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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
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 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.
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? 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.
Let me give you a very trite illustration because to us we think, “Oh, you know, what’s the big deal?” I’ll make this so trite that when you hear it you’re going to say, “Oh, I would never do that.” And then when you think, if you wouldn’t do that with ice cream, why would you do it with another person?
I want you to envision yourself going into one of the local supermarkets. A big, long one, late at night so no one is around. Shiny floors. Workers are back-stocking the shelves. And you go to the ice cream counter, right? You know? The glass, see-through. You open it; there it is. Cookies and Cream, your favorite.
You pull it out, you’ve planned this very carefully so, with your trench coat, you shield, so no one can see. Holding the ice cream under your trench coat, you pull off the top. Looking both ways, hearing no footsteps, you now pull out the spoon. You dig that spoon in and you just love it, and love it, and love it, and it’s great. It is sweet. It tastes good. It’s wonderful.
And then you realize, “I better put this back.” You lick the spoon, stick it back, take a little saliva and smooth off the top. Well, you don’t want it to look used! Then you put the lid back on, you open the case, and you put it back, and shut it. And you say, “Ooooh, boy, was that good. Man, that was neat.”
And then someone goes to the grocery store. And their little girl has their sixth birthday. And it’s very special, everyone is there, and her favorite is Cookies and Cream. But there’s only one gallon left and as they go through with the cart, they open the case, there’s Cookies and Cream, and they pull it out and say, “Oh, great, there’s one left. This is going to make my little girl’s day.”
And they get home and they open it up and they see, “Wow, this is used stuff.” How would you feel? I believe, in our culture today, most of us are more upset about used ice cream than we are about using people that would defraud someone else.
I want to tell you, God demands sexual purity because He cares so much about other people that you and me don’t have the right to mess up the special time. I’ve never yet, in counseling all the couples, over many, many years, I have yet to have one, single couple say, “Oh, Chip, Chip, we went on our honeymoon, I just can’t believe it, we both saved ourselves and we just couldn’t figure out how it worked. We just…”
But I’ll tell you what, I’ve talked with people coming home from their honeymoon and they’ve told me privately, “I had the faces of different people in my mind. I know this was supposed to be a special day and instead I felt cheap, and I felt dirty, and I felt bad, and I thought this was going to be so great. And I love this man with all my heart but sex isn’t a good thing.”
See, God is not a prude. God is holy. And when He tells you something, He tells you because you matter to Him and He doesn’t want us to spoil it.
The second reason is not only does it harm others but notice the next line, it will harm us. He goes on to say, “The Lord will punish,” the word is, He’s an avenger. “The Lord will avenge or punish men for all such sins, as we’ve already told you and we’ve warned you.”
He’s saying it compassionately, “Don’t have sex outside of monogamous, heterosexual relationship because there’s a price tag. I’m just telling you. God is holy, He’s not going to change His character, He loves you, He will forgive you, He’s merciful. But people that have sex get AIDS, they get psychologically wounded, they damage future relationships, they ruin families.”
You know what? It’s like gravity. You don’t have to believe this. But once you jump off that fifth story building, the pain when you hit the pavement is about the same whether you believe in it or not. God is a holy, just God and this command is to protect you.
Notice the third compassionate reason, verse 7, “For God did not call us to be impure but to live holy lives.” He says, “It’s just inconsistent. God is holy, how can you live an impure, unholy life because you’re called, you’re one of His, He wants you to reflect His love, and His nature, and His character. It would just be, I mean, how could you do it? It’s so inconsistent with your calling.”
And then notice verse 8, the summary, it says, “Therefore, he who rejects this instruction,” what instruction? “about sexual purity, it’s a rejection of God who,” notice, present tense, “gives you His Holy Spirit.”
And I’m sure Paul wasn’t trying to change his theology, as though you got the Holy Spirit in installments, present-tense-continually. When you trust Christ, you’re sealed with the Spirit, adopted, you become in His family, you are His. But this giving of the Holy Spirit, I think he’s talking about experientially. You know what? When we sin against God we grieve, we break God’s heart.
And in years, and years, and years of working with men and working with couples my observation is until you and I get the area of sexual purity consistently making progress and victory, you will not experience the peace of the Holy Spirit. And you will not experience the power of the Holy Spirit. And you will not experience Spiritual fruitfulness.
