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.
During his administration President Woodrow Wilson had the privilege of being the one who united the Atlantic and Pacific ocean. With the push of a button, he detonated the explosives over 4,000 miles away which blew up the last barrier on the Panama Canal. Thus he brought to completion the tremendous tasks engineers had been engaged in for so many years.
When we look into the Bible we find that this same sort of thing will one day happen to the world. The barrier between heaven and earth will be removed, Christ shall descend from heaven, and Man and God will meet.
Certainly, of all the events in history, that will be the most remarkable. As a matter of fact, it will be the climax of history. It will be the culmination of God’s plan of redemption. Everything before it is build up. Everything after it will be epilogue. The Bible testifies to the magnitude of this day by simply calling it ‘The day of the Lord.’ You find it all through the Scriptures.
And we find that phrase here in our passage this morning. Throughout this section of the book of Thessalonians the Apostle Paul has been talking about Jesus’ return to earth. He emphasizes how it is going to be a glorious thing for those of us who believe in Christ. It will be like a reunion of two lovers.
But in the section that we read we have a very different take on Christ’s coming. We see that for some people it isn’t going to be all that glorious. As a matter of fact, the picture presented here is quite grim. For this passage teaches us about how the day of the Lord will affect those who have not sought to follow Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you are here this evening and you are one such person. Perhaps you have never really given Christ the time of day. You might not have anything against him, but you’ve never given your life to him either. If you are such a person, I want you to pay particularly close attention to what is said here about the Day of the Lord. Because what you don’t know will hurt you.
It is important that you understand something about this “Day of the Lord” that is coming It is important that you know something of its timing, its terror, and its tragedy.
The question that we may ask this evening is “What is it we are to know about this Day of the Lord?” Well, the first thing we should know is that its timing is unknowable.
I. Its timing is unknowable
Our passage is very clear about this. Look at what it says in the first verse, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
Paul didn’t need to write about it because the Thessalonians already knew that the day of the Lord was unpredictable. Perhaps Paul talked about this when he was with them. Or perhaps they had heard what Jesus himself had said about his second coming. Jesus said, no one knows the day or time, not the angels in heaven or the Son of Man. Jesus readily admitted that he didn’t even know when he would return.
One thing that can be said though is that it will come like a “thief in the night.” Some people say take this as a reference to the rapture. They say, “What does a thief do? A thief steals. He takes things away.” And so they say that Jesus comes to steal his people away. But that is not what is being talked about here. This is not talking about Jesus stealing his people. Paul is not talking about what Jesus will do when he comes. He is talking about when Jesus will come.
When he says that it will be “like a thief in the night” he means that it will happen when no one is expecting it. When someone comes to rob your house, he comes while you are sleeping—when you are least expecting someone to come to your house.
So we cannot know when the Lord is coming. But this has not stopped people from trying to figure it out. While I was in seminary someone brought a book to class entitled 88 reasons why Christ will come back in 1988. Obviously they were wrong. And the second edition, 89 reasons why Christ will come back in 1989, did not sell as well as the first edition.
People have always tried to predict the day of the Lord. Cults are especially known for this. The Jehovah’s Witness, and the Seventh Day Adventists are particular examples. The Seventh Day Adventists have predicted Christ’s coming more than 7 times. The first time it happened, people sold their property and didn’t bother cultivating their farms. You can imagine that they suffered more than disappointment when it didn’t happen. They were stricken with poverty! (Recently there has been another fellow, by the name of Harold Camping who said that Christ will come on May 21st. I’m banking on that one. Our wedding anniversary is on the 22nd and I can use that as an excuse not to buy her a gift!)
All kidding aside. What is clear is that you cannot know when Christ will come. And the element of surprise should wake you up. A lot of people put Christ off. They say, “Oh, well, I’ll get religious when I get older.” Maybe you are that kind of person.
Or maybe you’ve just been toying with Christianity lately. You’ve kind of been on the fringe. You’re not sure if you want to commit your life to Christ or not. Well my friend, you better not dilly-dally with this decision. You don’t know when he will come.
As far as we know, Christ could come this very night. And when he comes there are no second chances. It is like this:
Suppose you were a citizen in a certain kingdom. Suppose you had just come back to your country after being away on a business trip. But as you get to the gates of you city you meet a friend you haven’t seen for a while and you begin to chat. As you are talking the king of that dominion comes to the gate and says, “Very soon I am going to close this gate.” You acknowledge the King and perhaps even give a wave to him to show that you heard him. But you don’t respond. You continue your conversation. Now suppose the king comes a second time and makes the same announcement. You get the picture that the doors won’t be open much longer. But you just have one more thing you need to tell your friend.
