I typically send an email out to the worship team early in the week. In that email I let them know the text we are going to be looking at. I also try to include some song suggestions too.
I do this because we like to try and achieve some semblance of uniformity to the service. In other words, we don’t want it to look like a committee has put together the service.
The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky.
Build it out of gopher barky, barky!
Children of the Lord.
Or, some of you might have this one:
Who built the Ark? Noah! Noah!
Who built the Ark? Brother Noah built the Ark!
We are going to talk about the ark today, and we are going to address a number of things. We are going to talk about its size, the construction of it, and ultimately, the purpose for which it was built. But, because of those songs and your Sunday School background I want to begin by talking about the reality of it.
I. The reality of the Ark
I want to begin by affirming the truth of this story. There really was a guy by the name of Noah and he really did build a very large ship which we call an ark.
I’m not knocking kids Bible songs. They can be well and good. But I do want you to be aware that they can sometimes trivialize things. Sometimes the things we learn from Bible songs (or maybe even children’s storybook Bibles!) end up doing the exact opposite that we intend. Instead of giving us an accurate picture of God’s story, they end up making it out to be somewhat silly or fairy-tale-ish.
Singing “The Lord told Noah to build him an Arky, Arky” might have an adverse affect on kids. Here is a story about some serious stuff. It is a story that details the wrath of God. But these songs are yippy-skippy little diddies. The two don’t really go together.
It is almost like playing Mozart’s symphonies with a kazoo. The gravity and glory of Motzart cannot be accurately communicated through such an instrument. As a matter of fact, it would be making a mockery of Motzart’s works and trivializing his work by doing that.
The same can be true when we try to communicate what is said here the way we do with these songs and cute-sie little pictures.
As a matter of fact, my kids have a my children even have a Noah’s Ark Little People set. And it is all so cute. There’s Mr. & Mrs. Noah and all these cute little animals. And my kids can have a fun time with all that stuff.
But that’s just the thing, we’ve made it into play. And we are saying that it is all so cute-sie. That’s unfortunate, because there is nothing cute-sie about what is said here. Everything that is talked about here and in the upcoming chapters is quite serious and should be thought of with the utmost sobriety.
Again, I’m not trying to preach against fun little kid’s songs or telling you to throw out your kid’s Bible CD’s. I’m simply saying that there are many Christians today who look at this text and relegate it to fairy tale land. They think that Noah was something that happened “long ago and far away.”
So I want to make sure that we realize that everything that we read here is not a part of some imaginary story or child’s fable. This is talking about real situation and it is communicating truth about what God has done in history.
Now that we have established the reality of the ark, let’s start thinking about what the text actually says about it.
I think the best place to begin is in verses 15 and 16. In these verses God lays out the floor plan for the ark. This is where the Lord gives Noah the blueprint sketch of the Ark. And what I want you to see is the immensity of this thing.
II. Its immensity [15-16]
This boat was enormous. The text tells us that it was 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits. Now, if you take a cubit as approximately the length which spans from your elbow to your fingertip, you come out with a measurement that spans approximately 450 feet. That’s about 1 ½ football fields. You also have to keep in mind that it had three levels. So the proportions of this thing are absolutely amazing.
As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until the 1800’s that we had another ship rival the size of it. The boat that Noah constructed was still twice the size of the largest wooden boat ever built. So, for recorded history, the largest wooden ship wouldn’t even take up a football field.
It wasn’t until metal ships started being constructed that you had serious rivals come along. Today, your average metallic cruise ship is about 1000 feet long and 70 feet high. So if you would line them up side by side the ark would be about half the length a modern cruise ship, but it would be just as tall.
So, for its time, the ark would been an engineering monument. It would have been enormous! Most likely, it would have been featured on some Discovery channel back in its day.
I mention this because I want you assure you that it is most certainly capable of holding all the animals needed to repopulate the earth.
Keep in mind that you don’t need every single animal in the world. Ocean bearing animals could fend for themselves. All you need to have are roving animals. Even there you don’t need every single species of land roving animal. The text says that he was to bring two of every kind. Those of you who are familiar with biology, you know that animals are classified by kingdom, phylum, class, family and species. Noah didn’t need every species of animal. Perhaps “kind” was God’s way of limiting the number of animals, and allowing them.
And again, you probably need to tweak what you might have learned from Sunday School back in the day. All the pictures that you see in children’s books and SS materials show full grown elephants and giraffe’s lining up to enter the ark. It’s more likely that Noah brought young animals onto the boat. And given the fact that most full grown animals are smaller than a sheep, we starting to see that there may be quite a bit of room on the ship. (and that’s even including the dinosaurs!—but that’s a discussion for another time).
Commentators can give more specifics. But the end result is that when it is all broken down, the animals could have fit comfortably in just half of the ship. And that leaves plenty of space for food and provisions and living space for Noah and his family.
All this is to say that we are not a bunch of loonies if we believe the text. A lot of skeptics will scoff at what is said here. But the fact of the matter is that the truth of Scripture is rock solid and there is no reason to question any of it.
Those who do thumb their noses at the text are simply showing that they don’t want to believe what it says. All that has been said is not that hard to figure out. It doesn’t take rocket science or a leap of blind faith. The truth is they don’t want to admit it because they don’t want to acknowledge that there is a God in the heavens to whom they are accountable.
But for us, we recognize the authority of God and his word. And we understand that the immense size of the ark could have easily allowed God’s plan to be carried out.
But it does make you think though. Given the dimensions of the ark and the enormity of it, you have to think about the actual building of it.
III. Its construction 
Now, the only thing said here about the construction of the ark is found at the end of our text. It says, “Noah did this, he did all that God commanded him.”
It doesn’t sound like much, but in that little sentence you have what was probably 100 years of work. Think about how monumental a task this would have been for Noah. He didn’t have modern machinery. He didn’t have any cranes or semi trucks to transport the logs.. He didn’t have any chainsaws or mechanical tools to grind the logs down to size and make into make into planks. Everything had to be done the old fashioned way. He had to do it all by hand.
It might be that he had some help. We usually think that it was just Noah building the ship. But the text doesn’t say that. He might have had some more helpers. It might have been that some of his ancestors that we read about back in chapter 5 helped him along the way. But even if you had a whole city of men, it would have taken quite a length of time given the crude tools they had at their disposal.
You all have heard how the Creation Museum is constructing a life size replica of the ark. Well, needless to say they are fast tracking this thing. It is supposed to be finished in just a few years. But Noah would have to cut down the tree, haul it home, trim it down, create all the pegs and so forth. That would have taken a long time, perhaps up to 100 years.
Now think about what the situation would have been like. Here is Noah building his boat. Day after day he is out there chopping wood and hammering pegs. Trees are felled and hewn each day for the first year. Then the second year. Then the third. Meanwhile, all round there are these wicked people observing all this. Just think of how all this had to have panned out.
The first guy walks up, “Hey Noah! What’ch ya doing?” “I’m building a boat.” Wha’ch ya doing that for Noah?”
“It’s going to rain.”
“Rain? RAIN? Ha! No really, Noah. Wha’ch ya doing?”
Now you have 100 years for all the snickers and wise cracks. “There goes Crazy Noah!” “Hey Noah. How’s your boat doing?”
But it’s no wonder that Noah is called a “preacher of righteousness.” In his second epistle, Peter calls Noah a preacher of righteousness. He would have had no end of opportunities to explain himself and why he was building this boat. And as the gigantic work continued to rise off the ground, the message would have been clearly issued forth. Noah and his work declared in loud volumes that God was a just and holy God. And everyone would have heard, whether audibly from Noah or simply by witnessing the construction of the boat, that God was God who could not stand the presence of sin.
But I believe this antagonism is why you have what is said in 18. It says, “But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark.” Noah must have been a lot like Jeremiah. Jeremiah is commonly known as the weeping prophet. He was rudely treated all his days, mocked and mistreated for his faith. And there were times when Jeremiah wanted to give up.
I wouldn’t doubt that Noah felt that way too. For 100 years he had to endure the scoffers. There can be no doubt that Noah would have been despised and cruelly treated by the throngs of wicked people around him. You have to wonder what keep him going that whole time. What kept him pushing ahead day after day after day? I believe it was the fact that God had covenanted with him.
God had made a promise to Noah. He promised to love him and keep him all his days. Basically, God was promising Noah that he wouldn’t be swept away in the wrath. And the fact that God had entered into this relationship with him, no doubt is what kept him pressing forward.
And the same is true for you. What keeps you pressing ahead today? When you are mocked and ridiculed for your faith, what is it that makes you determined to continue on? I no doubt believe that it is the fact that God has promised you eternal life and unbroken fellowship with him. If you have ever known what it means to have the eternal God draw near to you and pledge to not let you be swept away in the fury of his wrath, then you can’t help but respond by serving him all your days, not matter what opposition you face.
There is one other item we need to address from this text though. It is something that we have already hinted at. It is the purpose of the ark. We’ve look at its immensity, and seen that it really could have served its purpose. And we’ve considered its construction, and what it would be like building it. But what was it all for?
