A Prayer for Sexual Purity (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)


Big Idea: I pray that you will excel in holiness, be sexually pure, and desire God.

This is the sixth and final sermon in the series God Loves Sex. I’ve enjoyed this series, although it’s been challenging.

Today I want to finish off by asking what exactly I’ve been trying to accomplish in this series. It’s very simple, actually. I want to pray for you. I want to pray that three things will be true of you.

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I didn’t make these three things up. They come from a letter that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. It was written to a city in Greece that was a bustling place. Because it was a trade city, it had many of the vices associated with trade. The theater there was known for being sexually crude. When you arrived, you would find that there was lots of alcohol, gambling, and sex. Those were a major part of the economy. Young men were expected to have an active sex life with slaves, prostitutes, and lovers. Bisexuality was more common in this area than in other parts of the empire. Friendships between men might be cemented with a sexual relationship.

In other words, this was a fairly sexual place. In many ways, it was a place a lot like Liberty Village. As Paul writes to them, he instructs them on how to be sexually pure in a sex-crazed culture. I see three things in this passage that form the basis of my prayer for you today.

First: I pray that you will become radically holy.

Second: I pray that you will be sexually pure.

Third: I pray that you will base your holiness and purity on God.

First: I pray that you will become radically holy.

As we look at this passage, the first thing I pray for you is that you would be radically holy. I picture myself as a quarterback with a football, and as you run down the field, I’m telling you to go deep. Run to the end zone. We’re looking for a touchdown.

And that’s what we see in this passage as well. What we want, and what I’m praying for, isn’t that something small. I’m praying for something radical and transformative. Look at what Paul says in verse 1:

Finally, then, 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. (1 Thessalonians 4:1)

Notice the strength of the appeal: “we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus.” This isn’t, “Hey, guys, if you have the time, this would be worth checking out.” There’s an urgency to this request. The appeal isn’t just from Paul; he urges them, and us, in the Lord Jesus. What he says here is urgent and important.

What’s the appeal? He says that they’ve already learned how to walk and please God. In other words, he’s saying they already know how to conduct their lives in a holy way. They’re already doing a good job.

So what’s Paul going to ask them? He’s got nothing to criticize. They’re doing a good job. But he’s still got something urgent to say, and it’s this: “that you do so more and more.”

This is so important. We could spend all day on this one alone. Let me summarize what Paul is saying here in two words: don’t settle. You’re doing well already; don’t stop. Go the distance.

Paul actually uses two different words here, a verb and an adverb. He tells them to abound more. It’s interesting. Don’t just abound; keep going in your abounding. Don’t just overflow; keep pouring. Don’t just thrive; really thrive. If Paul was using the football metaphor, he would say, “Don’t just go deep; don’t just make the touchdown; keep running! Keep going!”

And this is what I want for you. I don’t want you just to become a little bit more holy. I really want you to thrive like you wouldn’t even believe. Don’t settle.

Don’t forget that Paul isn’t writing to super-saints. He’s writing to ordinary people. He’s writing to people who have ordinary jobs, who have to get up every morning and cook breakfast and go to work and get stuff done. He’s writing to singles who wish they were married, and married couples who are facing the stresses that married couples face. He’s writing to people who have struggles and doubts and questions and fears. And he wants them to not just become holy, but to keep going and going in their holiness.

It reminds me of what C.S. Lewis once wrote:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

That’s my prayer for you. If you are walking with God, keep it up! Urgently pursue more of God. He wants you to overflow, thrive, and abound in your holiness. He’s after your radical transformation.

Second: I pray that you will be sexually pure.

Don’t forget where these people were living. Many of them had sexual histories. They faced sexual temptation every single day. These were people who lived in the real world, just like we do. And Paul says:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 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; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7)

So here’s what I pray for you: that as you live your life, and face temptation every single day, I want to pray that you will be sexually pure. This is God’s will for you.

What does this look like? Paul mentions four things:

Abstaining from sexual immorality (4:3) — As I mentioned, there was lots of opportunity to get into trouble in Thessalonica. So Paul says to abstain, to stay away from sexual immorality. The word that Paul uses for sexual immorality means any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. So this includes term includes pretty much any and all sexual relationships outside of marriage.

For many in Thessalonica, and for many today as well, this would have been a standard they’d never considered before. And yet Paul says that this is God’s will for them. It’s God’s will for us as well.

Knowing how to control our bodies in holiness and honor (4:4) — Paul says that he wants them to know how to control their bodies with holiness and honor, in a way that pleases God. Back then, as in some cultures today, male babies were preferred to female. Female babies were sometimes abandoned to die because of the financial burden that they would have caused. As a result, there was a shortage of women. Finding a wife wasn’t easy because there wasn’t a woman for every man. There were a lot of options for prostitutes that would have been available, which Paul had already said to avoid.

