Flourishing in Sex | 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:1–4:8
Christopher Rich – October 8, 2016
FLOURISH | Hope and Holiness amid Hostility
Wk6: Flourish in Sex |1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Introduction | Flourishing Disciples
Good Morning! We are continuing our series on the New Testament book of 1 Thessalonians. The series is titled Flourish: Hope and Holiness amid Hostility. Where do you find hope? How do you handle hostility? What does the word "holiness" mean and do we pursue it? How are hope and holiness related? Can you more than simply survive or endure hostility, but can you actually flourish in the midst of it? This letter is from Paul a pastor/church planter, to one of the churches he was involved in planting. This church is an example of a flourishing Gospel Community with people whose faith is evident and their relationships with one another and leadership is familial. While there is much to affirm and celebrate in the life of the Thessalonian church, much hope seen, there are issues to address. His pastoral love of God’s people leads him to practical teaching to encourage and exhort Godly living. He ended last chapter with a prayer for the growth of God’s people. Because life with God is good he desires for this church to Flourish in Sex.
PART I | 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 |Talk to Walk
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.
This church has received clear teaching no only about the doctrine (What is True about God) but about practice (How does the church live according to the Gospel). You cannot simply preach the Good News of what God has accomplished for us in Christ without also calling people to walk out the Good Works that God has prepared from them. We need to preach the Gospel AND live lives that adorn the Gospel. Meaning, if the Gospel says ‘In Christ you are a new creation," then you need to live new, not old. It is not only appropriate but necessary to Urge people to live out their new Identities. We have a faulty view of God’s grace that says he blesses us in continued disobedience. God’s mercy is sufficient to cover all of our disobedience AND God’s grace is effective to empower us to live out the lives we’ve been called to. We are so afraid to be branded even by other Christians as "legalists" we so easily ignore, attempt to minimize, or even disobey the clear teaching of what new life in Christ will lead to. God’s word is not so easy on us. This letter, like so many others in the NT starts with the truth of the Gospel and transitions to its implications. This teaching is for everyone in the church so it’s not "hey singles or marrieds, or you one group here," there are "gaps" where Paul’s I want to fill what is lacking in your faith. Something is missing.
When we read instructions it is incredibly important to remember the order. This text does not stand alone; it builds on what has already been said. Paul is not talking about asking, urging, instruction about life and conduct as if that will merit God’s grace or please Him. These are people who have been chosen by God to be sons and daughters, they have placed their faith and hope in Jesus alone, they have turned from worshiping idols of the culture around them. They are rooted in God’s word (Gospel Truth), growing in love of one another (Gospel Community). They are a flourishing community of disciples who none the less need to grow in (Gospel Living). They are to keep doing what they are doing, as much as it is walking in a manner pleasing to God, and do more! They have knowledge of what is true and right about life in Christ, but they need a refresher, as we are prone to wander. So we regularly come to sections of scripture that repeat themes from other or previous sections because God knows His children need reminders.
PART II | 1 Thessalonians 4:4-6 | Flourish in Sex
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.
God has a will for us, our sanctification. In this case it speaking of the ongoing process of growing more like Jesus. Disciples who have been called by God are also changed by God. Faith in Jesus is a recognition that all of sinned and fallen short of God’s glory all are worthy of God’s justice for sin. Therefore, by trusting Jesus as your savior you are declaring Him as Lord because you realize you are not a sufficient or effective Lord of your own life. This means you will change as your life is reoriented away from your rebellion to His Lordship. God’s will FOR you is your Holiness and it is FOR your joy! So to be set apart and clean means there are things you will no longer walk in. Immediately after declaring God’s will is our Holiness the first outworking of that is in our sexuality. There are few greater obstacles and opposition to the Christian faith in our world today than what the Bible teaches about sexuality. There is little push back about helping the poor and widows, about working for the welfare of the city or loving our neighbors. But start taking about biblical sexuality and you can prepare to be a cultural pariah. In an effort to instruct God’s people in a confused and hostile culture there are 3 key concepts for Flourishing in Sex.