IV. Its purpose 
Perhaps it is obvious enough, but it ought to be mentioned. It was God’s appointed means of salvation.
In verse 13 the Lord speaks to Noah. He gives Noah special revelation of what is about to happen. And he says, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” And then, in the very next breath he says, “Make yourself an ark…” The implication is that this boat is your only hope. I have appointed this ship as the sole means of escaping my wrath and curse.
And that is why the ark is a type or a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. It was a picture of pointing forward to the ultimate means of God’s salvation. As it says in the book of Acts, “There is only one name under heaven given among men whereby you may be saved.”
My friends, I want you to recognize the importance what is being communicated here. This story of Noah is really challenging each and every one of us as to our faith in Christ. It is reminding us that there is absolutely no other way to escape the punishment that is due to us for our sins.
Our bother Caleb did a superb job a few weeks ago reminding us of the impending judgment of God. Caleb reminded us that God judges nations and he judges each and every individual upon the planet.
And we need to remember that each and every one of us deserves God’s wrath and curse. This passage reminds us of that. As a matter of fact, it repeats it 3 times in 2 verses (i.e. verses 11-12). And you heard how the previous passage described us. It stated that ‘every intention of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil all the time.” There in the very root of our being, the thoughts, the intentions, the heart of our soul, it is nothing but evil all the time.
I mention this because it is important to recognize our need for a savior. I want you to understand just how great your predicament is. Unless we see ourselves as drowning in sin, we will never see our need to come to the rock of salvation.
We all too easily flatter ourselves with grand notions of how wonderful we are. As a matter of fact, you can go to the Ronald Regan Memorial at the Library that was dedicated to him and you will see this. There on that great wall of marble is inscribed these words, “I believe in my heart that man is good and that what is right will always eventually triumph.”
That lie is engraved on every human heart. And it is only when you come to recognize that such a statement is unilaterally false will you see your need for the saving power of Jesus Christ.
And the great thing is that if you do come to Christ you will be safe in the day of Judgment. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. And you can be assured that all who put their trust in him are as safe as Noah was in that boat.
DL Moody once said that the little fly was just as secure on Noah's ark as the Elephant was. That's because their safety wasn't due to their size or strength. It was the ark that saved both.
The same is true for us. Salvation has nothing to do with how righteous we think we are or how much good we think we can do. The only way we can be safe in the day of God's visitation is by trust Jesus Christ and what he has done to atone for your sins.
It is said that every time Alfred Lord Tennyson went to publish a book of his poems the publisher had to purchase an extra supply of l’s and v’s. It was because this poet had an unusual infatuation with one particular word: love. You could say that the print shop was not used to that much love.
As Christians we are to be like Tennyson’s poems. Our lives are to be filled with love. And, as a result of our being Christians, the world around us is to experience an unusual dosage of love.
Indeed, wherever Christianity has existed, love has existed too. Love goes hand in hand with Christianity. As a matter of fact, the love of the church is often what makes the church appealing to the unbelieving.
The primary reason it grew was because the Roman citizens were attracted by the Christian’s love.
Since this virtue is to be the chief characteristic of our lives, it is necessary that we often study it. Those of you who attend here regularly might be tempted to roll your eyes and say, “Oh, another sermon on love?” But we dwell on this subject, only because the Bible so frequently returns to it.
And when we come to this passage, we find ourselves once again enrolled in the school of love. And I say that we are enrolled in the school of love for particular reason. We are here getting an education in love. The first two verses show us that the Thessalonians had already graduated from this school of love. In those verses we see love learned and practiced. And the second half of our passage we see that they are given a further education in love. It is if they are studying for their masters’ degree. For these verse deal with love increased and perfected.
But we need to start with the Thessalonians undergraduate studies. When we read our passage we find that the Thessalonians had already been enrolled in the school of love. For in verse 9-10 we read of love learned and practiced.
I. Love learned and practiced
You could say that the Thessalonians had learned love so well that they had become experts in it. Paul says in verse 9, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you.” And then skipping down to verse 10 Paul continues, “for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.”
The Thessalonians seem to have developed quite a reputation for being loving people. It’s a reputation that extends throughout Macedonia. Macedonia is the region that surrounds the city of Thessalonica. It would be like saying that people all over Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, and PA have experienced in radical ways the love of the Christians here in Ashland. Now that is some amazing love! Their love was so great that that it is literally influencing the world!
Their love wasn’t confined to people of their own religion. It wasn’t even limited to people of the same town or mindset. Their love was extensive. It was so extensive that it was reaching across the barriers of race, religion & region. I have to say that that’s not bad for people who have been Christians for only 3-4 months! These newborn Christians had become experts in the practice of love.
But the Thessalonians were experts in the practice of love precisely because they had become Christians. They practiced love because they had learned love.
Look at what it says in verse 9 again. You need no one to write to you about love because, “you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” In a sense, it is no use in me talking about this. For it is something that I cannot teach. It is something you can only learn from God. God is the only one who can instruct you in being a loving person. Just like it says here. “you have been taught by God to love one another.”
You know, I can talk all I want about being a loving person. I can encourage you to be loving people, I can give you tips on how to be loving people. But ultimately, I can’t do anything. Ultimately, it’s up to God. God is the one who must instruct you.
You see, I am just a pipe. I am just a channel or a funnel. You know when you turn on your faucet, water comes pouring out of that thing. Now what did the faucet do? Not all that much, if you think about it. The faucet just sat there. What really caused the water to come out? If you could shrink down and crawl through the pipes you would find that what really made the water come out of the pipe was some guy way back there at the water plant. What was forcing the water through the pipes and into your cup? It wasn’t the faucet. It was some guy thousands of miles away.
Now that is how it is with love. I speak, but God is the one who puts it in your hearts. He is the one who stirs up your dead hearts. He is the one who makes you think, “you know what? So-&-so has been having a hard time lately, I should go and visit them. I should take them out to lunch & just try to cheer them up.”
I couldn’t do anything like that. I couldn’t make you give up your time to serve someone else. That is something that can only happen because your heart has changed. That’s something only God can do.
Now again, I can talk about the love of God. I can talk to you about how it is manifested in the cross of Jesus Christ. I can talk to you about how “God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son.” I can try to explain things like Romans 5 where it says, “God demonstrates his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I can do that, and I try to do that every week. But only God can spark love in your hearts. Only God can make you come to say, “You know what? God’s love for me was demonstrated in such an incredible way. And if he demonstrated his love for me in such a marvelous way, I should try and do the same for my brothers and sisters in Christ around me.” I can’t teach that. There is only one person who can, and that’s God.
That’s why you can walk into some churches and not see any love being practiced. It’s because love hasn’t ever really been learned. It’s not because the pastor doesn’t talk about love. It’s not because the people have never heard what it means to be a loving person. It’s because people have never really learned love—they haven’t learned it from God—the Holy Spirit has never worked in their hearts.
The only way you can become an expert in the practice of love, is if you’ve been converted and have sat in that heavenly school. It is only if God has come into your heart and begun to teach the lessons of love.
Let me ask you: have you learned that lesson? Has the Lord taught you? He wants to teach you now.
I do know that many of you have been learning from the Lord. And I am glad to know that there is an education going on here that far supersedes my own teaching. You are only with me for an hour a week, and I only preach for half of that time. But I can truly say that I know that you have been in that school because your love is already great. I can tell that your education exceeds this classroom.
How can I tell? Just look at your impact: The Thornton’s have received financial gifts from many of you. In giving to them you are exceeding our region. I know that you are trying to show love to people who are of a different mindset too. You’re concerned for Pentecostals, Methodists, & Baptists, even those who are not believers! I know that love here has been learned, because I see it practiced.
But just like a student, I don’t want you to rest on your laurels. And Paul says the same thing to the Thessalonians. He not only talks about love learned and practiced, he goes on to talk about love increased and perfected.
II. Love increased and perfected [10b-12]
Look at the next part of the passage. After commending them in their practice of love, Paul says, “But we urge you brothers to do this more and more.”
It is as if Paul was saying, “You’ve gotten straight A’s in the Advanced Placement courses—you’ve done an outstanding job at loving people—but don’t stop there! Keep increasing. Keep trying to perfect the love you are already showing.”
Think about it in terms of the student again. If a student gets straight A’s on his mid-term report card, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t mean he can take the rest of the year off. No, there’s still more to learn. There’s still room for improvement. He may have a lot of knowledge built up, but he still needs to learn more.
That’s how the Christian life should be. Paul tells these Thessalonians, “You’ve been doing good, but don’t drop out of school. Keep doing what you are already doing and try to do more too.”
And in verses 11-12, Paul gives them some specific areas where we can concentrate our efforts. He’s saying, “Here’s your homework. These are areas you can try to perfect.” And Paul basically gives them 3 specific assignments. And I want you to see that these are personal lessons that have public ramifications. Paul instructs you on your personal conduct, but your personal conduct has ramifications for the rest of the community.
