The Godliness Command
Text: 1 Thessalonians 4
Proposition: The church is commanded by Christ, it is His will for us, to recognize that godliness is what resists wickedness and the ruin it brings.
Introduction: If you were to pass along some absolutely critical advice to a young church that would help guide their way what would it look like? Think of it like this, you’re about to send a rookie fireman into a blazing house fire, what is it that you know he is going to need? You’re going to insist that they have flame resistant coat and pants and boots on, a helmet and face mask and oxygen tank for breathing, a microphone to speak to command and that he’s trained and ready for the task. Then you command him to enter the building engulfed with flame knowing he has what he needs to accomplish the call.
When Paul was thinking of the Thessalonian church het had these same concerns as they were being commanded to enter into the blazing inferno of a decadent and morally compromised Roman culture. Of the first 15 Roman emperors, 14 were homosexual, in fact it was a status symbol. Children were being used as sexual objects, prostitution was considered an essential component to society. Adultery was assumed and the trafficking in human slaves for entertainment was as rampant as the idolatry they were being sacrificed to. It’s into this corrupt environment that Paul sends the Thessalonian church and the fire resistant covering they are commanded to put on and to trust in is what you and I call godliness. But what exactly is godliness, what does it look like? Is it something that we can grow in, how can I know if it will protect me and enable me to serve God well?
I. Godliness, a Definition…
Author Jerry Bridges defined godliness as a devotion to God which results in a life that is pleasing to God. He goes on to say, “that devotion to God consists of three essential elements: the fear of God, the love of God, and the desire for God.” He says that these three are like points on a triangle, fear and love at the bottom and at the apex or top of the triangle is desire for God. (From "Value for All Things" and "Devotion to God" in The Practice of Godliness by Jerry Bridges (NavPress, 1983) It’s no overstatement to say that the aim of the entire Bible is to define and implement godliness. The Scriptures reference the fear of the Lord and yet at the same time the love of God is proclaimed and demonstrated time and again. These two truths impel us to the place of a deep, deep desire for God which brings God great joy. Godliness… our culture will incinerate our faith without it. Do you remember the words of Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and thatHe rewards those who diligently seek Him.”Godliness is really all about that which pleases God, a desire for God that is built around faith and the truth of the fear of the Lord and the love of the Lord. So with this definition let’s read the 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12.
II. Godliness, An Increasing Response to a Command.
The inference in verse 1 is that the Thessalonians would more and more abound in that which pleases God, in other words never stopping in their desire for God. It’s like a soldier at war, even when they are off duty they are still vigilant, still patriotic, still under authority. That mindset was what Paul was commanding them towards, a God conscious way of living that ever has those three aspects of godliness at work in them, the fear of the Lord, the love of God and a growing desire for God. The commands of Christ had that direction and now Paul reminds them that the will of God for them, that is the greater will of God for their whole lives, is their Sanctification. God’s will is that they be set apart from the world they live in, consecrated to God as those who are committed to growing in godliness. Perhaps one reason for the need to have an increasing response to God’s command for godliness is because we are increasingly under attack to disobey it. Just this last week the premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, introduced a new Sex Ed program for Ontario schools from grades 1 through 8 to be implemented in September. It is introducing the children to the government’s new understanding that there is now not just male and female as gender types but rather six distinct gender identities. From the gay rights movement we are now going to be pressured to add transsexual, two spirited, transgendered and intersex rights. But this is not new, the Rome of Paul’s day had these issues and more from gladiator fights to the death to state sanctioned idolatry even to the point of calling the Emperor god. So Paul cautions these Thessalonians even as God cautions us here today, to have an increasing response to the command of God to pursue godliness and the forefront of this battle is sexuality.
Paul commands that each person should, “abstain from sexual immorality”, it’s the Greek word ‘porneia’. It refers to any sexual relationship outside of a marriage relationship. Here’s the reasons that he gives for this: (verses 4 to 8)
1. Because each person needs to regard their body as more than a vehicle for pleasure. It is holy, God resides in it, it has great value, God created it, honor it.
2. Because you are called to be self controlled, not driven by various lusts. Godlessness is characterized by lust, faith in Christ isn’t.
3. Because immorality always defrauds someone. If it’s sex before marriage it defrauds your future wife or husband. If it’s pornography it defrauds your own body of the honor due to it and defrauds you in future relationship. Immorality always defrauds.
4. Because you are accountable for your acts of immorality before God, “ the Lord is the avenger of all such.” That would apply to Christians as well, it’s why Paul forewarned them. It refers to God’s justice but I believe it stops short of the condemnation of a person losing their salvation. We are accountable therefore pursue godliness.
5. Because we are called to holiness. The root word for holiness has the three things in view, 1. To clean up externally 2. To purify by expiation, being set free from the guilt of sin 3. To purify internally by renewing your soul. Godliness means we are called to do all three as an increasing response to God’s command to be holy even as He is holy.
6. Because we have been enabled to pursue and attain godliness by the gift of the Holy Spirit within each person who belongs to Christ. The world will reject such that would actually embrace the call to godliness. It will mock and persecute those who do not embrace the call to self fulfillment and self satisfaction and self glorification. But know this, their rejection is not of you, it is their rejection of God, the turning away of a clear invitation to repent and believe and be saved. Godliness is what you are capable of because of the Holy Spirit in you, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, because of God’s great love for you in Christ.
III. Godliness Comes Naturally To Us When It Is God Who Teaches Us.
What Paul is saying is that their desire to be people who care for each other, who help each other, who are learning to love better and better each day, is actually increasing because they are willing to take God’s lead, they are willing to be taught of God. Look at how he describes this, “that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you”. If you were going to plow a field what would you rather have to pull the plow, a pure bread race horse that goes nuts at the sound of a bell or a Clydesdale? When God teaches us it’s more like trusting Him one step at a time, being willing to like His speed and methods. Paul says that the end result of such an action of godliness is “that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.”The word that sums this up is ‘contentment’. It’s stated outright in 1 Tim 6:6, “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.”
Do you fear God with a holy reverential fear, a fear that knows His justice and judgment will examine me to the depths of my being? Good, we should fear the Lord in this way, it is the beginning of wisdom. Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind and do you love your neighbor as yourself? Good for by this you show the world whom it is you believe and have put your trust in and you glorify God. Do you desire God, thirst after Him like the deer thirsts after water? Are you desperate for God, do you desire Him more than anything else above even your family, above your possessions and future wealth? Good , listen to Isaiah 26:7,8,9 , “Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness.” Godliness, it’s our command.