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A Life Pleasing to God

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Sunday, May 24, 2020  Brad Barrett

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

A Life Pleasing to God

In four weeks, my wife and I will celebrate our 35th anniversary.  It’s been a good ride.  And I thank God for her. 

In the 12 months before we got engaged, I remembering asking the question, “What is God’s will for me?  Lord, should I marry this woman?”  I hoped his will for me was to marry Annette, but I wanted to discover that. 

That question, “What is God’s will for my life?” is one of the more frequent and important  questions a Christian ask.  Sometimes we ask this related to a narrow topic, like whom should I marry or what job should I take.  Other times we’re seeking God’s will related to ministry.  How specifically should I serve the Lord?  What are my spiritual gifts, and how can I contribute to the kingdom of God.

I appreciate when we ask questions like that because it shows we love God and we want to honor and please him with our lives.

This morning we will address  that question, “What is God’s will,” both in a broad way and in a few specific ways. 

Turn to 1 Thessalonians.  Chapter 4. 

We are in the middle of  a sermon series going through a letter written by the Apostle Paul.  Paul  wrote this to a church in the ancient Roman empire.  A city called Thessalonica.

1 Thessalonians 4

Vs. 1-2

1 Finally, then, brothers, 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.

2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

So far in this letter, Paul has not issued one direct command.  He references what he taught them while he was with them, but in Chapters 1-3 Paul offers no direct commands. 

But now in Chapters 4 & 5,  Paul now gives significant instruction.  Verse 1 gives us an introduction to where he is going.  In a way, verse 1 is a summary of chapters 4 and 5. 

Vs. 1:

With great passion and emphasis, Paul says,

We urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you  received from us how you ought to walk and please Godthat you do so more and more.”

When Paul was with them for that short time before being forced out of the city, he taught them much. 

  • He taught them about Jesus. 
  • He taught them about the gospel of salvation. 
  • He also taught them how to live….how to “walk”… in a way that pleased God.

A key point here is that if we are truly Christians— if we have truly believed in our hearts and minds that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to save us from God’s wrath—then our new purpose in life, our calling— God’s will for us—  is to walk in a manner that is pleasing to God.

More on this in a few minutes. 

Vs. 2:

Vs. 2 is powerful:  “We gave you these instructions through the Lord Jesus.”

Paul’s instruction is not some temporary set of commands.  Nor are they arbitrary.  Instead  they are commands founded upon the words and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This makes these commands that are to follow infinitely weighty. 

Something for each of us to consider: 

  • Do we take God’s word with seriousness? 
  • Do we read it? 
  • Do we talk about it? 
  • Do we ask God to shape our thinking through it?
  • Do we obey it wholeheartedly?

I recognize most of us will go through times of doubting or wondering.  Perhaps a serious circumstance happened in our lives that tempts us to doubt God’s Word.

If you’re currently in that position, don’t be ashamed about your doubts.  Get some advice.  Someone to honestly ask your questions to.  Someone to confess your doubts to. 

One of Satan’s great temptations is to doubt God’s Word.  We see it in Genesis 3, where he says, “Did God say this?”   A subtle but haunting question that can worm its way into our hearts and begin doubting and questioning God. 

So vs. 1-2 Paul is laying the foundation for where he is headed in the remainder of the letter.

Find out what pleases God, and then walk in that. 

This is the will of God.

Vs. 3-8

Now Paul gets very specific.  Here he will talk about sexual purity, an issue for every age and every culture, including ours.  And if you read the history of the ancient Roman empire related to this topic of sexual purity, you will realize…  we are not much different than they were. 

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.

The whole Bible reveals the will of God.  But in a few places, we are specifically told with these words, “This is the will of God.”  Paul shouts it out to us:  God’s will for his followers is our sanctification.

The word “sanctify” means “to be made holy.”  To consecrate.  To make something sacred.  Set apart. 

There are three phases to sanctification.    Phases, perhaps like three chapters or stages in our lives. 

All of them lead to the ultimate end.   

