Six Marks of an Excellent Ministry
Living for the Pleasure of God (1): What Christians Do
4 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
There are a number of questions the professing church needs to address and should address. Among them, and on top of the list, is “What is a Christian?” Few know what a Christian is because few open the Bible and read it, for starters. I mean people haven’t a clue about Christ and His claims and demands and what He taught and did and who He truly is. Fewer still, even if they know these things, see them as consequential. Where oh where is the converted man who loves, I mean truly loves the Christ of Scripture and His body and bride, the church, and sacrifices himself for her? Where is he? If you find him, tell me where he is! And I’m not thinking of internet land. I’m not thinking cyberspace or the nation to our south. Don’t default there.
The second question on that list might be: “What does such a man do? What does a Christian do and look like?” Does he or she look like everybody else on any given day? Or is he somehow different? What drives him? What’s his main ambition in all that he does? What do Christians, I mean real Christians, not the nominal ones who aren’t ones at all, what do they do?
In these verses, Paul masterfully sums it up. Essentially, he says this:
“Christians please God and love each other.”
Let’s look at this with all seriousness. We’ll start today and finish next week.
Christians please God.
Christians please God. That’s what ‘s so easily inferred from the first verse. That’s what those to whom Paul wrote were doing. They were pleasing God. They weren’t pleasing themselves, looking out for ‘number one,’ as if they were the center of things. But that’s the message we get everyday isn’t it. We are the center of things. Everything is geared towards the individual pleasing himself. Everything is produced and put before us for our pleasure as if we were kings. I need not tell you how men like that sort of thing. Who doesn’t like being served? Who hates it when they make a robot to do your vacuuming? Who dislikes the drive-thru? The customer is always right (even if he’s dead wrong). Everything is for ‘me.’ And men like that. It appeals to our flesh. It feeds the fleshly, sinful obsession with self. It reinforces that idolatrous bent so characteristic of both the non-churched and the churched (notice I didn’t say non-Christian and Christian). It echoes the lie that ‘I’ am God and thus worthy and deserving of the finest and the best: Serve me, entertain me, exist for me, be for me, soothe me, work with me, work for me, vote for me, be on my side, please me.
But self isn’t the only idol that exists inside the professing church. There is self-obsession. There is this ‘me’ orientation so characteristic of the world and unbelievers. But there’s also an abundance of man pleasing. Which is nothing more than making much of another, of using others, for selfish ends like praise and applause and a sense of self-worth and even making and keeping friends. Nobody likes, I mean naturally likes to be disliked! So to avoid that yucky feeling, we please the other! We say whatever it is they want to hear. We do what they want us to do. But what we’re really doing is appeasing him in order to please ourselves; nobody likes that ‘pit’ in the gut. So whether the object of a man’s pleasure is himself or others it makes no difference. He commits and is guilty of the sin of self-gratification. He lives to be liked! And that is a dreadful snare.
“Finally then brothers,” Paul writes, “we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and please God, just as you are doing…”
How Paul knew this and why he could therefore say this, that they were in fact pleasing God, is not without concrete, factual, observable evidence. Pleasing God is not some airy-fairy, undefined mystery. Paul knew they were pleasing God because Timothy brought him a good report of their spiritual temperature. Despite all the hits they were taking due to their public allegiance to Christ, they were steadfast. They were obedient. They weren’t caving in or backing down. They longed to see Paul again. Their faith was was anything but passive; it was a labor of love, a work of faith. There was no apathy here, no indifference. Their faith was real and alive, vibrant. They were tethered to the Word of God, united to Christ, and it was all very consequential. They were truly transformed men and women, obsessed not with themselves, but God. They pleased God. But what is it to please God?
To please God is to walk in a certain way. It is to walk in a manner worthy, or which befits, the Lord (cf. Col. 1:10). I love the picture here. It’s rich. It echoes how Paul speaks of the Christian life elsewhere; pleasing God and walking/living by/in the Spirit go hand in hand. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by Him. If we are led by the Spirit, we will not gratify the flesh with its sinful desires. This is how Paul conceives the Christian life. It is life in the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, even the Spirit of Christ. He is our Law. Union with Him is consequential. It will compel us from the inside out. His life is the Christian’s life. We have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. We must understand this if we’re going to have a right view of the Christian life. It is the great and splendid, stupendous, marvelous truth, the context against which we must see the commands of Christ and His apostles. Christ lives in the believer, the true believer. As such, He commands and thus causes the believer from the inside to walk as he ought, even as He himself walked. It’s a compulsion that is bound to happen.
