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1 THESSALONIANS 4:9-12 - God's Great Purpose for You, Part 2: Walking in A World Gone Mad

1 Thessalonians: Real Gospel For Real People  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  34:09
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Christians are called to live in such a way as to be little islands of sanity in a world that is losing its mind

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Have you ever looked around at the world you live in and asked, “But what can we do?” The world you have known all your life is being shaken apart; institutions you used to be able to trust in are in the process of either collapsing or turning on you; the sense of shared morality and common purpose that bound you to your fellow citizens all these years is being systematically severed, and the resulting animosity and hatred between groups of people feels like it’s reaching a tipping point that will tear our nation apart.
We want to do something; we want to make a difference, to find a way to stop this insanity that our nation has fallen into. And most of the time when we talk about wanting to “do something”, we think of political activism, getting involved in some high-profile initiative to address the big-picture issues. And there’s nothing wrong with looking for ways to have a big impact in this fight, of seeking to be engaged with politics and try to turn the tide of rebellion against God that is sweeping our people and our nation.
In our Scripture reading earlier in our worship, we read Jesus’ words describing His disciples as “the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13). Salt, as you know, is used to preserve and cleanse—salt-cured meats are preserved from rotting, salt water in the form of saline solutions are used to cleanse wounds and prevent infections. When Jesus calls us “the salt of the earth”, He is saying that our role in this world is to cleanse and preserve.
And what I want to argue this morning from our text in 1 Thessalonians 4 is that Paul is laying out instructions for how we are to act as preservative and cleansing agents in this world. I say that because of the way Paul closes this chapter in verse 12—he is writing all these things
1 Thessalonians 4:12 (ESV)
12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
When you look back at the beginning of the chapter, Paul writes in terms of our walk there as well:
1 Thessalonians 4:1 (ESV)
1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.
Last week we saw that God’s great purpose for His children is our sanctification—the progressive work of conforming believers to the holiness of Christ as they battle their sin. Last week we saw that God calls us and empowers us to sexual purity. This week Paul applies the theme of our sanctification to our walk with other believers and our walk before the world.
The whole way through this study, we have traced Paul’s teaching about what a born-again church looks like—a church with regenerate men and women. It is a church that welcomes God’s Word, a church that has a resilient love for one another, a church that pursues purity. All of these dynamics of what God calls the church to be are wrapped up in God’s work of regenerating us in salvation (when we are “born again” by His Spirit), and His work of sanctifying us (making us more and more into the image of the holiness of Jesus.)
And as we go through our text this morning, I want you to see that the transforming work of God that is taking place as He makes us more and more holy is the means by which we can act as salt and light in this world. Put another way, as we walk more closely with Jesus in our day to day lives, we present a picture of hope to a world that is losing its mind. The way I want to say it for us today is that
Christians walk TOGETHER with CHRIST in a world that is FALLING APART
Our text this morning is divided into two main topics—two broad categories of our walk with Christ. The first is in verses 9-10, and we can say that these verses describe

