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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 10.30am service, 2004-01-18

Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

In the past two Sundays our messages have been focusing on the theme 'Growing in the Image of Christ.' In our first message entitled 'That I May Know Christ' we saw that it should be every Christian's life goal to know Christ and to eventually be conformed to His image. In last week's message by Elder Khoo Peng Kiat we saw that walking in Christ involves three actions: Firstly, putting off the old man (what we were before we were saved). The second action for walking in Christ is to put on the new man (a life characterized by holiness and righteousness), and the third action is to put away all lying and malice. Elder Khoo ended his message by asking a very pertinent question: 'As you reflect on your present life-style, your walk with the Lord, your devotional life, would you say that the Lord is well-pleased with what you are doing?'

In this morning's message I would like to take up this question - Is the Lord well-pleased with what you are doing? This question is a good question because the Scriptures reveal that we were created by God for His own pleasure (cf. Revelation 4:11 'for thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.') It also provides the ultimate reason why God earnestly wants us to put on the new man and thus grow in the image of Christ. Because it is this particular image that pleases Him the most. When God can see the image of Christ being formed in you, He is pleased with what He sees. And you would have then fulfilled your role as God's creature - to bring great pleasure unto Him 

How pleased is God with the image of Christ in us? One indication of how much He is pleased can be found in what God the Father said about Christ on at least two occasions which show how greatly He delights in His only begotten Son. He said in an audible voice that all could hear, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' One took place at the time that Christ was baptized (Matthew 3:17), and the other was at the time that Christ was transfigured (Matthew 17:5). Knowing how well pleased God the Father is with Christ, His only begotten Son, let us press on to bear as fully as we can, the image of Christ in us. This is how we all can walk well pleasing unto God. 

And if you truly believe in Christ and are saved, you will have the desire to please the Lord in everything you do. Instead of living to please yourself, you will live to please God. Your attitudes and values change, your preferences, likes and dislikes will be different from before, when you are living to please the Lord.

One good example of this can be found in the famous Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, who wrote the epic work 'War and Peace'. Tolstoy wrote about his own conversion: 'Five years ago faith came to me. I believed in the doctrine of Jesus and my life was suddenly changed. I ceased to desire that which I previous had desired, and on the other hand, I took to desiring what I had never desired before. That which formerly used to appear good in my eyes appeared evil, and that which used to appear evil, appeared good.' What Tolstoy wrote is that in contrast to his former self, he now hated the things God hates and loved the things God loves. The Scriptures unequivocally teach us this truth: That the believer who is truly saved will live no longer to please himself, but to please God. A walk that is well-pleasing to God will be the outcome of salvation, proving that it is a genuine salvation. Dearly beloved, are you living your life in a manner that is well-pleasing to God? Can God see the likeness of His only begotten Son in your life? Can He say of you, 'This is my beloved child in whom I am well-pleased?'

To help us understand the kind of life that we should live, the life that is well-pleasing to God, let us now study a passage of Scripture in 1 Thessalonians 4. The passage begins: 'Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.' Following this, the Apostle Paul goes on to tell the Thessalonians to please God in several aspects. The first aspect is:

I. In Moral Purity

This is mentioned in vv.3-4 'For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour' The word 'fornication' here is a general terms that refers to all forms of sexual sin: pre-marital sex, prostitution, adultery, incest and homosexual relationships. The world we live in is getting more permissive than ever before. A survey taken a few years ago among university students revealed that up to 60 % think that premarital sex is all right. They say that everybody is doing it, and that it is a very natural thing to do, just like animals who do it by instinct.

Sexual sins are even being promoted widely by popular media and behavioural scientists. They are trying to teach that true happiness is found outside monogamous faithful marriage and recommend that more should have affairs. The gay movement is striving for rights to have homosexual marriages, adopt children, and to have school textbooks rewritten to include and even recommend their lifestyle as an acceptable option. Even in Singapore, the gay community has recently been been granted permission to be registered as a society, where such permission was formerly not given.

The only cure for this permissive trend in the world is to go back to the Bible. The Bible teaches us that any sexual pleasure is be enjoyed only within the context of marriage. Any sexual pleasure that is derived outside of marriage is outside of God�s plan. The sad thing is that sexual sins are found not only among non-believers, but also among Christians! While they should be the ones who are seeking to please God, they displease Him instead by having an affair with someone. 

I once had to counsel a tearful wife whose husband was seeing another woman under the pretext of doing overtime work. Thankfully the husband who is a Christian responded to a word of rebuke and repented of his adulterous relationship. Another husband I know was tempted to have an affair when he was posted overseas, and he even brought back the mistress and rented an apartment for her. But when his wife found out and confronted him, he repented and speedily sent the mistress back never to see her again. 

