There is a familiar pattern that happens in my home. My wife will order some kind of large item that requires assembly. She will ask if I want to pay to have the item assembled. I will firmly and categorically refuse to pay money to have something put together. Fast forward, I am now at home. I open the box and am immediately overwhelmed by all of the tiny parts. I then begin to try and figure out how to put it together without ever looking at the provided instructions. It never fails. I always try and figure it out myself. Not because I think I’m smart, or clever, or even good at putting things together. I just naturally try and do it on my own before I look at the instructions. Maybe its my pride, or because I’m a dude; whatever the reason, it always ends with me turning to the instructions to fix everything I messed up. Instructions are there for a purpose. They are meant to lay out a plan for accomplishing a goal. Most of all, they are meant to help the user. Yet, I ignore them.
Instructions come in many forms nowadays. A paper pamphlet inside the box, a link to a website; sometimes it’s just a Youtube video. The first century church received their instructions by letters. One particular set of instructions that catches my eye is in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12. In this passage Paul reminds the church of Thessalonica of the instructions he gave them on how to live in order to please God.
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.
If there were ever a set of instructions that were important not to ignore, its these. After all pleasing God with our life should be the aspiration of every follower of Christ. If that isn’t important to us then why do we go to church, or tithe, or deal with people that are hard to get along with? If its not to please God then I don’t know what its for. It certainly isn’t because its easy or convenient. We are supposed to be “dying to ourselves” everyday. Placing God and his purposes at the top of our priority list. That is our goal as Christians. And if that is our goal, than why wouldn’t we jump at the chance to view God’s plan for accomplishing that goal. That is what the church of Thessalonica was given. Lucky for us we get to peak in on those instructions as well.
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified
Before it was a Drake song, God’s plan actually meant something. It wasn’t about the bad things “they” were wishin, and wishin, and wishin on (Drake). It also had nothing to do with Drake meeting his “broskis”. God’s plan, his will, was for mankind, his creation, to be reunited and reconciled back into his presence. That only can come through sanctification. Its easy to confuse Biblical terms. Look at the biblical meanings of justification, salvation, sanctification, reconciliation, and basically anything other biblical term that ends in “tion”. They all mean similar things but there are intricacies that separate them. Sanctification at it’s simplest definition means to be made holy. More than that though, it is the process of being made holy. Hebrews 10 gives us a good picture of how this works.
8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law.9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”[a]
17 Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”[b]
18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
There are a couple key things to notice here. The phrase “by that will” tells us that what ever is about to follow happened because it was God’s plan. Essentially God desired that we be made holy, that we be sanctified. This matches up pretty well with our 1 Thess 4 verse. The next thing is that we were already made holy through Jesus’ bodily sacrifice. God desired that mankind be made holy, so Jesus came and accomplished the Father’s will and with his one time sacrifice, he made mankind holy. Verse 14 adds a bit of confusion when it adds that we “who have been made perfect” are “being made holy”. Jesus’ one time, all sufficient, perfect, sacrifice was enough to make us perfect and holy. However, being made holy is a process. In this sense, Christ sacrifice was enough to cover your sin so that you can stand before God, holy and perfect. Your sins are forgiven. And yet, you yourself are still be made perfect.
Maybe this will help explain it a little better. I have a bad habit of spilling things on my shirts. I have ruined a lot of shirts because of grease stains or paint or literally anything else. It drives my wife nuts. My wife will always buy me knew shirts and tell me I need to be more careful; still I’ll end up with some thing on my shirt. But what if my wife came to me with a new shirt and said, “this is your new shirt, its perfectly clean. As you wear this shirt its going to help you get better with not spilling things. If you take this shirt off, and stop getting better, you are going to ruin all you shirts. But if you continue to wear this shirt, you will become less and less of a slob, and I promise you that at the end of the week, I’ll wash it and it will be like new.” I need that shirt. This is essentially Hebrews 10’s explanation of sanctification. We are made perfect and holy; we’re given an clean slate. Not only that, but we are being worked on and given the tools so that we can grow towards perfection. Even more than that, we have a promise that so long as we allow ourselves to be made perfect, we can rest assured that our holiness will be made complete when we stand before God. The author of Hebrews goes on to clarify this by quoting a Jeremiah prophesy, “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
In 1 Thessalonians 4, we are told that God desires that we be sanctified. God desires to see us embrace the process of perfection that began in us at salvation. He desires to see that process come to completion. Paul tells us that part of that perfection comes from avoiding sexual immorality. Specifically, Paul tells us that we must learn to control our own bodies in a way that is holy and honorable. Natural desires can become sinful desires very easily. That is because natural desires come from God. They feel right to us and yet if approached the wrong way they can become the darkest pits of sin. We have a natural desire to eat, but if food becomes our idol than we become gluttons. We have natural desire for safety, but if our desire to be safe overshadows our respect of others safety, now we are murderers. We have a desire for sex and pleasure but if we approach this in “passionate lust” we become fornicators, adulterers, or even sexual predators.
