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Living to please the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au
  1. Pleasing people

At times we all find ourselves trying to please someone whether we do it consciously or unconsciously. Many of us are influenced by our parents and the expectations that they have had for us. Sometimes we do what we do to in some way please them.

  • Pleasing my dad

In my last years at school to please my father I ended up choosing all the subjects that he wanted me to do rather than the ones I wanted to do. Dad was the head of training at a steel manufacturing company in Newcastle and he was acutely aware of what employers at the time were looking for when they were employing trainees. One of the subjects that I wanted to study was ancient history but there was no room for it with all the subjects that dad wanted me to do. I did 3 units of maths, 2 units of physics, 2 units of chemistry which I absolutely hated, and 3 units of engineering science which I struggled through. It wasn’t what pleased me at the time, but at the end of it at least I was taken on as a trainee electrical engineer with BHP.

  • We often try to please someone

We all find ourselves trying to please someone at some stage in our life whether we are doing consciously or unconsciously. We can find ourselves still trying to please our parents living up to their expectations. How many of us choose the careers that we have chosen because we knew that is was the kind of things that were wanting for us? If we are married, we can find ourselves trying to please our spouses or if we have children, our kids. Of course, we often live to just please ourselves. Even when we are trying to please others we can still be doing it out of selfish motives. We want them to appreciate us and accept us and be proud of us.

  1. Pleasing God

In chapter 2 Paul explained how he had conducted himself when he had visited the Thessalonians. He wrote that he didn’t try to please people but God who tests our hearts (2:4). In the first 12 verses of chapter 4 that we are looking at today Paul remind the Thessalonians of the instructions that he gave them about how they were to live (literally=walk) to please God[1]. He has reminded them of these instructions not because they had forgotten them or because they weren’t following them, but he because he was urging them to do this more and more.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-2

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. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus[2].

  • We have been given instructions.

Living in a manner that pleases God isn’t something that we get to decide for ourselves. It’s not like picking out a gift for someone who loves surprises and so they don’t tell you what they would like for their birthday. You don’t have to guess what might please them. You know that you have got it wrong when the first thing that they ask you is whether you’ve kept the receipt. You don’t have to guess what might pleases the Lord. Paul wrote that he had instructed the brothers and sisters about how they were to live in order to the please the Lord. And these were not merely Paul’s thoughts on the matter or things that the other apostles had made up but they had been given by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

Paul uses a little Greek word (dei) in verse 1 to say that he had instructed them how it was necessary for God’s people to live in order to please the Lord. The guiding principle of all that we do as Christians is that we ought to be living in a manner that is pleasing God. In these first 12 verses Paul reminds them of these instructions so that they might go on living to please God more and more.

Paul makes two main points about the way that believers are to live to please God. The first is that we are to live a holy life (verses 3 to 8) and the second is that we are to live a life of love (verses 9 to 12).

2.1  Live a holy life (4:3-8)

The first thing that Paul reminded the Thessalonians of was that they were to live a holy life and specifically that they were to avoid sexual immorality.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8

3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 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. 7  For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

God’s will for us is clear. We don’t have to guess what it is. God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life. This is what he means when he said in verse 3 that the Thessalonians should be sanctified. They should be living a holy life. The Greek word that has been translated “sanctification” in verse 3 is translated “holy” in verse 4 and “holy” in verse 7. God has called believers to live a holy life because he is holy. The apostle Peter also called believers to live a holy life. He wrote that “just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy” (see 1 Peter 1:15). While holiness can mean many things specifically in this passage Paul’s concern is for believers avoiding or abstaining from all kinds of sexual immorality.

  • Avoid sexual immorality

The word that has been translated “sexual immorality” (porneia) was a cover all term for all forms of sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and woman. As one writer has put it “Paul’s condemnation of extramarital sex was sweeping and unqualified. When he used the term porneia, Paul’s meaning was unequivocal – it embraced any and all sexual relationship out of marriage”[3]. This included what we call fornication, which is sexual intercourse between two unmarried people or adultery which is sex with someone other than the person that you are married to and lastly sex with someone of the same sex. All these forms of sexual activity are prohibited in the NT[4] and are forms of sexual immorality. They don’t accord with God’s will for those for his people who he has called to be holy. “Holy living, with respect to sexuality, involved disciplined fidelity to one’s spouse for those who are married and disciplined abstinence for those who are not”.

