Last week we saw that absence does make the heart grow fonder as Paul longed to see the Thessalonians. Timothy was sent to check on the church at Thessalonica to see how they were doing. Timothy’s report brought comfort and joy to Paul as he found out they were standing firm in their afflictions. This morning, we’re going to look at Paul’s prayer for them and some practical instructions.
Grab your Bible and read 1 Thes. 3:11-13 to see where we are.
Check out Paul’s prayer. Remember in v. 10 Paul told the Thessalonians that he had been prayer earnestly night and day to see their face and to complete what was lacking in their faith. Paul’s prayer is recorded in the next 3 verses. V. 11 reaffirms Paul desire to go see them. V. 12 connects the exhortation to excel still more in the next chapter to his desire and prayer for them to increase and abound in love. V. 13 connects this prayer with the theme of the second coming of Christ that runs throughout the letter with the overall purpose that they would be blameless.
Wouldn’t Paul’s prayer be an encouragement to you? This is a prayer that we could pray for one another every day.
The Thessalonians were doing well, but Paul wanted them to do even better. No matter how well or good you think you are, there is always room for improvement. 1 Cor. 10:12 says, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” If you think you’ve arrived, you’ve already failed.
There is a common theme that runs through Paul’s writings concerning prayer. But just in this letter; Paul is constantly thankful, he is thankful in all situations, he tells other people that he is thankful for them, their walk, and their example. He mentions the earnestness of prayer and the consistency of prayer. Paul and his companion’s prayed for them and asked for their prayers.
There are also some warnings about prayer found in the Word. John 9:31 says, “We know that God does not hear sinners” Proverbs 28:9 says that the prayer of someone that doesn’t listen to God’s law is an abomination. Isaiah 59:2 tells us that iniquity and sin separate people from God and He cannot hear them. James 4 talks about asking from wrong motives. In Matthew, Jesus speaks of using meaningless repetition like the Gentiles do. He also speaks of how the hypocrites love to pray in public so that people can see them. Matthew 6 does offer us a beautiful pattern to follow in prayer and I would encourage you to take a look at that on your own. In fact I would encourage you to do a word study on prayer.
Paul moves from prayer to instructions concerning daily living. In the first three chapters of 1 Thessalonians, Paul spent time reminding the Thessalonians of how Silvanus, Timothy, and he gave them the Gospel, how they received it and imitated their example by godly living. Paul begins the next section of his letter with a very important word – finally. Look at 4:1-2. In a message two weeks ago we talked about walking the walk. Paul told them they are walking the walk, but he wanted them to excel even more. They received the instructions from Paul. Received gives us the idea that they didn’t just hear what Paul told them. They heard the instructions and followed them. These instruction were designed to teach them how they ought to walk and how to please God. Today though, there aren’t a lot of people out there that really want to please God – including Christians. Some believe you can approach God any way you want to, you do whatever you want to and still please God.
Why all the fuss in trying to please God? After all, He’s perfect, how can we possibly please Him? In John 8:29 Jesus said, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.” Paul told the Galatians, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” (Gal. 1:10) John says that we, “Do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” (1 John 3:22) Pleasing God should be a guiding principle in our behavior. But it’s radical. Living to please God is contrary to the hedonistic ambition of most people. In v. 2 Paul told the church they knew the commandments they were given. They weren’t Paul’s commands; they were given by the authority of Christ. Pleasing God may just mean that you have to lay down your desires for His.
In speaking with Christians, I often hear people say that they struggle to know what the will of God is. Here it is spelled out in v. 3. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” This command is extraordinarily clear. It says exactly what to do to please God. Your sanctification. We often talk about this, but let’s spend some time on it here. Sanctification consists of two things and I often refer to them as two types of sanctification. First, sanctification occurs as a result of salvation. At the moment of conversion, the Holy Spirit enters our life. We are no longer held hostage by death, but are free to live the life God desires for us. So we are sanctified simply because of our standing as lost people saved by grace.
The second side of sanctification is learning to do what is right, to do what is pleasing to God. It doesn’t take long for new Christians to realize that a battle has begun in our lives. Galatians 5:17; “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” Sanctification gives us the ability to please God, to walk in a manner that is worthy of the One we serve. This is the aspect of progressive sanctification. Many times it takes someone to teach us what the Bible says about godly living – discipleship.
“Abstain from sexual immortality.” Abstain isn’t really a strong enough word. It means hold back, make a clean break, stop. God’s will is that we make a clean break. Cold turkey. No weaning. No moderation. So the question becomes, “What is sexual immorality?” Sex was created by God and is only approved between a man and a woman within the confines of marriage. Period. All other instances of sex is immoral and contrary to God’s will for your life.
V. 4 presents a problem to some folks. Some argue that Paul is talking about a wife which is one of the reasons people say that Paul is a male chauvinist pig. It seems more likely given the context with v. 5 that Paul is talking about a person’s own body. Possess our own body in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles. They give over their bodies to lustful passion because they do not know God. There’s the contrast: don’t be like the Gentiles.
One final instruction concerning this topic. Look at vs. 6-8. “No man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter.” Contextually, this goes along with a godly view of sexual relations. “God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.”
God has called us to grow in Christ. Phil. 3:10 tells us; “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Progressive sanctification is growing more and more like Christ and doing the things that please Him.