A Life Pleasing to God

Pastor Phil Andrukaitis, March 12, 2023

The Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians

 General Theme: Living Righteously While Waiting Patiently for Jesus to Return

Sermon Title: A Life Pleasing to God

Sermon Text: First Thessalonians 4:1-8

Subject: A life pleasing God

Complement: When we walk in holiness before God, our lives please God.

Dominating Idea: Walking with God enables us to overcome sexual temptations.

Overview & Review

I.          Spiritual leaders prove their concern for the church. (1:1a)

II.        Spiritual leaders provide care for the church. (1:1bc)

III.       Spiritual leaders pray for the church. (1:2-10)

IV.       Spiritual leaders pattern a life of loving service unto the church. (2:1 – 3:13)

V.         Spiritual leaders prescribe exhortations for the church. (4:1 – 5:22)

            A.         Exhortations regarding practical sanctification. (4:1-12)

                        1.         Abstain from sexual immorality. (4:1-8)             Today’s Focus


Today, among all the variety of sins throughout this world, there is a wicked, unholy tsunami of sexual immorality sweeping all over the world, leaving behind people with broken spirits, broken homes, and broken churches.  Consider the following, sexually immoral issues that are crippling souls and the soul of this country:

  • About two years agon, the “Me Too” movement, which focuses on sexual harassment, has rocked many churches with high profile accusations of sexual misconduct among clergy.  [Bob Smietana]
  • Today, gender dysphoria is on the rise throughout our nation and other nations, as children and adolescents identify themselves as transgender.  Moreover, they are being offered medical treatment to change their sex.  Listen to these questions that have been raised by individuals who are confused and who have evil motives thereby providing hormonal treatment and medically mutilating children and adolescents:
  • Is gender a social construct?
  • Should a male or female be a matter of personal choice?
  • Are there more than two genders?
  • Are children born gender neutral?

It is sickening, injustice to have Supreme Court Justice Brown, who is one of the highest judges in our country, refuse to define what is a woman.  Her reply:  I’m not a biologist.  Unfortunately, our culture has rejected the biblical truth:  “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26).

What is gender dysphoria?  It is a condition where a person’s emotional and psychological identity as a male or female differs from their biological sex.  Biblical counsel begins by helping a person embrace their biological sex however difficult as it may be because their biological sex is a testimony to their true nature, not their perception of a different gender identity.  [Andrew T. Walker]

  • Another sexual immoral issue that is sweeping over our nation is that of human trafficking.  It is a deadly bane throughout this fallen world, nation, even our own state of Maine.  Traffickers use a variety of methods to snare young teenage girls to working women [20s-30s] by taking advantage of their drug dependencies, the promise of lucrative careers, building trust through romantic relationships before turning abusive and exploiting them to satisfy the sexual cravings of others.
  • Our rebellion against God’s restrictions on sex has led to many diverse family models:
  • Heterosexual
  • Homosexual
  • Single parents
  • Co-habitation without marriage
  • Polyamorous
  • And what about moderate and liberal “religious” denominations who have refocused on the LGBT community instead of looking to Jesus Christ?  For example:
  • USA:  The Evangelical Lutheran Church allows the ordination of LGBT clergy.
  • CANADA:  The Evangelical Lutheran Church accepts gay, lesbian, and bisexual clergy who are in a sexually monogamous relationship.
  • BRAZIL:  The Episcopal  Church supports LGBT clergy.
  • NEW ZEALAND and POLYNESIA have ordained openly gay deacons.
  • SWEDEN:   Church of Sweden permits openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual clergy to act as ministers, often in senior positions.
  • And last but not least, the issue of pornography is crippling Christians and churches.  Refer to stats…

Sadly, while our country and religious denominations embrace progressivism, their rebellion against God and rejection of the Bible points to the fact that we are living in the end times. 

I believe every culture, especially our nation, is heavily saturated with so much sex that it is one of the most sinister temptations with which most Christians struggle. 

Transitional Thoughts

As we direct our attention to this passage, which happens to be the center of his letter, Paul shifts his focus from doctrinal issues to practical issues; but why the strong exhortation to abstain from sexual immorality?

To grasp the impact of Paul’s words for us today, we need to understand the cultural background behind this passage.  The Thessalonian believers lived in a culture of idolatry, which offered little to no restraint on moral character, especially on the issue of sex.  In fact, worship of the pagan gods involved the use of temple prostitutes.   Further describing the Thessalonian culture, Warren Wiersbe writes:

            The moral climate in the Roman Empire was not healthy.  Immorality was a way of life; and, thanks to slavery, people had the leisure time to indulge in the latest pleasures.  The Christian message of holy living was new to that culture, and it was not easy for these young believers to fight the temptations around them.[1]

Looking at our culture today, I believe most of us would agree that America is profanely immoral; perhaps worse than the Roman Empire prior to its fall.  But when did our culture become so wicked?  When did we cast off moral restraints?  Is there a significant turning point when our nation rejected God’s moral laws?  I believe the sexual revolution of the sixties was a pivotal point in our culture.  Consequently, freedom of sexual expression has been on the fast track in our country because the following presuppositions, as suggested by John MacArthur, are acceptable in our society, even by Christians:[2]

  • People are basically good; only heinous crimes ought not to be tolerated.
  • Consensual sex is okay; after all it is a biological function.
  • Casual sex is another form of recreation and pleasure.
  • Premarital sex is a good determinant for a marriage relationship.
  • Fulfilling one’s sexual drive is more important than cultivating relationships.
  • Instant gratification is better than delayed satisfaction.
  • The sexual relationship is the most important aspect in the marriage relationship.

