Possessing Our Vessels
Paul's first letter to the church in Thessalonica was overall very positive. He praised their faithfulness (I Thessalonians 1:2-10) and dedication to God's word even in persecution. (I Thessalonians 2:13-16) This is noteworthy, because so many of the New Testament epistles have the occasion of correcting wrong behavior or addressing error. The church in Thessalonica was on a much better track.
When he was encouraging them, however, he gave them some things in which they needed to “excel still more.” (I Thessalonians 4:1) This means they were to do the things they had been, but more and be even better. This was not a rebuke, but it was an encouragement to improve. There was a path they were on, and they needed to remain on it and go further. We would do well to see a similar opportunity for us.
The church was encouraged to "abstain from sexual immorality" (I Thessalonians 4:2-3) because it was God's will that they be sanctified, or remain holy. They were to be separate from the rest of the Gentile pagan world. The way he says this is possible is they had to "know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor." (I Thessalonians 4:4) What does Paul mean by this phrase? What can it mean to us who also have God’s same will in place in our lives?
We are to possess (κτάομαι - ktaomai #2932) our bodies. The idea of possession is seen in Luke 21:19. "By your endurance you will gain (κτήσεσθε - ktesesthe, take full ownership of) your lives." When we own something, we realize that it is separate from us, but the real "we" that we are has something over which we exercise authority and control. Failing to make that distinction has a wide array of consequences.
We are to possess our vessel (σκεῦος - skeuos #4632). This is the body that we inhabit (II Corinthians 4:7), but it is not the true us. When we get into our vehicles, we understand that we are inside something that moves and follows our will, but it is not "us." The same is true of our bodies. We are not our bodies, because we guide them and use them for what is right. This is integral for understanding what Paul is telling these saints, they need to remember that they own their bodies, and maintain control of them, but their bodies are not the whole of the self.
The contrast provided by Paul is just as modern as the encouragements he gives these disciples. This behavior would be “not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” (I Thessalonians 4:5) Acting in lustful passion is not being in possession of our bodies, but letting our vessels make all the decisions. This is forgetting God and our responsibilities to Him.
We can look at the church in Thessalonica as a good example in many things, but we can also hear Paul’s encouragement to them and also “excel still more.”