Clarity and Charity 1
1 Thessalonians 4:1-10
January 5, 2020
Paul was with these people only a brief time before persecution forced him out of the city and down to Athens and then on to Corinth. This was a small fledgling Christian Community to whom Paul wrote and this is the first letter Paul ever sent to a church. That makes it the first document of the Christian Scriptures. That’s important to know – when we read this passage we are getting a sense of ‘firsts’, of the basics for what Paul wanted in life for those who called themselves Christians.
“Walk and please God”, and keep growing in that Walk. v.1
He writes about two key qualities he wants to see characterize that new way of living:
You might not be surprised that he would emphasize sacrificial love but you might be shocked to learn that he includes sexual holiness as a basic part of Christian living.
We’re going to talk about BOTH: the Call to Follow Jesus as his sexually holy people – Clarity – and our Call to Follow Jesus with sacrificially holy love – Charity.
It’s a difficult conversation for us:
– Our Culture’s Very Intense Debate
– The Church’s Manifold Failures
– The Need to Care for the Wounded
What if the believing community of God’s people could become a humble, healing, holy community that never backed away from people in pain but also never backed away from its core commitments to Jesus’ teaching, a church that embraced both clarity in its claims and charity in its handling of people?
In every church I’ve ever served… all manner of sexual sin (and in my heart too!)
We have to have this conversation guided by the Bible as our authority rather than two other possible authorities: our own feelings and experiences or the constantly shifting sands of culture.
The Bible isn’t simply a list of commands but a faithful record of God’s mercy and love for his unfaithful people in our sins and the declaration of his grace to transform us into the image of Christ.
I. Called to Sexual Holiness – v.1-8
1. Holiness as Blessed and Set Aside as a Gift (Genesis 2 as first mention): BEAUTY!
Unique; ‘Other’/’Different’ – God’s people are to be ‘different’/ ‘holy’
Holy, Holy, Holy: God’s essence
2. Act of Grace (setting us aside) and a Work of Grace (transforming us by the Spirit and Word)
– Sex as Gift, not Sin
– Drunk Driving and Driving; Fire in the Fire Place
B. Desire – v.5 (epithumia)
* Sexuality in the ancient world: a god: Eros
– They were right – Sex is very Spiritual!
Desire and Sinful desire – the OBJECT of the desire. BOTH desire AND act are sinful, which is disordered and destructive.
– “Be killing your sin or your sin will be killing you.” – John Owen
– “My sinful desires push me further into the embrace of God’s mercy.”
More to say about this next Sunday, but the desire for sexual union with another – and the belief that the fulfillment of that desire will complete us and make us one with the cosmos still shows up in our language: people talk about great sex as ‘a religious experience’. Psychologists and Psychiatrists are well aware that the centers of the brain that deal with religious euphoria also handle sexual ecstasy. The ancient pagans worshipped sex and they thought sex would make them one with the gods.
* Thessalonian and Corinthian practices with Temple Prostitutes, etc.
What is it that people are actually seeking?
– Tim Keller – “There is a music we are born remembering.”
– Eccl 3 – Eternity in the heart
“The single desire that dominated my search for delight was to love and be loved.” – St Augustine
What he discovered in himself – as a good Roman – was the disordered desire Paul talks about here.
II. Called to Sacrificial Love – v.9-10
A. Love is Greater than Eros
* God is love, but this Love that IS God is not Eros, but Agape
“Eros, honored without reservation and obeyed unconditionally, becomes a demon” – CS Lewis
B. Love is Agape – Sacrificial Life
NOT what I want.
NOT my will, but THINE
The Cross Gives Life to our souls and the Cross Shapes the Life of our community
Love and Holiness are not mutually exclusive ideals; they are the very best of companions. We are called to lives of holy love and loving holiness
Supremely seen in Jesus – Garden of Gethsemane to the Cross, to win us and make of us his Bride. The Cross is the place where we see God’s holiness and love; there is nothing self-seeking about it, but rather the heart of God sacrificing self in the seeking for the good of others, namely our broken, sin-stained and shattered race which he gave all to reconcile to himself and restore. This is holiness that heals; this love that gives all. This is the God you can trust.
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