Love Like God

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. – 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV

Paul has just reminded the Thessalonians that they have been sanctified or set apart by God. According to His divine will, God has consecrated them for His use. And Paul added the clarification that “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7 ESV). In other words, God had set them apart to something: holiness, and from something: sexual immorality. Paul is not saying that sexual immorality was the only thing they needed to avoid, but it was obviously a problem among them.  They had been raised in the Greek culture where sexuality permeated everyday life. There were few taboos regarding sex and, therefore, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, and sex outside of marriage were a normal and expected part of life. There were even cases where the worship of their gods involved what Yahweh had deemed sexual immorality.

All kinds of immoralities were associated with the [Greco-Roman] gods. Not only was prostitution a recognized institution, but through the influence of the fertility cults of Asia Minor, Syria, and Phoenicia it became a part of the religious rites at certain temples. Thus there were one thousand “sacred prostitutes” at the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth.1

The Greek culture was steeped is sexuality and it was not considered immoral for one to fulfill their natural physical passions. So, the Thessalonian believers found themselves juggling God’s call to set-apartness and the siren call of society to compromise their convictions.

For Paul, God’s call to sanctification was not to be viewed as a list of things not to do. Yes, he clearly states that they were to abstain from sexual immorality. But notice the context. They were to control their own bodies and manage their passions so that they would not transgress and wrong their brother. This was really about brotherly love. Adultery is a lack of love. It is an expression of lust, envy, and greed; taking what does not belong to you. Sex outside the God-ordained boundaries of marriage is not love. It’s little more than lust, a willing surrender to physical drives with little regard for the other individual’s needs or wants.

But Paul commends the Thessalonians for their brotherly love. They had “been taught by God to love one another” and they were doing it. But that did not mean they were immune to the temptations all around them. That’s why Paul urges them to love more and more. They were to grow in their love for one another, expressing that love in tangible ways. And those expressions of love can take both positive and negative forms. They could love by caring for the needs of one another. But they could also love by not taking advantage of one another. Their love could show up  in the form of an act of kindness or a decision to not spread a false rumor.

Paul provided the believers in Galatia with a sobering list of actions that emanate from a life driven by the sin nature.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.  – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Look closely at this list. Every one of these characteristics are selfish in nature. They are expressions of a loveless, self-centered life where any care for anyone else is absent. These are the actions of someone who loves self more than anything else. But compare this list with the one that describes a Spirit-led, Spirit-controlled life: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT).

These attributes are other-oriented, not self-centered. They are expressions of love because they are the fruit of the Spirit of God. God is love and we love because He first loved us. We have been set apart for the purpose of expressing His love to one another. And Paul provides the Thessalonians and us with three concrete expressions of what it looks like to love others.

First, he says they are “to aspire to live quietly” (1 Thessalonians 4:11 ESV). This is an interesting one, because it could be translated, “strive to live a non-frantic life.” Sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? But the Greek word translated “aspire” is philotimeomai, and it can also mean “to be fond of.” The first half of the word is philos, and it means “friend.” The second half of the word is timē, and it means “to honor.” So, Paul is telling the Thessalonians to honor their friends by living quiet, peaceful lives. It is not a call to isolationism, but an encouragement to live in a way that brings the most good to others. It is a life of selflessness, not selfishness.

Secondly, Paul says, “to mind your own affairs.” In other words, manage your own life well. Don’t attempt to fix everyone else’s life by controlling or correcting them. It is not love when you find fault in others. It is not love when you constantly criticize and complain about others. Jesus warned, “why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5 NLT). 

Paul is calling them to a life of self-examination, where they are slow to judge others, but quick to assess the condition of their own hearts. Because, as Jesus said, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander“ (Matthew 15:19 ESV). How easy it is to focus all our attention on the faults of others, while ignoring the condition of our own hearts. And when we do, rather than love others, we judge, envy, slander, and take advantage of them. In other words, we fail to love them.

