Sermon for Sunday, March 5th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Lev 11:41-45 ESV] 41 “Every swarming thing that swarms on the ground is detestable; it shall not be eaten. 42 Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable. 43 You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. 44 For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. 45 For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
New Testament reading:
[Rom 15:1-7 ESV] 1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
[Mat 28:16-20 ESV] 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
[1Th 4:1-12 ESV] 1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 9 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.
Do you ever get too much encouragement in life? Do you ever say “I just get too much praise.” “Everyone is always saying how much they appreciate me and how good of a job I’m doing.” And I’m just sick of it. Does that happen to you? Probably not.
If you work in customer service of any sort, I’d guess that you get 1 genuine complement for every, who knows, 10 complaints.
If you work behind the scenes, in an office, you might NEVER get a complement for your work. You might work decades without any encouragement, relying only on your own drive for accomplishments.
Encouragement is a powerful thing. And encouragement is important in the Christian life to keep up going on the right track, the narrow path, the way of life.
We are called to encouraged on another in the faith. And, we indeed find encouragement from others, namely Paul, Silas, and Timothy, as WE walk in the Lord.
We are nearing the end of this rather short epistle to the church of the Thessalonians. Thus we see Paul writing “Finally.” “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.”
And this is a nice encouragement because of the circumstances.
It isn’t one of those “You’ve failed and need to do better.”
It is “You’ve been doing great, keep it up!”
Twice in our text we find Paul saying “more and more.” He says “Control Your Body” more and more, and he says “Love One Another” more and more.
These will make the first two points of our sermons. Control Your Body, More and More. And Love One Another, More and More. Then, the third, summing it all up, will be “Holiness, More and More.”
As we look at this encouragement of “more and more” we much realize that this isn’t one of those “I need to see more of you doing that or you’re fired.” Rather, it is because the Thessalonians have been doing well that Paul says “That is what you should be doing more and more.” He encourages them in their walk.
It is not always the case that positive encouragement is the needed tool. Sometimes we need tough discipline, correction for when we have strayed. But in our day to day life, as we strive to follow the Lord, we often need encouragement.
So while this is a letter to the Thessalonians, it is also a letter to you. It applies to all Christians. I want you to take Paul’s words as encouragement so that you strive “more and more” to follow the Lord.
I. Control Your Body, More and More.
First, control your body, more and more.
A. Abstain from Sexual Immorality
As Paul writes about controlling the body, his focus is on sexual purity. He says “abstain from sexual immorality.”
This is a total command, not a part way one. To abstain is to not participate.
He says Christians are not to have “the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
And especially, he warns, do not wrong your brother.
What does this mean? To wrong your brother. In the context, it is clear that it is speaking of adultery. Adultery sexual sin that “wrongs a brother.” It breaks the command “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and negatively impacts not just the guilty party, but the spouse as well. There is not just harm in the vertical relationship (between man and God) but the horiztontal relationship (between man and his brother).
God has called us for something better. Paul writes, “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”
B. Control against anger, etc.
Paul’s focus, on this subject of Controlling the Body is against sexual immorality, but we might easily extend the understanding to be against anger, gluttony, and other sins that we must fight, that we must keep under control.
Self-control is indeed a fruit of the spirit.
Now, note particularly verse 7 and 8:
7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
You still have the Holy Spirit, though you sin. Take that encouragement. If you have sinned sexuality, know that the Holy Spirit has not left you.
So we are to Control our bodies, more and more. Then, in the second half of the passage, Paul explains we are to love one another, more and more.
II. Love One Another, More and More.
How do we do this? How do we love one another more and more? Fortunately, Paul gives specifics. He says (A) “Aspire to Live Quietly,” (B) Mind Your Own Affairs, and (C) Work with Your Hands.
A. Aspire to Live Quietly
The world tells you to be loud and showy. You can become internet famous if you make annoying videos of yourself doing stupid and dangerous things.
But Paul tells us to aspire to live quietly.
I had a coworker, and this still effects me to this day, who was nearing retirement. And he sat in the cubical next me, working as a design engineer. He had worked his way up to management in the past. Perhaps he managed a group of engineers or even a whole department company. But he realized this was not bringing him much happiness, and it certainly was’t a quiet life. As they say “More money, more problems.” You might also say “More responsibilities, more problems.” Many aspire to positions of power, but many are disappointed in the position when they get their. So my coworker found that he was much happier aspiring to a quiet life as a designer in a cubical. And one of my favorite things about him — he having been to the top and come back down — is that he’s leave work at exactly 5:00 PM. A boss might be talking to him but when 5 came around, he’s say “It is time for me to go.” He didn’t step back to a lesser role and salary only to remain working extra hours. He was serious about aspiring to a quiet life.
