1 Thessalonians 2:4 | Desires are Trouble

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Action is a physical act of manipulating something within time and space. Taking a step forward is a manipulation of muscle and bone to move the leg and this represents an action. Desire however is an idea in the mind and is the act of manipulating the spirit. Desire is not a manipulation of time and space however desire can and often does lead to action. Some actions are reflexive but many actions are deliberate and are the direct result of desire that has built up over time.

If I desire to steal but never act upon that desire is it a sin before God? If I desire to steal but never have opportunity because of some constraint (like fear of getting caught) is it a sin before God?

Moses arguably the greatest leader and judge of Israel was told by God that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the promised land because of one time where he did not “uphold [God] as holy”

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Numbers 20:10-12 ESV

Now Moses was told by God to bring water from a rock to allow the people to drink while in the dessert and Moses did that. God through Moses brought the water out of the rock, but Moses failed to represent God as holy in the situation. The standards God has set for our desires and our actions is beyond what any person can follow. Moses who has seen the physical holy representation of God whose very hand carved into stone the 10 commandments is being held to an even higher standard than the average person. Moses failed to keep God holy before the people and Moses knew better. His actions in time and space brought forth water out of a rock but his desires, his anger with the people for being such awful whiny complainers had made him angry. Maybe his anger with the people or something as priest like he failed to give thanks to God resulted in God calling out his desire as a sin.

Paul talks about desire to the early church and keeping Moses in mind read what Paul states about leadership and where desire should be focused.

3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ESV

Many people I talk with about God will state something along the lines of “God will see I am a good person and will see that my good outweighs my bad. What more can I do?” This is the wrong perspective because it follows the worlds obsession with the physical actions. Notice the focus on actions of good and bad results. “I am not as bad as that person my actions are much better.”

Just like when I move a foot to take a step forward I must first desire in my heart and spirit to move that foot forward. How many times have I thought I should take a step forward and failed to do so? I will be accountable to God for those desires that were never even acted on.

Do not think God will only see our actions and our actions are those of a good person. Know that God will judge our heart and our desires. He knows the hate I have had for others even if I did not act out the violence in my heart. He knows that I have desired the money of my neighbor even though I never robbed him. He knows that I have lusted for the physical comforts of this world to satisfy my own selfish desires to the detriment of brothers and sisters. What a wretched heart that lives in me. Forgive me father for my sins of both action and desire. Thank you for Jesus who has taken those sins from me that I may humbly sit before you as a child restored to his father.

1 Thessalonians 4:1 | Self Help

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Growth and maturity are aspirations of the self help and be all that you can be motivational speakers. With education and wealth that most in free societies have in abundance, growth and maturity would seem to be a waste if not taken advantage of even in small measure. Within this space some pastors write books or sermons themed on how to have the best life. Even more motivational speakers outside of religion will focus on the power of positive thinking. If you can dream it you can do it they preach. None this is wrong within limits, but when taken to selfish extremes self help and achieving dreams can become a trap. Paul in his letter to the church in Thessalonica did not have much to correct in their behavior. The reports he received must have been glowing, compared to some of the other early churches at least. Paul challenges this church asking them to have growth and maturity in two key areas. If one is looking for self help and big dreams then Paul’s words are the God inspired way to approach life. For the contemporary church that means following the teaching of the Bible which is a record of what the apostles taught to the early church.

First Paul challenges the church to grow more and more in their sexual ethic. To please God one must recognize right and wrong in this area. This challenge from Paul is not some rule that men have made up to stop people from loving or having fun as they see fit but it is an expectation from God himself and will save many from a life of loneliness and regret.

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 3-8 ESV

The sexual liberation of current society is nothing new. Lust fulfilled through pornography, affairs, and a hookup culture are a hollow gratification that is championed by those who are dead inside. You want a better you? You want to please God? Then submit your body to Christ. Stop polluting your heart, soul, and mind with dishonor and impurity. God is holy and pure so we should at least acknowledge what is right even if doing right is near impossible. What we know is for sure impossible is pleasing God if selfish desires rule your every waking moment. Paul put these words into another form in his letter to the Roman church.

