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August 30, 009

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

It’s good to be back! I don’t know how many of you will agree with me when I say that holidays are not restful. What is restful is the comfort of abiding in the calling of Christ on my life, and that calling is serving as your shepherd. So, the next time I’m tempted to start a major renno project, someone please kick me hard!

Some time ago, I began to preach from the book of 1 Thessalonians. I left off in chapter4 which is where we will pick up today. But before we read this morning’s Scripture passage, let’s listen to some words of wisdom from Henry Blackaby:

When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” Then bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. John 19:30

Blackaby goes on to say, God always finishes what He begins (Phil. 1:6). God never speaks a word without ensuring that it comes to pass (Isa. 55:11). Christ is both the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 1:8, 17). Christ is as much at the end of His work as He is at its beginning.

Jesus was given an enormous mandate. He was to live a sinless life, remaining absolutely obedient to His Father. Even the manner of His death was to fulfill numerous prophecies that had been foretold in Scripture (Matt. 26:24, 31, 54, 56; 27:9, 35, 46; John 19:28, 36–37). Yet, despite the extremely complex assignment Jesus received from His Father, He could shout triumphantly from the cross, “It is finished!”

Christ now resides within each believer. His assignment today is to complete God's will in each Christian. He is just as determined to do this in us as He was to complete God's will for Himself. You will have to resist Christ in order to remain out of the will of God. What is it God wants to do in you? Have you allowed Him to complete what He has begun? He will not force you to receive all that He has for your life. If God's work has not been brought to fruition in you, it is not that Christ has not been diligently working toward that end. Rather, you may need to release areas of your life to Him and be as determined to see God's work in you completed as Christ is. Review the things God has said to you over this last year. Are there promises God has made to you that you have refused to allow Him to complete? If so, commit to yield your will to God today.

Oswald Chambers, in his devotional, “My Utmost for His Highest”, had an interesting thing to say this past week about God’s continuing work in us. List to this: (from August 27) “The most difficult person to deal with is the one who has prideful self-satisfaction of a past experience, but is not working that experience out in his everyday life.” He goes on to exhort, “If you say you are sanctified, show it” – in other words, “Live it!” My message today is to exhort you to live the sanctified life. So, I’ve entitled this message, “Exhortation”. God’s Word is constantly exhorting us to keep on. “Grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior” says 2 Peter 3:18. At no point are we to grow comfortable. The Scriptures talk about comfort, being comforted by the comforter, but never about being comfortable. Someone once described the Christian walk as paddling upstream in a canoe. Stop paddling and what happens? In Christenese we call that back-sliding. God exhorts us to “work out our salvation”. (Phil 2:12) Not “work for our salvation.” That’s a free gift. But “work throughout”. The idea is to progress to the finish or completion of our spiritual maturity. So, don’t stop padding! Now let’s read God’s exhortation to us today.

Turn to today’s Scripture, 1 Thessalonians 4:1 -12: Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;
that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 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. 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,
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, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that the only people who need to be called to account are those who have one foot in sin already. We think that if a person is doing well the only thing they need is either to be praised or perhaps they need nothing at all from us. We tend to think of exhortations and promptings and urgings and warnings as things you use only for the wayward.

That's a mistake because experience and Scripture teach us that every believer needs regular exhortations, and challenges, and wake-up calls, and stirrings, and inspiration, and warnings, and cautions.

The biblical writers do not get into people's lives only when things are falling apart; they get in when things are going well. And they exhort us and urge us and stir us up to keep on doing well and to do better and better.

You see this twice in our text: in verse 1 and verse 10.  Verse 1:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more.

Notice the phrase, "just as you actually do walk," followed by, "that you may excel still more." Paul's "exhorting" is not prompted by hearing that the church is failing. It is prompted by the belief that successful churches and successful people need to be exhorted to press on and be vigilant in faithfulness and growth.

The same thing turns up at the end of verses 9–10:

Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.

