How To Please God

Bible Book: 1 Thessalonians  4 : 1-12
Subject: Pleasing The Lord; Service; Marriage; Purity; Love

The deep desire of our hearts as Christians ought to be this -- to please the Lord. In the last part of verse 1 in our text Paul says, " ought to walk and to please God. The word "ought" is often translated "must" in the New Testament. Jesus used this word when He said to Nicodemus, "You must be born again." There is force in this word. Here is something binding, something we must do. Pleasing God is not an option for the Christian. God requires it. Being a committed Christian is not just reserved for a few super-saints who happen to like that kind of thing. It is for every Christian. It is what it means to be a Christian. If we belong to Jesus Christ, then we belong to Jesus Christ! He owns us. We are His slaves, therefore we must glorify God in body and soul which are His. We must please God.

Many Christians are miserable because they don't seek to serve and please God every day. Christianity is more than just a "Sunday-morning-go-to-church" thing! It is a way in which we live; the way we dress, the way we act, the way we talk. Show me someone who is miserable as a Christian and I will show you a person who does not live in the awareness that he belongs to God.

Notice in verse 1 that he says, "so ye would abound more and more." God wants us to do more than just exist. He wants us to possess abundant life. Many people think, "If I get serious with God, He will take all the fun out of life." No, He will put zest in the life! Real monotony and drudgery is to go on a rat race of one sensation after another, always coming up empty, frustrated, and guilty. But when we come to God, He puts adventure and excitement into our lives. He puts peace and fulfillment in our hearts. Jesus said, "The thief's purpose is to steal, kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness" (John 10:10). God wants us to really live. And the point is this. We will never be happy if God is not happy with us. And when we know that He is happy with us; when we know that we have pleased Him with our lives, then we enter upon a dimension of living that is absolutely incredible.

Notice in verse 2 that Paul says, "...For ye know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus." The word translated "commandments" is not a common one in the New Testament and signifies instruction which is given by a superior to a subordinate. It is often used of military orders. And there are three distinctive commands we see in our text. Command number one is,

I. Abound In Abstinence

Here Paul deals with marriage in the home. The marriage vows in heathen cities said nothing about purity, so there was great danger of immorality in the lives of these new Christians. While love and purity certainly prevailed in many heathen homes, the general atmosphere of these city-states in ancient Greece was one of lust and selfishness. The Christian has the responsibility of building a home that will glorify God. Immorality is basically selfishness and robbery. Thus, Paul exhorts them to live to please God and not themselves. He instructs them to live in holiness and purity by the power of God. God's will for their lives was that they be sanctified. The word "sanctified" simply means "set apart for a purpose." The believer has been set apart for God. We have the daily responsibility of devoting ourselves more to God so that in body, soul and spirit we completely belong to Him. If we're to be sanctified, we're going to have to live in the world, but we must live above the world.

Handley Page, a pioneer in aviation, was flying in the Middle East in one of his best airplanes. On his journey he landed at Khaibar in Arabia. Unknown to him, a huge rate was attracted by the smell of food in the plane and managed to get aboard. On the next leg of the flight, Page heard the sickening sound of gnawing. Suspecting it was a rodent, his heart began to pound as he visualized the serious damage that could be done to the fragile mechanisms that controlled the craft. What could he do?

Then the thought struck him. A rat cannot survive at high altitudes. So he pulled back on the stick. The airplane climbed higher and higher until Page found it difficult to breathe. He listened intently, then sighed with relief. The gnawing had stopped. When he arrived at his next destination he found the rat lying dead behind the cockpit. You see, we're to live in the world, but we're not to be of the world. We're to live above the world. We have been set apart so that we completely belong to Him.

Nothing defiles a person more than sexual sin. In fact, I want you to look in I Corinthians 6:9-11 (read). If you'll notice, four of the ten sins mentioned in this passage of scripture have to do with sexual sins. And I want to say that to despise God's warnings about sexual sin is to grieve the Spirit. David fell into sexual sin and he paid dearly for it. The same is true of Samson and Judah. If you'll notice in verse 4, Paul says that each of us "should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour." The phrase "possess his vessel" simply means "control his body," for our bodies are the vessels of God. The Christian who commits sexual sin is sinning against his own body, and he is robbing God of the glory, which He should receive from the life of a believer.