The first assignment Paul gives—the first way you increase or perfect you love—is by “aspiring to live quietly.” Now, we often here people say, “So-&-so is aspiring for public office.” And what do we see that person doing? We see them making a lot of themselves, don’t we? We see their picture everywhere on signs. We see them flaunting the things they’ve done in life (he served this way and that way, and accomplished this and that for the city). So there is a lot of clamor surrounding their life. You could say their life is loud.
But that is not the way the Christian is to live. The Christian is to aspire to live a quiet life. I like how the Reformation Study Bible puts it: We are to “Be zealous for the honor that comes through humble, industrious, and unimpeachable behavior; not through self-assertion or an ostentatious show of personal greatness.”
In other words, we are not to be working for our own glory. We are to be like the person who works backstage in the theater. The people who work backstage have some of the most important roles. The show cannot go on without them. And much is demanded of them, so they must work hard. But they must be quiet. They are honored for their work, yes. But if they seek to gain the spotlight, it will ruin the whole show. So, a loving life is most often an unobtrusive life.
The second lesson Paul assigns is that we are “to mind [our] own business.” I wonder if that is where we get that phrase. We use that in common lingo, don’t we? When someone is being a little too nosey we say, “Just mind your own business.” And that is good advice for the Christian: “Mind your own business.”
Now, this does not mean that we are not to have any involvement in someone else’s life. Paul does says elsewhere, “bear one another’s burdens.” We are to be involved in other people’s lives to some degree.
What this means is that we are not to be idle. We are to fulfill the tasks that God has called us to fulfill. If it is taking care of the house, that’s our business. That is what we are to be about.
Now think about the ramifications of this. You might not think that this is a big deal. But it is. When we stray from our calling, order becomes chaos. You can think of it like a watch. Each part of a watch has a role to fulfill. If one part does not fulfill that role, the watch stops. Or think of it in terms of the theater again. If the guy who is in charge of the curtain is not minding his business, then the whole play is disturbed. The man at the lights has to try to take care of the curtain too, and, as a result, the lighting is off. Everyone has to compensate, and the order is disturbed. The play then becomes a disaster.
Each of us has our calling, and we are to work at our callings to the best of our abilities so that we preserve the order of the church and the society at large. Should we disturb the harmony of life, we sin in a terrible way—a way that brings a terrible name upon us as Christians. Paul says in verse 12 that we are to “live properly before those outside the church.” What is the audience doing while the people in the play are trying to get things together? They are rolling their eyes, aren’t they? They are thinking, “What a bunch of idiots! They are screwing up the whole show!”
We live our lives before a watching world. If we are the cause of disorder in the world, we are going to have people saying, “Ah, those Christians!” We will become a stench to them.
The third lesson of love, the 3rd way we are to increase or perfect our love, is that we are to “work with our hands.” And I think this should be seen with the last part of verse 12 where it says, “that you be not dependent upon anyone.”
In the Roman world there were jobs that some people thought were below them. There were jobs that only slaves did, or there were jobs that only peasants did. So you were dependent upon other people doing those jobs because you yourself wouldn’t want to demean yourself with that “lowly work.”
We are not too different in our day. There are jobs that we think are below us. Take flipping burgers, for instance. A lot of people in our day would never do that because they think that is below them. Someone might be laid off and need work. But he would never go into a fast food restaurant and serve hamburgers. He’d rather not work. He’d rather be dependent upon taxpayer money or church alms.
But God has called us to work—and no work is below us. Jesus, after all, was a carpenter. Some people might think that is demeaning work. But Jesus showed God’s blessing on what we might call “menial tasks” by taking up that kind of work himself.
And when we work, no matter what kind of work it is, we gain respect in the community. People can’t say of us, “Oh, their just leeching off the government (or the church).” People respect us because we will not let ourselves be dependent on anyone when we don’t have to be.
You might think, what do these things have really to do with love? Isn’t that our theme? I thought God was supposed to be teaching us how to love? Well, He is. When you aspire to live a quiet life, when you work with your hands and mind your own business, you are loving people. You are making the church attractive. You are, in a sense, opening the doors to the church for an unbeliever. When they see your good works, they may wish to inquire about your God. And when they inquire, perhaps even being led to come to the church, they can hear the gospel. Then they have a chance to be converted and enroll in the school of love. They have the chance to learn the greatest lesson of love of all: How Jesus Christ died that we may have eternal life. What greater act of love is there? That’s the love you show when you learn and practice these simple lessons.
I have begun to think that the church has failed terribly in its job. It seems that things that churches need most to talk about most, and the things that the Bible talks about most—are oftentimes the things least addressed in the pulpit.
This week I heard a lecture wherein the professor said that the number 1 thing that Jesus talked about was money. The one thing that Jesus talked about most was money—how it should be used, its dangers, and so forth.
But so many churches today hardly ever talk about the issue. Perhaps 1x or 2 church’s will talk about proper stewardship.
behavior. This subject has been neglected too, perhaps more so than the issue of money. We have considered talking about sex and sexuality taboo. We’ve simply thought it is inappropriate to talk about publicly.
And perhaps it is because of this that our culture is the way it is. What we have been afraid to talk about publicly, is all too public now. We are living in a sex-crazed culture. You can’t go anywhere and you can’t do anything without hearing or seeing some reference to sex. As you well know, the media is plagued with it. As a matter of fact, Elizabeth and I were astonished to see that companies are trying to use sex to sell tires for cars!
We live in a very sensual culture. I’ve said before that we live in a culture that says, “do what feels right.” And in that regard we have much in common with the people of the NT times. They had sex in the media—books were published on the subject. They had cultic prostitution on the street corners.
To be sure, their culture was just as fanatical about sex as ours is. And in the midst of this kind of culture, we are called to live holy lives. In a sex crazed society, we are called to live sexually pure lives.
Our passage this morning instructs us about living a sexually pure life. In this passage the Lord shows us how a Christian is to conduct himself with regard to his sexuality, and why he should live this way.
I. How do we live sexually pure lives?
When we ask “How do we live a sexually pure life in a sex crazed culture?” we get two answers. God tells us what we should not do and what we should do. He gives us a restriction and a proscription.
A. The Restriction: What does God forbid us to do?
There in verse 3 he says, “This is God’s will: Your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality.”
The word we have translated sexual immorality is the Greek word porneia. You can probably tell that it is the word from which we get our word pornography. But in Bible times this word wasn’t used of dirty magazines or websites. This word is used to refer to any type of illicit sexual practice. That is why most of our translations translate it as sexual immorality.
Now, when Paul says “abstain from sexual immorality,” I would assume you immediately think of adultery. Adultery is perhaps the most obvious form of porneia. While it is true that adultery is a form of porneia, I want you to be aware that it is only one form of sexual immorality. You must understand that Paul’s command is much broader in its scope.
Porneia is any form of illilcit sexual activity. We can also think of things like homosexuality—that’s a form of sexual immorality too. We can also include things that have become all too common in our day, such as premarital sex, or promiscuous (or “loose”) living.
We must not think that Paul is limiting himself to adultery. He is says that we must abstain from any sexual practice that deviates from the way God has ordered it. Porneia is any practice that would defile the marriage bed.
For that matter we can think of any other sort of improper sexual activity. And I am thinking particularly of what is commonly called “making out.” It is commonly held among teenagers today that “making out” is just an ordinary part of dating. When two young people go out, even if they don’t intend to pursue a serious relationship, they think it is perfectly fine to engage in such conduct.
And parents, you must be careful to teach your children that that is something they should not be involved in—because prime time television is teaching them otherwise.
Moreover we owe a great deal of this shame to our former President. After his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, he tried to justify himself by saying, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” It was as if to say, “What I did wasn’t wrong, because it wasn’t sexual intercourse.”
But that was porneia. It was an improper sexual relationship.
Hopefully you are starting to see what Paul is talking about when he uses this word “porneia.” And I wouldn’t doubt that as I speak the screen inside your brain has a lot of static. I would bet the picture isn’t coming in all that well. That’s because this is so radically against our culture. Everywhere you look you hear “Go ahead, indulge yourself. Let loose on your passions.” And it is not just TV shows sending us these messages. We have people who are supposed to be professionals, professional doctors and psychologists, who are saying that it is not good for us to repress our sexual desires.
So what you are hearing now and what you hear out there the rest of the week are clashing like two swords in a gladiator battle. But you must hear what God is saying here: We are not to be fooled by the world or caught up in its licentiousness. God has called us to keep ourselves pure. He has called us to demonstrate restrain and exercise control over our passions.
Ø So in one sense God has given us a restriction. We are to abstain from sexual immorality (in whatever form that may take). But don’t think that God is just an ogre out to make your life miserable. That can’t be farther from the truth. He doesn’t just put restrictions on you. He gives you proscriptions-- He proscribes marriage.
B. Proscription: Acquire a spouse
If you are going to live a sexually pure life, you need to get married. Read it with me again. It says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you possess your own vessel in holiness and honor.”
Now I like that way of translating it. Some translations, like mine, say something like “each of you should control your body.” You can perhaps understand why some of our versions would say that. “Possess your vessel” and “control your body” sound similar. But I think that such a rendering basically repeats what is said in verse 3. Abstaining from sexual immorality basically means you have to control yourself, doesn’t it? I think these words of Paul’s in verse 4 are not a repetition.
