How you can be a free slave

One of the most famous chimpanzees of all time is one by the name of Washoe. Some soldiers picked up Washoe in West Africa. In 1966 she was adopted by two doctors who raised her almost like a child. In 1970, however, she was turned over to another pair of doctors and taken to the University of Oklahoma. Here she went through rigorous training to become the first non-human to learn American Sign Language. She learned over 140 signs! It was discovered, however, that she was just mimicking all that she had been taught. After several years the staff decided that she was able to try to conceptualize. “She is going to say what is on her heart!” the staff declared. In her safe and secure cage, well taken care of, Washoe said the first three words of her own initiative: “LET ME OUT!!!” She signed these words several times.

Even in animals, there is a desire for freedom. Given the chance most animals would leave safety for the chance for freedom. Humans long for freedom as well. We yearn to enjoy life, free from guilt and despair. We want to live significant lives. Moreover, God has created us for freedom—it is our intended destiny. Yet the great Christian paradox is that we are freed from the slavery of sin to become slaves to God. We could put it like this: True freedom is slavery to Christ. In Romans 6:15-23 Paul shares two critical facts about slavery.

 

  1. Slavery Is Inevitable (6:15-18)

In the 1970s Bob Dylan sang a song entitled, “You Gotta’ Serve Somebody!” Dylan took this song straight out of Scripture. The apostle Paul states that every person serves somebody or something. He writes, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (6:15) Paul returns to his original question in 6:1: Does grace encourage sin? Once again his response is, “May it never be!” or “What in the world are you thinking?!” (My translation) Perhaps you’re thinking, “This sounds just like 6:1. Is this a case of déjà vu?” No, not exactly. In 6:1-14 Paul explained that Christ has broken the bonds of sin that enslave us; in 6:15-23 he warns that even though we are free we can become enslaved to sin by yielding to temptation. It is not enough to be a new person and have a new position. We must cooperate daily with the Holy Spirit and give ourselves away as “slaves” to who we are. True freedom is slavery to Christ.

 

In 6:16 Paul issues a general statement that every person is a slave. He puts it like this: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” The rhetorical question, “Do you not know?” assumes that Paul’s readers understand the principle that everyone is a slave to someone or something—whether it is a person, possession, or activity. We become slaves of whomever or whatever we “present” ourselves to. Neutrality is impossible. To choose neutrality is to choose sin because it constitutes a refusal to serve God. Hence, we are either slaves of obedience or slaves of sin.

 

In the hit movie, Remember the Titans, Denzel Washington plays football coach Herman Boone. Set in 1971, the tale follows the forced integration of previously all-white T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA. My favorite scene is when the bus of football players is about to leave for summer training camp. All of a sudden, arrogant, white, All-American Gerry Bertier starts giving Boone guff. Boone finally comes unglued and asks Bertier, “Who’s your daddy?” He then continues to ask the question, louder and louder, until Bertier quietly whispers, “You are.” Boone was making the point that Bertier was about to experience slavery in his final year of high school football.

 

I must ask you: “Who’s your daddy?” Let me tell you, it matters who your daddy is because 6:16 says there are only two daddies: sin and obedience. This means that there are also only two types of slaves: Slaves of sin, resulting in death, or slaves of obedience, resulting in righteousness. There is no third option.

 

Paul is saying, “I have some good news and some bad news for you. The bad news is that we are all slaves. None of us is free. We are in bondage to whatever controls our lives.” The person who can’t say no to sugar is a slave to sugar. The Christian who cannot turn off the television to read the Bible or spend time with his or her children is a slave to the tube. The person who cannot break an addiction to pornography is a slave to immorality. The person who checks his or her stock portfolio on CNBC every hour is a slave to money. We are slaves to whatever controls our lives. That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: As believers, we get to choose our master! An unbeliever has no choice of masters. He is a slave to his old self, and therefore, a slave to Satan. As hard as he may try to break free, the chains of sin keep yanking him back. He can never break free. He is Satan’s indentured servant. But a Christian has been liberated to serve a new Master. We can opt for “obedience resulting in righteousness.”

