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Model living - 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 11th March 2007.

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When I was at Bible College, we were warned about the top 2 ministry wreckers:    What do you think they might be?   Well itís sex and money.   

A friend of mine became a vicar in an evangelical church.  The church was divided and suffering?  Why?  Because the previous vicar had been caught with his fingers in the collection.     A few years later, the same friend moved to a new evangelical church.  But this time, the previous vicar had started dressing as a woman and eventually had a sex change. 

Sex and money.  The top 2 ministry wreakers.    But not just wreckers of Christian ministries.  Theyíre also wreckers of Christian lives.   Right from the start, sex and money have always been an issue for Godís people. All through the OT, Godís people struggled with getting a right view of sex and a right view money.    Even Bible giants like King David messed up in this area. 


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And itís these 2 issues;  sex and money, that Paulís addressing in this morningís passage from 1 Thess.  So if youíre not there already, then pl turn with me to 1 Thess 4 on p1840 and look with me at v1:

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.Ē

Last week we were praising the Lord for the birth of a baby Matthew Buttery.  But we donít want babies to stay as babies.    We want them to grow.  And itís the same with Christians. 

The Thessalonians had started well.  They were a model church.  Theyíd repented of overt idolatry and trusted in Jesus.  And their lives had begun to demonstrate that.  Praise the Lord.  They were model believers whoíd made a model response to the Gospel.  But just as we want new born babies like Matthew Buttery to grow and mature, so itís the same with spiritual babies.  Paul has been praising the thanking the Lord for bringing the Thessalonica to spiritual birth.  And like physical babies, Godís people need to feed and grow.  We need to learn and obey Godís teaching;  obey Jís instructions as v2 puts it.    
And thatís what Paulís doing in v3-12.  Fleshing out some of Jís instructions. 

  • A Right view of Sex and Marriage  (v3-8)

    So first in v3-8, Paul gives us a right view of sex and marriage.  

    What does it mean to be sanctified or to be holy in v3?   Well the first thing Paul mentions is that we should avoid sexual immorality.    Not avoid in the sense of avoid eating too much chocolate Ė itís bad for you.  No like a lighthouse warning ships away from dangerous rocks, avoid here means, steer well clear of.    

    As Jesus put it in our second reading; if your eye causes you to sin, cut it off;  better to enter life half blind then to have 2 eyes and be thrown into hell.    And the point is that we should do all was can to avoid sexual immorality.  Literally the word is porneia.  Itís the word we get pornography from.   

    And so if youíre enslaved by pornography, then you need to get a grip.  Back when I was at Bible college, there were constant problems of students being sucked into internet pornography.  Itís so easy isn't it?  You don't even have to go into a shop.  Itís just a mouse clip away.   And there might be someone here this morning whoís got a problem with pornography.  And if thatís you, you need to repent.  And you need to do something about it. Maybe you need to throw your computer in the skip;  or maybe you need to come and talk to me about it.  

    Godís will, His command, is that you should avoid sexual morality;  avoid porneia like the plague.    But weíre not just talking about pornography.      Look at v3 again:

    3It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4that each of you should learn to control his own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, 5not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 6and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.

    Back in Genesis, God made humankind.  Male and female he made them.  And at the end of cpt 2, God ordained marriage as the normal and holy way of living together.  For this reason, because of the way Godís made us, a man will leave his father ands mother and be united in marriage to his wife, and then, after the wedding, they will become one flesh.    The God-ordained outlet for our created sexual desires is marriage.  The consistent message of the whole Bible  is that sex within marriage is a good and right thing;  but that any sexual activity outside monogamous heterosexual marriage is not good;  itís damaging;  itís unholy;  itís porneia.  And v6-8 tells us it makes us liable to judgement. 

    Literally the phrase Ďlearn to control his own bodyí is ďto posses his own vesselĒ;  Paulís talking about getting married.    The best way to avoided sexual sin, to avoid porneia that is, is to get married.  And so the better translation of v4 is in the footnote:  avoid porneia by finding a wife;  whatís the best way of avoiding porneia:  find a spouse and remain faithful to them, says Paul.    

    No sex outside marriage.  You must be joking.  This isnít the world we live in.  get real you might be thinking.   But Paulís world was remarkable similar to our. 

    In the 1st century Roman empire, it was perfectly OK for a married man to have a mistress, a sex slave and if he fancied a change to go and find a prostitute.  Local Thessalonican religion even involved ritual prostitution.    Homosexual activity was just as OK for the Romans as it had been for the Greeks before them.  So when it comes to sexual morality, 1st century Thessalonica was not much different to 21st century Britain.    Itís a nonsense to claim that Paulís prohibitions of sex outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage was culturally conditioned.  Paulís ethics were rooted in Godís OT standards which were just as counter-cultural then as they are now.    

