Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

Restraint & Unrestrained

1Thessalonians 4:1-12

At the end of Chapter 3, Paul prays for the church in Thessalonica. He prays for them in two ways:

  1. That they would experience an overflow of God’s agape love, both inwardly for one another in the fellowship, and outwardly to those in the culture around them. But that love had a character about it, and that leads to his second prayer:
  2. That they would become “blameless” in their hearts – that a “holiness” would come about before God, keeping in mind that when Jesus returns, He will reveal all, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Who we are and what we do as disciples of Jesus matters. The deeds done in the Spirit will be revealed so it’s something to pay important attention to. And that forms the first part of Chapter 4. Paul basically expands on his prayers of internal holiness and external agape love.

1 – 3a

In essence, Paul is saying: “While I was with you, we spent some time discussing the type of life you are to live as a Christian and as a representative of Jesus in this age. You’re doing it, but we need to take it to the next level.” The Christian life is not a one and done experience. When you receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior you receive a new heart—the unredeemed heart of stone is replaced with a living heart that possesses eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:17 & Ezekiel 36:26). You are forgiven and if you died right then and there you would go to heaven. But you have a new heart inside an old body with an old mind. Peter called the body a “tent” (2 Peter 1:14) that would be laid aside eventually.  Paul calls the leftover part of us an “old man” that needs to be constantly crucified (Romans 6:6-23).

As a believer in Jesus your mind goes through a process of change. Paul described it in Romans 12:2 as no longer being shaped by the way this age thinks but being transformed into how God thinks—a process that takes place by a “renewing” of your mind. As a result: (2 Cor 3:18) “We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Paul says, “you know what commands we gave you”. There is a way of thinking and living that is like the character of Jesus. Paul wants them to do that and “even more.” He characterizes this as “God’s will.” God wants us to be transformed. He wants us to reflect His character to a dying world. This process of change is called “sanctification.” The Greek word can also be translated “holiness.” Holiness is nothing more than thinking, saying and doing things just as God would think, say, and do them.

Specifically, in this letter, Paul addresses one part of the character of God that was definitely not contained in the cultural norms of Thessalonica and thus influenced the church there, and focuses on it in the next five and half verses. But notice first: sanctification is what God wants. He wants us to be transformed. And He will help us in that effort if we will cooperate with Him.

3b – 5

Paul picks one behavior to focus on, but it is by no means the totality of what it means to be transformed. He focuses on sexual purity in part, I believe, because it is a powerful force in us as humans and has powerful impact on relationships. In short, sexual immorality is when you have sexual relations with anyone other than your wife or husband. Jesus expanded that definition to mean in your mind as well as with your body. But I think having physical intimacy with someone outside of marriage is particularly in view. Why? Because in that culture sexual promiscuity was not a big deal. They even had churches you could go to where sex was part of the worship service.

Paul says he wants to help know how to “control his own body in sanctification and honor.” In other words: to be like God and in the process honor God. In contrast, those that don’t know God are led about by their lustful desires. This “control” does two things.

  1. It assists in our transformation
  2. It is a strong witness that something is different with you who are walking with God.

I’m going to broaden this out in a bit but let’s follow the thought through.

6 – 8

Sexual immorality defrauds the other party. If it’s a man sleeping with another man’s wife—then he is defrauding that man of a pure relationship according to the way God’s kingdom works. You are stealing something from your brother or sister. And God’s Law says: “Thou shalt not steal”. Paul gives two reasons for paying attention to this:

  1. God will judge the offense. He doesn’t just sweep it under the carpet. If you already a Christian it doesn’t mean you lose your salvation, but it does mean you will have to account for it and that there will be consequences in this age. (Romans 14:12)
  2. We are supposed to be different. We have a new spirit, the Holy Spirit in us. So we should not mix the ways of this age with the ways of God’s Spirit.

This is the “stop doing this” portion of Paul’s exhortation. It’s followed by the “instead, do this” part.