 

In 6:17-18 Paul reminds his readers that they have been emancipated from slavery to sin. He even breaks out into praise. “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” The Roman Christians were “slaves of sin,” but they had been “freed from sin” and made “slaves of righteousness.” This is an accomplished fact. At the point of conversion Paul says “[you] became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”

 

Notice Paul does not refer to the “form of teaching to which was committed to you.” Rather he says “that form of teaching to which you were committed.” When you placed your faith in Christ, God instantaneously set you free from sin’s power and “committed” you to a new slavery. The Greek term translated “committed” (paradidomi) literally means “handed over,” and links back to Rom 1 where unbelievers are “given over” to sin’s slavery (1:24, 26, 28). Paul is exclaiming: As Christians we are handed over by God to a new realm of power to serve as slaves of righteousness.

 

I love how Paul breaks forth in praise to God in 6:17. He tells his readers that they “were slaves of sin.” But now they have “became obedient” to the message of eternal life in Jesus Christ. In other words, they listened to the gospel and obeyed! Consequently, Paul gets excited and expresses thanks! If you are hearing this today, it is likely that Paul would rejoice over you. You are seeking to grow in God’s Word and in obedience to Christ. I, too, honor you for any step of obedience you take. Most importantly, God is pleased with you. Please sense His pleasure. Let grace catapult you to the next level of obedience. True freedom is slavery to Christ. [Not only is slavery inevitable, Paul also inform us that . . .]

 

 

  1. Slavery Is Intentional (6:19-23)

No one becomes a slave who functions for Christ through osmosis. To be Christ’s slave requires intentional effort. In 6:19 Paul uses an analogy to help us understand slavery to righteousness. He writes, “I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” Paul contrasts our former way of life with our present. Before Christ we presented our “members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness.” This means you can tell a lie, but you can’t tell just one. You tell a lie and then you tell another. Then you tell another one to cover up the second one. You tell another one to cover up the third one. One sin leads to another. Envy leads to envy leads to envy. Lust leads to lust leads to lust. Bitterness leads to bitterness leads to bitterness. Sin is like that—it is “ever-increasing wickedness” (NIV).

 

Do you remember the Lay’s potato chip commercial that challenged, “Bet you can’t eat just one?” This expression is also true for sin. “Bet you can’t do just one.” You say, “Oh yes I can. I can sin and I can quit sinning any time.” Of course, we know better, don’t we? Sin is the Lay’s potato chip of life. When it is done willfully, it is not sampled, it is indulged in. The principle is: Freedom to sin means slavery to sin.

 

Fortunately, Paul provides another option: “. . . so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (6:19b). Finally, Paul gives his first and primary command. The verb “present” (paristemi) seems to be highlighted in this section. A form of the word occurs five times in 6:13-19. In this context the word simply means “to put yourself at God’s disposal.” Paul commands us to have the same zeal for righteousness that we once had for sin. We were consumed with sin and handed over to all kinds of uncleanness and lawlessness; now we are commanded to have that same passion for Christ and His service. Paul says we are to present our members “as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.” In this context, “sanctification” (hagiasmos) is “the ongoing process of being set apart for God.” It is “being changed into the likeness of Christ.” It is simply progressive holiness.

Is Paul only referring to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and self-denial? No! The concept of biblical holiness is used to describe a life of growing purity. This also includes a concern for the needy, for the unborn child, for the use of wealth. It has things to say about marriage, about being a neighbor, about property, about the widow, the orphan, the immigrant. It is an entire kingdom of righteousness. Paul intends for this to be a motivating, positive exhortation. He is attempting to emphasize the privilege of serving God because we are no longer who we used to be. To summarize: Paul explains that God did not buy Christians out of sin’s slavery to set us free in the world; rather, He bought us to be His slaves!

 

In 6:20-21 Paul reiterates that sin results in death. He does so by reminding us of our past. In 6:20 Paul explains why we should present ourselves to God. “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” This verse does not mean that we were all as bad as we could be or that we were “free” (eleutheros, cf. 7:3) in the sense that God did not care what we did. It simply means that we were not “slaves of righteousness,” and we did not care one iota about righteousness. Therefore, we had no relationship with it whatsoever—we were “free” from it. In 6:21 Paul then asks the question, “Therefore what benefit [lit. “fruit”] were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death.” Paul’s question is: Did your former life ever do you any good? His reply is: Absolutely not! The “benefit” or “fruit” was nothing but shame and death.

