In this chapter the apostle gives earnest exhortations to abound in
holiness, with a caution against uncleanness, enforced with several
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8.
He then mentions the great duties of brotherly love, and quietness with
industry in our callings,
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12.
And concludes with comforting those who mourned for their relations and
friends that died in the Lord,
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
Exhortations to Holiness; Caution against Impurity.
A. D. 51.
1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you
by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to
walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.
2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.
3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that
ye should abstain from fornication:
4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel
in sanctification and honour;
5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which
know not God:
6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any
matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we
also have forewarned you and testified.
7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto
8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who
hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
Here we have,
I. An exhortation to abound in holiness, to abound more and more
in that which is good,
1 Thessalonians 4:1,2.
We may observe,
1. The manner in which the exhortation is given--very affectionately.
The apostle entreats them as brethren; he calls them so, and loved them
as such. Because his love to them was very great, he exhorts them very
earnestly: We beseech and exhort you. The apostle was unwilling
to take any denial, and therefore repeats his exhortation again and
2. The matter of his exhortation--that they would abound more and more
in holy walking, or excel in those things that are good, in good works.
Their faith was justly famed abroad, and they were already examples to
other churches: yet the apostle would have them yet further to excel
others, and to make further progress in holiness. Note,
(1.) Those who most excel others fall short of perfection. The very
best of us should forget those things which are behind, and reach
forth unto those things which are before.
(2.) It is not enough that we abide in the faith of the gospel, but we
must abound in the work of faith. We must not only persevere to the
end, but we should grow better, and walk more evenly and closely with
3. The arguments with which the apostle enforces his exhortation.
(1.) They had been informed of their duty. They knew their Master's
will, and could not plead ignorance as an excuse. Now as faith, so
knowledge, is dead without practice. They had received of those who had
converted them to Christianity, or been taught of them, how they
ought to walk. Observe, The design of the gospel is to teach men
not only what they should believe, but also how they ought to live; not
so much to fill men's minds with notions as to regulate their temper
and behaviour. The apostle taught them how to walk, not how to talk. To
talk well without living well will never bring us to heaven: for the
character of those who are in Christ Jesus is this: They walk not
after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
(2.) Another argument is that the apostle taught and exhorted them in
the name, or by the authority, of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was
Christ's minister and ambassador, declaring to them what was the will
and command of the Lord Jesus.
(3.) Another argument is this. Herein they would please God. Holy
walking is most pleasing to the holy God, who is glorious in
holiness. This ought to be the aim and ambition of every Christian,
to please God and to be accepted of him. We should not be
men-pleasers, nor flesh-pleasers, but should walk so as to please God.
(4.) The rule according to which they ought to walk and act--the
commandments they had given them by the Lord Jesus Christ, which
were the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, because given
by authority and direction from him and such as were agreeable to his
will. The apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ were only commissioned by
him to teach men to observe all things whatsoever he had commanded
Though they had great authority from Christ, yet that was to teach men
what Christ had commanded, not to give forth commandments of their own.
They did not act as lords over God's heritage
(1 Peter 5:3),
nor should any do so that pretend to be their successors. The apostle
could appeal to the Thessalonians, who knew what commandments he gave
them, that they were no other than what he had received from the Lord
II. A caution against uncleanness, this being a sin directly contrary
to sanctification, or that holy walking to which he so earnestly
exhorts them. This caution is expressed, and also enforced by many
1. It is expressed in these words: That you should abstain from
(1 Thessalonians 4:3),
by which we are to understand all uncleanness whatsoever, either in a
married or unmarried state. Adultery is of course included, though
fornication is particularly mentioned. And other sorts of uncleanness
are also forbidden, of which it is a shame even to speak, though they
are done by too many in secret. All that is contrary to chastity in
heart, speech, and behaviour, is contrary to the command of God in the
decalogue, and contrary to that holiness which the gospel requires.
2. There are several arguments to enforce this caution. As,
(1.) This branch of sanctification in particular is the will of God,
1 Thessalonians 4:3.
It is the will of God in general that we should be holy, because he
that called us is holy, and because we are chosen unto salvation
through the sanctification of the Spirit; and not only does God
require holiness in the heart, but also purity in our bodies, and that
we should cleanse ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and
2 Corinthians 7:1.
Whenever the body is, as it ought to be, devoted to God, and dedicated
and set apart for him, it should be kept clean and pure for his
service; and, as chastity is one branch of our sanctification, so this
is one thing which God commands in his law, and what his grace effects
in all true believers.
