What’s Your Pleasure?
A sermon based on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Sunday, February 16, 2014 – Epiphany 6A
Valentine’s Day was fast approaching and the young couple were trying to decide what they were going to do.
“Where do you want to go out to eat? What’s your pleasure? Mexican? Chinese? Steaks?” the young man asked his bride.
“How about we go to that place on Main Street with the piano music?” his wife asked.
“Nah. I don’t want to go there. The food’s no good,” he replied.
“Well, how about that Italian place downtown?” she asked.
“Nah. I don’t want to go there. Too expensive,” he replied.
“Well, how about that wine café down on 5th?” she asked.
“Nah. I don’t what to go there either. Too snooty,” he said.
“Well, where do you want to go?” the exasperated wife asked.
“Glad you asked!” he said, “I was thinking of that new steakhouse. They’re running a special on their appetizers—buy one get one!”
“That’s fine,” she said, “But, why did you even bother asking me where I wanted to eat? If you knew what you wanted the whole time?”
Last week wasn’t just the week of Valentine’s Day, but it was also National Marriage Week. Married couples, have you ever had a similar conversation in your home? Why did he bother to ask his wife at all? If he were honest it was because he wanted to mask his selfishness. He knew what he wanted, but didn’t want to just come out and say it. He was trying to subtly manipulate the conversation and the decision.
But the truth is, that even if you’re single, all of us are great at such manipulation. And all of us are out to get our own way far too often. That’s how it is with sinners: We’re out to get what we want? We’re out to get what we think will please us. “Please, please me,” the sinful nature screams like the toddler shouting, “Mine. Mine. Mine!” That’s our sickness.
But God has the cure. Really, God is the cure. It was his pleasure to rescue us from ourselves. That’s what was pleasing to him—his good and perfect will. Jesus was pleased to serve his Father’s will, even if it meant a horrible and shameful death. And that changes what pleases us too.
Listen now to a reminder of God’s will for your life, and where we now find our pleasure, recorded for us in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12…
Finally, brothers, 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. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
9 Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.
11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
I. Please, Please Me
Here’s an interesting quote I came across this week: “This is the sin of the devil: he not only sins and is disobedient to God, but what he does is to be considered well done… That is why punishment must come upon [our country], for sin and shame have turned into honor. Why, even heathen philosophers have said that matters stood bad in a country where what was formerly considered vice has become virtue. Then the country is lost.”
Want to guess who said it? It wasn’t on CNN or Fox News. It wasn’t some televangelist calling for some change. It was written by Martin Luther almost 500 years ago about the decline of morals and godly living. There’s nothing new under the sun, is there? Satan has certainly deceived people today into not only shameful sexual sins in passionate lust, but even into calling them good, noble, praiseworthy. They run from sinful pleasure to sinful pleasure with a continual lust for more. And “he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”
But is it just the heathen that haven’t learned to control their bodies in a way that is holy and honorable? It is just the heathen that seek to please themselves even impure and ungodly ways? Is it just the heathen who cry, “Please, please me!”?
You know it’s not.
“Finally, brothers,” wrote Paul, “we instructed you how to live in order to please God… you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” And you know what pleases God, for “you yourselves have been taught by God…” “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body…” “You yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.”
As Christians, those who claim to belong to Christ, those who claim to serve God, that ought to be all we’re ever concerned about: How we can please God, how we can live for him, how we can control our sinful desires, how we can love each other.
But that’s not our sole concern, is it? Oh, we know that the world doesn’t revolve around “me.” But too often we live that way anyway, as if my pleasure, my entertainment, my comfort, is the only thing that mattered. Let’s face it, too often we live to please ourselves. And though we don’t come out and says it, by our behavior, whether it’s sexual immorality, or simply failing to show love to someone else be it a family member or a stranger, we cry, “Please, please me!”
We’re not clean, but unclean. We’re not pure, but filthy. We’re not holy, but twisted. We have lost control, taken advantage of others to get our pleasure, failed to show love to each other. And you know that, “The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.”
But we’re not without hope.
In that quote from above Luther went on, “As long as immorality is still considered vice and sin, help and remedy are possible; but when it is regarded as right, one cannot help. It is as if a man were lying on his bed mortally sick but were nevertheless to insist that he is well. In that frame of mind he will ask for no remedy, and he cannot be helped.”
But when we admit how sick we are—mortally sick—when we realize our great need, we will seek help we need. Confess your selfishness that seeks your own pleasure above service to God, that cries out, “Please, please me.” And God has the remedy for what ails you…
II. Please, Please You
And you know what the cure is. “For you know [the] instructions [given] you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified...”
