August 2, 2009
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Let’s begin again with some words of wisdom from Henry Blackaby.His message today is entitled, No Sin, and he quotes 1 John 3:6 “Everyone who remains in Him does not sin; everyone who sins has not seen Him or known Him.”
The Bible makes two things clear about sin. First, living a lifestyle of sin indicates that you are not walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, regardless of what you say about your spiritual condition. You cannot regularly spend time studying and meditating on God's word, praying and walking in fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and persist in sin.
Second, if you do not hate sin the way God does, then you do not truly know Him. There are those who continue in their sin yet insist that they love God and belong to Him. John makes it clear: If you have a lifestyle of sin, you have not seen Him and do not know Him. You may have prayed a “sinner's prayer,” or made a commitment in your church, or been baptized, but the evidence of the Holy Spirit's presence in your life is that you are defeating sin. This does not mean that you will never sin, but it does mean that you refuse to make sin a lifestyle and you immediately seek forgiveness when you sin (1 John 1:10). It means that you are opposed to sin, as God is, and you allow the Holy Spirit to eradicate every trace of sin in your life. It means that when you sin, you immediately confess it and repent of it and do whatever is necessary to avoid repeating your sin.
If you find yourself falling into sinful habits or not grieving over your sin as you once did, this indicates that you are not abiding in Christ. Return to Him in repentance; restore your fellowship with Him, and you will once again experience victory over your sin. On the back of your bulletin today are two articles on the sin of withholding your generosity to God’s work. Read them. They’re very timely.
Our text today is taken from 1 Thessalonians chapter four. Please turn there now and I’ll begin reading at 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 excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8 So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.
The reason to preach through an entire book of the Bible is that I am forced to preach every verse. It prevents me from selecting a number of proof texts to establish whatever position, or teach whatever theology I want. This is called expository preaching. The disadvantage to expository preaching, of course, is that I must preach through every verse of whatever book I’ve chosen to preach from – even those which are controversial, contentious, or possibly embarrassing. When you think about it, this isn’t so bad – after all, it is God’s Word that’s being preached. Truth!
Alongside evangelism, my theme for this year, I want to call us this morning to personal holiness, especially in our sexual lives – sexual purity.
I am aware that there are older children in this services. Some of what I say will be plain to you, and some will not. That’s why we have a happy partnership between the church and your parents. So be sure to ask them about what you don’t understand, when you get home. That should make for interesting dinner conversation, don’t you think? Better than roast Pastor!
So let’s go first to this text and simply make as clear as we can – even for the children – what the Bible means by sexual purity. Then we will look at why it’s important and then how to fight for it and enjoy it in our lives.
What Does the Bible Mean by "Sexual Purity"?
Verse 3 gets to the point: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification [or your holiness - being set apart for God], that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality." This phrase "sexual immorality" (porneia), means mainly fornication – that is, two people acting as if they are married when they are not married. Touching each other and sleeping together in a way God designed only for a man and a woman married to each other. God said, this close physical relationship is for married people only. "A man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24; 1 Corinthians 7:2; Exodus 20:14). So "sexual immorality" includes sexual relations before marriage and wrong sexual relations among married people. So children it means this: Your mom may not go live with another man as her husband. And your dad may not go live with another woman as his wife. That’s the meaning of the seventh commandment, "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14). And O how blessed is the child where mommy and daddy obey!
Verse 6 also has fornication and adultery in view, because it says ". . . and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter." This means that another man’s wife or daughter is in view and the sin in view is mainly sexual relations with a woman that is not your wife, but belongs to another man. You would sin against her and her husband. And I’m sure God intended the reverse as well – where a man leaves his wife and cleaves to another. In today’s vernacular we still call this “having an affair” – a nice way of saying adultery.
But let’s not think that the only sexual sin in view here is the behavior of sleeping with a woman not your wife – or a man not your husband. Paul refers in verse 5a to "lustful passion." "Possess your own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion," The issue here is not just behavior but also sexual desires that dominate your life in ways they should not. For our day I think we could include here desires that lead to the use of pornography, and desires that lead to a fantasy life and the masturbation that is so often imbedded in it – for men and women.