FIRST, all of God’s true followers –believers in Jesus—have been made holy.  They have been sanctified through faith in Jesus Christ on the day they believed.    

1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV “…you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

SECOND, like Paul says here God’s will is for our daily walk in sanctification.

We are in these frail bodies, and we know quite well we don’t always live up to who we truly are.  So God calls us and reminds us to walk like who we have been declared to be. 

THIRD,  once the believer dies and passes into eternity, he or she will be made utterly and completely holy. 

It’s like this.  An old friend of mine—my best man in my wedding—a man who loved the Lord— died suddenly last Sunday at age 63. 

  • He was sanctified and justified by Jesus Christ 43 years ago when he believed in Christ as a sophomore at Iowa State.
  • Then he walked in sanctification for these past 43 years, following Jesus, living in a manner that pleased the Lord. 
  • But now as of last Sunday,  he is now in the presence of God, and so his sanctification is complete.   No more sanctification process like we on this earth are enduring. 

So Paul’s focus here is the second phase of sanctification:  A daily walk.  A journey with Christ walking in holy living while we are on the earth.    This call to holiness is not a requirement for salvation.  But it is a call to discipleship,.

In vs. 3-8, Paul declares God’s will is our  sanctification, with the focus here  on one area:  our sexual purity. 

In the United States, the 1960’s began what has been called “The Sexual Revolution.”  But such a Sexual Revolution is actually a Sexual Destruction… because freedom from following God’s laws is not actually freedom.  It is slavery that leads to death. 

God has a will in this area.  His will is for purity and holiness. 

In this area—of which we need not be ashamed to talk about—God’s will is that the sexual relationship be between one man and one woman in marriage, until death parts them.  Anything else outside this—whether you are married or single—is forbidden.  This is God’s will.  Paul says it.

That is not popular to say.  It is not Politically Correct.  But Scriptures are quite clear on this. 

Holiness is often a challenge to pursue.  But to imitate our Holy Lord is a glorious and beautiful thing. 

Vs. 4-8

So some comments on Paul’s points here.

  • Vs. 4  We are called by the power of God to control our own bodies.  It’s called self-control, and it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
  • Vs. 5  We are not to give in to the passions of our flesh which can come upon us so easily and powerfully.  The temptations are real.  And if you are a true believer in Jesus, you know how real the temptations are. 

That’s why Peter said these startling words.  Write this reference down:

1 Peter 2:11  “Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and strangers in this world to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul.”

Paul urges us to not give in to the passions of our flesh.

  • Vs. 6  We need to realize such sin displeases God and he will avenge wrongdoing. 

Now if a believer in Christ sins in this area, he will not be condemned, but he opens himself up to God’s strong discipline. 

If you have never believed in Jesus, then to be honest, God’s wrath is upon you, and God urges you to turn to him for forgiveness and life found in Jesus Christ.  

  • Vs. 7 is beautiful for the Christian.

“For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”

The call to sanctification is not a restriction to limit our fun.  We are called to something heavenly and glorious.  Something pure and holy.  We have to get our minds off the momentary pleasures of sin…and on to the glorious pleasures of heaven.

  • Then vs. 8 is rather startling:  If we disregard the commands and calling of God, we are disregarding—rejecting—God himself. 

Consider that:  Not only in this area of sexual purity but with any command….ANY command of God, if we reject or disregard that, we are in essence rejecting and disregarding God himself.  This is a terrible place to be.  Very sobering. 

So in this first section of chapter 4, God saves us into his holy family, and as long as we are on earth, he calls us to a life of sanctification.

How to Walk in Sanctification

So now one  great question of the Christian life is, “How do I walk in holiness?”  This is a vital topic, whether it concerns sexual purity or any other area. 

Let me  offer some very brief thoughts. 

Fundamentally, our ability and power to walk in holiness is founded upon a growing intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus described it in one way in John 15 by saying that we should abide—remain, stay close to—him in the same way a branch is attached to the main vine.  Then we will bear fruit, the fruit of God. 

