For the past three weeks, we have been taking a look at Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. We have discovered that for the most part the church at Thessalonica was thriving despite persecution that was happening around them. The first three chapters overflow with thanksgiving from the pen of Paul. This morning’s passage begins with the word finally and that can usually get us preachers in trouble. I know as soon as I say the word finally, I better start wrapping it up, because many are already starting to tune out. The word finally would have better been translated “and now…” or “further…” We are about two thirds of the way through Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians and Paul has much say to us in the last third. Let’s take a look at 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12.
1Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please god, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2For you know what instruction we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
3It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 6and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. 7For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who give you his Holy Spirit.
9Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.
11Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
What we want to take a look at today is Paul’s instructions to the church at Thessalonica on how to live a life that pleases God. As I’ve already mentioned, Paul starts with the word “finally.” This usually means I’m wrapping it up, but not here. Paul has much more to say. The next word in the sentence is brothers. Usually this is used to signify a new paragraph, but here it is used to signify that the following section deals with life in the Christian community, as we saw last week. An old gospel song says, “you will notice that we say brother and sister round here. It’s because we are family and these folks are so dear.” Occasionally at district conference, I heard someone reference brother so and so. This practice reminded us that we are a community of believers together and that we are a family. We are the family of God in Christ Jesus. We should think of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, because that’s what we are. While Paul and the missionary team were in Thessalonica, they instructed the church how to live to please God, and as we look at Paul’s writing they are continuing to live that way. Last week, we saw that a brothers and sisters in Christ should continually be moving closer and closer to Christ. The wording here is weak compared to the Greek. It should really read you MUST live to please God. We as brothers and sisters in Christ must live in order to please God and we MUST as Paul urges the church to do so more and more. Paul lets the church know that this is not in his own authority but the authority of Jesus Christ. So the first thing we are taught this morning is that we MUST live in order to please God. How do we do that?
As we look at this passage, Paul writes to us that it is God’s will that we should be sanctified. So many times we think of sanctification as a point in time. But here the word indicates an ongoing process. We don’t just get sanctified and rest on our laurels for the rest of our life. Sanctification is a process that follows us throughout our Christian life. Sanctification refers to the process of setting ourselves apart for God’s use. God has declared himself holy and he wants his followers to be holy as he is holy. Many will say that this is impossible, but why would God command us to do something that was impossible?
As we continue to take a look at this passage, we find that sexual purity was strongly connected with holiness. Ernest Best writes, “Sanctification is not something for worship alone but for every act of life.” Paul urges the readers of Romans to offer up their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, because that is our spiritual act of worship. He goes on to say, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Paul writes you should avoid sexual immorality. The word avoid in the Greek is a strong one. The Greco-Roman world was loose sexually. There were various forms of extramarital sexual union that were tolerated and even encouraged. It doesn’t appear that there is a specific instance that is being referenced, but that this is reinforcement because of the surrounding culture. The term sexual immorality is a broad term but includes adultery, fornication, prostitution and deviant sexual behavior. I don’t think our culture is much different than that ancient culture. This is something we need to hear in 21st century America. Paul’s teaching is clear: Christians should abstain from all sorts of sexual misconduct by doing what is right, whether by self-control or by restricting sexual activity to the marriage partner. In this way we honor God and can offer up our bodies as living sacrifices. Why, because sexual sin harms others besides those who engage in it. Just this past week, I stumbled across an account of a young woman who had recently discovered her husband had been cheating on her. You could see the way this had destroyed her life. We often forget that cheating will also affect the cheater as well. Paul warns not to act like the heathen do. John Stott writes, “Christians must behave in a completely different manner because we do know God, because He is a holy God, and because we want to please him.”
