“The Right Use of a Great Gift” from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

The following message was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on February 13, 2011.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to the Philadelphia Car Show. While there, my sons and I walked around, admiring the Chevrolet Camaros and Corvettes. They also sat on a BMW motorcycle, the closest their mother will let them get to buying one. We then walked down a hallway and up a stairway to where the more expensive cars were. There we saw a Lamborghini, a Porsche and a Rolls Royce. If you’re interested, the Rolls Royce was available for only $405,000.

Now if I would have let my sons get in and drive one of those cars out of the Philadelphia Convention Center, I would not be a good father. Barring the fact that they are 9 and 11 or that we owned none of the cars on display, they don’t know how to drive yet! They would have put themselves and others in grave danger. But one day they’ll be driving. It is only after they receive their permit, their driver’s training and their license will they receive this privilege. Driving is a privilege that must be enjoyed only under certain parameters.
But today I’m not here to talk about what the legal age of driving should be. Actually, I’m talking about another one of God’s gift; the gift of intimacy. And for that, we find helpful guidance in 1 Thessalonians 4. We first learn that…

I. CHRISTIANITY IS A WAY OF LIFE.
1 Thessalonians 4:1: “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” Many times in the New Testament, the Christian life is compared to a walk. An act of progression. Some like to compare it to a journey. More importantly, it is a description of a constant state of growth from one point to the next. For instance, Paul states in Ephesians 4:1: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called….” Or Ephesians 4:17: “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind… .”
For Paul, “walking” stood for the Christian way of life, a behavior, our habits and how we live out our days. The way we “walk” should please God. Our behavior either pleases Him or displeases Him. And the wise person pays attention to such things.

Our “walk” has a sexual ethic attached to it. Notice verse three: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor….” In this verse, vessel refers to the body and sanctification refers to the work of God’s grace in making us holy and set apart. That God calls us to be a certain type of people, with a certain type of ethic. And that behavior must be honorable. Biblical sexuality has endured a lot of misunderstanding. It is not like the Shakers, who did not believe in comingling of the sexes. Christianity is not synonymous with taking a vow of celibacy. Nor is it compatible with a “do as you please” mentality, as if any lifestyle is acceptable. In contrast, Christianity teaches that intimacy is good and a gift from God, but it must be used in the right parameters. For instance, verse five: we are not to live, “…in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” In other words our desires must not rule our lives, much like the proverbial ring in the oxen’s nose.

In other words, what we understand about God’s gift will also be an indicator if we know God. So it makes good sense that we understand what God says about intimacy. Exodus 20:14 gives us the seventh commandment: You shall not commit adultery.” So often we read the Scripture and don’t catch the full application of it in the Scriptures. The seventh commandment is really a calling to purity, for the young and old, single and married. Do we think that God was just speaking to the married from among the Israelites? Out the 100,000 Israelites that were at the foot of Mount Sinai in 1500 B.C. when Moses delivered the Ten Commandments, do we think that God was segregating in this one instance? The answer is no. In the commandment against adultery, we have a clear teaching on God’s expectations for human intimacy for the single person and the married person.

Notice how the Heidelberg Catechism understands the seventh commandment. Q109: “Does God forbid nothing more than adultery and such gross sins in this commandment?” Its answer: “Since both our body and soul are a temple of the Holy Spirit, it is His will that we keep both pure and holy. Therefore He forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever may excite another person to them.” All of this as we live in an oversexed culture. Psychiatrist Mary Ann Layden calls our culture “sexually obese.”

But immorality starts in the heart. Jesus said out of the heart come such things which defile a person (Matthew 15:18). And since it starts in the heart, if acted upon, it can hurt ourselves and others. If not, why does Paul say in verse six: “…and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter.” “Brother” can stand for anyone. Sometimes our brother is our neighbor who’s married to the nice looking wife. Or the coworker you find attractive, but you know he has a wife and children at home who love and need him. Sometimes our brother is the opposite sex in general and how we view them. Are they just objects of desire? Or are they people meant to be respected because God created them in His image?

Intimacy is a beautiful gift from God, meant for pleasure and procreation. But it is meant to be used within the bonds of marriage. Any use outside of this sells ourselves short and incurs God’s anger and displeasure. There are many examples of fornication and immorality today. Did you know that Super Bowl weekend is also one of the biggest weekends for participation in deviant behavior? Or that pornography is a more lucrative enterprise than Hollywood motion pictures? According to one source, the number of explicit rentals rose from 75 million in 1985 to 490 million in 1992. The total climbed to 665 million, an all-time high, in 1996. Last year Americans spent more than $8 billion on explicit material—an amount much larger than Hollywood’s domestic box office receipts and larger than all the revenues generated by rock and country music recordings.
Although the world’s has no boundaries in these matters, and there’s the promotion of immorality all around us, God calls us to recover our sensitivities towards what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.

So if you’re single and struggle with self control, pray that God would give you the strength to wait for His provision in a wife or a husband. If you are married, cleave to your spouse, the one you committed yourself to. Do not open yourself up for the impure and unholy through the internet, through the bookstore or through the television set. Get a blocker or a filter, like ones offered at www.safefamilies.org or www.safeeyes.net. And commit yourself to chastity. Every time we choose to go the way of our sinful desires, we set ourselves up for trouble. That leads us to the final point I’d like to make this morning. That is…

III. WE MUST BE AWARE OF GOD’S JUSTICE AND GOD’S CALLING IN THE MATTER.
Notice verse six: “…because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” Here, we are told that God has called us to be sanctified. To be set apart. To be holy, even when the world is obsessed with pleasure at all costs.
Maybe it’s a matter of focus. One church member wrote me recently, knowing that I was preparing for this message. She was concerned with “…us getting caught up in all that encompasses our culture and keeps us from being focused on God and contemplative. (She reminded me of) Naturalist Henry David Thoreau and his 2 year retreat in the woods of Massachusetts in 1845. Afterwards, Thoreau’s conclusion was this: “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” She ended by quoting Andree Seu who wrote: “I need to find a way this year to deal with the BlackBerry age and to live before God intentionally.” We must recover the need to live before God intentionally.

But if we pay too much attention to other voices rather than God’s, we will suffer the consequences. Those who indulge in their own sexual standards, open themselves up to guilt, self loathing, and the wrath of people they have wronged. But most importantly, they open themselves up to a God who promises to judge the immoral unless they turn to Him. Hebrews 13:4 puts it in this way: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

This bit of instruction on a very sacred part of our lives, is not just conjecture. It is not what has proved right for those who’ve tested it. Rather it is instruction from the God who made you and the God who loves you. He wants what is best for you. He wants to give you the Lamborghini and be content with it! It is up to us to hear His voice in its wisdom. I want to close with verse 8: “Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”

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