I have reports on all hands that this issue is huge, and that the easy access to internet pornography and cable TV is capturing many men and women and making slaves out of them. Male teens are the biggest users of internet pornography. The positive alternative to this is described in verses 1, 3, and 7. Verse 1: "How you ought to walk and please God." Verse 3: "This is the will of God, your sanctification [or holiness]." Verse 7: "God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification [or holiness]."
When God calls you to himself, he justifies you freely by faith in Christ on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness, and he calls you to a life of holiness, which in this context refers explicitly to sexual purity. This is the practical fruit of justification by faith.
That is the "What" of the text: what shall we be and do as a worshipping church? Let us pursue personal holiness, especially sexual purity.
Why Should We Be Concerned with Our Sexual Purity?
Now the "Why." I’m going to deal with this quickly because I really want to move to the "how" – which unpacks the practical effects of the "why." Why should we be concerned with our sexual purity?
The text mentions at least five incentives to fight this battle.
1) The incentive of pleasing God, verse 1b: Paul exhorts us "how you ought to walk and please God." Sexual purity pleases God.
2) The incentive of doing the will of God, verse 3: "This is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality." Sexual purity is God’s will, and Christians love the will of God. Christlikeness means that we delight to do God’s will (Psalm 40:8; Hebrews 10:7).
3) The incentive of honor. Controlling your body in purity is a matter of honor – either being honored by the community or showing honor to your wife and other women, or to your husband and other men. Verse 4: "That each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor." Sexual purity is the honorable thing to do.
4) The incentive of Christian love which seeks the good of others. Sexual purity is the loving way to treat others. Verse 6: "That no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter." When we sin sexually we are not seeking the highest good of others, neither the woman or the man we sin with, nor the person we fantasize about nor the person in the pornography, nor the spouse or parent of any of these. It is not Christian love that moves us in any of this. It is simply selfish desire – lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, which is covetousness – wanting something you shouldn’t want. Another commandment – “Thou shalt not covet …” And, in this case, Thou shalt not covet (or want) the love of another’s wife or husband!. But Christians are people deeply moved by love for others. Christians love people; they don’t use them.
5) The incentive of God’s vengeance. Verse 6b: ". . . because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you." If you turn from the Lord as your treasure and your all-satisfying pleasure, and make a master out of sex, sooner of later you will meet the wrath of God.
Far more could be said about the What of sexual purity and the Why of sexual purity, but most urgent is the How of sexual purity. I turn to that now, and it will be plain that the What and the Why are all woven into the how.
How Do we Fight for and Enjoy Sexual Purity in Our Lives?
If we had more time I would love to go into great detail in the nitty-gritty tactical moves you can make in the power of Christ to fight sexual impurity. But what I want to do here is focus on one thing that the text focuses on, not only for the immediate rescue, but mainly for the long-term triumph over your life.
This central, long-term How is found in verse 5. Start reading with me at verse 4: "That each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God." There it is: "like the gentiles who do not know God." When you give way to lustful passion, you act like people "who do not know God." Which means: knowing God is the path to sexual purity. If you are struggling with sexual impurity in mind or body, the immediate and long term strategy is know God, know God! Know God’s Word. Read God’s Word. It promises to transform your mind. Look at Romans 12:2 with me: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.(in the ESV) and in the New Living Translation: Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is. Replace in your mind what shouldn’t be there with what should be there – God’s thoughts and ways and plans.
Be careful here! Don’t nullify 1 Thessalonians 4:5 by saying with a cynical tone: "Good grief, there are world-class theologians who are in bondage to lust and who leave their wives. So what good is all this knowledge about God?" Indeed there are. And I say with tremendous confidence: they don’t know God. To know ten thousand facts about God is not to know God. Don’t confuse head knowledge with heart knowledge. Knowing and applying what you know are two different things.