I. How we walk with our CHURCH FAMILY (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10)

1 Thessalonians 4:9–10 (ESV)
9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,
Now, there are two reasons I say that these verses are referring to our walk with our church family. The first is that the word there in the beginning of verse 9, translated in English as “brotherly love” is the Greek word philadelphia—from philos (love) and adelphos (brother). It is used in classical Greek to describe love for a family member, and is used throughout the New Testament to refer to Christians’ love for each other. The second reason is that Paul says the focus of their love is “the brothers throughout Macedonia”—the love that they showed for other believers scattered throughout southern Greece in Philippi and Berea.
We spent a good deal of time observing the fervent love that characterized the Thessalonian church a couple weeks back in Chapter 3, and indeed Paul says here that he didn’t even need to write to them about loving one another, their love for one another was so bright and alive. Paul says something extraordinary about their love for one another, in fact—he makes up a word on the spot to describe their love: that is was theodidaktos—it was “God-taught”! God Himself was the source and guide for their love for one another. What we learn here about how we walk with our church family is that we must
Follow God’s LEAD in LOVE (v. 9; cp. Romans 5:5)
Now, it isn’t apparent in the English translation, but Paul uses two different words in the original language for love—he says they don’t need instruction in “brotherly love” (philadelphia) because God Himself is teaching them to love (Gk. agape). That second term for love has in view the sacrificial, unconditional love that Christ demonstrated on the Cross; the love that gives of itself without holding back, the love that delights in loving for its own sake.
Paul tells the Thessalonians that they love like that because God Himself has filled them with that love—as Paul would go on to write to the church in Rome:
Romans 5:5 (ESV)
5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
As you grow in a closer walk with Jesus Christ and partake more and more of His holiness, Christian, that growing holiness will play out in your life as greater sacrificial love for one another. We saw this extensively a couple of weeks ago, and Paul is exhorting his readers to it again here—a love that walks together, sacrifices together, suffers together, prays together—this is what a walk together with Christ will look like in a world that is falling apart.
The world has no idea how to process this kind of love for one another. Outsiders can’t comprehend a love that overcomes divisions, that forgives offenses, that is willing to get down into the dirt and mire of another member’s pain and brokenness in order to raise them up and set their feet on the solid rock of Christ’s promises. When you walk this way, beloved, you are a beacon of hope to a world that is falling apart!
But Paul goes on at the end of verse 10 to caution the church:
Don’t take that LOVE for GRANTED (v. 10; cp. Revelation 2:1-7)
This seems to be at the heart of his exhortation:
1 Thessalonians 4:10 (ESV)
10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,
There’s a sense of urgency here that suggests Paul doesn’t want them to get complacent in their love; he doesn’t want them to “coast”, as it were. Decades later Jesus would send a letter through the Apostle John to the church at Ephesus warning them that they had allowed their love for one another to grow cold:
Revelation 2:4–5 (ESV)
4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
Paul wants the Thessalonians to understand that, even though they had a love for one another that is vibrant and living, even though they were following God’s lead in love and were burning bright and warm, they could never just “coast” in their love, that they must always be looking for ways to grow in their love for one another, find more opportunities to become more like Christ as they served and sacrificed and suffered together.
There are many churches that have a reputation for being loving, and so they have begun to coast along on that reputation. They consider themselves friendly and loving, but they have long since succumbed to bitterness and infighting and factions. Churches that have allowed their love for God to grow cold, and with it the only source they have for loving one another as God would have them to.
Over and over I have heard it from visitors (and you have too)—that this church has such a deep and genuine love for one another. Visitors tell me they can feel it from the moment they walk through those doors. And I thank God for that; it is a mark of His kindness to us and of our growing walk with Him that people experience that love in such a powerful way.
But the proper response to hearing that must never be to think to yourself, “Yeah, we’ve got this love thing wired at our church—we’re really good at being loving!” Because that’s where the Enemy will point his attack; on our being proud of being a loving church.
Instead, our response when we hear that someone has seen God’s love at work in our midst should be to say, “God, how can we do this more and more? Give us more of your Spirit, more of that love that you have filled us with so that we will excel more in this love?” Those kind words from visitors should drive you to a greater commitment to knowing God, a greater hunger for His Word, a deeper desire to reflect His holiness and fight your remaining sin and trust Him for that ongoing sanctifying work of His Spirit in you and in our church family!
In a world that’s falling apart, your walk with Christ is a beacon of hope. God’s work of sanctification—of making you more and more like Jesus—defines how you walk with your church family; following God’s lead in love and never taking that love for granted.
And as Paul goes in in verses 11-12, he demonstrates a second manner in which we walk with Christ in a world that is falling apart:

