This week we are gathering to discuss 1 Thessalonians 3:1-4:12. In 4:1-12, Paul gives an exhortation to purity and moral living. Malherbe has an insightful analysis of this exhortation and its relationship to the contemporary philosophical tradition. If you have time, please read pp. 60-64 of Chapter 4 of Paul and the Popular Philosophers. In his analysis of this section, Malherbe writes that Paul combines the philosophical moral tradition and precepts with a Jewish/Christian theological basis for that tradition. For example, in verses 4-5, Paul writes that we should abstain from unchastity (i.e. sex outside of marriage) and that a man should take a wife in holiness and honor, and not in passion of lust (i.e. sex is for procreation only). This teaching is identical to that of the Stoics. For example, the first-century Roman Stoic, Musonius Rufus writes that “Men who are not wantons or immoral are bound to consider sexual intercourse justified only when it occurs in marriage and is indulged in for the purpose of begetting children, since that is lawful, but unjust and unlawful when it is mere pleasure-seeking, even in marriage.” Lecture XII.2. Later, in verses 11-12, Paul set forth a list of virtues: live quietly, mind your own affairs, work with your hands, be decorous, and be self-sufficient. Again, these virtues are not drawn from the Scriptures, but rather from philosophers such as the Stoic Plutarch or Plato’s Republic.
Although the rules set forth by Paul are from the philosophers, the motivation for Paul is wholly Christian. The philosophers were concerned with the rational life so giving in to sexual desire was irrational and thus prohibited. On the contrary, Paul’s motivation was attaining a sanctified life. A life governed and filled with the Holy Spirit (see vv. 3, 8). A life that is driven by love for one another (v.9), not simply for the sake of individual enlightenment. The motivation behind the rules is the key, not the rules themselves.
As you read through Paul’s moral exhortation in chapter 4, think through how Paul’s teaching should be interpreted in our time. Are we bound by the specific commands laid down by Paul, such as to live quietly, work with our hands, and be self-sufficient, or are we bound by the underlying principle of being decorous within the surrounding culture? Can we, like Paul, look outside of the Scriptures and our own religious traditions to determine what is a sanctified, loving, and decorous life?
Dinner is at six. The menu is low-country boil. Discussion about 6:45. Compline before 8. Hope to see you here, and please bring a friend.
This is the covenant I will establish with the people of IsraelHebrews 8:10 quoting Jeremiah 31:33
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.