The biblical view of sex has no room for selfishness. This is where we differ from the world. The world says that sex is about satisfaction. So it doesn’t matter how you go about getting satisfied as long as you leave satisfied. This is why pornography was created, this is why the majority of sexual relationships portrayed in tv or movies are with multiple partners or one night stands. That isn’t how God intended sexual relationships. Its not about lust, its about love. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that a man and wife’s bodies belong to each other. True love is about sacrifice. That should be reflected in a biblical sexual relationship.
Paul then goes on to say that in the same way, we should not take advantage of our brother or sister. This is addressing brothers or sisters in Christ not siblings. This could be talking about one of two things. First, it is most likely talking about having extra marital affairs with people in the church. You’d think that this would go without saying, but a lot of affairs start in the church between people who are supposed to be serving God with each other. Spiritual feelings and emotional feelings can get tangled very easily. People who are praying together are sharing a very intimate part of their lives together. Not that kind of intimate, but its easy to get those confused. Especially when there is an enemy whose sole purpose is to tempt and accuse the brethren. It could also be talking about taking advantage of brothers or sisters when it comes to business. Thessalonica was a port city and there was a massive amount of trade that came and went through the city. The people Paul was writing to undoubtedly worked in the city and so business deals were sure to happen between people in the church. Paul could absolutely be speaking to the church about ethical business methods. As christians we are called to give every part of our lives over to God. That includes our business life. So we can’t lie, cheat, and steal our way to the top like the rest of the world. We have to live our lives honorably and holy because we are being made holy. Either translation is biblical, so while he is mostly likely talking about be honorable and holy with each other’s spouses, the other lesson is important too.
Paul’s entire first instruction is about sanctification. You must continue to be made holy in your relationships. Whether that is a sexual relationship with your spouse or a regular relationship with someone in the church. Holiness should mark every aspect of your life.
What They Were Good At.
Paul’s second instruction was something that the church of Thessalonica was already doing.
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
Clearly, these people loved each other. Its an amazing thing for a pastor to look at his congregation and see them be successful in a faith application. Paul is proud of these Thessalonians. It’s important to note, however, that as much as they loved each other, Paul still felt the need to encourage them to love more. An important lesson for us to learn is that no matter how good we become at a faith application, there is always more room to grow. These people’s love was so great that Paul says they were “taught by God” to love each other, yet still there was room to grow. Everything in God is a process. Just like sanctification. God is constantly working on us; pushing us to grow closer to perfection.
Another important observation is that the people are admonished for “loving all of God’s family in Macedonia”. Christian cliques are everywhere. It’s actually pretty normal. The people you pray with, worship with, hold accountable, share personal information, confess sin, live life with are bound to be the closest people to you. But the family of God extends to every one that shares your faith in God. It’s important for Christians to realize, the only thing you need to have in common with someone you love, is Christ.
Lets dig a bit deeper in this instruction to love. Why is love so important to Jesus? I believe the answer can be found in 1 John 4:15-20.
15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen,cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
God is love. This is one of the most quoted verses. It works great because its short, easy to remember, and looks great in a meme or on a coffee mug (both things equally adored by the Christian consumer). But there is great truth in this verse. God is love. Think about that word love for second. Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 13 a list of descriptions about love.
Patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but delights in truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
That is a description of God. Every single one of those things describes, not the act of love, but Love himself.
To live out a love like this, is to live in God. To have a love that reflects this description is to be made perfect in God. So to answer my own question. Why is love so important to Jesus? Because it is the sure fire way to see himself in his children. Love is key to pleasing God because without love, you cannot belong to God. So if we love God, if we belong to God, than we must show it in our love for our brothers and sisters.
Just like the Thessalonians.
The Simple Life.
The last instruction Paul gives for please God is a doozy.
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.
