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TEXT: I Thessalonians 4:1-12
SUBJECT: Thessalonians #6: Pleasing God
The topic of today's passage is Pleasing God. The outline could not be simpler: Paul begins with the duty to please God in verses 1-2, then he gives three examples of pleasing God in the verses that follow. His method is wise because there's no such thing as a general holiness. To say, Your life ought to please God is true, but it is not complete. Pleasing God is in the details of life, in the little choices you make a thousand times a day.
How different our lives would be if we had made other choices. The choices of the past cannot be unchosen; nor can the choices of the future be made in the present. But you can choose now. In fact, you are choosing now--whether you know it or not, whether you want to or not-you're making choices. The choice you're making is to please God or not to please God. You make that choice every time you come to church. Sermons are both the words of man and the Word of God. To the man, you can say any number of things: good sermon, bad sermon, interesting, dull, too long, too short, and so on. But to God, there are only two things you can say: Yes or No.
God wants you to please Him, and somewhere, deep in your soul, you want to please Him too, and you won't be happy until you please Him. So, make that choice today. Don't bother with a lifelong resolution, for it will not be kept. Choose to please God now--in listening to this sermon; then choose to please Him in the other things you'll do in the afternoon, in the evening, tonight, and tomorrow.
Nobody ever lived a more successful life than Enoch. Did he have a high-paying job, a beautiful wife, nice kids, and good health? We have no idea, but we do know: He had this testimony: that he pleased God. You cannot do more than that-and you must not do less. Pioneer missionaries and Christian invalids have the same calling in life: to please God.
THE DUTY, V.1
The duty of pleasing God is found in v.1,
You ought to walk and to please God.
To walk and please God are not two separate duties, but two ways of saying the same thing. Your walk is your life. Thus, pleasing God is not a church thing and is not limited to your private devotions, family worship, and others things taken for religious.
Other religions have religious things, but Christianity abolishes religion! Because the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, everything we do, from preaching a sermon to taking a shower is done for God or against Him. Thus your whole life is to please God-not just what you do in church, but, equally, what you do in bed or in front of the TV.
You don't have to be an expert in grammar to know that ought stands for duty. Pleasing God is not an option; it's a command. It's not one way to live, but the only way to live!
Before moving on, I need to ask you: Do you want to please God? I know it's your duty to please Him, but is it also your desire? I know no one (but Christ) wants to please Him perfectly, but I want to know: Do you want to please God imperfectly? If you do, don't worry about the imperfections of your desire, but thank the Lord for the desire itself!
This command-to please God-is very encouraging to me. It may not prove, but it sure suggests that God can be pleased, and not just by sinless perfection or something close to it. And, in fact, this is what the Bible teaches.
The Philippians were not Super Saints, but Paul said their gift to him (which could have been more) was,
A sweet smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.
Note the word, well. God did not tolerate their gift; He rejoiced in it! Think of a fussy little man who wants a certain gift for his birthday. His wife and kids know how particular he is, and so they scour the stores for what he wants, but none has it. Needing a present by tomorrow, they get him one, but it's not quite what he asked for-very much like it, nearly the thing, but not the thing. The man fakes a smile and says in a thin voice, Gee thanks everybody.
God is not like that fussy little man. He's big hearted and full of love and good cheer. We bring Him our gifts, and though they're not exactly what He asked for, He's still happy to have them. Not tolerant, not even content, but happy!
Our duty is to please God and our God is so patient and generous that we can please Him.
THE APPEAL, V.1
The Lord's generosity rubbed off on Paul. Instead of being the stickler he had been as a Pharisee, Paul was a kind and gentle man. He could be hard when he needed to be, but only when he needed to be. He preferred to be tender, and that's what he is here.
He calls the Thessalonians brethren. This means he doesn't put himself above them. Of course, he knew more than they did and had a calling from God they didn't have, but whatever his gifts and calling may be, Paul remained a brother in fact, and brotherly in style. He's not God's Enforcer! And He doesn't try to be!
He assures them that they're doing well, you should abound more and more means they're already abounding! Paul knows this and he wants them to know he knows it.
