1 Thessalonians 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.
In these 12 verses, is a most amazing sketch of foundational Christian living. 4 “cornerstones” if you will. Central aspects of the normal Christian life, that prove to be more than insightful for our present day. They are indeed prophetic.
Note too that these 4 fall under the umbrella of brotherly love. In other words, these are keys to our loving one another as we are called to in the Church. They are not abstract principles for the individual, but are directly tied to our relationship to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
1. Abstaining from sexual immorality. And we must note here that this is a STARTING point, not some high level of maturity. No one needs to point out the absolute drenching of our American society in sexuality. It cannot be avoided. It is everywhere. And the Believer here is called to reject this pervasive context of sexualization as a basic and key element in loving one another. For we cannot love one another if behind closed doors we are looking at or thinking about members of the opposite sex salaciously. No one is unaware of the plague of visual pornography which has gripped the hearts and minds of so many men – virtually touching every man, nor the fact that the current trend toward female pornography in the world of publishing is the newest goldmine yielding up untold new profits. So it is that Barnes & Noble is virtually crediting E. L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey (a graphic novel of sexuality aimed at women) with turning around its dismal profits last year. In addition, publishing industry leaders are touting this new market as the source of previously untapped fortunes. It will not stop.
America (openly – but virtually every other culture secretly – note the stash of pornographic videos found in Osama bin laden’s home where he was living with his 3 wives when killed) is a boiling cauldron of hypersexualizaiton. The Believer is called to live in direct opposition to that reality. We cannot love people we are lusting after. We must address this issue, each of us individually. Beloved, do all you can to abstain from sexual immorality – in every form.
2. Aspiring to live quietly. Not being strident, agitated, pugnacious or without inner stillness. We must note again how our present day media is centered upon stirring up and agitating the hearts and minds of viewers, listeners and readers. It is never aimed at bringing us together, and calling us to quietness of heart and mind – but rather to produce fear, anger, outrage and opposition. Two reasons seem evident behind this. First, the World HAS no answers to the tragic reality of this life – only the Gospel offers hope. And secondly, panic sells. As Christians we will have to reject this tendency, or we will not point one another to the hope that is in Christ, but fixate on the lostness of the world – and our inability to change it. We must reject it in our pulpits, in our reading and listening and viewing, and in our private lives. Constant anxiety is proof we are feeding our souls on the wrong things. And the World serves up a 24 hour, virtually endless smorgasbord of agitants to gorge ourselves upon. Beware.
3. Minding one’s OWN affairs. One cannot help but think how the flood of reality TV and gossip media are all focused on the exact opposite. Not to mention the gossip line in the Church itself. When we are fixated on the lives of others, we do so (as one wag said) so that we do not have to live our own lives – but live through theirs. It is so easy to fall down this pit. To be more concerned with the never ending waves of Kardashian crises, the latest on Lohan’s undoing or who is divorcing or living with or dating who – than to spend 5 minutes considering the present state of my own heart and mind before God; pondering the spiritual health of my own soul. We know everyone else’s motives, failure and foibles, and precious little about our own true needs which only Christ can meet. And so it is we have endless opinions about everything and everyone else and time to express them to a greedily hungry list of others who want to hear – and haven’t thought a whit about soaking in the wonders of Christ’s love and mercy and grace. Oh how this sink-hole can draw us in. Watch out!
4. Working with your own hands. Self-supporting industriousness. Interestingly, Paul attaches this to being part and parcel of our witness to the lost world – before “outsiders”. This he mentions first and foremost in terms of a simple godly work ethic. Christians are to be hard workers, desiring to support ourselves and not looking to others. Does that means there are NO times when help may be needed? Of course not. The diaconate was established for just such a reality. But no one is to be content there. We are to seek to a self-supporting industrious lifestyle as a direct witness against the worldly mentality that denies such a thing.
In addition, there is such a danger that the entitlement mentality we know is problematic in our American culture, can find its way into our own hearts and minds – and even infect the way we approach the Church. So that we can begin to expect to be served and to have our needs met, without actually investing in our own spiritual growth in daily time in the Word, prayer, and seeking out the means to grow in grace personally, nor investing in the spiritual health and growth of anyone else. Virtually all entertainment (in terms of novels, movies, theatre etc.) is built around endless fascination with humanity and the human condition. All this, because we have been led to believe WE are more interesting, more delightful, more wondrous than the infinite wonder of God Himself. Heaven help us.
Now to live in love toward one another, requires these things. And that, is something to think about.