One. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, committed Christian, and gracious debater of some of the world’s leading atheists. In Australia at the moment on a speaking tour. Appearing on TV, and speaking to Christian and non-Christians about the intellectual rigour of Biblical Christianity. Which must seem quite WEIRD to SOME academics. Last week he was on ABC’s Q and A program.
Two. Jarryd Hayne, great rugby league player, and a new Christian who attends Hillsong. Trying to live a very DIFFERENT sort of life from his team-mates. Last week, while celebrating a mate’s birthday, he was involved in an altercation with someone in a night club in Kings Cross. People sometimes try to bait footy players, and Jarryd seems to have responded in some way. He recognises it was a mistake he could have avoided if he hadn’t been there in the first place.
Three. Kate Bracks, mother of three from Orange. But perhaps better known as Kate from Masterchef. She’s a Christian, and member of Orange Evangelical Church. And when the contestants cooked for the Dalai Lama a few weeks ago, Kate respectfully addressed the spiritual leader as Dalai Lama, rather than the more expected “Your holiness.” Kate explained later that, as a Christian, she believed only God was holy, and that she SHOULDN’T call any HUMAN holy. And the internet opinions re running hot.
Three Christians. Mathematician, sportsman, cook. Each quite different, in a different area of life, with different challenges to conquer, and choices to make. But all with the same calling. The same calling WE have. Wherever we are. Gardener, teacher, storeman, receptionist, or accountant. Called to PLEASE GOD. Called to LIVE for him.
But what should that LOOK LIKE? How should Christians live in the world? That’s the question.
We ARE different from the world. We serve JESUS, rather than ourselves. We’re FORGIVEN, rather than living in rebellion against God. We’re bound for ETERNITY, rather than RETIREMENT.
But HOW should we be different?
ONE extreme is to run off into a separate Christian community. To withdraw from society. Have nothing to do with ANYTHING that’s not Christian. You might think of a monastery, or Christian hippy commune, or the Amish community in America who cut themselves off from modern technology and culture.
But we can separate from society just as well living in suburbia. There’s plenty of Christians who work with Christians, socialise with Christians, play sport with Christians. Having nothing at all to do with the rest of the world. If you asked them to name any non-Christians they know personally, they have to think hard before they can.
That’s ONE extreme. The OTHER extreme is for Christians to only be different ON THE INSIDE. To be SO involved, so INTER-CONNECTED with the world, they’re INDISTINGUISHABLE. They’re different, but only on the INSIDE. Like guerrilla warfare. You’d never know they were Christians. They never stand up for Jesus. They work and talk, and joke, and spend, and party like everyone else around them. They treat people the same, their attitudes and their priorities are the same. They worry about the same things, and they react the same way to difficulties and trouble.
I wonder which of these extremes YOU’RE closer to.
When it comes to how Christians relate to the world, where does a good balance lie? What sort of life is GOD pleased with?
In the practical “nuts and bolts” of day by day decisions, how should BEING DIFFERENT show itself in HOW YOU TREAT PEOPLE, what you spend your MONEY on, what you SAY, and how you WORK?
On being different (1-2)
It’s an issue that’s alive and relevant TODAY. But it’s been just as important ever since the very FIRST Christians were called to be different. Called to change their allegiance. To turn from idols to serve the LIVING and TRUE God.
Which is just what the Thessalonians had done when Paul preached the gospel to them.
And then Paul had taught them what that change of allegiance would LOOK LIKE. Practical teaching about the sorts of decisions they’d need to make. His teaching ON BEING DIFFERENT. In the rough and tumble of messy lives in the midst of non-Christians. See there at the start of Ch 4?
4:1 Finally, brothers, we instructed you HOW TO LIVE IN ORDER TO PLEASE GOD, as in fact you are living.
Whatever the particular decision or area of life, the key to it all is about PLEASING GOD. He’s the One you’ve turned to SERVE. And SERVING someone means doing what PLEASES them.
And what’s so good about living to please God is WE DON’T NEED TO GUESS. It’s not a matter of personal opinion. God’s TOLD us how to live in order to please him. It’s not JUST Paul’s opinion. V2.
2 For you know what instructions we gave you BY THE AUTHORITY OF THE LORD JESUS.
Paul had been commissioned as an apostle of Jesus. A SENT REPRESENTATIVE. An ambassador. With royal authority.
There’s lots of good advice for living out there. TV shows, magazines, self-help gurus, blogs, books. But it’s all just OPINION. When it comes to how to be different as Christians, we don’t have to guess. We don’t have to look any further. We can have complete confidence in Paul’s instructions. That we’ll PLEASE God if we FOLLOW them. Because they come with JESUS’ AUTHORITY. A royal seal of approval.
Our private relationships (3-8)
And he gives practical advice in THREE AREAS. Our PRIVATE relationships. Our CHURCH relationships. And our PUBLIC relationships.
First up, our PRIVATE relationships. Specifically SEXUAL ones.
And the platform we begin on. The FOUNDATION, there at the start of v3. Is that it’s God’s will for you to be SANCTIFIED. To be DIFFERENT. It’s from the same word family as SAINTS and HOLY.
