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Clear Thinking About the End Which Leads to Christ-like Living in the Present
Ignorance is not Bliss - Always Being with Jesus Is
A Reminder that Holiness and Purity Matter
Missing Each Other Without Missing the Mark
Leaders That Create Churches Others Are Thankful For
A Letter of Thanks to a Church to Be Thankful For
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “What is God’s will for my life”? The Bible clearly answers it! As we continue our series on 1 Thessalonians, Todd Wagner teaches through 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, teaching us how to live a life that is pleasing to God by loving Him and loving others.
Good morning, Watermark, and welcome to May 2020. We all pray that this particular month will be better than the one we just pushed through. April kept us from each other for a long time, but we are so glad to be together today and to be opening up God's Word. Let me just start by praying for us, and I'm glad we're together.
Father, thank you for a chance through technology to be together in this particular way. We long to be together in person, and we thank you for that longing. It speaks to our love for one another and, frankly, to the fact that we are made in your image, the one who has forever dwelt together in unity and mutual subjection and love in the person of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Make us like yourself. Use today toward that end.
I pray for my friends who are listening who don't know of your great love that has eternally existed in who you are and that has been expressed in the way you demonstrated your love for us in that while we were yet sinners you died for us. I pray they would come to understand that today and that all of us would respond fully to the gospel in a way that affirms in our hearts and makes clear to the world that we know you. We love you, Father. Thank you for your Word. Teach us now. In Jesus' name, amen.
Well, we are making our way through the book of 1 Thessalonians. If you're not familiar with the Bible, it's a small letter Paul wrote to real people who were part of a real church that had heard the real gospel. What you're going to see today is a right and full response to that gospel. I always want to, especially during this season but always… I want to begin my messages now during this season with clarity on what the gospel is, because we know so many folks are inviting friends, saying, "Just jump in and understand what it is we, as God's people, want to be about."
You just need to know this: we aren't studying God's Word in hopes that if we do religious things God will eventually love us. I'm going to get to that a little bit later today. That's an idea of what's called legalism, that our performance and keeping the law is what makes God love us. That's not the case. We don't believe God loves us because of anything we have done.
We believe God loves us despite what we have done, and he has demonstrated that love by running toward us in the person of his Son Jesus who, though he knew no sin, God made him become sin on our behalf, that we by faith in him might become the righteousness of God in him. We believe we have peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ dying for our sins.
You need to know this about us: having seen the kindness and the goodness of God, we want to run to him more, we want to know him more, we want to represent him to others who don't know of the goodness of God, and we pray that our time together today will encourage believers to be more of who Jesus wants them to be, and we pray that in your hearing what I just talked about in terms of the nature and the purpose of our God that you would want to know him.
I want to say to you again: God doesn't love us because we're good; God is good and so he loves us. We're glad you're here with us. We are his church, and his church wants to know more of his heart for us. We're not trying to avoid God or manage God. We're not trying to keep him in a corner or in a box. We're just saying, "If you are full of grace and glory, if no good thing do you withhold from those who love you, why wouldn't we want to know you more?"
Well, that was Paul's encouragement and admonishment to the people who were in this little Greek town of Thessalonica. It wasn't really a little Greek town at all. It was a thriving metropolis. It was at the very center of a major trade route that took, basically, all of the goods from the west to the east and all of the goods from the east to the west. It was right there by the confluence of Europe and Asia.
It was an amazing city for Paul to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to, because if people heard the gospel in Thessalonica, there was a good chance the gospel was going to go throughout all the known world at the time, and God wants that gospel to go out through all the known world. We are in chapter 4, and that's a really important place in the book, because it's when Paul starts to do what he typically does in most of his letters. He spends the first part of his books talking about what we believe, and then he begins to tell us how we should behave because of what we believe.
In 1 Thessalonians, chapters 1-3, if you haven't been with us, Paul is talking a lot about what he believes about the Thessalonians: that they have a genuine faith and a faith that has become a bit celebrated throughout the known region of the world Thessalonica was in, the whole Macedonian, Grecian region. What Paul was going to now tell them was, "But stay at it. Excel still more."
