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Holy Living in an Unholy world - 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

1 Thessalonians: Return of the King  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  26:27
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Lyle Shelton vs John Dickson

Most of you will have heard of Lyle Shelton
Former head of the Australian Christian Lobby. Famous for leading the opposition to Same Sex Marriage a few years ago.
A Christian. I’ve met him. He seems like a genuine guy.
And here’s John Dickson. Maybe less of you have heard of him. He’s also a Christian. Also a public figure. I’ve also met him. He also seems like a good dude.
Dickson believes all the same things about marraige that Lyle Shelton does. Is a public Australian Christian. Goes on things like Q&A.
Spoke publically about same sex marraige during the debate.
But interestingly enough, it seems to me that people hate Shelton, and respect Dickson.
Now on the day the yes vote was annouced a hashtag trended on twitter that’s not appropriate to repeat in church regarding Lyle Shelton. Not so for Dickson.
Now yes there’s complexity about this and why this is and the nature of politics and the media. And I don’t mean to be making comments about these two men as individual Christians and how they’re going with Jesus. That’s up to their own pastors and people who actually know them to do.
But nonetheless I think these two men are a useful cultural illustration of what Paul is talking about today.
Live holy lives in a way that might win respect in an unholy world. Or if not respect at the very least not outright derision.

From History to Holy Living

So far we’ve had a personal and historical account of Paul and the Thessalonians relationship and ministry.
Paul as we saw last week in Ch 3, has been overjoyed to hear of the Thessalonians faith:
1 Thessalonians 3:6 NIV
6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you.
But it seems that perhaps Timothy also might have said that the Thessalonians needed to be encouraged to keep striving to live holy lives.
They may have had the tendency to give in to and conform to some of the ways of the society around them. Paul moves now to address these concerns and to encourage them, to live holy lives in order to please God (4:1).
It’s an encouragement to strive for more, not a rebuke to the ungodly.
1 Thessalonians 4:1 NIV
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.
You are living to please God, do this more.
Every Christian needs to be on a growth trajectory.
Every Christian needs to be reminded what it is to live a holy life in response to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
Every Christian needs to be humble and teachable and seek feedback from God’s word as to what areas of their life they need to keep working on.
This is all in respone to what God has done. Remember:
1 Thessalonians 1:4–5 NIV
4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.
God has caused them, and us to see respond positively to the good news about Jesus. Now they and us if we’ve put our faith and trust in Jesus need to keep working on our lives so that they reflect our faith in God.
So what are the areas Paul encourages the Thessalonians to continue to work on?

Sexuality (1 Thes 4:3-8)

Paul is writing from Corinth to Thessalonica.
Both cities were famous in the Graeco-Roman world for their immorality.
Thessalonica was associated with the worship of deities called the Cabiri who had some fairly shady and immoral sexual practices associated with their worship.
Professor F.F. Bruce says of the world at the time Paul was writing to the church in Thessalonica:
The Message of Thessalonians 2. Paul Urges Us to Control Ourselves (4:3–8)

A man might have a mistress (hetaira) who could provide him also with intellectual companionship; the institution of slavery made it easy for him to have a concubine (pallakē), while casual gratification was readily available from a harlot (pornē). The function of his wife was to manage his household and to be the mother of his legitimate children and heirs.