 

Maybe you remember Bill Cosby’s comedy routine about a group of co-workers who return on Monday morning talking about the great time they had drinking over the weekend. “I got knockdown drunk like a skunk, sicker than a dog, can’t remember what I said or did, and then was hung over next morning.” Cosby mocks this sad existence by asking the question: “You call that fun?” We can apply Cosby’s words to any sin in our past life: immorality, stealing, lying, fighting, gossiping. Our past life was fruitless, at best. But Paul goes further and says the “outcome” of our sin is “death” (6:21b). This use of “death” may be physical death (cf. James 1:13-15), but it is more likely that Paul is referring to present spiritual death.

 

We must always bear in mind that it is possible for a Christian to sow to the flesh and “reap corruption” (Gal 6:8). Paul’s mention of the way of death is not an idle matter; it has bearing on you and me. Our position has been changed forever—we are in Christ. Our person has also been changed forever—we are slaves of righteousness. But we are still capable of corrupting the life that God has given us. While our position is secure, our experience in life can wither and die (Rom 8:13).

 

Hear this again: If you refuse to present yourself to God, the result is death! This is serious! Paul is implying that you cannot be happy in sin! Admittedly, there is passing pleasure in sin (Heb 11:25b), but it is always insatiable and unfulfilling. Hence, the most miserable person in the world is the Christian who tries to live in sin. The Holy Spirit that lives within this believer is grieved and quenched. God loves this person too much to let him or her remain in a state of rebellion. The Spirit will chasten and rebuke and do whatever is necessary to bring the sinning saint to repentance.

 

Sin for the believer is nothing better than chocolate-covered Alpo. It may bring momentary pleasure, but the aftertaste will kill you. To go for Alpo when the choicest steak is available is foolish beyond words. Until we understand that sin is as foolish as it is wrong, we probably won’t change. Sin is insanity! It brings nothing but grief! Moreover, living for Christ far exceeds living for sin. There’s just no comparison! Luis Palau once said, “If you like sin, you’ll love holiness.” That’s what Paul is saying. If you thought sin was fun, try some holiness for a while. It’s really fun! There’s no bad aftertaste, and there’s no guilty conscience, and there’s nothing left to be remorseful about. Sin satisfies for a little while. Holiness satisfies forever.

Paul concludes this passage by arguing that following God results in holiness and eternal life (6:22-23).

Just in case we did not hear him the first time (cf. 6:18), in 6:22 Paul again tells us that we have been “freed and enslaved to God.” “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” Once again Paul brings us the phrase “but now” (cf. 3:21). Paul contrasts the new way with the old (the new state we have found ourselves in by the grace of God). As a result of being “freed from sin and enslaved to God,” we derive “benefit.” We benefit our spouse, our children, our boss, our co-workers, and our church. We benefit all who know us because they would rather be around someone who is growing to be more like Christ than like Attila the Hun. But, it is also a benefit to us because slavery to God frees us to fulfill the destiny for which we were created by God. True freedom is slavery to Christ.

 

Paul expands this thought in the final verse of this section. In 6:23 Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I want to pause here for just a moment. We often use this text evangelistically, applying it to the unbeliever. This is well and good, for the principle is true and surely applies to the unbeliever. But, let us not overlook the fact that here Paul is applying the principle to the saint, not the sinner. He is applying the principle to the Christian, who may be toying with sin, not the unbeliever who is living in sin.

 

The very first word of 6:23, “for” (gar) is often overlooked, yet it serves to connect Paul’s thoughts from 6:20-22 (and the whole of his argument beginning at 6:15). Furthermore, in 6:23 Paul uses an interesting word for “wages” (opsonion). The word he uses refers to the daily food payment a Roman soldier would receive. So what are the death wages of sin?

 

  • Instant breakdown of fellowship with God
    • Removal of God’s hand of blessing
    • Misery of a guilty conscience
    • Loss of personal integrity
    • Strained relationships with fellow Christians
    • Reproach brought to one’s family and to the name of Christ
    • Injury to the testimony of the local church

 

Fortunately, God offers us “eternal life.” While the initial possession of eternal life comes at the moment of justification through faith in Christ (3:24; 5:18), the enjoyment or ongoing experience of that life is the fruit of godly living. In other words, “eternal life” begins as “a free gift,” and with proper use, can produce more of the same. The principle is equally true of human life. The life of the newborn infant is always the gift of his parents, but that life proceeds to grow and expand by reproducing itself in grandchildren. Life, then, produces life, but never unless first received as a gift. This holds true for natural life and eternal life. In this context, “eternal life” is the resurrection-life experience that Paul develops in 6:1-23. If we “know” (6:3, 6, 9), “consider” (6:11), “present” (6:13), and “obey” (6:15-23) we will experience the benefits of eternal life in time and in eternity. True freedom is slavery to Christ.