What you're going to see is that Paul had heard back from his friend Timothy, who was with him when he was there in Thessalonica. Timothy came back and gave Paul a report. In fact, let me begin today by reading to you 1 Thessalonians 3:6-9. This is what it says: _ "But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you…" _
Imagine if I couldn't see you in any way and you really couldn't see me and all we had to do was write letters to one another. It took a long time for letters to get around back before there were things like email and texting. Imagine that a friend came to visit the town I was in, and he came back and returned to you with a message about how I was doing. He brought that message back to you, and then you were writing a letter to me that was going to be carried to me eventually. That's kind of the scenario that was going on.
One of the very first things we see that we can relate to here is Paul was saying, "I love you. You're my church. You're the church I was a part of, certainly, when I was in Thessalonica, and I long to be with you. You're my brothers and sisters in Christ." So he says, "This is why I'm going to write." Verse 7: _ "…for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith…" _ "We hear about how you're doing."
In verse 8 he says this. He says, "I'm going to really be alive and filled with joy if I hear that you're standing firm in your faith."One of the things that has happened during this season is I have been hearing of all of the good works that the good news has produced in you, and it has strengthened me and encouraged me that our fellowship is not in vain. Jesus is thriving in individual communities and individual families.
It's not to say we all don't struggle in some way and don't all need some reproof and admonishment. We all do, but I want to tell you, I am so encouraged by what I am watching and what I'm seeing in you.Paul, as a father to the Thessalonian church, said what all fathers say, which is, "I have no greater joy than to see my children walking in the truth." In verse 9, specifically, he wraps up this little section. He says, _ "For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account…" _
Church, I want to let you know I'm doing that. I am rejoicing in God because of your faithfulness, and if you're struggling in your faith, I pray that today you're going to get some encouragement. I pray you reach out to us in the midst of us reaching out to you through shepherds and through Community Groups and let us know how we can serve you.
Now, right after you get to 1 Thessalonians 3:9, where I'm explaining to you why Paul knew what to say to these people he hadn't been around… He goes right from there very quickly to a time of prayer for them, and that sets me up well for where I want to go. I'm giving you a little context because it has been since before Easter that we've studied this book together.
Paul closes the whole first section of his book with a prayer, and then he gets into this moment where he says, "I want you to do better. Excel still more." I'm going to remind you of some things I said about that, but here's a principle that I think is true, and I have done this today. Before I'm talking to you, I've talked to God about you. Here's a principle you should embrace: before you talk to men about God, you ought to talk to God about men.
Paul had done that with the Thessalonians. Specifically, in chapter 3, at the very end… I want to remind you. Right before he admonishes them as a father does his children, this is what he did. He prayed this. He said, _ "Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you…" _ The very first thing you're going to see is he said, "I am praying that we would be together soon."
Then, secondly, he says, _ "…and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you…" _ The second thing you see after he says, "May we be together soon…" He says, "I pray that you would increase in your love for one another and love, frankly, for folks who don't know the gospel yet. May you be marked by that which marks God, which is love for his people and for those who don't know the goodness of being God's people."
Then he says this at the very end in verse 13: _ "…so that _ [God] _ may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints." _ Let me just review it for you. I'll add this to the list. This is what he prayed. He said, "May we be together soon." Secondly, "May you increase in your love for one another and for all of those who are not yet in the faith." That was the second thing he prayed.
Then the third thing he prayed right there in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 3, verse 11 through the end of the chapter, is "Might you increase in your holiness and Christlikeness before God." This is the fourth thing he prayed: "So when Christ who's going to come and is going to return, that you would be ready and you would be hopeful of the glad reception you will receive from your King when he shows up. May you be ready and hopeful."
You're going to find out that the things Paul prayed for are the very things he's now about to teach them toward and encourage them toward. There's a lesson there, and the lesson is this: before you talk to men about God, you ought to talk to God about men. Pray for your neighbors, for your family members. Pray for your children you're trying to raise in the Lord. Pray for your spouse.
