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A FRANK DISCUSSION OF A SENSITIVE SUBJECT
Dear friends in Christ,
I once held a call to be the administrative pastor at a church where there were two other pastors. If I had gone my job description, besides being in the regular rotation of preaching and teaching and visitation, was to work with the finance committee to produce a budget for church and school and to do the scheduling. There was plenty to schedule – who was preaching and teaching and when; who was up for funerals and weddings, hospital visits and shut in calls. There were a lot of other things. I was not compelled to go to that church. I am not a big church pastor. One item attracted me to that call. It was to schedule preaching dates. It made me smile to think that I could schedule one of the other two pastors when tough subjects came up from the readings. For instance today the sermon deals with a text that talks about sex and marriage. I could have put someone else on the preaching docket.
The apostle Paul addresses a very sensitive subject that needs some frank discussion. Since there is no one else to pass this off to, we are going to have that “Frank Discussion about a Sensitive Subject.”
When you talk about sex and marriage, that really is a part of a bigger subject – Christian living. Paul says in verse three, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” The Greek word for sanctified means “live a holy life,” or “to set apart.” To aim for holy lives needs more discussion as we live in very amoral days.
Paul was writing to Christians in the city of Thessalonica. Thessalonica was a big city for its time. It was the largest city in Macedonia, the northern part of present day Greece. It had a population somewhere between 200,000 to 250,000 people. The city was located on a road called the Via Egnatia. That was the “I” system of the ancient world. Any city on the major road system automatically was a trade center attracting all kinds of people from everywhere.
We like to think that a city is good for the gospel when lots of Christians live there. This was a city that needed the Gospel. This was prime for mission work.
The apostle was the first to bring the news of the forgiving Savior to them. But the Devil knew what was at stake too. If Paul, God’s messenger, had success, Satan would lose his grip. Satan began a gigantic pushback. He used some ungodly people to threaten Paul’s life. Paul was in town only three weeks before he was threatened. Those who came to know Jesus urged him to leave Thessalonica so Paul could preach to others.
While Paul left, he didn’t leave thinking those three weeks were worthless. The Holy Spirit made sure of that. Faith blossomed among many in the city. It was truly miraculous. This letter, First Thessalonians, is one of the first of all the letters that Paul wrote to give instruction and encouragement. He called on them to live out their faith for Jesus in spite of heavy persecution.
Christians were not called Christians when Jesus began to gather followers. In fact, after Jesus had risen and ascended, his followers were called members of the Way. The term “Christian” came later. The reason they were called members of the Way was because Christ calls for a change in the way we believe and the way we live our lives. Christ’s followers are “a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come.”
Calling for a new way of living is a very sensitive subject. We don’t want anything to do with sin any longer. There is a new sheriff in town when it comes to how we want to live. We want Jesus to rule us. We don’t want sin to be our master. Sin is no longer our master. The wounded and crucified Savior who died and was buried but was raised again from the dead rules us, not the selfish sinful self. The problem is that the sinful self doesn’t go down easily. He won’t until we get to the other side. That sinful self wants to be in control. That sinful self is selfish and sinful. Because both the new self and the old self are in us, there is war and conflict.
All of God’s people are in the same state. We all need encouragement. The apostle writes, “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” The Holy Spirit changes a whole mindset. It starts with motivation. The almighty “I” is replaced by Almighty God. “Me” is replaced by “Him.”
The Thessalonians sat at the feet of Paul, Jesus’ messenger, and learned of his crucifixion, death, and burial. And we are here today hearing what Thessalonica heard. We by faith have seen the nail prints in Jesus hands. By the Spirit of God who accompanies the message every time it is preached, his miraculous power is at work. Living for Him replaces living for “me.” But Jesus and the Holy Spirit are at work. They do not do a hit and run job. Christ remains in us. We become temples of the Holy Spirit. As Paul says, we are “in the Lord.”
That’s what takes place on the inside; there is also a change that takes place on the outside. In some ways the literal translation of these verses gives us a more vivid picture of God’s desire for what God wants us to be. He says “We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living.” In Greek the word translated ‘live’ is literally to “walk about.” In other words, wherever we go and wherever we are, wherever we walk we take Jesus with us. He is not just for Sunday morning or special church holidays like Christmas and Easter and Pentecost or Lent. Jesus is your motive and inspiration for living all the time.
There is another part of this first verse that if we translated more literally gives us a compelling picture. “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus “to do this more and more” means to “excel.” When it comes to Jesus, it is never enough to say “I will do enough to just get by when we honor him.” That’s an immature attitude. We want Jesus to get our best. We want people to see he makes us tick. We want people to see Jesus in us. And it is not about getting a few brownie points so we earn his grace. We want to excel in Christian living because he gives us his grace. Paul wrote, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him.”
Let’s apply that to sex and marriage a subject the sinful nature likes to be very selfish about. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.” God gave us an entire commandment about sex and marriage. “You shall not commit adultery.” Do people really understand what this means? Do people really understand where God fit into this commandment anymore? I have lived long enough to know that when Ward and June Cleaver were on TV, they were not allowed to sleep in the same bed. But now? Judy and I have the most basic Dish package for our TV. Even with the most basic package channel surfing can give a person an eyeful of sin.
The city of Thessalonica offered all kinds of opportunities to sin sexually. Anything goes was the philosophy. Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates were the great triumvirate of western philosophy. Plato once said this, “Intercourse with harlots is permissible as long as it is in secret and causes no one offense.” An historian, whose specialty is Roman history, wrote about the attitudes regarding sex first century times, “Even the married man was permitted extra-marital sex as he pleased so long as he did not violate civil marriage.” Help me understand that one! It is okay as long as it doesn’t violate marriage??? But then people claim to have open marriages these days. There is nothing new under the sun, is there?
Let’s turn to the Lord. First of all, sex is a gift from God. The Proverb speaks about this intimate relationship between husband and wife in a very poetic way. “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.” Sex is intended to be a special and tender act of a husband for his wife and for a wife with her husband. Drink from your own cistern and not anyone else’s. The Proverb goes on, “Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Absolutely not! The gift of sex is not for public consumption. It is a private and intimate relationship with spouse only. The Proverb goes on, “Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.”
Yes there is god given pleasure. “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be intoxicated with her love.” Whew! Maybe we should turn up the air conditioner. When a husband and wife give themselves to each other fully in marriage, the sexual relationship is truly beautiful. It is an expression of unity that is special and exclusive of the couple. No one shares what a husband and wife share with each other. It is unique to their relationship. Don’t allow anything or anyone to interfere.
Returning to the letter to the Thessalonians, The apostle commands “that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.” Sexual relations can be so selfish. Paul says God intends it to be holy and honorable. It is to be set aside for your spouse. It is to honor him or her. It is a gift for each other to celebrate love in a very special and intimate way. Don’t take it to the pig pen!
While magazines and newspapers are filled with those kinds of stories because people gobble this kind of junk up and demonstrate the base nature of humans, remember what God says about adultery and all sexual sins, “In this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.” To the Lord, and he is the one who matters most, adultery and all sexual sins is exactly that – damnable sin. Humanity has turned what God meant for good into a curse.
Remember who rules you. Your body, as well as your soul, has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Confess those sins that you have done that violates what God intended when it comes to sex as well as all other sins. Remember that when you were claimed as Jesus’ child through holy baptism your sins were washed away. The forgiveness of sins which Jesus earned for us became ours. Remember this too. When you were baptized your body became a temple of the Holy Spirit. Make sure to keep your bodies clean and make the Holy Spirit comfortable and welcome.