For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God 1 Thessalonians 4:2-5
Purity is a raging battle that, unfortunately, many are losing. David lost this battle as he committed adultery with Bathsheba. Solomon lost it as he had 1,000 wives and concubines to fulfill his lust. If we are going to win this battle, we must be strategic and disciplined. Winning is important to protect our lives, our families, and our churches, and most importantly to honor God.
How can we keep ourselves pure? How can we win the battle for purity?
In 1 Thessalonians 4:2-5, Paul writes to the Thessalonian church and tells them to “avoid sexual immorality.” Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul told the Corinthians to “flee sexual immorality.” He said, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.”
This is startling because with many other dangers in Scripture, we don’t get such a command. In James 4:7, we are told to “resist the devil” and he will flee from us. In Ephesians 6:12, Paul says that believers “wrestle” against powers and principalities, which refers to demons. With Satan and demons, we resist and wrestle, but when it comes to sexual immorality, we should avoid it and flee from it.
This demonstrates how dangerous sexual immorality is. When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife to commit adultery, he jumped out of the window to escape her. It is the same for us. This is a danger that we should not flirt with, enjoy on our TV, or fantasize about. It something that we must flee from at all cost.
It is for this reason that many stumble in this area and find themselves bound and unable to be set free. Sexual immorality is dangerous. Every other sin is outside the body, but when we commit sexual immorality, we sin against our own bodies. This sin affects one’s mind, body, spirit, and emotions. It can have drastic affects. It opens the door for physical disease and emotional baggage. It can even affect one’s sexual orientation. Those who have been sexually abused often grow up with perverse tendencies, whether that be towards the opposite sex or even children. Sexual immorality destroys homes, careers, friendships, and even one’s faith. It is so hazardous that our only recourse is to flee from it.
One might ask, “If it’s so dangerous why did God create it?” When God created everything, including sex, he said it was “good.” However, when the world was perverted by sin, sex gained the potential of being destructive. In the confines of a marriage relationship—fulfilling God’s original plan—sex is good and powerful. It creates intimacy and pleasure between a husband and wife and has the ability to lead to procreation. However, outside of that, it is destructive. In fact, in Romans 1, Paul said that one of the primary results of denying God is a distorted sexuality. When a nation, a community, or a person has turned away from God, it will typically be demonstrated through pervasive sexual immorality.
Romans 1:21-24 (ESV) says this:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
This is what we are seeing and experiencing in today’s culture and this is why it is such a battle. The world has denied God, and therefore, sexual immorality is rampant. This was also true for the early church including the Thessalonians.
Problem in Culture
The fact that Paul calls for the Thessalonians to “learn” how to control their bodies implies that many did not know how to control the lusts of their bodies (v. 4). Thessalonica was part of Greco-Roman culture in which sex was glorified. In that culture, when worshiping the false deities, one would have sex with the priest and priestess (religious prostitutes) of which there were thousands. This was normal family life, as sex was part of worship.
For the Greco-Roman mindset, marriage was not the primary avenue for gratifying sexual desires. Marriage was for social advancement and to provide an heir. By unifying two families, one could climb the social ladder. For a poor family, a beautiful daughter was like a meal ticket. To fulfill sexual desires, it was quite normal and acceptable for a man to have mistresses and concubines. The gratification of sexual desires was not the focus of marriage in that culture.
Also, in that culture homosexuality and bisexuality were rampant. In fact, it was considered strange for a man to prefer one sex over another. It was considered normal to enjoy both.[i]
Problem in Church
The pervasive sexual nature of the culture was in the church, and therefore, the Thessalonians needed to “learn” how to control their bodies. This was also true for the church of Corinth which was also part of the Greco-Roman culture. In 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, the implication is that some were still having sex with temple prostitutes. Paul said this to them:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” (ESV)
In addition, in chapter 5, a man was having sex with his “father’s wife” (1 Cor 5:1). The world’s sexual culture was in the church and they needed to learn how to keep their body’s pure.
Sex is also a problem for the modern day church, even though it is rarely talked about. It is a problem for children, youth, college students, adults, and even leadership. It is rampant. The enemy is aggressively attacking and defeating the church in this area. In the same way that sex was a problem in the early church, it is a problem for our churches.
In fact, in our culture, it may be even more pervasive. With the advent of the Internet, sex is more accessible now than any other generation. At a person’s whim, it can be watched on his or her phone at any moment. Statistics say that 70% of men age 18-24 watch porn and one out of three porn viewers are women. The average age for a child to first view porn is eleven years old. [ii]
Can we talk about sex? Can we talk about purity? If we don’t openly talk about this in the church, as Paul did, we cannot conquer it. And sadly, a lack of addressing this subject seems to reap the most consequences on our young people, who are even more susceptible to the influence of sexual culture.
The enemy is bringing a great assault against the church today in the area of purity, and sadly like the Thessalonians and the Corinthians, the church is losing. To win this battle, we must develop a battle plan. Better yet, we must adopt God’s Battle Plan in Scripture for purity. Through Scripture God trains and equips the man of God for all righteousness—including purity (2 Tim 3:16-17). In this study, we will consider twelve strategies for victory against sexual temptation. May God thoroughly equip you to stand in this evil day. Amen.
What ways have you seen the sexual immorality in our culture become even more pervasive?
How would you rate your level of victory in the battle against sexual temptation from 1-10? And why?
Paul said the Thessalonians must learn to control their bodies and yet doesn’t explain how. The implication is that they would learn from Scripture and the instruction of their leaders. What strategies have you learned that have helped in your fight to be pure?
What other questions or thoughts did you have about the section?
What ways can you pray in response? Take a second to pray as the Lord leads.