We recently celebrated our granddaughter's second birthday. At the party my niece, who is three, wrote her name on a picture she had colored. She ran to my sister so proud of herself. She wanted her mommy to be pleased with her efforts. Most children want to please their parents.
But something happens as we grow older. We become more self-centered. We want what we want when we want it and we'll do whatever it takes to get it. We live to please ourselves and our sinful flesh. If Christ is Lord of our lives, we should not; indeed, we cannot live only to please ourselves.
"We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn't live to please Himself. As the Scriptures say, 'The insults of those who insult You, O God, have fallen on me.'" Romans 15:1-3 NLT
As children we live to please our parents. As adults most of us live to please ourselves. But as Christians we should live to please God.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2, Paul urges the believers in Thessalonica to live lives which please God more and more. They were already living this way but Paul wanted them to remember all he had taught them while he was with them. He wanted them to allow the Holy Spirit to continue transforming them. When we hear the Word of God, the Spirit of God goes to work in us changing the way we live. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul worded it this way:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV
Christ makes all things new in us. His Spirit living in us changes the way we think, speak, and act. No longer are we living to please others, all we do for them is a reflection of our relationship with God. No longer are we living to please ourselves, all we think, speak, and do is a reflection of our relationship with God. As we grow in our spiritual lives our desires change, the greatest desire of our heart becomes to please God.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 is:
Genuine faith lives to please God alone.
Who are you living to please? Your activities and actions are good indicators of the answer to this question! Spend some time reflecting on your activities and actions over the past twenty-four hours. Did they show a life being lived to please others, yourself, or God?
In verse ten of chapter three Paul had prayed for God to allow his return to the Thessalonians in order to "fill the gaps in your faith". Timothy had returned to Paul with encouraging news of the young believers perseverance in persecution. But he had also returned with news of gaps in their spiritual understanding. Chapters 4 and 5 are filled with Paul's gap-filling instruction.
He begins with with an explanation of God's will.
"For this is the will of God, that you be sanctified [separated and set apart from sin]; that you abstain and back away from sexual immorality." 1 Thessalonians 4:3 AMP
Many Christians ask the question: "How do I know God's will?
This verse plainly states God's will is for us to be set apart from sin, for God. Other places in Scripture tell us it is God's will for us to:
be saved (1 Timothy 2:4)
live transformed lives (Romans 12:1-2)
have a good witness among unbelievers (1 Peter 2:13-15)
live righteously (1 Peter 3:13-16)
be filled with His Spirit and bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26;
When we allow the Holy Spirit to change our hearts, our thoughts follow, then our words and actions change, and finally our activities. God's will is for us to become more and more like Jesus. When we're wondering what God's will is in a certain activity or circumstance we should ask ourselves:
How will this activity make me more like Jesus?
What reaction in this circumstance will best reflect God's Spirit in me?
How should I respond, speak, act in this situation in order to grow in Christlikeness?
Taking the time to ponder these questions could save us from much sin!
The specific sin Paul is addressing in these verses is that of sexual immorality. He began with this sin for two main reasons: 1) Thessalonica was a melting pot of many cultures and religions and illicit sex ran rampant within the city. People viewed sex as simply a biological function like breathing or eating. If they were hungry or thirsty they simply got something to eat or drink; likewise, if they desired sex with someone they simply had sex.
2) Paul knew these young believers had been immersed in this culture and would be tempted most in this area.
Satan always tempts us with the lifestyle we have given up for Christ. We all have a past life; a before Christ lifestyle and an after Christ lifestyle. Paul told the Corinthians:
"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (emphasis added)
Who among us hasn't committed at least one of these sins? We are all sinners. But it is God's will for us to be sanctified, to be transformed into Christlikeness. We don't need to fret and fluster over God's will. His will isn't something we must search for; if we know His Word, we know His will, then it simply becomes a matter of obedience. Romans 13:8-14 gives us further insight into God's will:
"Owe nothing to anyone - except your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God's law. For the commandments say, 'You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.' These - and other such commandments - are summed up in this one commandment: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God's law. This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of our salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don't participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don't let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires."
It is clear from these verses the key to finding and fulfilling God's will is love. We love God, therefore we seek to obey and please Him. This leads to loving others which leads to saying no to certain activities if they would hurt or violate another person. Sex outside the confines of marriage hurts and violates other people, this is why Paul urged the Thessalonian believers to abstain and back away from the sexual immorality so prevalent in their society.
Sexual immorality is prevalent in our society also. People live for the thrill of the moment forgetting there are consequences to their actions. Many are looking for fulfillment in sex and other activities when what they need is God. Christians are not immune. We fail and fall into sin. But as God's children we must train our eyes to look away, our minds to think on what is pure, and our bodies to flee. Living for the moment denies the power of God's Spirit to transform us and keeps us from experiencing true fulfillment.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:6-8 Paul further explains how we are to live as God's children. He began this section urging the believers to live lives pleasing to God. The way to please God is through holy living and the only way to live holy is through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul ends with the warning not to reject God. Refusal to live God's way is rejection of Him and His powerful Spirit within us. Choosing to live God's way enables His Spirit to empower us, helping us live lives that please Him.