There's a kind of Christian (and pastors are often the worst of them) who is never happy. Whatever we do, we could always do more. That's true, we could do more-and ought to! But doing some is good too! In a physical and psychological way, this wears people out-more, more, more! But setting that aside, it's sinful because God is not that way! What does He do to the young and the weak in His flock? He drives them with a cattle prod and when they've done their best, He says, Not bad.for you. Is this what the Bible says of Him? No.
He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.
This is how Paul is to the Thessalonians, an older brother who loves the little ones in the family.
Paul's tenderness does not cancel his firmness. Yes, he's a brother and a kind one at that, but he won't mince words: he doesn't suggest they please the Lord, but he urges and exhorts them to do it. These are strong terms that show Paul means business. He doesn't wish they would please the Lord, but he commands them to do it; and he's going to follow up on them to see if they're doing it or not.
In short, Paul is speaking the truth in love. He tells them what to do-in no uncertain terms-they know what he expects of them. But he does it without being superior, hasty, and judgmental.
This brings me to an observation: Have you ever wondered why your corrections usually fail to correct? Maybe it's because you've neglected one side of Paul's character for the other. Maybe, you're so tender that no one even knows that you've corrected him. Or, more likely, maybe you're so harsh that you make people mad instead of helping them. It's not easy to strike the balance. But strike it we must, if we want to please God ourselves-and help to do it as well.
THE RULE, V.2
How do we please God? The second verse tells us,
For you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
No word has been stretched more than legalism. Traditionally, it has meant one of three things: (1) making up laws that are not in the Bible and calling them God's Law, or (2) looking to God's Law to save you, or (3) limiting the law of God to outward things, or (4) keeping the Mosaic Law as though Jesus Christ has not come.
Today, however, legalism has come to mean treating the law of God as though He wanted you to keep it. This is not legalism! It is holiness! The Beatles were wrong when they sang,
Love is all you need.
John Lennon's love for his second wife humiliated his first wife and tore up his son, Julian. Did John love Yoko? I believe he did. But his love for her was hate for others. Thus, it needed to be directed by the old-fashioned rules of right and wrong. In the same way, our love for each other cannot be whatever we say it is. It has to be defined, and the commands of Jesus Christ do that. He doesn't have a rule for every possible situation in life, of course, but He gave principles that can be applied to everything we do and He have His Spirit to give us the wisdom to apply them well.
We please God by keeping the laws of Christ. The laws are not limited to what we don't do, but include what we do--and how we do them.
This is the big idea of our passage. Live to please God. Don't waste your life trying to please others all the time. You can't do it because people are fickle and hard to please. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you can please yourself by pleasing yourself: it can't be done. No one is less happy than he who lives for his own happiness. Live for God's happiness, and you'll find your own.
PLEASE GOD IN BED, VV.3-8
Having stated the big idea, Paul gets particular. He gives three ways in which believers can please the Lord. The first has a funny ring to it, but here goes: Please God in bed.
This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality, that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles, who do not know God.
Sanctification means 'holiness'. God wills us to be holy in both senses of the word: He wishes it and He decrees it. He tells us to be holy and, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, He makes us holy.
The holiness Paul has in mind here is of a sexual kind. Notice, he doesn't deny this part of our nature or wish we didn't have it. C.S. Lewis once wrote,
God isn't against sex. After all, He invented it.
The Lord, in other words, is not an old maid sneering at the young people for having all that fun. He made sex and He wants us to enjoy it. But the only way we can enjoy it is His way. Otherwise, it leads to unhappiness.
This means we're not to have premarital sex or extramarital sex. The Bible words are fornication and adultery. Again, not because sex is bad, but because it is good! And having it outside of marriage makes it worse, rather than better.
Looked at another way, it means we're to honor our bodies (and the bodies of other people) by putting them to a clean use and not a dirty one. Again, not that sex is dirty-it isn't, it's clean. But fornication and adultery are dirty. They dirty the mind, the body, and now, in the age of AIDS, they dirty the bloodstream!