Therefore, as regenerated sinners justified by the shed blood of Christ, adopted into God’s family, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, with the promise of being glorified with Christ, let us avoid sexual impurity, thereby leaving a godly witness to the world that we are followers of Christ! 

How do we win the war on sexual temptation?  Here are four exhortations from the text:

a.         Excel in “working out” your salvation (1-3a).

b.         Abstain from every form of sexual immorality (3b).

c.         Control your sexual urges (4-5).

d.         Defraud not your brother through sexual sin (6-8).

a.         Excel in “working out” your salvation (1-3a).

“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus,
that as you received from us how you ought to walk and 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.”
(1st Thessalonians 4:1-3a)

These two words together, “ask” and “urge” – “urge” and “exhort” [NKJV] – reveal Paul’s urgent begging because the following topics are of great importance to God.  To walk with God is to please God.  Therefore, stay close to Him (verse 1).

As we read verse 2, Paul is not speaking from a position of superiority.  Neither is Paul timid.  Rather, Paul is writing to the Thessalonians as one who…

            …has the mind of Christ (1st Corinthians 2:16)

            …has been commissioned by Christ

            …speaks to Christian men as to how they should conduct themselves in Christ

Therefore, Paul’s first exhortation to the Thessalonian believers is to “excel” perisseuō (Strong’s #4052) in their spiritual growth in the Lord [working out your salvation].  Remember, these Thessalonian saints were already known for their faithfulness to the Lord and the gospel.  They were a model church.  Yet, Paul’s deepest motive for them was that they would grow even deeper in Christ.

There are various models to explain practical sanctification.  For example, there are two basic schools of thoughts that teach perfectionism is possible in this earthly life:

  • Wesleyan Perfectionism [John Wesley, Methodism, Nazarene Church, Salvation Army] teaches that to achieve perfection in this life, the believer must totally surrender oneself to God and experience the 2nd work of grace.
  • Keswick Teaching [Hannah Smith, Andrew Murray, Watchman Nee, Ian Thomas] states that to achieve perfection in this life, the believer must “Let go and let God.”  This is the victorious life.

While these two models have an element of truth, these models are incomplete.  I believe the Scripture teaches the Reformed Perspective [John Murray, John Owen, J.I. Packer, Charles Haddon Spurgeon] is the biblical model because it clearly recognizes the struggle believers experience with indwelling sin (Romans 7:13-25).  Spurgeon said, practical godliness is absolutely necessary to a true Christian character – and a man is not righteous unless he does that which is righteous.  Spurgeon is correct based on the James 2:18, 26.

Yet, the war has been won because we were crucified and raised with Christ (Galatians 2:20).  Therefore, consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God (Romans 6:6-10) because sin no longer has dominion over the believer – believers do not have to submit to sin’s power because sin’s power has been broken (Romans 6:12-14).

The point I am stressing is this:  Every believer is to “work out” their own salvation (Philippians 2:12-13).  God started the work in us and will complete the work in us (Philippians 1:6) while the believer cultivates the spiritual disciplines in his/her life (2nd Peter 1:5-12).

Don’t ever think you have arrived – that you can coast on what you have learned.  There is always room for improvement; but more importantly, there is always more to know about Jesus (Philippians 3:10).

Walking with God enables us to overcome sexual temptations.

a.         Excel in “working out” your salvation (1-3a).

b.         Abstain from every form of sexual immorality (3b).

“…that you abstain from sexual immorality…”
(1st Thessalonians 4:3b)

God’s will for of His children is their sanctification.  In other words, Christians are “set apart” by God to live blamelessly before the Him and not to live like the rest of the world.  The command is clear: abstain from sexual immorality. 

To abstain apechomai (Strong’s #567) is “to hold oneself from” that issue, thing.  In our text, Paul says abstain from porneias; where we get our word “pornography.”  However, it is also a general term for all forms of sexual

immorality, including fornication, pornographic images in magazines and on video, soft porn to hard-core porn, voyeurism, flirting with intent to enter an illicit affair, homosexuality, lesbianism, and the list goes on.

From what we know of the Thessalonians, there is no written indication that they were guilty of committing sexual immorality even though they lived in a sexually permissive society. 