We had a guy in our church talk – about three years, as a growing Christian, hooked on pornography, hating himself, feeling condemned, feeling torn inside, struggling. And he said, “You know, I knew Christ.” He said a half hour later he got a zeal to share his faith and he said, “I felt like such a hypocrite trying to tell people about Christ after the trash that I’d just watched.”
See, there are a lot of people that aren’t tasting, and not experiencing a fraction of what God has for you, and I understand you live in a sex-saturated culture. I understand. Is it tough? Yeah.
I used them all. I tried to negotiate at least one of the Ten Commandments out, in my first two years as a Christian. I did, “Hey, God, I’d go nine for ten. Really. And I’ll keep the other nine.” No negotiations. He loved me too much.
At this point, there may be some of you that are saying, “Ooh, boy, might have been a good morning to sleep in.” You know? Like, “Zzzzzzing.” I know in a group this size there are some people that are addicted to soap operas, romance novels, and pornography. I know in a group this size some of you are involved in extramarital affairs. I know in a group this size some of you single people are living with someone else.
You need to hear compassionately, but with conviction, what you’re doing is wrong, what you’re doing is sin, and God loves you too much and He’s saying, “Today.” Not tomorrow, not maybe, it’s not like quitting smoking. You know, I got three packs, and I’ll get down to two, and I’ll get down to one.
This isn’t one of those where you say, “You know what? I’m sleeping around, ah, three or four times a week. I’ll cut back to two, I’m really making progress.” This isn’t one of those.
This is one where you say, “Today, I’m going to break off the relationship. I won’t see her or him again. I won’t do it in person.” Because if you do it in person, you’ll be right back into it. One phone call, one letter, that’s it. “I’m sorry, this means we’re going to figure out how we live apart.” And don’t give me that, “We can’t afford to live separately.”
You can afford to live under the judgment of a holy God but you can’t afford to live separately? Go to your closest friends and say, “Hey,” - if you love one another and it’s the right person for you – “can I live with you for a while? We need to figure out how to court and get our lives pure and right, so we can get married.”
I don’t know what you need to do, but you must take a drastic step. This is the kind of sin that Jesus said when He talked about sin He said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, poke it out.” Now, He didn’t mean literally because you can sin with the other eye. He means be as drastic as you need to be to deal as radically as you need to because it will eat you up.
Let me give you three very specific ways to respond to this and grow and overcome it. Because there’s victory. First, get honest. Get honest. Of all the areas, boy, first couple of three years of my Christian life, oh man. And not that I don’t still struggle but not in the same way.
I’d go out with some girl and do some things I knew that was wrong. Think some things and be involved in some things and go some places, “Oh, oh, God, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me,” and I felt dirty, and cheap, and guilty. Two days later, “Oh, God, please forgive me! Take it away, take it away, I’m just so sorry.” Four hours later, “Oh, God,” you know?
And it was driving me nuts! And I remember getting down and thinking maybe if I kneel, maybe if I kneel He’ll hear me better. “Oh, God,” you know? And I’m kneeling and I’m praying… the same whining prayer about, “Deliver me from my sexual sin and my lust, and going over boundaries with girls that I know are wrong.”
And I didn’t have a mystical experience and I don’t think it was an audible voice from God, but I heard the Spirit’s prompting as clear, “Hey, Chip? Hey, Chip, you don’t want to quit. Hey, get real, Chip. It’s not that you, what you don’t like is the guilt and the consequences but you not only don’t want to quit, you like this sin, Ingram. In fact, you really dig it. In fact, you’re getting addicted to it. Now, let me tell you something, Chip, the moment you get honest and you really want help, I’ll help you. But let’s not play games. Let’s not pray prayers, ‘Oh, God, God.’ Get honest. Ruthlessly, honest.”
The twelve step people have much to teach us here. Get to the point where you realize, “Hey, I can’t do this.” And that’s step two. Get honest then get desperate or broken. Get desperate.
Willpower does not have the power to deliver you from sexual sin. You can’t overcome pornography, or lust, or romance novels, or cut off an affair by, “Okay, I’m going to do it today,” you can’t do it! It’s too strong.
But when you get desperate and say, “Oh, God,” I remember, I got to the point I said, “God, I can’t lick this.” And I could almost sense heaven say, “Oh great. We’re finally on the same page. I knew you couldn’t lick this.”
