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About this series
The Awesome Power of Encouragement
Do you know someone who needs a spiritual "shot in the arm?" Do you long to receive encouragement from others and be the kind of person who brings out others' highest potential? First Thessalonians is the Apostle Paul's game plan for encouraging believers. This book teaches practical ways to bring hope and love into the lives of those you care about most, and also presents the New Testament's clearest teaching about the future of the Church - the rapture.More from this series
Every now and then you find yourself in a situation where you need to be of help to someone and you need to inspire them, you need to bring out the very best in them but it’s hard. You feel stuck. Not sure exactly how to go about it.
We’re going to learn that everyone needs someone, at some time, to give them something, in order to become the someone they long to become. Sounds like a tongue twister, doesn’t it? It really is. But think about it. It’s true.
Everyone needs someone, at some time, to give them the something, in order to become the someone you long to become.
I had a time when I had some major issues going on in my life and well, there was a fellow named Coach Lance. And Neil Lance saw beneath the little, arrogant kid’s mouth and somehow saw some potential. He was my P.E. teacher. He ended up coaching me and I ended up working for him, in my college years, painting houses.
But he motivated me. Early on, he motivated me to see beyond my own horizons. As I got around him somehow he saw something in me, he wanted to bring out the best in me, and he did it in such a way that I began to dream new dreams.
My life has been shaped because someone understood how to bring out the best in another individual. Far more, far greater than I could ever, ever see.
And this morning we are going to learn, from Scripture, how you can be that person in someone else’s life. You can bring out the best. You can be the Coach Lance in their life and when they get in their thirties and forties and fifties they’ll look back and it’ll be your face, it’ll be your voice, it’ll be the things you said and the things that you did and they’ll say, “Because of you my life is different.”
And if you want to learn how to do that, the apostle Paul models it for us in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 to 12. We’re going to learn that there are four keys to inspiring others, to bringing out the best in their life.
The first one is: You’ve got to motivate them. You’ve got to help them soar beyond their present horizon. Secondly, you have to teach them. And we’re going to learn you have to teach them in the most strategic arena of their life. Third, then you have to affirm them and you have to affirm them in the areas where they’re making the most progress. And then finally, you have to correct them whenever their attitudes or their actions are thwarting the progress that God wants them to make.
And you’re going to see here the apostle Paul with supernatural, divine wisdom takes this church in the center of a pagan, pagan culture and they’ve been growing for about eighteen months, maybe two years, and he writes this letter and he’s going to take people that are really making progress and he’s going to take them to the next level because he’s going to model inspirational encouragement.
As he motivates them here’s what he does. You might want to jot this down in your notes if you have a pen. “Motivate them to soar beyond their present horizons.” That’s what motivation is.
Motivation isn’t hype, not good motivation. Motivation is helping someone soar beyond their present horizons. So many of us can only see here. Motivation helps you see who you could really become and what you could really accomplish.
Under that you might jot down: The first key is to appeal to the highest level of meaning and purpose. The problem with a lot of motivation? It’s too cheap, it’s too short, and it’s too meaningless.
Motivate people to get wealthy, motivate people to just be successful, motivate people to be the best ballplayer, the best dancer, the best musician – why? Well, so they can earn a lot of money. Why? So they can be rich and famous. Why? So they can move to Southern California. Why? So they can be in Hollywood. Why? So they can be depressed, divorced, and messed up!
No, listen to the apostle Paul, verse 1. He says, “Finally, brothers, we instructed, or you received our teaching, about how to live in order to please God.” See, he appeals to the various highest level of meaning and purpose. He says, “I don’t want to motivate you to some small-time, temporal achievement.”
He says, “Do you remember our instructions? You have the potential to please the living God of the universe.” Now that’s up there pretty high. Notice he goes on, “As, in fact, you are now living.”
See, not only do you appeal to the highest level of meaning and purpose but, secondly, you do it positively. Is he saying they’re perfect? No way! He’s saying, “This is where you were, you’ve trusted Christ, you’re making progress, and your lives right now are pleasing God.”
Can you imagine how motivating it would be to get that kind of word from someone like the apostle Paul? Or can you imagine how motivating it would be for some kid, or some person, or some friend, to hear from you that they’re really pleasing God?
But he goes on. He teaches them that beyond that, that when you motivate someone it’s not just appealing to the highest level of meaning and purpose, and it’s not just doing it positively. He’s going to do it as a fellow traveler and remind them that this whole journey of growth is a process.
Look what he says. He says, “Now we ask you,” and the term means: From one equal to another. He’s a fellow journeyman, a believer in this trek we call life. He says, “Now we ask you and we urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.”