And to be SANCTIFIED has two ideas connected with it. To be SEPARATE. To be reserved off to the side. For a special purpose. And when that’s applied to the things of GOD, it takes on the idea of being PURE – like the utensils associated with the temple. They were SET APART and HOLY.
And when we talk about PEOPLE being SANCTIFIED, or SET APART, then holy carries the ideas of being MORALLY pure. Of being separate from SIN. Of being morally UPRIGHT and RIGHTEOUS. Because that’s what GOD is like. God is the ultimate one who’s set apart. And for us to be SET APART for GOD means we’re to be LIKE HIM. Morally upright and set apart from sin. You ARE different, so BE different.
And the FIRST area Paul applies that difference to is SEXUAL IMMORALITY.
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should AVOID SEXUAL IMMORALITY;
The word for sexual immorality is PORNEIA. Which means ANY sort of sexual contact that’s not between a married couple.
Notice it doesn’t say we should avoid SEX. There’s a rumour out there that God is AGAINST SEX. And that Christians have a PROBLEM with it. But that’s WRONG. Because God LOVES sex. He made it for us TO ENJOY. But he made it to be enjoyed WITHIN BOUNDARIES. That is, within the security and trust of marriage.
Anything OUTSIDE of that is LESS than God’s ideal. Less enjoyable, less special, less intimate.
It’s LESS, and it’s also SIN. It’s against God’s LAW and his DESIGN.
It’s like JAZZ music. People think jazz is just about playing whatever you feel like. Improvising. Which is true. But GOOD jazz is about freedom within LIMITS. Even in jazz, there are RULES you have to stick to. There may not be notes on a page you have to follow. But there are rules about rhythm and key and chords and volume. Rules about who plays when, and who doesn’t play. And jazz sounds great when people exercise their freedom WITHIN THOSE RULES. Playing whatever you like, without considering others just sounds HORRIBLE.
And it’s the same with God’s rules about sex. He’s given us freedom within limits. And when we play within God’s limits of marriage, listening to the other player, there’s great music.
But sexual immorality, porneia, is about getting rid of all rules. Doing whatever you feel like, without consideration for anyone else. And that makes TERRIBLE music. And it’s a recipe for DISASTER.
So God wants us to be HOLY. Sanctified. We’re to AVOID sexual immorality.
The word for AVOID can also mean DISTANCE as well as choosing not to do something. We’re to FLEE that sort of behaviour – put some physical distance between us and the temptation, as well choose to avoid it.
Which is a helpful way of thinking about the temptation. Put some SPACE between yourself and a temptation. FLEE it. Don’t go into the shop, or down that street. Don’t watch TV or use the computer on your own. Don’t spend time with that work colleague you connect with so well. Don’t “facebook-friend” that old flame from school. Don’t even meet up for coffee.
Make the choice when the distance is large, when the pressure’s NOT on, and the choice is EASY. Because the closer you get, the more self-control is required. Which Paul goes on to give instructions about. Fleeing sexual immorality is about SELF-CONTROL. V4.
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;
The culture of Thessalonica – pretty much like TODAY – was “If it feels good, DO IT!” The world doesn’t see any virtue in self-control. For people who don’t know God, the greatest sin is not being true to yourself. To NOT express yourself. To hold back. So the message of the world is that if you FEEL like doing it, GO FOR IT!
For people who don’t know God, if you have ANY sort of appetite, it’s NONSENSE to deny yourself that satisfaction. Just satisfy it – simple!
But God’s will is that we ARE in control of our bodies. WE CHOOSE what appetites we’ll satisfy, and how. There IS right and wrong. There ARE choices that please God.
And we please him when we show self-control over our bodies. When we deal with our bodies, and other people, with honour and holiness.
Paul goes on. (And it’s God’s will)
6 that in this matter no one should WRONG his brother or TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HIM.
Sexual immorality isn’t just a bit of harmless fun between two consenting adults. It’s WRONGING A BROTHER. If you’re married, it’s obviously wronging YOUR SPOUSE. It’s adultery and betrayal, and a breaking of your marriage vows to them.
But it’s just as much wronging the person you’re INVOLVED WITH. AND their spouse, or future spouse. Sexual immorality cuts DEEP. It’s NOT harmless. It produces wounds that take a long time to heal, IF EVER. Apart from the obvious dangers of diseases or pregnancy, there’s emotional scars from the broken trust and the superficial connection. Of unfair comparisons and exploitation.
Sex is FAR more important and significant than simply two ships passing in the night. God’s designed it to CONNECT people. To be the CULMINATION of getting to know each other and committing to each other. Sexual immorality is WRONGING a brother.
The other aspect that’s sinful is it’s TAKING ADVANTAGE of a brother. It’s USING someone else for YOUR BENEFIT. It’s basically SELFISHNESS.
Whereas that’s not the way God’s designed sex. It’s about self-LESS-ness. About serving THE OTHER PERSON instead.
Satisfying your physical appetites, wronging the other person, and taking advantage of them. That’s the normal way the NON-Christian world behaves. But you’re called to be DIFFERENT. Separate. So LIVE that way.