Think about it this way: Remember how Peter describes women. In talking to men Peter says that husbands are to look out for their wives because they are the weaker vessel.” Now if you possess your vessel in this sense, what are you doing? I think Paul here is saying that he is to get married. In other words, you are not just to abstain from sexual immorality—you are not just to pin up all those desires and urges and explode like a balloon. You are to acquire a wife and enjoy all the blisses of marriage.
It’s like what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7. There he says, “If you can’t remain single, get married, so you don’t burn with passion and then end up sinning.” God is saying there is a place where you can give vent to your desires—and that is in the context of marriage.
Now I know that marriage is not held in high esteem in our day. People rip on it all the time. Typically you hear that when you get married your sex life basically ends. But that’s not true. Recent studies have even proven that those who are married enjoy sex more often and find it more satisfying that those who try to live otherwise.
That study wasn’t a fluke. God’s might not be the popular way, but it is the right way. When God created man he made them male and female, each was made for the other.
Now I think that is clear enough. What I want you to think about is how you are to acquire a spouse. Look at verse 4 again. Paul says that we are to acquire a spouse “in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
How do people who do not know God go about pursuing their relationships? Its basically like shopping for meat in the meat market. You go to the grocery store and you look at all the different meats they have laying out and you say “That one looks good, I’ll take it.” Then you take it home with you.
That’s the way people go about their relationships too! They look around for the one that looks the best and they take it. It’s not about love. When they enter the relationship they are not thinking how they can love this person and serve him or her. They pursue the relationship for what they can get out of it. They want the meat to satisfy their craving—their lust.
It’s no wonder that most marriages today end in divorce. Once the lust is gone or is placed elsewhere, the relationship is done. The person has served their purpose, and now they can be disposed of.
And it’s no wonder people are not even getting married anymore! Things today are just like it was in Paul’s day. Marriage at that time was something that was not necessarily the norm. Marriage was not held in high regard. People a lot of the time didn’t get married they just lived together. And we are seeing that in our day.
But we are not to enter into our relationships that way. Those of us who may be single are not to act like animals. Nor are we to let our children grow up and act like such beasts. We are to pursue marriage, and do so in a distinctively Christian way—a way of respect and dignity.
I could spend the rest of the sermon focusing on that very thing—how to pursue a relationship. But I am not. I am going to leave that to you. I only want to conclude with this: Isn’t that the way Jesus Christ has pursued his relationship with his bride—in holiness and honor? He doesn’t treat his bride like a piece of meat. He respects her, and seeks to promote her best interests. Right now even, as he yearns to be united to his bride—as he yearns to consummate his marriage—he waits patiently. He honors his bride by waiting until the day of their wedding. That is the way a relationship is to operate.
Like I said, I could say a lot more. But I have to move on. Let’s consider…
II. The Motivation: Why should we abide by this rule?
In the rest of the passage God gives us some reasons why we should abstain from sexual immorality. These reasons are here so that we might be moved to live the way God wants us to.
Whenever we were young our friends would be doing something. And we would go and ask our parents if we could do it. And they would tell us no. Then we would say, “But everyone else is doing it!” And our parents would say, “If everyone else jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you!”
That maybe how we feel. We can look around at our culture and see everyone else engaging in all sorts of debauchery. When it comes to satisfying their desires, they go right ahead. And we can be tempted to say to God, “Well, everyone else is doing it.”
And God here is much more gracious than our parents. He doesn’t give us the Brooklyn Bridge line. He gives us 4 convincing reasons why we shouldn’t just follow the crowd. Let’s run through them quickly.
In verse 6 you see the first reason. It says, “No one should wrong his brother in this matter.” We have to see that sexual immorality is not only an offense against God and against yourself. It is an offense against the person you come into contact with and against the person that they are married to (or will be married to someday). You can think of sexual immorality like you would robbery. If you rob someone you not only affect them you affect the rest of their family. It is a crime that has a lot more repercussions than we initially think.
As a matter of fact people usually think, “Aw, it doesn’t hurt anyone.” But you couldn’t be farther from the truth. It not only hurts the person we become involved with, but it scandalizes the person who they are rightly joined to.
The next reason is there in the second part of verse 6. it says that the “Lord is the avenger in all these things.” Or your version may say something about the one who punishes.
In the OT, we read of the avenger of blood. If someone was murdered, his next of kin was to become the avenger of his blood. He was to seek out the murderer and bring him to justice.
Though the OT did not have that practice with regard to sexual sins, we find that same principle being manifested here in 1 Thessalonians. And we find that God is the avenger. God will take this wrong seriously. And he exacts the punishment that it deserves.
Of course I should also point out that those who have been involved in this sin in some way can be forgiven if they repent. Just as God was gracious to receive back his people from their whoredom after other gods, he can forgive. But those who pay no regard to his command, they will find him hunting them down and making their lives miserable.
So we should avoid sexual immorality because it wrongs others, because God is the avenger, and verse 7 tells us that we should simply regard our calling in life.
It says, “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” Someone might say, “Well, I’ve got a free ticket to heaven. I’ve believed in Jesus and God has forgiven me. Now I can do whatever I want!”
But to think that way is to totally misunderstand what God has called you to. God has called you to be different [That’s basically what the word holy means—to be set apart]. You can think of it this way: Let’s say that you are in the midst of a crowd. And let’s say that this crowd is moving at a good pace down a street, like a bunch of cattle being herded into a pen. As you are walking along you hear someone yelling your name. You look all around to find out where it is coming from. Finally, you see that there is someone on the 5th floor of a building behind you. As he yells your name, you can see that he is waving his arms telling you to turn around and come to him.
So you turn around. Now you have to wade through this sea of people who are still marching in the same direction. That is what the Christian life is to be like. God has called you to be one of his people. He has called you to come join him in heaven. As a result, you are to turn from your lifestyle. You are no longer to live the way everyone else around you is living. You are to live in a radically different way.
Well, you might not be convinced. You may simply blow me off and say, “Well, that’s what you say, Matt. But you’re just old fashioned.” But God says don’t do that. Don’t blow me off. Look at the last verse, verse 8. It says, “Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
Everything I have said thus far is not based on my own opinion or personal viewpoint. It is God’s Word. God has said this, not me. If you chose to crumple up this sermon and throw it out of your mind, then you despise God and throw away His word.
In other words, if you despise God’s word, you act just like Adam and Eve in their rebellion. A&E disregarded God’s word didn’t they? They chose to live by their personal lust & craving. They chose to eat of the Tree of the knowledge of good & evil. They threw aside the word of the one who had given them life and Paradise.
You might say, “Hey, am I any better than Adam and Eve? They were perfect! How can I one up them?” You’re right. By yourself, you can’t top them. That’s why that last phrase is included: he is the God who “gives you his Holy Spirit.” You obey only because the Spirit of God enables you to obey. And God has graciously given you that Spirit. What all the more reason to submit to God’s word.
And that is where we end: Whose word will you live by? Will you live by God’s Word? Will you seek to please him by maintaining a chaste demeanor? Or will you choose to live by the dictates of your passions? Just remember this one thing: This is God’s will for your life: that you abstain from porneia and possess your spouse in holiness & honor. His will for you is that you live his way, in the mist of a culture that doesn’t.
Last week I attended a Baptist church for their evening service. As you know it was the holiday weekend. When the pastor got up in the pulpit he looked out over the sparcely populated sanctuary and said, “It looks like some people got so tied up in the July 4th weekend that they forgot that it is the Lord’s day.” He went on to say that he was going to give us a special treat: He said his sermon wasn’t going to be very long. Well, I can’t imagine what a normal sermon would be like because He went on then to preach for over a half an hour!
Either the pastor preaches for an hour each Sunday or he was lying through his teeth.
And when we read this passage this morning we may have wondered what Paul really meant when he said,
You can look and see that there are two more chapters that follow this indication of conclusion. It doesn't really seem like Paul is bringing it to a close.
Well, in a way he is bringing things to a close. This “Finally” marks a transition. In coming to Chapter 4 we must understand that we are on the down-side of the hill. Chapters 1-3 contain the bulk of Paul’s message. So the main section of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is finish. From this point on Paul begins to give some practical instructions. These are life lessons based on preceding the material.
Remember some of the things we have talked about so far. We’ve learned way back in Chapter 1 that God has elected us unto salvation. Moreover he has given us ways that we can be assured of our election. Then in chapter 2 we found that the Lord has given us his word and his ministers of that word.
With all that has been said, Paul now turns to focus on our life of faith. He encourages us to live a life that revolves around God. That’s exactly what we have in the passage before us: Here we have instructions on Living the God centered life. And the first thing we see is that we are obligated to live a God centered life. Verses 1-2 show us…
I. The absolute necessity of the God centered life [1-2]
Look at what it says. In the first verse it says “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus.” Then in the second verse it says, “For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” Do you hear him pointing to the authority of Jesus? Paul’s saying, “This not about me. I have nothing to do with this. I’m just passing on to you what Jesus said.”
