Leviticus 19:1 – 37
1 Thessalonians 4:1 – 12
Finding the will of God
When I was a uni student, and when I worked in the university ministry, one of the most enduring topics of debate among the Christian students, was how to find the will of God. We read books about it, We prayed about it, It was discussed into the early hours of the morning, We pored over the Bible, because people seemed to be saying, that god had a particular will for your life, It was very specific,
You needed to discover it. And it wasn’t something that you wanted to get wrong or miss out on!!
Who am I going to marry? What career should I pursue? What church should I become a part of?
Life became about trying to discover, uncover God’s will.
Imagine my surprise, when eventually I read 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, and discovered, without any mystery or drama, what God’s will for my life is.
All those late nights, debating how one could possibly figure out, what God’s will for my life is,
Well, I could have got a lot more sleep during those 5 years on campus, couldn’t I?
In Ephesians chapter 4, God tells me his will for my life!
Verse 3, It is God’s will that you should be sanctified
There it is!
That’s God’s will for my life!
Above who I marry,
Above what church I become a part of,
Or what uni course I should choose,
God wills my sanctification.
That’s not to say that God doesn’t will anything else.
Later on in this very letter, I read that it’s God’s will that I give thanks in all circumstances.
But actually, so significant is this issue of sanctification, and so strong is Paul’s argument that this is the will of God, that some scholars believe, “That the will of God can be fully summarised as sanctification”, and that those other aspects of the will of God are in fact just subordinate to this.
I think that’s pushing the case a little too hard, nevertheless, this is a significant aspect of God’s will, even if it’s not the sum total of God’s will!
Sanctification and Holiness
The Thessalonians were Christian people, like, I imagine, most of us are, and since we share the same place in salvation history, trusting in Jesus for forgiveness and reconciliation with God, and waiting for his return, we know then that it’s God’s will that we be sanctified too,
But what does that mean?
Well if you look down at the end of verse 7, we see the word holy, that’s where the word sanctified comes from.
To be sanctified, is to become holy.
I was reading this week about the number of words that William Shakespeare added to the English language, something in the order of 1700 new words!
So I thought that if he can do it, then we can do!
To be sanctified, is to be holy – ified. To be made holy.
You can see why there’s already a word for that! Sanctified! But that’s what it means:, to be holyified!
So that’s a start, but what does it mean to be holy?
I think in every day English, “holy” has negative connotations.
Holier than thou, that kind of thing,
But holy means, most basically, separate, set aside for.
Perhaps in your house there is, or there was, when you were growing up, “The good scissors.” Do you know the good scissors?
They were set aside for particular use.
And a 10 year old boy couldn’t used them for, cutting wire or dissecting animals, or whatever.
They were holy, set aside for a particular purpose.
This cup is holy.
It is set aside for a particular use.
It is holy, to me!
It is set aside for me!
There are lots of cups over there, that anyone can use.
This one, has my name on it, and it’s separated from those other ones, for one particular purpose.
It’s not set apart because there’s anything special about it, it has no inherent qualities that mean it’s better than any of those other cups, It’s just the one that somebody chose, to give to me, and wrote my name on.
And because it’s holy to me, you shouldn’t really drink from it, otherwise you’ll get my germs!
In Leviticus 19, God says to the people of Israel, the people that he had entered into a covenant relationship with, “you are to be holy”, that is, you are to be separate, set aside.
And like my cup, there was nothing special about Israel that made them holy, it was both God’s choice, and God’s command, that they would be separate from the nations around them,
They would be different.
And the idea was, that a distinct, holy, separate people, would be, well just that! distinctive!
Israel, through being separate and distinct from the nations around them, would show the world, the benefits and blessings of living under the rule of God.
I was chatting to an organic farmer recently, and he was telling me of the struggle to remain totally organic, that is separate, from all the chemicals and pesticides, that are used on the properties all around.
These organic farmers try to keep their land separate from the chemicals and whatever else, because they want to demonstrate, the benefits and blessings of their way of farming.
They want people to say,
“Their fruit looks better,
It tastes better,
Organic must be better!”
That’s their goal.
Well that was part of God’s goal for Israel.
A separateness and distinctiveness that commended itself to outsiders, and demonstrated the blessings being God’s people.