Pray what you're going to see in every one of those things is what you want to see God produce in them. Don't spend time praying what you want for them. Don't waste your words in trying to produce them according to your image, but pray for them that they would be conformed to the image of Christ, and then when you speak and when you teach, teach them toward that exact same thing.
All right. So, Paul was a great encourager, and he was about that. I want to remind you again and again what he did. Before he corrected them and said, "You can excel still more," he brought them real encouragement. Lots of encouragement before lots of correction is always the right way to love people, but correction is right when necessary.
There is not a single person on earth who doesn't still need correction and doesn't need encouragement. We all need encouragement. It's always necessary, and we are to encourage each other day after day, as long as it's called "Today," so we wouldn't be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
There was a quote I read by my friend John Piper. Piper was talking a little bit about his longing for more of what Jesus wants for him. You guys know that I say a lot that if a man doesn't want to know more of God, it's doubtful if he really knows him at all. That's a statement I say a lot, and I'm going to remind you, because if there is a hesitancy in you to spend time in God's Word, if there is an apathy in you to want to be obedient to Christ, at the very least you have forgotten the goodness and kindness of your God.
You want to be somebody who's always like, "I know he's good. I know he loves me. I know he gives grace and glory, so let me seek him first." Jesus first and Jesus most in terms of my heart's affection, and I know more about the mind of God when I read the Word of God, so the Bible first and the Bible most. So what we want to do is, at times, discipline ourselves to seek more of God.
There's this discipline called fasting, and fasting is not something we do to get God's attention. Fasting is not a hunger strike. I think sometimes people think of fasting in that way, like, "If I do this, if I deny myself something and starve myself, maybe God will direct his attentions toward me and, like the warden, ease up." Well, that's not what fasting is. Fasting is when you remove something from your life in order that you can make room for something of even greater importance.
Obviously, man can't live without bread, but Jesus reminds us, as he quotes from Deuteronomy, that man doesn't live by bread alone. He lives by every word that flows from the mouth of God. So sometimes it's good to fast from Spotify. It's good to fast from Xbox at times. It's good to fast from Netflix, and it's good at times to fast from food and water for a period of time. When your body craves those things, say, "You know what, God? I thank you that that prompting that is in me, that grumbling to eat physical bread that perishes, and then I'll hunger again…to long for something even more sustaining."
This is what my friend John Piper said. He said one of the great functions of fasting is not just to express the depth of our hunger for God to act in some way but to awaken in us a hunger that is not as deep as we wish it was. Then he made the comment, and I know it's true of me… My guess is that none of us hunger for God in this moment as deeply as we should.
If you want to pray for your pastor… And folks have been gracious at times to ask, "How can I pray for you?" Just pray that I would hunger for God more and more every single day. Jesus said, _ "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." _ So, do you want righteousness? Run right to the Word. Let's read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 together and see what this passage says.
"Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
_ 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 vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you." _
You're going to see Paul say again and again, "I'm reviewing. This isn't new information. I didn't sell you easy believism. I didn't say, 'Hey, trust in the cross of Jesus Christ, and then a little bit later I'll talk to you about holiness.'" Paul taught the gospel and holiness at the exact same time. One of the reasons so many people don't love God in trusting in his work on the cross is they've never heard somebody teach about holiness to begin with.
Let me say this again. The wrath of God is revealed against men for the way they suppress truth in unrighteousness and create gods of their own liking and own choosing and run after worthless things and their flesh becomes a slave to things that hurt them and dishonor God, and God judges us for that. The wages of our sin is death, lifelessness.
Even when we have the appearance as nonbelievers of having a party, it is death in terms of ultimate satisfaction and certainly in terms of relationship with God and ultimate destiny before God. Not just physical death but spiritual separation forever. The Scripture says the wages of sin is death. Paul is going to say again and again, "I taught you from the beginning about the holiness of God, and now that you've trusted in him that he has dealt with your lack of holiness, pursue holiness." That's the whole point of this section of 1 Thessalonians.
