Sex, work and death are the topics that Paul goes on to address as he begins to “make up what is lacking in your faith” (3:10). What resonates with us in Melbourne is, for Paul, love is a reason for sexual self control, not experiment. For Paul, ambition is for a quiet life, not overwork and anxiety. The surprise is the key to achieving these things in our lives is not a revised set of rules and determined will-power but, rather, worship. [Audio | Notes]
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 | Living to please God
Love, sex, work and death
– Saved for good works
We instructed you how to live to please God (1-2)
– Live to grow (more and more)
– By the authority of our Lord Jesus
For it is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality (3-8)
– gain a wife (RSV) or control your own body (NIV)
– Marriage is for love not lust or abuse
– Respect yourself and others
– Knowing God means don’t harm you brother or sister.
So love each other (more and more). (9-10)
And make it your ambition to live a quiet life (11-12)
– A witness of respect, a life of holy independence
Love and sex. Work and ambition.
For further thought
Q: Paul is clear that we are saved once and for all by grace alone when we entrust ourselves to God in Jesus Christ (1:1; 5:23). Yet the fruit of that trust is to go on growing more and more in our lives as evidence of effective faith (1:4-7; 4:1,10). We are to live lives that please God not lives that merely obey a list of rules. Do we presume upon God’s grace in churches in Melbourne today? What difference would it make to our city if God’s people pursued the things Paul asks the Thessalonians to pursue: sexual purity, holiness (wholeness) of spirit soul and body, love and honour of others, diligence and honesty in work, determined prayer and hope in grief?
Q: Christians can be accused of being prudish about sex but the Bible is boldly realistic. Sex is a wonderful gift of God but the greater the gift the more powerful is its abuse. What are the signs that sex is abused in our city today?
Q: If God’s will is that we should be sanctified and avoid sexual immorality (4:3) how does he help us with that? What does this mean for single people?
Q: Here we are taking verse 4 as referring to gaining a wife rather than gaining our bodies (see the footnote in NIV bibles). This means the sexual wrongs Paul refers to in verse 5 onwards are done within marriages. What are the differences between lust and love or, having sex and making love? Why are we vulnerable in our sexual relationships? Why does God judge sexual abuse even in marriage (4:7)?
Q: Some of the Thessalonians appear to have interpreted the teaching about Jesus coming again as a reason to give up work (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). The cultural background to this is likely the greek idea that manual work should be for slaves. Yet, Paul tells them to work with their hands (5:11) and to support themselves. How is taking up work in this way an act of love for others (5:9,10)? How is it a witness to outsiders?
Q: In our city we say love is a reason for sexual exploration and ambition is a reason for a driven work life. Paul says to the Thessalonians that love is a reason to seek God’s help in sexual self control so we care for ourselves and others. Paul also writes that our work life ambition should be to live quiet lives that gain the respect of people outside the church. How do Paul’s commands please God, care for others and provide a witness to those outside the church?