The way you live isn’t dependent upon Matt Timmons. Matt Timmons is a nobody. The way you live is to be dictated by Jesus Christ. His word is supreme. We are to live a God centered life because Jesus said so.
Paul also emphasizes this by his choice of words. The first verse should read something like this, “you received from us how it is necessary for you to live so as to please God.” The NIV leaves out “it is necessary”, but most other translations at least try to express it in some way. My version uses the word “ought”—“you ought to live as God pleases”.
But you see the point. There is no other alternative for the Christian. If you take the name of Jesus upon your lips, your life is to be a God centered life. When you take the name of Jesus, you are repudiating a self-centered life, a job-centered life, or a family-centered life. Priority number one becomes living God’s way—the way he wants you to live.
Now living God’s way certainly doesn’t mean you take no concern in yourself, your job, or your family. It’s just that his word is to dictate how those things are to be conducted. How are you to take care of yourself? It’s God’s way. How is your family to function? It’s to operate God’s way.
Why is that? Because there is no other way a Christian’s life is to be lived. Think about it. If you were somehow suddenly transformed into a fish, would you still go out and play around in the back yard? Of course not. You couldn’t do it. It’s not the way fish live. It is absolutely necessary that you get in the water and start living like a fish.
Well, that is the way it is for a Christian. When you are converted, your life is radically changed. You are no longer to live the way the rest of the world lives. You are no longer to live the way you want to live. You have been transformed into a Christian. Now it is absolutely necessary that you start living like a Christian.
If we think about the God centered life only as absolutely necessary, we might think it is a little cold. “That’s just the way it is supposed to be” is not something that really makes you want to do it. The ordinary response is, “Do I have to?” Knowing that it is necessary is something, but it is not enough. So Paul when Paul talks about the God centered life, he not only talks about its absolute necessity. He also talks about its personal aim.
II. The personal aim of the God centered life [a]
In the first verse it says, “we instructed you how to live in order to please God.” Pleasing God. That is to be our personal aim.
You know, there are things in life that just are not appealing. Lima beans are one of them. Waking up early in the morning isn’t all that appealing either. But both of them are things you have to do sometimes. You have to eat your lima beans and you have to wake up early in the morning.
You might say that a God centered life does not sound appealing. We read the 10 commandments together on occaision. Have you ever been reading them and said, “Boy, that doesn’t sound like much fun at all.” That’s part of our nature. A God centered life is necessary, but a lot of the time it doesn’t sound all that appealing.
But Paul helps us here. He helps us change our attitude toward God’s law. We are to think of it as a way to please God. We are not to think of it simply as a bunch of do’s and don’ts. We are to think of it as the way we can please God. We are to think of it as a way we can make him happy.
Now doesn’t that make it more appealing? No matter what you think about God’s law. No matter how distasteful it sounds, don’t you want to please God? After all, he has done so much for you.
As a matter of fact, when you read the 10 commandments you should always read them in light of what He has done for you. How do the 10 commandments start out? It starts out saying, “I am the Lord thy God, who brought you out of Egypt.”
Every time we read those commandments we are to be reminded of what God has done for us—that he has redeemed us. He brought the Israelites out of the bondage of slavery, and he has brought us out of the bondage of our sins. “Have no other God before you” doesn’t sound all that bad now, does it? .
When we were studying the Book of Proverbs we looked at various commands. But almost every time there was a command, there was a personal motivation linked with it. “Keep God’s commands” why? “For they will prolong your life and bring you prosperity.” “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding.” Why? “Because he will make your paths straight.”
A couple of times in that series I said, “God does not say, ‘do this for me.’ He always said, ‘Do this for your own good. Do it for your own pleasure.’” His focus was always on us. It was never on himself. But I always felt like I was cheating God. On occasion I thought like saying, “Lord, you’ve done so much for us. You have given your Son Jesus over to death so that we may have life eternal. You can say, ‘Do this for me.’”
Well, I’m glad I have this passage to preach now because it says in verse 3, “This is God’s will: Your sanctification.”
God’s greatest desire is that we become holy (that’s what sanctification means “to become holy”). There is nothing he wants more—there is nothing that will please him more—than for you and I to obey his commandments.
When I was growing up, my mom would sometimes have lima beans for dinner. She didn’t do it often, but once in a while those nasty little things would show up on my plate. I admit that I didn’t usually eat them. But one time I tried to choke them down. Every bite was a chore, but I did it. The only reason I did it was because I wanted to make my mother happy. I had no other aim except to simply please my mother. If the lady in the cafeteria at school put those on my tray, they wouldn’t have a chance at getting in my mouth. But because she was my mother, I would do it.
You have a Father, a Heavenly Father. More than that you have a Father who you don’t deserve to have as your father. Jesus Christ has made it possible for you to become one of the children of God. That should give you all the more reason to make it your personal aim to please Him.
The God centered life. We have seen its absolute necessity, and its personal aim. But let us not forget the primary point of this passage. And that is…
III. The growing intensity of the God centered life
Paul’s main point is there in the last phrase of verse one: “That you do so more and more.” “We’ve taught you how to please God, and you have been doing so already. Now we encourage you to do it more and more.” There is to be a growing intensity!
You know, our tendency is to relax, to slow down. Think about your infant days in the faith. Think about the days that followed your conversion. You were on fire, weren’t you? Where are you now? Do you still have that drive to serve God? Are you still saying, “Whatever you say God!” or is it “I’ll get around to that sometime.”
You are not to decelerate in the Christian life. The older we get in the faith the more momentum we are to build up. We are to be trying to serve even more.
There is a study Bible whose note on this verse say that we are to “Daily surpass ourselves.” That’s beautiful, isn’t it? We are to daily surpass ourselves. When we wake up tomorrow, we are to seek to please God more than we did today.
Athletes often try to push themselves a little further every time they work out. If someone is jumping rope, he might try to outdo what he did last time. Last time he got 50 jumps in a row. This time he’ll try to do more. He might shoot for 60. He is always excelling. There is a growing intensity.
That is how our lives are to be lived. We should not be slouching or simply maintaining the status quo. We should be excelling.
And, like the athlete, we can even keep tally (that’s why keeping a journal is always good). You can be watching what God speaks to you about. Say you have been convicted about your grumbling. The Lord has shown you that you have a tendency to complain about certain things—the weather, the people you work with, or something else you find irritating. Now you think, “Well, the Lord has brought this into my life, and I need to deal with it. I need to begin rejoicing in this rather than complaining. So you set out to break your grumbling problem. When you find yourself doing it you say, “Lord I’m sorry. I really thank you for that. Help me not to complain about it anymore.” You might find that at first all you seem to do is repent all day long. Then when you wake up the next morning, your back at it. You are to be like a boxer coming out of his corner of the ring after the bell. You want to defeat this thing. You’re intensity should be renewed with every morning.
I mentioned keeping a journal. That is a good thing to do. Then you can see your progress. But let me talk about someone else’s journal. Jonathan Edwards once wrote a biography about a missionary named David Brainard. Edwards’ biography was built mainly on Brainard’s personal journal. And in that journal you see a man who was intensely on fire for the Lord. Each entry was either an exaltation of what God was doing in that man’s life or a lament over his sluggishness in the faith.
On April 1, 1742. Brainard wrote: "I seem to be declining, with respect to my life and warmth in divine things; have not had so free access to God in prayer to-day as usual of late. Oh that God would humble me deeply in the dust before him! I deserve hell every day, for not loving my Lord more, who has, I trust, "loved me and given himself for me”
The next day Brainard must have been fighting the fight of faith—seeking to grow more and more obedient. On April 2 he wrote: "In the afternoon I felt, in secret prayer, much resigned, calm and serene. now my soul more frequently desires … to be with Christ. Oh that my soul were wrapped up in a divine love. and my desires after God ever increased!
Brainard was a man who had a God centered life. And most certainly the intensity of that life was growing day by day. Won’t you follow in his footsteps. Won’t you seek to mimic his devotion? I urge you, like Paul urged the Thessalonians to please God more and more. Yes, he has called you to do it, but it doesn’t have to be so stale. When it becomes your personal aim—when your heart is inflamed with love and gratitude—pleasing him is all the easier.
Every night this scruffy old man would come in and pick up the Wall Street Journal.
Due to the rigors of our college academics, my wife and I spent much of our courtship time in the library. It never failed that this man, who my wife and I first mistakenly took to be a homeless man, would descend the stairs, find the paper, and sit at the table next to us.
There was something about him that made you pity him. Perhaps it was his cold demeanor. Maybe it was his disheveled clothes or the fact that age was overtaking him. Perhaps it was the feeling that you got from him that he was lonely. Whatever it was I know that Elizabeth’s pity was greater than mine. She wanted to reach out to the man.
One evening she began to converse with him. His gruff answers showed that he wasn’t much for conversation and would probably rather be left alone. But in time we came to find out that his purpose in reading the paper was to find a job. He was a former teacher and was now looking for employment.