And as we see in Leviticus 19,
Being separated, for God, means being separated from those attitudes,
That are sinful,
And opposed to God,
And incompatible with God’s pattern for life.
Being holy meant, verse 4, not making idols or metal gods for yourselves. “Separate yourselves from that”, says God.
Being holy meant, not reaping to the very edges of your field, verse 9, thereby showing that you shared God’s concerns for the poor,
That you were trusting in God to provide,
Separated from greed and the desire for wealth.
Verse 26, Do not practice divination or seek omens, be holy, separate from those practices, that are opposed to God.
But some of what God said about being holy, seems to be less about separating themselves from particular practices, and more about deliberate habits to remind themselves of their holiness.
Verse 19, Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material
No polyester-cotton for the Jews!
And it’s not that there was something inherently evil in those fabrics, they could wear polyester, they could wear cotton!
And it’s not that something evil was created when you mixed them together, like a gremlin when you add water! It turns bad!
No, this was a ready to where, illustration of their separateness.
Every part of their life was to demonstrated that they were holy, set apart for God.
Holiness is not an optional extra
And it was because of their existing relationship with God, that holiness was so important.
Did you notice how the passage opened?
The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
God is holy.
Israel are God’s people,
Therefore Israel is to be holy.
It’s all about relationship.
In the 37 verses of this chapter, that phrase “I am the Lord your God”, or the abbreviated version “I am the Lord” is repeated 14 times.
In just a moment we’ll unpack a little, how we as Christian people today, apply this command to be holy, since we’re not the nation of Israel, in the Old Testament.
But we can see clearly enough already, can’t we, that if we are, one of God’s people. Holiness is not an option.
I remember booking flights for a holiday once, and I was booking with one of these low cost airlines!
So I found some really cheap seats. That was excellent!
And then I got to the options page.
“Do I want the option of bringing baggage?”
Well yes, considering I’m going on holidays with my 3 young children, that’s not really an option is it? So I fork out a little more for the “option” of bringing a bag!
Next: Am I happy with us being randomly assigned seats, or do I want to purchase the optional seat allocation?”
2 toddlers and a 7 year old seated randomly in the cabin? Well that sounds remarkably good for me and Kathy! But again, not really an option! Pay a bit more for that!
Next question, Do I want the option, of purchasing food? Or shall my 3 children spend what feels like a day and a night in a plane, without any sustenance?
“Would I like to purchase the option of being able to use the toilet on the plane?”! Pretty sure that was one of the things that I had to pay for separately!
Now of course, I’m being silly!
But lots of Christians I know, think that’s how holiness works.
“It is, an optional extra!”
If my circumstances require it, sure,
If I’m with my church friends,
If I’m in public,
If my mother is present,
Well, then yes, holiness is required. I will be separate,
I will be distinct,
My life will reflect the pattern that God established for human conduct and relationships,
If my circumstances required it.
Or, actually, “holiness is an option, if your circumstances require it”
I remember speaking with a clergyman once, who was quite happy to affirm, my commitment, to faithfulness in my marriage. He thought it was important that I maintain that.
But he had no such concerns for his own conduct. He was quite upfront about his habit of engaging in multiple sexual relationships.
To his mind, holiness was an optional extra.
But just like food, and bags, and going to the toilet were not an optional extra for our family, holiness is not an optional extra for God’s people.
Holiness is not dependent on your circumstances, but on your identity. I am the Lord your God, God said to Israel, and so principally, most especially, holiness is contingent on God’s identity.
Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy
In fact, back in 1 Thessalonians 4, turn there with me now, if you will, as the Apostle Paul explains the requirement for holy living, you may have noticed the language of instruction and authority he employed.
When he speaks in verse 2 of the instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus, he’s using a military word, which describes the orders that an officer gives to a subordinate.
On Friday afternoon, we celebrated Jonno and Jess’s wedding, which was a great occasion, and much to be thankful to God for, especially since Jonno spent 8 of the last 9 months deployed to Afghanistan with the Army.
Now, imagine if, when he got his deployment orders, “You’re shipping out on the 8th of April”, Jonno thinks, “Nah, I don’t want to go to a warzone,
I’m planning on getting married soon,
I’ve got better things to do than fight a war on the other side of the world”,
So he emails the Australian Chief of Defence, General David Hurley, and says, “Dear Dave, Thanks for giving me the option, of deploying to Afghanistan. I’ve done it once before, so I don’t really feel the need to do it again.