So, we're wrapping up verse 6, when he says: _ "…just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this _ [this idea of holiness] _ is not rejecting man _ [not Paul, not Todd] _ but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you _ [who believe]_ ." _ And gives his Holy Spirit to all who say, "God, enough of me; more of you."
Then Paul shifts in verses 9-12 with two more points. I'll go back through and teach verses 3-8 in some detail in just a second, but to finish this section, he says, _ "Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another…" _ God models it through the gospel, and he writes his Word on your heart. He even encourages them there in verse 10. "For you practice it in a way that has increased the renown of God all through Macedonia, but I encourage you to excel still more."
Then he wraps up with a third application, and I'll talk about what each of these are in just a second. He wraps it up by saying in verse 11, _ " [I want you] _ to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need _ [not be a burden on other people] ." _
Okay. Let's go take a look in depth at this section of Scripture. I think you're going to really be encouraged, if you're not already encouraged that God deals with your lack of holiness with his love on the cross so that, knowing him, you can pursue him more and become more like him and more holy. That ought to encourage you, that the glory God intends for you as a man, a woman, a child, a 16-year-old, a 9-year-old, a 5-year-old if you're listening, or an 85-year-old… It is never too late to begin to want more of God's intention for you.
So here we go. Paul says, _ "Finally…" _ Which is not really like, "This is the last thing I'm going to say." I do that a lot. I go, "Finally…" or "One more thing…" What Paul is really doing is like, "Hey, after I've encouraged you, after I've prayed for you, I'm going to finally get to this." It's not like last things "finally." It's like, "And now, in light of my love for you that has been affirmed in my celebration of all that I see as good, in light of the fact that I've talked to God about you, let me talk to you about God."
So, very humbly, though he is an apostle, he says, "I'm just like you. I need encouragement. I'm a brother, and I'm going to make a humble request. I'm going to exhort you. I'm going to come alongside of you…" That's what the word literally means. "…and just pull you forward, that in Christ…" He's reminding them who they are. "In Jesus, if you'll just lean not on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledge him, you will then continue in the instruction I gave you, which wasn't man's instruction. It wasn't the wisdom of man, but that you would learn to please God."
Watch. This is so important, and this is what marks true believers. Being a believer doesn't mean you believe you have to fill out a punch list. I think we've all had times around our houses where maybe we're getting to some of our honey-do lists that are given to us by our spouses. The Bible is not a "God-do" list. It's not a group of things that you just go, "I'll knock this off, and then he or she will be happy because I've filled all of the tasks I've been asked to fulfill." No.
I don't do a punch list to get him off my back or to go, "There. Are you happy?" It's called a honey-do list because you want to please your spouse. You want to do what your honey wants you to do because you love her. I want to please you, not perform for you. Our motivation in serving and loving God is to please him in every single way. We want to excel still more, because you can never love too much.
It's not very romantic. Right? Like, "Hey, have I given you enough today? Will you get off my back? Will you leave me alone?" That's not the way you endear yourself to a spouse. "Is that enough love?" If you ever have the mindset, "Did I read enough Bible? Did I listen to you enough today? Did I do enough things that honored you and showed you that I'm committed to you?" that's not of Christ. That's not Christian. The love we all want is the love that says, "There is no greater joy I have than to serve you and please you." It's Westley to Princess Buttercup: "As you wish."
"Servant boy, go and fetch me that water."
"As you wish."
"Boy, go and fetch me this."
"As you wish."
Well, if Buttercup could motivate the future Dread Pirate Roberts to gladly fetch a pitcher, the God who died for your Dread Pirate life ought to be responded to with a sense of "As you wish." Our motivation in all things ought to be to please God. We don't strive so God will love us. Buddha's last words were, "Keep striving." Like, "Stay at it. Maybe you'll attain to the nirvana you want." Jesus' last words were, "It is finished."
I want to make it very clear. We seek to please God not so we'd be pleasing to God, but it pleased God to give himself for us so that he might be both just and pour out his wrath on sin and the justifier of those who ask him for grace and mercy. What an incredible God we serve. What Paul is going to do here is he's going to remind his friends in Thessalonica of some things, and it's helpful to you and me as we live in community with one another.