As Elizabeth spoke with him we also came to find out that he was an atheist—He did not believe in God. Our pity for the man increase all the more, but at the same time our curiosity was perked as well—We had never met a real atheist before. Seeing that the conversation was beginning to move in a spiritual direction, Elizabeth jumped at the opportunity and asked him the first Evangelism Explosion question: “If you were to die tonight, what will happen to you.” In the cold and gruff manner that was characteristic of him he responded by saying, “I’ll rot.”
The conversation didn’t last much longer, and our hopes of reaching out to this man basically fizzled with the conversation. But that incident left a significant mark in my mind. It was my first real encounter with another worldview—a worldview that offers no hope in life or in death. And I can never stop thinking about how sad a funeral must be for him and for his loved ones. And it made me realize that one place where Christians must differ from the world, is by the graveside.
As we come to this passage this morning, we find this truth being asserted. We see from the first verse that the Thessalonians were not differing from the world at the graveside, but were in fact mimicking them. They were experiencing excessive grief for the loss of their loved ones.
And so the Apostle Paul writes to comfort the grieving saints. And through these words the Lord builds our hope in the afterlife. As Christians, we have the comfort of knowing that life does not end in death. We have hope—hope for life after life. And from this passage before us we see that our hope is based on gospel realities, is strengthened by prophetic revelation, is sustained through corporate encouragement.
The first thing we find when we look at our passage is that our hope…
I. Is based on gospel realities
Read with me the opening verses. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”
Paul says that the cure for their despair is found in the redemptive acts of Jesus. Jesus died, but death had no power over him. God raised him from the dead. And we know that after he rose again, he went to the Father’s right hand. And there he sits, waiting the day to come again.
Why does Paul point this out? It is because the life of a believer is bound up with the life of Christ. We who trust in him have been united to him in his death and resurrection, and ascension. We participate with him in these acts. Since Christ has by these acts opened the door to heaven, we do not need to despair of death. We can have the confidence that when we die, we will not slip into some underworld or simply cease to exist. No, since Christ has conquered death and resides in heaven, our souls shall be ushered into his arms when we die.
So Paul is pointing out the glory of what is sometimes called “The Intermediate State.” Our catechism talks about this intermediate state and summarizes what Paul says here. In question 37 it asks, “What benefits do believers receive from Christ at their death?” Answer: “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory, and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.”
Now, that should make death sound a little different to us. Most people fear death. And a lot of people try to comfort themselves by making up some sort of afterlife or saying they will go to heaven. But all they do is fool themselves. They have no ground for their belief.
But as Christians do not have to have any fear in death. That’s because Christ has overcome it and given us life. As a matter of fact, we who trust Christ can go so far as to say with Paul, “death is far better.” (Phil. 2) Why is that? Because we have been united to Jesus. When we die we get to be with Him in paradise. Certainly we are not to seek death—that would be a violation of the 6th commandment. But death can sound somewhat desirable to us. That’s because we have the full assurance that we will be made perfect and no longer exposed to the miseries of this life.
I was once talking to a pastor and he told be about the different experiences he has had at the bedside of people who were dying. He said that there is often a distinct contrast between the believer and unbeliever in their last moments of life. He said that one time he was at the bedside of an unbeliever. The person was slipping away and they knew it. As their life came closer and closer to the end he said that they became more and more agitated. Then at the last moment the person’s eyes widened and a look of horror came over them. But he said that was so different from his experience at the side of believers who were passing away. The pastor said it was so peaceful--as though they were falling asleep.
The gospel made all the difference in the world. Knowing that they belonged in life and in death, in body and in soul, to their faithful Savior Jesus Christ enabled them to look death in the eye and smile. And it can do the same for us. It can give us the same kind of hope.
But, you know what? The Lord is good. He not only tells us that our hope is grounded in gospel realities. We also find that our hope is strengthened by prophetic revelation.
II. Our hope is strengthened with prophetic revelation
Paul goes on in verses 15, 16, & 17 to talk about the second coming of Christ. He doesn’t tell us of the past—He could have stopped there. But the Lord knows our weakness. And so he goes one to strengthen our hope by giving us a glimpse into the future. These verses contain a prophetic revelation that tells us about the resurrection.
Really he has hinted about it already. In the verses we just looked at Paul talked about our bodies sleeping. That is language that talks about death. The Christian’s body will one day rise again, almost as if it is awakened. And then in verses 15-17 we see it fleshed out (pardon the pun) a bit more.
We are told that there will be a resurrection. And this resurrection has a certain order to it. Those who have died and whose souls are with Christ will come back with him and be reunited to their bodies. They will, as it says in verse 16, be the first ones to experienced glorified bodies. Then those of us who are left will be caught up to be with the Lord.
Now, I need to emphasize something with regard to this passage. I need to emphasize that this is a real event. This will be something that will happen in time and space. Reading it may sound like science fiction. And there are a lot of people who profess to be Christians who don’t really believe in the physical, historical second coming of Jesus.
You can find this in a lot of mainline churches. In the late 19th & early 20th century there were some theologians who began to deny the second coming of Christ. They would say that those places that the Bible talks about a second coming of Christ are places where the Apostle was wrong or some mythology that the early church made up. But they deny this mainly because they can’t bring themselves to believe in supernatural events. And their denial of this event has the potential to shatter one’s hope.
But what Paul is talking about here is not made up or an error. As a matter of fact, he even points to the Lord’s authority on it. He says in verse 15, “This we declare, by the word of the Lord.” This is not Paul’s imagination; he is resting on what God himself said. This is a real and true prophetic revelation.
Now, when my daughter first started going to Pre-school, she sometimes would cry. She didn’t want my wife to leave her. So Elizabeth would often have to comfort her by telling her that she would come back for her after school was out.
So, if she needed to, my daughter could console herself throughout the day. If she began to get teary eyed, she could just say, “Mommy said she would be back to get me.” Now, if she did that, would she be making it up? Of course not. She is depending on the authority of her mother. And because of that authority her fears could be alleviated.
The same is true for the Christian. We believe that Christ will return, not because Paul said it, but because Christ himself said it. The One who possesses all authority over heaven and earth, over time and space—He is the one we put our confidence in. We have hope in eternal life, bodily life, because he said he will come and renew all things.
We confessed earlier the Hidelberg Catechism. The question was asked, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” And we responded by saying “That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”
We might be tempted to say, “Yes, our souls mean so much to God that he would not let them slip into oblivion.” But that is only half true. Our bodies mean a lot to him too. He created us, body and soul. And he will redeem us, body and soul. Our bodies, just as much as our souls, belong to him. Gazing into the future tells us that we shall be wholly redeemed. Not one part of us will be disregarded. The only thing that will be left out, is our sin, when he takes us to be his.
So far we have seen that our hope in the future life is based on gospel realities, and strengthened by prophetic revelation. But let us also remember that our hope for future life is sustained by corporate encouragement.
III. Is sustained through corporate encouragement
Look at the last verse of chapter 4. Verse 18 says, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
Isn’t that a great exhortation? That is a great way to end a passage that is trying to console people who are ailing. Our hope is bolstered by each other. Each of us is to serve as a buttress to each other’s faith.
You know, when we most need to think about the future, that is when we are least likely to think about it. Isn’t it? When we are in the times of greatest affliction, isn’t that when we are most likely to be thinking more about or problem than the solution?
That’s why we need each other. We need someone to come alongside us and point us to what we should be thinking about. We need someone to say, “Hey, remember what the Bible says.”
In our day we need to remember that it is our duty to present these truths concerning the resurrection and life with Christ. We are living in a day where Christians don’t know much about the Bible or haven’t been trained in theology. And we can easily see how a believer could slip into ungodly grief like the Thessalonians did. The Thessalonians were simply living like the pagans of their day. They weren’t thinking “Christianly” about death. Someone in our day, where there is a panoply of worldviews and an array of beliefs concerning the after life, could easily intermix their theology, and, as a result, be on the brink of despair.
But this passage is not just useful for comforting the grieving, it can be used to console Christians who have suffered severe injustices.
You probably didn’t catch it, but remember the situation of the Thessalonians at this time. They were being persecuted for their faith. Wouldn’t you despair if you were suffering like that and there was no hope of justice? This passage points to the justice we will one day receive.
Some of this has been obscured in our day. A lot of Christians today think that this refers to a secret rapture-- that is a time when Christians disappear from the earth for several years and unbelievers are left behind. This view has become popular by the recent Left Behind books written by LaHaye & Jenkins.
But let’s think through this passage: Really there is nothing secret about this, is there? It sounds very public. There are trumpets announcing the coming of Christ. There is shouting—all sorts of clamor. And it doesn’t say that Christ comes and takes people away, does it?
Really if you understand something about ancient times you understand that Christ comes back and stays. In ancient times a King would have to go away from his kingdom for a time. But he would always return. And when he did, the lookouts perched on the city walls would spot him in the distance. The watchman would then alert the rest of the city. He would blow trumpets and begin shouting to announce the king’s arrival. Then all the people of the city would all go out together to meet the king and escort him back to his throne. Once the king was back he would take up his business again of setting straight his kingdom. Those who had done wrong during the time that he was gone would be brought to him and he would give their sentence.
