07 Mar 2021
Main idea: Please God by living a Holy life with the Holy Spirit’s help
1 Thessalonians 4
As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honourable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.[b] The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
Before I pray I want to say three things because our passage touches on some controversial issues that we won’t be able to do justice in 15-20 minutes.
- You are welcome at the Parish of Herne Hill whatever your sexuality or gender or marital status.
- There is nothing you have done or can do that will make God love you more and nothing you can do or have done that will make God love you less.
- If you want to talk about anything I mention in this sermon please call me and I will be happy to chat and pray with you if you want to.
Lord Jesus thank you for your unconditional love for us. Help us now to understand more about what pleases you so we can live holy lives. Amen
Intro: Whatsapp has been one of those apps that almost everyone has now got on their phone. It’s easy to share photos and videos which most of the time is great. Except when you’re a vicar and someone sends you pornography. It’s not really the thing I want to see on my phone or keep on my phone. I always delete unhelpful images from my phone and have changed my settings so that it doesn’t automatically download images or videos that people send me. I’ve even said to people who send me things to not send them anymore as I they are unhelpful for me. As Christian it is not easy to avoid sexual temptation because the internet has made things easier for those who want to entice you whether unhelpful adverts on websites or it’s the the facebook friend request from someone without their clothes. Then there are TV programs and movies which seem harmless until that sex scene where you are not sure whether to look or not. How are we meant to live a Holy life when we are bombarded with sexual temptations on our phones, computers and TVs?
Our passage from 1 Thessalonians 4 has some guidance which I hope will help us all.
The first question our reading addresses is
Why do we exist?
To please God v1
we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.
The no 1 reason we exist is not to make lots of money or pass on our genes or to maximise our pleasure. Our no 1 reason we exist is to please God.
Every decision, every choice, every thought, every action should be made with the one purpose – to please God.
How do we please God?
V4 Be sanctified –
Greek word Hagiasmos – “a process or, more often its results (the state of being made holy)
So Paul is saying to the Thessalonians to please God be holy or be made holy
V7 By living a Holy Life not an impure one
There are others ways we please God which are not mentioned in this passage such as the greatest commandments in Matthew 22 to love God and love your neighbours and the great commission in Matthew 28 to make disciples.
But for the purposes of this sermon we are just going to refer to the ways mentioned in verses 1-8 of this passage.
What does a Holy Life look like?
V3 Avoid sexual immorality
Greek word “porneia” which we get our English word pornography.
The term porneia covers a range of sexually immoral practices but can refer more specifically to prostitution, fornication, adultery, unchastity, forbidden marriages and, metaphorically, to worshipping any but the one true God.
Sex outside of marriage may feel good but people get hurt.
When God created man he realized that is not good for him to be alone and so he created woman. We were created for relationship.
So Jesus in Matthew 19 quotes Genesis 2 saying
‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.’
Two become one.
This verse tells us 3 things about marriage?
It involves leaving – a public act of lifelong exclusive commitment.
It involves uniting – man and woman glued together in marriage.
Two become one flesh – sexual union takes place.
This union ‘It is not just physical and biological, but emotional, psychological, spiritual and social.’ There is more to sex than simply hormones and physical pleasure.
Consequently when we have sex outside of marriage we risk hurting ourselves and others – if the relationship breaks down One flesh is painful to separate! , there is guilt, and frustration.
Sometimes sex can end up being very dangerous, like a fire outside of a fireplace.
Proverbs 5 talks about the fire of sexual passion, a fire which God placed in our lives to bring warmth and love when you keep it in the right place. Two sexual relationships are described here.
First, verse 15 says, "Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well." This is talking about marital faithfulness. "Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares, let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed. May you rejoice in the wife of your youth. May her breasts satisfy you always. May you ever be captivated by her love." This describes in graphic terms the fire of sexual love in the fireplace for which it was designed - marriage. God says to enjoy it.
Hebrews 13:4 says, "Marriage is to be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure." That's in the fireplace.