So what’s a hot-blooded male to do? Paul says: learn to control your body. We’ve already seen that God calls all of us — married or single, gay or straight — to self-denial and obedience. And here Paul makes the case that we need to get to learn how to control our sexual desires, rather than having them control us.

Avoiding stereotypical Gentile passions (4:5) — Paul says, “not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” In other words, Paul is saying that Christians shouldn’t conform to the sexual ethics of culture. We should be different.

Eugene Peterson shares a story about a completely unchurched young woman who started attending his church and made a genuine commitment to follow Jesus. She started to grow, study Scripture, and attend worship. But there was one thing that puzzled Peterson: the young woman continued to live with her boyfriend (as she had done for years), and she was uninterested in marriage. Peterson says:

She told me all this without apology and not as a confession but quite casually, as we were getting acquainted with one another. I wondered if I should say anything. Surely she knew that the Christian way had some sexual implications for the way you lived. She was in church each Sunday …. I assumed that she would eventually notice. I waited for her to bring up the subject.
One day on impulse I said, “We have been having these conversations for seven months. Astrid, would you do something for me?”
“Sure. What is it?”
“Live celibate for the next six months.”
Surprised, she said, “Why would I do that?”
“…. Trust me. I think it’s important.”
I learned later that her boyfriend moved out before the week was over. A month later when she came to see me, she didn’t mention it. But the following month she brought it up: “When you asked me to live celibate for six months, I had no idea what you were up to. You asked me to trust you, and so I did. It’s been two months now, and I think I understand what you were doing. I feel so free; I’ve never felt so ‘myself’ before, never felt so at home with myself. I thought everybody did what I was doing—all my friends did. I just thought this was the American way. And now I am noticing so many other things about my relations with others—they seem so much more clean and whole. So uncluttered. And do you know what? I have been thinking that I might want to get married someday. Thank you.”
The celibacy decision survived the six-month mark and continued for two more years, at which time she and her fiancé exchanged vows, and I blessed their Christian marriage.

It makes no sense to our culture, but that’s what Paul says. Live differently than culture. You’ll see the difference.

Not mistreating our “brothers and sisters” (4:6) — This one is really interesting. Paul says “ that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.” I’ve always wondered what this means. It’s only this week that I put in the time and really tried to understand what Paul was saying.

So here’s what Paul is saying. We tend to think that what we do is our own business, and nobody else’s. It’s none of your business what happens in my personal life. But Paul says this isn’t the case. How we handle our sexual purity affects more people than we realize. It affects us, of course, but it also affects our spouse, if we have one, our fiancé, if we have one, our families, and other believers. Sexual sin isn’t just about two people. It’s about their relationship with God, and with the wider community as well.

So this is my prayer for you. It’s a prayer because what Paul calls us to is impossible on our own strength. I pray that you would be radically holy. And I pray that you would be sexually pure in a very sexually immoral culture. I pray that you will know and enjoy the freedom that comes from living this way.


Third: I pray that you will base your holiness and purity on God.

Paul writes:

Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:8)

Two quick thoughts, and then we’re done.

Paul points out that God gives us his Holy Spirit. I’m so glad he included this. There’s not a chance that we could ever live the way Paul has described apart from the Holy Spirit. Sexual purity doesn’t come naturally to anyone. Lean into the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life. You are not alone. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have not only been forgiven, but you have help. Let’s keep looking to what Jesus has done for us, and what God has given us.

But Paul reminds us that all of this, in the end, has to do with God more than anything else. I want to end on this note. Sex isn’t just about sex. It’s about God. It’s about a God who loves us.

I said earlier that all of us are complicated. We have histories. We have hurts and regrets, and some of them are deep. We have longings. We want to love and be loved, and we know something of the beauty and power of sex, but we’ve also been hurt. We want to enjoy the beauty of this powerful part of our lives, and we also need understanding for our complicated feelings. And we also need healing.

And it’s here that we realize that, in the end, it’s all about God, and wanting to please him in this and every area of our life.

What will change us? Not more head knowledge. Not more willpower. What will change us most is a bigger view of God: more delight, more hunger for him, more reliance on his Spirit.

I’ll close with these words from John Piper:

We must fight fire with fire. The fire of lust’s pleasures must be fought with the fire of God’s pleasures. If we try to fight the fire of lust with prohibitions and threats alone— even the terrible warnings of Jesus— we will fail. We must fight it with the massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the conflagration of holy satisfaction.

This is my greatest prayer for you: not just that you’ll be radically holy and sexually pure, but that you’ll get caught up in the conflagration of God’s love for you, a love that changes everything.

A Prayer for Sexual Purity (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada