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Walking to Please God (chapter 4:1-8)
One Step at a Time
Walking to Please God
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
 
Today our text is the first eight verses of 1 Thessalonians 4, and once again Paul returns to this idea of walking. 
 
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
 
Already we've seen that our walk with God begins with His call to salvation that reverses our course.  We now walk with God and we travel in a different direction than we once did. 
 
And not only do we walk with God, but we have the privilege of sharing the journey with others who come alongside us like our church family and pastors and teachers.  And together, with our roadmap called the Bible, we are learning how to walk worthy of God. 
 
Sometimes the road gets rough and dangerous, but it is our commitment to keep on walking, knowing that one day, we will make it home. 
 
Now, in the verses I read a moment ago, Paul once again references this walk by saying you've already received from me how you ought to walk and to please God. 
 
And notice, in verse 1 he says the urging and exhortation I gave you was "in the Lord Jesus".  In other words, what he taught was delivered under the authority of Jesus Christ Himself. 
 
And, verse 2, he says the commandments he delivered were through the Lord Jesus.  We'll look at the specific commands in a moment, but just underscore the fact that God gives commands through His Word, under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ regarding how we are to walk so we can please God.
 
And there is a simple principle found in two words contained in this text.  First, notice the word "abound" in verse 1, and secondly, the word "abstain" in verse 3. We can put them together like this: 
 
To abound, we must abstain.
 
So what does that mean?  It means if I want God's best in my life, there are some things I must leave alone.  God's greatest blessings are found in living a disciplined life.  The abundant life Jesus promised to give is limited to those who choose to abstain from what He restricts.
 
It seems to me that the "abounding more and more" than he speaks of in verse 1 is directly connected to the sanctification that he mentions in verse 3. 
 
There is a very logical pattern given in these verses.  In so many words, Paul says, "You know what we taught you about how to live to please God and how those commands were delivered under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And you're doing that, but I want you to encourage you to do that more and more.  Because it is God's will for you to be sanctified." 
 
So simply put, living to please God, living the abundant life is nothing other than living a sanctified life.  Now you may be saying, "That's all well and good, but what does it mean to live a sanctified life?"
 
The word "sanctify" means to be set apart from sin to holiness.  In the Old Testament, the furnishing and utensils in the temple were "sanctified".  They were used only in service to God for His holy purposes. 
 
When I was in college, my roommate had a sanctified guitar.  He played nothing and allowed no one to play any secular music on that guitar.  I will never forget the look of shock on his face when my brother came to visit our dorm room one time, picked up that guitar and hit a few chords of the odl Eagle's song, "Desperado". 
 
John took it away from him and explained he had dedicated that guitar to the Lord and only placed Christian music on it.  It was sanctified. 
 
And here, Paul uses that term to describe Christians.  We are to be sanctified, separated from sin and devoted to the service of God.  In fact, Paul says God has willed that for us.  He has determined that purpose. 
 
And to be sanctified, we have to abstain from some things. Now, I will tell you there aren't many things from which the Bible tells us to abstain. In fact, the word itself is used only 7 times in the New Testament—3 times in the book of Acts, once in 1 Timothy, once in 1 Peter and twice here in 1 Thessalonians.
 
And whenever we see the word “abstain” in the Bible, we know two things for certain.  It is a command of God and it is an absolute prohibition. 
So whenever we find a command to abstain in the Bible, we ought to take it seriously.
 
We have come to one such command in our text. It is so simple and clear that can be no debate about it. God commands believers to abstain from sexual immorality. Period. End of story. We may debate the proper application, but the command itself is crystal-clear.
 
If you want to walk in a way that pleases God, if you want to abound more and more, then you must abstain from sexual impurity.
 
One must wonder why Paul feels compelled to insert this particular issue in at this juncture in his letter. Keep in mind, Paul is writing a letter, and as was his custom, he generally dealt with questions that were asked and issues that had come to his attention. 
 
And apparently sexual sin was an issue in the church at Thessalonica.  It appears that he has already addressed the issue with them and given them some instruction regarding it.  Thus he says, "You've already been told how you are to walk."  But now he is re-emphasizing that teaching. 
 
Perhaps they didn't fully understand it or didn't think it was such a big deal, or it just felt good to continue, but Paul says I want you to know we are talking about the authority of the Lord, the commands of God, the will of God and your sanctification.  This is a big deal!
 
Now obviously, this is not a popular doctrine. I promise you will hear a whole lot more sermons on the love of God than on the dangers of sexual immorality. They aren't easy to preach and they aren't so easy to hear.
 
But I have a fear that our generation is very much like that of Paul's day in that we don't think sexual sin is really all that serious. 
 
Maybe, like the Thessalonians, we either think we’ve heard all this before, or we’d rather not hear it at all, or perhaps we think these words are meant for someone else.
 