But when you get desperate, and admit you can’t do it, then you say, “Willpower? No. Grace. God, give me grace, give me power, give me strength.” He’ll give it to you.
Get help is number three. I don’t believe you’re designed to do this on your own. Our friend
in the Men’s Breakfast talked about, first, sharing his pornography problem straight up with his wife. And they began to pray about it as a couple.
See, what happens is he’s humbled himself, isn’t he? When you humble yourself what do you get? Grace. Grace always flows toward humility. God is always opposed to the proud. Biblical axiom.
And then after that he got together with three, four key guys and he said, “I just put it on the table and said, ‘Guys, this is where I’m at.’” And he said, “Fifty percent of the struggle was gone when I got honest with a group of other men.”
And he says, “Now, they keep me accountable.” He actually, you talk about cutting off your hand, he changed jobs. He said, “I’m not traveling anymore. I decide I won’t turn it on, I won’t do this, it’s an addiction. I’m not going to travel anymore.” He switched jobs.
What do you need to do? What do you need to do? Don’t leave here feeling like the big, heavy hand of God has come upon me. Hopefully, that’s happened if you’re in sexual sin because it’s big and it’s heavy because you matter so much, He loves you so much He doesn’t want those consequences for you. And you know what? It’s not like you’re enhancing His reputation.
When you’ve got those issues and then you tell someone about Christ or tell them where you go to church, guess what their opinion is? “Yeah, that’s what I thought Christians were like.”
There’s a lot at stake. I encourage you, before you walk out the doors today, determine what you will do, before the Creator of the universe, about being sexually pure and clean and you can leave forgiven, restored, and get tied in with others to help you gain victory. We’re all in this boat together.
Moving on. You motivate, you teach, now notice he affirms them. And, by the way, you need to hear this. He affirms them, where? At the point of their greatest progress.
And then, what I love, too, is that we don’t often think about, “How could you talk about people struggling with sexual purity and then affirm them?” Yeah, yeah, because you know what? Sexual purity isn’t the worst sin in the whole world. It’s not a good one and there are great consequences.
But I’ve got a good, good friend who is discipling a gal right now. And, boy, she comes from just a pagan, pagan background. And she’s really starting to grow spiritually and she’s in the Bible and she’s growing and it just came out here after quite a time, she says, “You know, I’m starting to get the feeling that God may not want my boyfriend and I to live together.”
Praise God! You know, we’re on a journey, we’re in process so look what he says. He says, “Now about brotherly love, we don’t need to write you for you yourselves have been taught by God how to love each other; and in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet, we urge you, brothers, do so more and more.” Do you get this? Right after, by the way, affirmation is an excellent thing to give right after you’ve had to do a hard teaching.
Notice also that affirmation needs to be specific. He didn’t say, “Yeah, you’re a nice church, I hear some good reports.” He takes the most valued behavior, and their point of greatest progress, and he specifically says, “You are loving well and, man, I’m proud of you! Your love is awesome! Way to go, Thessalonians!”
Wouldn’t it be good to hear that after someone just busted you right between the eyes, spiritually, and you realize, “Wow, I’m not even on first base, sexually, in terms of purity in my life, as a Thessalonian.”
But God’s working in my whole life. And I’m going to deal with that but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t care. And it doesn’t mean Paul is down on me. It means he wants me to be the man or the woman, for God’s glory and my good, that I can be.
Affirmation, then, is followed by correction. And as we move to this last, little section, this grows out of a misinterpretation and miscommunication, possibly, of some teaching the apostle Paul did on the end times, on the return of Christ. And he taught, “Jesus is coming back, Jesus is coming back just as He ascended so He’ll return.”
But what happened is, at least part of the group heard this and thought to themselves, “You know, it could be today.” Well, that’s right. It could be tomorrow. And then they looked around and thought, “Boy, this is a loving church.” I mean, whenever you have a need people just step up and take care of you. You need a meal, they give you a meal.
And so a certain group that was starting to grow said, “You know what? There’s no use going to work today because Jesus may be back and I want to be ready. And why go to work when all these other loving Christians can take care of me?”
But notice how correction comes after affirmation. By the way, that’s a good way to do it. You need to affirm, encourage, and then correction needs to be, do you remember? You need to correct any attitude, or action, that is thwarting their spiritual progress.