It’s all about REFLECTING THE MASTER YOU SERVE. God’s HOLY (separate and pure), so WE’RE to be holy TOO. Look there in v7.
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.
God CALLS us not to be IMPURE, but to be HOLY. And when we DON’T live up to that call, we’re rejecting God himself.
And then there’s one aspect of God’s work that’s emphasised. All sorts of descriptions Paul COULD have given about God. But he chooses “He’s the One who gives us his HOLY Spirit”. That’s the reason we’re to be HOLY, because we have God’s Spirit of HOLINESS IN us.
Just like when you’re Australian, there are certain things that are expected. When you’re Australian on the INSIDE, you’re expected to behave that way ON THE OUTSIDE. So, all manner of things are said to be UN-Australian. It’s UN-Australian to limit the amount Australians can gamble on the pokies. It’s un-Australian not to eat lamb on Australia Day, or to talk yourself up, or to spit the dummy on the sporting field, or to protest against globalisation.
Same with being a Christian. When you’ve got God’s HOLY Spirit on the INSIDE, you should be HOLY on the OUTSIDE. If you’re NOT, you’re rejecting GOD HIMSELF, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
2. In your church relationships
That’s point ONE. What it means to live out being different in your PRIVATE relationships. Next Paul moves onto our CHURCH relationships. How we treat our brothers and sisters in our church family. And, once again, the point is about living out BEING DIFFERENT. V9.
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.
It’s a bit of a refrain for Paul. He keeps coming back to it. How he wants the Thessalonians to LOVE EACH OTHER. Even though they’re already doing it WELL.
1:3. We continually remember your labour prompted by LOVE.
3:6. Timothy’s just brought us good news about your faith AND LOVE.
3:12. May the Lord make your LOVE for each other increase and overflow for each other.
And here again in v9 and 10, we see it again. You DO love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet do so MORE AND MORE. Don’t settle for a SURFACE love. A passing affection. A half-connected, self-protective, comfortable, convenient sort of love that doesn’t really challenge or stretch you too much. PUSH yourself in love. Give up even more, take more risks, be MORE transparent, and generous, and forgiving, and patient, and tolerant and long-suffering.
How are we DOING at that? How are YOU doing at that?
If we were all doing it, people would TAKE NOTICE, wouldn’t they? Because it’s SO UNUSUAL. So counter-cultural for people as different and divergent as we are to get on so well, to love each other so deeply and sacrificially. To be so tolerant and patience. To be so UNITED.
We sometimes lament how much infighting there is in the church, but we forget how UNUSUAL it is that we get along as well as we do.
Let’s keep doing it more and more.
3. Public relationships
That’s Paul’s SECOND areas of how to live differently. His THIRD area, from v11, is in our PUBLIC relationships.
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.
A whole list of actions and attitudes that will SET YOU APART as DIFERENT. All so that people will NOTICE.
Be busy, not a busy-body. When everyone’s gossiping around the water cooler about the latest juicy rumour, or grumbling about the conditions, or back-stabbing the boss. Don’t get dragged in. Just lead A QUIET LIFE, mind your own business, get on with your own work. You might say something, or you might just walk away.
People NOTICE. They RESPECT integrity and honesty and loyalty. I’ve spoken to a few of you who’ve made conscious, prayerful decisions to address certain things at work. I won’t embarrass them by naming them. But they’ve seen things CHANGE when it comes to swearing, or complaining, or gossip. They’ve just decided to get on with leading a quiet life, and minding their own business, and doing their job. And people NOTICE.
Because we ARE different, so let’s ACT THAT WAY.
And not just AT WORK. Just in your everyday life. In small things.
Different in your ATTITUDE TO LIFE. Are you thankful and grateful for your life? Where you count your blessings. Because God’s given you far more than you deserve. Or do you complain and moan about your workload, or your luck, or your in-laws?
Are you different in the way you talk to the check out girl in the supermarket? In a way that shows you really care – really interested – even though you don’t know her. Because God has shown YOU mercy and grace.
Or different in the way you cope with traffic? That instead of getting parking spot rage when you’re absolutely at the end of your tether with the Christmas shopping, you actually smile and let somebody else take the spot. Because God’s shown YOU grace and forgiveness more than YOU deserve.
Or different in the way you deal with stress and uncertainty? How you can deal calmly with unexpected situations, and take life as it comes. Because you know God’s got it in control, and he’s working everything for good.
Or just different in the way you approach CONVERSATIONS. Don’t be DEPENDENT on anybody. Look to GIVE, rather than RECEIVE. Even in our conversations. Do you come into a conversation with AN AGENDA? With something YOU want to get out of it? Keen to get YOUR point of view across, or get help for YOUR project?
Why not listen well? Ask questions. Be AVAILABLE for the other person. Let them know you’re FOR them. On their side. Praying for them, interested.
That’s the life that wins the respect of outsiders. That pleases God who calls you to it. You ARE different, do LIVE differently. Whether you’re a mathematician, a politician, or a sportsman. Whether you’re a truck-driver, a carpenter, or a housewife.
Live to please God, be sanctified and holy, because he who calls you is holy.