Pursuing Holiness Together
You’re not in it alone. This life of following Jesus, fighting against sin, and changing to be more like him was never intended to be a solo adventure. Paul highlights that in his letter to a new, young, inexperienced church.
Check out 1 Thessalonians 4 verse 1: Additionally then, brothers and sisters, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received instruction from us on how you should live and please God — as you are doing — do this even more. So this is a group of people who’ve put their faith in Jesus, are now a church together that’s following Jesus, which is awesome because NOW Paul says that by the way they live they can please God. You can really please God with how you live. That’s the first thing we see here is that HOLINESS PLEASES GOD. Usually we hear that life is about pleasing ourselves, right? Follow your heart. Be true to yourself. Create your own road. Those are the kind of things we hear all the time, that this life is about me. But here, Paul says that there’s another way, another path. And it’s a life that pleases God.
So Paul says to these people, “you’re doing this…you’re living this way…but do this even more.” This learning how to live a life that pleases God, it’s a process. So grow to do it more, do it better. HOLINESS IS A PROCESS. Maybe for you it’s going slower than you want. It typically does, but our growth in holiness does happen progressively. After 3 years Jesus disciples ran away from him and denied him! We may not live these amazingly holy lives right away, but God is at work in us.
But that doesn’t mean that we sit back and wait around. Check out verse 2: For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus. Commands. That’s an intense word. Paul gave them commands that came from Jesus. So these weren’t suggestions. Like, hey here’s probably a good way to live if you wanna try it out. No these were clear commands because that word was a military word, like an authoritative command coming down from a superior. Paul’s getting serious here. It’s probably because some of the new, Gentile converts in this church found this new way of life and following Jesus pretty tough to live by. They were only living for themselves before, but now they’re finding out that God’s way is different from the natural way that they want to live and totally different from what their culture valued. But Paul’s reminding them, this way is life is commanded. HOLINESS IS COMMANDED BY GOD. So it is good and right to pursue it, because we’re obeying God when we do.
Check out verse 3: For this is God’s will (Ok so he’s about to tell us what God’s will is. God’s plan that can’t be altered or shaken or messed with) your sanctification. God’s plan for the follower of Jesus is that that person be sanctified. We call it the process of sanctification. It’s the process of a person, once they’ve given their life to Jesus, growing to live act and be more and more like Jesus. We know Jesus was holy, totally without sin, so sanctification is the process of someone becoming more and more holy like Jesus by getting sin out of their life. But we ALSO know that Jesus wasn’t just sinless, like in some zen meditative state, but that he acted righteously, he did what was right. So sanctification is also the process of someone becoming more like Jesus by acting rightly.
If you’ve given your life to Jesus, you’re following him, this is God’s will, God’s plan in your life. You should be progressively putting the sin that you struggle with to death and be progressively doing things that are good and right and please God that you never did before. So we see fourthly that HOLINESS IS GOD’S PLAN. It’s what He’s doing in your life.
Now, he starts to get specific about some areas that we can grow in, and look at what he starts with. Check out verse 3 again: For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you keep away from sexual immorality. That each of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passions, like the Gentiles, who don’t know God. Ok, so, he starts out and says that growth in holiness means that you keep away from being sexually immoral. That means that we’ll need to exercise self control with some things, right? This is God’s will, your sanctification, that you keep away from…forget for a second about what comes after that and see first that no matter what it is, you and I are going to have to have self control to keep away from something. So holiness is about exercising self-control. HOLINESS REQUIRES SELF-CONTROL. A lot of you were probably like, oh boy, I’m in trouble then. Because you know the self control you have when there’s one last cookie in the kitchen.
Here, it’s self-control dealing with sexual immorality. Now, the word that Paul uses that we translated into the English words “sexual immorality,” is the Greek word porneia. I probably don’t need to give you many guesses to how that word is used today. Now, why is this mentioned here? Why go here right away Paul? Just play the awkward card right off the bat? Can’t you start with lying, or stealing, or murder, right?
I think there are a couple of reasons. If Paul told me that part of following Jesus was having self-control to stay away from black licorice, I wouldn’t fight it. Done! I don’t need to ever eat it again! But when Paul says that part of following Jesus is that I adjust how I view sex, I get a little more defensive and push back because I don’t want someone getting into that area of my life and telling me how to think and act. Because we really care about sex. We like it more than black licorice, amen? I mean if you don’t…I guess we need another sermon for that…It’s something that we’re passionate about because it was designed by God as a gift to us to bring us joy (unlike black licorice, which I can only assume was created by someone trying to do us harm).
But the other reason that Paul mentions this first is because of how intensely it affects who we are as followers of Jesus. Check out what 1 Corinthians 6 teaches us: Anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. Flee sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. If you’re a follower of Jesus, your body is God’s temple. God himself, the Holy Spirit actually lives in you. So when we pursue porneia, we’re taking our body that God lives in and owns and we’re giving it to someone or something else. We’re living like that other person owns us instead of God.
God’s so serious about this. Look at verse 6: This means one must not transgress against and take advantage of a brother or sister in this manner, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. For God has not called us to impurity but to live in holiness. Man. That’s heavy. God’s an avenger against those who don’t practice sex rightly. An avenger punishes someone for the wrong they’ve done. Guys our God is totally pure and holy and just so he MUST punish sin. So when we sin in how we use sex, God will punish that. HOLINESS IS SERIOUS. In verse 8 he says: Consequently, anyone who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. Anyone who hears this about having self-control against porneia, and rejects it, doesn’t fight, they’re not rejecting man’s teaching. They’re rejecting God. So accept it! Fight against it! This is super serious!
Tracking on holiness here? Recap: It pleases God, it’s a process, it’s commanded by God, it’s God’s plan for you, it requires self control, and it’s super serious. Ok?
But then Paul goes on kind of abruptly in verse 9: About brotherly love: You don’t need me to write you because you yourselves are taught by God to love one another. In fact, you are doing this toward all the brothers and sisters in the entire region of Macedonia. But we encourage you, brothers and sisters, to do this even more. He transitions from love within marriage to brotherly and sisterly love. Why? Because if we love each other in the church the way we should, like brothers and sisters, that’ll strengthen our pursuit of holiness together. We’re in this battle together. If you as my brothers and sisters love me well, then you’re gonna help me in this battle of pursuing holiness, because you’ll want my life to please God. And I’ll help you, because I want your life to please God.
And here’s what that’ll look like in verse 11: to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you. It’ll look like leading a quiet life, minding our own business, and keeping our hands busy with good work. Maybe you’re like me and find that when you have idle time, time with no plans, that’s when you’re tempted to sin. So fill your idle time with work; work with your hands, help your brothers and sisters, be about the betterment of your church community. And not only will that lead to a life of holiness but also, Look at verse 12: so that you may behave properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone. When we’re pursuing holiness together, loving each other well and living quiet, hard-working lives, people outside the church will see that, and it may be that that’s what God will use to draw them to want to know more about why we’re living this way. HOLINESS IS A POWERFUL TESTIMONY.
So love each other well. Fight for your and each other’s holiness. God will be pleased, you will have joy, and others will see Jesus.