That means there are a lot of things you don’t correct… parents, Chip. That means there are a lot of things that are really not that big a deal, it just bugs you. But if it’s an attitude or an action that is thwarting their progress then you correct. And when you correct, how do you do it? Do it after you affirm them.
How do you do it? You do it practically, positively, and specifically. Paul’s correction is, “Be responsible, make an impact.” He could have said, “Hey, man, what’s the deal? Bunch of loafers, bunch of slackers, you’re not going to work, you’ve misinterpreted what I’ve said, man, I’m up to here with you guys. Get a job!”
Now, that would have been true. That would have been true. But that’s not how he did it. Notice how positively he does it. He says at verse 11, “Making your ambition to do three things: Lead a quiet life, two, to mind your own business, and, three, to work with your hands,” not highly esteemed in that day, “just as we told you.” So he’s reminding them.
Now, the first little thing here about their ambition, leading a quiet life doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t talk anymore. The opposite or antonym of this word is, “the restlessness that grows out of selfish ambition.”
See, he says, it’s not “quiet” like, “Ooh, don’t say anything.” It’s quiet in terms of, “Get your life focused on God’s agenda, instead of this restlessness that comes in trying to fulfill your own all the time.”
Secondly, he said, “Mind your own business.” And that doesn’t mean that, you know, you don’t talk to other people and help them out. It says, “Hey, basically, you know, pay your own bills, take care of your own house, get your own life under control.” And, third, he gives them a practical way to do it, “Get a job!”
And not just the jobs that you think are up here or there. He said, “Hey,” he gives great dignity to working with your hands. Now, why? Why does he do that? He says there are two reasons. “In order that,” or, “so that our daily life may win the respect of outsiders.” Our testimony is on the line.
“And so that you will not be dependent on anyone.” “Hey, don’t suck the life out of the group of the church. Get a job, support yourself, and, you know what? People who don’t show up, people that don’t work, people that are idle – that’s not a good testimony.”
And so you see this inspirational encourager, the apostle Paul. And he sees this group like a diamond in the rough. And he sees them in this black, pagan culture and he motivates them and he helps them see beyond their horizons. And then He teaches or instructs them in their most strategic area of need. And then he affirms them in their area of greatest progress. And then, finally, he corrects them.
Wouldn’t it be great to be the person that someday, someone in a small group or across a coffee table, or in a restaurant, in casual conversation, would say your name and then behind it say, “They’re the ones that made the big difference in my life. I wouldn’t be here today without them. I had a big decision about such and such, or such and such, and they told me the truth. I didn’t’ like it at first but they cared enough to correct me. They helped me see things I never dreamed I could do, and now I’m not only doing them but I’m good at them.”
Wouldn’t it be great? And it’s possible, if we would become inspirational encouragers.
As you flip to the back page I think there’s an order that’s important, and the order is is that you need to motivate before you instruct. People don’t want to learn until they see the vision. Next, we need to instruct before we affirm. You want to affirm the teaching and the behavior when they respond to the Lord and to Scripture. Third, we must affirm before we correct. People need to know they’re loved. The trust needs to go in before the truth goes on. And then, finally, we need to correct with the motivation in view.
Ultimately, where did Paul? He started with, “You live lives pleasing to God,” and he ended with, “Live a life so that your daily life would be a testimony to others,” what? “that you’re pleasing God.”
What a thought, today, that every person in this room, by the grace of the Lord Jesus, can please the eternal God of the universe.
Two questions before you leave: Who is the person that you can be a mentor to who needs your inspiration? And for some of you, who is the person you would like to be like that you might ask this week to help you grow? Even if they can only meet once a month with you, to ask them, “Would you help motivate and teach, and affirm, and correct my life?”
And then, finally, you can’t impart what you don’t possess. Where has God spoken to you today? And for many it’s in that area of sexuality. Let’s kind of bring it back. You can’t do for anyone else, until God does something radical in you.
So, if you need to confess your sin, need to repent, you need to get broken, you tell God you’re sorry – do it right now. Because a half hour from now it will be foggy and you’ll have nine reasons why it’s sort of okay. Right now, in this room, the Spirit of God is working and you know what’s right. Do it. Just take the first step and God will give you the grace to take the next three.