Check Yourself: Pleasing God?

“Finally, brothers, 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. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2)

Can you imagine what it would be worth to know how to make God happy – if you didn’t already know how to make God happy? For an insignificant human being, one among billions, to be able to please God is a mind-blowing idea.

check_350And that’s exactly what today’s verse says those who are in Christ already know how to do: We make God happy by trusting him enough to obey him in every area of our lives.

We’ll be talking this week about some of the specific ways we can please God by obeying him – or how we can make sure we’re not being two-faced in our relationship with him. Are you ready and willing to check your life to see if it lines up with God’s instructions to you? Don’t be afraid; it’s the way to make your life more joyful, too.

Think: How motivated are you to “live in order to please God”? Do you think that should matter more in your life?

Pray: Ask God to help you to live in order to please him more and more by trusting him enough to obey his instructions for your life.

Do: Read (and memorize?) Hebrews 11:6 and compare it with today’s verses.

Check Yourself: Avoiding “Porneia”?

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality . . .” (1 Thessalonians 4:3)

Here’s a weird idea – choosing on purpose not to participate in any kind of sexual expression except with an opposite-gender spouse you are married to. I’m not being sarcastic. It is a weird idea in many cultures, including the one Christianity was born in.

check_350In this Greek and Roman world, homosexual and heterosexual sex with slaves and prostitutes, especially, was not only normal, it was religious, part of the worship of all kinds of gods. It’s just the way the world operated. Why would you not do something your body obviously wanted to do? Why torture yourself?

It’s a question Christians ask, too. Today’s verse begins the answer: It is God’s will that we be different from our world; that’s one part of what being sanctified means. In this case, the way God wants us to be different is to set our course away from “porneia,” the word translated here as “sexual immorality” that included every kind of sexual sin.

But we knew that already. This week’s question is, how is the avoiding going? And how can we do better? More tomorrow.

Think: When it comes to sexual immorality, is your goal to get far away from it or to get closer and closer to it without necessarily giving in? How effective would you expect that second strategy to be in the long run?

Pray: Ask God to help you to submit to his will by avoiding sexual immorality.

Do: Notice in your life this week the moments where you have opportunity to move closer to or further from sexual immorality.

Check Yourself: Controlling Your Body?

“It is God’s will that . . . each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5)

A friend of mine just competed in a half-marathon. That means she ran for 13 miles without stopping. I cannot imagine doing that unless someone was paying me a lot of cash or chasing me with a lot of knives.

check_350When it comes to running, I live like a heathen. Heathens, by Paul’s definition, are committed to doing whatever their bodies tell them will feel good. When I run, mine says, “Stop.” I stop. When my friend runs, hers says “stop” and she disobeys. She controls her body, not the other way around.

The Bible doesn’t really tell us anything about God’s will for half-marathons, but it’s painfully clear about God’s will for any kind of sex outside of heterosexual, married sex. He doesn’t want us to let our bodies make the choices – even when what our bodies want seems irresistible, even when saying “no” to ourselves feels as difficult as running another mile.

“Heathens” don’t know God. Why would they skip doing what feels good for him? If we do know his love and have his power through faith in Jesus, why would we not?

Think: Do you have a strategy for controlling your body in a way that is holy and honorable? Is that strategy working? If not, how could you change your strategy?

Pray: Ask God, whom you know through faith in Jesus, to help you to control your body in a way that is holy and honorable instead of giving into passionate lust like someone who does not know him.

Do: Notice this week the different things your body tells you to do (“eat something,” “go to the bathroom,” “hit the snooze button again,” etc.) and how you decide when to tell your body yes or no.

Check Yourself: Hearing the Warning?

“It is God’s will . . . that you should avoid sexual immorality . . . and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3,6)

Is extra-marital sex a victimless crime? Paul says no. Twice. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul warns that we sin against our own bodies when we “sin sexually.” In other words, the God who loves us commands us not to hurt ourselves by participating in “porneia,” the word translated into “sexual immorality.”

check_350Second, we sin against the person God loves who we are involved with – and/or against his or her spouse. Paul may be talking here about taking advantage of a woman’s husband when committing adultery with his wife. But adultery isn’t the only sexual sin that invites God’s punishment and results in hurting others.