(2.) This will be greatly for our honour: so much is plainly implied,
1 Thessalonians 4:4.
Whereas the contrary will be a great dishonour. And his reproach
shall not be wiped away,
The body is here called the vessel of the soul, which dwells therein
1 Samuel 21:5),
and it must be kept pure from defiling lusts. Every one should be
careful in this matter, as he values his own honour and will not be
contemptible on this account, that his inferior appetites and passions
gain not the ascendant, tyrannizing over his reason and conscience, and
enslaving the superior faculties of his soul. What can be more
dishonourable than for a rational soul to be enslaved by bodily
affections and brutal appetites?
(3.) To indulge the lust of concupiscence is to live and act like
heathens? Even as the Gentiles who know not God,
1 Thessalonians 4:5.
The Gentiles, and especially the Grecians, were commonly guilty of some
sins of uncleanness which were not so evidently forbidden by the light
of nature. But they did not know God, nor his mind and will, so well as
Christians know, and should know, this his will, namely our
sanctification in this branch of it. It is not so much to be
wondered at, therefore, if the Gentiles indulge their fleshly appetites
and lusts; but Christians should not walk as unconverted Gentiles,
in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings,
(1 Peter 4:3),
because those who are in Christ have crucified the flesh with its
affections and lusts.
(4.) The sin of uncleanness, especially adultery, is a great piece of
injustice that God will be the avenger of; so we may understand those
words, That no man go beyond or defraud his brother
(1 Thessalonians 4:6),
in any matter--en to pragmati, in this
matter of which the apostle is speaking in the preceding and following
verses, namely, the sin of uncleanness. Some understand these words as
a further warning and caution against injustice and oppression, all
fraud and deceit in our dealings with men, which are certainly
criminal, and contrary to the gospel. And Christians should not impose
upon the ignorance and necessity of those they deal with, and so go
beyond them, nor should they by equivocations or lying arts defraud
them; and although this may be practised by some and lie long
undiscovered, and so go unpunished among men, yet the righteous God
will render a recompence. But the meaning may rather be to show the
injustice and wrong that in many cases are done by the sin of
uncleanness. Not only are fornication and other acts of uncleanness
sins against his own body who commits them
(1 Corinthians 6:18),
not only are they very injurious to the sinner himself both in soul and
body, but sometimes they are very injurious, and no less than
defrauding, acts of injustice to others, particularly to those who are
joined together in the marriage covenant and to their posterity. And,
as this sin is of such a heinous nature, so it follows that God will be
the avenger of it. Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge,
This the apostle had forewarned and testified by his gospel, which, as
it contained exceedingly great and precious promises, so also it
revealed from heaven the wrath of God against all ungodliness and
unrighteousness among men,
(5.) The sin of uncleanness is contrary to the nature and design of our
Christian calling: For God hath called us not unto uncleanness, but
1 Thessalonians 4:7.
The law of God forbids all impurity, and the gospel requires the
greatest purity; it calls us from uncleanness unto holiness.
(6.) The contempt therefore of God's law and gospel is the contempt of
God himself: He that despises despises God, not man only. Some
might possibly make light of the precepts of purity and holiness,
because they heard them from men like themselves; but the apostle lets
them know that they were God's commands, and to violate them was no
less than to despise God. He adds, God hath given Christians his
Spirit, intimating that all sorts of uncleanness do in an especial
manner grieve the Holy Spirit, and will provoke him to withdraw from
us; and also the Holy Spirit is given unto us to arm us against these
sins, and to help us to mortify these deeds of the body, that we may
A. D. 51.
9 But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto
you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
10 And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all
Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more
11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business,
and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
12 That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and
that ye may have lack of nothing.
In these words the apostle mentions the great duties,
I. Of brotherly love. This he exhorts them to increase in yet more and
more. The exhortation is introduced, not with a compliment, but with a
commendation, because they were remarkable in the exercise of it, which
made it less needful that he should write to them about it,
1 Thessalonians 4:9.
Thus by his good opinion of them he insinuated himself into their
affections, and so made way for his exhortation to them. Note, We
should take notice of that in others which is good, to their praise,
that by so doing we may lay engagements upon them to abound therein
more and more. Observe,
1. What it is that the apostle commends in them. It was not so much
their own virtue as God's grace; yet he takes notice of the evidence
they gave of the grace of God in them.
(1.) It was God's grace that he took special notice of: that God had
taught them this good lesson: You yourselves are taught of God to
love one another,
1 Thessalonians 4:9.
Whoever does that which is good is taught of God to do it, and God must
have the glory. All who are savingly taught of God are taught this
lesson, to love one another. This is the livery of Christ's family.
Note also, The teaching of the Spirit exceeds the teaching of men; and,
as no man should teach contrary to what God teaches, so none can teach
so effectually as he teaches; and men's teaching is fain and useless
unless God teach also.