Abstain from Sexual Immorality (v3) The sexual revolution of the last 50 years in our culture has continually moved away from any biblical definitions of sexual sin to be THE only sexual sin being not fully affirming and celebrating every type of sexual activity. Sexual and Immorality are no longer words that tied together, rather we tie it to words like identity, orientation, freedom, expression. We no longer have cultural definition of Sexual Immorality, so we have to hold a biblical one. Sexual Immorality (porneias) means ANY kind of sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and women. This includes (BUT IS NOT LIMITED TOO): Acts our culture condones or pormotes: Fornication: Sex before marriage | Adultery: Sex outside of marriage | Homosexuality: Sex with someone of the same gender| Sefl-Gratification: Sex with Self/Homosexuality | Those our culture says are illegal Rape, Prostitution, and Incest | And what our culture see no issue with. Lust: Fantasying about any of these things/sex outside of marriage | Anything else…
God’s word has so much to say about sexual immorality specifically and sexuality in general. But to simplify, you will either worship sexuality as a god or use it as a gift from God with the way He prescribes. Do NOT be deceived by the liars of this world or the liar in your own heart that tries to convince you of anything other than the FACT that scripture is explicitly clear sexuality is a gift from God to be enjoyed exclusively in a covenant marriage between one man and one women. ANYTHING outside of that is a rejection of God’s law, will, and design for sex. Why does this matter? As Christians we need to know this! We can’t and don’t assume a biblical understanding and practice of sexuality when we live and participate in a time and place in history of complete sexual insanity where our culture constantly and shamelessly celebrates all manner sexual activity and expression God’s word calls sin; while slandering what God says is beautiful. Jer 8:12 Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. There is almost no cultural shame for sex outside of or before marriage, which does not make adultery or other acts any less a sin in the eyes of God and an offence to His holiness. This is not a river we can swim in. Beginning to flourish as a disciple means we have to end walking in sexual immorality and sin. There are certain things that might not need to be merely avoided, but need to be fully abstained from. In what has been called sin, moderation cannot be attempted.
There is tremendous cultural pressure to conform to the sexual ethics of our world. The Thessalonians are probably are being inundated with regular opportunities to revert or rebel. Hey Timmy, did Paul really say we couldn’t/shouldn’t…. ?
We somehow think if we actually abstain from these things we will be missing out on THE greatest things. We think our sexual expression as something that defines us. We have made something God has given as a gift and we have made it our god. It will tell us if we are happy, accepted, and content. Our hope is found it happiness in this area of our lives our despair is found in its absence or even in its restraint. So we hear HOLY and it grates us like other four letter words. When we think about set apart-ness in terms of cultural norms we see it wrongly set-apart-ness is an exile from where real life and joy are found. We have to be removed from this fun and exciting sexual world for this joyless island of sexual isolation. That is not what it means to flourish in Sex. Abstaining from Sexual Immorality, is to boycott a sexual culture that because of sin is in exile from God’s beautiful design. We’re are not sitting sulking the corner of pleasure of Island. We are not in exile; we are an embassy that is both distinct from the culture around it but not distant. We are to be an embassy of a flourishing kingdom defined abundant joy offering pure clean refreshing life giving water in the midst of debauched dessert of lost people willing to drink even from a toilet if it provides temporary relief from their thirst. To flourish in sex, it’s not enough to merely abstain from Sexual Immorality It doesn’t say Christians are to abstain from Sex. We have to hold a greater view of sex that is not "It’s dirty, horrible, and dangerous so save it for the one you love." There is man’s distortion but there is also God’s good design.
Self- Control (Honor) (v4-5) While this translation says "control your own body" it can also translate to "take a wife, pursue marriage." Sex was and is God’s creation, it is His design, it is a gift to His people. It is a gift given to be used in the context He created of marriage between one man and one women. There was intention around God’s design. Gen 2:24 | Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. That’s OT! Jesus quotes verbatim in Matthew 19.