In other words, the temptation to sin sexually isn’t just a temptation to do wrong by ourselves; it’s a temptation to participate in wronging everyone else involved.

God asks us to do a difficult thing – especially in the Internet age – to refuse to see another person’s willingness as releasing us from the responsibility for the damage they or others will suffer as a result of our joining in sin with them.

Think: How do you think the issue of taking advantage of someone by participating in sexual sin together fits with using porn or getting involved with someone sexually outside of marriage?

Pray: Ask God to help you to take the right amount of responsibility for how your sexual choices will impact everyone else involved.

Do: Listen for true and false messages in the culture this week about who gets hurt (or doesn’t) when sexual immorality takes place.

Check Yourself: Hearing the Call?

“For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8)

“Christians are so hung up on sex. They need to let it go, already. What I do behind closed doors is my business and nobody else’s.”

check_350You get the idea that Paul had heard that one before. He answers it in two ways here. For one, God calls “us,” believers in Jesus, to avoid sexual impurity and live a holy life. If you’re not a Christian, why worry about how God tells Christians to live? Sexual purity without faith in Jesus won’t save anyone.

Second, God is the one doing the calling, not Paul and not the church. Honestly, most Christians I know would rather not talk about sex, at all, and won’t ask if you don’t tell. If anything, we tend to be a little timid about the whole topic, especially in person – often because we’re still struggling to trust God enough to live holy lives every day ourselves.

Rejecting sexual purity is to reject God’s instructions, Paul writes, not those of some judgmental-sounding pastor or TV talking head. If you’re a Christian, that knocking sound you’re hearing is coming from inside the house – and the Holy Spirit is the only one who can give you the power to obey God in this area of life.

Think: When you feel like getting involved in sexual immorality, does it feel like rebellion against God? Should it? What are the consequences for a believer who rebels against God’s teaching?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be sexually pure and to answer his call to live a holy life every day.

Do: Listen this week for examples of people who mock Christians or God or the church for what we believe about sexual purity.

Check Yourself: Loving Your Siblings?

“Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10)

Enough about sex; let’s talk about love. On second thought, let’s not, Paul said to these mostly newish Christians. You don’t need it. You’re already awesome at it because God already showed you how to do give yourself away to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

check_350Sexual purity is not the most important thing. Not by far. Paul repeatedly wrote to Christians around the world that the greatest virtue is love – the kind of love God showed when he sent his Son to die for his enemies. (Us.) Sexual purity matters because it’s one way we obey God. Love is essential because it’s how we imitate Him.

I’m sad to say I’ve known churches exactly the opposite of these Thessalonians – groups of Christians excellent at not having sex outside of marriage but not so great at loving each other (or even liking each other much, really).

Think: Which do you think is valued more in your church – sexual purity or Christlike love for other Christians? How are the two related?

Pray: Ask God to keep teaching you how to love as he does and to help you do so more and more.

Do: Why not read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 again?

Check Yourself: Ambitious?

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

This isn’t the way I usually think of ambition. If I’m feeling ambitious to live for God, at all, I want to do BIG things: Witness to thousands. Build an orphanage with my bare hands. Memorize the New Testament in the original Greek.

check_350But Paul wants us to think of a long-term strategy to help unbelievers to notice Christ in the way we live every day – not just in the BIG things we do to “change the world.”

Lead a well-rested life (not a silent one). Pay more attention to how you’re living than how everyone else is living. Get a job and do good work so you can be a giver and not a taker.

Doing the opposite may lead people to think following Jesus leaves us exhausted, judgmental, lazy, foolish, and broke.

Think: What’s your plan for your life? Will it help you to lead a restful, wise, and working life that will be respectable to those who don’t know Jesus?

Pray: Ask God to help you to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands in a way that earns him the respect of outsiders.

Do: Make a quick list of 3-4 Christians you respect. Notice how these qualities do (or don’t) fit into their lives.