Sources of Teaching on Morality
The first two verses of 1 Thessalonians 4 pertain to Paul’s instructions through v12. As I mention in my sermon, Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians is that they need to continue doing exactly what they have been doing in their lives so far, i.e. conducting themselves in a way that is pleasing to God.
And, importantly, this isn’t just Paul’s opinion about what they need to be doing. In v2, he appeals to their past knowledge, but in so doing he directs their attention to the authority of that content. The instructions which Paul gave to the Thessalonians, he gave through the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This observation is worth addressing more fully because the implication of it is that there is a specific and authoritative source of teaching that reveals to us how we are to conduct our lives so that they might be pleasing to God. When we consider how we are to know God’s will for our lives, we must look to the apostolic teaching, which itself is part of the whole counsel of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Then we will be well-equipped to know how to live God-pleasing lives.
Importantly, Paul’s point in these verses is that the source of his teaching is external to us and not attached to the surrounding culture. In the first place, this means that we will not find a reliable guide for God pleasing living if we look inwardly. To glorify God, we must listen to how God has called us to live for him. To be sure, we have sanctified consciences that guide us in our lives, but our consciences do not produce the standard for our living, nor are they static so that we may always rely on our conscience. No, we need God’s Word informing our consciences regularly in order to know with certainty how we might please God.
Secondly, there is an implication here that the source of authoritative teaching is not attached to the surround culture. That is to say, just as the source of authoritative teaching is external to us, it is also external to the corporate and constructive efforts of humanity, i.e. culture. That we must look elsewhere than the culture for authoritative teaching on morality and many other elements of living a God-pleasing life is made evident later in 1 Thessalonians 4. In vv4 and 5, Paul makes a contrast between self-control in holiness and honor and the passions of lust of the Gentiles. The key problem with the Gentiles—understood culturally, not ethnically—that makes this contrast work is that they are ignorant of God. They are driven by the passions of lust because they do not know God and his will for their lives. This then drives home the importance of seeking to follow the will of God by consulting his own authoritative teaching on such matters.
That, then, raises a question for us as the church: by whom will the next generation be taught about sexual morality and self-control? Will it be the culture, “the Gentiles who do not know God”? To put a finer point on it, will social media, magazines, or unbelieving friends be the source of teaching for the next generation? If it is the culture that becomes the primary source of teaching on morality for the next generation, then we shouldn’t be surprised when the next generation pushes back against the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
But if the church, and by that I mean the members of the body of Christ that includes but is not limited to the elders, steps up to become the instrument for pointing the next generation to the Scriptures as the source of authoritative teaching on morality, then we should expect that the next generation will have a certain amount of resilience to the unceasing onslaught of anti-Christian teaching about sex, sexual desires, and sexuality. To be sure, the church will not save the next generation—Christ by his Spirit will—but this does not mean that the church can be passive in its duty to disciple the next generation by using the good deposit entrusted to us.
To be sure, it is impossible to completely avoid the messages of social media, magazines, and unbelieving friends that run counter to the will of God, but it is possible to offer a solid, and ultimately more fulfilling, foundation in the face of the relentless onslaught of hyper-sexuality in our culture. Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4 are an encouragement to us to be diligent and active in declaring the whole counsel of God to the next generation so that they, too, might give glory to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.