Paul’s world was not unlike our own-it was a sex saturated society. Permissive sex, homosexuality, perversions, divorce and bawdy theater were a part of the Roman world in the first century AD. In spite of the culture, Paul called Christians to live “…not in passionate lust like the Gentiles” (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, ESV).
Paul notes that God’s will is our sanctification This word implies a process in which the Christian is maturing, growing in holiness, and becoming more like their Father in heaven. Paul later in the letter states, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it’ (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, ESV).
A part of holy living is avoiding sexual immorality. The word, porneia, translated “sexual immorality” and traditionally rendered “fornication” (see for example the KJV) is a broader concept than our English term “fornication.” The word fornication in English means sexual intercourse between a man and a woman not married to each other. But concerning porneia the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters writes, “This Greek word and its cognates as used by Paul denote any kind of illegitimate-extramarital and unnatural-sexual intercourse or relationship” (p. 871). For Paul, there was only one kind of legitimate sexual relationship, the one between a man and a woman who are married.
The consequence of sexual immorality is judgment. Paul solemnly warns “the Lord is an avenger in all these things” (1 Thess. 4:6, ESV). Elsewhere Paul warns that the sexually immoral, adulterers, and homosexuals (as well as a list of other sins) will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
To a world that often approaches such issues from a very subjective viewpoint, Paul ends his discussion of sexual immorality with very strong words. “Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thessalonians 4:8, ESV).
God calls us to holy lives even when we are living in a sex saturated society.