He says, “You’re pleasing God already, you’re making great progress,” but he says, “excel more.” What’s the message? The message is is the horizon is always moving. You never arrive. You make progress.
And then notice, what’s the goal of his motivation? It’s not his agenda. It’s not even their agenda. Look at verse 2. Verse 2 says, “For you know what instructions,” this is a different word than the earlier word.
This is command or order, “For you know what orders or instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” Do you see what he’s saying? You motivate people to fulfill God’s agenda.
There’s a lot of wealthy, successful people that really aren’t experiencing at all what God wants for their life. And there are some wealthy, successful people that are experiencing all of what God wants for them.
The issue, when you motivate another person, is appeal to the highest level of meaning and purpose and that’s to please God.
And so the goal is not so they fulfill their agenda, not so they fulfill your agenda. What is it? They fulfill God’s agenda, His will. And that’s the first step.
And by the way, I think we need to take motivation seriously. It’s a multi, multi- billion-dollar industry. Companies have understood that when people aren’t motivated, they don’t do much.
We need to understand, as believers, we need to look into one another’s eyes and realize we need to motivate, we need to encourage, we need to lift the horizons where people begin to sense and feel and believe they could do what they never dreamed they could do.
Motivation is not enough, though. Motivation without education is hype. It’s just blowing smoke. “Ah, you can do it. It’ll be great, I can see it.” No, no, no, no. You’ve got to raise the level, and then you have to give instruction and teaching, so they can fulfill God’s agenda.
Teach them in the most strategic area of their life. The idea, teach them. When you want to help someone, there are a million things in Scripture to teach them. You can’t teach them everything. Teach them the most strategic area in their life that will produce life change.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone did a good inventory of my life, I got ten, twelve, fifteen areas that need improvement. I can’t work on all of them. If I would go to a mentor who would love me and care for me, a wise mentor would say, “Chip, there’s ten or twelve areas that really need some work but as I’ve prayed and pondered, this one is the key. Five or six of them all revolve around your inability to trust God in this area. That’s what we’re going to work on for the next six months. And when that happens then monumental growth would occur.”
The apostle Paul is going to do that. He’s writing to a group of people that are in an incredibly secular, really secular world. There are temples on every corner, there is immorality like you can’t imagine. The average Thessalonian man who just came to Christ, he has a wife, and the wife’s job is to stay at home, not be seen, not do anything, bear him children and heirs.
Most of them would have a mistress – that was for fun – and then, if you were having a low day, all the pagan temples had prostitutes. Because a part of pagan worship, and they were at every corner, a part of pagan worship was sexual acts.
It’s amazing; they were working to get their cake and eat it too. “Let’s really worship God.” And so all these young girls were taken into temple prostitution. Now, it is a place where sexual purity is unheard of, where the holiness of God is denied.
So guess where the apostle Paul… what’s the most strategic area to teach them in? He’s going to teach them, “God’s not a prude.” He’s going to teach them that God is holy, God is loving, God is compassionate, and God is good. And he’s going to teach them that your present sexual practice is separating you from God. There’s a huge price tag that you’re paying, it’s unworthy of your calling, and your life is not a testimony to the world.
And so, he’s going to teach them three ways. Let me give you the first one. First, he’s going to explain clearly what God’s will is. We instruct people to fulfill God’s agenda, doesn’t it make sense? Tell them what His will is. Not your will, not the Church’s will, not an organization’s will, not the denomination’s will, not what your grandfather believed. What is the will of God?
Well, where do you find the will of God? It’s in the Word. So notice what he says, verse 3, “For it is God’s will that you should be sanctified,” the word means “set apart,” be holy, pure, undefiled. And then he elaborates, “Namely, that you should avoid or abstain sexual immorality.”
He says, “Let me tell you the will of God. You guys are doing great, you’re growing, you’ve come into this absolutely secular, sex-saturated world.”
And he says to them, “Hey, this is the will of God. And the will of God is that you be sexually pure.” And you can do a little study on this phrase and it means that you be sexually pure in your mind. It means you don’t have lustful thoughts. Remember Matthew 5? Jesus said when you lust for a woman in your heart you have committed adultery. It’s about your thought life.
It’s also about sexual purity vicariously. There are some people, though, that never think of hopping in a bed with someone other than their mate, but live on pornography, soap operas, and romance novels and vicariously live through sexual fantasy. He says, “No, you need to be pure.”
