What are some names God uses for himself? What are some labels he gives himself? We all know names like Father, Lord, King, Provider, Etc. We like those names. We do little studies of them and even put them on pieces of artwork. But in 1 Thessalonians 4, there is a title for the Lord that we must not miss: Avenger.
In 1 Thessalonians 4, the apostle Paul speaks to the church about the issue of sanctification. Paul wants the church to grow in concert with the will of the Lord. And in the teaching, Paul addresses a needful area of sanctification, that of sexual immorality.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 – 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
Here Paul is quite clear that our response to sexual sin is a significant sign of sanctification. Thus, when people wonder why the church seems so obsessed with the issue of sexual immorality, or at least it used to be a few decades ago, we can understand that this is an important issue to the Lord. God inspired holy writ to call us to sexual sanctification and purity.
Paul wants his followers to grasp that following the Lord’s commands regarding our sexuality is important. The Lord is clear that sexual transgressions violate and do harm to others. These include acts of violence and threat as well as acts of lust and passion.
In the middle of this discussion, one supremely unwelcome in our culture, Paul declares that the Lord is “an avenger in all these things.” This is the label we must not lose for God. God is not merely annoyed by our sexual misuse or abuse of one another. God does not merely cluck his tongue and shake his finger in admonition. No, the Scripture tells us that God will avenge wrongs done to others in sexual sin.
How do we feel about this title for God? It will depend a bit who you are and what you have been through. To the one who has been wronged sexually, there must be some level of comfort. God does not look at the wrong done to you and idly accept it. Instead, the Lord will do justice. Whether justice is ever done in this life, the Lord, in eternity, will do proper justice and reap proper vengeance. God is not uncaring. God will not allow one of his creatures to do such harm to another without a proper and just response.
Victims of the sexual sin of others—abuse, manipulation, coercion, etc.—therefore, can know that the Lord is aware and active. God is not about to allow the crimes committed against them to be ignored in eternity. Whether it be a person who hurts another or a person who produces the filth that brings about devastating temptation, God will see to it that sin is addressed.
There are many who are victims of sexual sin. If you have been abused, know that the sin committed against you is not your fault and will not go unnoticed by the Lord. What another person did to you in an act of evil is not a stain against you before the Lord. You are not made unclean because of an act you could not control.
At the same time, when we are honest, we know that there are also many of us who are guilty of sexual sin. Many among us have done things we now deeply regret. Many among us have exposed our eyes to things we should never have seen. Many among us have surrendered to the violations of the standards of God that are so prevalent in our world. Many, most, perhaps all of us are guilty. We are victims and we are sinners too. Being a victim does not make us sinners. But, being sinners makes us sin.
Thus, for us, the idea of God as the avenger in all these things is frightening. We cannot stand against the Lord in this role. We are worthy of his judgment. Where do we find hope?
OF course the answer is the cross. There the Son of God put himself in the role of victim, harmed by others and brutally humiliated. At the same time, the Son of God, in becoming the victim, also took upon himself the avenging justice of God for our sin. Jesus, in his sacrificial death, bore the judgment of God for sins that you and I have committed, the sins for which we bear so much shame and guilt.
Christian, learn from this. God takes sexual sin seriously. This is no small thing. What you watch matters. What you do with others matters. What you do with your body matters. How you allow yourself to think matters. Verse 8 tells us that to disregard this is to disregard the Lord himself. So, let us strive together to battle against sexual sin. If you are struggling, talk to a pastor or to a trusted, mature believer. We will understand. We will do all we can to help.
If you are a victim, find hope in the fact that God cares. The Lord will be an avenger in all these things. God will not let what was done to you simply slip past as if it does not matter. It does matter. God will not be silent. All human sin will be punished.
And know, dear friends, that God does not look down upon you for what was done to you. The Lord has never made it his practice to punish the innocent while letting the guilty go. God will, in the end, do perfect justice. The evils of another do not make you dirty before God. The Lord can work with you, in Christ, to restore you.
And what if you are the guilty? Run to Jesus. There is no excuse for sinning before the Lord. There is no excuse for sinning against another. And many of us have been guilty in one form or another. Perhaps you have hurt someone. Perhaps you have simply behaved against the standards of God. No matter what your sin, you must run to Jesus, confess your sin, and cry out to him for mercy. Apart from the sacrifice of Jesus, you have no hope. God is an avenger in all these things, and he will not overlook sin. All sin will be punished. Either you will face God’s wrath yourself, or you will get under the grace of Jesus and know that your sin was punished in Christ.