Here's the second sexual scenario with the same fire but a different result. Proverbs 6:25 says, "Do not lust in your heart after the wayward woman's beauty, or let her captivate you with her eyes. Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched?" Here the fire of sexual love is outside the fireplace of a lifetime commitment, and there are damaging results.
There are damaging effects of letting sex be our master. We can put sex in the place of God. Sex has become about being driven and satisfying ourselves.
It has become an individualistic commodity rather than being about others needs. We end up being driven by desire but the result is destructive – shame and self-hatred. Dissatisfied and unfulfilled.
We can make the pursuit of a partner the number one thing to achieve in life. There is the constant desire to be on the pull rather than sit on the shelf. We think that we must find a husband or wife or we are somehow less well off or missing out or not being fully human.
We think we are free but really, we are mastered.
God designed sexual intercourse for our enjoyment in the context of marriage. Any sex outside marriage is a distortion of God’s good gift and falls short of his ideal.
We need to sit under the authority of the Bible and listen to our Bishops.
At the Lambeth conference in 1998 the Bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered and produced a statement. In it they said that
- in view of the teaching of Scripture, we uphold faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;
However, some parts of the Anglican church are calling for this to be reviewed and to consider ways that we might affirm same sex long term committed relationships.
Living in love and faith
The Church of England is currently on a journey called Living in Love and Faith to hear from parishes about their views on identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. The Bishops have asked all parishes to engage with the materials that have been produced both in video and book form and we plan to run the Living in Love and Faith course in September and October this year on Tuesday nights. We wanted to wait until we could all meet together physically.
The purpose of the course is to inspire people to think more deeply about what it means to be human and to live in love and faith with one another.
They tackle the tough questions and the divisions among Christians about what it means to be holy in a society in which understandings and practices of gender, sexuality and marriage continue to change.
Matters of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage are deeply personal, and may be the cause of both deep joy and pain. That’s why it is important for all of us to pay close attention to how we speak and behave towards one another as we learn together.
Learning can only happen when everyone commits to creating a space where everyone feels safe enough to be as open and honest about themselves as they wish to be without fearing condemnation, hurt or rejection. Learning together well is about being kind and building trust.
I do hope many of you will do the Living in Love and Faith Course in the Autumn knowing that all are welcome and know you will not be judged for your views.
V4-5 Control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable - Not in passionate lust
Self-control is a fruit of Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5.23.
Passionate lust is not just about actions but it is also about our thoughts and what we look at.
In Matthew 5:28 Jesus says
You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
In 2018 one of the world’s biggest free-to-use digital sites, Pornhub, had 33.5 billion visits worldwide, an increase of 5 billion on the previous year. Pornhub is only one of about ten major porn sites.
According to the website www.fightthenewdrug.org
- Studies have found that frequency of porn consumption correlates with depression, anxiety, stress, and social problems.
- After being exposed to pornography, men reported being less satisfied with their partners’ physical appearance, sexual performance, and level of affection and express greater desire for sex without emotional involvement.
- Among the effects of the consumption of pornography are an increased negative attitude toward women, decreased empathy for victims of sexual violence… and an increase in dominating and sexually imposing behaviour
Do visit the website www.fightthenewdrug.org which has more information including videos about the dangers of watching porn for your brain, your heart and your world. It also has resources and links to places like fortify.com for people who want to break free from addiction to pornography.
Pornography is lust and as Christians we should not be looking at it.
Don’t wrong others
V6 Do not wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister – context this is probably to do with sexual immorality but holy living includes all areas of our lives : money, work, school, relationships, family, fair-trade, cheating, lying, hurting others and neglect.
Making someone do something they don’t want to do sexually is wrong and illegal including sex trafficking and rape including in the context of marriage.
How can we live a Holy Life?
Source: 3 ways we are sanctified https://www.crossway.org/articles/3-ways-christians-are-sanctified/
- Read God’s Word:
In John 17.17 Jesus says “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17) and “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). As we read the instructions of the Bible, we are urged to obey them, and resolving to do so, with God’s help, makes us grow in holiness. Being exposed to the Scriptures also exposes us to the nature of God. When we spend time with God in prayer and in the Word, his nature permeates us, causing us to change without our even realizing it.