 

How can we apply this text more specifically to our lives? Consider the following suggestions:

(1) Recognize who you are in Christ. You are no longer a slave to sin. The reason that you sin is because you choose to serve your old master rather than your new one. Yet, he has no authority over your life. Imagine that you are living in an apartment under a landlord who has made your life miserable. He charges an astronomically high rent, and when you are unable to pay, he tacks on exorbitant interest that only gets you further in debt. He barges into your apartment at all hours, breathing threats, soiling your carpet, and then charging you extra for not maintaining the property! One day you open your door and find a stranger standing there. “I’m the new owner of this apartment building. I’m sorry for all you’ve experienced under the previous owner, but I want you to know you can live here—for free—as long as you want.” You are elated over the change in management.

 

Finally, you have been delivered from the clutches of the previous owner. Then one day there is a loud knocking at the door. There stands your old landlord cursing loudly and demanding you pay him the overdue rent. How should you respond? Would you pay him what he demands? Of course not! He is no longer the owner of the building. Would you attack him? Probably not, especially if he is bigger than you are. Instead you would explain to him that he no longer has any authority over you since your apartment is now under new management. If he has a complaint, he can take it up with the new owner. The old landlord may continue to bluster and threaten you, hoping he can bluff you into paying him, but he knows he has no real authority over you. He is just hoping you don’t know that. Focus on your identity in Christ. You are a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).

 

(2) Welcome Christian slavery. Many people wrongly assume that if they choose to live for themselves they can experience true freedom. However, this is a lie from Satan. The choice is not, “Should I retain my freedom or give it up and submit to God?” but “Should I serve sin, or should I serve God?” You may be thinking, I’m not sure I like this idea of being a slave—even if it is God’s slave. Remember, though, that slavery does not have to be a negative image. A kite is free to fly only when it is a “slave” to the string. Cut the string and the kite’s freedom to fly is severed as well. In the same way, slavery to God fully frees us to be what we were created to be. True freedom is slavery to Christ.

 

(3) Don’t give up in your battle with sin. I would guess that when you commit a particular sin, perhaps your besetting sin, you feel the temptation to give in or give up. The thought is: “Well, I’ve already committed the sin; I might as well continue or give up pursuing God altogether.” Yet, God wants you to turn to Him even in the midst of your sin. Confess your sin to the Lord. Keep short accounts. Press on to spiritual maturity. There is a Chinese proverb that says, “You don’t drown by falling in the water, you drown by staying there.” Don’t give up!

 

(4) Believe God has the best in store for youGod doesn’t want to deprive you of any good thing. He wants to bless you and give you every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Trust Him in this!

 

A number of years ago in Georgia, a family was driving down the road in a Volkswagen. They came across a farm that was burning down. As they passed the farm, they noticed a man, a woman, and two kids walking down the road. Yet, the car was so packed that there was no place to put the destitute family. The man then gave $50 to the farmer. The farmer thanked him, and the family went on their way. They stopped at the nearest bank to retrieve $200. Returning down the traveled road the family again stopped when meeting up with the farmer and his family. The man said, “Would you please give me the money back?” The farmer thought about it for a moment, and then gave it back. The man then combined the two gifts and gave the farmer $250.

 

This is what the Lord does in our lives. He takes what we give Him and gives us all of Himself. He always has His glory and our best in mind. We can bank on it! Since slavery is inevitable, we had better choose the right daddy. Since slavery is intentional, we had better rely upon God’s strength to present ourselves to Him. True freedom is slavery to Christ.