(2.) The Thessalonians gave good evidence of their being taught of God
by their love to the brethren in all Macedonia,
1 Thessalonians 4:10.
They not only loved those of their own city and society, or such as
were near them and just of their own sentiments, but their love was
extensive. And a true Christian's is so to all the saints, though
distant from him in place, and differing from him in some opinions or
practices of less moment.
2. The exhortation itself is to increase more and more in this great
grace and duty of brotherly love,
1 Thessalonians 4:10.
Though these Thessalonians had in some sense no need of an exhortation
to brotherly love, as if it were wholly wanting, yet they must be
exhorted to pray for more, and labour for more. There are none on this
side heaven who love in perfection. Those who are eminent in this or
any other grace have need of increase therein as well as of
perseverance unto the end.
II. Of quietness and industry in their callings. Observe,
1. The apostle exhorts to these duties: that they should study to be
1 Thessalonians 4:11.
It is the most desirable thing to have a calm and quiet temper, and to
be of a peaceable and quiet behaviour. This tends much to our own and
others' happiness; and Christians should study how to be quiet. We
should be ambitious and industrious how to be calm and quiet in our
minds, in patience to possess our own souls, and to be quiet towards
others; or of a meek and mild, a gentle and peaceable disposition, not
given to strife, contention, or division. Satan is very busy to
disquiet us; and we have that in our own hearts that disposes us to be
disquiet; therefore let us study to be quiet. It follows, Do your
own business. When we go beyond this, we expose ourselves to a
great deal of inquietude. Those who are busy-bodies, meddling in other
men's matters, generally have but little quiet in their own minds and
cause great disturbances among their neighbours; at least they seldom
mind the other exhortation, to be diligent in their own calling, to
work with their own hands; and yet this was what the apostle
commanded them, and what is required of us also. Christianity does not
discharge us from the work and duty of our particular callings, but
teaches us to be diligent therein.
2. The exhortation is enforced with a double argument; namely,
(1.) So we shall live creditably. Thus we shall walk honestly, or
decently and creditably, towards those that are without,
1 Thessalonians 4:12.
This will be to act as becomes the gospel, and will gain a good report
from those that are strangers, yea, enemies to it. Note, It is a great
ornament to religion when the professors of it are of meek and quiet
spirits, diligent to do their own business, and not busy-bodies in
other men's matters.
(2.) We shall live comfortably, and have lack of nothing,
1 Thessalonians 4:12.
People often by their slothfulness bring themselves into narrow
circumstances, and reduce themselves to great straits, and are liable
to many wants, when such as are diligent in their own business live
comfortably and have lack of nothing. They are not burdensome to their
friends, nor scandalous to strangers. They earn their own bread, and
have the greatest pleasure in so doing.
State of Departed Saints.
A. D. 51.
13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren,
concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as
others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so
them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we
which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall
not prevent them which are asleep.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout,
with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and
the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up
together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air:
and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
In these words the apostle comforts the Thessalonians who mourned for
the death of their relations and friends that died in the Lord. His
design is to dissuade them from excessive grief, or inordinate sorrow,
on that account. All grief for the death of friends is far from
being unlawful; we may weep at least for ourselves if we do not weep
for them, weep for own loss, though it may be their fain. Yet we must
not be immoderate in our sorrows, because,
I. This looks as if we had no hope,
1 Thessalonians 4:13.
It is to act too much like the Gentiles, who had no hope of a better
life after this; whereas we Christians, who have a most sure hope, the
hope of eternal life after this, which God who cannot lie hath
promised us, should moderate all our joys and our sorrows on
account of any worldly thing. This hope is more than enough to balance
all our griefs upon account of any of the crosses of the present
II. This is an effect of ignorance concerning those who are dead,
1 Thessalonians 4:13.
There are some things which we cannot be ignorant of concerning those
that are asleep; for the land they are removed to is a land of
darkness, which we know but little of and have no correspondence with.
To go among the dead is to go among we know not whom, and to live we
know not how. Death is an unknown thing, and the state of the dead, or
the state after death, we are much in the dark about; yet there are
some things concerning those especially who die in the Lord that we
need not, and ought not, to be ignorant of; and, if these things be
really understood and duly considered, they will be sufficient to allay
our sorrow concerning them.
1. They sleep in Jesus. They are asleep,
1 Thessalonians 4:13.
They have fallen asleep in Christ,
1 Corinthians 15:18.
Death does not annihilate them. It is but a sleep to them. It is their
rest, and undisturbed rest. They have retired out of this troublesome
world, to rest from all their labours and sorrows, and they sleep in
1 Thessalonians 4:14.
Being still in union with him, they sleep in his arms and are under his
special care and protection. Their souls are in his presence, and their
dust is under his care and power; so that they are not lost, nor are
they losers, but great gainers by death, and their removal out of this
world is into a better.
