More and More Like Jesus
Sermon 1842 1 Thessalonians 4.1-12 February 5, 2023
It is a slippery slope. How should Christians live? In the English speaking world, we could blame Henry VIII. When he split from the Roman Catholic Church—the Pope thought four annulments were enough for anyone—and named himself the head of the Church of England, you could pretty much live like a pig and be a member in good standing. It rankled people like John Wesley who thought Christians should live a certain way, that there should be a method to the working of the Spirt within us. Voila! Methodism was born. No drinking, no dancing and no card playing. Then the Baptists came along and objected--the Methodists wanted to pound every round peg into a square hole. The Spirit could not be chained. The battles began!
Is there a certain way Christians will live? Can you identify a Christian lifestyle? As Lutherans we would have to say, “Yes, all Christians display certain Christian virtues to a greater or lesser extent.” But the display of these virtues are not a result of rules and expectations laid upon the believers. They uniquely flow from the heart of every individual believer. And they are not enunciated by this or that religious teacher. They are God’s commands. This, instead of some step program, is the way to be
More and More Like Jesus
1. Taught by God.
2. Bound by love.
You will recall the Thessalonians were Paul’s eager beaver believers. They were so eager to believe they thought Jesus was coming any minute now. This week, next week tops. Some had even quit their jobs so they would be able to see the Last Day. A thread runs throughout Paul’s words before us today. That thread is being taught by God. We are more and more like Jesus as we are taught by God.
“Finally brothers, we instructed you. You know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will. As we have already told you and warned you. Therefore he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. You yourselves have been taught by God. Just as we told you.”
There was a lot of teaching going on in Thessalonica. That teaching was not the words of man, but the words of God. Earlier Paul had praised the Thessalonians, “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God (2.13).” To be more and more like Jesus we need to be taught by God. His will, his Ten Commandments, the giving of his Spirit through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot be more and more like Jesus without being taught by God.
It seems so simple. It should be. If it weren’t for…
“Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” The devil is always by our side. He questions the Word of God. He challenges the Word of God. He cannot let the Word of God stand. The devil has a trusted ally in the sinful human nature. Proud Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to let the Children of Israel go. King David ignores the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” and the Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder,” when he sleeps with Uriah the Hittite’s wife and has Uriah killed in battle to cover up the resulting pregnancy. As the book of Jeremiah is read to a wicked king of Judah, he cuts off the pages and throws them in the fire to warm himself on a winter’s day.
But isn’t that what sin is? Sin is an unwillingness to listen to the Word of God. We want what we want so we stop our ears to the commandments God himself gave on Mount Sinai. “I think” comes before “the Bible says.” And it really doesn’t help when we insert our own ideas as God’s ideas. Dress modestly for church seems to be the guidance the Scriptures give. Modesty is a relative term, and in Nevada it means something different than in Iowa. But if we make rules dictating women who love Jesus will come with a gray skirt and white apron with a white bonnet on their heads, and men will come in black three-piece suits and black stove pipe hats, you see what we are doing. We are claiming our words are God’s words. We may make a striking congregation, absolutely head scratching to our neighbors as they see us come and go, but we are not taught by God. We are not more and more like Jesus.
Paul doesn’t make his plea according to the Law. He makes his plea according to the Gospel. “We ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” Think of what the Lord Jesus did for us. He always obeyed his Father’s will. He resisted the devil’s temptations in the wilderness. “It is written.” He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Your will be done.” He even admitted that he only did the miracles God the Father showed him to do. He didn’t go rogue. At his baptism--“it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness”—he pointed to God’s words of command to John the Baptist. He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross!
“In the Lord Jesus” be more and more like Jesus. The forgiveness of sins our Savior won for us changes us. It transforms us. We want to live a life for him who died for us. Live for our greedy selves? We’ve got something bigger to live for. We want to live for Jesus. We want to live as he did. Anybody who doesn’t understand that has not loved the one who loves them so.
Don’t forget the Holy Spirit. Through the Gospel God gives his Spirit. The Holy Spirit inside us moves us to live like Jesus. The Holy Spirit gives us the courage to stand up for Jesus. We rely on the Holy Spirit, not on our own powers.
More and more like Jesus. We are bound by love.
Paul lists three areas where Christians will display their Christian lifestyle, bound by love. The first is how we control ourselves. “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 in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 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 (3-6).”
Love for God and love for one another moves us to express ourselves with self-control. There is self-control as a young man respects his date and treats her well. There is self-control when a married person recognizes the closest friendship they have is with their spouse. Unbelievers can only think of themselves, their own gratification, their own needs. The other person only counts if they want them to be a repeat customer. Bound by love we will not take advantage of anyone, but seek their good, even ahead of our own. A husband is more concerned for his wife’s well-being than his own. A friend is willing to make sacrifices for another. This is the Christian lifestyle that comes from the Holy Spirit.
The second is that we actively show love towards others. “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. Yet we urge you brothers, to do so more and more (9-10).”
I joke to people that Las Vegas is like a teenager. The town has a heart of gold and the attention span of a gnat. The love we show for each other isn’t just for a moment. It isn’t a spiritual bucket list. Check, check, done that, I’m good. It is an ongoing task, a continuing challenge. Paul’s words, “to do so more and more,” give us pause. We are to increase in our brotherly love. One of the ways we show that increasing brotherly love is by what we give to our national church body, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Fifteen years ago we contributed $48,000 for the training of pastors and teachers, for the expansion of mission work at home and overseas. Then things happened. It fell finally to zero and now is at $10,000. I am happy to say that for the past four years we have been increasing the amount every year. Church, be it your donations to the local congregation or our common donation to our national congregation, is seldom the best place to balance the budget.
The final area where we are bound by love as Christians? Work with your own hands. Lead a quiet life. Mind your own business. In a world of “look-at-me-nows!” Christians stand out by our ability and willingness to grind it out. We take pride in not being a burden to others, to not making work for others because we failed to do our job. To the Thessalonians it meant giving up the religious excuse that Jesus was going to return before payday, so why go in to work on Wednesday? For you and me it means going to work, paying our taxes, waiting for the red light at a deserted intersection on an early morning. We aren’t good citizens because someone is watching. We want to make this world, this country, this state, city and neighborhood better. We do that in a thousand different ways, unique to our own circumstances and abilities. But we do do that, all of us. That’s because we are
More and More Like Jesus
1. Taught by God.
2. Bound by love.
What many in the religious world want to accomplish by force, by laws, by principles and by less than subtle peer pressure, we accomplish by the working of the Holy Spirit as he takes the Gospel of our forgiveness and brings forth a harvest of Christian virtues as unique and refreshing as each believer. Some might say that’s what it means to be Lutheran. It is really what it means to be Christian.