1 Thessalonians 4:1-7
v.1-3 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. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality...
Dear friends in Christ, rock climbing is quite the rage nowadays, isn't it? Many people enjoy climbing hills and mountains outdoors--it's a great activity that strengthens muscles and sharpens the mind. It has become so popular in recent years that indoor climbing experiences can also be enjoyed at specialized locations. But whether you are climbing outside or inside, what's one of the most important things to remember? Hold on! You need to hold on--to the rock--to the rope--to your climbing partner--or else bad things can happen. Literally, your life may very well depend upon it.
Well, in our text for this morning, Paul writes to the Thessalonian church that it is important to hold on to the instructions that they had received by Paul through the Lord Jesus. What were these instructions? Holy living--in keeping with the doctrine of Jesus Christ that He commanded His apostles to proclaim to the world in order to make disciples along with baptizing.
Paul's letter, which specifically highlights the importance of abstaining from sexual immorality, could have easily been written today and not almost 2000 years ago. Paul contends "that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles, who do not know God..." You see, in Paul's day the Gentile Christians needed specific instruction on sexual immorality since fornication and adultery were quite commonly accepted practices among the unbelievers. Paul grounds morality (sexual and all other) within the will and calling of God and the nature of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The general atmosphere of the city states in the ancient world was one of lust and selfishness. Paul exhorts them to stay away from such things and to strive for purity, "for God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you."
So...all Christians, Jew and Gentile alike, are called to holy living--sexual purity. As Luther commends us in the 6th Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honour each other."
We are called by God to holy living. We strive for holy living. We as God's people want to live holy lives, but we are pulled in many different directions by the world, the devil, and our own fallen flesh. Look at the world around us: movies and TV programs often exhibit explicit sexual content designed to titillate audiences; governments at all levels are introducing sexuality and deviant behaviours to children at younger and younger ages; and legislation has been passed in many places forcing students to disregard gender in regard to team sports--that gender no longer has to do with biology--but is rather a social construct that we create for ourselves in our minds. This has led to the current phenomenon that biological males are now leading contenders in many female sporting events.
I know...it sounds crazy, but this is the fallen world in which we live--and which we are called to strive against. And this is not easy. The church has fallen victim to this as well...when we begin to see nothing wrong with same sex marriages--or divorce--or fornication (that is sex outside of marriage–living together without marriage). Where we think it is OK for us to live in a sexual relationship with someone outside the bonds of marriage. Where we think that looking at pornography on TV, movies, or the internet is no big deal–that renting/buying a house and living together before getting married is the ordinary/accepted practice. "These are all just things that normal people do--at least that's what society keeps on telling us. Let go of your old-fashioned, rigid morality. Embrace life. Embrace whatever feels good."
Beloved, what does God's Word say? "The Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man, but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you." Continuing in these acts of sexual immorality is an act of idolatry--worshipping oneself and one's pleasure over and above God and His Word. It is a direct act of unbelief--turning away from the Holy Spirit. And we are ALL guilty of this in some way. By not honouring our spouse. By having lustful thoughts--that Jesus says is the same as committing adultery or fornication. The solution? Repent!
We are to turn away from sin--let it go--stop holding on to it and looking to it for our every good. Rather, as people redeemed by Christ, we are to look to Him and His Word--hold on to Jesus for our every good and receive His gifts and blessings. This is not easy. This is incredibly difficult. In fact, we can't do it. We need God's help. Which is why the Spirit comes to us--to hold on to us--to draw us back to a right relationship with Jesus--and to lead us in the way of holiness--His holiness that was bought with Christ's shed blood on the cross.
When we are in the midst of our sin and uncleanness it can look as though there is no hope. But we cling to the promises of God in His Word. Even when it seems as though all is lost--that God has let go of us and turned His back on us as we have turned our backs on Him--yet this is NOT so. Jacob would not let the Lord go but clung to Him until He blessed him. The Canaanite woman would not let Jesus go. She held on to every scrap of His Word and forced Him to keep His promises. "It is not right to give the children's food to the dogs? Ok, then, but even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the Master's table! Have mercy! Heal my daughter!" And He did.
Just so has the Lord come to you, dear friends. Whatever sin you are struggling with--whether it is sexual immorality--idolatry--gossip--theft–hardness of heart–anger--or whatever the case may be. Christ comes to you to remind you that He does not let you go--even though you so often let go of His Word of command and truth.
Jesus says of you, "My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:29). God may even use times of difficulty with temptation, illness, hardship or turmoil as opportunities to strengthen your spiritual grip on Him. For through these things we are forced to look to Christ for our strength and our salvation. Nowhere else.
How does Christ hold on to you--in good times and in bad? Through His precious means of grace--His Holy Word and Sacraments. In these ways Jesus reaches to you and grabs hold of you by the power of His own Spirit. He makes you holy by washing you clean in the blood that He shed for you on the cross. He renews your broken soul with His forgiveness and life--for all sin--idolatry to theft--to sexual immorality and so much more. ALL of your sin has been paid for by Christ Jesus' perfect life and suffering and death on the cross.
This does not mean you now have a license to sin--but rather that you have been set free from sin--you are now free to live in purity and holiness in accord with the clear Word of Jesus. Will you always succeed? By no means. You will fall--you will let go--but you will not relish in this either. Led by the Holy Spirit, you will repent and turn back to Jesus and let Him grab hold of you with His bloody hands and hold you to His pierced side.
The love, forgiveness, and grace that flowed from Jesus is given to you. He first grabbed hold of you when you were baptized into His name and He made you a part of His heavenly family and kingdom. Christ continues to hold you close when you come before His altar--to eat His own body and blood--at this holy meal which is but a foretaste of the feast to come. You are hereby strengthened in the faith--knowing that God has not abandoned you--but rather that He comes to you to heal, forgive, lift up, and restore.
Hear this well. You ARE a forgiven and redeemed child of God. The Holy Spirit dwells within you and makes you holy by His sanctifying Word and Sacraments. So...when you are called to holy living by the Lord--He is simply calling you to remember who and what you are--and to trust in the One who has grabbed a hold of your heart--to give you His dear and everlasting life--through the bloody cross of Jesus. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.