Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Doing More to Please God – 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2



Do you feel like you are living a godly life? That’s great if you do, we should all be striving for that. But look at what Paul says to the Thessalonians who are living to please the Lord.

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more. For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. (NLT)

Even when we are already living godly lives, there is always room for improvement. 

Urged on In the Name of Jesus

At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth. (Phil 2:10 NKJV)

Calling upon the name of Jesus to urge someone to do something is a very serious. Since every knee will at sometime in the future bow or submit to Jesus’ authority, it makes Paul’s urging more than an encouragement. If we address Jesus as Lord, then we must acknowledge His sovereign rights over us. Paul taught by the authority of Jesus so his urging is the same as Jesus Himself urging us. It is confirmed by the fact that this book of the Bible has been kept as revelation from God. Had this directive not been inspired by the Holy Spirit then it would not have survived over the years and delivered along with the rest of the Bible.
This urging is similar to the way Paul exhorted Timothy. Three times, he charged Timothy in the presences of God and Christ Jesus to live a godly life and to exercise his ministry (1 Tim 5:21; 6:13-14; 2 Tim 4:1-2). Think about that for a while. Imagine standing in the presences of God and Jesus Christ along with Paul. Paul then tells you to do something and while God and Jesus nod in agreement. That’s what is going on when Paul urges us to live a life that pleases God.

Live to Please God

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31 RSV)

Eating and drinking are two very necessary functions for us to live. The context of this verse is doing things that cause others to stumble. However, the broader application is for all aspects of life. In application, it is an extension of Matthew 22:37-38 where Jesus explained the whole Law and commandments as loving God and our neighbors. If we are living to please God, then our lives should bring glory to Him. That would be a very easy test of every aspect of our lives. All we need do is to ask ourselves is whether this would bring glory to God. When we do something, does it express or demonstrate love for God and our neighbors? 

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Col 3:17 NASB)

I suppose it is possible for someone to do something in the name of Jesus and rationalize it as pleasing God. I’m fairly certain that all of us have done that to one degree or another. I know I have. However, hindsight reveals that I might have done something in the name of the Lord but it was only to satisfy my own desires. It’s the same problem as praying for something and not getting it because it was really a selfish request only meant to meet my wants and passions (James 4:3). Rather than getting hung up on all the possible abuses, it’s better to simply apply these verses and try to understand what the Lord really wants. Does it glorify God and demonstrate love of God and others. If we are walking with the Lord and our hearts don’t condemn us (1 John 3:21), then were can be pretty sure that we are doing things for His glory and in His name.

Fundamental Christian Teaching

I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:27 ESV)

Can you imagine having Paul as your Bible study leader? He was bold. He didn’t mince words or fear calling sin, sin. He told it like it was. However, this verse was describes a time when he talked to the elders in Ephesus. He had more than two years in Ephesus. He didn’t have that much time in Thessalonica; it was only about three weeks (Acts 17:2). Even if Paul met with believers during the week and not only on the Sabbath, this isn’t much time and they only had time to learn the fundamentals of Christianity. One of those fundamentals was how to live in a way that pleases God. 

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24 NIV)

Some people think that after becoming a Christian, pleasing the Lord is automatic because they have the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them. While we do have the ability to please God because we are new creations and we have the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:17, 21), being holy and pleasing Him is something that we must also work at. Sanctification is a process as well as a onetime event. We become holy or sanctified in the sense that we’ve crossed over the line from having a dead spirit that can’t respond to God to one that now has life (John 5:24). However, that is only the start. Paul even had to write to the Ephesians and remind them of how they were taught. Remember, he had over two years to teach them and still he had to remind them to put off their old sinful habits and to put on new ways of living in righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:21-24). 

So the fundamental teaching is that we are saved by grace through faith and that is God’s work in us. We don’t earn it and our good works don’t save us. However, once saved, it is our responsibility to work at living a godly life. That is why He saved us (Eph 2:8-10). We do that in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, not just by our own efforts (Rom 8:13).