Jesus when tempted in Matthew 4 quotes Deut 8:3, "Man shall not live by bread alone..but on every word
We need the Word of God to truly live! If we know and memorise scriptures when we are tempted we can quote scripture like Jesus did. Muslims know their Qurans off by heart. When I was teacher in Pakistan I observed the chidren learning the verses from the quran daily and reciting them. As Christians we can at least learn a verse of the day or week from the Bible.
If you think you don’t have a great memory don’t worry!
In John 14.26 Jesus says: But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
The Holy Spirit teaches us and reminds us of what Jesus said. But you do have to read what Jesus said first! Otherwise, he can’t remind you of something you never knew. That’s why daily Bible reading is so important! The Bible app can be a great way to do this with lots of great Bible plans and devotionals. If you are new to reading the Bible please start at Matthew’s Gospel and read the New Testament first before reading the Old Testament.
- Live in the Spirit:
V8 “God who gives you his Holy Spirit” How do we live a Holy Life? With the Holy Spirit’s help?
Christian character is described as “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5 (Gal. 5:22–23. Sometimes this work of sanctification is attributed simply to God. Paul says to the Thessalonians, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
The life of holiness may involve giant leaps forward through powerful works of the Holy Spirit in what may be called crisis experiences. The apostles’ experience at Pentecost is an example.
The Holy Spirit will nudge us when we are tempted to Look for a way out 1 cor 10. 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
When we are tempted God will provide a way out - we need to take it.
- The biggest temptation time for me was at University - girls & booze! Life at LSE often revolved around the Student Bar the Three Tuns. There was a definite correlation with how much alcohol I consumed and how flirty I was.
- I needed to change my attitude from not how close can I go but I needed to act in the knowledge that my bodyis a temple of the Holy Spirit 1 Corinthians 6.9 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
Over time I learned to drink less to avoid being out of control of my actions.
It is in community with other Christians that some of the most marked changes take place.
Accountability is key. I have friends I pray with regularly who will ask me about every area of my life including my marriage. If you don’t have a prayer partner or prayer triplet or small group of Christians you can pray with and give you accountability and support please do find one. They have been valuable in my life and I’ve try to live a Holy Life with the Holy Spirit’s help.
4.Cut out temptations
- Jesus gave a strategy against temptation in Matt 5.27-30 - if eyes/hand cause you to sin cut off. This doesn’t mean literally cutting off your hand.
- Cut means
- 1 look – when you are walking down the street and you see someone attractive, but you know you shouldn’t be looking at them then only look once. Don’t allow yourself a second look. That applies equally when we are watching something on the TV or internet that will give us lustful thoughts.
- PORN: If you struggle with porn then get an internet filter on your phone and broadband, don’t watch 18s.
What if we’ve failed?
In John 8 Jesus is asked about a woman caught in adultery:
‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” All right, stone her. But let those who have never sinned throw the first stone.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one. Jesus said to her, “Where are your accusers?
Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Jesus forgave the woman but expected her to learn from her past and not commit adultery again.
If you have failed in the area of lustful thoughts or sexual immorality I want you to know it’s not a worse sin than any other sin and you can be forgiven by Jesus in the same way you can be forgiven by Jesus for any sin. We don’t need to carry around shame or guilt for sexual sin or any other sin. We can give these things to Jesus and the slate is wiped clean.
We are going to have a moment of quiet now and if you have any unconfessed sexual sin or shame or guilt you are carry I want you to bring that to God. Then I will lead us in a prayer of Repentance, then we will Rebuke and Renounce the Spiritual Strongholds behind the temptations and then we will replace with God’s Holy Spirit.
Lord Jesus we first want to confess where we have colluded with lust.
We repent now and desire to walk in the opposite direction
We receive your forgiveness
In Jesus name we stand again lust, we rebuke you and renounce you and send you to the foot of the risen Jesus never to return.
We pray now that you will help us to walk in the opposite direction to resist lust and live a holy life that pleases God.
Fill us afresh with your Holy Spirit
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