But I don't know that there is any other message more needed to be heard by the church today.  It was several years ago when Billy Graham commented that we routinely laugh at things that used to make us blush a generation ago.
 
And unfortunately, that’s true even inside the church. Come to think of it, whatever happened to blushing anyway? It’s almost disappeared. We have seen so much, heard so much, and experienced so much that nothing seems to surprise us anymore.
 
The sexual revolution has liberated us from the old standards, and with the changing times blushing has almost vanished.  That's not a good thing, but it is the way things are today.
 
And just a casual look around forces us to admit that's true.  Pornography has come out of the closet and on to main street.
 
What was hidden behind the counter in the good old days is now available in our homes and on our computers and phones.  Through the Internet the vilest forms of pornography are now available to anyone who cares to access it. 
 
Homosexuality is now seen as an acceptable lifestyle.  In fact, most mainline denominations now have, not only openly gay membership, but perform homosexual wedding and have openly gay clergy. d.
 
We routinely see things on television that would have shocked us 25 years ago.  Nothing much surprises us anymore. We’ve seen it all, and unfortunately, we've seen it so often we’ve lost our ability to be shocked.
 
Adultery, premarital sex, wife swapping, transgendered celebrities, sexting, rampant divorce, multiple marriages, incest, child porn, bestiality, gay churches, born again pornographers, radical sex education.
 
As pastors in Southern Oklahoma, we used to never have to deal with issues like people living together outside of marriage wanting to join the church or be baptized.  Now it's common.
 
What has happened to America? When did we lose our collective sense of modesty? Somewhere in the last generation morality died, public opinion eroded, the law therefore no longer applies and churches have closed their eyes and shut their mouths.
 
With that as background, we turn to our text.
 
 
Paul begins with
 
1. One Primary Issue
 
verse 3
 
This entire passage deals with this one primary issue of abstaining from sexual sin.  And to understand the command, there are two words that we need to get hold of. 
 
First, notice the phrase “sexual immorality”.  Those two words come from the Greek word "porneia".  It is the word from which we get our word "pornography", but it is actually a very broad word that included every kind of sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman.
 
It covers sins of the mind, body, eyes, ears and lips. It includes premarital sex, extra-marital sex, every form of homosexuality, adultery, and every form of pornography.
 
The second word is the word abstain.  It means “to hold off from, to distance oneself from, to have nothing to do with.” You abstain from something when you separate yourself from it completely.
 
Imagine a vast pit containing all the evils of sexual impurity that I just mentioned. That pit seethes and bubbles with every sort of foul sexual sin and every form of sexual perversion. It is deep and dangerous.
 
To “abstain” means you don’t dabble in that pit. You don’t dip your toe in the pit. You don’t stand on the edge and take pictures of the pit.
When you see the pit of sexual sin, abstaining means you get as far away from it as you can.  And when he puts those two words together, Paul is telling us that Christians must abstain from a pornographic lifestyle in the broadest sense of that word.
 
There is no such thing as “moderate immorality” or “social adultery”.  There is no “victimless pornography.” We are not to dabble in sexual sin in any of its various forms. We are to have nothing to do with it.
 
And notice, Paul doesn’t spell out every detail of sexual immorality. He doesn’t have to because the particular expressions of sin will change depending on time and place and cultural factors. The application may change, but the command stands. 
 
In a world of impurity Christians are to be different. That’s what the word “sanctification” means. A sanctified person is a Christian whose life is “distinctively different” because it is set apart for God.
 
One writer put it this way: “In America today the most radical thing a person can do is to be the husband of one wife or the wife of one husband.”
 
We've got lots of those relics of yesteryear in our church and we celebrate and applaud their faithfulness, not only to each other but to God Word.
 
So we have one primary issue. Then we find
 
 
 
 
2. Two Essential Commands
 
Verses 4-6 give us two commands—one positive and one negative. We must take each one to heart if we are going to be clean in a very dirty world.  first, Paul says, you must
 
- Control your own body 
 
verses 4-5
 
Scholars are a little divided on what Paul is saying in verse 4 when he references each one knowing how to “possess his own vessel.” Some say that is a reference to his own wife, since 1 Peter 3:7 refers to the wife as the “weaker vessel.”
 
I think it makes much more sense, in the context of what Paul is saying, to see it as a reference to a man's own body and inner nature.   The instruction, then, is to learn to control the inner impulse to sin.
 
Now, in that regard, it needs to be said and deserves to be said that sexual urges are not sinful.  Those urges are put there by God himself. The desire to know and love another person and to express yourself physically is not wrong, and we don’t need to be ashamed of that. It’s part of being male and female and being made in God’s image.
 
