More and More

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

The Corinthians church was, frankly, a basket case. They were openly committing gross sexual immorality, they were suing each other, the rich people were having meetings the poor people couldn’t come to. It was nuts. Now that letter still has many important things to say to us. Because we don’t want to become a church like that!

As a body it seems to me that God is graciously working amongst us so that we are living as people who follow Jesus. But, in the words of the West Wing “What’s next?

More and More

Paul’s advice to a church like ours, advice that really summarises the whole of chapters 4 and 5 that we will be looking at over the next few weeks, is in v1: We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.

Maturing in the Christian life is never about a fancy new teaching. It is never about some secret key that only one church or one preacher can give you. It is always more of the same. Becoming a Christian is about turning from idols to serve the living and true God. It is about pleasing God, worshipping him, making him and not yourself, something or someone else the centre of your life.

Growing as a Christian is about exactly the same thing. It is about worshipping God. About understanding more and more profoundly that you were made to please him not to please yourself. About seeing that you cannot be properly human, you cannot be who you were made to be, if the God who created you is not at the centre of your desires.

1 Less sex (v2-8).

For the Thessalonian Christians, certainly for the men and probably for many of the women too, living according to the instructions Paul gave them about sex meant, frankly, having less sex. Because they lived in a sex saturated society. In a society where it was considered perfectly normal, indeed healthy, for young men before marriage to refine their sexual technique with prostitutes.

But, Paul says, he taught quite clearly that Christians must not live like that. In fact, he says, pleasing God means avoiding sexual immorality. The Greek word here is porneia, from whence we get our word pornography. It’s a wide word meaning any sexual activity outside marriage. If you read through the rest of the New Testament it’s clear that it covers sex before marriage, adultery and homosexual sex.

Every follower of Jesus, Paul says, everyone who desires to live their life to please God not themselves, needs to control themselves sexually. In a Christian church there will be less sex than most people have in the kind of society that we, and the Thessalonians live in. Let’s be quite clear about that. For most Christians pleasing God means having less sex. Either because you are single and don’t have sex with anyone. Or because you are married and have sex only with each other.

If you feel crushed by sexual guilt this morning you need to know that your sin is covered by the cross of Christ. That your guilt is taken away and your wrongdoing atoned for. You need to know that you can live free from one night stands, adultery, porn, prostitution or whatever it is you’ve done.

But you need to heed the God given repent. You need to believe what Paul says in v8, that sexual purity really is the command of God, who gives his Holy Spirit to us.  You need to recognise that the conviction you feel is a blessing from God who longs for you to repent and lay your sins on Christ rather than, v6, face the punishment yourself.

2 Less dependence (v11-12).

Paul’s second example of a place where the Christians in Thessalonica need to grow more and more is also a key area in which Christians are to stand out from the surrounding culture.  Paul says, the Christians in the church in Thessalonica need to think carefully about what kind of work they do. What should be their aspiration? Not success. Not high pay. Not influence in their society. Their aspiration should be to live quietly, and to work with their hands, in regular ordinary jobs, so that they are not dependent on anyone.

Once you are in that place you will lose your ability to walk properly before outsiders. You will not be able to please God, because your boss is another god. A god you hate and serve out of fear but a god nonetheless.

You need to make it your ambition to mind your own affairs and to work with your hands – not manual labour necessarily – though there’s nothing wrong with manual labour – but a work where your obligation is to do your work not to serve your patron. Maybe for some here this morning that means you need to say "no" to your boss this week. Maybe for some it means you urgently need to change your job, not to another school, hospital or company but to a different job altogether.

For the Thessalonian Christians both these areas – sex and dependence – represent one type of more and more growth as Christians

Paul didn’t choose sex and work as random examples. They are areas where, over the last 20 centuries, Christians have consistently been slow to live out the implications of having Jesus as our loving king.

3 More love (v9-10).

The third example of a way that these Christians need to live to please God not themselves isn’t an area they have been missing. Quite the opposite. It’s the one place they have been doing really well. Their love for one another as a group of Christian people is exemplary.

So what does Paul do? He urges them, it’s a strong word, he urges them to do that more and more. It’s hidden a bit in the NIV translation but this passage begins and ends with the idea of walking.

In v1 the Thessalonians are reminded how they "ought to walk to please God." In v12 Paul says he gives these instructions so that they will "walk properly."

There is a destination in view. A place where Christ is taking us. The motivation for a holy life is, v7, God’s calling. If you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, it is your destiny to please God. It is what you were made for. It is what you will find joy and delight in for all eternity. That’s where Jesus is taking you. Why wouldn’t you want to go with him?