I've already read it to you. You've heard what Paul is going to remind them of, but I just want to say it to you this way. Reminding is more needed than instruction. When Peter was writing his gospel, he said, "Let me say to you again, it's no trouble for me and it's beneficial to you." You're going to see the same thing here in Paul and why, as a pastor, I'm so pleased to get to remind you what God's Word says when we gather together.
I call this place we're not in together the R&R. It's not a worship center. This is the worship center…my body, your body right where you are. Paul is going to make that argument about why you shouldn't join yourself to prostitutes or to somebody who's not your spouse. Our lives are the worship center. I call this place the R&R. It's where we come to remind ourselves of the greatness of our God and to remember how to respond to him. That's why Paul wrote the letter to the Thessalonians.
Here's a point: reminding is more needed than instruction. I don't mind reminding you of that. God wants us to be reminded. That's why he says even at the very end of this letter in chapter 5, verse 14, "Brothers, admonish the unruly." Specifically, in the context, the unruly we see right there in verses 11 and 12: folks who would not work. That's to live an unruly life.
Encourage folks to go to work, and then encourage the fainthearted. It's people who are maybe overwhelmed at what we're going to study next week in verses 13-18. They're despairing because of death, and "Is it worth it? Is Jesus coming back? Are the folks who are dead going to miss him because they're not going to be here when he comes back?" Paul says, "Encourage those fainthearted people."
Then, specifically, to be patient with everyone. When he says, "Help the weak," it's probably in reverse order here. He's saying those who are prone to listen to their flesh. While the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. Paul says, "Help one another." This is one of the dangers, by the way, of the isolation we're experiencing. We're not there to slap each other's hand when we reach for that extra cookie.
You know, the old expression… I just found out what it meant. Have you ever heard the expression, "That's one smart cookie"? That comes from what I think now, probably, in our politically correct 2020 day, is a politically incorrect term, but cute, attractive women to men who spoke this way to them were called a cookie, because it was sweet and pleasing. When you had a girl who was more than beautiful but was also intelligent and a contributor, they were called a smart cookie.
What you're going to find out here in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 is that Paul says we need to slap each other's hands when we start reaching for cookies, whether they be ones that put a little extra fat on our bodies or, specifically, something that looks sweet but because it's outside of the will of God, if it's not our covenanted spouse, is going to cause more than a few extra calories to come into you. It's going to be an offense to Christ.
Paul, as he even says that little section, which has a broad application, to admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, and help the weak, and to realize none of us are perfect… We're all going to need admonishment, encouragement, and help. We're all going to be weak in our flesh at some point. We're all going to be fearful about death or overwhelmed at the death of a loved one, and we're all going to need to be admonished to work and, whatever we do, to do heartily unto the Lord and not unto men. We should do it with patience.
Paul is going to remind us that in this section, but here's one other point I want to give you: how you respond to the reminder is what marks you as a child of God. If in the midst of somebody speaking the truth in love to you, like it says in Proverbs 27:5-6… It says, _ "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy." _
When a friend faithfully wounds you and says, "You're eating too many cookies, you're a little bit too lazy" or "You're not living in the midst of the hope Christ has provided," if you just go, "Man, leave me alone. I'm going to reach for what I want and eat what I want, and I don't believe it matters before God," that's not a good sign. That should be a great concern for you.
In fact, let me read to you from 1 Corinthians 2 where Paul says this to the Corinthians, a group of people who lived in a town that was not a lot unlike Thessalonica. It was a place of great paganism and perversion. When Paul was teaching them about who Christ was, and then he comes back to them a little bit later and says some things to them, he's saying, "Not all of you are going to respond well to what I'm saying."
This is 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 14 and following. This is what goes on here. He says, _ "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." _ You can understand them because the words are words that come from the Spirit, and if you don't speak the Spirit's language of love and righteousness and truth, you won't understand it. You don't know the language of the righteousness of God.