2. They shall be raised up from the dead, and awakened out of their
sleep, for God will bring them with him,
1 Thessalonians 4:14.
They then are with God, and are better where they are than when they
were here; and when God comes he will bring them with him. The
doctrine of the resurrection and the second coming of Christ is a great
antidote against the fear of death and inordinate sorrow for the death
of our Christian friends; and this doctrine we have a full assurance
of, because we believe that Jesus died and rose again,
1 Thessalonians 4:14.
It is taken for granted that as Christians they knew and believed this.
The death and resurrection of Christ are fundamental articles of the
Christian religion, and give us hope of a joyful resurrection; for
Christ, having risen from the dead, has become the first fruits of
those that slept; and therefore those who have fallen asleep in
him have not perished nor are lost,
1 Corinthians 15:18,20.
His resurrection is a full confirmation of all that is said in the
gospel, or by the word of the Lord, which has brought life and
immortality to light.
3. Their state and condition shall be glorious and happy at the second
coming of Christ. This the apostle informs the Thessalonians of by
the word of the Lord
(1 Thessalonians 4:15),
by divine revelation from the Lord Jesus; for though the resurrection
of the dead, and a future state of blessedness, were part of the creed
of the Old-Testament saints, yet they are much more clearly revealed in
and by the gospel. By this word of the Lord we know,
(1.) That the Lord Jesus will come down from heaven in all the pomp and
power of the upper world
(1 Thessalonians 4:16):
The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout. He
ascended into heaven after his resurrection, and passed through these
material heavens into the third heaven, which must retain him till the
restitution of all things; and then he will come again, and appear in
his glory. He will descend from heaven into this our air,
1 Thessalonians 4:17.
The appearance will be with pomp and power, with a shout--the
shout of a king, and the power and authority of a mighty king and
conqueror, with the voice of the archangel; an innumerable
company of angels will attend him. Perhaps one, as general of
those hosts of the Lord, will give notice of his approach, and the
glorious appearance of this great Redeemer and Judge will be proclaimed
and ushered in by the trump of God. For the trumpet shall sound,
and this will awaken those that sleep in the dust of the earth, and
will summon all the world to appear. For,
(2.) The dead shall be raised: The dead in Christ shall rise
(1 Thessalonians 4:16),
before those who are found alive at Christ's coming shall be
changed; and so it appears that those who shall then be found
alive shall not prevent those that are asleep,
1 Thessalonians 4:15.
The first care of the Redeemer in that day will be about his dead
saints; he will raise them before the great change passes on those that
shall be found alive: so that those who did not sleep in death will
have no greater privilege or joy at that day than those who fell asleep
(3.) Those that shall be found alive will then be changed. They shall
be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in
1 Thessalonians 4:17.
At, or immediately before, this rapture into the clouds, those who are
alive will undergo a mighty change, which will be equivalent to dying.
This change is so mysterious that we cannot comprehend it: we know
little or nothing of it,
1 Corinthians 15:51.
Only, in the general, this mortal must put on immortality, and
these bodies will be made fit to inherit the kingdom of God, which
flesh and blood in its present state are not capable of. This change
will be in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye
(1 Corinthians 15:52),
in the very instant, or not long after the raising up of those that
sleep in Jesus. And those who are raised, and thus changed, shall meet
together in the clouds, and there meet with their Lord, to congratulate
him on his coming, to receive the crown of glory he will then bestow
upon them, and to be assessors with him in judgment, approving and
applauding the sentence he will then pass upon the prince of the power
of the air, and all the wicked, who shall be doomed to destruction with
the devil and his angels.
(4.) Here is the bliss of the saints at that day: they shall be ever
with the Lord,
1 Thessalonians 4:17.
It will be some part of their felicity that all the saints shall meet
together, and remain together for ever; but the principal happiness of
heaven is this, to be with the Lord, to see him, live with him,
and enjoy him, for ever. This should comfort the saints upon the death
of their friends, that, although death has made a separation, yet their
souls and bodies will meet again; we and they shall meet together
again: we and they shall meet together again: we and they with all the
saints shall meet our Lord, and be with him for ever, no more to be
separated wither from him or from one another for ever. And the apostle
would have us comfort one another with these words,
1 Thessalonians 4:18.
We should endeavour to support one another in times of sorrow, not
deaden one another's spirits, nor weaken one another's hands, but
should comfort one another; and this may be done by serious
consideration and discourse on the many good lessons to be learned from
the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, the second coming of
Christ, and the glory of the saints in that day.
Matthew Henry "Verse by Verse Commentary for '1 Thessalonians' Matthew Henry Bible Commentary".