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Walk His way

One day, Frederick the Great of Prussia was walking on the outskirts of Berlin when he encountered a very old man walking in the opposite direction. “Who are you?” Frederick asked his subject. “I am a king,” replied the old man. “A king!” laughed Frederick. “Over what kingdom do you reign?” “Over myself,” was the proud old man’s reply. This old man was on to something. Each of us is “monarch” over our own lives. By that I mean we are responsible for ruling our actions and decisions. To make consistently good decisions, to take the right action at the right time, and to refrain from the wrong actions requires character and self-discipline. To do otherwise is to lose control of ourselves—to potentially destroy our witness or disqualify ourselves from ministry. When we are foolish, we want to conquer the world. When we are wise, we want to conquer ourselves. This begins when we do what we should, no matter how we feel about it.
Today, in 1 Thess 4:1-12 we will learn how to do what we should. It is important to recognize that we have arrived at the center of the book of 1 Thessalonians. To clearly see this, it will be helpful to return to the theme of the letter found in 1:9-10. In these two verses, Paul summarizes the three components of the argument of his book. He writes, “(1) For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols (2) to serve a living and true God, and (3) to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” The first section entails 2:1-3:13; the second section deals with our present text (4:1-12); and the third and final section encompasses the remainder of the book (4:13-5:28). The structure of the theme verses in 1:9-10 point readers to the center of the letter: “to serve the living and true God.” Or as I shall suggest, “walk His way.” In the twelve verses of 1 Thess 4:1-12, Paul exhorts us to walk His way by being sexually pure, loving other believers, and working not meddling.

1. Serve God by being sexually pure (4:1-8).
In these first eight verses, Paul explains that God’s will is for us to become holy (“sanctified”) like Jesus. In 4:1-2 he writes, “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” Paul begins this chapter with the word “finally.” Have you heard the latest definition of an optimist? It is someone who believes the preacher is almost finished when he says “finally.” From a purely statistical point of view, it is interesting to note that in chapters 1-3 there is a total of 43 verses, and in chapters 4-5 there are a whopping 46 verses to add to the total! So the question is, “What does Paul mean when he says ‘finally?’” I would suggest it is almost like a change of gears as he moves into overdrive. He ups the ante. He raises the stakes. The word “finally” serves as the punch line. In chapters 4-5, Paul moves from the theological to the practical. Paul continually affirms believers in their position and encourages them in their practice. In 1 Thessalonians, he affirms that the Thessalonian believers are positionally chosen (1:4), yet he exhorts them to practically live out this positional truth by walking in obedience (2:12). In this passage, he encourages the Thessalonians with their present “walk”—their lifestyle of faith. The Christian life begins with a step of faith, but that step leads to a walk of faith. Christianity is not a sprint; it is a walk of perseverance along the way marked out for us by Jesus Christ. The biblical metaphor “walk” is an appropriate term that most likely came into use because Christianity was originally called “The Way” in Acts. What is of particular interest here is that Paul uses the word “walk” to bookend this section. The Greek word peripateo (“walk”) is used twice in 4:1 and again in 4:12 where the NASB renders it “behave.” Hence, the thrust of this passage is that you and I would walk with God, which entails seeking to please Him by receiving His instruction and obeying His commandments. Will you make a conscious decision to walk His way? It will be difficult, if not impossible, to continue to work through this passage unless you choose as an act of your will that you are going to obey God, whether you like it or not and whether you feel like it or not. I urge you with all that I am to walk His way.
Now the $6 million question is, “How do we please the Lord and walk His way?” There’s a simple answer—by doing the will of God. In 4:3-8, Paul insists that Christians must maintain their sexual purity. In 4:3-6a, Paul gives three specific instructions.
o Abstain from sexual immorality (4:3b).Paul bluntly states, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” The word “abstain” means “to keep as far away from as possible, to have nothing to do with.” As believers we should never ask how far we can go and not step over the line. Instead, we should attempt to do everything to stay as far away from the line as we possibly can. This leads to an obvious question: What does Paul mean when he uses the phrase “sexual immorality?” In brief, the answer is everything immoral! Sorry about that! I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s what the Bible says. The phrase “sexual immorality” comes from the Greek word porneia, which is a broad word that includes premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, and every form of pornography. This term covers sins of the mind, body, eyes, ears, and lips. Paul forbids all expressions of porneia because he is concerned with our “sanctification.” The word “sanctification” means “to be separate to God, to be distinct.” This word occurs in its various forms four times in 4:3-7. Sanctification does not mean saying “no” to anything that is fun; it means progressively growing to be more like the Lord who said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” In 4:3, Paul clarifies a very important aspect of God’s will: Christians are to avoid sexual immorality like the plague. Certain things in the Christian life are not open to debate. Many Christians ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” in the midst of practicing sexual immorality. I would dare say that God will not clearly reveal His will to those who are practicing sexual sin. If we want to walk His way, we will abstain from sexual immorality.
o Control your own body (4:4-5). Paul writes, “[The will of God is] that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Paul states that it is God’s will for us to be able to sexually control ourselves—to “gird up our loins.” In our flesh, our natural tendency is to say, “I just can’t help myself” or “I’m a guy or I’m a gal” or “I am in love.” Do you know what I find so interesting about these justifications? In the most intense heat of the moment, any one of us could bring our passion to a screeching halt. If a police officer walks up to your parked car and knocks on your steamed-over window, I bet you could stop. If an angry husband armed with a shotgun walked in on you with his wife, I would guess you could stop in a hurry. We can always stop what we are doing…the issue is one of motivation. Paul expects us to live in “sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Many of us have been far too hard on those who do not know God and too light on those who do know God. I don’t know about you, but I expect pagans to live sexually immoral lives. Sinners are supposed to sin, it’s a part of their job description. What’s unacceptable is when saints live sexually immoral lives. Our problem is not with our society; our problem is with our church and the church of Jesus Christ throughout our country. Many believers need to be told, “Either be pure…or stop calling yourself a Christian!” If we want to walk His way, we will learn to control our own body.
o Protect other men and women (4:6a).Paul writes, “[The will of God is] that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter.” The word “brother” in this context indicates any person. The point is, God cares for people. He doesn’t want us to take advantage of any of His creations. Sexual sin steals from others. It steals both from the person and from their present or future mate, parents and other family members, and present or future children. This is no different than stealing someone’s property. We have no more right to have sex with someone’s spouse because they are attractive to us than we have a right to steal their car because it appeals to us. This phrase is a sign saying, “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.” If we want to walk His way, we will protect other men and women.