    And like all Godís rules, ultimately theyíre designed for our benefit.  So when we break Godís rules, then we donít just sin against God, but as v6 reminds us, we wrong our brothers and sisters and take advantage of them.    The medical evidence for the damage done by homosexual practice is overwhelming, but itís never discussed openly;  even doctors keep quiet about it because it not very PC to mention.  But itís the same with heterosexual sin.  In 2003 there were 6,400 new cases of HIV infection in Britain, up 250% on the previous year.   Infections from other sexually transmitted diseases are spiralling as well, so much so that the NHS is struggling to cope with the demand for sexual health clinics.   

    In order to please God we need to have a right view of sex and marriage.  We need to submit to the Bibleís teaching that all sexual activity outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage is wrong;  itís porneia;  itís sexual immorality.  And as always, Godís laws are not just God-honouring, theyíre also for our own benefit.  Ignoring Godís laws means weíre wrong our brothers and sisters;  we take advantage of them;  physically and emotionally, when we sin sexually, we damage both ourselves sand others;  and all because we want to do it my way and not Godís way. 


    So what does that mean in practice then?    

    Married couples:   Well when youíve found a wife, v4 tells us, you need to treat her in a holy and honourable way.  Our sex lives, like the rest of our lives are to be other-person-centred.  Thinking and acting on the basis of whatís in other personís best interest;  not in passionate lust like those who donít know God;   in other words, not being cruel, degrading or demanding;  but being kind, gentle and seeking you spouseís good pleasure.    And thatís the kind of issue weíll be covering in tomorrow nightís Time Out.  How should a man treat his spouse.   Answer:  in a holy and honourable way.  But of course itís not just for men.  Paul tells us in 1 Cor 7 that husbands and wives shouldnít deprive each other sexually without good reason.   Otherwise, one of marriageís foundations begins to break down and your partner may be tempted to fall into sexual immorality again. 


    Unmarried couples:   but what if youíre in a relationship but not married?  Whatís this saying to you:  well the Bibleís very clear.  You should be abstaining from all sexual activity;  not asking how far can I go, but how can I please God in the way I treat my partner.    No body should rush into marriage: as the marriage service puts it:  marriage ďmust not be undertaken carelessly, lightly or selfishly, but reverently, responsibly and after serious thoughtĒ.    But the other hand, long term unmarried relationships arenít an option for the Christian.  What used to be known as courting is for a purpose:  to examine whether marriage is appropriate for you as a couple.    And if you ever reach then conclusion that itís not, then it raises the question as to why youíre keeping that relationship going.  If the relationshipís right, then the holy and honourable thin to do is to get married.    

    Singles:  But what about singles.  Well for many younger heterosexual people, the chances are theyíll find a spouse in later life.  But whatever their current circumstances, and whatever their sexuality, the Bibleís clear that single people are to remain completely celibate.    And in our sex-obsessed society, that may sound harsh.  But listen to these words addressed to singles from John Stott;  the John Stott whoís 86 next month and has himself been single all his life. 

    ďWe shall not become a bundle of frustrations and inhibitions if we embrace Godís standard, but only if we rebel against it.  Christís yoke is easy, provided we submit to it.  It is possible for human sexual energy to be redirected both into affectionate relationships with both sexes and into loving service of others.  Multitudes of Christian singles, both men and women, can testify this.  Alongside a natural loneliness, accompanied sometimes by acute pain, we can find joyful self-fulfilment in the self-giving service of God and other people.Ē[1]

    A right view of sex and marriage then.  Faithfulness and fidelity with marriage.  And chastity outside.  The only way to please God in the area of relationships.  Model living means to have a right view of sex and relationships.    

  • A right view of Work and Money  (v9-12)

    And the next instruction of living to please god is in v9-12.  And in these verses Paul outlines a right view of work and money. A right view of work and money. 

    Now like a good pastor, or indeed a good manager of people generally, Paul starts off with encouragement.    Look at v9. 

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

    Jesus said that by the way we love each other, outsiders will know that we love God.  And like the Thessalonians, itís great to see that here at Riverside we do love each other practically.  People notice when someoneís away and ring up or pop round.  The sick are visited and not just by me.  Thereís a genuine love and care for others in the church here at Riverside and thatís great.  Praise the Lord.   And as Paul says at the end of v10:

    Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

    That was the encouragement.  But then comes the challenge.  Because in v11-12, thereís a fly in the ointment.  A spanner in the works.  Something, or rather someone, or perhaps some people, who were hindering the generally loving relationships in the church.    And to help us understand this, we need to have a preview of 2 Thess.  So flip on to 2 Thess 3.   
    And look with me at v11: 

    11We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. 13And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.

    And now come back to v11&12 of 1 Thess 4: 

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

    The early church, following the Apostlesí lead, provided for the poor.  The poor outside the church, but especially poor Christians.  If Christians were out of work and couldnít afford the mortgage, then the church looked after them. 