Finally, Paul tells the Thessalonians, “to work with your hands.” This is not a call to hard work and industry. Keep it within the context. He is calling the Thessalonians to grow in their love for one another. And a big part of what they are called to do is express that love by doing the things God has called them to do. Remember what Paul wrote the believers in Ephesus:

…we are his [God’] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10 ESV

Earlier, in the very same letter, Paul had told them: “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love…” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). Notice those last two words: in love. That’s the key. Love is to be the greatest proof of our holiness and blamelessness. And later on, he gave them further instructions “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV).

As God’s children, set apart by Him for His use, we are to emulate His character. We are to bear His image by behaving according to His will for us. And as Paul stated earlier, God’s will is our sanctification, our holiness lived out in everyday life. And the greatest expression of that holiness is our love, because God is love. This is what Jesus meant when He told His followers, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV). And the apostle John so rightly states, “We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19 NLT).

Paul summarizes his statements, telling the Thessalonians that their adherence to these three things: to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, will allow them to “walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:12 ESV). The image Paul paints is that of brotherly interdependence that mirrors for the lost world what it means to be part of the body of Christ. There is a love that is expressed in selflessness and mutual care and concern for one another that is like nothing the world has ever seen. And it should result in a lack of need among the family of God. But not just a lack of physical need. This brotherly love should create a overflowing sense of acceptance, significance, worth, and purpose in life.

The love we express for one another as fellow believers in Christ is the greatest proof of God’s existence. When we love as He has loved us, selflessly and sacrificially, we demonstrate the depth of love with which He loved us. And in doing so, we make God known. And the apostle John calls us to lives lives marked by that kind of love:

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. – 1 John 4:11-12 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

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1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

God’s Will For You.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT

Have you ever wanted to know God’s will for your life? Have you ever wondered whether what you were about to do was something God would want you to do or not? The sad truth is that some of us just prefer to not even bother worrying about what God’s will might be, preferring to do our own will instead. But the topic of God’s will is a huge one among most believers. We constantly wonder about what God would have us do. Should we date that individual, buy that house, accept that job offer. put our kids in that school, or attend that church? We inherently know that living outside of God’s will is not a safe place for us to be. So we wonder and worry about whether we are in God’s will. We search the Scriptures, hoping to discover what He might have us do in any given situation. But in most cases, we find it hard to discover God’s opinion on things like what dress to buy for the prom or even what person to marry. Our problem is that we tend to deal in specifics. I’m not implying that God doesn’t care about the specific decisions we make, but I believe God is concerned about something far more general – something that would aid us in our daily decision-making and insure that we are well within His will at all times.

Here in chapter four of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he gives us a glimpse into God’s will, and as you will see, it is quite broad when it comes to God’s expectations. Paul simply says, “God’s will is for you to be holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT). As far as Paul is concerned, God’s primary concern and desire for His people is their holiness, which really refers to their lives being set apart for His glory. In verse one, Paul puts it another way: “we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 NLT). To be holy is to live your life in such a way that it pleases God, not you. It is to live according to His expectations, not your own inclinations. And Paul gives the Thessalonians a very real example of what he is talking about by telling them to stay away from all sexual sin. Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by your own lustful passions. It is never God’s will for a man to cheat on his wife or a woman to engage in sexual fantasies by reading sexually explicit romance novels. It is never within God’s will for two young people to live together outside of marriage. It is never God’s will for a young man to fill his mind and corrupt his soul with pornography. Paul makes it quite clear. “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives” (1 Thessalonians 4:76 NLT). God has expectations and standards. While we are no longer required to live by the Law in order to gain acceptance with and access to God, we are still obligated to live lives that are in keeping with God’s holy standards. He has even given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do so. Before accepting Christ as our Savior, we were totally incapable of living holy lives, but now it’s not only possible, but expected. Our lives are to be set apart, different and distinct from those of people who do not know Christ. We have a special capacity to live in such a way that God is not only pleased, but glorified, because it is all due to His power within us.

God’s will is for us to be holy because it is an indication of His work in us. When we refuse to give in to our own lustful desires and abstain from sexual sin, it is a clear indication of His Spirit’s work in us. Holiness is the byproduct of His presence and power in our lives. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NLT). Then he gave them specific examples: Stop lying and start telling the truth. Instead of letting anger control you, forgive. If you used to make a habit of stealing, work hard instead. Replace your foul language with words of encouragement. “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Ephesians 4:30 NLT).