In both cases, the Lord worked to bring the offenders under conviction of their sin. This is just like the case of King David who committed adultery with Bathsheba, and repented when Nathan the prophet rebuked him for it. 

Dearly beloved, let us be forewarned that the Lord takes a very serious view of sexual sin. It displeases Him and in fact, it brings down His wrath (Ephesians 5:6). We can already see evidences of God's great displeasure upon sexual sin in the form of plagues like the AIDS epidemic (AIDS cases locally has increased now to 2,034), There are countless broken homes and broken families, the shame of unwed mothers, and the millions of abortions that are carried out every year (In our country, one out of every four children that are conceived are deliberately aborted). God wants us to take such a serious view of sexual sin, that we should even consider lustful thoughts and desires as sinful! A mind that is filled with such thoughts is not the mind of Christ.

This is mentioned in v.5 of our text which says, 'Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.' The word 'concupiscence' here means craving, longing or desiring what is forbidden. There are some who say that indulging one's lust is normal and harmless so long as the acts imagined in one's mind are not carried out. But the danger of having such lustful thoughts is that they do not satisfy: They only stimulate the desire for more and more until they ultimately lead a man into committing what he imagines. It is a fact that every act of sexual immorality always begins with immoral thoughts. Therefore we must flee from these lusts. Don't let your mind imbibe anything that will cause temptation. Deliberately avoid the thing, the person, the place, or the activity that sets the stage for temptation. 

Due to laxed censorship today, there is much more sexually explicit material available on the media than before. Magazines, books, films, TV shows, have more pornographic material than before. Much of the art, entertainment, and advertising in publicity and media today also seem to be purposely designed for the purpose of seduction. It is getting harder and harder to withstand the flood of pornography. The internet has opened instant access to pornographic websites. And we keep getting unsolicited spam email enticing us to access these defiling websites. 

If you want to please God you must be careful about them. Sometimes you may be tempted to satisfy your curiosity to know about these things, thinking that this is all right as long as you do not commit them. But before you knows it, you will find yourself drawn deeper into sin. 

Dearly beloved, if you are earnestly seeking to walk pleasing to God, you must keep clear of anything that will stir up sexual thoughts and feelings. Do not give that 'second look.' Be like Job, who said, 'I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?' (Job 31:1) By taking your eyes away from these things, you will nip the temptation in the bud. Follow Joseph's example: When Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him, what did he do? He did not stay there a moment longer, but ran away!

And whenever such temptations come, let us remember the words of v.7 of our text: 'For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.' God has specially called you to be morally clean in all your thoughts, words and actions. 

Please do not despise your special calling, for by doing that you would end up not pleasing God but despising Him! V.8 tells us 'He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us His holy Spirit.' We move on now to another aspect in which we should seek to please God, and that is:

II. In Brotherly Love

Verse 9 tells us 'But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.' The word for 'brotherly love' here is philadelphia. This word was often used to describe the mutual love and affection that exists between family members, such as parents and children, husbands and wives. And so, this verse is saying that the love that Christians should have toward one another in the Body of Christ should be like the love that members in a close-knit family have for one another. 

It is for this reason that Christians are called 'brethren' (as Paul addresses the Thessalonians in 4:1) this term means 'brothers and sisters.' It is used in the Bible approximately 230 times and it literally means 'those who come from the same womb.' This implies that we are vitally related to each other through a shared Christian heritage and a common birth and more precisely, the spiritual experience of being born again. Those who are so closely related should not have to be told to love one another. It should be something that comes very naturally. 

That is why Paul did not have to elaborate further on how the Thessalonian Christians should love one another and he says in v.9, 'ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.' There are many practical ways of showing love for one another, e.g. giving to help those who are in need, expressing warm appreciation and thanks, enquiring after the welfare of others, comforting those who are in sorrow, correcting those who are going astray, and forgiving those who have offended you. 

Brotherly love is not a love that consists of mere sentimental feelings alone, but it is practical and filled with action. It is hard to conceal such love. If you look at v.10 you will see that Paul knew about the brotherly love that the Thessalonian Christians had for their brethren in Macedonia. This refers to the churches at Philippi and Berea. Even though these cities were quite far from Thessalonica, the Thessalonians apparently travelled all the way to them to see how they could be of help to them in practical ways. 

Let us learn from this not just give mere lip service to brotherly love, but to really do our best to show it, so that others may be touched by it. 