Then, just as you are wishing your friend goodbye you hear a loud bang. You turn to see that the steel gates have just crashed shut. Now you are left out in the cold of the night. You see your desperate situation. You know that the wolves will soon be out looking for dinner. So you run and start banging on the gates. You yell and cry out, pleading that they be opened. But the response comes, “I told you that they would be shut! Now you must live with the consequences of your laziness.”
If you are here this evening, know that Christ will most certainly come. We do not know exactly when, but he will. And when he does, the doors of the kingdom will be closed. You will have to live with the consequences of your actions (or inaction as the case may be).
The day of the Lord is going to be a surprise—its timing is unknowable. But, as our passage talks about the day of the Lord, it not only talks about its time, it also talks about its terror. And it says that its terror will be unbearable.
II. Its terror is unbearable
Look at verse 3. It says, “While people are saying, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them.”
Most likely Paul is drawing on the book of Jeremiah when he wrote this. There are many parallels. In chapter 6 of that book Jeremiah writes about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah said that people will be going around saying, “Peace, Peace, when there is no peace.” But what happened. Those people were destroyed. They wouldn’t listen to God’s Word, so they were destroyed along with the rest of Jerusalem when the Babylonians swept through.
You can say that that was a “day of the Lord.” People would not listen to the Word of God, and they suffered for it. And that day foreshadows the final and ultimate day of the Lord. Wicked people will be saying, “Everything is fine. We have nothing to fear. God’s cool. He’s not going to do anything to harm me. Why would he do that?” And when they are least expecting it, they will be swept away.
Do you remember 9/11? I’m sure you do. I bet you remember that it was a beautiful day. I remember it was in Indiana where we were. I remember sitting in class and staring out the window, just wanting to be outside enjoying the day. And it was a glorious day in NY too. The sun was radiating throughout the city. People were going about their normal business. Then, wham, the first plane struck. Then the second plane struck. Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, the towers folded in upon themselves and crumbled to the ground.
When they were least expecting it, destruction came upon them. That is a lot like it will be on the day of the Lord. Those who do not follow Jesus Christ—anyone who does not regard his word—will be devastated in the day of judgment.
When Jesus was on earth he said it will be like the days of Noah. People will be going about their normal activities—they will be marrying and being given in marriage. Then the floods came. Jesus said its going to be just like that, “Two will be in the field, one will be taken—i.e. he will be destroyed, swept way and cast into hell—and the other left. Two will be grinding grain, one will be taken and the other will be left.”
Surely, the day of the Lord is a sweet thing to those of us who love the Lord. But not so for the unbeliever. For them it will be terrible. Its terror will be unbearable. One second they will be enjoying the Lord’s gracious favor—they will be enjoying life on earth, having a glorious time—then the next second they will be subjected to the pains of hell. They will be ever dying, but never dead. They will be ever perishing, but never lifeless. Every second will be filled with unimaginable agony.
Hell will never be something someone “gets used to.” You know, when you are injured, you get used to the pain. It hurts, but there comes a point when it hurts, but you are used to the hurting. That won’t be what it is like in hell. Every moment will be unbearable. But perhaps the most agonizing moment will be right at the moment Christ comes. The shock will simply paralyze.
When it is dark out, and someone jumps out and scares you, that first instant of shock is the worst. You’re heart feels like it stops. When you are caught, as it were, with you hands in the cookie jar, that moment is horrendous, isn’t it. That is how it will be for those who have not turned from their sins. Christ will catch them in their unrepentance.
The terror of the event is increased by the words, “none will escape.” Have you ever watched that show, “Cops?” It’s a show that follows the police on their adventures. The criminal sees the police and is terrified. So he begins to run, and a chase ensues. He tries to run because there is a chance he can escape.
But there will be no escape for the unbeliever. Christ will appear, terror will fill his eyes. He will look for a place to hide, but there will be none. Jesus even says that they will run into the caves and call for the rocks to fall upon them. In that moment, they think that death would be better for them. But even death will not serve as a refuge. They will not escape.
If you are not in Christ, then you must understand that there is only one way to escape the wrath to come. It is only by turning to Christ now and forsaking your life of sin and unbelief. If you do not, then all will be lost.