This is just an example. Perhaps it isn’t exactly what Paul is speaking of. You could be a manager and yet have a quiet life.
Aspiring to live quietly also has ramifications on our dress and appearance. While we don’t need to dress like the Mennonites, we certainly should strive for modesty. We are not to draw attention to ourselves with expensive clothing or flashing clothing or expensive jewelry and accessories.
We must remember that this idea of “aspiring to live quietly” is under the heading of loving one another. Our appearance and reputation should be buttressed by our helping of others, not by our looks.
B. Mind Your Own Affairs
Now, also under that heading of loving others is Paul’s command to “mind your own affairs.”
Here we have a command against gossip and perhaps most of all against meddling. A warning against busybodies.
There is a proper level of interaction with the affairs of others, and an improper one.
You can pet a dog, but you can’t poke it. Or you might get bit.
You can add a log to a fire, but if you get too close you’ll get burned.
In the realm of people, we are called to mind our own affairs. If you have business with someone, stick that business. Basically, don’t give your unsolicited opinions. I see this quite often. People are full of advice, and you’re going to get some whether you want it or not. But when you give too much advice, you’re not letting them live their lives. You are asking to live their life. It is a sin of control.
And you have plenty of your own issues to deal with. There is no need to go telling others how to manage their affairs. Go manage yours! Get advice if you need it, give advice when it is ask for, but do not meddle.
C. Work with Your Hands
Then, Paul gives another command for us to love one another. He says “work with your hands.”
Now, there is a lot of important mental work, especially in our day. And he is not disparaging that kind of work. But, no doubt, there have been many government officials and wealthy powerful individuals throughout history who might tell you they are “working” and have “earned their money” when really they have defrauded people.
So Paul encourages us to “work with our hands” meaning “provide value” rather than “steal value.” Do not claim for yourself an accomplishment of a coworker.
In Paul’s day especially there was the need to provide a physical product. Today a large percentage of our work is in the service sector. But historically you had to grow a crop or make a product like clothing, leather for shoes, or baskets out of reeds. Whatever it is, there was something to point to.
And “working with our hands” keeps us from meddling in the affairs of others. Work is good for us. It keeps us out of trouble and keeps our minds out of trouble as well.
III. Holiness, More and More
What then is the overall theme then of this passage It is holiness.
Holiness has come on hard times. Any mention of it is likely to bring up thoughts of legalism. And while we are not to be legalistic, we are certainly called to holiness. We should embrace holiness, and desire it more and more. And we should encourage it.
Tell you children to have role models that are godly, not worldly. Point out good examples to them.
Acknowledge success in holiness. And encourage more of it. You know that good thing you did? Yeah, that? That was great. Do more of that!
If one asks, however, how much holiness is necessary for salvation? I must only say that that is the wrong question.
The idea of “more and more” is not about appeasing God, for Christ has forgiven the sins of all who believe that He is Lord, but to answer God’s call for holiness because of our love for Him.
But, what if you’re situation is not like the Thessalonians all. Perhaps you’re saying “You don’t want to ask for more from me, because all that I do is terrible.” The Thessalonians are walking wit the Lord, and Paul is encouraging them to keep up their pace.” But I feel like I’m wandering about, walking sometimes with the Lord and sometimes without.
Well, if you are totally apart from the Lord, there is the Biblical message, the command to repent and believe. To come to the Lord in Faith in Christ who promises to forgive your sins.
But for those who are in Christ, we are to be encouraged to follow him more and more.
OUR sins are forgiven. What does that leave? That leaves ONLY good works that the Holy Spirit does in us. God sees those works. And says “more and more” do more of that.
What are we to do? Obey Christ who said “observe all that I have commanded you.” Let us do that more and more.
And because of Christ and because of the Holy Spirit, one day, we shall hear just like what the master said in the parable of the talents, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little: I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
So we are to be encouraged.
Sin takes us down. And we hear a lot about sin. Fortunately we also hear a lot about forgiveness of our sins.
But we need encouragement. And it is there in the Word of God.
God sees those good things you’ve done and are doing. He sees when you “control your body.” He sees when you “love one another.” And he says “Do that, more and more.”
Let this be a call then to continue in perseverance. Don’t just say “I’ve done my good deed for the week.” But seek to do more for the praise of God and your growth in holiness. And we pray, that God will sanctify you completely and that your whole spirit and soul and body will be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we are encouraged by Him who is faithful, for he will surely do it. Amen.