What kind of response is he going to get back? I imagine it would be something like:
God provides a way for us not to remain “separate” from him
Of course, God’s own holiness, that is his separateness from anything impure, anything evil, anything opposed to his rightful rule of the world he created, that holiness, doesn’t mean that God is forever unapproachable and unknowable.
It should mean that!
If God is separate, from things that are evil, and corrupt, and selfish,
Then he should be separate from us, for all of eternity!
Bu God has been very deliberate in establishing the means by which we can know him, and approach him.
The whole Old Testament sacrificial system, was all a means that God himself established, by which people could encounter and relate to the holy God, who dwelt among them.
And we see it even more clearly, when God comes to dwell with his people in the person of Jesus Christ.
And those who trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection as the sole means of being made acceptable to God, those people, Christian people, are able to live in a way, that is pleasing to a holy God.
Because Jesus has once and for all, taken away the sin and rebellion that would keep a holy God necessarily separated from us, we are able to, be holy, for the Lord, our God is holy.
A holy life is a response to the gospel message.
And so it becomes apparent, that the holy life to which the Thessalonians are called here, is only possible, as a result of hearing, and believing, and living in the light of the gospel of Jesus.
And so Paul, writing some time after these people first came to faith in Christ, as urges them to live a holy life, saying, “Keep going in the direction that you started out on, when you first heard the gospel message.”
Chapter 4 verse 1, 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.
If you have a GPS in your car, you’ll know that, once you tell it where you want to go, it will tell you, where you need to turn, in order to get there.
“In 500 metres, turn left”, that kind of thing!
But on other occasions, you’re driving along merrily, you’re pretty sure you don’t need to turn left, or perform a U-turn or anything for a while, when all of a sudden that lady with the very commanding tone pipes up, “Keep going on National Highway One for 270 kilometres”, Or something like that!
Part of reaching your destination safely, is being told when you’re on the right track, and being told to stay on that track.
The holy life to which Paul calls the Thessalonians, in fact it’s God’s call, isn’t it, verse 7, or verse 2, the instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus, this holiness comes out of the gospel message;,
The message of rebellious people separated from a holy God,
The message of people unable to do anything to get into relationship with God themselves,
The message of Jesus living the holy life we could never live, but dying the death for un-holy people that we deserved.
All through this section in chapter 4, Paul ties the holy life that he’s urging his friends to live, back to the message that they heard from him and his companions.
In verse 1 there, we instructed you, it’s literally, “what you received from us”, which is Paul’s way throughout the New Testament, of talking about the authentic Christian message that he passes on.
It’s not just the very narrow definition of the Christian gospel “Jesus died for your sins” although he does use it repeatedly in that way, but it includes the whole of the Christian message, including, what it is to live as those people, for whose sins Jesus died.
What Paul defines in verse 7 as living a holy life, this life that pleases God, it is to live, literally to walk according to the gospel.
You may have noticed all the references back, to what they’ve already been told, already received:,
We instructed you how to live, verse 1.
The instructions we gave you, verse 2.
We told you and warned you, verse 6,
And verse 11, just as we told you.
Just as Old Testament Israel were to be holy, because of their relationship to the Lord their God, so those who have been made God’s people through the gospel, are to be holy, because of their relationship to Jesus,
In the Lord Jesus, verse 1,
By the authority of the Lord Jesus, verse 2.
The motivation for holiness, is still, a relationship; The relationship that comes about through the hearing and receiving of the gospel message.
Holiness is for Christian people
Which underscores for us, that this passage is an instruction directed at Christian people.
When Paul talks about avoiding sexual immorality,
Controlling your own body,
Being holy as opposed to impure, this isn’t a set of commands that we’re called to impose, on our friends and family,
Or our wider society.
And if there was any doubt about that, look at verse 8, Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit
Well, by definition, people who aren’t Christian, don’t have God’s Holy Spirit!
The implication here is that it’s the Spirit of God dwelling within you that enables you to live this kind of holy life. Which is exactly what God had promised centuries before. That the Spirit that enables people to be separated from those behaviours, and attitudes, and words, and thoughts, that are opposed to God.
So people who aren’t followers of Jesus, and therefore don’t have the Spirit of God dwelling in them, cannot fulfil these commands.