Do not miss that there’s an ‘ought’ to the Christian life. Pleasing God is walking how one ought to walk. Free from law indeed. But those so free are also slaves of Christ. So, they live and walk and talk and think in ways the world sees as radical and different and even man-hating, ‘puritanical,’ and old fashioned.
Evidently, as Paul even says it, these Macedonian believers had before received instruction in pleasing God. They were free from Law, but they were not without apostolic instruction. And here as before, his instructions to them are essentially that they not be content with the degree to which they were pleasing God. “Finally then brothers,” Paul writes, “we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. ”
This is huge. Let’s just think about this for a moment. In view here is not growth in doctrinal knowledge. Don’t misunderstand. Paul nowhere excuses doctrinal illiteracy or apathy. But here he doesn’t press growth in doctrine, but urges, encourages, exhorts growth in living for the pleasure of God. It doesn’t matter how much it happens now. It doesn’t matter how mature or immature you are in your journey. Paul says, “Please God more and more.” Increasingly. To a greater and greater degree, please not yourselves, but Him!
How is this possible apart from Christ in you? I tell you it is not. One thing Paul does not want. He does not want us to see this apart from Christ in you, if in fact he is in you. We ought not assume such a glorious, transforming, life-altering thing when there is no evidence, no fruit of it. But if He is in you, then you will live to please Him. The exhortation here will stir your soul. We must not forget: He who indwells is He who inspired the apostle. This then will be, it ought to be, the obsession of your life. Is it? If not, make it so. Christians live for the pleasure of God. This is what they do. This is their aim. They’re consumed by this. And Paul urges that they do this more and more. Please Him increasingly. Grow in this. Don’t be satisfied with where you’re at. Please God abundantly!
So, this aim must shape our thinking, first of all. When our eyes first open in the morning, let our default thought be: “I will live to please Him and not for my own pleasure.” “I will delight in those things in which He delights, like His Son, and not sin.” By the way, have you noticed that the difference between the word ‘Son’ and ‘sin’ is the letter ‘I”?
I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way,
“Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way”
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!
Second, if pleasing God is our honest aim let that shape not just our thoughts, but our prayers also. Whatever our requests and supplications and cries, the primary, big prayer, the very atmosphere of prayer needs to be that we please God more and more, even abundantly, that we abound in pleasing Him. “In this trial Father, work in me, work in us, that which pleases YOU!” Not me! THY will not my will! Let me ask you, beloved: “Does God exist to please you? Does God exist for our every hurt and pain, physical or otherwise?” He does not. Elsewhere: “’I entreated the Lord three times that He remove this thorn in the flesh from me. And He said, ‘No. I won’t. But my grace is sufficient for you’ (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1-9). You see, there is something we need to understand and embrace and even savor with our souls and the depths of our being. And that’s this:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things (including you and me) were created through him and FOR him” (Col. 1:15-16).
This isn’t just high Christology for the theologian types. This was written to the church, to folks like you and me, that we might know and understand we were made for Him and not the other way around! We were made for His pleasure, to please Him and not He us.
The Grounds of the Exhortation
The grounds upon which Paul presses Christians to please God more and more are twofold. The first, in verse two, grounds the instruction in the authority of Christ. The apostle writes: “For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” In other words, the words before us do not come from a mere Christ-centered, Greek-speaking philosopher of the 1st century. They originate with Christ. To ignore them, or reject them, avoid them, or forget them is to therefore rebel against the Son of the Living God and the sole Head of the Church.
The second ground is stated in the 3rd verse: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” So, ‘please God more and more for what I told you before comes from Christ. And your sanctification, that is your holiness, is the will of God.’ That’s the drift of the passage thus far. And don’t miss this: Apparently, as Paul conceives of it, sanctification happens when we please God more and more and gratify self less and less.
And then he gets specific, real specific. The very first thing on the list of moral vices is sexual immorality. He’s crystal clear. The will of God is that you abstain from it, he says. Quite literally, sanctification is keeping your distance from it. If it’s on the planet earth, live on the moon, as it were. What sexual immorality is, what defines it, is simple. The word here is porneia from which we get the word porn. It’s any sexual activity outside the marriage bed, either real or imagined.
I need not tell you the water in which we swim is polluted with this stuff. It’s pervasive. And it’s accepted more and more as the norm. Why this is the case is not rocket science. Jesus said that porneia is a heart issue. It’s a heart issue. It’s not what goes into a man from the outside that defiles and pollutes him. It’s what’s inside. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
“14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:14-23)
So, the solution is not moving to the moon. A change of address solves nothing. This is a heart issue. Nothing but a change of heart, a new heart, one that hates sin and lust, and one upon which the law of Christ has been etched, will solve the issue.