During the SARS crisis last year we received news that one of our members had to be quarantined at home with her husband. She was warded at TTSH because of fever but was discharged when her symptoms cleared up. Thank God that it turned out that the cluster she belonged to was not SARS at all but influenza. During that time, they received calls from Christian brethren who called regularly to encourage them. A video player was loaned to them together with Christian video tapes to watch and videotaped worship services, so that they would be able to have 'Sunday worship' at home as they could not come to church. After their quarantine was over and they were able to come out of their house and go back to work, they testified that they were both touched by the brotherly love they had received, at a time when they really needed it.

So dearly beloved, let us all put our Christian love into action. Be sensitive to the needs of fellow Christians around you and be ready to love them with the love of Christ. Go out of your way for those who are in need. For by doing that you are in effect doing the same to our Lord Himself. Jesus said, 'Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.' (Matthew 25:40) There is no better way to please our Lord than to show brotherly love one for another. It really brings out the likeness of Christ who loved us with more than brotherly love. By this, the world will know that we are truly His disciples! 

Now thus far we have seen two aspects in which we ought to seek to please God: In Moral Purity and in Brotherly Love. Let us go on now to the third aspect which is given in vv.11-12:

III. In Earning an Honest Living

'And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.' Making an honest living is oftentimes not easy in the world we live in, where the prevailing trend is to make a living by any possible means, honest or not. 

Some time last year there was a case of a DBS bank teller who embezzled funds for herself from fixed deposit accounts by forging signatures of the customers. Two years ago there was the case of a moneychanger in Geylang who cheated 1,153 Chinese foreign workers of $8.8 million of their home-bound earnings over a period of seven months. What made this case so tragic is that his victims were all poor foreign workers from China who suffered very greatly through his dishonesty. A cancer stricken father had no money for his operation; children could no longer afford to go to school. Cheating and dishonesty not only hurts others, but also displeases God.

Another means of making a living that displeases God is gambling. People who gamble often dream of that chance in a million of striking it rich overnight, and making huge fortunes merely by risking a small amount of money. And when times are bad and people are not able to get a job, the temptation sometimes comes to 'try your luck' so to speak. Please do not give in to such temptation. If you have been secretly or openly playing with jackpot machines, buying Singapore sweep, Toto or 4D, or placing bets on horses or on soccer matches, please realise that God is not at all pleased and will not bless your income. You will lose whatever you win. 

Another means that we should never use, is to live off the earnings of others. This was a persistent problem among the Thessalonian Christians. There were some members who refused to work, but who lived off the hard earned income of other members in the church. They were loafers who were neither sick or invalid, but were able-bodied people. Instead of working, they spent their time gossipping loudly, and sticking their nose into other other people's affairs. 

This is why Paul wrote to them, 'that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands' (v.11). In the second epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote about them again, 'if any would not work, neither should he eat.' (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The exception of course are those who want to work but are unable to work, because of illness or a home quarantine order. But even those who have been blessed with a huge windfall, should not think to themselves that they can now retire early and do nothing. They should be gainfully employed and not idling around. 'Idle hands are the devil's workshop'.

Now that we have seen three aspects of life where we must walk pleasing to God, (Moral purity, Brotherly Love and Earning an Honest Living) there is one more thing we must take note of in this passage about pleasing God. If you really are serious about wanting to please God, you should not only be doing these things, but trying all the time to do more and to do better. 

This is brought out in two verses: v.1 'Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.' As well as v.10 'And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more'

Many of you here are already applying all the three aspects of pleasing God in your life. In moral purity, you have successfully been faithful in your marriage. In brotherly love, you have done many good things to help others. In earning a living, you have done it all by honest hard work. All that is very well and good. But there is always room for improvement. And if your heart's desire is truly to please the Lord, you will not be satisfied with what you have already done. You will strive to do better than that and keep on growing into the image of Christ!

Dearly beloved, as this present year is still new and fresh it will be good for you to commit yourself now to grow spiritually. Whatever level you have already attained in your walk with God, seek to get on to a higher level. There are still things in your life that are not pleasing to God. In the light of what you have learned from God's Word today, you can probably identify those areas of your life that needs prayer and diligent effort. Please commit yourself to work on them, so that the image of Christ will be become clearer in your life. Think of the words that God spoke concerning Christ, 'This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.' And let those words motivate you to put on the new man, which is the image of Christ!

Let me end this message with the words of Paul in Philippians 3:13,14 'I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.' May the Lord help us to press on in in pleasing Him in our manner of life each day!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25