Paul had taught them that God’s will for them meant avoiding all kinds of sexual immorality. The word “avoid” perhaps isn’t a strong enough to convey the gravity of this instruction. I sometimes say that I’m avoiding eating chocolate but find myself having a piece from time to time. Of course, that just might be me. John Stott has written that “The apostle is declaring that God’s will entails ‘a clean cut’ (JBP) with impurity, a total abstinence”. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he told them to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). It’s something to be avoided at all costs.

  • Don’t be like those who don’t know God

For many in Thessalonica this would have been a radical break with the culture that they had grown up in, in the same way it is for many today. In the Greco-Roman world there was a wide range of sexual practices that was tolerated and sometimes that was even encouraged. In Corinth, the city that Paul was writing from, stood the temple of Aphrodite who was the Greek goddess of sexual love who “sent her servants out as prostitutes to roam the streets by night”[5]. In Greco-Roman society, while largely women were expected to be faithful to their husbands often men would take mistresses or visit temple prostitutes or take a slave as a concubine[6].

In a similar way today, we live in a culture where sexual immorality is shameless promoted. Casual sex is portrayed as the norm in books, in movies on social media and the message has greatly affect our society. In 2018 in a report of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children it was reported that by 16 to 17 years of age around 30% of teenagers have had sexual intercourse[7]. The figure would probably be higher today. But Paul wrote that it isn’t to be this way among believers. We aren’t to live like the pagans, those who don’t know God.

You see why we need to take this instruction so seriously in verses 6 to 8. You not only wrong or take advantage of your brother or sister, but Paul warned the Thessalonians that the Lord will punish all those who commit such sin. In verse 8 he wrote that anyone who rejects this instruction isn’t just rejecting a human being but rejected God for it his will for you to be holy. If we continue in sin and not repent, we are rejecting God’s whole purpose for us. He saved us so that we can be holy. Christ died for us so that we might no longer continue in sin.

  • Learn to control your own bodies

Instead of continuing in sin, therefore, Paul says that we are to learn to control our bodies in a way that is holy and honourable. How do we learn to control our bodies?

Paul wrote to Titus and said that it is “the grace of God that teaches us “to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passion, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12).

We are to learn to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passion. If we are dating, then we are not put ourselves in situations as a couple where will be tempted. If we have been sleeping with our boyfriend or girlfriend, then we are to repent and work out how to be godly as a couple or if we can’t and are not ready to be married, then it would be better to break up. If we are struggling with pornography, then it’s time to repent and get help to admit that it isn’t God’s will for us. Sexual immorality only causes harm to us and others. If we have been unfaithful in our marriage, then we need to repent and ask for forgiveness of God and our spouse for the harm that we have done them.

The warning is there that we can’t go on sinning. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins for by remaining in sin we are rejecting the God who gives us his Holy Spirit.

2.2 Live a life of love

The first thing that Paul reminded them of was that that a life that pleases God is a holy live – one that isn’t given over to sexual immorality. The second that he reminded them was that a life that pleases the Lord means living a life of love. And while he wrote that he didn’t need to teach them this he wrote to urge them to do this more and more.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

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,

Paul wrote that they had been taught by God to love each other and in fact that they were living that way.

But how does God teach us to love one another?

He does it as we grow to know him and his love for us. The apostle John wrote that, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16). We to learn love as we grow to know and understand God’s love for us. This was why Paul prayed for the believers in Ephesus that they might know the love of Christ (see Ephesians 6: 14-21). He wanted them to know this love which he said surpasses knowledge so that they might be filled to the full measure of all the fullness of God (see Eph. 3:17-19). Paul urged the believers to love one another more and more and he mentioned three things that he had taught them that they needed to aspire to in verses 11 and 12.

1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12

Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 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.