Of course, that’s not to say, that living like this, isn’t good for non-Christians.
You might be with us this morning, and you’re pretty sure that you’re not a Christian, thank you for being with us, we’re so pleased you’re here, this is a good way for you to live.
God’s pattern for life is always a good way to live.
God’s pattern for life is always the best way to live!
Since he is the author of all life, it makes sense that he knows, the way that life works best!
And if we look at sociological trends in sexually transmitted infections,
The disintegration of marriages and relationships,
The harm done to children as adults use them and take advantage of them,
It’s pretty easy to see, that God’s pattern for life is best.
But the only way to live according to God’s pattern for life, is first, to know God.
It’s why a holy life is a response to the gospel message.
If you have friends, who are living out, all the wrong sides of these comparisons, the very opposite of holiness,
And if you see the damage and hurt they are causing to themselves and others,
And if that distresses you, which, I hope it does.
Then the place to start with them, is not learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable!
The place to start with them, is the gospel!
The place to start with them is with a loving God who is the creator of the world.
The place to start, is with a God who is holy, and with the question of, what that holy God, requires of us.
The place to start is the gospel.
Simply holding up a list of ethical requirements, and expecting people who aren’t Christian to live up to them, that is not the intention of this passage.
And if that’s you, you’re not a Christian, please don’t hear me saying, please don’t hear the Bible saying, “in order for God to be pleased with you, here’s the list of things you need to do.”
That is, in fact, the exact opposite.
No, we want you to come to know Jesus, understand what he’s done for you, come into a relationship with him, and as a result, see your life conformed to this pattern.
It’s God’s will for you to be holy
Oh, but for Christians, who know the gospel, who are in a relationship with Jesus, well, Paul doesn’t pull his punches, does he?
Because here we returned to where we began:, It is God’s will for you to be holy.
Verse 3, It is God’s will that you should be sanctified:, holy-ified, and for the Thessalonians, the particular area of life where that separateness needs to become more and more evident, is in their sexual conduct.
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified:,
that you should avoid sexual immorality;,
that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God
As we saw in Leviticus, holiness, isn’t limited to what we might call sexual ethics.
In Leviticus 19, just about all areas of life were covered!
But Paul obviously thought that in Thessalonica, this area needed particular attention, if the Christians there were to live lives that really were separate, and distinct,
Lives that commended the gospel of Jesus, and demonstrated the benefits and blessings of living as God’s people.
When I listen to speakers who are visiting from overseas, one of the things I listen out for, is whether they just assume Australia just has all the same issues as wherever they’ve come from, or, have they had a look around at Australia and the church here, and tried to work out what we need to hear!
And, we could be forgiven for thinking that this is exactly what Paul’s done! He’s got off the plane at Adelaide airport, flicked through the newspapers in the newsagent there,
He’s sat in the Coopers Ale House, and in Cibo there in the terminal and chatted to people as they pass by,
He’s done a quick visit to some of the churches in Adelaide, to find out where the rubber needs to hit the road,
Among God’s people,
Don’t you think?
Is this not the aspect of the Christian life, where God’s people in Adelaide today need to give special attention?
you should avoid sexual immorality
The word for sexual immorality encompasses every sexual behaviour, outside the pattern he established for sexual relationships;, between a husband and wife in marriage.
A Christian person cannot say, “I haven’t engaged a prostitute”, “I’m not committing adultery”,
“I’m not engaging in homosexual practice, ”
“We didn’t go ‘all the way’, therefore I’m not being sexually immoral.”
All sexual behaviour outside heterosexual marriage, is excluded by this language.
And Christian people avoid it, abstain from, refrain from it, have no part in it!
The Aussie Bible I’m sure, would employ the phrase, “Don’t touch it with a10 foot pole”!
Actually, in the parable of the Prodigal son, Jesus describes the son as being a long way from home, it’s the same kind of word.
A long way from home!
Keep sexual immorality, a long way from your home!
That’s not a bad way to think of it.
That is what God wants.
That is God’s will for you.
You don’t need to be like the uni students we were, poring endlessly over books, studying the minute details of the Scriptures, uncover God’s will.
Here is God’s will for you, Christian person, as plain as day.
Literally Paul says “This is God’s will: Your sanctification.”
In the Old Testament, there’s a lot of talk about God’s holiness.