II. How you walk before OUTSIDERS (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

1 Thessalonians 4:10–12 (ESV)
10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
The holiness that God is working into our lives will cause us to excel in loving one another more and more, and here in these verses Paul gives three quick exhortations for what their walk before outsiders should look like. The first characteristic of a proper walk before outsiders is that you
Be ambitiously ANONYMOUS (v. 11; cp. Mattthew 6:1-4)
That’s the sense behind the phrase translated “live quietly” in verse 11. We live in a world where everyone has ambitions to be the next big influencer, everyone wants more followers, more likes, more subscribers, everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame. A couple of weeks ago a customer at a McDonalds’ in Indiana was mistakenly handed the store’s $5,000 deposit instead of his sandwich at the drive through window, which he promptly returned—and recorded himself doing it so he could go viral on TikTok.
But Paul tells the Thessalonians here, “You are not to be like that”—instead of being ambitious to be seen and known and celebrated for your “acts of kindness” and “being a good person”, Paul says be ambitious to be anonymous with your good works.
Jesus tells us the same thing in His Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 6:1–4 (ESV)
1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus doesn’t call you to strive to “build a brand” or “extend your platform” or make a name for yourself—you already bear His Name, Christian, and that is all the fame you will ever need, because it means you are known by God Himself!
John 7:3–4 (ESV)
3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”
John 7:8–9 (ESV)
8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee.
Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to make it their aim to live quietly—content with the fame that comes from being known and loved by God, trusting Him to work through you as you walk properly before the world. Live quietly, and
1 Thessalonians 4:11 (ESV)
11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs...
As we said earlier, we are prone to look around at the decay and collapse of our culture and think that we have to bring along the next big revolution or revival; that the way to stop our society’s descent into madness is with massive Gospel-centered initiatives, big Billy Graham-era crusades where hundreds of thousands of people commit their lives to Christ in repentance and faith. (And wouldn’t that be a marvelous and glorious time to see??)
But Paul reminds us here that along with praying for those sweeping moves of God’s Spirit that washes our land with revival and repentance, one of the most effective Gospel-advancing, God-exalting, Christ-loving things you can do is look to your own affairs!
As one author puts it: “The first thing to do is tend to the home fires--the world is falling apart, and so my first question should be: How is my relationship with my wife? Are my kids obedient to the LORD?” (Doug Wilson, Man Rampant, Season 4) When your household is functioning as a Christian household—when you are honoring the LORD your God when you rise up and when you lie down, if your home is a place of peace and joy and rest and industry and creativity, if you are loving your wife as Christ loved the church, if you are submitting to your husband as to the LORD, if you are honoring your mother and father so that your days may be long on the earth—in short, if you are looking to your own affairs so as to live as Christians, you will be an enormously powerful testimony to the Gospel!
Paul tells his readers to be ambitiously anonymous, to mind their own business, and to
MAKE your own WAY (v. 4; cp. 1 Peter 2:12)
1 Thessalonians 4:11–12 (ESV)
11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
As we will see later on, there were some in the church who were apparently giving way to laziness in the church:
1 Thessalonians 5:14 (ESV)
14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
The world around you, Christian, is a world that is always looking for the shortcut, always looking to game the system and get something for nothing, always offering (like Popeye’s friend Wimpy) to “gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today...” Again—Paul says here that you are not to let that mindset find a place in your head. You are to be known for your generosity, not for presuming on the generosity of others. You are to be known for your integrity in everything you set your hand to, not for how good you are at finding a shortcut. The one who knows your trade well and can be trusted to do it well, the one who wears the dirt of an honest day’s work as a badge of honor.
In a world that is falling apart, walk before outsiders in such a way that the name Christian that you bear is glorified. The Apostle Peter said it well in his first letter:
1 Peter 2:12 (ESV)
12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Beloved, in a world that is losing its mind, your household will be a little pocket of sanity—a place like no other, where weary and broken people can come in and find rest and peace and joy and love: A place where they can meet Jesus!
In a world torn apart by hatred and bitterness, the love and unity and delight you share with your fellow believers when you gather for worship will stand out like an oasis in the desert. People walk into this church and find here a love and a unity and a peace and purpose and light that they cannot find anywhere else: A place where they come and meet Jesus!
We gather here each Sunday as a city on a hill; shining with the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Our neighbors are watching the world burn down around them and are wondering if there is another way of being human that makes sense. We gather here in worship, walking together with Christ in love and walking before them in humility, integrity and tranquility so as to say to them, “Yes! Yes there is a new way of being human! It is found in the New Birth brought about by God when you come in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ!”
It has been well-said that the choice before our world is either Christ or chaos—it is either repentance and faith leading to new life in Jesus or the slow, agonizing dissolution of a world gone mad. If you have been drawn here because of the love that is living in this place; if you are here because you were drawn by the peace and joy and rest found in the lives and homes of your friends that invited you here, then know this: Everything that has drawn you here—from the brotherly love on display in this church family to the love and peace and joy in the homes of its members—all of it is because of the New Birth.
Nothing good that you see or experience in this church family comes from our own excellence or goodness or worthiness. Everything good and right and true and loving about this church and the families that compose it comes because of the work of God’s Holy Spirit who has caused us to be born again and Who continues to make us more and more like Jesus in holiness every day!
Anything right or true or praiseworthy that draws you to our church family is because God’s great purpose is to make us more and more like Jesus Christ. And if you are tired of being knocked around by a world gone mad, if you want this “new way of being human” for yourself, then you have an open invitation from God Himself today:
Isaiah 1:18 (ESV)
18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
No matter how deep the stain of your sin, the blood of Jesus Christ shed on that Cross goes deeper still. No matter how high-handed your rebellion, no matter how far you’ve fallen, there is no depth of misery you can sink to that the mercy of Christ does not reach deeper still. He offers you that pardon today—come and talk to me, talk to one of the elders, let us show you from the Scriptures how you can know that you have this New Birth today. Come away from the insanity, come away from a world that is falling apart. Come—and welcome!—to Jesus Christ!
1 Timothy 1:17 (ESV)
17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.


Read through 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12. How does the flow of Paul’s argument demonstrate that sexual purity, brotherly love and our walk before outsiders are all rooted in the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification?
Read Romans 5:5 again. How does this verse connect with Paul’s statement in 1 Thessalonians 4:9 that the Thessalonian believers were “taught by God” to love?
What is the distinguishing characteristic of Christian love that we are to demonstrate between one another? (Hint: Read Jesus’ example in Philippians 2!) What would your life look like if you were filled with that kind of love?
What does it mean in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 to “live quietly, mind your own affairs, and work with your hands...”? How is this different from the way the world around us insists on living? What would a church look like that is made up of households that all make it their aim to live like this?
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