Whom Do You Please with Your Life?
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Whom do you seek to please with your life? Here are some candidates: Your parents, your spouse/children, your friends, your boss, yourself! While some or all of these may appear good and right, they are not the ones you should please. God is the only one that you should please with your life. The object of your life should be to glorify God in all that you are and do. Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to live lives pleasing to God in holiness and love.
1 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. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 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. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 NIV).
Please God with Your Life (1-2)
The thanksgiving and concern expressed by Paul for the Thessalonians in the first three chapters of 1 Thessalonians turns to exhortation and instruction in the last two chapters. "Finally" marks a major transition from thanksgiving for the past to exhortation for the future. "We instructed you how to live in order to please God" (1). Paul used two verbs to describe his instruction, but most English translations only use one. First, he used a work (Gk., erotomen) which refers to guidance given to a new convert in how to live a life pleasing to God. Second, he used a work (Gk., parakoloumen) that focuses on encouragement given by personal example and practical teaching in shared life. The phrase "how to live" (Gk., pos dei humas perimatein) literally translated is "how it is necessary for you to walk." Paul addressed our daily walk with the Lord; about how we should live life each day. The way we should live according to Paul is "in order to please God" (Gk., areskein theo). Pleasing God should be the main objective of life. Paul's teaching is not new to the Thessalonians. They have known and are practicing his teaching. Paul's challenge is not just that they keep up the good work but that they live lives that are "more and more" pleasing to God. We never arrive in our pursuit of excellence in living life to the glory of God. Note that the authority of his teaching is not from Paul himself but from "the Lord Jesus" (2).
Please God by Being Holy (3-8)
These instructions are "God's will (Gk., thelema tou theou)" for believers. Certainly, we seek God's will in important decisions. We ask, "What is God's will for my life?" Sometimes we believe that God's will is hidden or difficult to know. In reality, much of God's will is obvious and available to us if we will only open our hearts and our Bibles. God's will for us in living life is clearly revealed in the life of Jesus and the words of the Bible. In this passage, Paul reminded the Thessalonians of two ways to please God in life: holiness and love.
It is God's will that we should be "sanctified (Gk., hagiasmos)." The word sanctified means "holy." It is the word used to describe God's saints and the Holy Spirit. One of God's first commands to his people was: "I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy" (Lev 11:45).
What does it mean to be sanctified or holy? To be sanctified or holy means to be set apart from others in the world for a special purpose of God. Israel was God's chosen nation that he called out from all other nations for the special purpose of being his people through whom he would bring our Savior, the Lord Jesus, into the world. As members of the New Testament church, we are called out from the world and its ways for the special purpose of proclaiming the good news of Jesus in word and deed. Sanctification is a process, a journey that begins as we are justified by receiving Jesus by faith; that continues as we walk more closely with Jesus each day; and that concludes when we enter glory.
Paul gave three examples of holy living in verses 3b-6. His examples are not exhaustive but illustrate what it means to live a holy life that is pleasing to God. First, Paul exhorted "avoid sexual immorality (Gk., apechesthai . . . porneias)" (3). Like our society today, the Greek definition of acceptable sexual behavior differed considerably from that of Jews and Christians. We are called to separate from the world's standard and to live by God's higher standard. That does not mean that we flaunt our higher moral standards but that we simply live by them and are ready to share the reason we follow them when asked.
Second, each believer must "control his own body / possess his vessel (Gk., skeuos ktasthai)" (4-5). This may be an elaboration or detail related to the first command. The key phrase is "control his body" (NIV) / "possesses his vessel" (KJV). It may refer to a believer's self control in avoiding sexually immoral activities. It may refer to the husband/wife relationship, God's will for proper sexual expression. Sexuality is God-given and is not bad. Unfortunately, the world corrupts God's good gift. Clearly, the world offers many sexual temptations. We need God's help to be holy in this area. The world gives in to "passionate lust" (Gk., pathei epithumias). Believers, with God's help, must live "holy and honorable" lives before God and the world.
Third, a believer must not "wrong his brother or take advantage of him" (6). The word "wrong" (Gk., huperbainein) is used only here in the New Testament. It means to go beyond the bounds of legal or proper behavior. It is an overtly illegal action. The verb "take advantage" (Gk., pleonektein) means "to cheat." It is dishonesty compounded by a violation of trust. It may be a legal action, but it is certainly not ethical or right. Our relationships with other believers must be above board and in accord with God's higher standards in all respects.
Paul makes a final appeal to holy living and also gives a warning (7-8). God calls us not to "impure" (Gk., akatharsia) living as outlined in these example but instead calls us to "holy" (Gk., hagiasmos) living, which is his will for us. Remember that God's punishment of sinful behavior begins with his own children, whom he loves. The writer of Hebrews counsels that ". . . the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son" (Heb 12:6). Our moral behavior should not flow from fear of God's judgment but from loving obedience to God's will which we know is best for us and those who share life with us. If we continue to live immoral lives as Christians, our living gives evidence that we have rejected God himself, the one who gives us his Holy Spirit to live within us. If we reject holy living, then we reject our holy God.
Please God by Loving Others (9-12)
It is God's will that we should show "love" to each other (9). Paul spoke about two kinds of love. The term "brotherly love" (Gk., tes philadelphias) refers to the love that we share in Christian fellowship. Paul used a second word for love n the phrase "taught by God to love" (Gk., theodidaktoi agapan). This love is the love that we share as we serve others. God is our teacher when it comes to self-sacrificial love. He teaches love by action and word.
Paul exhorted the Thessalonians: "Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more" (10). The love of the Thessalonians is evident. They are learning and growing well. However, Paul exhorted them to love "more and more" (Gk., perisseuo = "overflowing"). Paul linked this command with his prayer for the Thessalonians in 1Th 3:12.
How do we continue to grow until our love overflows? Again, Paul gave a couple of examples. First, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, . . ." (11a). Don't detract from and disrupt the gospel message by failing to show love to one another. Maintain peace in the church and so deprive the outside world of anything to criticize. Second, ". . . work with your hands" (11b). Each one who can should work to support him/herself and make a contribution to church/society. Don't give the world a chance to call you lazy or a taker rather than a giver. Love gives.
Why do we keep growing in love? First, so that "your daily life may win the respect of outsiders" - Non-Christians observing a believer should see a life that makes the gospel and church attractive. Let your light shine (cf., Mt 5:16). Second, so that "you will not be dependent on anybody" - Certainly there are times/seasons when we are dependent on others. The meaning here is that we do all that we can for others without making demands on them for our needs.
What can we learn from this passage today? Remember that God is a holy and loving God. He wants you to be holy and loving like him. Live a holy life by avoiding the excesses of the world and by never abusing or exploiting others. Live a loving life by keeping the peace and working hard, which both reflect positively on the gospel. If you live each day to please God, then those who matter will also be pleased with your life.