Let me tell you a tragic story. When I was pastor at Colonial Heights Baptist Church in Jackson, I had a young woman who came to see me one afternoon. She was married. Her husband was a ministerial student at Mississippi College. They had two children. From the time she walked in the door to my study she began to cry. And I said, "What's the matter?" And once she got control of her emotions, she said, "I've just been to the doctor. He said that I have gonorrhea and we started the treatments today." And I said, "How in the world did you contract such a terrible social disease?" And she said, "From my husband." Now, her husband was a ministerial student at Mississippi College and he was serving as a supply pastor of a small church in Copiah County near Crystal Springs, Mississippi. That afternoon I promised that young wife and mother that I would come to the apartment where they were living on the campus of Mississippi College and pay them a visit. She was to tell her husband that I would be there on a certain afternoon. At the appointed time I arrived at their apartment and he began to unfold for me one of the most horribly heart-rending stories I've ever heard. He became addicted to pornographic magazines when he was an adolescent. He would take the money from his paper route and buy Playboy and Penthouse magazines, hide them in his bedroom and look at them at night. Later on that led him to purchasing X-rated videos. Somehow he erroneously thought that when he got married that that would cure his appetite for all this salacious material, but it did not. One thing led to another and this unchecked addiction led him to purchase the services of a prostitute. Not just one, but on a number of occasions. As a result of that he contracted this sexually transmitted disease and passed it on to his wife. I provided what counseling I could and then referred them to a Christian counselor for additional therapy. The symptoms of the disease were successfully treated through medication and for several months things seemed to go very well. Every time I saw this young man I asked him if he was being faithful to his wife. He told me that he was, but I found out later that he had been lying to me and to others. This wife came to me a second time in tears, having contracted this same disease again for the very same reason. And that marriage ended in a tragic, horrible divorce. Our church helped to support that wife and mother and her two children for several years. And the last time I inquired, no one had any knowledge of the whereabouts of that husband and the father of those two children.

Now, let me give you folks, particularly you guys, some suggestions about how to live a clean life free from sexual impurity.

# Avoid all appearance of evil. If you're on a business trip and you check into a hotel room and they have Spectravision or they have adult movies, you call the front desk and have them block those movies and those channels from your screen. And you may say, "Well, I'd never be tempted to do that." Well, you may not be tempted to do that, but that's one way to avoid the appearance of evil. You just make absolutely "no provisions for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof."

# Take a picture of your wife and children with you wherever you go. And as soon as you check into that room, you put it on top of the television set or in the most prominent place in that room where you will be reminded of your family at home.

# Cultivate an appetite for God's pure Word and not the polluted garbage of the flesh.

You know the story of the new Christian who was witnessing to his friend. And he was talking about the civil war that was going on in his soul, how the spirit was lusting against the flesh and the flesh was lusting against the spirit, and the two were contrary one to the other. And he said it was like a black dog and a white dog fighting for the mastery. And the white dog represents good and the black dog represents evil. And the friend said, "Well, which dog wins the fight?" And the believer said, "The one that I feed the most." So you need to ask God to give you an appetite for His pure Word. And an appetite for the Word of God will lesson your appetite for the polluted garbage of the flesh.

# Just learn to put on the whole armor of God and use the sword of the Spirit as a defensive weapon against Satan.

# Remember to yield to the Spirit. The Spirit of God will empower you to walk in holiness and not be detoured into the lusts of the world and the flesh. The fruit of the Spirit will overcome the works of the flesh.

# I would also say to those who are married, give to your mate his or her conjugal rights. That is an important part of the whole process.

# Now this may be negative, but if you'll notice in verse 6 Paul tells us that the Lord is the avenger of all such sins. And so we simply need to remember that God is the judge. Let me say one other thing. Don't be deceived and lulled into an easy going complacency by this valueless society in which we live.

