The Will of God for You
This evening I want to ask you one question: How do you know what the will of God is for your life? Should you go to college? If so, which one and what should you study? Should you marry Bob or Raymond? Should you buy a home or rent? Should you have three children or fourteen? Should you take a new job or stick with the old one?
You see, you can ask this question about everything you do. When people want to know God’s will, most of the time they are concerned about the big decisions in their lives (marriage, family and career). But actually it relates to little decisions, too. Is it God’s will for you to buy peppermint or spearmint gum? If you really want to do God’s will, you have to do it in the little things just as much as the big ones. Otherwise, you’re only doing part of God’s will.
But what do people really mean when they want to know God’s will. More often than not, they mean that God has a wonderful plan for their lives, and they want a preview of that plan so that they can know what choices God will bless. Finding God’s will not usually their attempt to please God, but rather their effort to find a way to make God please them.
The Will of God
Does this mean, then, that it is inappropriate to talk about doing God’s will? Of course not. In fact, there are several passages in Scripture that use this very phrase. Jesus said, For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother (Mark 3:35). Obviously, we cannot do the will of God unless we know what the will of God is. Similarly Ephesians 6:6 adds that we are to serve Christ by doing the will of God from the heart. The will of God is also mentioned in our text.
Before we look at our text, however, we should note that the phrase “the will of God” has two very distinct meanings in Scripture.
Sometimes it refers to God’s decree, i.e., his all-encompassing plan for the entire universe. It refers to those things that most certainly will come to pass. After Nebuchadnezzar’s reason returned to him, he proclaimed that God doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth (Dan. 4:35). This means that everything in creation follows his plan. Paul stated this principle even more directly in the New Testament. He wrote that God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will (Eph. 1:11).
However, this cannot be what the phrase means when we talk about DOING the will of God. Why? There are several reasons.
First, if doing the will of God simply means that we follow his plan, then everyone — believer and unbeliever alike — does God’s will always and infallibly. It has to be this way, since God’s will determines every event that takes place, including sin. The crucifixion of Christ is, without a doubt, the greatest sin ever committed, but have you ever noticed that the sermons in Acts emphasize repeatedly that even it was the product of the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23; cf. Acts 3:18; 4:28)? Our Belgic Confession recognizes this when it affirms that God orders and executes his perfect plan even “when devils and wicked men act unjustly” (Art. 13). The will of God’s decree is inescapable.
Second, if doing the will of God means that we follow his plan and following his plan requires us to know his plan in advance, then the whole idea of doing God’s will runs counter to other Scriptural principles. For example, Deuteronomy 29:29 says that, unless God reveals the future, it is not our business to know it. Moses wrote, The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. Nowhere does the Bible encourage believers to find out their biographies in advance. And since God has chosen not to give us this information, searching for it can end only in frustration.
But “the will of God” also has a second meaning in Scripture. In other places, it’s a synonym for keeping God’s commandments. We find this meaning, for example, in I John 2:17, where doing the will of God is contrasted specifically with worldliness and sin. John assured his readers that the world and all of its lusts will pass away, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
This gives us a completely different perspective on doing God’s will. Instead of looking into a crystal ball to determine what actions God will bless, we turn to the pages of Scripture to learn what kinds of behavior please God. Doing what is morally pleasing to God is admirable. It flows out of a heart that has been re-created in the image of Christ by the irresistible grace of God.
We’ve spent a fair amount of time looking at the will of God today because that’s what our text is about. Paul begins by saying, For this is the will of God, even your sanctification. In view of the fact that he mentioned the commandments of Christ in the verse preceding our text and that the remainder of our text rehearses a few of those commandments, how can we come to any conclusion except that doing the will of God means that we submit ourselves heart and soul to God’s law?
The first commandment in the list before us comes at the end of verse 3. The Word of God instructs believers to abstain from fornication (v. 3).
The fact that fornication heads the list probably indicates that it was a rather serious problem in Thessalonica at the time Paul wrote to the church. This shouldn’t surprise us. Thessalonica was a bustling seaport, with sailors coming and going all the time. Sailors in the first century were not much different than sailors today. But the fact is that fornication was widespread in the first century, just as it is today. Christ condemned fornication in Matthew 15:19. He said that it flows out of an evil heart. Paul also denounced it numerous times throughout his epistles, but especially in I Corinthians. I Corinthians 6:18 says, Flee fornication. This comes after the statement a few verses earlier that unrepentant fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of God (vv. 9–10). In Corinth, fornication was so bad that a man even slept with his stepmother (I Cor. 5:1–5). There is no indication in I Thessalonians that the problem had sunk to this level, but it still had to be addressed.