Most of us would agree that what Paul is talking about is not pleasing to God. I want to take a risk here and point out that we have been conformed to the world more than we think. All we have to do is take a look at what was shocking on television twenty years ago. By today’s standards, it is tame. The moral line is moving all the time in our culture. The culture shapes us in various ways; music, television, movies, and the Internet. There are things that we see and hear in the media that we should not be filling our minds up as believers. Because what happens, is that spills over ever so subtly into our lives and it becomes part of the norm and I’m not so sure God would be pleased with it. Before we continue on, what is in your life today, that if God did a complete inventory of, he would not be please with? Sometimes this even appears in subtle ways. Sometimes we will say things that have a double meaning; we flirt and call it being friendly; we watch movies or television programs that stir up the darker side of us; we wander the internet and “stumble across” things we should be viewing; we listen to music that sends the wrong message. So many times we think just of rock music as sending a bad message, but many types of music have bad and even raunchy lyrics including rap; r & b, pop, and even country!
As we were at the Power Rally on Monday night, Steve Wilson talked about standing on holy ground. In order for Moses to stand on holy ground, he had to take off his shoes. What do you have to get rid of to stand on holy ground today? What changes do you need to make in order to offer up your body as a living sacrifice the king that God will accept? What is standing in your way today to live the life that God is calling you to live? Paul tells us that “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” However morally bankrupt the society may be in which one seeks to live an authentic Christian life, he or she need not conform to the prevailing pattern. The God who calls to sanctification also enables holy living through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So we know that we need to stay pure in order to please God, but what else? Again Paul calls for love. He calls for the church to love it’s brothers and sisters more and more. Again you’ll notice to progression that needs to happen. It’s not just love one time and your done. No, it’s over and over again. The word for love here is not the familiar agape or unconditional love, but philadelphia or brotherly love. It is a term when we tell our children to love their siblings, those who are related by blood birth. It is a God-given love and it is mutual. It reaches beyond these four walls to brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Just this week, I had the opportunity to renew acquaintances with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the Shenandoah district. Most of my brothers and sisters in this district are fellow co-labors of the Good News. We had a great time (and for the most part, we did not talk about how our churches were doing, but how we were getting along spiritually.) This is great brotherly love for each other. It’s part of the connection that I still have with FLAME. To encourage my brothers and sisters who are preparing for the ministry. Paul lets the church know that they are doing what they are supposed to do. Let me say as Paul did. You do love the brothers and sisters in the church and I urge you to do it even more and more.
Paul is not done yet with telling us how to live a life pleasing to God. One of the dangers in preaching a message like this especially one with so strong a challenge to live a live pleasing to God, is that those who have their house in order begin to meddle in the business of others. Let me say that this message did not come without me spending some quality time with God and getting my own house in order during the past week. It appears there were some in the church who were spiritual busybodies. They were trying to make other’s business their business. We have a wonderful altar here in front of us. We used to call it the mourner’s bench. We need to be very careful when people come to the altar. Matter of fact, nothing would please your pastor more than weekly use of the altar. In a way it gives us a sense of our spiritual pulse. Are lives being changed? But when people are concerned to come to the altar because of spiritual busybodies, nobody wins. God’s work cannot be done. Paul says to knock it off. That does nothing to build the body of Christ. That does nothing to win the respect of outsiders. Nothing hurts the kingdom more than when the world sees us picking at each other and minding each other’s business rather than our own. Paul is about to discuss about the second coming of Jesus and this next statement might be a warning to those who are doing nothing because Christ’s return is “around the corner.” Paul says to keep busy, and I’ll add, even if it only means teaching the gospel to those who desperately need it. Some suspecting the imminent return of Christ had stopped working and were relying on others to support them. This is not a good witness to the Good News. Paul says keep working until Jesus comes, so that you will be a good witness and that you won’t have to be dependent on anybody.
We have a great challenge this morning. As with the past few Sundays, the altar is open. How is God speaking to you this morning? Have you surrendered everything to him? What is standing in the way of you standing on holy ground? What is standing in the way of you standing constantly in God’s presence? What would it take for you to be a living sacrifice – holy and pleasing to God? Do you want to live a life that is pleasing to God? The altar is open, God is speaking.