    But thereís a problem.  Some church members had jacked in their jobs and were living off the church.  Itís likely that they had a wrong view of Jís second coming.  A wrong view which Paul addresses in the rest of cpt 5.  A wrong view that thought Jís return was so imminent, that we might as well give up work, put our feet up and wait for the spiritual RAC to turn up. They weren't busy working or serving, theyíd become busy bodies, interfering in other peopleís business and hindering the work of the Gospel by their lack of commitment. 

    Exactly the same thing happened in the 3rd C when a bishop announced to his flock that Jesus was coming back by the end of the year.  What happened?  Well lots of the congregation sold their property, spent the money and became destitute;  and so the church had to pick up the tab[2]. 

    And Paul says to the church:  youíve been taken for a ride.   Yes be generous and look after the poor.  But you need to distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor.    Of course if someone gets made redundant or goes through hard times, then we need to give them every support while they find another job, if theyíre able to work.  But Paulís quite clear;  if someoneís able to work, but refuses to work, then stop giving them handouts and theyíll soon get the message.

    The famous economist Milton Friedman put it like this:  ďif you create a demand for unemployment, then a supply will be forthcomingĒ. 

    And a lack of clear Christian thinking in this area has created a high culture of dependency in our nation in recent decades.    A culture that no longer asks what it contribute to society, but what it can claim from society.  A culture that no longer thinks about civic responsibility and service, but just about rights.    A culture that no longer encourages individuals and organisation to pay their own way, but to employ an army of consultants who give advice on what benefits and grants can be claimed.

    But just as Paul is counter-cultural in the area of sex, so he says the same in the area of work and money.  As Christians, we need a right view of work and money.  If weíre able to work, we should.    And as far as weíre able to, we should seek to provide for ourselves and our families.  Why?  Well v12 tells us, so that we wonít be dependent on anyone.  So that we wonít be a burden to anyone else.  So that weíre not using up scarce resources that could be spent on the deserving poor or furthering the work of the Gospel. 


    The deserving poor:  Now maybe youíre unable to work or do much practically or financially because of age or ill health;  and if thatís you and you are dependent in some capacity, then you shouldn't feel bad.  Praise that Lord for what you were able to do when you were younger;;  praise the Lord for your pension;  and praise the Lord for what He provides for you through the service of others and focus on what you can still do rather than what you canít.   We can all pray and without prayer, weíre all labouring in vein. 

    The idle/ busybody:    But there maybe some here this morning who know that theyíre being idle;  who know that theyíre a busybody;  and if consider yourself one of Godís people, a member of Riverside and youíre not contributing in some way to the work of the Gospel, then you know who you are and so does God.  And his message to you is this:  sort your attitude out;  stop being a drain on other people and start giving something back.  And weíre not just talking about money.  Itís our whole attitude to work and service generally.  Whether weíre rich or poor, it applies to all of us in different ways.      

    The church generally:  but Paulís teaching here can be applied corporately to the church as well as to individuals.    Whole churches can slip into a dependency culture just as much as individuals.    And the church of England is particularly prone to this because of its central funding system.  Itís obviously right that we should fund gospel ministries in poor areas where they canít afford to pay for their own ministry costs.  Itís also right that richer churches should initially fund new initiatives like church plants.    But just as Paul was warning the Thessalonians, we need to watch out that generous giving churches are not taken for a ride by idle or busybodying churches who could pay their way but donít. 

    So how does all that apply to us corporately here at riverside.  Well there was an encouraging increase in giving towards the end of last year so that we met last yearís budget and we need to be thankful for that.  Praise the Lord that we met the budget.  I havenít seen any figures for 2007, so itís too early to say whether thereís some good news about this yearís finances since our Thanksgiving and Budget day back in January.  But unless thereís been a huge increase in regular giving since the new year, then our income will still be fall far short of our true running costs.  Last year it was more than 50% short.  And thatís why over the next few months the Steering Committee will be agreeing a 6 year plan which aims to plot a course towards financial independence.  Weíre no longer the deserving poor.  We are no longer a church plant.  We are a church in our own right.  And thereís no legitimate reason why weíre not paying our own way.  We must wean ourselves off the dependency culture.  We must get rid of the idea that itís OK to be in deficit because SJs will always pick up the tab.  Those days are coming to an end.  If we really do have a vision to share the Good news of Jesus with the Riverside community, then weíve got to become financially independent of SJs.  We need to pay our existing bills and then we need to think about resourcing future growth. 

    As Paul put it, we must have a right view of work and money.  In our personal lives.  As families.  And corporately as Godís family the church.  How do we live in order to please God?  Well we need to have a right view of sex and marriage.  And we need to have a right view of work and money.  Letís pray.

    [1]   Stott;  BST Thess  p84-5.

    [2]   From Bruce p92.

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