And things that are holy. Objects that set apart for worship in the temple.
In the NT, perhaps surprisingly, the focus isn’t so much on God’s holiness, specific references to God as holy are actually quite few and far between.
And places and objects that are holy, become a thing of the past, overshadowed by the reality they point to in Jesus .
What God is most concerned about, is the holiness of his people.
So much so that Paul can say, that sanctification is the will of God.
Holiness is a state for which we are to strive.
But notice that sanctification is a doing thing.
It’s something that God can command, and expect from us.
It is something for which we are to strive.
Avoid sexual immorality,
Control your own body,
Do not take advantage of a brother or sister, that is a fellow believer, do not use them for your own gratification.
Just, by the way, notice the implication that your sexual immorality has consequences for others.
If you won’t control yourself out of respect for your own self, or God’s demand for your holiness, do it out of respect for those who you would dishonour through your conduct.
“No man is an island”, wrote John Donne, least of all, when it comes to sexual conduct. It is up to each Christian, to strive towards the holiness to which we have been called by God.
There are things to do,
Deliberate steps to take, in order to be be holy, in order for us to be sanctified.
John Stott, the British pastor and pastor once commented that “holiness is not a condition into which we drift”.
God wills it, and in response to the gospel of grace and empowered by the Spirit of Christ, we are to work at it.
Even in verse 5, when Paul says learn to control your own body, the language carries something of the sense, not just of knowing something, but knowing how to, and doing something about it.
It’s like DIY, home handyman learning.
I can watch Better Homes and Gardens and know that changing a tap requires this tool and that tool, and requires me to turn the water off at the meter before I start,
But really, what matters when it comes to replacing the taps, is not whether I’ve gained some theoretical knowledge of plumbing, but whether or not I have learned how to do it? Correct?
See, what’s of primary importance, is not that we as Christians know about sexual purity,
Having all the latest stats on sexual immorality in our society,
Having access to the research, on the impact of pornography on the brain,
Knowing how important it is, to control your body, and live in a way that pleases God,
The sure and certain knowledge that the Lord will punish all those who commit such sins
Those are all good and useful things to know,
But knowing those things does not equate to holiness!
Self control and sexual purity are not about theoretical knowledge, but the deliberate attitude and behaviour of seeking to live in a way that pleases God, living out our identity of those in Christ, by living in a way that reflects his own holiness.
Of course, in this life, we will always fall short, because of our sinful nature,
We struggle with sin,
We will not, this side of heaven, be holy, as God is holy,
Which is why I think, it’s so encouraging that the command to us here is not to an impossible standard of perfection, but to a striving towards;, more and more, verse 1.
You’re probably aware of the ongoing debate, about the media, and body image, and the messages that are being conveyed, particularly to girls and young women, about what kind of beauty, what kind of body they should aspire to.
Because all the research says that unreasonable expectations, impossible standards of perfection, only end up causing hurt, and disappointment.
Friends, God knows us!
This is not an impossible standard of perfection held out for us, against which we will be judged mercilessly, when we fail, which we will!
This is the God who has drawn us to himself in relationship through Christ, the God who makes a way for us to know him, in his holiness, urging us to strive towards what is best, and giving us his Spirit, to enable to pursue the holiness that can be ours.
We ought to be improving, It should be more and more, not less and less, but we will not be perfect, nor are we expected to be.
Which maybe means, a good way for me to wrap up, is to say something to whoever here this morning, might be thinking,
“I know this is what God requires of me,
But I, have not avoided sexual immorality,
But I, have not developed the practical knowledge of controlling my body.
But I, am even today, engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship,
But I have, taken advantage of brothers or sisters in Christ,
But I, am sleeping with my boyfriend or girlfriend,
But I, am caught in the web of internet pornography,
But I, have, taken sin lightly, and rejected the God who gave me his Holy Spirit.
If that’s you, dear friend, then I have another “But I”, for you to remember.
But I, am, in the Lord Jesus,
But I, am forgiven.
If today God has convicted you of sin,
If the Holy Spirit has been doing his work in you, and has shone the light of his Word into your life, confess that sin to God, he knows it anyway!
Rejoice that Jesus died to free you from that sin,
Find a brother or sister here among God’s people, who can help you, and disciple you, and keep you accountable.
And strive more and more towards the holy life to which God called you.