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  1. Keep going

            ILLN – In August 1992 the summer Olympics were held in Barcelona. Derek Redmond, a British athlete, was running in the semi-finals of the 400 metre race. He was in good form, he’d trained well, he was pumped, he had a great chance of a gold medal.

            The starting gun went, and he was off on this race of his life. But, rounding a bend on the track, Derek felt a sharp pain in the back of his leg. He slowed, started limping, and then fell to the ground in agony with a torn hamstring.

            As the other runners made it to the finishing line, Derek saw the medical team coming out to him. Now he could have hobbled to the sidelines or been stretchered off, but no – his true character came to the fore. He got up and started limping on.

            As he got to the final stretch a middle-aged man rushed to his side. It was his father, Jim. And Jim said to his son “You don’t have to do this, you don’t have to put yourself through this.” But grimacing in pain, Derek said he was going to finish this race. So arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder, father and son kept moving and finally, with the entire Olympic crowd standing in awe, they made it to the finish line. The applause was thunderous, and some wept openly at his courage. Derek did not walk away with a gold medal, but he was still a hero because he finished the race.

            The Christian journey through life is like a race, more like a marathon than a sprint – we want to start, we want to keep going, we want to finish and finish well. To be honest there are those times when we feel like quitting. Perhaps we regret, we falter, we make mistakes, we regret, we fall behind. Maybe when we suffer, grieve, feel betrayed, we’ve thought “Is it really worth it?” Some will encourage us to quit. But the heroes of faith are those who finish. It is those who persevere who will reach the end.

            So as we come to 1 Thess 4, Paul writes to these young Christians encouraging them they have started well, but need to keep going. And he reminds them of 3 particular areas in which they need to be watchful.

            So you might like to turn to 1 Thess 4:1-12 and the outline in your Bulletins, as we look at what God has to say to us.

  1. As a Christian – keep pleasing God

Paul has finished the first part of his letter, and now turns to more practical teaching. And he encourages them to keep going. More than that he urges them to keep going. So look with me at vv1-2 – READ.

            It’s so encouraging isn’t it – when people say to you, you’re doing really well, keep it up. More and more. Aim to make it even better. And you want to then don’t you.

            Paul was like that with the Thessalonians. Keep going as we taught you. There is a right way to live if you are a Christian. The phrase in v1 – ‘how to live’ literally means ‘how to walk’, how to walk the Christian life, the Christian journey, it is about the whole manner of the Christian life. To walk with God is to please God, and we walk with God by obeying the apostle’s instructions, instructions he had already given to them. Instructions that weren’t just Paul’s, no, he spoke with Jesus’ authority. So if they want to keep pleasing God in the way they were living, then keep living the way Paul had told them, and more and more. Don’t rest content and satisfied with where you’re at. Keep seeking to please God.

            ILLN – if we really love someone then we will want to please them. We’ll find out what pleases them and then do it. So I know that Melinda likes being surprised with flowers. But she likes some flowers more than others. So if I go out and buy a mixed dozen, or a bunch of daisies, from the local service station that’s OK, but if I really want to show her my love and please her, then going to the florist and buying a dozen gerberas is just the ticket. But I will want to do it more than just once in my lifetime won’t I?

            What about when it comes to God? How do I please him? How do I show him my love? After all he’s the one who has given me all I have, and it’s not as though he needs a bunch of flowers. How do I please him – v1 basically tells us by living the way God told his people through the apostles, for the whole of my life.

            Paul then goes on to remind them of some of the basics needed in order to do God’s will. 3 areas we want to look at – sexuality, brotherly love, and our daily life.

  1. Sexual purity

            The first area is sexuality. Look at vv3-8 – READ.

            Thessalonica was a city immersed in Greco-Roman culture. It was a culture where moral standards were generally quite low. Especially for males. There were few sexual restraints. Chastity was considered unreasonable. Temples had ritual prostitutes. It was taken for granted men would seek sexual satisfaction outside marriage. Listen to this quote from Demosthenes, a reputable citizen of Athens in the 4th century BC – ‘we keep prostitutes for pleasure; we keep mistresses for the day to day needs of the body; we keep wives for the begetting of children and for faithful guardianship of the home.’

            Christian teaching was, and is, radically different. God’s will for people is holiness. This is what God is working towards in every area of your life. And so when it comes to the sexual area of your life if you want to please God in that area, then avoid sexual immorality, control your own body, live a holy life, which will be different from the heathens, v5, that is, those who do not know God. Paul writes to these young Christians to encourage them in their battle against the dangerous standards of society, when no doubt they would have been pressured to conform.