Paul told them they were to make it their ambition (1) to lead a quiet life (literally =to be quiet); (2) to mind their own business and (3) work with their own hands. I think all three things are tied together and should be viewed probably against the situation that Paul describes in chapter 3 of his second letter. It is believed that the second letter was probably written not long after the first and so what he describes there was probably present at the time of writing in his first letter. In Paul’s second letter he wrote that they had heard that some among the Thessalonians were idle and disruptive. They were no longer working but were dependent on the good will of other believers to support them.

2 Thessalonians 3:11-13

We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down[8] and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

Instead of working some believers had become idle and disruptive. The three things that Paul told the believers that they were to aspire to (make their ambition) address this unloving attitude.

He firstly told them that they were to aspire to literally “be quiet”. They weren’t to go around being busy bodies gossiping and causing trouble.  That isn’t loving your brothers and sisters. Instead, they were to quiet down and mind their own business and to work with their own hands so that they might not be a burden to others.  This was the loving thing to do. As believers, if we can work, we are not only to do so to support ourselves but to have enough to share with those in need (see what Paul says to the former thief in Eph. 4:28).

We are not speaking about people who for one reason or another were out of work and couldn’t get it or couldn’t work because of illness. In Paul’s second letter he wrote that when he was with them, he had given them a rule. “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). He had to remind them of this in his second letter because obviously some people were unwilling to work and were taking advantage of other believers. This wasn’t loving and it was also a bad witness to outsiders, non-believers. Paul wrote that he had taught them these things so that they might walk appropriately before outsiders and so that they might not be dependent on anybody.

What we do as believers ought to be loving. We ought not be the sort of people that go around causing or stirring up trouble by our careless words. We aren’t to be idle and an unnecessarily burden others. We are to work where possible not only to support ourselves but to have enough to share with others in need. We are called to do good and be blessing others and not a burden. Paul wrote in his second letter; we are to “never tire of doing what is good” (2 Thess. 3:13).  In this way we will not only love one another but also, we will be a witness to the people around us.

  1. Live to please the Lord

Friends, we have been saved by God’s grace so that we can be his people. Like the Thessalonians we have turned from whatever idols that we once served to the living and true God. We are now to live to please him, not ourselves, and not the people around us. That’s now your goal. That’s what you aspire to. That’s what you live for. That’s what the Lord us urging you to do.

And we haven’t been left in the dark as to what pleases the Lord.  We have the instructions that Paul passed on to believers and they were not just Paul’s thoughts on the matter, but they are instructions from the Lord Jesus. They come with his authority.

  • Live a holy life

Paul says that it is God’s will that we be sanctified – that we live a holy life. And that means learning to control ourselves, and avoiding sexual immorality. It means abstaining from all types of sexual activity outside of the marriage relationship of a man and a woman. If you’re dating it means treating the other person with absolute purity. Paul wrote to Timothy who was a young man at the time that he was treat younger women as sisters with absolute purity (see 1 Timothy 5:2) If your married in means being faithful to your wife or your husband. We are not to be like those around us who don’t know God. We are to imitate him and be holy.

  • Live a life of love

But pleasing the Lord also means that we are to love one another. God himself as taught us to love one another. He has taught us through the gospel of the Lord Jesus. It’s how we know what love is. But even if we feel we are already doing this we to love one another more and more.

We are not to be the sort of people who stir up trouble or who take advantage of others, but we are to be serving them, putting their interest above our own interest. We are not to be burden on others but to work and not ever tire of doing good. And as we do this, we will not only be a witness to the people around us, but we be living a life that is pleasing to the Lord.




[1] The words “to walk” and “to please” are understood to be a hendiadys where two words come together to form a single idea “to walk pleasing”.

[2] Unless otherwise indicated all Scripture references are taken from the The New International Version (2011). Zondervan.

[3] James A. Brundage, “Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe” page 60 as quoted in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Xondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament  page 265.

[4] Romans 2:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 7:8-9.

[5] John Stott, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, BST, page 81.

[6] FF.Bruce,  1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary, page 82

[7] https://growingupinaustralia.gov.au/research-findings/annual-statistical-reports-2018/teenagers-and-sex

[8] The word that has been translated settle down is ἡσυχια which is a noun. In chapter 4 and verse 11 of the first letter the same word is used but in this case as a verb, ἡσυχαζω.