Young people and singles are thinking, “What kind of sick humor is this? God puts this sex drive in us then says, ‘Oh, but you have to wait.’ It’s cruel.” This is kind of like buying your 16-year-old son a brand new Lamborghini, parking it outside, and then saying, “It’s yours. It’s paid for, but there are no keys, and you can’t drive it.” So every day he has to walk by and look at it, sit in it, but cannot drive it. He has the car but nowhere to go. Is God crazy? No, He is very smart. God understands there are consequences to premature oneness. His design is for you and me to have this beautiful thing called intimacy and oneness in marriage, where two become one for life. When we choose to ignore God’s design, there are consequences.
[Tear off a single piece of scotch tape, and begin sticking the tape to different people’s pants, shirts, and foreheads.] Each time I stick this tape on someone, when I pull it off, pieces of that person’s clothing stick to the tape. The more people I stick the tape to, the more adhesive was lost. This piece of tape is designed to stick things together, yet the more I use it on people’s clothing, the less sticky it becomes. The same thing happens with our sexuality. Sexuality is who we are. We want to be able to stick together through thick and thin so that we can enjoy the oneness waiting for us. When we go outside God’s principles, our stick-ability in marriage is diminished. Many of us are married and wonder why we don’t have the ability to have a cohesive relationship. This may be the reason why. God is not a killjoy. He’s just smart. He said oneness is what we are to pursue.