Paul underscores the seriousness of the issue when he says:
“9 … do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1st Corinthians 6:9-10).
No holiness in sex, no heaven.
“18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
Do you know how an Eskimo kills a wolf? Let me tell you.
“First, the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another, until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood.
Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder the wolf licks the blade in the arctic night. So great becomes his craving for blood that the wolf does not notice the razor-sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue, nor does he recognize the instant at which his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his OWN warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more—until the dawn finds him dead in the snow!”
(Chris T. Zwingelberg)
The Eskimo set the bait – and then waited. The wolf did the rest. It was consumed by its own lusts. John Owen nailed it when he said “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” “…This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
What is it ‘to control [our] own body in holiness and honor? This verse has been interpreted various ways. I take it to mean ‘gain mastery over one’s sexual life’ or even ‘one’s sexual life should be holy and honorable,’ pleasing to God. It isn’t that sex is wrong and evil. It isn’t. When expressed within the confines of marriage, it’s an amazing thing of beauty! But outside of that boundary, and in the realm of “Serve me, entertain me, exist for me, be for me, soothe me, please me,” it’s like warm blood on the hunter’s knife.
Living for God’s Pleasure in Controlling the Body
How then shall we control our bodies in holiness and honor?
(1) Whether married or not, the issue is not the body, per se. The issue is deeper. If you’re not a believer, this will make no sense to you. Your first order of business is to turn from your sins and trust in Christ for every spiritual blessing God has for you in Him. But if you are a believer, you must realize that every sexual failure has been forgiven you completely. You’re not condemned. Don’t beat yourself up over it; Christ took your thrashings. Why thrash and whip yourself? That would be unbelief. So, trust Him. Trust Christ with your sexual sin. Jesus bore your sex sins in His body on that Tree. On your behalf, for you, He was condemned that you might be justified by His blood!
(2) Trust Christ not only for forgiveness. Trust Him also for growth in pleasing God in this. If you live by the Spirit, walk by the Spirit. The fruit, the natural outgrowth of Him who dwells within you by His Spirit (Holy), inscribed on your heart, is holiness and – self-control. So, be led by the Spirit and you will not gratify the lusts of the flesh. So says the Scripture. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…and self-control. This is a “Christ in you” thing. It’s not a 12-step thing!
(3) Put to death the deeds of the body, by the Law? No, but by the Spirit.
(4) Meditate on 2 Corinthians 3:18 which reads, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Behold the glory of the Lord and it will be done to you. You will be increasingly transformed into the same image, the image of Christ! We don’t look to the Law for help, why? This is why: Moses shines a candle of God’s righteousness. But Jesus is the Son! He far outshines him in every way. “To focus on the Ten Commandments as our own standard of righteousness, while the full blaze of Christ’s own glory shines before us, is like turning away from the sun to gaze at a candle” (Leiter). This is awesome. I love this. So, again I say to you, behold Christ in all His glory, learn of Him, savor Him, seek Him, be entranced with and by Him, and it shall be done to you. This is the way to holiness in all things. And it’s the way to please Him more and more, walking as we ought to walk.
Conclusion: The Life of God in the Soul of Man
Let’s go back to verse 3:
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; THAT you abstain from sexual immorality; THAT each of you know how to control his own body…”
(1) There are no imperatives here. No commands. None. Paul isn’t telling us to do anything. All Paul is doing is describing sanctification, not commanding it. Abstaining from sexual sin and controlling one’s body describes, they are descriptions of the will of God which is our sanctification.
(2) This is the will and desire of God. What if God lived not with His people, but in His people? What if God in the Person of His Son in His Spirit, the HOLY Spirit, took up residence in the human heart? What if God worked in you and willed His will from within? What then? Would your life not look tremendously different? Would you not know victory over sexual sin(s)? This is not merely the will of a God from above; it’s the will of a God who is intimately involved in a bona fide believer’s life! Therefore, imaginations are clean, hands are where they ought to be, buttons are untouched, teen pregnancies are not, and marriages are saved. But most importantly, God is pleased. God is pleased!
O beloved, let us please God. We can please Him because God does not simply reign from above, but commands His will, His sanctifying will, from the very core of our beings. And who is there that can thwart Him? It is no longer we who live, but Christ lives in us! Amen!
Pastor Braye studied at Canadian Theological Seminary and the University of Alberta. Presently he labors for “Pastoral Leadership Development at Action International Ministries” In the past he served as pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church and Beckwith Baptist Church. He is From Edmonton, Alberta