Sources outside of the Bible confirm the prevalence of fornication and other sexual sins in the New Testament world. One commentator notes that “anyone who has seen a collection of Greek pottery will know that Playboy magazine is more restrained.” Another says that it was simply assumed in the first century that men would look outside their marriages for the satisfaction of their desires; abstinence was considered too unnatural.
The sexual revolution of the 70s minimized the importance of the seventh commandment and equated inhibitions with an unenlightened past. Whether the Lord sent AIDS specifically as a punishment for homosexuality and other gross violations of the seventh commandment is hard to say, but for a short time the fear of AIDS did restore a little self-restraint. As AIDS has become less of a concern through condom distribution and the development of certain drugs, and as postmodern philosophy has removed the discussion of meaning and purpose from the table, it seems that sexual sins are again on the rise. Sadly, a lot of this kind of thinking has entered into the church.
But what did Paul say? He said that it is God’s will for you to avoid fornication altogether. Don’t toy with it! Don’t convince yourself that it’s okay to develop inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex as long as you don’t actually commit the act of fornication. Just stay away from it! Keep it as far from you as possible!
Jay Adams gives a good illustration of what this means. Let’s say that a man is afraid of falling off a cliff. As he goes to work everyday, he passes by the same cliff and everyday the cliff terrorizes him. What should he do? The easiest solution would be to find another way to work. Instead of walking along the edge of the cliff, he should take a safer inland route.
The fifth chapter of Proverbs says that the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil (v. 3). It’s a simple fact that, if the temptation to immorality were not attractive, it would not be a temptation. Remember that the ways of a seductress, though perfumed with the finest fragrances, still lead to death and hell (v. 5). That’s why Solomon wrote, Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house (v. 8). In other words, don’t go anywhere near her. Avoid her at all costs!
Not only must we abstain from fornication, but Paul also says that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour.
Knowing how to possess your vessel is not just an intellectual exercise. It certainly begins with the intellect. You have to understand the process of maintaining the holiness of your vessel. But that’s not all that God wills for you. He wants you to guard and keep your vessel, and he wants you to delight in doing so. You should make the holiness of your vessel one of your chief priorities, and you should enjoy doing so.
But what does Paul mean when he says that we should possess our vessels in sanctification and honor? The answer to this will depend on how you understand two words: possess and vessel.
We’ll take the second word first. Some commentators have the opinion that the word vessel (σκεῦος) in verse 4 means a man’s wife. In support of this notion, they argue that the verb possess (κτᾶσθαι) usually, though not always, means acquire. Thus, they say, sexual immorality can be avoided by acquiring a wife. While it is true that marriage tends to reduce immorality, it will never keep a heart full of lust from straying. Something more is needed.
There are several reasons for rejecting this view. First, it seems rather peculiar to refer to a man’s wife as his vessel or instrument. I Peter 3:7 says that the wife is a weaker vessel, but there she is the Holy Spirit’s vessel and not her husband’s. A husband, according to I Corinthians 11:7, should honor his wife as his glory. Secondly, our text is addressed to every one of you (v. 4), i.e., to women as well as to men. Men are not the only ones who commit fornication, nor are they the only ones who should possess their vessels in sanctification and honor. Our moral purity is something that each and every one of us should guard.
It seems better, therefore, to take the word vessel as a metaphor for the human body. You are responsible to possess and control your bodies in such a way that you avoid fornication. By the grace of God you can do so.
Sadly, this was something that the Gentiles apparently didn’t even try to do. Verse 5 says that they lived in the lust of concupiscence or excessive desire. The only difference is that, while they sin in willful ignorance of God’s law, you have no excuse. The Lord has told you in no uncertain terms what his will is.
