I Thessalonians 4:3-8
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
Paul was writing this to Christians in the first century. He was calling them to live holy lives (set apart for God) in a culture where there was a great deal of immoral behavior that was accepted by society, but which went against God’s standards. Paul contrasts the believers call to live a holy and honorable life that is vastly different from the “passionate lust” that marked the life of the pagan. He warned that God would punish sexual sin and that to reject Paul’s teaching on this was to reject God.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for a young person or a new believer to navigate sexual morality in this age today. It’s gotta be tough. It was tough enough for me as I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s and there was plenty of confusion in society then, but at least the Church still gave a clear and for the most part unified message of what right and wrong was all about. But today, young adults are bombarded with images and messages about sexuality that are far different. So much that the Bible clearly speaks of as a departure from God’s path is considered normal by today’s society. To even question such things as premarital sex, homosexual activity, homosexual marriage, serial monogamy etc… is to be considered narrow, judgmental, or even a hate monger. So young people and those who become followers of Jesus Christ later in life face challenges in understanding and adapting to a Biblical world-view regarding sexuality. Exactly the way it was in the first century when Paul wrote this letter.
I note that Paul says that each of us must “learn to control [our] own body”. It’s a process of learning. There are difficult lessons to be learned. As most of us who have had to learn something new realize, learning is a process which takes time and seldom happens without mistakes. Those believers who are more seasoned in their walk with the Lord should remember this, and while teaching faithfulness to God to young and new believers should remember that is it is a process and be patient with those who are still learning. And even be patient with ourselves, for learning something so radically counter cultural is never easy and we are all capable of making mistakes. Truth must always be mixed with grace.
-Pastor Jeff Fletcher