Please God Even More
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:8 NASU)

If we really want to please God even more, then we need to understand what it means to be in the flesh. The older NIV (1984) and the NLT versions use the terminology of “controlled by the sinful nature” instead of “in the flesh.” The latest version NIV (2011) says, “In the realm of the flesh.” Fausset’s Bible Dictionary defines flesh when used in this way:

"The flesh" is the natural man, including the unrenewed will and mind, moving in the world of self and sense only. Self imposed ordinances gratify the flesh (i.e. self) while seemingly mortifying it.[1]

Pleasing God more and more as opposed to not being able to please Him at all is tied to the concept of being in the flesh. Those who are not Christians are completely in the flesh. They have no desire or will to please God in the way He has ordained it. They may have a zeal for God, but it isn’t according to God’s will because they try to establish their righteousness on their own terms instead of God’s (Rom 10:2-4). On the other hand, Christians move on from being unable to please God at all to degrees of pleasing Him. Fausset’s definition and Scripture indicate that even when we are Christians, we can be more or less in the flesh. It depends on how much we are being renewed in our will and mind, or as some would say, how much we are being led by the Spirit.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Rom 8:14 NKJV). 

This verse makes it sound very black and white. We are completely doing what the Spirit wants or we are not and therefore, not even Christians. Thankfully, Paul clarifies in other places what being led by the Spirit entails, especially when understanding what it means to have our minds renewed. 

And do not be conformed [Stop doing this! Go on refusing to do this!] to this world, but be transformed [Commitment to long term way of doing something. A command to keep on doing an action as ones’ general habit or life-style. Repeat each time this situation arises!] by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove [Constantly or repeatedly, customarily; a continuous process or habit] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2 NASB)[2]

The Discovery Bible uses icons to indicate what the Greek grammar intended but our English grammar can’t fully reveal when translated. When using the icons to understand Romans 12:2, the meaning of being in the flesh or not comes clear. Being in the flesh is being conformed to the world, something we must stop but it is an ongoing process. We don’t just stop once, we must stop every time the world wants us to conform. Being led by the Spirit is then stopping each time a situation comes up that tries to make us conform. It doesn’t happen all at once but we must continue to refuse to do it. Obviously, we don’t always stop. Being transformed is doing the opposite. As we stop being conformed we start and continue to make being led by the Spirit a lifestyle. The implication is that we progress in this direction. It isn’t something that we suddenly are perfect at doing. The result is repeatedly pleasing God. 

If there is any doubt about this meaning, Paul also wrote, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18 RSV). Learning to please God more and more takes one step at a time.

Taught by Jesus’ Authority.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God. (1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV)

Paul’s assertion in 1 Thessalonians 4:2 that his teaching came by way of the Lord Jesus would be rather audacious if it had come from someone else. Some translations insert “by the authority” into the text (NLT, NIV, NAS) to indicate the seriousness of what Paul was claiming. When we look at what Peter said about using our gifts, especially those who speak (and this includes write[3]), we are supposed to do so as if we are speaking the very words of God. The oracles of God in the Old Testament were often prophecies of future events. It was very serious for anyone to speak an oracle of the Lord. Judah had abused oracles of the Lord to excuse their sins. Therefore, God spoke through Jeremiah in a blistering reproof and condemnation of those who claimed to have an oracle of the Lord but were only speaking their own perverted words (Jer 23:33-40). 

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:11-12 NIV)

Paul made the claim that what he taught was a direct revelation from Jesus. Scholars believe he wrote it either in 48 or AD 52.[4] Peter also spoke of the wisdom of Paul’s writings and equated them with Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). 2 Peter was written in AD 66-67.[5] If there had been any doubts about Paul’s authority, it would have been raised after he stated that his revelation came from Jesus. Peter had more than ten years to contradict Paul. Instead he substantiated his claim to have Jesus’ authority. 

Since Paul taught with Jesus’ authority and he unequivocally states that the Thessalonians should live in a way to please God more and more, then we have no choice but to accept that instruction for our lives. If we don’t apply this Scripture to our lives then we have no business claiming any of the promises in Scripture either. God warns those who take parts only the parts of Scripture they like and ignore the others:

But to the wicked God says, "What right have you to tell of My statutes And to take My covenant in your mouth? "For you hate discipline, And you cast My words behind you. (Ps 50:16-17 NASU)

May we all strive to please God more and more as we make the effort to let the Holy Spirit lead us and transform us more and more into the image of His Son, Jesus.


[1] Andrew Robert Fausset, Fausset's Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Flesh,” (Seattle: Biblesoft, Inc., 2006), Electronic Database.
[2] Notations in brackets inserted from icons in, New American Standard Version, The Discovery Bible: New Testament, Reference ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), Rom 12:2.
[3] S. Grimm and S. Wilke, New Testament Lexicon, Joseph Henry Thayer, ed., (Seattle: Biblesoft 2006), s.v. “NT:2980.”
[4] Merrill Frederick Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Galatians, Epistle to the,” (Chicago: Moody, 1988), Biblesoft.
[5] Unger, s.v. “Peter, Second Epistle of.”

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