If what I have said is correct, then Paul’s use of the word vessel also suggests how he views man. Man has a spiritual dimension, but he also has a physical one, too. Both are important. The Bible teaches that our bodies, as well as our souls, belongs to the Lord. Elsewhere Paul wrote, Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body (I Cor. 6:13). The first question and answer of our catechism remind us of this when it says that we belong to the Lord body and soul, both in life and in death (Heid. 1). The conclusion, then, is that you should take care of your bodies by avoiding fornication. The passage in I Corinthians continues: What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s (I Cor. 6:19–20).
Honesty and Integrity
Another aspect of the will of God is that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter (v. 6). Here the translation uses a phrase that may have been common in the seventeenth century but is not used at all today. To go beyond someone means to take advantage of him. Thus, going beyond and defrauding a brother involves the violation of three of the Ten Commandments. First, it involves covetousness. The individual wants something that doesn’t belong to him and he plans to get it in an unlawful way. Second, it involves deception and falsehood. This is how he acquires the thing he wants. And finally, the end result is theft.
It might seem strange, though, that Paul discouraged defrauding a Christian brother but said nothing at all about cheating unbelievers. Does this mean that we do not have the same ethical obligation toward those outside the pale of the Christian faith as toward those in the church? Is it okay to sin against unbelievers? Of course not! Lest someone think that such behavior might be acceptable, remember that there are no limitations to these commandments elsewhere. The only reason that Paul mentioned our brothers here is to emphasize that cheating and defrauding fellow believers is an especially heinous crime.
Reasons for Doing the Will of God
In verses 6 and 7, Paul gave two reasons why fornication, lying and stealing should be shunned. His reasons help us understand the necessity of unquestioned obedience.
Paul’s first reason, stated at the end of verse 6, is that God punishes wicked men. He wrote, Because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. II Thessalonians 1:8 adds that Jesus, when he returns in the company of his angels, will take vengeance on everyone who does not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. Vengeance often carries the connotation of being extreme, excessive, and usually unjust. But for the Lord vengeance is neither more nor less than perfect justice.
A second reason is given in verse 7. God has called us to live in holiness. We have already come upon the word sanctification twice (vv. 3 and 4) and this is exactly the same word as holiness (ἁγιασμός). It means that you have been dedicated and set apart to the service of God. You are not allowed to fulfill your own lust and desires. Patterning your lives on the world’s philosophies and opinions is not acceptable. Such things are common and unclean. God has summoned you to something far greater. And, since the call is from God, those who reject it also reject God (v. 8). As a seal of the divine call to holiness, God had also given the Thessalonians (and all other Christians as well) the gift of his Holy Spirit.
Perhaps a third reason is implied in verse 8, though it is not as directly stated as the first two. The word order in the Greek suggests an emphasis on the word Holy in Holy Spirit. This probably means that every sin challenges the holiness of the third person of the Trinity. So, it’s not just your reputation that is at stake. God’s is, too. You must never allow either one to suffer damage. You must never allow the world to question the holiness of the Spirit of grace.
Having surveyed these few verses from Scripture, what have we learned? To begin with, we have seen that doing God’s will means that we keep his commandments. That’s the thrust of everything Paul wrote in our text.
But some Christians will still insist that we need to preview God’s plan for our lives. Look at Gideon, they say, didn’t he use a fleece to determine God’s blessing on his life? The answer is, no. Before Gideon put the fleece out, God had already told him that he would deliver the Israelites from Midianite oppression (cf. Judg. 6:14, 36). Gideon put the fleece out, then, not to discover God’s will, but to make sure that it was, in fact, God who had indeed spoken to him. Spurgeon says that God was very accommodating to Gideon’s weakness at this point. In any case, Gideon is not an example for us to follow.
God has spoken even more clearly to us — not in an audible voice as he probably did with Gideon, but through his inspired prophets and apostles. And in their sacred writings, we find that God’s will means that we avoid sexual immorality, fraud and anything else that displeases our Savior.
It’s true that that the Bible doesn’t state a preference for peppermint or spearmint. Nor does it say who should go to which college, or who should marry whom. But it does give the parameters upon which every decision must be made. We should ask ourselves, Which choice glorifies God and contributes to our sanctification? Which choice demonstrates our love for God’s law? Which choice shows that we walk with the Lord in covenant love?
As we walk in obedience to Biblical precepts, we’ll find happiness and contentment in the Lord’s will. May the Lord call us to greater obedience every day! Amen.