Verse 15: "But the one who is spiritual apprises all things, yet he himself is not really concerned about how others apprise him." This is the point: "For he who has known the mind of Christ, the mind of the Lord, that's the one…"The person who rejects God is like, "Hey, man, you're not going to tell me anything." But Paul is saying we have the mind of Christ, so we want to hear more of him. That's our goal. So, how you respond to the reminder says a lot about who you are in Christ.
Look at verse 2. It says, _ "For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus." The word _commandments there is not like the word in verse 1. "I request and I exhort." Paul is dropping an idea with them in verse 2 when he says, "You know the commandments we gave you by the authority of Jesus." This wasn't Paul's idea. It's not my idea what I'm about to teach you. It wasn't my idea last week when I encouraged you to prepare your minds for action and to be sober in spirit, like it says in 1 Peter 1:13.
I didn't tell you what to watch or what not to watch. I just encouraged you to do what the Scripture says, that you should be holy like he is holy. Paul is saying, "I taught you what Jesus wanted when I was there. You know what commandments…" That word commandments is the word in a chain of military command or what a magistrate would say. "This is the law." Paul said exactly what Jesus said when he was here: "I taught you the will of the Father."
Paul is saying, "I taught you the will of the Son who taught you the will of the Father." That's all I'm doing. When we talk about biblical community, we say biblical community is made up of people who devote themselves to God's Word, who pursue each other relationally, who live authentically and admonish each other faithfully, who then counsel biblically and live on mission together. Do you see where we get these ideas?
First Thessalonians 4:2 makes it really clear that the mark of a faithful friend is biblical counsel. People ask me, "Todd, how should I figure out what church to join and be a part of?" Well, don't ever join a church… If you don't have people in your small community who are living out 1 Thessalonians 4:2 with you, who are counseling biblically, it's not Christ's community. Tell us. "Nobody here counsels biblically. Nobody here is a faithful friend, because nobody gives me biblical counsel. There's a lot of 'Well, I think…' or 'It seems right to me that…'"
Paul never did that. Paul says, "When I came to you, I talked to you about how you ought to walk faithfully and how you ought to please God. I gave you the commandments by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ." Wow. Specifically, verse 3: _ "For this is the will of God, your sanctification…" _ This is the will of God: your sanctification, that you would become more holy, more like Christ.
The Scripture says those he called, people he predestined to know him by his grace, he's going to justify, and those he justifies he will purpose to see that they are conformed into the image of his Son. So we participate with him. It is the will of God that we would become holy. I just have to let you know that holiness and the gospel are never separated. The call to move faithfully toward Jesus is not in any way separate from the gospel.
Let me say it to you this way. It grieves me when I hear people say, "Man, I don't want to hear about what I should be doing. I just want to trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ." You can't read Ephesians 2:8-9 without being compelled to go to Ephesians 2:10. Verses 8-9 are the gospel. It says, "For by grace you have been saved through your faith in what Jesus did, and that not even of yourself; it's a gift of God."
Dead men can't believe. God even gave you the gift of faith. If you're out there this morning and you don't have faith in the goodness of God, just cry out. Say, "God, I believe. Help me in my unbelief," and you're on your way, but you're not saved as a result of works, so that no man should boast. But watch this. You are, though, his workmanship, and you have been created in Jesus for good works and not for immorality and not for impurity and not for greed. Those are things which shouldn't even be named among you.
God prepared these things beforehand that you should walk in them. This is your destiny, and it's what God intends for you. If you have no intention to walk in holiness and righteousness and if you go, "That's a 'do' church; that's a legalistic thing…" I love the quote by A.W. Tozer that essentially says, "The church will be at the height of its heresy when it calls obedience legalism."
A number of years ago, I was with our residents, our fellows, our Watermark Institute here. Pray for our friends. We're about to have 40 of them graduate after another year of intensive study and leadership and deployment. They're about to be scattered out all over the nation, literally, in serving Jesus' church. There are another 70 who are coming next August, Lord willing.
They asked me about legalism and licentiousness and how they could tell the difference. Let me define them for you. Legalism is "I am doing it because I will be loved if I do it." This is the long statement. Legalism is "I'm doing it because I'll be loved if I do it." Licentiousness is the idea that "I don't need to do it because I'm loved already."