Even when someone seems to be in such close fellowship with God that it can be said they are "taught by God" (not just man), and even when someone is practicing love not in a narrow limited way but in large and expansive ways, do not think that there is no use in exhortation and prodding and inspiration and motivation for those people. These Thessalonians were being "taught by God" to love each other (v. 9). And their love is extending well beyond their own community to believers throughout the district of Macedonia (v. 10). And yet Paul said, "We urge you [we exhort you] to abound still more and more."

Exhortation, encouragement, and accountability will benefit all of us. Hebrews 3:12–13 makes this very explicit:

Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart . . . But encourage one another day after day . . . lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Keep on paddling! Never put your paddle down or you will find yourself drifting downstream.

No one has run the race so long or so well that he can say, "I don't need exhortation or accountability or warnings or encouragement."

1 Thessalonians 4:1 is a model of exhortation and accountability that we could well follow in our covenant life as a church. What I mean by model of exhortation and accountability is it shows us the way we stir each other up to excel in faith and hope and love.

Notice four things in this model:

1. A Walk to Please God

There is a way to walk—or to live—to please God. Notice in the middle of the verse the words: "how you ought to walk and to please God." There is a way to walk that pleases God. You’ll hear more about that later is the message.

2. A Reminder of What's Been Received

The Thessalonians had "received" that way of life and had made a good start in walking in it. " . . . as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you actually do walk." Verse 2 reminds them what they had received: "For you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus."

So verse 2 says Paul had given commandments which summed up "how you ought to walk and to please God," and verse 1 says that the Thessalonians had "received" them and submitted to them in a changed life.

Before living a changed life, each of us must receive new life. We must be born again according to John 3:3-8. John 1:12 says: But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name. We, the people of God have been called by God into a new relationship and a new covenant. We are fulfilling the terms of that covenant in love and holiness to God and to one another. One of the marks of the new covenant and our new relationship with God is that God not only writes the law on the heart. (Rom 2:15) but also calls us to a higher goal – to walk with Him and be taught by Him. Well that's what Paul was referring to in verse 9: "You have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another."

Verse 2 says that Paul had given commandments, and verse 1 says that those commandments are "the way to walk and to please God." But verse 9 clarifies that it was God himself who was writing these commandments on their heart so that they loved to do them, and did not experience them as a letter that kills but as the power of the Spirit who gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).

So the first thing we've seen about this model of exhortation and accountability is that there is a way to walk to please God. And the second thing to notice in this model is that when this covenant way of life is presented by Paul to the Thessalonians, it is "received" or accepted by the Thessalonians, and it is taught by God himself, and they begin to walk in it.

The third thing to notice is that Paul "requests" something from them and "exhorts" them. Notice how the verse begins with these key words: "request" and "exhort." "Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus . . . "

This is what God wants us to do for each other here at Good Shepherd, just as Paul set an example for us in this letter. First, we know there is a way to walk and to please God. Second, we have heard and received it. Third, there is an " exhorting" that should go on here.

If the church were not a covenant community in which people voluntarily make a covenant to live a certain way before each other and before the world and before the Lord, then "requesting" and "exhorting" like this would be intruding. But if we have made a covenant with each other to be one body in Christ and to model our life on Scriptures, then "requesting" and "exhorting" is not intruding, it is lour reasonable service as Romans 12:1 says, if you have presented your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

Finally, notice that the aim of the requesting and exhorting in verse 1 "that you may excel still more and more." In what? In what you "received" from the beginning. Not in a long list of new commandments. You received (what Paul calls in Romans 6:17) the "form of teaching" — the "how to’s about how you ought to walk and please God." You received the terms of the covenant, and you became “obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”

That is what I urge you to walk in still more and more. Yes, it is God who teaches you (v. 9). But he uses words dictated to men who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth" (1 Corinthians 3:6). Humans "request" and humans "exhort" but God writes the terms of the covenant on the heart. God gives the heartfelt obedience.

Let’s take a look at verses 9 through 12. The passage  begins with praise but it ends in warning. In verses 9 and 10 Paul commends them for their love, one to another. I understand what Paul is saying, for when we got to Cut Knife we encountered this exact same love. I could say about Good Shepherd Community Church what Paul said to the Thessalonican church. “Indeed you already show your love for all the believers.”  Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to keep paddling – love more – don’t stop. We want to be known for our love for one another. John 3:35 says The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Paul urged the Thessalonians to keep calm, to attend to their own business and to go on working with their hands. This is our testimony – the way we lead our life so that people know we are followers of Jesus.