Our passage has that imagery in mind when it talks about the second coming of Christ. Our king will not grab his people and fly away. No, all his people will rally to him. And once he takes his throne he will execute justice once and for all.
You can imagine the Thessalonians saying, “Now there’s my hope!” And Christians could come along side of those who were grieving lost loved ones or those who were suffering for their faith. They could point their despondent friends to the truth of Christ’s ultimate triumph over death and evil.
We too need to remember that we have been bonded together. When we were united to Christ, we were united to His people too. Now we are charged with the duty of taking care of one another. We are charged with the duty of sustaining one another’s hope. Hope is as fragile as an autumn leaf. And if we aren’t there for one another, someone can end up suffering an unnecessary mental torture. But if we are there for them we can ease their woes and restore their hope.
You know, life is a lot like a jigsaw puzzle at times. When you start a jigsaw puzzle all the pieces are scattered out in front of you and it seems like there is no hope of things ever coming together. But in a matter of time all the pieces are put in place and a beautiful scenery is laid before you.
Yes, in a matter of time all the broken pieces of life will be straightened. Our bodies will be restored to their rightful state, and we will enjoy life as it was first meant to be. And all the injustices will be set in order. And we will spend eternity in the most beautiful place, the place where Christ is.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear my good friend Jason Strong preach. He began his message with one of the most dramatic introductions I have ever heard.
He said this, “My life was affected by a decision that was made in the 1640’s.”
He could renounce his Protestantism and continue to live his life uninterrupted, or he could rot in an English prison, or he could move to the New World and begin a life of exile in America.
He chose the latter, and he came to America without having anything except his family and his Bible. Pastor Strong then went on to recount how that decision had repercussions for the next 400 years. From that man came a long line of godly men who devoted themselves to the service of God. It is interesting to hear how many ministers and elders came from that family over the course of that time. Some of you might even be familiar with Strong’s Concordance. That was developed by one of Great Grampa Strong’s descendants.
But it all began with Great Grampa Strong. It all began with a man who had an unwavering devotion to Christ, and a desire to see it flourish for generations to come.
It is interesting to see how the history there is not just a tail of the the Strong family, but it is a testimony to Strong faith!
The story of the Strong Family fits in well with our study in the Book of Genesis. For in this study we’ve been tracing the stories of two family lines. We’ve heard about the heritage of the the faithful and the faithless. That is to say, we’ve been looking at God’s family and we’ve heard the story of Satan’s family.
And this morning I we are going to talk a little more about that. I want you to realize that faith and family are two things that typically go hand in hand. The passages that we read today show how family and faith are often interlocked.
I began our reading with Chapter 5 because I thought it is important that we go back and hit one point we skipped over last week. I want you to be sure to notice how the faith was preserved. If Chapter 5 tells us anything, it tells us that God blesses faithful families.
I. How the faith was preserved / God blesses faithful families
Chapter 5 is all about a godly family line. Each of these men were guys who feared God. More than that, he is a man who was no doubt diligent to train his children to do the same. How do I know that? I believe that something is said right there in the first three verses. Chapter 5 opens by telling us that God created man in his image. And then it goes on to say that Adam bore a son in his own image. Seth was born after the likeness of his father.
What does it mean that born in the likeness of his father? Why wasn’t Cain born in the likeness of Adam? What is the difference between the two?
James Montgomery Boices says that it is significant because it introduces the heritage of godly line. Boice says that Seth “retained the likeness of Adam in that he followed Adam’s lead in the worship of the true God.”
Really, what you have here in Chapter 5 is a testimony of grace in the home. Here in chapter 5 we have a string of men who no doubt were diligent to disciple their children in the fear of God.
Of course, we recognize that this godly seed is due primarily to the working of grace in the hearts of these men. But we cannot doubt too that this chapter is a testimony to how God often blesses the efforts of parents.
Think about it: Seth didn’t just come out of the womb saying, “Praise the Lord!” No. He had to be taught that. Especially given the society that he lived in. Things were probably not too different from what it is like now. The line of Cain was increasing just as rapidly, and the pressures to conform to the idolatry of his time was no doubt prevalent.
How then did Seth and his children come to believe? It had to be because they were taught the fear of God. They had to have spent time with their children. They had to have talked about the things of the Lord on a regular basis. They taught them about the promises of God that they heard from their fathers, and the mom’s sought to inculcate in them spiritual truth.
The kids were able to replicate the faith of their parents because they had been steeped in it as grew up.
And I just want to take this opportunity to remind you that this is the normal way God works in the world. Yes, God can use evangelistic meetings and big tent revivals. Yes, God can draw people to himself from every corner of the earth. But his normal way of extending and preserving the faith is though godly men and women training up godly sons and daughters. And that’s the way it has been ever since the beginning of time.
It is my hope that you have the same vision as Adam and Enoch and all these other men. It is my hope that you may be able to say with the apostle Paul, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.”
Now, as we skip ahead to Chapter 6, we are going to see something very different. If chapter 5 tells us about how the faith was preserved, chapter 6 tells us of how the faith was lost.
II. How the faith was lost / God curses faithless people
Chapter 6 starts off by telling us that the “sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.” Then it goes on to talk about the Nephilim, and it seems to indicate that these Nephilim were the product of these marriages.
Now, historically speaking, there are two ways this verse can be taken. It depends on how you interpret the phrase “sons of God.”
There is a line of interpretation that takes this to mean that fallen angels came down to earth and began to intermarry with human women. It sounds rather sci-fi, I know. But there are many respectable theologians who hold to this position.
Why do they say this? The main reason is that the phrase “sons of God” is used three other times in the Bible. And each time it is used in reference to angels. For instance, those of you who are familiar with the book of Job know that it says that the “sons of God presented themselves before the Lord” and Satan himself came among them. That is a clear reference to spirit beings.
Now there are a number of other reasons take this this line of interpretation. I’m not going to go into them because they are rather involved and technical in nature. This is the main reason for their argument though.
But their point is this: Here you have the battle between Satan and the seed of the woman. What better way for Satan to wipe out mankind than by creating a mixed hybrid of humanoid and demonic being.
Whatever you think of this view, you have to give these people a great deal of credit. They are to be commended because they are seeking to be Biblical and they are trying to interpret Scripture with Scripture. That’s very good.
There is another line of interpretation though. This view says that the phrase “sons of God” indicates those who were the descendants of the Sethites. In other words, they were they children of the godly line. So this view says that the people of God began to apostatize. Instead of being faithful and marrying women who feared God, they went after the “daughters of men” (i.e. women who were of the line of Cain and not inclined towards God at all). You might say that they married for looks rather than for faith.
So what you have here is a great apostasy. The faith was lost because the homes were no longer centered on Christ.
We are warned a number of times of this in Scripture. The most vivid example is that of Solomon. You remember that Solomon took wives from all the nations around him and eventually he was led astray by them. A lesser known story is that of Balaam. Balaam was called upon to curse the people of God. He tried to, but it didn’t work. So he implemented plan B. Balaam said, “If you want to get rid of these people, here’s what you do: Go and marry them. Begin to intermingle with them and lead them away from their God that way.”
Paul tells us that we should not be unequally yoke with unbelievers. And for good reason. It is because apostasy is the normal product of such relationships. And I want you young people to remember this. You need to understand that as you seek a spouse, you need to seek a man or a woman who fears God. That’s not something you can compromise on.
If you latch on to a guy who doesn’t love Jesus—or if you start developing a relationship with a girl who isn’t walking with the Lord, then you are making a serious error. And just how serious is seen right here.
In verse 3 the Lord says, “My spirit shall not abide with man forever…his days shall be 120 years.”
Now again, there is some difference of opinion as to what this means. Some take this to mean that men will not live to be 8-900 years old anymore. Instead man’s lifespan will be 120 years at the most.
But I believe that this is talking about how long it would be until the flood comes. Think about it: God is mad. He is being provoked by people who are turning from him and chasing idolatrous women. And when God gets mad, he usually talks judgment. That is why I believe that this number is God’s time frame for the flood. He’s saying, “Don’t think that I will allow sin to go unpunished forever. I’m only going to permit it for so long. Eventually, you will meet your just dues.”
And you must therefore understand that the Lord will not tolerate anyone who flippantly disregards him or turns away from him. The Lord has promised to come again, and he will once again wipe the earth. He will not be cleansing it with water. He will cleanse it with fire. And everything that is foul in his eyes will be removed.
Perhaps then you are wondering about your present estate. You recognize that the relationships that you have entered into have not been pleasing in God’s sight. Perhaps you have been one who has turned away from the Lord in the past. What then? Hearing this news of his coming judgment will likely make you uneasy.
If that is your case, then I want you to focus your attention upon what is said in the last part of Chapter 5.
In verse 29 Lamech says of his son Noah, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one will breing us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”
Lamech hoped that his son would be that promised seed who would remove the curse that came upon the earth due to Adam’s sin.
In a sense, Noah did bring that hoped for relief. The world was wiped and there was a renewal of the world through those waters. But it was not complete by any means. The toils and pains of the curse were still widespread even after Noah’s day.