License is where you get that word licentiousness. "I have the license to do what I want to do because I'm saved by grace through faith. Jesus died for me. I'm free. I don't need morality and purity. I don't need to be faithful to my wife or in the way I treat my girlfriend." That is gross sin to say that.
Legalism is the false idea that "If I do it I'll be loved." Licentiousness is "I don't need to do it because I'm loved already." Biblically, the love motivation that God gives us… Love-motivated self-denial is what the Bible talks about. Love-motivated self-denial is "I'm going to do this because he's mine. The Lord is my shepherd, and I want more of him."
Let me give it to you this way. Legalism is a false gospel, that you can do things and if you do enough of them God will love you. That's a crazy, godless, unbiblical, world religious system, and we reject it. We don't do things to be loved. God doesn't love us because we're good; he's good and so he loves us, and because he loves us, he makes us good if we'll just listen to him. Licentiousness is the idea where I go, "You know what? I can do whatever I want because Jesus died for me. I'm going to continue to sin that grace might abound."
"May it never be!" the Scripture says. Legalism is a false gospel and licentiousness is a false profession. To say you know God and you have no need to be holy, that you're going to say, "I think he made me this way to love certain things, to be perverted in my sexuality, and I'm not going to deal with it," that tells me you haven't really dealt with who Jesus is in his holiness. Licentiousness is a false profession.
The love motivation is a true sign of a true convert. So, repent of legalism and repent of calling obedience legalism. Let me give you the words of Jesus in John 14:21. "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me, and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and you'll know more of my goodness." That's what the Scripture says.
"Don't be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you might prove what the will of God is." Every good and acceptable and perfect thing created for the human spirit is there for you if you'll just walk with God and just seek him with all of your heart. So, God is not going to love you more, but you'll know more of the love of God if you live to please him and follow his commandments.
Let me just read to you a little bit more about this. This is so important. I want to make it really clear. You're not in a good place if you're uninterested in sanctification. It's why we study God's Word. Jesus prayed in John 17:17, "Father, sanctify them in truth; your word is truth." So we're studying his Word, and his Word tells us that sexual immorality, whether it be pornography, whether it be inappropriate activity as a single man or a single woman, whether it be unfaithfulness in marriage, or whether it be lustful attitudes of our heart…
We need to repent of that and flee from it. The Bible uses the word abstain in 1 Thessalonians, but that word is not enough. It's like, "Distance yourself. Run from it like a snake, a poisonous viper." I don't want anything to do with it. Where evil is concerned, we don't adopt moderation. We should adopt complete avoidance in every way.
Jesus says this, though, about your love for him. In John 14:23 he says, _ "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. _ [We'll dwell there.]_ " _ God has no fellowship with sin. That's why even as a believer, when we sin and need to be admonished, encouraged, and helped, we confess our sins and we restore the fellowship with the Father.
Watch. Verse 24: _ "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me." _ Do you want to be a great teacher like Paul? Rip off Jesus. First Thessalonians 4 is Paul ripping off Jesus from John 14. Jesus says, "These things I have spoken to you while I was with you."
When Paul is with the Thessalonians, he speaks to them, just like he says right here, with the authority of the Lord. "This is what you should do." So, Christian, this is the will of God: your sanctification. Specifically, that you abstain from sexual immorality. Why does Paul say that? Oh my gosh. I'll take a second and just tell you why. Corinth and Thessalonica were towns of great debauchery.
Let me just read to you this little thing right here. It says that probably there was never a time in the history of the world when there were more extravagant or uncontrolled fits of passion than there were under the Caesars. I could get into more detail, but I'm glad the family is together today, so I don't really want to do that. Every kind of immorality that can be imagined was being widely embraced, and Paul is telling the Thessalonians, "That's not who you are anymore."
Watch this. He says, "I want you to know how to possess your own vessel in sanctification and honor." There's some debate about what this means, but when it says "your own vessel" there, that's a word that is used for the body. As Paul was talking about the Christian, he said we are vessels of honor. This is not a disparaging term for a spouse, that your wife is a vessel.