(i), Paul tells us, in effect, that the best way in which Jesus Christ will be honored is that he should find them quietly, efficiently and diligently doing their daily job. As Christ’s soldiers we are to be working harder and more faithfully doing quiet and useful work. Listen to 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. This passage refers specifically to our work for God’s kingdom, but all work done by us should be done to honor Christ.

  (ii) Our testimony must commend Christianity to the outsider by the diligence and the beauty of our lives. Paul here touched on a tremendous truth. A tree is known by its fruits; and a religion is known by the kind of men it produces. The only way to demonstrate that Christianity is the best of all faiths is to show that it produces the best of all men. When we Christians show that our Christianity makes us better workmen, truer friends, kinder men and women, then we are really preaching. The outside world may never come into church to hear a sermon but it sees s sermon every day; it is our lives which must be the sermons to win men for Christ. Abraham Lincoln said of his Lord and Savior: “Be all my heart, be all my days, devoted to thy single praise. And let my glad obedience prove how much I owe, how much I love.” Our life, our work should give praise to God.

 (iii) Paul tells us that we must aim to attend to our own business, and work with our hands and never become spongers on charity. What he means is living as a good citizen in this sinful world. Paul’s advice for Christian living – living a quiet life, working diligently, sharing graciously – will result in an impeccable testimony to God’s sufficiency. There is a certain paradox in Christianity. It is the Christian's duty to help others, for many, through no fault of their own, cannot help themselves; but it is also the Christian's duty to help himself. There will be in the Christian a lovely charity which delights to give while being humbly able to supply his own needs so that He may establish in your hearts without blame in holiness (3:12). To walk in a manner worthy of God who has called you into His kingdom. (2:12)

So here we have a model for how to use the church covenant  in small groups. First, we acknowledge that there is a way to walk and to please God. Second, we receive it—we accept the covenant and make our commitment to one another with it. Third, we "request" and "exhort" each other again and again. We keep paddling upstream. We keep the covenant before us and spur each other on. Fourth, we do this not just for the weak but also for the strong, not just for the wayward but also for the stalwarts, not just for the failing but also for the successful, not just for the cold but also for the fervent, not just for the laymen but also for the pastors. We exhort each other day after day to "excel still more."

No one is above sinning and covenant breaking. And the best protection against it is not coasting or even commending. The best protection is stretching forward, pressing on. This is why Paul requested and exhorted successful saints to "excel more and more" in love and holiness.  

So we may say to each other: How are you doing in your devotions? And we may encourage each other and inspire each other with stories and testimonies and biblical promises. That is what biblical exhortation is. His encouragement with bite!

And we can ask each other: How it is going in teaching your children. What is working? What isn't? Can I pray for you and your children?

As the body of Christ in Cut Knife, we are to exhort one another . . . to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and to avoid all tattling, backbiting and excessive anger [that is, to avoid gossiping and idle chatter about people, and unkind vengeful remarks about others, and anger that comes from offended egos or which breeds bitterness without redemption; and to seek God's help in abstaining from all drugs, food, drink, and practices which bring unwarranted harm to the body or jeopardize our own or another's faith. It’s a tall order isn’t it?

Our Covenant with God does not settle all the details (Which drugs? Which food? Which drink? Which practices?), but it sends us back again to the guidance of the Scriptures and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and to the corporate wisdom of the body of Christ.

Our Covenant is part of the New Covenant and depends on 1 Thessalonians 4:9 coming true here in this body. 1 Thessalonians 4:9 says, 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,: are we being taught by God or only by man? Is the covenant being written on our hearts?

There is a way to walk that pleases God. We have made a covenant to walk in that way. Let us exhort each other and hold each other accountable. And let us pray that in it all God himself will be our teacher and write the covenant on our hearts and make us excel more and more.

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