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.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.