The Worthy Walk—Part III: Purity and Treasuring Jesus
On a special day such as this, when there are so many visitors in our congregation, I ask myself why I would preach on such a controversial portion of the Bible. Really, what am I thinking?
My reason for preaching on this text is simple: Three weeks ago I preached from 1Thessalonians, chapter one; two weeks ago I preached on chapter two; last week I preached on chapter three. It seemed most appropriate then, that I preach on 1Thessalonians 4—controversial or not.
Now, when I say controversial, I mean to say that Paul’s exhortation would not find acceptance by our present day society. I do hope, and pray, however, that Paul’s words would not be deemed controversial in this context, in the gathering of Christ’s church.
I will be the first to admit that the Bible makes demands on us that are very difficult to meet. There may be times when we read a command of Scripture, and we conclude that we are incapable of obeying such a command.
If you haven’t noticed already, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is saturated with exhortations that are difficult to follow, and today’s text is no exception to this. But before we examine Paul’s exhortation to the Christian in chapter 4, I want to provide you with some motivation to take these exhortations to heart.
Paul reminds us, first of all, how important it is that our lives please God (2:4). It does not matter if the whole world is applauding if God does not approve. Our primary motivation must be to please our Heavenly Father.
Second, we learn from God’s instruction to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 10:13, that all of the Lord’s commandments are given for our good. God is not a tyrant. It is not God’s intention to harm us, or to keep us from enjoying life. The Bible reminds us that all of God’s commands are given for our own good.
And thirdly, the Bible promises that God will provide the strength to obey His commands. At times, it may appear that God has asked the impossible of you. And, the truth is, if it depended only on you it would be impossible for you to obey. But, thankfully, God does not leave us to our own devices, but He says to us in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you, and you will honour Me.” When we are called to obey His commands, we should remind ourselves of Peter’s words, “whoever serves, let him do so with the strength God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ”(1Peter 4:11).
As we continue in 1Thessalonians, as we continue to be confronted by Paul’s exhortations, we would be wise to remind ourselves of these three things. We need to remember how important it is that our lives please God. We need to remember that all of the Lord’s commandments are for our own good. And we must remember to obey these commands with the strength God supplies.
Let’s get to Paul’s exhortation in chapter 4, “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus”—this is Paul’s reminder to the Thessalonians, and to us, that he is not making this stuff up. This is Paul delivering an exhortation on behalf of, and by the authority of, Jesus Christ.
Paul goes on to say that the purpose for all of his exhortations is exactly what we have said already—so that we may “conduct ourselves” in a manner that “please(s) God”(4:1).
And what is it that Paul wants us to do? He writes, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own body in sanctification and honour, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God”(4:3-5).
Immediately, our attention is drawn to the command to “abstain from sexual immorality”, but I hope we have noticed the statement that immediately precedes this command. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification”. To be “sanctified” means to be set apart by God for holy use. Paul is stating what should be obvious to the Christian: Sexual immorality is not befitting one who has been set apart by God for holy use.
If you have not already gleaned from my extensive qualifying of this morning’s text, I confess to you now my profound trepidation in handling this chapter of Scripture. I suspect that my trepidation comes from my awareness of the lax sexual standards that now exist in our society.
Our society likes to think of itself as progressive in this regard, but what is more accurate is to say that the sexual standards of our society have actually regressed to those of ancient times. Have a listen to this quote, “A marked feature of life in the 1st century Roman Empire, and specifically in Greece, was sexual laxity. The Thessalonian Christians lived in a world where people did not see fornication as a sin, but as part of normal life” (Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 80).
Friends, could we not rewrite this quote and still be accurate? “A marked feature of life in 21st century North America is sexual laxity. North American Christians live in a world where people do not regard fornication as a sin, but as part of normal life.”
Defending this thesis is not difficult. Our lax sexual standards are in plain view. These lax standards can be gleaned by asking our teenagers what they are learning about sex from our public education system; these lax standards can be gleaned from our daily newspaper; they can be gleaned by turning on your television set at any hour of the day.
I confess to you that by the time 8 o’clock in the evening rolls around, I like to settle down in front of the television set. And what bothers me is that so many of the popular TV shows—shows I enjoy watching—endorse what the Bible would regard as sexual immorality. Do you like to watch Frasier? Will and Grace? Friends? ER? West Wing? If you do, you are watching shows that treat sexual immorality, not as sin, but as a normal part of life.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you cancel your cable, or that you dispose of your television set. I simply want you to recognize that what is shaping the sexual norms of our society is NOT the Bible, but television, and the various forms of media. If you are a Christian, if Jesus is your treasure, I want to remind you this morning of where you are to turn for your moral standards.
I find it interesting where in his letter Paul places his exhortation to “abstain from sexual immorality”. Immediately preceding this exhortation, Paul writes, “may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in your love for one another, and for all men”(3:12). And, immediately following, in chapter 4, verse 9, Paul writes, “Now as to the love of the brethren . . . you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.”
It is important that we gain the balance that Paul has between loving one’s neighbour and yet standing against sin. There are two extremes when it comes to love and Christian morality, and we must be careful to avoid them both. One extreme equates loving another with accepting whatever behaviour they are engaged in. This extreme is not faithful to the biblical balance that demands that we abound in love for all men (3:12), on the one hand, and abstain from sexual immorality (4:3), on the other hand.
The other extreme is to stand against sin in such a way that you act in an unloving manner towards another. I can find no biblical warrant for mistreating another human being. Our challenge is heed Paul’s command to “be at peace with all men”(Rom. 12:18) without ever becoming at peace with sin.
To walk in a manner worthy of our calling as God’s children we must abstain from every form of sexual immorality. And we should bear in mind that, according to the Bible, sexual immorality does not consist exclusively of outward sins, but it also includes the sins of the mind. We remember the words of Jesus from His sermon on the mount, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery in his heart”(Mt. 5:27,28).
Jesus reminds us that while a reformation of our behaviour is necessary, what is more necessary is a reformation of our mind and heart. While many people here today have never struggled outwardly with purity, I would be surprised to learn if there was anyone who had yet to struggle with keeping their thoughts pure.
And let us not forget why this is so important. Paul reasons with us in verses 7 and 8, “For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man, but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”
Make no mistake; it is God who is calling us to a life of purity, and so Paul warns us: a rejection of the exhortation to sexual purity is tantamount to a rejection of God.
Now, many people do reject God, as He is revealed in Scripture, and so I am not surprised to see our society adopt lax moral standards. And I have no illusions of changing the moral standards of those who are not Christians. Paul has written these exhortations for Christians. Paul has written these exhortations for those who treasure Jesus. And his message is that treasuring Jesus requires the rejection of certain practices.
If there be any here today who do not treasure Jesus, my first exhortation to you would not be to abstain from immorality—my first exhortation would be to TREASURE JESUS! My first exhortation would be to convince you of the utter insufficiency of anything below Jesus Christ to minister relief to your soul (Matthew Mead).
Once Jesus has become your chief treasure, pleasing Him should become your highest priority. Once Jesus has become your chief treasure, you will soon realize that all of His commands were ordained for your benefit. Once Jesus has become your chief treasure, you will realize that you are not alone and that Christ will provide you with the ability to walk in a manner worthy of your new calling.
I implore you then, if you are seeking joy and satisfaction, look for it in Jesus Christ. For He alone can satisfy the deep longings of your soul. Amen.