Byron Paulus of Life Action Ministries tells of being on a commuter airline flight to Knoxville recently: "Shortly after I got on the plane the co-pilot's voice came over the intercom with an announcement that jolted me: 'When the captain boards the aircraft please applaud. He just learned that his fiancée is pregnant with twins!' "I could hardly believe my ears as the dozen or so other passengers broke out into cheers and applause. I felt a sickening thud in my stomach. Has it come to this I wondered, that we would be encouraged to applaud an act of fornication. Has our society really drifted this far from her spiritual and moral moorings? "Something that would have been a shame to mention a generation ago is now flaunted and cheered. I found myself grieving over a society that is practicing and promoting casual sex." Don't be lulled into an easy going complacency because of our valueless society. But, first of all, we see that if we are to please God we must abound in abstinence.

II. Abound In Affection

Christianity should always be distinguished by purity and love. In verse 9 of our text, Paul says, "But concerning brotherly love, you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another." First of all, I want us to consider the explanation of love.

There are four basic words for "love" in the Greek language. "Eros" refers to physical love. It gives us our English word "erotic." "Eros" love does not have to be sinful, but in Paul's day its main emphasis was sensual. This word is never used in the New Testament. Another word "storge" (pronounced stor-gay) refers to family love, the love of parents for children. This word is also absent from our New Testament. The two words most often used for love are "philia" and "agape." "Philia" love is the love of deep affection such as in friendship or even marriage. But "agape" love is the love God shows toward us. It is not simply a love based on feeling. It is expressed in our wills. "Agape" love treats others as God would treat them, regardless of feelings or personal preferences. The word "philadelphias" is translated "brotherly love." Because Christians belong to the same family and have the same Father, they should love one another. This is the explanation of love.

Secondly, we consider the extent of love. This kind of love is extended to all the brethren. Notice verse 10 (read). When I was thinking of the extent of love, I was thinking of the Academy Award winning film "Driving Miss Daisy." In that movie Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy showed us the difficulty of giving and receiving love. Miss Daisy is a very wealthy older Jewish lady here in the metropolitan Atlanta area, and Hoke is her black American chauffeur. The tragedy of the story is that it takes Miss Daisy her whole life to realize that love can cut across all racial, ethnic and socio-economic barriers, and it's okay for her to receive it.

Finally, in a touching moment, Miss Daisy reaches out and we see two hands touch and clasp white and one black. Miss Daisy says, "You are my best friend." Hoke, with his usual gracious smile, says, "Yes'm." Miss Daisy says, as if Hoke didn't believe her, "It's true. You are my best friend." But, unfortunately, this realization took Miss Daisy over 20 years. But let us remember that the extent of our love is to reach all the brethren, regardless of race or socio-economic background or education or any of the other barriers that sometime separate us.

Now, having considered the explanation of love and the extent of love, let us consider the expression of love. Paul probably has in the back of his mind here the way the Thessalonians expressed their love for their brethren by providing hospitality. This is one of the principle means of showing love.

Thessalonica was the commercial center of Macedonia, and the believers there had undoubtedly many occasions to play host to Christians from other places. I believe that hospitality is one of the gifts of the Spirit. And we need to stir up that gift, and we need to extend it to the unbelievers and to the unchurched. Unfortunately, we often consider people a bother in our fast paced society.

It was an exceptionally hot day and they were having company for dinner. The mother asked 5-year-old Jason to say the prayer before they ate. And Jason asked, "But what should I say?" And his mother said, "Just say what you hear me say." So little Jason bowed his head and said, "Dear Lord, why did I ever invite these people over on a hot day like this?"

We need to remember that there was a time when Jesus said to His disciples, "For I was hungry, and you gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came to thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me."

Paul challenges the church in Thessalonica to abound in abstinence, to refrain from sexual sins. And then he challenges them to abound in affection. And he provides for them the explanation of love, the extent of love, and the expression of love. And then he challenges the church in Thessalonica to,

III. Abound In Ambition

Look in verses 11 and 12 (read). Paul's great concern was that the Thessalonican believers earn their own wages and not become freeloaders, depending upon the support of unbelievers. For the most part, the Greeks despised manual labor. Most of the work was done by slaves. Paul, of course, was a tentmaker, and he was careful in Thessalonica to set an example of hard work. Unfortunately, some of the new believers in the church misunderstood the doctrine of Christ's return and gave up their jobs in order to wait for His coming. This meant they were supported by other Christians, some of whom may not have had sufficient funds for their own families. It is also meant that these fanatical people could not pay their bills, and therefore they lost their testimony with the unsaved merchants.