And that leads us to the last thing the passage says about the day of the Lord. The timing is unknowable, its terror is unbearable, and its tragedy is undeniable.
III. Its tragedy is undeniable
Look at the verse three again. It says this day comes upon the unbeliever “as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman.”
Now every woman who is pregnant knows that someday she will go into labor and her baby will come forth. But no one knows when that will be. Even today, with all of our technology, the doctor can only say, “This is when we think it will happen.”
We may know that it is coming, but we don’t know when it will come.
The same is true for the day of the Lord. I submit to you that everyone in the world, believer and unbeliever alike, knows that there will be a day of the Lord. Everyone knows that there will be a day of reckoning—a day when we are all called to account for our actions. That knowledge is embedded deep within our hearts. The question is whether or not we chose to act on that knowledge or ignore it.
Think about it. We see injustices around us all the time, right? And we know that those things are wrong. We know they deserve to be punished.
Moreover, we know that we have done things that are morally wrong. And we know that those things should be punished too.
Just like that woman who knows that her baby must be born sometime, everyone knows that there is a God, and He shall come forth at some point too. And everyone knows that He is a righteous God who will come to judge those who have done wrong.
And that is the tragedy. Wicked people know it, but won’t acknowledge it. They won’t admit that the Lord is coming and they won’t seek him out so that they might find favor with him while there is still time.
Just think: a criminal who is the least bit sensitive to his guilt will throw himself upon the mercy of the judge. One who knows himself to be guilty, and stubborn in the face of his condemnation, is absurd. Yet this is how the wicked person acts. They just throw it all aside. They choose to ignore all of it and act as if nothing is going to happen.
How foolish it is! And how tragic it will be.
How I must appeal to you here today if you have not been converted. Don’t go on in your stupidity. The Lord is gracious in giving you time to repent. You need to wake up. This terrible day is not yet upon us. It is not yet the day of the Lord. It is still the day of salvation. You need to look to the Lord and find mercy.
Don’t be foolish and say, “Oh, all that is just silliness.” You shouldn’t deny what you know in your heart of hearts to be true. It would be a tragedy to let the day come. But it would be an even worse tragedy, when you look back and say, “I heard the preacher say the day was coming. I heard him say I could have avoided these agonies. I could have found safety, but no, I brushed it aside as ridiculous talk.” Oh how terrible that would be. How tragic it would be!
Jesus told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. There was a rich man who enjoyed all the comforts of life. He ate well, he had a great big house. Most likely, because he was a Jew, he was trained in the ways of the Lord. All that time he was told that one day he would die and have to face his Maker. Then one day, it happened. He died, and he was cast into hell. There he was tormented and longed for a drop of water to be placed upon his tongue.
When you read that story, you can’t help but think, what a tragedy! It all could have been prevented. If only he would have listened to the Word of God. If only he would have sought follow Christ instead of living for himself all those years, it would never have turned out that way.
That story will be the story of every person who does not repent. The mental torment of hell will be just as excruciating as the physical miseries, if not more.
But all this can be prevented. Life does not have to end in tragedy. It can end in happiness and joy. Instead of destruction, life can end in salvation. Instead of suffering in the day of Christ, you can be saved.
You all know of the “Mighty Missisippi River.” Do you know though just how mighty it is? It is said that over half a trillion tons of wather flow down it every year, and it carries 63 thousand tons of soil downstream each day.
A man by the name of Michael Parfit once studied the river in depth—riding down it flying over it. One of the things he kept his eye on though, were the levies that were built to pinch the mighty river and keep it from flooding. The levees stand an average of 25 feet high and run for 2,203 miles along both sides of the river. Over the years, since these levees have been built, people have come to live under their protection. It is said that over 8 million people live in the Mississippe Delta, all at their own risk.
When Parfit flew over the delta he saw plainly the river’s tracks on the land, where it once flooded the delta. In Parfit’s mind were simply the words, “Someday soon.” Parfit went on to publish an article in February of 1993 warning that someday soon the delta would flood again, much like it did in 1882, 1927, and 1973.
He could never have imagined how right he would be. Only months after publishing his article, in the summer of 1993, one of the worst floods in the history of the River came. So much was destroyed in an instant.
The Word of God sends out the same message, “Someday soon.” We can choose to live like those who lived under those levees; we can live with a false sense of security. Or we can heed the warnings, look to Christ, and live in safety. May God grant you the wisdom to prepare for the great day of the Lord.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.