself in some way when you wear something, that doesn’t mean God is honored with how you are presenting yourself.

This culture has warped our minds so much that many times we don’t even see what’s happening. For example, I assume most of you would agree that it is not appropriate for someone to walk around in their underwear at church or at work or at school or in the grocery store. You’d probably say that’s inappropriate. It doesn’t honor God for someone to be showcasing their body like that, whether people want to see it or not.

But then, if that same person goes to the beach, or to the swimming pool, or to the gym, or to a fancy evening gathering, somehow the rules change. Somehow, then it’s okay for the curves of your body to be broadcast to the world.

At the risk of sounding puritanical, I am going to quote Puritan pastor Richard Baxter. He understood how easy it was for a woman to grab a guy’s attention and “snare” him in lust. Here’s what he would tell women: “You must walk among sinful persons as you would do with a candle among straw or gunpowder.”

Commenting on this thought, Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth, which some of you women might know from her podcast, said: “As Christian women, our clothing choices can either help men succeed morally or can put temptation in their path that they may find it difficult to overcome.”

That’s such wise and important advice, and we moms and dads need to be teaching these truths to the next generation—not in a legalistic or a prudish way, but in a way that exalts God’s beautiful design and also understands the reality of sin in our hearts and in the world.

Well, I’ll leave it there for this first possibility of sinning against another person sexually. Let’s move on to the second possibility. You can sin against someone by seduction. Secondly, you can do it by pressure. By pressure.

I won’t spend too much time here because I think the principle is clear enough. This is one step farther than temptation. This is encouraging someone toward sexual sin. It might be a group of friends pressuring someone in their circle to sleep with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Or it could be a boyfriend or girlfriend pressuring their significant other to cross the boundaries God has set in place for holiness.

In 1 Corinthians 7, when Paul addresses unmarried people, which would include widows and people who might be divorced, he says: If you cannot exercise self-control, then get married, and of course that should be a marriage to a believer. Don’t be bound with an unbeliever.

In some cases, marriage might be the wisest, most God-honoring response. In other cases, the better option would be to develop patience and self-control.

If you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend who is pressuring you to cross the boundaries which God or your conscience has set in place, you need to have a serious conversation with that person, and you may need to step away. If they don’t want to stop that, then you need to leave.

In Song of Solomon, which exalts the beauty of romance and physical intimacy, one line that is repeated three times in the book is this: “Do not arouse or awaken love until it pleases.” In other words, there’s a time and a place for love, and you need to be patient. That’s the kind of things your friends should be telling you. It’s exciting, but it’s not time yet. The opposite of that is pressuring someone when it it’s time.

Well, the final possibility, and this is the most violent of the three is this. You can sin against someone sexually by force. You can do it by seduction, by pressure, and by force.

This is the most aggressive way it happens. This would include acts like rape, sexual abuse, or human trafficking—things which are much more common in our country than many people like to think about or admit. This can also include things done without the other person’s knowledge, which is a type of exploitation.

To sin against someone by force is to take advantage of their weakness. It happens when an adult takes advantage of a child, or a man violates a woman. It also happens when someone makes threats and forces them into a form of slavery. It is using intimidation to force someone to comply. This is the ugly side of our culture, but it is to have no place in the church.

In 2 Timothy 3:6, Paul condemns false teachers who deny God’s power and who capture women burdened by their sin. This is a predatory relationship. Second Peter and Jude say the same kind of thing regarding wicked false teachers preying on the weak because of their sensuality. This has been going on, not just since the beginning of the church, but since the early generations of man. It’s nothing new.

In the Bible, we find two vivid examples of rape in Genesis 34 and 2 Samuel 13. In Genesis 34, there’s a have man who forces himself on a daughter of Jacob. This leads to the retaliation of Simeon and Levi who slaughter all the men in that city and loot it. And that’s why they were passed up in the blessing of Jacob. The sin had horrible consequences.

In 2 Samuel, David’s son Amnon rapes a woman named Tamar who was a sister of Absalom, another of David’s sons. David had multiple wives, so the family dynamics were unconventional. Similar to what happened in Genesis, Absalom ends up murdering Amnon in retaliation.