But all sexual sin is produced by a wrong response to those desires and appetites.  Therefore, it's what you do with those urges that determines whether you will live in control and abstain or whether you will live in sin. 
 
The world tells you to indulge yourself, to go for the gusto, to throw off all restraints and to follow your feelings. The desire to express yourself sexually is not evil. But it is a fire that burns within.
 
Think of it this way:
 
A fire in the fireplace or the oven is good!  Warmth fills the room.  Food is cooked to feed us. 
 
However, a fire in the living room or the kitchen is dangerous.  And if it is not brought under control, the whole house will burn down and the result will be disastrous.
 
And Paul is reminding us that a God-empowered man or woman will be in control of his or her own body.  And when God is not in control, the body controls the man or the woman.
 
Notice how Paul explains that in
 
verse 5
 
He describes the person who is out of control sexually as living in the "passion of lust, like the Gentiles". 
 
Historically, he was talking about those who were heathen and pagan.  They are governed by their desires and passions. 
 
If you want to know what he was talking about in practical terms, check out the internet. Check out social media. Check out what people text to one another.
But spiritually, he was talking about those without Christ.  They are described as those "who do not know God".  That’s the cause of all the pain, misery, sin and debauchery in the world today. Men and women do not know God and therefore indulge their worst impulses.
 
When people turn away from God, anything is possible. No one knows how deep we can go when we do not know God. There is no limit, no end. There are depths of shame and pollution, cesspools of life, that people live in for years because they do not know God. Because there is no check on their desires, they commit unspeakable sin.
 
But we know God . . . and that makes all the difference!  So that's the first essential:  Learn to live in control of your own body.
 
Second,
 
- Don’t cheat another person            
 
verse 6
 
Other translations use words like “exploit” or “cheat” instead of "defraud".  The idea is, don’t take from another man or woman what is not yours to take.
 
For instance,
 
*Don’t cheat your fellowman by sleeping with his wife.
*Don’t cheat your wife by dreaming of other women.
*Don’t cheat your boyfriend or girlfriend by leading them on.
*Don’t cheat your future husband or wife by giving away your purity.
*Don’t cheat your friends by playing the hypocrite.
*Don’t cheat your children by jeopardizing your marriage
*Don't cheat your future spouse by sleeping with every slut or bum in town!
 
Immorality is like that. It always cheats someone else, usually someone you love very much. Just ask any wife whose husband left her. Just ask any parent whose child had an affair. Just ask any church members who saw their pastor fall into sexual sin.
 
Perhaps the saddest thing about lust is that it never satisfies. Someone has said that lust is “the craving for salt by a man dying of thirst.” It promises everything and delivers nothing. No lasting satisfaction. Not even any swift punishment. You always have to go back for more. It’s the law of diminishing returns. Lust forces you to keep coming back.
 
So Paul shares one primary issue:  Abstain from Sexual Sin, two essential commands:  live in control and don't cheat others, and ends with 
 
3.  Three Important Facts
 
Each one applies directly to us today.
 
First, God will punish those who disobey this command
 
verse 6b
 
Sometimes we read verses like this and think, “God will send down lightning from heaven.” Well, he certainly could do that. That might happen. But one of the most terrifying things you will ever consider is that more often than not, God’s judgment is simply to do nothing to stop men and women on their headlong rush to destruction.
 
It’s as if there is a high cliff with jagged rocks far below. Near the edge are signs warning drivers of the danger. Because of frequent accidents, there are flashing lights and warning sirens.
 
But imagine someone so drunk with pleasure and self-satisfaction, so obstinate in their stubbornness, so arrogant in their ignorance, that instead of turning back, when he sees the cliff, he hits the gas instead. Ignoring all the warnings, he plunges over the cliff going 125 miles per hour, hurtling to his own death, taking his passengers with him.
 
Sometimes God punishes the body, sometimes the mind, sometimes our speech, our eyes, often our health, and almost always our memories. Lust produces that inward deadening that is both unexpected and inevitable. 
 
Research confirms that porn “rewires” the brain by changing the neural pathways. That’s why it’s so hard for people hooked on porn to be set free. In the words of John Michael Cusick, “Porn becomes the path of least resistance in the brain.” And even that  is the judgment of God.
 
Second,
 
 
- God has called us to purity                       
 
verse 7
 
Christianity is ultimately about purity. Jesus is the Champion of purity.  Our faith is utterly alien to every form of uncleanness. When Jesus comes in, he cleans house. The Christian faith spread across the Roman Empire because it offered moral purity that became a light in the prevailing darkness. The same thing happens today whenever we dare to live by God’s standards.
 
And finally,
 
- Rejecting purity means rejecting God  
 
verse 8
 
To reject means to treat with utter contempt. It renders the commandment of God null and void.
 
