” . . .for all the enthusiasm for ‘Gospel-this’ and ‘Gospel-that’ within the reformed evangelical world, there is a general lack of enthusiasm for holiness” (Blair Smith, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals—
Surprising, no? I mean, who doesn’t know the Gospel has ethical content? If Smith’s assessment is right, why no enthusiasm for holiness? Maybe it’s the word that turns people off. Too rigid and restricting. Or because, regrettably, in some circles “holiness” has become little more than legalism about skirt lengths.
As Paul nears the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians, he switches subjects. Here in 4:1-3 he introduces his new topic, reminding them of ethical charges he’d given while he had been with them.
“Finally, our friends, you learned from us how you should live in order to please God. This is, of course, the way you have been living. And now we beg and urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to do even more. For you know the instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. God wants you to be holy . . . ” (4:1-3a, TEV).
” . . . how you should live in order to please God” reminds us that, for the Christian, all of life is to be Godward worship. (Thus living-to-please-God is not meritorious for salvation, but the way the saved are to live.)
“God wants you to be holy.” “Holy” in the TEV is the original Greek hagiasmos, variously translated “sanctification, holiness, dedicated to God.” In other words, being holy means living out what the Holy Spirit is working in. More precisely, we are in the process of being holy, a process in which we play a responsive part to the greater working of the Holy Spirit and Word.
Charge: Stay Away from All Sexual Sin (4:3-8, TEV).
God wants you to be holy and completely free from sexual immorality. Each of you should know how to live with your wife in a holy and honorable way, not with a lustful desire, like the heathen who do not know God. In this matter, then, none of you should do wrong to other Christians or take advantage of them. We have told you this before, and we strongly warned you that the Lord will punish those who do that. God did not call us to live in immorality, but in holiness. So then, whoever rejects this teaching is not rejecting a human being, but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
” . . . sexual immorality” translates the Greek pornaya and refers to any kind of sexual activity outside of one-man, one-woman marriage. A Christian is not to be governed by “a lustful desire” but “live with [his] wife in a holy and honorable way.” Warning accompanies this charge: “the Lord will punish those” who ignore it—because they would be “rejecting . . . God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.” This last clause recalls why God gives us his Holy Spirit; namely, to progressively make us holy and thus pleasing to himself.
For Christian men, “stay away from all sexual sin” may be the most challenging charge to obey. Where can we turn not to be confronted with “the lust of the flesh” and “the lust of the eyes”? Yet 1st century A.D. Roman empire was similarly sexually-charged . . .
Demonsthenes, a Greek statesmen and orator of ancient Athens said: “We have courtesans for the sake of pleasure; we have concubines for the sake of daily cohabitation; we have wives for the purpose of having children legitimately, and of having a faithful guardian for all our household affairs.” Even religion was sexual. “Temple prostitutes” wasn’t a metaphor; some gods were worshiped through sexual intercourse with them. All in all, a George Barna pollster would have been hard-pressed to find a family in that culture where the husband did not have sexual relationships outside his marriage.
Our sex-charged culture (where “hook-ups” have become as common as what used to be the first kiss) isn’t so much different from that of the one Paul lived and wrote in. Which eliminates the excuse: “If Paul knew what it’s like now . . . !
Charge: Love Each Other (4:9,10, TEV).
There is no need to write you about love for each other. You yourselves have been taught by God how you should love one another. And you have, in fact, behaved like this toward all the believers in all of Macedonia. So we beg you, our friends, to do even more (4:9,10, TEV).
The Thessalonians, according to Paul, didn’t need this reminder, because they were keeping the charges, and further, “You yourselves have been taught by God how you should love one another.” How had God taught them? Perhaps Paul was referring to Jesus having taught much about love, or perhaps the Holy Spirit teaching them by producing the fruit of love in them (Galatians 5:22,23). In any case, Paul both commends their love and urges them on to more.
Sadly the church has received mixed marks on this matter. On the simplest level (perhaps), I’ve visited churches where the only “hello” came from assigned greeters. Other visitors have told stories of even less “love.” On the other hand, many churches are quick to sacrificially help fellow members and outsiders in need. “So we beg you, our friends, to do even more.” A fitting charge. (Love is worth more than a good drummer!)
Charge: Earn Your Own Living (4:11,12,TEV).
Make it your aim to live a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to earn your own living, just as we told you before. In this way you will win the respect of those who are not believers, and you will not have to depend on anyone for what you need (4:11,12, TEV).
This brings to mind Charles (Michael Landon) on the old TV series “Little House on the Prairie.” There he is, laboring in his fields quietly minding his own business, providing for himself and family.
On the other hand, ” . . . about the beginning of the third century . . . [a certain bishop] announced that the Parousia (second coming of Christ) would come by the end of a particular year: many of his flock sold their property and so became destitute” (1 & 2 Thessalonians, F. F. Bruce). Not Charles nor what Paul had in mind!
Similarly, in the 19th century Baptist preacher William Miller announced the Second Coming of Christ would occur. But October 22, 1844 came and went without the Coming. How many “believers” sacrificed their livelihood to get ready?
Possibly this was the Thessalonians’ error Paul addressed (see 4:13 and following)—so enthused about the Second Coming that they dropped their work and simply looked endlessly to the skies. A poor reputation with outsiders. A burden for other believers who felt compelled to help provide for them.
Work for Christians is a vocation, a calling from God to earn one’s own living. In that sense, work is also worship. When we drag ourselves out of bed on Sunday morning to go to Worship, so we do to work-worship Monday through Friday.
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Are we enthusiastic for holiness? Does desire to please God drive our day-to-day living? Do we realize that holy living means not only staying away from all sexual sin, but also loving each other and earning our own living?
For us who believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit is working holiness in. We must choose to work it out.
Note: I apologize if you’ve received a jumbled-up post. Not me; it’s WordPress—and I can’t figure it out.
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