Knowing God is the path to sexual purity. And if you are in bondage to pornography and fantasies or fornication or masturbation or adultery the immediate and long-term strategy of this war is: Know God! Know God! Lustful passion is the mark of the Gentiles who do not know God. 1 Peter 1:14 – 16 says: Obey God because you are his children. Don't slip back into your old ways of doing evil; you didn't know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God—who chose you to be his children—is holy. For he himself has said, "You must be holy because I am holy." ; and Ephesians 4:22: throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception; and Romans 1:23-28: And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people, or birds and animals and snakes. So God let them go ahead and do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other's bodies. Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies. So they worshiped the things God made but not the Creator himself, who is to be praised forever. Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relationships with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men and, as a result, suffered within themselves the penalty they so richly deserved. When they refused to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their evil minds and let them do things that should never be done.
Why would God ordain that the path to sexual purity is knowing God? The answer is given in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, Turn to it now with me: "Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." Or verse 13: "The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body."
We have bodies so that God might be gloried in them. That is why God gave you a body – whether it’s tall or short, pretty or plain, brawny or feeble. This is what Paul said in Philippians 1:20, "It is my eager expectation and hope that Christ will . . . be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." Our bodies are given to us so that in the way we use them Christ is made to look more valuable to us than anything.
Now we can see why it is that Paul would say that knowing God is so crucial in the war on lust and pornography and fornication and adultery. If, by some means you get rid of lustful thoughts and slavery to pornography and fornication and adultery – without any reference to the knowledge of God, he won’t get any glory for your new behavior. In other words, God is not just interested in what you do with your body, he is interested in – he is passionately concerned with – why you do it. If there is no connection between your knowing God, and your sexual purity, God gets no glory and you are in the grip of another idol self-glorification.
Knowing God is the path to sexual purity because the purpose of sex and the purpose of the body is to magnify the supreme worth of God and the infinite value of Jesus Christ. And he will not be seen as supremely worthy and infinitely valuable if knowing him is not the key and the path of our liberation. "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). And Jesus said, "I am the way the truth and the life" (John 14:6). Knowing God, knowing Christ, is the path to sexual purity.
But we should ask in closing: Knowing what about him? Knowing him in what way? Let me mention three things about God that he may use to set you free and keep you free.
Know the Patience of God
Look at 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 excel still more." Do you see what this says about God? It says, these Christians have room for improvement – "excel still more and more." And it says that they are pleasing God – "just as you actually do walk." In Christ, God is an all or nothing God. He knows our frame. He covers our sin. He is pleased with our successes through faith, and patient with our failures. So know him in his patience. Are you struggling saints? You should be! Let this knowledge encourage you: You are walking in the way that pleases him – do so still more and more. Keep on, keeping on.
Know the Power of God
In the previous chapter, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, we read Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians: "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." Notice: he asked Christ to establish them blameless in holiness at his coming. In other words, holiness is the work of Christ. Yes, we must pray for it, and yes, we must fight for it. But in the end, be encouraged! You are not left to yourself to win this war. Know God’s power on your behalf through Jesus Christ. Look again at 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and 24. Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until that day when our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.
God, who calls you, is faithful; he will do this. God is the sanctifier of His people. This thought is echoed in Isaiah 46:11: I will call a swift bird of prey from the east—a leader from a distant land who will come and do my bidding. I have said I would do it, and I will. Listen to Philippians 1:6 , And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again. And, finally, listen to Hebrews 13, verses 20 & 21: And now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to him. Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep by an everlasting covenant, signed with his blood. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Know the Preciousness of God and the Pleasure He Is to Us
God is the most valuable person in the universe. He is the sum and source of all true pleasure (Psalm 16:11 says, You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever). And knowing this is what triumphs over temptation - You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. Knowing the preciousness of God and the pleasures of his fellowship will strip pornography of its power. We defeat the deceitful pleasures of lust with the superior pleasures of knowing God. Paul said it like this: "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Philippians 3:7).
So, let us be a people who seek sexual purity with all our might, by knowing the patience, the power, and the pleasures of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Let’s pray. O, Lord, give us one pure and holy passion. Give us one magnificent obsession. Give us one glorious ambition for our lives: to know and follow hard after you. Keep us ever mindful that we are in a battle, even if just a battle in our minds. Thank You, Lord, that the victory was won at the cross; that all we must do is appropriate the victory You’ve already won and we do this by knowing You and obeying You and walking in the Spirit. Amen.