Now come all the way away and tune in real good:  You can’t have it both ways. You need to either get yourself under the control of the Holy Spirit and live a life of purity or you need to stop calling yourself a Christian!
 
All of us need this message. I need it personally. No one is exempt—not the pastor nor the staff members nor the people in the pew. If you think you could not fall in this area, you are wrong. This is God’s Word for all of us.
 
So, is there any good news?” Indeed there is.  There is always good news and it is found in this text in the last phrase of
verse 8
 
Notice he references the “God who gives you His Holy Spirit.” The word “gives” is present tense. In this case it means that God gives and keeps on giving the Spirit to you. You have the Holy Spirit always within you. When God commands you to abstain, he also gives you the power to obey.
 
There is no power but this to sanctify you.
There is no hope but this for cleansing from sin.
 
You are not in this battle alone. Your weakness is his strength. Do you need help? You’ve got it!
 
In 1763 Augustus Toplady wrote a hymn called Rock of Ages. I want to read the first verse because it describes an important truth. Pay close attention to the last line:
 
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.
 
No one has to give in.  No one has to yield to sin. No one has to live in perpetual defeat.  But the power to change is not in you. The power is in the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we try to change ourselves, we will fail because we are too weak. Our hope is in the Lord.
 
Imagine that you have a big jar filled with dirt, grime, manure, and every sort of filth. How will you ever get rid of that muck and mire?
Well, you can roll up your sleeves and plunge your hands deep into the foul-smelling, sticky mess. As you scoop it out, the slimy stuff gets on your arms and your clothes, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get it all out.
 
Now suppose that instead of using your hands, you grab a hose hooked up to a high-pressure stream of pure spring water. You take the hose, plunge it into the muck, and let the water do its work. Little by little the clean water forces out the filth because filth can’t stay where the clean water enters. Eventually the water does what you could never do on your own. The filth is gone and the jar is clean.
 
That is a parable of the Christian life. All of us are like jars of muddy water when we come to Christ. Some are muddier than others, but all of us are unclean when we find the Lord. It is the work of a lifetime to replace the muddy water of our sinful inclinations with the pure water of God’s holy character.
 
But be encourage!  For this is the will of God, your sanctification!
 
One final word.  I know I speak to some today who are either very near that pit I described earlier, or perhaps have already fallen in.  It may be you were promiscuous in your younger days or possibly before you came to Christ. Perhaps you have burning memories of recent moral failure. The truth is, we have all failed, and we have all sinned. No one has a perfect record in this area.
 
 
During the earthly ministry of Jesus, a group trying to discredit his ministry brought a woman to him who had been caught in the act of adultery.  Now even though there was a lot of other stuff going on, it doesn't change the fact that she was guilty as charged and according to Jewish law, she, along with her lover, deserved to be stoned. 
 
But that day, she encountered the grace of God and when the encounter was over, Jesus said to that woman, "I'm not here to condemn you.  But here's what I want you to do:  Go and sin no more!"
 
And I want you to know Jesus says the same thing to you:  “Go and sin no more.” You can’t do a thing to change the past, and it’s a waste of time to try. However, you can do something about the future. By God’s grace you can be clean and pure from this day forward. You don’t have to live in guilt or fear or shame any longer.
 
To use the vernacular of our messages from 1 Thessalonians:  Get up and walk!  Get up out of the muck and mire.  Get out of the pit and in the name of Jesus, rise and walk!
 
Years ago I ran across this statement: “The key to a better future is to stop trying to have a better past.” That’s exactly right. Some of us need to face our past and say the truth: It is what it is.
 
Remember the First Law of Spiritual Progress:
I can’t go back.
I can’t stay here.
I must go forward.
 
You can’t go back to change the past, and you can’t stay where you are because life is a river that flows ever onward, but by God’s grace you can decide to serve Jesus Christ from this day forward.
 
I believe God wants to raise up a generation of Christians who will walk in purity. Nothing will prove more convincing to the watching world than believers in Jesus who manage to be pure in this very dirty world.
 
He wants to create an island of hope in a sea of despair.  He has called us to be an island of light in a sea of darkness.
 
When we walk in purity, the world notices because people are looking for hope. When we dare to obey God, broken people will come crawling out of the darkness to join us in the light of the gospel of Christ. If we do our part, God will do the rest.
 
Let's pray.


Comments

03-11-2018
Adrian
I know the consequence of sexual sin well, when I was first converted I still slept around a few times after my conversion, and to this day after 15 yrs I still suffer from the consequences though I have repented - physically, emotionally and spiritually.. Having said this, I do still struggle with adulterous thoughts and sometimes still perform self gratification. I want to be healed, whole. I want to glorify the Lord in my body, life. I beg anyone reading this , if you are secretly living in sexual sin - STOP NOW ! Because believe me, it is not worth it !
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