And third, not only our thought life or vicarious expression but in our relationships. This is saying God wants us, as believers, for our good because of His character, and His love, He wants us to be sexually pure. He’s saying, this phrase, “It is the will of God and here are the boundaries and inside the boundaries one man, one woman, sex after marriage as the fulfillment of depth, and commitment, and communication. Any other sexual expression by single people, or married people, or same-sex people, is out of bounds.” Now, that’s what the Bible teaches. And you say, “Well that sounds pretty prudish to me.
Of course, let’s do a little cost/benefit analysis. I wonder what life was like when this was in the moral fabric of our culture.
The divorce rate was miniscule, we didn’t have AIDS then, genital herpes was a rare commodity, families weren’t fractured, people weren’t paying financially for paternity suits, we didn’t have the great majority of people going into marriage with psychological and emotional scars; we hadn’t done the research, and we didn’t know the people that are promiscuous, before they’re married, have less satisfying sex lives after they’re married.
See, we didn’t have a lot of the junk and the price tag that we have now. But, see, God knew. And so, once you explain God’s will to them, that’s verse 3, now notice in verses 4 and 5, when you want to explain God’s will, I think, here’s what he does: Tell it like it is, with conviction.
He’s going to expand on this. Tell it like it is, with conviction. We have a lot of people that, when it gets down to some sensitive subjects, we kind of waffle: “Well, you know, I’m not really sure what…of…Bible says about…” I’m real sure what the Bible says. I may not like it and it may be hard but, I mean, this is not one of those, “I wonder what God really thinks about sex.”
You know what every college person always asks you at a conference? “I want to know the will of God. We, can you tell me what the will of God for my life?” So here’s one of the passages I always turn to, “Sure, it says right here: The will of God for your life is that you be sexually pure.” Makes those conversations pretty short, you know?
Notice now though how to say it. When you communicate and you want to inspire people there’s a balance. In verses 3 to 5, you tell it like it is, with conviction. But lest you get too uptight, in verses 6 through 8, you tell it why it is, with compassion.
And what we’re going to see is, see, Paul’s not down on these people. But they are in a culture much like ours. And he wants them to hear the truth but he wants them to hear it in grace. So, 3 through 5, is the truth, 6 through 8 he gives some grace.
So let’s look at it. Verse 4 he says, “What’s this sexual immorality? What’s it look like? It’s that each of you should learn,” the word means to habitually learn and make a practice in your life, “learn to control his own body or vessel in a way that is holy and honorable,” he states it positively.
He said, “Every single believer in Thessalonica and around the world, you should learn to get a hold of this human body and that you should operate in such a way, in the sexual arena, that it is holy and that is honorable.”
That means every thought that goes through your head, whether you’re at the beach, which may not be a good place to keep those good thoughts, men, going through your head; or whether you’re at a movie or whether you’re in the office – is the thoughts that are in your head are pure, holy, and honorable.
It means that every relationship with the opposite sex is one where you don’t feel guilty, you don’t feel ashamed, you don’t feel bad, you don’t feel like you’re violating… you know you could stand before God and know that whether you’re married or single, that my relationships with the opposite sex are holy and honorable.
Notice the negative side. He goes on to say, “Not,” by contrast, “in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God.” And so he tells it like it is and he tells it with conviction. Why? Because God is a prude, because we’re puritanical, because we haven’t come out of the Ice Age? No! It’s because God cares so much.
In verses 6 through 8, he’s going to give us three specific reasons why this is the smartest, most logical, beneficial thing for you, and all the people you’re trying to help. In verse 6, he’s going to teach us that why is because it harms others. Sexual purity is crucial because when we’re immoral it harms others. In verse 7, he’s going to say it’s going to harm you. End of 7, he’s going to say it’s inconsistent with your high calling.
So let’s look at it. Reason number one he says, “Look,” compassionately, now the tone changes. He says, “Don’t have sex outside of a monogamous, marital relationship because, one, it harms other people.” Verse 6, “And in this matter,” what matter? In the matter of sexual purity, “No one should wrong,” it means, “trespass, sin against,” “his brother or take advantage of him.” That means, “defraud.”
See, Paul had this holistic view about life, unlike us. He had this picture that, okay, there’s all these men, there’s all these women. If I get involved in immorality, or you get involved in immorality, and you sleep with this person, that person, this person, that person, and that person, and they sleep with this person, that person, and that person, the day is going to come when they marry someone.
And when they marry that someone, God’s plan, because sex is holy and sacred and He’s actually for it, don’t let this out, He invented it. And He invented it for pleasure, procreation, and the joy of His children. It’s not dirty, it’s not evil, it’s not bad, God’s really pro-sex.
But when you have it with other people, then the person who shows up at wedding night with someone else that you’ve had sex with, is a used commodity. You’ve defrauded your brother, you’ve defrauded your sister.