There can be no fence sitting in the Christian life. Either we are living to please God or we are living to please self. Pleasing God is holy living. Pleasing self is impure living. Genuine faith knows the difference.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 is:
Genuine faith seeks to please God in the attitude of the heart and the actions of the hand.
How are you living a holy life? What are you participating in that is rejecting God's Spirit? Where are you fence sitting in your Christian life? How are you denying the power of God's Spirit to transform you? What can you do to enable His power in your life?
Paul shifts from holiness to love in verse 9. This is an easy transition to make because living a holy life naturally leads to loving others. Just as being holy is part of God's will for us, so too, is being loving.
Jesus told us the world would know we are His by our love for one another.
"By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35
And He said loving our neighbor as ourself is the second greatest commandment.
"The second is this, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12:31
As children we learn how to love from our parents. Christian love is no different. God is our Father and He taught us how we are to love others. He loved. He gave. Jesus taught us how to love when He died for our sin. He loved. He gave. Romans 5:5b tells us:
"For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill us with His love."
God gave us His Spirit to enable us to love others. He loved. He gave. The kind of love Paul is speaking of is unselfish love; it's love which puts others needs ahead of its own. The Thessalonian believers were already demonstrating this kind of love and Paul urges them to continue. As God's children we should be loving others with the same selfless love with which God loves us. When we love each other this way we give the world a picture of Jesus.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 is:
Genuine faith loves unselfishly.
How's your love life? In what ways are you exhibiting unselfish love? Would others know you're a Christian by the way you love others?
In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 Paul says:
"Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others."
Paul is speaking of daily habits in these verses. Are we drawing attention to ourselves or pointing others to God as we go about our daily lives? One of the best ways to ruin our witness for Christ is to be known as a gossip. Within the church we share information about others under the guise of prayer requests when what we're really doing is gossiping. Another way to ruin our witness is being known as a freeloader, taking advantage of others for what they can give us. Both of these habits are selfish. Both of these are unloving toward others.
Paul never freeloaded. He always worked to make his own way so he would not be a burden to the churches he served. He had instructed the Thessalonians to do the same.
When they found Him in the temple, Jesus told Mary and Joseph,
"Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?"
Luke 2:49 NKJV
When we are busy doing God's work we have no time for gossip. When we're busy doing God's work laziness is not an option. Being busy about God's work is His will for His children.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 4:10-11 is:
Genuine faith works for God in words and actions.
How are you busy doing God's work? In what ways are your daily habits pointing others to God? Where do you need to reevaluate your habits in order to be a better witness for God?
Another gap in these young believers faith was in the area of Christ's return. Paul speaks of this in many of his letters and it is apparent from what he wrote that he believed Christ's return would be soon.
Remember Thessalonica was a pagan city and these infant believers were just learning to put off their pagan beliefs. At this time in history pagans did not believe in life after death. The prevailing thought was: "This life is all you get so live it up, then die and be no more!" And that's just what most of them did! These believers were having a hard time shaking the belief of no afterlife and were concerned about their loved ones who had already died.
Paul wanted to assure them that those who died believing in Christ would rise again. He used the word "sleep" to describe death. By this he meant that the body was no longer functioning, it was asleep in the ground waiting for Christ to shout, calling it forth at His return. Paul explained it this way to the Corinthians:
"It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies...Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man." 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 NLT
He wanted them to understand, though the body no longer functioned, "asleep" in the ground; the souls of those they loved were already with Jesus so they had nothing to fear. Again to the Corinthians he explained:
"Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our gaol to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it."
2 Corinthians 5:6-9
While we are alive our souls are housed in our bodies away from the Lord. The moment we die our souls are transferred into God's heavenly kingdom. All who have died believing in Christ will return with Him. This is the mysterious truth Paul was trying to convey to the Thessalonians about their loved ones.
"For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him." 1 Thessalonians 4:14
Just as we can't bring something with us if we don't have that thing in our possession; Jesus cannot bring the souls of dead believers with Him at His return if they are not already with Him. Genuine faith accepts the fact that those who die knowing Jesus are with Him in heaven.
Paul ends 1 Thessalonians 4 with some of the most comforting and exciting words in Scripture!
"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words." verses 16-18
Jesus' first advent was unnoticed by most. He came to earth as a baby, born in a stable, laid in a manger. Angels heralded His birth to a few humble shepherds. His second coming will be heralded by three distinct sounds: His shout, the shout of the archangel, and the trumpet blast of God. And everyone will know. There will be no obscure stable, no soft cry, no uneventful birth. The baby's soft cry will be replaced with the Victor's loud shout! Will you be ready?
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is:
Genuine faith lives each day as if it were the day of Christ's return.
What do you believe about the resurrection of the dead? Take some time to write out your beliefs, support them with Scripture. How are you living each day? What should you be doing to live as if Christ's return is imminent?
I pray we will all develop genuine faith as we live our lives to please God.
Until next time keep gathering manna, growing deeper, and gaining intimacy!
God bless and keep you,
1) Read 1 Thessalonians 4 and mark any key words or phrases.
2) Prayerfully answer all questions and do all activities in this lesson.
3) Read 1 Corinthians 15. List everything you learn about Jesus' resurrection and His return.
4) Read 2 Corinthians 5:1-9. List everything you learn about what happens to believers at death.