The nearer we stay to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the greater  our walk of holiness will be. 

So  since it’s founded upon this relationship, I can’t give you a formula.   No “Five Easy Steps to a Holy Life.”  Relationships don’t work that way.

But let me give you a few practices I have on a daily basis to stay near to Jesus. 

  1. Prayer. 

Each  morning I begin my day in prayer.  I worship the Lord for his kindness, love, power, wisdom, holiness. I pray like Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 6.  Two key things he told them and us to pray.

  • May your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.
  • Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

I pray these things daily, for I know I can’t do it without his power and presence.  He answers my prayers every day. 

  • God’s Word.

The Scriptures are sent from heaven for us.

My habit for 41 years is to begin every morning reading my Bible. 

It has been a bright light to shine on the darkness in my heart. 

His Word brings life.  So I read it.  I talk about with others.  Study it.  Take notes from sermons I hear. 

  • Fellowship.

On a daily basis I have at least some interaction with fellow Christians.  My wife, fellow pastors, and many of you.

Through them I find encouragement, prayer, sharing of the Scriptures, and sometimes even correction.

A couple weeks ago, my wife gently corrected me on a critical attitude.  I was being critical.  In my pride, I didn’t want to hear that, but I needed to hear it in order to walk in sanctification. 

  • Take action

We don’t simply pray and wait for some miraculous feeling from heaven to drop down on us.   In the strength of God and by the power of the Spirit, we take action that will help us walk in sanctification.

For example:

  • Confessing hidden sin to a godly friend
  • Getting a filter for your devices to help you stay away from certain websites that will cause you to sin.
  • Join with a godly friend to help one another in this area.  Don’t go it alone. 

So for us who have believed in Jesus Christ, God’s will for us now… is to walk in holiness, and a key area is sexual purity.  We do this built upon a growing, loving relationship with him as we lean on the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. 

Vs. 9-12

Now Paul focuses on some other areas of sanctification and living in a way that pleases God.

9 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,

10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,

11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,

12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Vs. 9-10

Brotherly love.  A family kind of love.  Maybe you didn’t have a loving family growing up, but you probably have an idea of what it SHOULD have been like. 

We are called to love one another in the church like a good family.  And the church IS a family.  God is our Father and we are siblings.  Brothers and sisters.

Paul was encouraged by the Thessalonians’ love for one another.

When I read those words, I think of Stonebrook.  So many of you are living examples of this brotherly love.  I know my wife and I have been recipients of this constantly.  And we are very grateful.  To so many of you… the Lord would say, “Well done.  You are loving well.  Now keep going.  Love more and more.”

The world is watching us.  And when we love another, God is on display.

Vs. 11-12

Then in vs. 11-12, what Paul means and why he wrote this is a topic of friendly debate. 

But here are my thoughts.

Paul is dealing with three possible problems with some people in the church.  They were:

  • Restless, not living quietly.  Unsettled.  Frantic.  Perhaps bothering other people.
  • Meddlesome.  Sticking their  noses in where it’s not wanted. 
  • Idle.  Lazy.  Unwilling to work.  Mooching off others. 

Such behavior will impact  the brothers and sisters in the church….and it will reveal an absence of brotherly love.  And it will impact  the testimony of Christ to outsiders. 

Like with sexual purity, this is an area of the will of God.  This is the sanctification journey.  So for us to  love one another and exhibit a godly testimony to outsiders, we lean in to our relationship with Jesus Christ.  And we pray for the filling of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live a life of purity and  wisdom and love.

Conclusion

To conclude, what is God’s will for us?  For sure, it’s good to seek his will for life circumstances like work and marriage and ministry.  But here Paul reveals the clear will of God:  to live in a way that honors and pleases God.  To live in a manner consistent with the glorious salvation that we have through Jesus Christ.

God’s will is that we place ourselves in a lifetime journey to grow in holiness until either we die in Christ or Jesus comes back to earth. 

And when we are finally united with him in glory, we will find the joy of complete holiness.