Updated: Nov 14
My uncle raised horses. He and his family lived where they had some land and stables where they kept the horses. It was always an enjoyable time when the "city" cousins could go visit with our cousins in the country. I remember one time when many of us city cousins and our parents had gone out to my uncle's house to ride. We often spent July 4th at their house, and I believe this was the occasion on this day. One horse had just been trained with a bit and saddle. It was a young horse and did not have much experience being ridden. We decided this would be the horse for my oldest cousin. We saddled the horse, got the bit and harness on, and all seemed to be going well. When my cousin hopped up in the saddle, the horse just took off down the road in a full run. My cousin, not having much experience riding, was holding on for life. We all jumped in the truck and took off after him. My uncle and the country cousins were worried for my cousin and the horse. I remember my uncle worried about my cousin getting thrown off or that the horse may turn an ankle or injure himself. We caught up to them, and everyone returned to the house without harm. We all had a good laugh after we got back and settled down. It was just like a scene from an old cartoon.
As we consider 1 Thessalonians, I share this with you to help us understand unbridled and uncontrolled can often cause harm. Paul desires the church to grow and live in order to please God (1 Thess. 4:1).
Reviewing the Letter
As we have considered this letter, we have noticed the background. Paul and his missionary team had to leave this young church under the cover of night because of a mob that had risen against them (Acts 17). Only being with them for three weeks, Paul was greatly concerned for their faith under the intense persecution they faced. We have seen the power of the gospel and its ability to transform lives. We have noticed Paul's attitude of service through love. Amid the difficulties, the church had received God's word as the wisdom of God and not just as a message from men. Timothy has brought an encouraging report to Paul, the occasion for this letter. Although faced with hardships and trials, the church is standing firm in the Lord. In our last lesson, we considered the importance of prayer, and we noticed how Paul intentionally places prayer in this letter.
Do This More and More
At the beginning of this movement, notice how the church is standing faithfully.
1 Thessalonians 4:1–2
"As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus." (emp. added)
Paul is not criticizing the church. He is not having to correct some behavior that is opposed to the message of Christ. No, the church is living to please God. Paul challenges them to increase in their faithful obedience to the Lord, "do this more and more."
The expectation is for growth. Often, we can become complacent in our faith. We reach the point where we know the routine, and our obedience to Christ becomes a habit. We are not displeasing the Lord or not standing faithfully in him; we are. However, Paul does not want the church or Christians to be content with maintaining. His expectation is for growth and maturity; do this more and more. Paul's words to the church in Thessalonica challenge me. Am I content with merely maintaining, or am I challenged to more? Am I challenged to growth and maturity in the Lord?
The gospel calls us to a different life. It calls us to a life pleasing to God.
1 Thessalonians 4:3–6
"It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before."
Greek and Roman sexual practices in the first century were often "loose" and "unrestrained." Paul calls for the church to be set apart from the often accepted sexual practices of the culture around them.
The church was surrounded by people "who did not know God." This is a very difficult place. When the ethic of a culture surrounds us, it becomes something viewed as normal. For the culture, it is the norm. The difficulty for Christians is distinguishing between the norm and God's call to be holy. Is the norm consistent with the character of God?
Paul calls the church to be sanctified or holy.
1 Thessalonians 4:3–4
"It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable" (emp. added)
In the original language, these are the same words. We see this, for example, in the (NASB95; NKJV). The (NIV) translators have tried to help us understand and provide a more readable text. Paul is challenging the church to be set apart and dedicated to God. He wants the church to live to please God (1 Thess. 4:1-2). One area in which they needed to do so was purity. They needed to separate themselves from the cultural norms that surrounded them and be set apart to God in sexual purity. This can become challenging when surrounded by what is accepted as normal.
The Image of God
When the lines become blurred, how do we distinguish between God's desire for our lives and accepted cultural norms? One way we do so is by returning to the wisdom and words of Scripture. For example, Jesus taught about God's will for purity in marriage.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Jesus maintained a high moral ethic for marriage and purity. It is an ethic shaped by the character of God and formed in creation.
"So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh."
We know God's good creation fell under a curse (Gen. 3). What we often see around us as normal is a distortion of God's ideal. One way we can determine God's desire for us is by consulting the breadth and wisdom of His Word. Through His Spirit, we can both know and be strengthened as we are set apart and dedicated to His service.
Crossing The Context
Our culture is not so different from the first century in that what is often viewed as normal is a distortion of God's ideal. We share a common struggle to separate ourselves for the service of God, to be sanctified.
As Christians, when our passions and desires are left unbridled, they can often lead to harm, both to ourselves and others, much like that horse that took off in a full sprint down the road. We need to look to God's wisdom through the Scriptures so we can know His desire for us.
We are called to more and more. As His church, we can't become complacent. The goal is growth and maturity. The church in Thessalonica was living a life pleasing to God. Paul was overjoyed in their faithful obedience to the message of Christ. However, he wanted them to continue, "do this more and more." What can you do this week to maintain more and keep from becoming idle in your faith?
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).
resources & downloads
Article: Pleasing To God
Notes & Handout: Pleasing To God
Slides (PDF): Pleasing To God
BibleProject: Guide-Book of 1 Thessalonians
BibleProject: 1 Thessalonians Overview Video