1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
We are in our third week of working our way through 1 Thessalonians and we have already begun to lay the foundation for what it means to be the church. It is important to note that the church is not the building it is not even a specific place. It is more of a way of life. It is who we are not where we meet or a place to come to. I remember when I was a kid and I learned “Here is the church, Here is the steeple, open it up and here are the people.” However as I grew up and matured in the my journey and continued to learn I learned that that saying was not really accurate. It is more like “Here is a building, here is a steeple, open it up because the church is the people.” Because the church is not the building or anything about the building, but it is the people who gather.
With this insight we begin to understand how it is that Paul is talking to the Thessalonian people about how they are and should be setting an example of the church. Then also how they are continuing to grow and form as the church. The first week we began with a look at Paul’s commendation of the Thessalonian Church and we see it is a commendation of the work that they do. We explored how we are the church as the people who form the church and how we grow into being that church that Paul talks about. We talked about study, missions, and witnessing and how those play into us being the church and living into that commitment.
Last week we looked in depth at ministry. What it means to be in ministry and we examined how we must view how we do ministry. We examine our motives and our willingness. It brought to mind our thinking about spiritual gifts and the idea that God gives us gifts that he wants us to use in doing his ministry. I urge you to continue in your identifying of those spiritual gifts and finding where God wants you. When we think about how we are the church it is through the use of our spiritual gifts in ministry for God.
Now as we continue to move forward in Thessalonians we are going to look here at the first part of chapter 4, and we are going to look at holiness. As the church we are called to be set apart. As I talked about before we are called to not be conformed to the world. We are called to be transformed and to live for God. What does it mean to be holy, or to strive for holiness? How does Paul talk about holiness, or even why does Paul explain that we should be holy?
So lets break down what Paul says in these verses. Paul opens in verse one in much of the same way this book has unfolded. Paul gives the Thessalonians a commendation, but one that is also coupled with a warning of sorts. Paul writes, “So then, brothers and sisters, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus to keep living the way you already are and even do better in how you live and please God—just as you learned from us. You know the instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.”1 So Paul is commending the Thessalonians on the way that they live, but he is also telling them not to slack off in being holy. He says this because our holy commitment to God is not a part-time thing. It is not something we only do sometimes, but it is a way of living and Paul is trying to get that point across to them.
We even further understand this when Paul says in verse 3 saying, “God’s will is that your lives are dedicated to him.” Last week as we wrapped up we heard Paul write, “We appealed to you, encouraged you, and pleaded with you to live lives worthy of the God who is calling you into his
own kingdom and glory.” Last week we talked about this verse in terms of the ministry we do, but it also has implications in the way that we live our lives outside of doing ministry. And this week we get a similar statement as Paul talks about the way the Thessalonians should live their lives. I have said this before, but when we make our commitment and profess our faith to God we are not just doing it for outward appearances so other people can see that we are now a Christian. Rather we commit our whole selves to what God wants for us. Our commitment and profession are to show God that we are ready and willing to be his servant and to live lives for that good. We acknowledge that we are a changed person with God. Therefore, we are called to live a new life that is lived to be pleasing to him.
When I was younger I went to a Baptist Church camp in the middle of nowhere West Virginia, and I remember having the commitment service on our last night there. The preacher talked about how through God you could become a new person. He urged us to think of all the bad things we may have done in our lives, and said when we make the commitment to God that all of that gets washed away and we become a new person in Christ. John Wesley puts it so eloquently, “And at the same time that we are justified, yea, in that very moment, sanctification begins. In that instant we are born again, born from above, born of the Spirit: there is a real as well as a relative change. We are inwardly renewed by the power of God. We feel “the love of God shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us”; producing love to all mankind, and more especially to the children of God; expelling the love of the world, the love of pleasure, of ease, of honor, of money, together with pride, anger, self-will, and every other evil temper; in a word, changing the earthly, sensual, devilish mind, into “the mind which was in Christ Jesus.”2
Paul calls us to live lives worthy of God, and in these verses today we look at ways in which Paul calls us to do that. Now Paul uses the example here of sexual impurity, and I can tell you might be getting antsy thinking that we are going to be talking about sex. However, Paul uses this example as it is a pertinent example in ancient times. Sexual impurity would have been a big issue in this time, and an issue the Thessalonians could relate well too. While today these issues still arise I want to talk about our holiness in general. To take these words Paul discusses on sexual impurity and see what they mean about living a life that pleases God in general and not just in terms of one example.
There are three parts to this. There is abstaining, control, and protection.3 Each of these presented by Paul in terms of sexual impurity, but can be read by us in terms our holiness in general terms. We must abstain from whatever act makes us unholy. We must continue to control our unholy urges. And lastly we must not only do this for our own protection from sin, but for the protection of our brothers and sisters in Christ. These are the ways in which we set out to live a holy life. It is the way in which we seek our salvation through God by living a holy lifestyle.
It can be difficult and will definitely take time, but God wants to see us living a life that shows others the love and the grace of the God that we believe in. A holy lifestyle exists as we see here from Paul for two reasons. In a personal aspect and in a communal aspect. We do it on a personal level for our own salvation. So that we may please God and do his work as an individual in the kingdom. Then we also have the communal aspect which is the way we do things for the greater of the whole kingdom of God. Paul wraps up this section by writing, “You don’t need us to write
about loving your brothers and sisters because God has already taught you to love each other. In fact, you are doing loving deeds for all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. Now we encourage you, brothers and sisters, to do so even more. Aim to live quietly, mind your own business, and earn your own living, just as I told you. That way you’ll behave appropriately toward outsiders, and you won’t be in need.” We need to have concern for the salvation of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, as we live and show who we are we need to keep in mind we are setting the example of Christian living.
So as you go forth think about the life that you live versus the holy life that God calls all of us to live as Christians. Are you setting that example for others in the community? Are you showing people, even non-Christians, that you are living for God? Are you looking after your brothers and sisters and helping them to live these holy lives as well? This is another one of those times where you take a serious in depth look at the way you live to understand if you are living the life God has called for you. Are you living a holy life?