Nevertheless, we all know from experience that each of us has been tempted in the realm of porneias.  Therefore, beware!  I believe Paul’s words are an exhortation for them [and us] not to drop our “spiritual guard.”

For further study, check out the following verses:  Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:3, 5;
1st Corinthians 6:9-20.

a.         Excel in “working out” your salvation (1-3a).

b.         Abstain from every form of sexual immorality (3b).

c.         Control your sexual urges (4-5).

“…that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,

not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
(1st Thessalonians 4:4-6)

Again, we are reminded from Scripture that one of the major problems for the early church was to remain sexually pure.  And I believe we would all agree that it is one of the major problems for the church today. 

Permit me also to remind all of us that our bodies are temples of God.  Read 1st Corinthians 6:12-20. 

Based on 1st Thessalonians 4:5-6, here are two simple commands:

  • Control your body.  Your body should not control you.  The God-empowered man rules his body.  He is not caught up in the grip of lustful passions of which he is unable to control.  Passion of lust is likened to a violent desire – an obsession.  This is conduct among people who do not know God.  And this kind of conduct is not fitting for the Christian.  Therefore, learn to control    your bodies and do not misuse the marriage bed to satisfy your uncontrollable lust.
  • Don’t act like an unbeliever.  Sex is a beautiful and intimate gift from God.  Scripture commands husbands and wives to experience pleasure with one another.  We further understand that the intimacy shared between a husband and wife is liken to the intimacy Christ has with His Church. However, I do not see in Scripture where Christ hungrily “lusts” for His Church. 

Sex only becomes ugly and perverted whenever Satan touches it, especially when sex occurs outside the marriage bond.  If your sexual appetite is greater than your mate’s desires, don’t be forceful, especially where there is a medical issue.  As important as the gift of sex is in the marriage relationship, it is not the most important aspect from God’s perspective.

Walking with God enables us to overcome sexual temptations

a.         Excel in “working out” your salvation (1-3a).

b.         Abstain from every form of sexual immorality (3b).

c.         Control your sexual urges (4-5).

d.         Defraud not your brother through sexual sin (6-8).

“…that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter,
because 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.”
(1st Thessalonians 4:6-8)

What is the Tenth Commandment?  “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).

Now look at  the word “transgress” in verse 6 [some translations say “no man go beyond”].  The word is, uperbainō (Strong’s #5233) and is found once in the NT.  It means “to overstep.” 

Now look at the word, “defraud” [“wrong”].  The word is, pleonekteō (Strong’s #4122).  It has a special reference to the Tenth Commandment.  It means “to overreach,” “to have more than your share,” “to take advantage of another.”  In other words, Paul is not referring to some type of financial transgression; rather the context is clearly addressing sexual transgression. 

Sadly, there are times when Christians have stepped onto this landmine because they took their eyes off God and followed their passions to their hurt.  Therefore, when believers seek to satisfy their sexual appetites at the expense of another Christian or even their mate, they have broken this command. 

Paul goes on to warn further the church not to ignore these exhortations:

  • God is the avenger and will ultimately work a just recompense for such sins.
  • God has called us to a life of holiness.
  • God is rejected when a person gives license to sexual immorality.


If we are going to win the war on sexual temptation, one victory at a time, then we must follow through on these four exhortations from this passage: 

a.         Excel in “working out” your salvation (1-3a).

b.         Abstain from every form of sexual immorality (3b).

c.         Control your sexual urges (4-5).

d.         Defraud not your brother through sexual sin (6-8).

Some of you might have committed these sins in the past.  Some of you may be contemplating these sins at this present time.  Some of you, though I pray not, may commit these sins in the future. 

I wish to end this sermon with a glorious reminder from 1st Corinthians 6:9-11.  Let’s read it together…

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? 
Do not be deceived.
Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,

nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners
will inherit the kingdom of God. 

And such were some of you.
But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified
in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
(1st Corinthians 6:9-11)

Jesus Christ came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  He didn’t come for the healthy sinner – because there are no healthy sinners.  Every sinner is spiritually dead and separated from God!  And God’s wrath abides on every sinner because His righteous nature demands it.  God cannot deny Himself or His holiness!  Yet, His love for sinners also compels the Father to pay their sin debt with heaven’s blood – the Son of God (Romans 5:8).  And Scripture further states that Christ rose from the dead and offers life to all who will come to Him and believe.

I close with an invitation from Jesus as recorded in Matthew 11:25-30.  If you know the Lord and are struggling with any expression of sexual sin, know that Jesus has set you free.  Call out to Him.  Ask for His forgiveness and to remove the guilt and shame from your spirit.  Embrace these exhortations and be sure to share your struggle with an accountability partner who will exhort you and pray for you. 


Walking with God enables us to overcome sexual temptations.

[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Expository Commentary, Vol. 2, (Wheaton:  Victor Books, 1989), p. 175.

[2] John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary – 1st & 2nd Thessalonians, (Chicago:  Moody Press, 2002), pp. 101-102.

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