by Mike Thomas
The Thessalonians were surrounded by immorality and ungodly influences, but those who became Christians “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (I Thessalonians 1:9). In encouraging them to fulfill this commitment, Paul reminded them of the need to avoid the sexual immorality that was very common in their former ideology. He wrote: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (I Thessalonians 4:3-5).
It is evident that we are inundated with the same wave of licentious influences that ancient idolaters faced. We may not have heathen temples inviting passersby to participate in the “worship” of fertility deities by laying with temple prostitutes, but we have the same type of influences beckoning us each day to be immoral. With electronic devices that can produce any image we want and literature that corrupts the judgment of unsuspecting readers, we are just as exposed to heathenism as were the Thessalonians, if not more so. Satan is working aggressively to warp the views of sexuality in children, disrupt the unity of the home by corrupting marriages, and plaguing individuals with luring images. Our only hope of remaining free from these influences is to trust in God’s word (and mercy) to overcome this onslaught of lust. The things Paul said to the Thessalonians about possessing our “vessel in sanctification and honor” can be most helpful.
For one thing, this instruction implies it is possible for us to control our sexual desires and physical body. Joseph is a classic example of this possibility. A young man at the peak of his sexual desires was able to resist the continual seduction of a woman who pleaded with him “day by day” to be with her (Genesis 39:7-10). He had to choose between integrity and godliness or passion and lust, yet fortunately, he chose to possess his vessel. This is exactly what happens to us every day on our devices and influences. Potiphar’s wife is pleading with us to yield to forbidden pleasure and flirts with us to compromise our integrity and moral purity. Truthfully, it is the devil who issues these influences. He exposes our children to perverted images in storybooks, cartoons, and video games. He sees to it that our phones and computer monitors have enticing images pop up when we least expect it. He convinces people to walk around in skimpy, seductive attire. Satan is the reason young people are pressured to sacrifice their virginity and is the cause of married people compromising their wedding vows. It is in moments like these that we need the wisdom and character of Joseph to guard against Potiphar’s wife. Peter said it this way, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). The moment we dismiss this warning or believe we are immune to this threat is the moment we set ourselves up for failure. Paul referenced the Israelites who had twenty-three thousand die in one day for yielding to sexual temptations. He then said: “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:11-12).
The comforting thought in all of this is God is willing to help us if that is our sincere desire. He assures us that the devil will flee from us when we are serious about resisting him (James 4:7), so that should give us hope. Our Creator also assures us that His eyes “are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry” (Psalms 34:15; I Peter 3:12). One of the best ways He helps us is by giving us the strength and wisdom to remain content with our spouse. “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5). Ironically, He makes this promise after emphasizing the sanctity of marriage and the judgment against infidelity. “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). Contentment is key for married people. We are to save our sexual desires for our spouse and not share them with anyone else. It is the affection “due” them, so we must not selfishly use them in other ways.
“Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband” (I Corinthians 7:2-3).
When we violate this commitment and selfishly look for other ways to fulfill our desires, we expose ourselves to a world of devastation and hurt. No moment of pleasure is worth the loss of honor, integrity, family, and the beautiful companionship of marriage. Yet no sin is as deceitful and powerful, yet crippling and devastating to families, churches, and society, as that of infidelity and sexual impurity. It brings severely painful consequences to its participants. Instead, God wants us to ask for help in remaining faithful and pure. He will not leave us nor forsake us as we seek to possess our vessel in sanctification and honor. Plus, the threat of eternal punishment should motivate us to look past the lure of sexual temptation and make better choices. Paul warned, “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5). Frankly, no sin is worth the flames of hell and eternal separation from God, let alone the highly deceitful lure of sexual persuasion. But that is not always easy to see when Potiphar’s wife is coming after us day after day.
One of my motivations in writing this article is the recent confession of a fellow Christian who lost his family because he yielded to sexual immorality. His days are filled with darkness and tears because the pleasure that looked so promising was nothing but a facade and hoax. Wisdom is crying aloud with examples like these. The threat is real, dear friends, and the price is steep when it comes to sexual impurity. Yet, if like this fellow Christian, we yield to foolishness, let us turn to God for mercy and be fully convinced of His love and willingness to save us. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart; these, O God, You will not despise” (Psalms 51:17). The person who wrote that psalm was recovering from his own fall to sexual temptation, so this is not a sin God has not seen before and one He has not forgiven. He knows who wants to do right and be set free from wickedness. Let us remember that when we stumble into any sin, including this one. God is able to save us to the uttermost because of the blood of Christ and His tremendous love for us. But the best scenario is to avoid failure altogether by praying for wisdom, strength, self-control, and contentment. We will never regret possessing our vessel.