Within the God given context is a culture He has prescribed for our greatest flourishing. He talks about sex in terms of Holiness and Honor. Sex isn’t intended to be dirty it is intended to be dignified. A flourish culture of sex in marriage, rightly recognizes all sex is worship. In God’s design it is a gift for marriage and thus serves a variety of rich purposes. Pleasure, YES it’s pleasurable!! Our God gives good gifts!! Our world would agree, but it exists for more. Intimacy. We share something together that is for us and us alone, we return to the garden naked and unashamed. Comfort, in the midst of hostility and discouragement we are reminded there is someone else on this planet that is for us and we enjoy each other in a way that is encouraging. Protection. There is an enemy that seek to destroy your marriage and will attempt to use sex. Procreation. Yes, this is part of the purpose! God has designed life creation to be one of the most pleasure able activities on the planet. God’s culture of sex should be understood, practiced, and articulated as what it truly is. Beautiful, life giving, enjoyable and compelling. You want to be on mission for God? Have a marriage and sexual ethics that are both set apart from the culture around you and is compelling. A flourishing sexual culture in the church should not imitate or be indistinguishable from the culture outside of the church. Paul tells this church your marriages and sexuality should look different than the world around you. You might say "But there is such a culture gap between then and now surely we are very different now."
FF Bruce said, the marriage culture of the day it was not uncommon for a married man to have a mistress who could provide him with intellectual companionship; slavery meant he could have a concubine (a woman who cohabits with a man to whom she is not legally married, especially one regarded associally or sexually subservient;) while casual gratification was radially available from a harlot. The function of a wife was to manage his household and to be mother of his legitimate children and heirs.
Today with "work spouses", live-in girlfriends, pornography/prostitution, and view of marriage that is less about joyful flourishing but instead is seen as mundane and less than fulfilling. Our culture is no different than the gentiles of Thessalonica or others in the Greco-Roman world. God’s people are to have a vision and value of honorable marriage that is God-centered with a few of long term joy rather than the less than short term passion of those who do not know God but are "living in the now" of whatever feels enjoyable in the moment. I have had many non-Christian friends and family who have cohabitated with their girlfriends and more than a few have asked me my opinions even asking if it is a sin. Some are curious other are craving consent. First of all, I say they’re are not my opinions, they are what God’s word has taught from Genesis to Jesus, from eternity past, present, and future. My hope is never that they would simply or only adopt the Christian sexual ethic. Because I know clearly on our own we are not capable of pleasing God based on our keeping of His law alone for all have sinned and fallen short. I expect those who’s controlling passion is themselves and not God’s will to act accordingly. So I don’t blink at the sexual ethics of those who (as these verse describe) don’t know God or claim to follow Jesus. However, the stakes are higher when someone who is a Christian and for communities focused on the Gospel.
Sexual Immorality is not harmless (v6) There is a lie that our sexual actions are ours alone and do not have impacts on others. We have too small a view of sex not one that is too large, we have limited sex and sexuality to our own personal pleasure or at most the pleasure of another. We believe wrongly how we live our sexuality has no negative impacts on others. Paul says a good and right motivation in fleeing Sexual Immorality, pursuing and embodying God Glorifying marriage is to avoid the harm of others. He is comfortable giving clear teaching to the church because he knows there are community implications if and when Sexual Flourishing becomes Sexual Immorality. This is not easy, or popular. Many Churches have in an effort to either engage with the culture or ignore it, churches have either willingly compromised God’s word and instruction even boldly claiming God’s word affirms all types of sexual immorality.
Single Christians Can have sex as long as it’s Mutually pleasurable and Affirming, Pastor Says. Rev Bromleigh McCleneghan argues: Plenty of women and men love sex, and need it — we need bodily pleasure, remember — and the abundant life for them will involve seeking out relationships of mutual pleasure.