In 4:6b-8, Paul shares three incentives to pursue sexual purity.
o Avoid God’s judgment (4:6b). Paul writes, “[Abstain from sexual immorality] because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.” In the course of his ministry in Thessalonica, Paul has warned these new believers that they must be men and women of purity. For those believers who choose to be sexually immoral, Paul warns that “the Lord is the avenger.” The word “avenger” (ekdikos) is only used here and in Rom 13:4, where it refers to the governing authorities that bear the sword and will pour out wrath on the one who sins. The leading Greek dictionary defines this term as “one who punishes.” This is a very scary word! Paul probably has in mind the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) when Jesus Himself will elevate our sexual purity or lack thereof. It is also likely that God “gives us over” (Rom 1:24, 26, 28) to the consequences of our sin in this life. Believers who cheat are often cheated upon by someone else. What goes around comes around! An immoral Christian teenager may learn the hard way that condoms fail 20-30% of the time. In today’s culture, this is playing Russian roulette with our lives. A gun will give you one in six. A condom will give you one in five, or less. Gals, you may get pregnant and guys you may get a venereal disease. Another severe consequence can be the memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life. There is a chemical called epinephrine in your brain. It is released during physical contact, and what happens is people get married to a wonderful person and all of a sudden the memories of previous encounters come flooding back. There is a term for this called “sex ghosts.” Can we get over some of these consequences? Yes, with God’s grace we can; however, in Gal 6:7 Paul writes, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” God is an ethical God. He keeps books on sexual issues and He is a very good accountant. These are all the laws of the harvest. If we want to walk His way, we will take the avenger dead serious.
o Fulfill God’s call (4:7). Paul writes, “[Abstain from sexual immorality] for God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” God “calls” us to both salvation and sanctification. He takes the initiative in both our everlasting life and our spiritual growth. We simply respond to His work in us. Throughout the course of our Christian experience, God issues an upward calling, a high calling, a calling to sanctification, to ministry, and to heavenly reward. We fulfill our destiny by heeding His call and walking His way.
o Honor the Scriptures and the Spirit (4:8). In the final verse of this first section, Paul issues a warning: “So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” Paul says, “If you don’t like what I’ve written, please understand that your “beef” is with God. You are rejecting Him and His authority. Likewise, if you do not like what I have said, your problem is not with me, it is with God. I am just the mailman…I deliver the mail. I am the doctor, I give the prescription.” Before you complain too much, please understand that sexual immorality was even more prevalent in Paul’s day. In the first place Thessalonica was a seaport, which meant that people from all over the Mediterranean world stopped there in transit from one place to another. The sailors and visiting merchants brought with them the usual desires for sexual gratification. More importantly, the Greek religions of that day practiced sacred prostitution. That involved hiring a prostitute at a pagan temple as part of your acts of worship. The famed orator Demosthenes described the moral climate of ancient Greece this way: “We keep prostitutes for pleasure, we keep mistresses for day to day needs of the body, we keep wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guarding of the home.” So long as a man supported his wife and family there was no shame whatsoever in extra-marital relationships. Given the moral atmosphere of the day, there must have been enormous pressure on those young Christians to lower their standards to conform to the world around them. But Paul will have none of it. He orders them to abstain from every form of sexual immorality. Fortunately, 4:8 ends with a very hopeful phrase. It mentions “God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” The word “gives” is a present tense verb. In this case it means that God gives and keeps on giving the Spirit to you. You have the Holy Spirit always within you. Therefore, when God commands you to abstain, He also gives you the power to obey. What a wonderful thought. You are not in this battle alone! Your weakness is His strength. Do you need help? You’ve got it!
Perhaps, you’ve found yourself lost in the above instructions and incentives. If so, here are some other suggestions that may be helpful to you.
o Recognize your position in Christ. You are a “saint” who is dead to sin.
o Ask God for grace and mercy. Acknowledge “it” could happen to you. Plead the blood of Jesus.
o Saturate yourself with Scripture. Read God’s Word to shore up your strength.
o Pray when you are tempted. Satan flees when we pray.
o Have an accountability partner. Make sure he or she asks you brutal purity questions.
o Beware of raunchy music. Research proves that teens who listen to music with sexually graphic or degrading lyrics are far more likely to be sexually active (51% vs. 29%).
o Exercise with a vengeance. Cardiovascular workouts will so tire you out that your drive can be diminished.
o Refuse to live together before marriage. Data from Rutgers University now suggests that 90% of couples who live together before marriage will end in divorce.
o Invest in your marriage. Pour your time and energy into your spouse. This is the best distraction.
Before we move on, I really want you to hear that it is never too late to walk with God. Many of you have already sinned sexually. It is God’s will that you move on. God makes it clear that He will welcome you back and restore you to fellowship. As we trusted the finished work of Christ for salvation, so we trust His finished work on the cross for our sin (1 John 1:9-2:2). What Paul is saying in this section is that through our relationship with God, we can have the power and the discipline to stay sexually pure; or if we have already messed up, we can begin right now. God is simply waiting for you to confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and go and sin no more. Or, if you prefer, walk His way.
[Why should you serve God by being sexually pure? For the simple reason that God loves you and wants the best for you.]
2. Serve God by loving other believers (4:9-10).
The transition from holiness to love is not a difficult one (cf. 3:11-13). God’s love is a holy love, so our love for God and for one another ought to motivate us to holy living. The more we live like God, the more we will love one another. If a Christian really loves his brother, he will not sin against him (4:6). Paul writes, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.” In these two verses, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they should demonstrate “the love of the brethren.” The Greek word behind this phrase is philadelphia, which means “brotherly love.” In the New Testament it is used exclusively of the love Christians are to show to each other. Outside of the New Testament philadelphia is used only of love for blood brothers or sisters. The idea seems to be that believers should have a fondness for one another. This only occurs when the agapelove of 4:10 is first implemented. The word “love” (agapao) in 4:10 is a different word for love than in the first phrase of 4:9. The word here is a self-sacrificing love produced by the Holy Spirit. This requires believers making a conscious decision of their wills to love and forgive one another. Paul reveals that the Thessalonians are exuding love for not only one another but all the brethren in their entire region. They are a model church, yet Paul urges these believers to “excel still more.” How can we accomplish this? First, it is important to recognize that the church is made up of individuals and families. Therefore, it is essential to love believers closest to you. If you don’t love those people closest to you, you won’t love the body of Christ at large. So if you are married, the most important person in your life is your spouse. You need to love your husband or wife with every fiber of your being. Obviously, you can do this by being sexually pure. But you can also listen to your spouse, verbally affirm your spouse, and support his or her dreams. If you have children or grandchildren, you must love those precious souls with unconditional love. One way I have found of doing this is adopting an area of their interest. If they like a sport, a type of music, or a particular hobby, do that with them—even if you don’t like it. If you are a student or a single, you are called to first and foremost love other believers in Christ. This means prioritizing your friendships with those in youth or college groups above those of your coworkers or friends. As a church, we are called to love people within our body. One of the most tangible ways you can do this is by simply reaching out to people on Sunday morning. This is as simple as greeting someone who looks new or lonely and seeking to befriend that person. Additionally, we are expected to love those believers outside of our church walls.