Some of us are like Mark Twain. Physical exertion of any type was alien to Mark Twain. Repeatedly his wife pleaded and cajoled to no avail. Relaxing on the front porch swing one afternoon, the humorist was awakened by his wife to observe an elderly neighbor briskly passing by. "Look at him," she said, "eighty years old and he's as spry as a boy. And do you know why? Because he takes long walks every day." Opening one eye for a peak, Twain conceded, "He looks pretty fit at that. I must remember to do that myself when I'm eighty." Well, a lot of the people in Thessalonica were like Mark Twain. They were not at all interested in physical exertion. And because of that, some of the people could not pay their bills and their testimony was affected.

One friend said to another, "My wife is going to have plastic surgery. I'm going to take away all of her credit cards." Well, how easy it is to purchase things we do not need with money we do not have, and then lose not only our credit but also our good Christian witness.

Jesus said, "If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon (money), who will entrust to you the true riches?" (Luke 16:11). Churches and Christians who defend their orthodoxy but who do not pay their bills have no orthodoxy to defend.

Now, some people might measure holiness by church attendance or faithfulness in the devotional life. But the person who really wants to please God will make a commitment to live a different life. He will abound in abstinence, he will abound in affection, and he will abound in ambition. Is your life the kind of life that pleases God?


I'm thinking tonight of an experience that I had when I was in the second grade. Mrs. Ruth Hood was my teacher. She was a wonderful Christian lady. We had devotions every morning, and we had a prayer together. And all of this was led by Mrs. Hood. The biggest event in the whole year was the second grade spelling bee. And even in the second grade I loved words, and I enjoyed spelling, and I worked very hard to ready myself for this all-important contest. As I remember, there were preliminary rounds. And at last you got down to the final four, like in the March madness college basketball. For weeks I would have my parents give me the spelling words from a list that had been prepared by Mrs. Hood, and I would spell those words back to my Mom and Dad day after day. We also knew that when it came to the final showdown some words could be included in the list that had not appeared on any of our study sheets. And so I had my parents to think of other words that might come up in the spelling bee. Well, I made it through the first round, and the second round, and made it into the final four. And we were told that there would be a prize for the winner, and that made the spelling bee all the more important. And it came down to the night before the final day and my parents gave me words that night for what seemed to be hours. The next morning as I ate breakfast we  sat around the kitchen table and my Mom and Dad prayed for me and wished me well. My Dad took me to school. And on the way to school he was giving me my words and I was spelling them.

Well, out of the final four two were eliminated and Melinda Ann Smith and I were the finalist. So the teacher was giving us those words, some of the words that we had not studied. And it seemed like she gave me all of the hard words and Melinda Ann all of the easy words. But finally Mrs. Hood gave Melinda Ann a word that she stumbled over, and she did not spell it correctly, and I was declared the winner. And I got a book of poems by James Whitcomb Riley. And my favorite poem was one that he wrote in 1896 about life in Indiana in the fall of the year entitled "When the Frost Is on the Punkin'." And here are the lines that I liked best in that poem:

"And the clackin' of the geines and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence..."

Well, I won the spelling bee, and I won the book of poems by James Whitcomb Riley. And I could not wait to get home that day because I knew that it would please my Mom and Dad to know that I did well. They had helped me, and they had prayed for me, and they had wished me well, and I just wanted them to be pleased with me. And I want to tell you something. They were pleased. They were so happy. We had a celebration that night. My Dad went to the grocery store and bought a half- gallon of ice cream. And that was always the mark of any true celebration in our house.

When I get to heaven I trust that the Lord will be able to look at my life, and I trust that He will be able to see that I abounded in abstinence, that I abounded in affection, and that I abounded in ambition. And He will be able to look in my direction and give me a wink and a nod, indicating that He is well pleased. Amen.