That is why these words point us ultimately to the Lord Jesus Christ. It was Jesus that is spoken of here, the one who brings relief from our works in his death on the cross. As he died he underwent the curses of God, he endured the wipe. And it is he who promises to bring us the full redemption of the world.
The story is told of one of the fires that raged across the plains out west, as they often do. On one farm there was a hen been scourged by the flames that was running here and there had. Yet it had not yet exhausted its life. Finally, the charred bird collapsed, dead. Then, out from under its wing came a few chicks. Though the mother had been had been so deeply singed, they were completely unharmed by the flames.
So it is with anyone who is found to be in the Lord Jesus Christ. When the fires of Judgment come, you will not be touched. For Christ has brought you relief.
Just to let you know, this is not the position that I hold. I think that there are some problems with this line of reasoning. For one, we know that the angels and spirit beings are not sexually driven creatures. Remember, Jesus said that at the resurrection we won’t’ be given in marriage, but we will be like the angels. The idea there is that angels they are not made to copulate. They don’t have a sex drive or the ability to reproduce.
What’s more is that this view fails to take into consideration the immediate context of the book of Genesis. The context is telling us of the two different lines, a godly line and an ungodly one. The seed of Satan has already been defined as men who are under the power and dominion of Satan by virtue of their sin. The seed of the woman are those who live by faith.
Again, more could be said. But I think it is sufficient for now to say that
At first glance, there might not seem like there’s a lot to the passage. But my goal today to help you see that this is not just a list of hard to pronounce names and a bunch of begats. These verses contain a great deal of solid doctrine. And I hope that by the time we are done you’ll see that this passage speaks volumes as it deals with one of our greatest problems as humans.
And as we begin, we really need to start with addressing the numbers we find in this text. For they may sound a little problematic.
I. The Supposed Problem in the text
When you read this and hear it saying that people lived to be 8 and 900 years old, it’s likely that your first reaction is to say, “Is that for real?”
And I will admit to you that this one of the reasons that a lot of people don’t actually believe the first 11 chapters of Genesis are truly legit. A lot of people out there today say that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are not to be taken as real history. They would say that this stuff is more legendary or mythological in nature; the real stuff starts up with Abraham in Genesis 12.
And it is agreed, we’ve got some pretty fantastic stuff in these first 11 chapters, don’t we? We have an instantaneous creation. That God spoke and everything popped into existence sounds rather absurd to the modern man. To the guy who has been told that that kind of thing just simply cannot happen, it will sound a little loony.
And in a few weeks we are going to be talking about a world-wide flood that wiped out the world’s population. That’s rather hard to swallow for a lot of people. It sounds just a little too farfetched. And that is just another reason why they shy away from taking this stuff seriously.
And here, you have this tale of people living almost a millennium. That’s a lot of candles on the birthday cake! To the modern man, that’s going to be a little bonkers! It goes against all our experience. And they say, “We all know that people can’t live that long, right? We know that you’re lucky if you get to be 90 years old.”
These numbers just sound a little too unbelievable to a lot of people. So a lot of people just say that these first 11 chapters are not a real recounting of actual history. They would rather say that these chapters are to be taken as neat little stories that have been made up to teach us some nice little faith lessons.
Now, there is another group of people that we should be aware of. There are others, who are a little more serious about the Bible. There are others who want to try and keep the integrity of Scripture. They don’t want to write it off as fictional. But, they are not to the point where they want to accept it outright either. It still sounds a little too far fetched to them. So they say that what we have here is a textual boo-boo. These would say, yes these are real people with real lives, but they really didn’t live 8 and 900 years. In their opinion, what must have happened is some overly zealous scribe somewhere along the line who tacked another number on the end or moved the decimal point. So, they say that Adam really didn’t live 930 years. He lived 93 years. That sounds more reasonable, doesn’t it?
So what do we do? Do we write this off as fiction? Or do we try and blame a monk for messing with the text? Or do we do something crazy and actually believe that what is said here is true? Could these men really have lived this long? Or do we try to find some other way around this?
Sure we can!
There is a very easy way to explain this. Why can’t we say that men lived this long? I mean, we were originally designed to live forever! If you think about it that way, 900 years is not so long in comparison to eternity.
What’s more, in this early stage of history the conditions could have easily allowed men to live this long. There would not have been a lot of disease at this point. Sin is still relatively new on the scene and its ravages probably have not yet come to full bloom.
What’s more, the flood has not yet occurred. It may very well be that the flood, having the drastic effects on the world that it did, radically changed the environment. The tides that over ran the earth might have some how limited the living conditions and made it so that men could not live as long as they did prior to the flood.
So yes, men could indeed live this long. There is no problem with the text. And there is no reason to try and explain it any differently than what is actually recorded here.
What I find extraordinary is that these so called “scholars” miss the real problem in the text. You know, Spurgeon once said that most Ph.D.’s are fiddle-dee-D’s. That’s true. They make much out of nothing, and they completely miss the real problem that is leaping out of the text!
II. The Real Problem in the text
The real problem is not how long they lived; the problem is that they didn’t live any longer! The real problem is that they died!
The passage is a reminder of the curse of the fall and inescapable consequences of sin! You hear it again and again: And he died. And he died. And he died. You almost get the feeling that this isn’t so much a genealogy as it is a record of names that you would find at a morgue or a cemetery. These are not so much records of births as it is records of deaths!
This text forces you to come to terms with this dire reality. In the day you eat it you shall surely die. From dust you came, and to dust you shall return! This passage reminds us that the wages of sin is death. Death came through one man, and so all died.
And there is nothing you can do about it.
Even good old Methuselah! Here you have the oldest guy who ever lived. He chalked up 969 years. He is the epitome of human vigor. You would think that if anyone could do it, it was Methuselah. Now it took a long time, but eventually even he succumbed to it!
And this is a reminder to you that you are going to die. I don’t care how many carrots you eat. You can jog 60 miles a week and take your multi-vitamin religiously every single day. But you cannot avoid the inevitable. You are going to die.
Lately there have been some rather preposterous proposals, to say the least. Not too long ago a certain scientific magazine came out and said that in less than 40 years technology will have advanced so far that we will achieve immortality. No kidding.
You can check it out for yourself. There are scientists who are saying that we will one day be able to preserve the neurological functions in our brains, long after our bodies wear out. They say that we are already able to make robots move with our brainwaves. It is said that there have been people who are paralyzed who have had implants put in their skulls. And they have actually controlled robotic movements in machines hundreds of miles away.
And they say that in less than 40 years we will be able to transfer our brains into a robotic body and therefore avoid the reality of death.
But I got news for you. It’s not going to happen. Maybe there is something to what they say. But don’t think for a moment that science or technological advancements will give you any hope of skipping out on dying.
That’s because death is not just a physical, natural reality. It is not an evolutionary phenomena. It isn’t just because our bodies just wear out with time. Death is unavoidable because it is a curse. It is due to the fact that there is this thing we call sin. We die because the wages of sin is death.
When I read this text I am reminded of what Don Quixote’s side kick said in the book Don Quixote. Sancho said, “When death comes knocking at the door she is always in a hurry and nothing will stop her, not prayers or struggles nor scepters or miters.”
It is true. We might be able to put it off for a while, but eventually it will come.
And were it not for what is said here about Enoch, this text would be very dismal.
III. The Proposed Solution
You noticed that in this list there is one man who never enters the graveyard. It is the story of Enoch, which is found in verses 21-24. It says, “Enoch walked with God and he was not, for God took him.”
There is a ray of hope for us here in this passage. In the midst of all the corpse—in the midst of the graveyard, there is one man still standing. In fact, the oldest man in the Bible is not Methuselah. It’s Enoch. Because Enoch never died.
What is said here almost makes it sound like he was stolen. It says that “God took him.” The book of Hebrews records for us that “Enoch was taken up so that he could not see death and he was not found.” (Heb. 11:5)
It reminds us that though death be a bold faced reality, it is not the last say for the Christian. This passage doesn’t just remind us of death. It reminds us that our flesh is in heaven.
Just think how this was a testimony to the saving graces of God back then. People are dying all around, but one day Enoch is out with his family; Methusalah and his other sons and daughters were no doubt hanging around with him doing their normal activities. And all of a sudden they see him being taken up into the sky.
Right there they are reminded that the gospel promise is real and true. God will redeem us. Sin will be conquered and death will be vanquished.
Of course, we know the rest of the story. We know that this event points us to the resurrection. Our bodies will one day come up from the grave because Jesus himself was raise from the dead.
Technically Enoch is not allowed in heaven. God demands that there be death. He has to die. There has to be death. And that is why this passage points forward to Christ. Jesus Christ died in his place. And Jesus conquered death by rising again. Then, in the book of Acts, we are told of how Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus replicated what happened right here with Enoch.
And this is what makes Enoch’s entrance into heaven legit. And it is what gives us hope that we too will one day overcome death and see the redemption of our bodies.
1st Thessalonians reminds us that one day we will all will be raised. When Christ appears, those who are dead shall be lifted out of their graves. And we who are left will be taken up, just like Enoch, to meet the Lord in the air. On that day we shall all say, “Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.