What does it mean that our love should “excel still more?” It means that we should increase in our sympathy for those in need, patience for those who are struggling, and tolerance toward those with whom we disagree. We can’t be satisfied with our past performance. We must excel still more in our love for others. Research shows that when the unchurched are asked what they are looking for in a church, the answer is always the same: They are looking for a caring church. Not just a friendly church, a relevant church, or a church with plenty of programs for the kids. As good and essential as those things are, they don’t touch the deepest heart cry of this generation, which is for a place where they can be loved truly and deeply. When the people of the world find such a place they stand in line to get in. This was the primary attraction of the early church. They had no buildings, no fancy programs, no large budgets, no radio, no TV. They had none of the things that we consider essential for success. Yet nothing could stop them. In just three centuries, Christianity conquered the Roman Empire. How did this happen? It was said of the early Christians, “Behold, how they love one another.” If we want to walk His way, we will love other believers.
[Why should you serve God by loving other believers? It pleases God and serves as a witness to the world.]
3. Serve God by working not meddling (4:11-12).
In this third and final section, Paul argues that our work is a witness. People are watching. We are witnesses! He puts it like this: “And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave [“walk”] properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” These challenging words should be understood in the context of 4:13-5:11, which teaches Christ’s return. Furthermore, in 5:14 there is yet another warning against slackness.
o Lead a quiet life. Paul states “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” It is a life that does its best to avoid unnecessary contention and to be at peace with all men insofar as it is humanly possible. The word translated “make it your ambition” (philotimeomai) can also be rendered “aspire.” Paul’s point is: There is a time to share Christ, but more often than not, it is better to listen and draw others out. Don’t have pat answers for all the suffering in the world. Seek to learn from others. Have a pleasant demeanor. Do not have fits of anger or jealousy.
o Mind your own business. Do not be a busybody. Don’t meddle in other people’s affairs. Say no to gossip and slander. You don’t need to know the latest and greatest news on someone else. You have enough to be concerned about yourself.
o Work with your hands. The upper classes of Rome and Greece despised manual labor. That’s why they owned so many slaves. They hated to work with their hands. But Christianity brought in a new ethic based on personal responsibility and hard work. Jesus was a carpenter and Paul himself was a tentmaker! It’s important to understand that Paul isn’t being metaphorical here. He literally worked with his hands as a tentmaker whenever he could so that he could support himself while he preached the gospel. Even though he was highly educated, he didn’t mind hard work in the least and he didn’t find manual labor embarrassing. So Paul says “work with your hands” so that you can provide for the needs of your own family and not give the gospel a black eye. If you’re looking for true welfare reform, it begins right here.
The point is this: God longs for us to use our work as a witness. He wants us to represent Him in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. As we do so, we will see others drawn to Christ.
Let me say it again: Walk His way. When you walk His way life is not usually easier but God is glorified in and through you, and eventually the world sits up and takes notice. Will you be a Christian who is characterized by sexual purity, love for the brethren, and a godly work ethic? If so, you can change your world. For when you learn to conquer yourself and allow God’s Spirit to reign in and through you, your life and the lives of others will be changed for eternity. Walk His way.