It sounds great and grabs headlines. Compromise on these issues in the name of greater inclusion or minimization of what God’s word has plainly taught is not courageous activism; in this culture it is cowardly capitulation. It is not inviting anyone to something greater or distinct from what is readily available and practiced in the world. She is selling the same lie the world is that sex is about you and that abundant life can be found outside of God’s design. When we are walking in sin sexually there is no such thing a s victimless crime. We can and do consent all the time to things that are not profitable or God glorifying. We cannot believe somehow what happens in our bedroom or on our browser is contained there. Paul tells the Thessalonians that sexual purity is both a private and a public endeavor with individual and communal consequences. Not only does sexual sin harm the one doing the offending, it also harms those that are offended. Fornication, leads to broken relationship and children raised without mom and dad or not raised at all when aborted. Adultery, leads to the violence of divorce. Homosexuality rejects God’s beautiful complementary design of women and men as distinct. Pornography, robs people of sexual vitality, the ability to engage with others as image bearers, and requires an industry fueled by human trafficking. Sexual Freedom, when ‘freedom’ is from God’s life-giving design is a less than distortion that will lead to harm of self and others. The world is catching up to the consequences of rampant sexual immorality.
Put another way, we are a guinea-pig generation for an experiment in mass debasement that few of us would have ever consented to, and whose full nefarious impact may not be known for years. How many families will suffer? How many marriages will implode? How many talented men will scrap their most important relationships and careers for a brief onanistic thrill? How many children will propel, warp-speed, into the dark side of adult sexuality by forced exposure to their fathers’ profanations? – Take the Pledge: No more Porn WSJ Aug 31, 2016 – Pamela Anderson
Sin never stays contained. When there is sexual sin it can and does destroys marriages, mars legacies for generations, and if unaddressed will ruin the health of a Gospel Community. It affects your relationship with self, others, and God. Sexual Immorality denigrates the mission of God as the outside world says "we know we’re jacked up, but ya’ll are worse". It destroys community as Brothers who are addicted to pornography and lust cannot be in communion with their sisters in Christ without seeing them as objects for sexual pleasure rather than equal image bearers in Christ. Sisters who crave affirmation other from men (not their husbands) rather than satisfied with their identity in Christ will seek attention in unhealthy ways leading to sin and separation. God’s design is good, the Bible begins with naked and unashamed in a God created union of marriage to clothed in shame even in marriage, and within a few short chapters you have country nomads living as family despots in polygamy you have major cities marked by homosexuality. Incest, rap, sexual assault, prostitution, temple sex worship, adultery, divorce, When Jesus arrives on the scene he doubles down not lowering the OT bar of sexual ethics but raising it. Lust = Adultery. Sexual Immorality will harm others and it is an offense to God who made us to be pure. David in caught in adultery cries out Have mercy on me oh God against you and you alone have I sinned. Ps (51:1-4) The stakes are high! There are individual, community, and eternal consequences. But God’s provision is greater!
PART III | 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 | Flourish in Holiness
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.
Sexual sin, as any sin does, has a staining effect. The Gospel says the work of Jesus in your place is sufficient to cleanse those stains. To flourish as God’s people in an environment that is hostile sexual purity means faithfulness. There is victory available. You’re either pure or impurity. Not a lot of gray, but there is a lot of hope. Sexual purity is entirely possible! The God who called you to salvation has not called you to continue to walk in impurity but has prepared for you Holiness. God had called you to holiness, God has not called you to something impossible but has equipped you with the Holy Spirit. Do not be fooled, God takes sin seriously and so should you. You can brush off your friends, your family, and your pastors, but this is ultimately between you and a Holy Just God who promises judgement. There is a future judgement, but there is a present hope and provision. No sexual sin is too great to not be covered by the cross or so small it doesn’t warrant the judgement of God. Seek refuge in the forgiving cross of Jesus Repent of sin and live a new abundant life for Him. If you are a Christian, your identity is NOT in your sexuality but is "Hidden in Christ" You are chosen By God through the proclamation of the Gospel. God’s call of salvation is also a call to sanctification. Spiritual renewal leads to moral transformation. Holiness in our sexuality is part of God’s present will for our lives, because of His past eternal election, and future hope of His glorious return, we can walk in sexual purity, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Sex is not our great hope, even in marriage these things will be surpassed and overshadowed in the final consummation of a Holy God with …even if we’re single, widowed, wrestling with same sex attraction…God’s future grace has greater things in store for us when we Trust Jesus.