READ : 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Have you ever wondered about God’s will for your life? It’s simple, really; the Bible spells it out quite clearly. “This is the will of God, your holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
With every technological advance in our society there’s a corresponding loss. Think,
for example, of the way we communicate with one another. It’s gotten faster and faster and
easier and easier. First there were telephones and then cell phones and then of course the
ubiquitous email. But what’s happened to the lost art of letter writing? It used to be
that great people would often have volumes of their collected correspondence published.
Somehow I don’t think we’re ever going to read “the collected emails of Bill Gates.”
But with letters you’ve got something permanent, something to hold onto and to go back
to again and again to discern the mind of the writer. And supremely, that’s true in the
New Testament of Paul’s letters. These aren’t just theological treateses. They’re not
little books of instruction. They’re real letters, as we’ve been seeing in our studies of
Paul’s letters to the church in Thessalonica. We’ve been looking at 1 Thessalonians and we
saw in chapter 1 how Paul talked about them and gave thanks for their faith and hope and
love. And then in chapter 2 he says something about himself. He reminds them of the
ministry that he conducted among them, how he lived and worked with integrity and honesty.
In 1 Thessalonians chapter 3 Paul really just fills them in on what he’s been doing lately
since he’s traveled down to Corinth.
And when we reach chapter 4, Paul finally turns to positive teaching. He tells them
here in this chapter and in the last chapter, chapter 5, the things that he would have
gone over with them if he hadn’t had to leave prematurely because of the rioting in
Thessalonica. So let’s listen to what he says to them, the positive Christian teaching
that Paul gives in 1 Thessalonians 4.
Finally, then, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as
you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that
you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord
Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual
immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,
not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress
and wrong his brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all
these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us
for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but
God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you
yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are
doing to all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and
sisters, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own
affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly
before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
That’s a pretty good chunk of teaching and it is all teaching about Christian ethics,
about Christian behavior. This is how you ought to walk and to please God, Paul says, and
he’s not laying anything new on them. He reminds them: This is what I told you while I was
with you, even though his ministry in Thessalonica only lasted for three weeks. It wasn’t
all just doctrine, but doctrine plus ethics: what we believe and therefore how we live as
followers of Jesus Christ. And so what Paul calls for from them is basically more of the
same. “This is how you ought to walk and please God,” he writes, “just as you are doing
and that you do so more and more.” In fact, twice in these twelve verses that I read from
1 Thessalonians 4, Paul uses the phrase, “We urge you to do this more and more, keep on
keeping on.” Santification 101. That’s the great term that he lifts out and one of the
great words of the Christian faith, verse 3: “This is the will of God, your
sanctification.” And that big word really simply means “your holiness, your personal
If you want to know the answer to the question that we’ve all struggled with, “What’s
God’s will for my life? What does he really want me to do?,” it all boils down to this: if
you want to know God’s will for your life, the answer in a word is holiness. He wants you
to be holy. He wants me to pursue sanctification. In the Bible, the root of that word
holiness, or sanctification, refers to that which is set apart for God. It’s a lifestyle
that’s lived toward God and by God’s power.
Paul talks about how the Holy Spirit has been given to us, the Holy Spirit. As somebody
commented, it’s no accident that God’s Spirit is called holy. And so here in this passage,
Paul chooses two specific particular examples to explain what holiness is really all about
for us, two areas of our lives, and they’re the two most basic areas. There’s our personal
life, our life as it revolves around our family, our relationships, our closest
relationships, our life in the home; and our social life, our life at work or our life in
the community in which we live.
And so Paul writes in verse 3, “This is the will of God, your sanctification, that you
abstain from sexual immorality.” Sexual immorality is far from the only sin that we have
to deal with. But it is the sin perhaps that touches us most closely in our home life and
our relationships. And the call of the Bible is for us to pursue sexual purity. Sex is
intended by God to be limited to the married relationship of a husband and a wife. Why?
Why is this God’s command to us? Well, Paul shows us here several reasons why. The
ultimate reason is that this is what God has ordered. “For God has not called us for
impurity,” Paul writes, “but holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this doesn’t
disregard human laws but God and God’s law.”
But we can go further than that. There are reasons why God has ordained that this
should be the Christian lifestyle. It’s not because he’s a killjoy or a prude. After all,
he’s the one who created us male and female. He created a material world filled with good
things and wonderful pleasures, pleasures of the body. He said to his children, “Be
fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”
But here Paul lifts out two reasons behind the commandment of God for sexual purity.
The first is that this is how the gentiles live, “not in the passion of lust like the
gentiles who do not know God.” In other words, sexual promiscuity is the lifestyle of the
godless, of people who don’t know God. It’s their lifestyle because these people are
trying to fill a hunger that only God can satisfy.
The second reason Paul mentions for this commandment is because God knows how harmful
this really is, to ourselves and to others. You know, the watchword in our society today,
let’s be frank, is it really doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t hurt
somebody, as long as we’re talking about consenting adults. But that’s exactly the point.
This sort of behavior does hurt people even when we might think it doesn’t. Listen to what
Paul writes: “that no one transgress and wrong his brother or sister in this matter
because the Lord is an avenger in all these things. God made us. He knows how we function
and he knows that if we are unfaithful or promiscuous, it will cause physical,
psychological, and social damage both to others and to ourselves.
The second example that Paul gives of practical holiness, practical sanctification, has
to do with our social lives, our life in community with others. “Concerning brotherly
love,” he writes, “I don’t really need to talk to you about this, you yourselves have been
taught by God to love one another.” But then he goes on to give a couple of practical
instructions. In fact, he says three things: aspire to live quietly, to mind your own
affairs, and to work with your hands so that you may walk properly and be dependent on no
one. In other words, as we engage in the task of loving each other, brotherly love, that
great word philadelphia Paul uses, that doesn’t mean on the one hand that we become
busybodies who stick our noses into other peoples’ lives or try to domineer over them, nor
on the other hand does it mean we are lazy bones who just sit back figuring that others
will take care of us. But rather, Paul says, in effect, “you mind your own business and
make sure you have a business to mind. And in that way you live a life that is pleasing to
God.” Pleasing to God: there’s the great motive behind all of this. “This is how you ought
to walk to please God,” Paul says.
You know, when you think about it, it seems like we spend most of our lives trying to
please somebody, doesn’t it? First our parents, then our coaches or teachers, our spouse,
our boss, our kids, our stockholders, our board of directors; the list goes on and on.
Even the President has to try to please the voters or the media, or at least the
historians who will come to sum up his legacy. But Christians above all are concerned to
please God. What a wonderful goal that is! Paul writes in another place, thinking of the
Judgment ultimately in the last day, that right now we make it our aim to please him. And
really, if you think about it, that’s all that matters, isn’t it?