What he's talking about there is that the context for biblically appropriate celebrated sexuality is in the context of a covenant heterosexual relationship. That could not be more clear in Scripture. So, homosexuality, multiple partners, premarital sex… The fact that we struggle with those things is not our problem. The fact that we surrender to them and make them our way suggests that we are not committed to the sanctification and holiness that God wants.
So the context is marriage. The content is holiness and honor. I want to just encourage you. Sex is God's gift, and you can have honorable, enjoyable, wonderful intimacy with another human that is holy in God's eyes while honoring one another by not exploiting one another in lustful passion, like it says there in verse 5. That's what the people who don't know God do. No, but you should not transgress your fellow image-bearers in that way.
Those women or men you're looking at in two-dimensional pictures are image-bearers. They're not your toys. They're not to satisfy your lust. So repent of these things. It says the Lord is the avenger of these things. What does that mean? The Lord is the avenger of sin. You might want to go in your own reading and check out 1 Corinthians 6, because Paul uses the same phrase.
He says, "You defraud one another," when it talks about how you're more anxious to defeat and beat somebody in a lawsuit there, but then he goes on and describes all kinds of activities and says if you're committed to those activities…not if you struggle with them, not if when you participate in them in a moment of weakness you repent of them and forsake them, but when you go, "No, that's just the way I'm going to do it"…the Lord is the avenger of those things.
Paul wants the Thessalonians who have converted to know, "You're no longer a part of Caesar's destruction and the way of the world. You're God's people." So Paul says, "I want you to excel still more in the way you possess yourselves." Then he goes from there and says, "I want you to excel still more in the way you love each other. If you're using each other to satisfy your lust, you don't love each other. And I want you to go to work, and I want you to labor. I want you, whatever you do, to do heartily unto the Lord and not unto men. If you do that, you won't be a burden on other people."
So, do you want a simple outline for this whole passage? First Thessalonians 4:1-2: Love God. Seek to please him. First Thessalonians 4:3-12: Love others. They're not your play toys. They're not playthings. They're image-bearers. Give yourself for them and love them the way Christ loved you. Go to work so you can care for yourself and not be a burden on others and you can be a blessing to others with the work you have.
Church, I know some of you would love to go to work and during this season you're not able to, and I think you know how we've sought to care for you and provide for you. We have a ministry here for folks who are in need who are members of our body. Within the context of your Community Group, we want to love you and take care of you.
We reminded you last week as we talked as elders. There's actually a landing page on our website where you can go and meet each other's needs right now, and if you're not signed up for The Current where all that information is put up… In the sermon notes, I'll have the direct links to how you become a member, how you can figure out your membership status, and how you can care for other members by meeting tangible needs. I encourage you to check that out.
I'm grateful to be a part of this body, and I need you to admonish me, encourage me, and help me. I need you to pray for me. I'm praying for you. Let me pray for you now, and then you're going to get to hear one of our songs that was just written by a group of friends here that is called "You Are." This God who is everything he says he is in terms of love and goodness…
That song celebrates it. In that song's little bridge, it takes you from the garden of Eden when we forsook him all the way through his victory on the cross. Our God is everything he says he is, and my prayer is you'd be conformed more into his holiness and image this week. Love you, church. Let me pray, and then watch that song.
Father, thank you for my friends. Help them to be faithful. Help them to pursue your will in all things, that they would this week talk to you and listen to you. May your Word flood their hearts and minds so you would produce in them more, Father, of that which is consistent with who you are so your glory would shine forth through your people in Dallas and Fort Worth and Plano and Frisco and every place else that your church exists.
May your church be sanctified. This is your will for us: that we would be more like Jesus. We know, Lord, we'll be more like Jesus as we encourage each other, confess our sins to one another, study your Word, and walk in obedience. Would you abide with us as we abide with you? We know you will. We love you, and we thank you that you are everything you say you are. In Jesus' name, amen.
Love you, friends. Enjoy the song, and have a great week of worship.