Likewise, another scholar William Lecky talks about during this early period of the Roman Empire the cities of Greece and Asia Minor were known for their sexual licence. He writhes that these cities, places like Thessalonica, “had become centres of the wildest corruption”. And again he says, “There has probably never been a period when vice was more extravagant or uncontrolled”.
So as you can see, the Christian lived in a world where societies view of sex was a lot different to God’s good design. And that meant the pressure was on to conform.
What is God’s good design?
Laid out in creation Gen 2:18-24:
Male and female created for each other.
To complement each other.
Genesis 2:24 NIV
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
From the very beginning the bible pictures marraige as a monogamous, hetrosexual relationship.
Jesus picks up on the creation story in his own teaching on marraige in Matthew 19:
Matthew 19:4–6 NIV
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Paul also picks up on the teachings of Jesus and the OT in Ephesians 5 when he teaches on marraige
Ephesians 5:31–32 NIV
31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Man and woman in monogamus sexual relationship for life. This reflects something of the realtionship between Christ and the church.
What if you’re not married?
The bbile is fairly clear on that too: You’re called to celibacy. Not having sex.
In fact, Jesus commends celibacy as a way of life when teaching on marraige in Matthew 19:
“there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (v12).
And Paul likewise talks up the life of celibacy:
1 Corinthians 7:7–9 NIV
7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. 8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Celibacy is good! Say Paul and Jesus. But if you want to have sex… hetrosexual marriage is the place for sex. The bible in fact encourages a healthy sex life for married couples in 1 Cor 7:5 - “don’t deprive each other”.
But if you’re not married then you are called to celibacy. But this isn’t second best. This is a gift from God that allows you to focus fully on the kingdom.
Now just like in Paul’s day, the pressure is on for us as Christians, to not live out our sexual ethics.
This is important to note. Because sometimes we can think oh, Paul or Jesus or those Old Testasment people they were just prudes, and we know better now. But in fact, they lived in a culture that was just as if not more sexually permissive and peverse as we do and they preached and taught a conservative sexual ethic as the way to live a holy life.
And in fact I think ultimately Paul’s teaching on living out Godly sexual ethics is good news in our #metoo world. Let me read again from our reading today:
1 Thessalonians 4:4 NIV
4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable,
1 Thessalonians 4:5 NIV
5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God;
1 Thessalonians 4:6 NIV
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.
1 Thessalonians 4:7 NIV
7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.
Don’t be like Harvey Weinsten and use others for your own advantage. Don’t do whatever you want in terms of sex and risk hurting others. Rather be holy and honourable and seek to respect your fellow human beings by treating them not as sexual objects, but as brothers and sisters. Keep sex out of all your relationships except with your spouse and things will go much better for you.
Men don’t treat women as sex objects. Women don’t treat men as sex objects. Rather control your bodies. And express the gift of your sexuality in ways that are pleasing to God. This actually will bring you the greatest joy.
Sadly many in the church reject God’s teaching about what it means to avoid sexual immorality. They say it doesn’t matter if you have sex before marriage. They say it’s ok to have sex with people of the same gender. But what does the bible tell us about people who say these things?
1 Thessalonians 4:8 NIV
8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
If you love God. If you truly believe in him. If you are allowing His Holy Spirit to mould you and shape you, you will do what he says. And he calls us to holy living in all areas of life including in how we express our sexuality.
Check out: - for a fuller expalantion of what the bible teaches about marraige.
Well it’s not all about sex. Paul calls the Thessalonians to continue to pursue holiness of life in two other areas as well:

Love for others (1 Thes 4:9-10)

1 Thessalonians 4:9–10 NIV
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,
They are doing this well. No doubt persecution has helped as given they have faced such a rough time of it for being Christians, the least they can do is love and support one another well.
But of course, it’s easy to let yourself be sidetracked by other issues. Paul says, don’t do this, but keep going loving each other more and more.
Likewise we’re called to love one another.
How are you doing that?
And that’s part of what we’re going to do later in the service.
I’m going to ask Luke and Kelly and Alex’s godparents:
Will you each, by God’s grace, strive to live as a disciple of Christ, loving God with your whole heart, and your neighbour as yourself, until your life’s end?
I will, with God’s help.
And then I’m going to ask each one of us here:
You have heard these our brothers and sisters respond to Christ. Will you support them in this calling?
And we asnwer with: We will!
This is an expression of our love for them and our desire to invest in their lives as they bring Alex up to love Jesus and be part of the worshipping community here in Lindisfarne.
Paul’s final instruction to the Thessalonians about holy living?

Quiet Lives (1 Thes 4:11-12)

1 Thessalonians 4:11–12 NIV
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.
The Christian is called to provide for him or herself where possible, to not be an unnecesary burden on anyone else. And to get on with life.
As Christians we believe God calls those who follow him to a certain way of life. To love God, love others and to make disciples. We believe that we are called to be generous with our time and money to show love to others and to help them follow Jesus. And we have a variety of beliefs and values about the kind of good and holy life God is calling us to live, including in the areas of human sexaulity as we’ve talked about earlier.
But we are not called to make other submit to our way of living. Rather we are called to get on with the business of living our lives under God quietly. Absolutely taking every opportunity to speak about our faith and explain what we believe. Not silent lives. But not imposing our faith on others. We are to get on with provding for ourselves, loving each other and living holy lives and by our way of life we might win the respect of outsiders.
Of course its not always going to go like that. The Thessalonians you’ll remember from the first 3 chapters have suffered much persecution for their faith. We will too. Paul I think is saying persecution will come as you know, don’t seek it out instead try to live in a way worthy of respect.
No matter who you are here today, the good news is that God loves you. He sent Jesus into the world to die for you. And Jesus has defeated sin and death for you. One day, Jesus will return and when he does he will cause everyone who believes to live in perfect eternity with him. If you love Jesus, then take Paul’s words seriously today and seek to live a holy life in response to all Jesus has done for you. If you don’t believe in Jesus, then Christmas is the perfect time to investigate.
May each of us live in such a way that pleases God and may we do so more and more until Jesus returns. Amen.
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