9 – 10

What we’re seeing here is a contrast. The Christian is to be different than the culture. The culture accepts sexual immorality, Christians should not. Instead, Paul wants them to exhibit “brotherly love” which is the Greek word Philadelphia. Instead of focusing on being like the culture around you, Paul wants them to focus on increasing certain characteristics of brotherly love, which he enumerates next.

11 – 12

It’s interesting to me that Paul describes brotherly love (for your fellow Christians) in this way. Put effort towards leading a quiet life, where you mind your own business, work hard, and earn your way. What great practical advice. Don’t be ostentatious, don’t be a busy-body, and don’t overly depend on others to provide for you. This could have to do with some who thought the return of the Lord was so near that they simply stopped working, and when they ran out of money had to depend on the charity of others. Paul himself showed a better way by working as a tent-maker among them.

So why? Paul says this will be a witness for outsiders. Christians aren’t loafers. In fact, we are to be good citizens of the place we find ourselves.


I think what I see here is an example of restraint. Part of the transformation of our character is that we can restrain from doing certain things and be unrestrained in others. In this case, we control our sexual desires but take the brakes off love and responsible living.

This could be applied to many parts of our character.

James says that if we can control our mouths we can control our whole body! (James 3:1-12). Not doing what is outside of God’s character and doing what is in His character is what it’s all about. So, what forces try to move us out of control and how do we handle them?

  • Emotion

Emotion is a powerful motivator. It’s also very complicated. Your emotional state can be influenced by several factors including past traumas in your life, remnants of the old nature, your environment, etc. Now I’m certainly not suggesting we need to become like Mr. Spock and be devoid of emotion – not at all. But unlike God, we often become the victims of our emotions—they rule us, rather than the other way around. How to deal with emotions? 1. Be aware of them 2. Submit them to God. Emotions aren’t good or bad, they just are. But they can be an indicator. If you find yourself feeling a strong emotion about something—test it, look at it, and see if there is anything else there that might be coming from you, rather than God.

  • Chemistry (hormones, blood sugar, etc.)

We live in flesh and blood bodies right now—subject to a fallen world. This means that something as hidden as hormones can influence your ability to control your words, thoughts, and behaviors. Just ask any teenager. Okay, maybe as their parents. It’s helpful for us to be aware of body chemistry’s influence over us.

  • Temptation

Satan plays on things like our history, our emotion, and even chemistry to suggest to us doing saying or thinking things not in the way God thinks, speaks, or acts. 1) we need to recognize when we are being tempted. 2) we need to submit the temptations to God and ask for His Word and His strength. Often, the temptation comes in the form of taking a shortcut to fulfil a desire. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that with the temptation comes a “way of escape.” So pray for that!

  • Cultural influence

Cultures ebb and flow. Cultural mores change often. We’ve seen many such changes in the United States over the last 50 or so years. There is pressure to conform to the culture. We fight that pressure by 1) focusing on the universal truths of God’s Word but 2) making sure we are majoring on the majors. Is dancing really from the Devil? Really?

  • Pressure from friends & co-workers

This is really related to cultural pressure but on a more interpersonal level. You will be pulled by those you hang out with to be like them. We think that we either need to “go along to get along” or become a pariah and an outcast. It doesn’t have to be that way. You, like Daniel, can represent your God faithfully but still be relatable. (1 Peter 4:1-6)

  • Living by sight and not by trust

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that “we live by faith and not by sight.” Often, though, the opposite is true. If you go by what you see around you, the circumstances and realities, you will be influenced to not trust God and act in ways that may be counter to God’s will.

In general, seek ways to understand and then be transformed into God’s character—focusing on giving out of yourself in love to others.

I conclude by quoting what one of my favorite passages as a test to help us know whether what we are feeling is from the flesh or from God’s Spirit:

Galatians 5:16

16 I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious:[b][c] sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21 envy,[d] drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith,[e] 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.25 Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. 26 We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.