Leading a quiet life. A simple life. That is pretty contrary to what were are used to. 1/3rd of the population of the world has a webpage dedicated to themselves. Where they post pictures about themselves and post their thoughts and everything they do. You don’t do that for the heck of it, you do it for attention. Lets all just admit it. We’re attention seeking. That is exactly what this scripture is saying we shouldn’t be. Now I’ll be honest I am using a little bit of hyperbole. I’m not saying social media is a bad thing. It can be a very good thing, it can healthy, it treated right. But it can also lead to a constant need for attention. I think about an episode of The Office. Michael Scott is a accused of marking all memos URGENT. Michael explains that people weren’t paying attention to his memos so he marks memos “Urgent A, Urgent B, Urgent C, Urgent D. Urgent A is the most important. Urgent D you don’t even really have to worry about.” That is kind of the world that Social Media has created. Its a pretty stark contrast from the quiet life in 1 Thess. 4. As Paul puts it, we need to mind our own business. This doesn’t mean we are to only be focused on ourselves. Instead we need to look at it from the scope of Matthew 7:5. Before we can tell someone to remove the spec from their own eye, we must first remove the logs from our eye. After all the point our life is to “win the respect of outsiders”. Not so that we can feel important or popular, but so that our witness can be affective.
The second thing he says is to “work with your hands”.
Much like love, work is important for God to see in his children because God himself is a worker. Our first picture of God we see in the Bible is God as Creator. He crafted the entire universe with his word. He made man in his own image, and then he immediately gives man work to do.
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. – Genesis 2:15
Before the Fall of Man, before sin entered into the world, God told man to work. Eden was perfection. Eden was God’s perfect creation, and in God’s perfect world, you still have a job. Uh oh, I hope I didn’t ruin your day. Work is from God. Because God is a worker. A hard worker at that. He never stops working. He works as a warrior, a counselor, a creator, a high priest, an interceder, a mountain mover, a promise keeper. God is constantly at work both in the world and in our lives.
So if God is a worker, than it makes sense that to please God you must also be a worker.
The problem is we look at work all wrong. Work is hard. There is no getting around that. It’s hard because of the fall. That’s the good news by that way. You will have a job in heaven but you will enjoy and it won’t be painful. Ok, hopefully that un-ruined your day. But work is not just a way to make ends meet. Work is a way to grow closer to God. Any time you emulate a characteristic of God you grow closer to the person of God. What I mean by this is that the more you love like God the more you’ll understand God’s love. The more you forgive like God, the more you’ll understand God’s forgiveness. The more you create things like God, the more you’ll understand God’s creativity. The more you speak truth like God, the more you’ll understand God’s truth. Likewise, the more you work like God, the more you’ll understand God and his work.
The key phrase here is “work like God”. Working like the world may earn you a bigger paycheck, or help you climb the corporate ladder, but it won’t make you closer to God. To work like God you must understand a few things about Godly work:
- God gives the jobs (Gen. 2:15) – Godly work is a calling from God. It doesn’t mean the work has to be of the highest grandeur, but it does mean that “meaningless” work is no long meaningless.
- God doesn’t micro manage your work (Gen. 2:19) – God brings the animals to Adam and lets him do the naming. Godly workers take ownership of their work. God likes that.
- Godly workers are honest (Titus 2:9-10) – God is a God of Truth. Truth must always be priority in Godly work.
- Godly workers work without complaining (Phil. 2:14) – ’nuff said.
- Godly workers do everything as if it were for God ( Col. 3:17) – No matter how trivial the task may seem, Godly workers work like they are going to answer to God. (Hint** They will.)
- Godly workers follow the rules (2 Tim. 2:5) – There is no “crown of life” for the person that cheats to win.
- Finally, the Godly worker rests when the work is done (Gen. 2:2-3) – Rest is important. But let me emphasize resting after the work is done.
The instructions that Paul gives for pleasing God are actually pretty simple. Be what God is and do what God does. Be holy, because God is holy. Love, because God is love. Work, because God works. To please God you must try to make your life emulate the characteristics of God. Every father loves to see a little bit of himself in his kids. Well they at least like to see the good stuff. It make you feel like you made an impact in their life. Similarly, with God, when we start to apply the faith and instruction that he’s been “writing on our hearts”, we are displaying the change that He already knows has happened inside. The good news is that this is a process and God understands that. He doesn’t expect you to get it all in one day, one month, one year, heck even ten years. We are works in progress. Thankfully, we have a God who is faithful to complete the good work he started in us.