Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Text: As for other matters, brothers and sisters, 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. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
“Keep your eye on the ball.” How many times has that phrase been spoken by parents and coaches to a person in the batter’s box? What are they saying when they speak those words? They are encouraging the batter to be alert. Watch the ball and, then, hit it. They are not really saying anything new, are they? Doubtless, the batter has heard those words before. He has hit the ball in the past. In reality, the coach or parent is saying, “You’ve done it in the past. Remember to do it now.” In our text, the apostle Paul is speaking to the Christians in Thessalonica and today. He knows about the Christian life that has been led. He encourages the Thessalonians and us to keep it up. YOU KNOW IT! NOW, CONTINUE TO DO IT! 1. Live A Holy Life. 2. Love Each Other.
The apostle Paul had visited the city of Thessalonica during his Second Missionary journey. The gospel had great success in that city. Many people were brought to faith. However, after three weeks, the Jewish leaders in the city were upset about what Paul was teaching. They hired some people to start a riot. The city was in turmoil. Fearing the worst, the believers sent Paul and Barnabas away for their safety. Paul’s co-worker, Timothy, had gone back to Thessalonica and then reported what was happening with the Christians there. The letter that we call 1 Thessalonians was written to help the believers. He addressed several spiritual questions that they had.
Now, Paul writes, “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living.” (Verse 1) Though Paul had only been there for three weeks, the Thessalonians had been given thorough instructions about Christian living. The Thessalonians had heard these words and were putting them into practice. Now, out of love for them, Paul writes, “Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” (Verse 1) They were encouraged to continue and grow in their Christian living.
Why did they need this encouragement? It is the same reason that we need this encouragement. We know what God wants. We understand it. We just don’t do it consistently. The reason for this is that we have a sinful nature. Our sinful nature takes such pleasure in sin that it tries to convince us that living the way it wants us to live really isn’t that bad. It tries to persuade us that how we live is an individual matter and we shouldn’t let other people impose their standard of morality on us. This is why we need Paul’s reminder. The instructions about holy living found in the Bible are not man’s but are given by the Lord Jesus.
In verse 1, Paul gives the reason for Christian living. “Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” We do so because we are connected to Jesus. As we think about what Jesus has done for us, we cannot help but want to live lives that thank him. We were helplessly and hopelessly lost in sin. For all of the times that we have listened to the sinful nature, we deserved to spend our eternity in hell. It certainly wouldn’t take us long to compile a list of sins that we are guilty of, would it? We know that we have sinned against our God with our words, our actions, and even our thoughts. We had no way to change our status before God. In his justice, God could well have exiled us to hell. However, in his love for us, he sent his Son to be our Savior. Jesus Christ came to be our Substitute. He lived a perfect life for us. He died an innocent death on the cross to pay for our sins. He rose victoriously from the grave. The Holy Spirit has created saving faith in our hearts. As we look at all that God has done for us, we are moved to live our lives thanking him for all that he has done for us. We are doing that now. Because we are in constant battle with our sinful nature, it is good for us to hear Paul’s words, “Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.”
Paul highlights several areas in our lives that we can continue to grow. First of all, we read, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.” (Verses 3-5) The Greek men, when it came to seeking a spouse, were not as interested in the character or personality of their potential mate. They were more interested in how good-looking they were. They looked to these women to fulfill the lust that was in their hearts. Sexual immorality was rampant at the time of the New Testament. The Thessalonians lived in a society where premarital sex and marital unfaithfulness were common place and considered normal.
Does this sound familiar? Look at the society in which we live. There are many people who think of premarital sex as the normal. If you abstain from it, you are considered to be odd. Marital unfaithfulness is not only practiced behind closed doors. In some cases, it is flaunted. Everyone in the community knows about it. If you were to look at the lyrics of many popular “love” songs, you will find many references to these activities. How many television shows and movies celebrate premarital sex and marital unfaithfulness? The temptations to lust after the opposite sex are all around us. You see it in advertising. While the internet is a very useful thing and something that we have become reliant on, it only takes a few clicks of the mouse to see pictures that cater to the lust in the heart. Since we live in this society, it doesn’t take too long before we become numb to what others are doing against the Sixth Commandment. The temptations to sin against the Sixth Commandment are all around us. Since we are constantly surrounded by these things, it is good for us to be reminded that “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.” (Verse 3)
Again, since the sinful nature is so cunning and tells us that this sort of thinking is out of date or hopelessly naïve, Paul gives this warning, “Anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” (Verse 8) These are not some man-made rules. This comes from God himself. To further show the seriousness of what Paul is saying, he writes, “The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.” (Verse 6) Since we have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus, we want to avoid these things. Again, we read, “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (Verse 7) We know this. God is clear about what is pleasing to him. May God help us to continue in and grow in Christian living.
Paul continues in his encouragement by writing, “Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.” (Verse 9) As Paul taught the Thessalonians about Christianity, he taught them about loving one another. This is something completely contrary to the sinful nature. The sinful nature is selfish and self-centered. It is only looking out for its own self-interests. If it shows love to another, it is looking for something that the sinful nature can get out of it. Christianity is different. It is about loving those around us. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Paul said that he didn’t need to write to them about this, because they were already doing this. As evidence, Paul wrote, “And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia.” (Verse 10) The Thessalonians had shown love for their fellow Greeks, especially as they made sure that the gospel message was proclaimed to them. They showed love for those around them. Yet, Paul continues, “Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.” (Verse 10) ‘You are doing great! Keep it up!’
By God’s grace, we see those around us as opportunities to show love. We see them as fellow souls that Jesus Christ came to win. When we look at fellow believers, we see them as our brothers and sisters. Yet, the apostle would also encourage us, “Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.” What are some ways that we can grow in our love for those around us?
We read in verse 11, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business.” This is not to say that we should not be concerned about those around us. Here, we are encouraged not to be gossips and busybodies. Our sinful nature delights in telling the worst about others. We make sure that we have all the dirt on someone and then we go and tell what we have found out. Our sinful nature wants to get into other people’s lives. We become pushy and overbearing. Instead, out of love for God, we want to limit our talk and our activities to what is wholesome and helpful.
Paul goes on to write, “Work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (Verse 12) We work so that we will not be a burden on someone else. Obviously, there may be some cases, due to unforeseen circumstances, when we may need the assistance of others. However, we don’t want that to be our permanent state. We look for ways to take care of ourselves and also help those who need our help. Not only does this show love for our God, but also we win the respect of others. Acts of Christian love will touch a responsive chord in all but the most hardened cases, even outside the Christian church. It may be that through this, we are able to tell others what Jesus has done for them. By God’s grace, we love those around us and we pray that God would help us to do it more and more.
In many professions, there are continuing education classes. What is the purpose of these classes? It is to help the professional do their job even better. They have been doing their job, but now they have the tools to be even more successful. You and I have been called to faith through the working of the Holy Spirit. We are forgiven children of God. As such, it is only natural that we will want to live our lives to thank God for all that he has done for us. We thank God for those opportunities. However, since we are still burdened with our sinful nature, we know how easy it is to fall into temptations to sin. For that reason, we need the constant reminders to continue in our Christianity. We know what God wants us to do. May God help us to continue to do so more and more. Amen.
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