SANCTIFICATION VERSUS FORNICATION
In 4:1 Paul says, “For the rest therefore, brothers, we ask and entreat you in the Lord Jesus, that even as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, even as indeed you do walk, that you abound more.” In verse 3 Paul says that the will of God is our sanctification. This sanctification is versus fornication. In order to have a walk that pleases God, we need to be sanctified.
Nothing damages a believer as much as fornication. According to Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 6, fornication ruins a person’s body. Other sins may not damage us subjectively, but fornication damages our body, contaminates our entire being, and makes us utterly unholy. Moreover, fornication is used by God’s enemy to spoil the man God created for the fulfillment of His purpose. Therefore, fornication must be altogether abandoned. This is the reason Paul says in 4:3, “Abstain from fornication.” The word “abstain” is strong, and it indicates that we should run away from fornication. God’s will is to have us fully separated unto Himself, wholly sanctified for the fulfillment of His purpose. This requires that we abstain from fornication.
In verses 4 and 5 Paul continues, “That each one of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in the passion of lust, even as also the nations who do not know God.” To possess one’s vessel is to keep it, to preserve it. There are two schools of interpretation of the word vessel here; one refers the vessel to man’s body, as in 2 Corinthians 4:7; the other to his wife, as in 1 Peter 3:7. The context in this verse and the following one, with phrases “each one of you,” “in sanctification and honor,” and especially “not in the passion of lust,” does not justify the interpretation of the second school, but that of the first. The apostle considers man’s body here as his vessel, just as David did in 1 Samuel 21:5. In the same matter concerning the use of the body, both Paul and David consider man’s body as his vessel. To keep or preserve man’s vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, is the safeguard against committing fornication.
Sanctification refers more to a holy condition before God; honor, more to a respectable standing before man. Man was created for God’s purpose with a high standing, and marriage was ordained by God for the propagation of man to fulfill God’s purpose. Hence, marriage should be held in honor (Heb. 13:4). To abstain from fornication is not only to remain in a sanctified condition before God, but also to hold and keep a standing of honor before man. Whenever someone becomes involved in fornication, he is contaminated, and his sanctification is annulled. Moreover, he loses honor before man. Not even unbelievers honor those who commit fornication. Therefore, we must know how to possess, keep, preserve, our own body in sanctification toward God and in honor before man. We must be those who are sanctified unto God and those who have honor before man. In order to be such persons, we must absolutely abstain from fornication and not give ground for suspicion in this matter.
According to verse 5, we should not possess our body in the passion of lust as the nations who do not know God. Not knowing God is the basic reason for indulgence in the passion of lust.
In verse 6 Paul goes on to say, “That no one overstep and take advantage of his brother in the matter, because the Lord is the avenger concerning all these things, even as we also said before to you and solemnly charged.” Literally, the Greek word rendered “overstep” means to overpass limits, that is, overreach, transgress, go beyond. “Overstep…his brother” refers to adultery with the brother’s wife. In Greek “take advantage of” also means make a gain of; hence, defraud. By “the matter” Paul means the matter of fornication, mentioned in verse 3. In verse 6 Paul also says that the Lord is the avenger concerning these things, things such as overstepping and taking advantage of others. The Lord judges the fornicators and adulterers as an avenger, as a punisher, meting out justice.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 15, by Witness Lee)