Living Our Lives For God
[1st Thessalonians chapter 4]
Last week when we left off at the end of chapter three of 1st Thessalonians, we found the apostle Paul exhorting and motivating the early Church for Christ’s return. Paul wrote “may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus… strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” We can’t strengthen our hearts on our own, or at least not in a Spiritual sense. In the professional world, people who are considered to be self-motivated or self-starters are valued for their work ethic. But the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of Jesus can do this in our place while doing a perfect job every time. The key is to yield to Him as we voluntarily step aside and allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through each one of us. But doing so involves humbling oneself, and not everyone is good at that. I can still remember having issues like that when I was a much younger man. But over the years, the Lord taught me that truly humbling oneself involves setting aside personal pride, vanity, conceit and pretentiousness, and making sure our feet are planted on solid ground. Otherwise we would be committing an act that is tantamount to opposition to God by glorifying ourselves. And anybody who is opposed to God, or who is too egocentric to recognize anyone else in their lives greater than themselves, is fighting a losing battle. You can’t fight God. Nobody can, and we were never meant to. King Solomon, the son of King David, said it best in the book of Proverbs: “God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble”. On that note, let’s plunge into today’s study beginning at verse one.
“Finally, brothers, 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. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. “1 Thessalonians 4, verses 1-8, NIV)
Live for Jesus more and more each day. What perfect advice this is! How do we make ourselves more honorable and holy in God’s sight? We yield to Jesus, putting him in charge. Think of it as being similar to going on a long road trip with Christ. Normally on a long road trip we would take a companion to share the driving and for conversation. But if we take a road trip with Jesus Christ, we leave all the driving up to him. Remember that only one can occupy the driver’s seat at a time. So, if you find your self having a little difficulty because you’re not used to surrendering control to another, just remember that Jesus isn’t like all those other people who hurt you, who used or abused you, or who were mean and unfair towards you. He’s the Son of God, and so he is incapable of hurting you. He always has your best interests at heart, especially when it seems like no one else does.
“Each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable… “. This is really only common sense stuff, and all of us should know better when it comes to controlling our own bodies. Don’t party ’till you puke, don’t smoke “crack” or “meth”, not to mention so-called “synthetic marijuana”, don’t inhale powdery substances, don’t stick needles in your arms (or wherever), and don’t drive your car at twice the posted speed limit! Not unless you want to find yourself standing before Jesus trying to explain why you got to heaven 30, 40 or even 50 years early. Those individuals will be lucky to get to stay at all! Here’s another way for us to control our own bodies: Abstain from sexual promiscuity. If your sex drive is driving you nuts, don’t worry, it happens all the time. Go find a husband or a wife to love and care for instead. Lots of people have a big problem with this. I don’t wish to offend anyone, but too much sex, especially with the wrong people, can literally kill you. Or, if it’s someone else’s spouse and you get caught by you-know-who, you can get yourself killed instantly. Let’s exercise some sensibilities in this regard, remembering that God is watching everything we do and listening to everything we say. Not in a snooping or intrusive sort of way, but more like a caring parent raising a child. “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.” Never reject God, but yield to his Holy Spirit instead. It’s always in our best interest to do so. Don’t worry, God has already seen to that. And do not be apprehensive about it. “Fear not”, or “don’t be afraid”, depending on which translation you read; that’s what Jesus said repeatedly in all four gospels. And if he said it, then it has more value than silver, gold, or even diamonds. With that in mind, let’s continue at verse 9.
“Now about brotherly love we do not need to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you might not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4, verses 9-12, NIV)
“Love your neighbor as yourself”, that’s what Jesus commanded all of us to do. If we’re not doing it, or if we are doing this for some but not for others, we’re not doing our jobs as practicing Christians. Being in church on Sunday morning makes us no more of a Christian than being in a driveway or parking lot makes us a motor vehicle. But Paul commended the Thessalonian church for perfecting this practice. Here is a measurement for our own faith: Is God commending you for being an unconditionally loving person? Is your church? What about your family or your co-workers? Do they see us that way? “Work out your own salvation”, Paul wrote, “with fear and trembling before the Lord”. We are to busy ourselves by making as significant a contribution as we can. These are people who never tire of doing good, whether they get any recognition or not. By staying busy and staying out of other people’s business, we are to be practiced at being independent, as Paul wrote, “so that you might not be dependent on anybody.” Dependency is the opposite of self-sufficiency. Dependent people may well need the assistance of others. But there are other dependent people are live their lives this way by choice, and it is a most unfortunate choice. They never learn self-sufficiency, whereas self-sufficient persons stand – not alone, but right beside Christ who intercedes to the Father on our behalf. Aspire to Spiritual self-sufficiency, depending only on Christ, and he will see you through anything, and that includes any deficiencies we may have, such as financial ones. There are a host of other examples of this, but I will treat that as a sermon topic sometime in the near future. For right now let’s conclude today’s study beginning at verse 13.
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4, verses 13-18, NIV)
This final paragraph of chapter four has generated much controversy over the centuries, primarily over whether this passage of Scripture should be taken literally or not. First, the phrase “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” is the focal point of all Christian belief and all manner of faith. In worldly terms, this part of Christianity is non-negotiable – period, no if’s, and’s or buts. Either you believe in Jesus or you don’t, there is no middle ground. And for those who believe, Paul wrote, “…we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Here Paul is saying that those persons who are still alive at the time of Jesus’ return still won’t get to meet him first. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven … and the dead in Christ will rise first.” Those who have already passed will get to meet Jesus first, this verse makes that abundantly clear. This makes sense to me because those who have already had to experience physical death should be the first ones in line, with those who are still physically alive coming right after that. So those who have already died will indeed rise from the dead just as Jesus did 2,000 years ago, and this will come with the “rapture” of the church. The word “rapture” is actually not scriptural, but much of the details Paul wrote about, I think, most definitely are. I can’t say for sure how any of this is going to unfold. I have prayed about it but God has not answered that prayer. But I can definitely tell you that it is going to happen in the near future, at the very least well before the latter part of this decade, and it will happen very suddenly and without warning.
“After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” Could this have been just a figure of speech, “meet the Lord in the air”? Or could this have been a metaphor for death and the dying process? Or, as many say today, will we suddenly find ourselves soaring through the sky without warning? Or will this experience be one that defies explanation from any human point of view? One thing I am sure of, and that is that I am going to live every day that I have left on this earth as if it were going to be my last! That’s the one standard that we can take home with us today as you all read this. Make yourselves ready to be taken up by Jesus at all times. Or even if you’re not sure whether you really believe in Jesus or not, live each day as if it were going to be your last! Because on any given night when you lay down in your bed, you could wake up in either heaven or hell. The choices are ours to make, and God has cheerfully given us that choice. Choose Jesus, choose eternal life, and make today your best day ever. That’s the way to live for Christ.