So does God care about what kind of car you drive or what particular neighborhood you live in? Most certainly. But His real concern is what motivations are driving our desires for that car or a home in that neighborhood. Are we driven by selfish and prideful passions? Are we attempting to impress others or build up our low self esteem? There is a simple question we can ask ourselves whenever we face a decision of any kind and want to know what God’s will concerning that decision might be. Will it help our hinder my pursuit of holiness? To put it another way, will that car, dress, job, relationship, home, or whatever else it might be, make my pursuit of holiness easier or harder? If God’s will is our holiness, shouldn’t that be our will too? But sometimes we make it much more about our happiness. We buy things to make us happy. We decide to do those things that fulfill our own selfish, self-centered desires. And in many cases, those things are not wrong in and of themselves. But if we’re not careful, we can lose sight of the real objective, which is to live in a way that pleases God. His will is our holiness. And that should be our will as well.

Father, You have made us Your own. You have purchased us with the blood of Your own Son and You expect us to live up to our calling as Your sons and daughters. Your will for us is holiness. You have placed Your Spirit within us in order to make it possible for us to live differently and distinctively in this world. There are all kinds of decisions we make every day. Help us to make them with holiness as the objective. Don’t let us compromise and make it just about our happiness. Show us how to live our lives in such a way that they please You, not us. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 5e

God Sees.

“For the Lord sees clearly what a man does, examining every path he takes.” – Proverbs 5:21 NLT

Have you ever stopped to think just how silly it is to attempt to try and and hide anything from God? After all, He is all-knowing and is not limited by space and time. He is everywhere at once and does not have to deal with the limitations of past, present and future as we do. He sees everything equally well, regardless of whether it has already happened or has yet to take place. David put it this way in Psalm 139:

1O Lord, you have examined my heart

and know everything about me.

2You know when I sit down or stand up.

You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.

3You see me when I travel

and when I rest at home.

You know everything I do.

4You know what I am going to say

even before I say it, Lord.

5You go before me and follow me.

You place your hand of blessing on my head.

6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too great for me to understand!

He knows it all, including what I am going to say before I even say it. God sees everything I do. He examines every path I take. He literally weighs out our actions, putting them in a scale and determining their value or worth. And He measures them against His own righteous standard, not the flawed and fickle standards of this world. The context for this verse is a serious warning from a father to his son regarding the dangers of sexual immorality and promiscuity. He is trying to get his son to realize the deadly ramifications of being unfaithful to his wife and allowing himself to fall for the temptations of adultery. He gives him all the dire outcomes, but then wraps it up by reminding his son that God sees ALL our actions, and He measures and examines them against His own righteous requirements. We can’t hide what we do from God. We may fool our spouses and our friends, but God sees all and knows all. And He knows exactly what is going on in our hearts even if we choose not to act out our adulterous desires. He knows every time we lust and every time an immoral thought goes through our brain. That realization should sober us and cause us to seriously consider our ways.

The fact that God sees all and knows all should only scare us if we are guilty of doing things of which He might disapprove. The existence of traffic cameras should not strike fear into the hearts of those who are obeying the traffic signs. The presence of a policeman on the side of the road should not make our palms sweat and our hearts race unless we happen to be breaking the speed limit. If we are living in obedience to God’s Word and in reliance upon His Spirit, His all-seeing eye should bring us comfort, not fear. We should rejoice in the fact that God is always looking out for us and never takes His eyes off us. And if He does happen to see us do something contrary to His will, He makes it known to us so that we can confess it and receive His forgiveness. We live under His watchful eyes at all times. There is no time when He is unaware of us or cannot see us. That realization should bring us peace and cause us to consider our ways more seriously. “For the Lord sees clearly what a man does, examining every path he takes.”

Father, thank You for never taking your eyes off of me. What a comfort to know You are always there and you are always fully aware. Never let me forget that I am living under your loving, watchful eye at all times. May that realization influence my behavior and my thoughts. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org