6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:6-8 ESV

If your life is self-centered and self-accommodating you are living in the “flesh”. This is death because our flesh leads us away from God. Much of God’s law is in place to confirm to us that our selfish fleshly desires should not rule over our lives.

Second Paul challenges the church to grow more and more in how we live our daily lives as citizens in a country and community.

9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV

For the woke brothers and sisters (both white and black) and for the conservative evangelical brothers and sisters this challenge from Paul needs to be front and center at all times. Where is our brotherly love? Paul found no need to write to the Thessalonians on this topic because they had love for others. They served others without judgment. But Paul wanted them to grow more and more. So if you think you have this kind of love  in place then Paul says go further. Seek the welfare of others over self. Seek not to be dependent on the government. Seek not to be so concerned with the affairs of others. I can’t change someone else any more than the government can force people to change. True change only comes from the Spirit given to us by Christ. And why does Paul want more and more of this? So that we would walk properly before outsiders for God’s glory. Sadly, at this moment much of the outside world sees sides pitted against each other competing for worldly influence apart from Christ.

Finally, some of you reading this will reject it all. This post is not the typically kind of self help because Paul wants yourself to be put aside. The best help one could ever provide to self is let self-die and be made alive in Christ.

Some of you reading will agree but are afraid of what putting away the self will mean when it comes to your job, your friends, and your community. It is true you may lose all of those things but God is so much more important than anything else.

42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. John 4:42-43 ESV

*original photo by Scott Webb from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/colorful-plant-pot-rocks-395676/

You really like me!

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Sally Field when she won an Oscar for best actress gave what may be the most memorable, and misquoted, line of any awards speech. “You like me, you really like me”. That line is not a direct quote but it is the impression many remembered and has since been referenced and copied in so many other places. The quote highlights the vanity of awards shows in general but it expresses a truth that most people want to be recognized and loved. What better way to be loved than recognition? Paul opens his letter to Thessalonica telling them that he remembers them before God for all their faithful works.

3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 ESV

If an Apostle wrote a letter to my church letting us know that we are in his prayer and that he appreciates the hard work I would be ecstatic. What an encouragement this letter must have been. Actors work hard and so few of them achieve the kind of success that comes with an Oscar win. There are many people who have toiled long nights, put in hours of practice, and have spent personal wealth all at a shot of becoming a star. Yet how many of them receive the recognition that is due? I think it is the case in all professions that recognition is hard to come by. If we all desire recognition for earthly temporary things what about recognition for the things heavenly eternal things? We do not generally take that kind of recognition well. Worse yet many want to avoid spiritual conversations altogether. But Paul wanted the church to know that he saw their works in Christ. In the second letter to this same church he made the point again but provides a little more detail on what he is praising them for.

4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 2 Thessalonians 1:4 ESV

Now this kind of recognition is not the kind that comes with positive press, overnight success, or financial gain. Paul is using words like work, labor, and steadfastness in the presence of persecution and afflictions. This sound an awful lot like drudgery, sorrow, opposition, and operating far away from the world’s approval. In fact, this sounds like a people who might rightly say of the world “you hate me, you really hate me!”. Paul is recognizing them for the fact that they have endured the awfulness of life for the sake of Christ. Jesus points to a future time before he returns where Christians will be persecuted and one can see where Paul sources his comments on the glory of one enduring under harsh conditions.

22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 10:22 ESV

The apostles are gone and they have left only the words inspired by God and a historical legacy. They cannot write an encouraging letter directly to me or my church today. However, these words of encouragement that have been left speak of recognition that no Oscar winner could ever dream for. The Bible tells us that God himself will recognize the endurance and the labor that is done in His name.

10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. Hebrews 6:10 ESV

The kind of works and love that God is looking to recognize is an unselfish work that gains glory not for the servant but for God himself and sadly that is where the Oscars and most recognition go wrong.

3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ESV