One more thing is worth noticing here: Paul's use of the word, vessel. He doesn't say to hold our bodies in honor, but our vessels. What's a vessel? It's a pot. What's a pot for? For holding something. What do our vessels hold? The Holy Spirit!
This clinches the argument for living clean lives. Not that you'll get AIDS and die if you don't or that you'll smudge your reputation or you'll break your heart or you'll hurt your marriage. But your body ought to be sexually clean because the Holy Spirit lives inside of it. Would you desecrate a temple? Would you smear graffiti on a church? Would you paint a Swastika on a synagogue? We all agree these are awful things to do, but the Holy Spirit does not live in church buildings, temples, or synagogues: He lives in the Christian. And so, for His sake (if not our own), we ought to abstain from sexual immorality.
Paul adds four other reasons to live a chaste life.
First, to wallow in fornication is to live like someone who doesn't know God. But you do know God, so live as though you do!
Second, fornication, adultery, and so on are forms of robbery-No one should take advantage and defraud his brother in this matter. I wonder how many of us have thought of this? Living in a culture that prizes personal rights over everything else, we tend to forget that by sleeping with someone you're not married to you rob her husband or future husband of what she might give him if she hadn't been with you. What's more, you rob your own wife (or future wife) of what you owe to her. What you do in bed affects other people-for good or bad.
Third, immorality brings down the judgment of God. It sends unbelievers to hell. It brings heavy chastening down on believers. But in either event, the anger of God is to be respected and stayed away from-
The Lord is avenger of all such.
Fourth, the Gospel has called us away from dirty lives to clean ones-
God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.
Not everyone agrees with what I say. And if it were only I who said it, you'd have every right to disagree. But Paul says this is not my private opinion or the consensus of the church, but something weightier than these,
He who rejects this, does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.
Are you pleasing God with your body? With the obvious parts of your body? And what about with the eyes-looking at people or images you shouldn't? What about the ears-listening to jokes that may be funny, but are not wholesome? And what about the brain-dwelling on unclean thoughts?
PLEASE GOD AT CHURCH, VV.9-10
If we're to please God in bed, we're also to please Him at church,
But concerning brotherly love, you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another, and indeed, you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more.
We please God at church by loving each other. The Thessalonians were famous for their love-and Paul said so-but you can never overdo it with love, and he urges them on to greater acts of love. What love is he talking about? Brotherly love. What's that? I Corinthians 13 tells us. It's an attitude that is patient, kind, courteous, humble, generous, and easy to get along with.
Let me add: Brotherly love is not limited to the church roll. The Thessalonians loved each other-but not only each other, They loved the Lord's people all over Macedonia. This is what the Lord wants us to do. I have more opportunities to do good to you than I do to believers in, Nevada, let's say, or Mongolia. But as the needs arise and as my ability permits, I should do good to all men, especially unto those who are of the household of faith.
Are you trying to please God at church? Coming to church every Sunday does not mean you are. Over the years I've known people who would better serve the church by going to the football game on Sundays!
Don't be satisfied with sitting! Love one another.
PLEASE GOD IN THE WORLD, VV.11-13
Finally, Paul tells us how to please God in the world. Christians are not of the world, but we are in the world. And what we do at work, in the neighborhood, at school, in the store or out on the road will either please God or not.
What kind of life pleases God? This kind,
Aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands.that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.
This means be calm, don't be a busybody, work hard, and pay your bills. Don't be the hysterical woman who's always yelling at the kids in the neighborhood! Don't be the nosy man who's dying to find out what everyone is up to. Be a good worker: work hard, be honest, cooperate, take orders, and don't threaten, and don't be whiny! And take care of yourself by not spending more than you have and putting some aside for a rainy day.
There's nothing very spiritual about these things, but their absence is very carnal.
You're called to please God; and, by His grace, you can do it. So why don't you? Please Him in bed; please Him at church; please Him in the world. You won't be perfect, but let the words of Christ be applied to you in a secondary sense, My meat and my drink is to do the will of Him who sent me. I delight to do your will, yes, your law is within my heart.
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