            Friends this is still a major area for us who are Christians in the 21st century, and we need to keep hearing God’s instructions to us through the apostle. God’s will for his people is still sexual purity. Sex is holy, and is set aside for a special use – within marriage, by consent. God’s commands are uncompromising. To reject Paul’s instructions on this is to reject God.

             ILLN – I read of a Christian speaker in the US who went to a church in southern California, and he ran into a friend he hadn’t seen for years. And you know what it’s like when you run into old friends – you ask about all the other old friends. Well this speaker was no different. How is Joe? What happened to Julie? On this occasion the answers were not good. One friend who had been a Christian apologist, was now on the other side as a shock jock on a radio station. Another, who was a counter cult leader, fell away and no longer acknowledged Christ. And his friend, who worked in his ministry, joined a universalistic cult.

            And what of the pastor who cared for those folk? He was a great teacher. But then he’d got into moral problems, and fell out of ministry.

            We need to hear what God says – be holy. Avoid sexual immorality. Learn to control your own bodies, in a way that is holy and honourable, and do not wrong your brother in this. We cannot compromise this message as temptation is still all around us, living as we do in a sex-mad society. The right use for the body God has given us is his service – not our sinful self-indulgence, to honour him, not dishonour.

            Sexual immorality is inconsistent with love of God and love of others. Sexual sin hurts other people. If I’m married and commit adultery, I am wronging my spouse, and not showing love to her. If I’m not married and have sex before marriage I am wronging that person’s future spouse, and not showing love to that person, and wronging any child which may be conceived by that union..

            God treats this so seriously – why?

            What motives does Paul advance for being so different to society? – we’re not like the heathen who don’t know God –sexual sin defrauds others - God will punish sexual sin, in that there are consequences to our actions – God rather calls us to holiness – sexual sin is sin against the Holy Spirit who is at work in us and whose role is to make us holy, as he is holy.

  1. Brotherly love

            I take it this discussion on sexuality leads Paul to thinking more generally about brotherly love. And so again he encourages them – look at vv9-10. You are doing it, you can’t help but do it, so do so more and more.

            And the same applies to us. This instruction doesn’t stop applying – it is still God’s will that we love one another, and do so more and more.

            ILLN – on Thursday night I had the great joy of having supper with many of those involved in our pastoral care ministry. It was a wonderful night, seeing how many people from our congregations – all 3 services – take an active part in caring for their Christian sisters and brothers. And they weren’t the only ones. Many of you are active and sacrificial in caring for one another. Thank you.

            But keep going. Let us do it more and more. I encourage you to think this week – how can I show care to someone this week? Pray for those opportunities. And then take them. Pleasing God shows in self-denying, self-giving love. Our life together can be such a strong witness to outsiders. The love that Christians have can be in such contrast to the self-centredness of those who are not Christians. So don’t give up. Let us finish the race as we keep loving one another.

  1. Daily life

            And it is about our daily life. The way we work, the things we do. So look at vv11-12 – READ.

            The Greeks despised manual labour – it was degrading and fit only for slaves. But Christians were to be different – work, even manual work, was good. We know that from Gen 2 where God gives the man work to do in the garden. And we know it from Jesus who was a carpenter.

            But even for the Christians, we’ll see as we explore further in this letter that some were thinking Jesus would return very soon. So why bother working? Some it seems had given up their jobs, and were just waiting, having to live off others, and probably chatting to anyone and everyone, stirring things up, being busybodies as they had nothing else to do.

            But Paul says Christians ought not be like this. Lead a quiet life – peaceful that is, not inactive. Mind your own business – not the business of others. Work hard. Why?

            2 reasons – so that non-Christians will respect them. Non-Christians see us at work, they see how we work, what we do in our work hours, do we bear in mind the impact of our conduct on them? Think about which of your work habits commend Christ to people, and which ones detract form your Christian witness?

                        - and they won’t be dependent on others; this is a form of brotherly love isn’t it. We need to take seriously the need to earn our own living. Christians who are in need because of their own idleness are not obeying nor pleasing God, nor loving their brothers and sisters in Christ.

  1. Conclusion

Well, let me conclude. It’s been said that God loves us just as we are, but loves us too much to leave us as we are. And so God through his word and his Spirit is at work to change us to be like Jesus. What will that look like? How do I live a life that pleases the God who made me, saved me and loves me?

            It’s not just about starting well, but we want to continue well. Paul helps us see that to continue well means living a life of sexual purity, of brotherly love and of daily work. There is no room for complacency in a fallen world. Doing these things will help us to keep living a life that is pleasing to God, and as we do that we will persevere in the Christian race and finish well.

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