What is God’s will? That you be sanctified. Literally that you be set apart from sin. Of course, you know that that term “sanctified” is understood two ways in the Bible: In the narrow sense and in the broad sense. In the narrow sense, it means that we are set apart from our old sinful way of living and set apart to serve God instead. And that’s how it’s used in these verses. “…that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable…”
But in the broad sense of the term “sanctified” means to be set apart from sin by God’s saving work in Christ. And “For you know [the] instructions [given] you by the authority of the Lord Jesus [that] it is God’s will that you should be sanctified...” in this sense too.
God said in Ezekiel 33(:11), “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” That’s what pleases God: Our salvation. He desired it so much he sent his Son on a rescue mission.
And that’s what pleased Jesus too! He didn’t live to please himself, but his Father. And he did the Father’s will perfectly. He never lusted. He controlled his body and his thoughts. He always loved others. He never sinned. He always lived in a way that was pleasing to God. He didn’t say to God, “Please, please me,” but “Please, please you. What is your pleasure, Father? That is what I will do.”
And he didn’t live to please himself, but his Father, even when it meant torture, suffering, and pain, even when it meant guilt and shame and a hell that we can’t begin to imagine. Remember his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane? “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
And God’s will was done. So Jesus gave his life. And you and I are set apart from sin. We are forgiven for our selfish desire to be pleased above all else. We’re forgiven for our apathy toward what is pleasing to God. We’re forgiven for our sexual sins and for our sinful thoughts. We are forgiven for our failure to love others. We are forgiven for every sin!
Because it was the Father’s will that we be sanctified, because it was Jesus’ pleasure to set us free from sin, we are forgiven and we will have an eternity of pleasure with God in heaven—a pleasure beyond our wildest imaginations!
And that changes our attitudes right now. What pleases us most is no longer whatever brings us pleasure, but whatever is pleasing to God. Because Jesus said to God, “Please, please you,” when all we could say was, “Please, please me,” we are full of gratitude and in thanks, we’re eager to serve him. Paul urges us now, to “Please, please God.” And it is our pleasure…
III. Please, Please God
I haven’t had it checked in a while, but I’ve got a history of high cholesterol. But when I check it at home with the blood test it’s not really that useful. You see, it gives me my total cholesterol count, but it doesn’t distinguish between the good cholesterol and the bad. The good cholesterol has high-density lipoproteins (HDLs). Bad cholesterol has low-density lipoproteins (LDLs). The good clears arteries and prevents blockage. The bad clogs those arteries and kills.
Just as there are good cholesterols and bad cholesterols, there are good pleasures and bad pleasures. The bad pleasures are self-indulgent, disobedient to God, and usually addictive. But the good pleasures are self-controlled and obedient to God. Now we say with all sincerity, “What pleases God, pleases me.”
“A Christian can live however he or she wants.” That statement is true, not because we can willfully sin and rebel against God and think it’s okay, but because what we want as Christians is to serve him. We want to please God. And we can do it.
Finally, brothers, 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…
Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers… Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.
The Thessalonians were living their lives in such a way that expressed their gratitude to Jesus. But Paul urged them to do so more and more. You are living your lives in such a way that expresses your gratitude to Jesus. But I urge you to do so more and more. This is my plea: “Please, please God, more and more.”
When a runner gets done running a race, rarely does he say, “Great. Now I’m done running for good.” He rests, recovers, and gets ready to run the next race. When a mountain climber conquers a mountain, rarely does he say, “Great. Now I’m done climbing.” He rests, recovers, and gets ready to climb the next mountain. When a hunter gets a kill, rarely does he say, “Great. Now I’m done hunting.” He rests, recovers, and gets ready for the next hunt.
Now, they don’t need to do those things again. They’ve already won. So why keep going? Because they enjoy it. It pleases them, the pursuit, the struggle, the win.
Pursue holiness, friends. Strive for excellence in your life. Try to get better and better. “Live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now [I] ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more… Love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers… Yet [I] urge you… to do so more and more. “
Please, please God. Honor him with your bodies and the way you use them. Honor him with your mind and keep your thoughts pure. Honor him in the way you live to serve others. Because you know that when you serve others you really serve God. And please God, not because you “have to,” but because pleasing God, pleases you. Because when all you once said was, “Please, please me,” Jesus came to rescue you by saying to God, “Please, please you.” Now, please, please God in thanks.
The hymn writer put it well: “My God desires the soul's salvation; My soul he, too, desires to save. Therefore with Christian resignation All earthly troubles I will brave. His will be done eternally: What pleases God, that pleases me.” (CW #414 v.3 “I Leave All Things to God’s Direction”) In Jesus’ name, dear friends, amen.