Those two examples show you grievous of a sin it is to take advantage of another person sexually by force. It can happen in marriage, and it can happen outside marriage. In Deuteronomy 22, it says that a man who violates a woman by force when she belongs to another man was to be stoned to death. It says that sin is like a man attacking and murdering his neighbor. It's a wicked sin against someone, ignoring that they have been made in the image of God.

That law helps us see God’s heart for the weak and the vulnerable. He cares about the widow and the orphan. He loves them and protects them. And to take advantage of someone else who is weaker is an attack on the heart of God.

And so, after the prohibition of verse 6, Paul follows it up with a severe warning. And he reminds the Thessalonians that this isn’t the first time he’s told them.

Why shouldn’t any of us sin against a brother or a sister? Why shouldn’t we take advantage of someone else, particularly in the church of God? Verse 6: Because the Lord is an avenger in all these things.

Simeon and Levi and Absalom shouldn’t have taken personal revenge on the man who sinned against their sister, because God was going to do it. To be an avenger is to be the one who deals out justice. God is the Judge, and He is the Executioner, if you will. And He is the Father of whichever sister or brother you sin against. He’ll take care of it. He will come to the defense of the weak, and either His righteous wrath or His fatherly discipline will come down forcefully upon the offender. God will not let this go.

This is not revenge. This is divine justice. This is a God-ordained punishment for whoever would cross that line or take advantage of one of His own. “Vengeance is Mine,” says the Lord, “I will repay.”

Let me share with you how Jesus talked about this. Listen to how serious Jesus spoke about those who sin against one of his own. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record these words (Matt 18; Mark 9; Luke 17).

Jesus said: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

God will not ignore when someone violates one of his own. Practically speaking, God’s vengeance can come through the government; that’s what Romans 13 says. But more than that, and even if someone can escape an earthly punishment, God’s vengeance will come on the day of the Lord.

If your Bible is still open to Thessalonians, just go over a page or so to 2 Thessalonians chapter 1. Second Thessalonians, chapter 1, verse 6. Here’s what Paul says to a church that is suffering unjustly. Pay attention to this.

I’ll start in the middle of verse 6—God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, [7] and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels [8] in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. [9] They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

God doesn’t forget. God doesn’t ignore your sin. On way or another, He will deal with it.

Speaking more specifically on sexuality, Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

And just a few chapters before that, it said: The Lord will judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Some of you have experienced the anguish of being sinned against sexually. God sees that pain. He knows that pain, and He will have his vengeance. There’s nothing wrong in waiting for that day, because it will be for the glory of God.

In Revelation 6, after the world is united in its rebellion and immorality, the saints in heaven cry out: O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? And God’s response is, “Just a little longer.” Just a little longer.

And when we come to Revelation 19, the multitude in heaven cries out: Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants ... Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

We serve the God of vengeance. That’s what He’s called in Psalm 94. He is the God of vengeance, and He will defend His people.

For those of us who have trusted in Christ, we need to allow the fear of God and our love of God as well to compel us to holiness.

But what if, as you’ve been hearing God’s word, you recognize that you have sinned like this. What if you have tempted someone else toward sin, or pressured or encouraged them into sin, or forced them into something for your own greedy desires? Then what? Is there hope for you to escape the eternal vengeance of God?

Yes, there is. But there is only one hope, and that is in Jesus Christ. God may still show you mercy and forgiveness if you call out to Him, trusting in the One who bore the wrath of God on behalf of sinners and was raised in complete victory. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and turn from your sin, and God will have mercy on you.

Don’t rely on religious rituals. You don’t need some kind of ceremony to win God’s favor. The only thing you need is to have finished work of Christ applied to you, and that happens by the grace of God alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. You accept what God has done.

Adam and Eve came to God ashamed and frightened. They did what they could to cover the effects of their sin, but it wasn’t enough. Their human efforts weren’t enough. God knew it, and so did they. And so, God pronounced a curse on the world, but He also promised them victory one day. That’s the victory that we have in Jesus Christ.

God took Adam and Eve’s futile attempt to cover themselves with leaves, and He mercifully sacrificed an animal. That’s the first death recorded in the Bible. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. God provided a covering for their shame and their guilt and their fear. And He still does that today in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

More in First Thessalonians

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December 4, 2022

Progressing in Purity

November 6, 2022

God's Design for Sexuality