The Will of God and our Holiness

Steve Viars May 10, 2008 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

 

- I’d like to add to what has already been said this morning about wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day...

- I’m glad that our culture has set aside this particular day to especially emphasize the important place of moms in our families, and our community, and our world...

- I also want to express my appreciation for the many women in our church who are trying to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of Christ, or who have done so in the past...

- the impact that has on a local church cannot be overestimated---so we praise the Lord for your faithful service...

- this morning we’re beginning a three week series on Knowing and Doing the Will of God...

- since our overall theme this year is Seeking God’s Plan because this is a strategic planning year for our church family...

- we thought at some point we needed to study the specifics of how do you actually determine what God wants you to do?...how can you know His will...what process should you use to make decisions, both large and small?...

- that is a very important issue – and we hope to devote the next three Sundays studying it together...

- now, to give you an idea of where this is going...please think of this scenario...

- let’s suppose that it is God’s will for you to get off the interstate at Lebanon---He has an important ministry opportunity for you there...

- which of these two people is most likely to figure that out...

- the person who’s asleep in his hammock in his back yard...

- or the person who’s in his car, on I 65, headed south?...

- here’s the point...some folks think about the will of God only when considering big ticket decisions...

- should I take a new job....should we make a large purchase...who should I marry...etc...while they have been ignoring God’s will in their overall lifestyle and the hundreds of little decisions they have to make every day...

- if you want to know where God wants you to get off the interstate...then you need to be in your car, on the right road, headed the right way, going the right speed...

- and people who are skilled at following God’s will in the small things are going to be much more likely to be able to discern His will in the large ones...

- and the beauty is, God’s Word has specific direction for each aspect of this discussion...

- we really can seek God’s plan with confidence...

- so we would like to divide this topic up along these lines:

- May 11th – The Will of God and Your Holiness

- May 18th – The Will of God and Your Ministry

- May 25th – The Will of God and Your Decisions.

- so, this morning, The Will of God and Your Holiness.

- with that in mind, would you open your Bible to I Thessalonians chapter 4?...[page 160 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you...]

- while you’re turning there, let me bring you up to speed on where we are in our strategic planning process as a church...

- we had a tremendous response to our congregational survey...just under 800 persons took the time to complete a survey either on paper or on-line...

- all of that information has been tabulated and put into the form of several reports...

- one report simply lists all of the written comments that we received...and that literally comprises a document of a couple of hundred pages...

- I realize that not everybody in our congregation will take the time to read all of that, but many of us have, and some of us have read all the comments several times...

- if you’re one of those persons, you might say – but PV, some of the comments were not very complimentary...

- one of the responses to that would be --- wise organizations invite respectful criticism, and respectful disagreement...

- being able to do that is a sign of health and stability --- some organizations pay boatloads of money to consultants to come in and tell them ways they need to get better...that is a very important step in the planning process...

- many of the comments spoke about the strengths that God has given us...and how we can reinvest those gifts in additional ministry...

- others talked about the opportunities and needs they see in our community, and our country and our world...that too was very helpful information...

- we’ve also had some teams go through and summarize the surveys, both in writing and with a series of helpful graphs...all of that is now available on our website and I would encourage you to take some time to review the information at whatever level your schedule allows...

- there are two important steps occurring right now...

- one is that another survey is being sent out to our community...

- we are mailing it directly to our immediate neighbors...

- it will also be published in the local paper...

- but the idea is, if you really wants to find ways to serve our neighbors better, one of the key sources of information comes from asking our neighbors...they may be attuned to neighborhood needs that we’ve overlooked...

- the second key step that is currently underway is brainstorming initiatives...

- this is where we need your creativity...

- this is what helps us go from being appropriately critical to creatively productive...

- see, anyone can talk about a problem...or a need...or something they don’t like...

- valuable team members have learned the art of focusing on solutions...

- pointing out a problem without suggesting a solution isn’t particularly helpful...

- so right now, our goal is to be generating a list of literally several hundred possible ministry initiatives...

- if that’s a weakness around here, what can we do to shore it up?...

- if that’s a strength God has given us, how can we be the best stewards of it?...

- if that’s an opportunity, what step could we take to seize it?...

- that’s what we mean by initiatives...

- and right now, you can go back to the website and there is a place for you to type in possible steps we could take in the next five years...

- and at this point, there is no such thing as a bad idea...we encourage you to dream, and to ask our Creator God to lead you in thinking creatively---we really want to hear from everyone...

- the best ministry idea for the next five years may be the one that has not yet been put on the table...

- this summer, during some of our church family nights, we’re going to be discussing some of those initiatives...

- we have some rather big ticket decisions to make as a church family...

- is it God’s will for us to plant another church --- we have to have that discussion...

- are we to the place where we should start planning for a larger auditorium?...we have to talk about that...

- those kinds of decisions function as sort of the anchor for the strategic plan...

- but along with that, we have to start boiling down these hundreds of possible ministry initiatives into the ones that we are convinced God really wants us to seek to accomplish in the coming five years...

- that can be a wonderful opportunity to clarify our priorities, and be sure that we are being the best stewards of the resources and opportunities God has given us as possible...

- ultimately we will vote on that late early this fall and then at our stewardship banquet in November – the printed plan will be at our place settings and as a family we will commit ourselves to accomplishing God’s will together...

- you understand that there aren’t some ministry pixies that are going to come in the middle of the night and advance the ball...

- and as you were making comments about items around here that you thought needed to be changed or improved...I assume that that was done in the spirit of, and as soon as our church family determines the best way to address that issue – I intend to roll up my sleeves to give as much focus to being part of the solution as I was to being vocal about identifying the problems...

- so I commend Joe Blake and his committee – they are leading us well...

- but, the question before the house today is not whether the Lord wants us to exit at Lebanon...the question is whether we’re in the car, on the right road, heading the right way, going the right speed...

- we can’t expect God to reveal His Will to us about the future if we’re not committed to following the Will He’s already revealed to us about the present...

- The Will of God and Your Holiness.

- read I Thessalonians 4:1-8

- in these verses, we can find Three characteristics that must be in place to achieve God’s will for your holiness.

I. You Must be Committed to Excel – vv. 1-2.

- see friend, do you realize that you’ll never really be concerned about knowing God’s will unless you’re really trying to get somewhere.

- the person who has no intention of traveling has very little use for a map.

- if the Christian life is about anything, it’s about how God wants to meet you where you are, and take you to a place where you’ve never been...

- see, are you committed to excel?...

- now, let’s walk through these verses...how does this happen?...

A. Based on a lifestyle that receives instruction.

- the Thessalonian church had a reputation for being a good church in many ways...

- Paul clearly and openly loved this group of men and women...

- If you look back at chapter 1 for a moment, you see that emphasis...

- read vv. 1:2-10

- these were people who were already headed in the right direction...and one of the key reasons that was happening was because they had built a habit of being willing to be taught...

- that’s one of the challenges that many pastors and church leaders face...

- Scripture tells us that one sign of the end times is that people will not endure sound doctrine...

- 2 Timothy 4:3-4 - For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

- That’s why Paul said in the previous verse...2 Timothy 4:2 - preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

- that’s one of the things I appreciated about the surveys – a number of men and women made the point that one of the primary reasons they come to church is to receive instruction from the Word...

- that is becoming rare in this culture...many pastors will tell you that if they don’t have some sort of entertaining dog and pony show going, people won’t come...

- that was not true of the Thessalonians (nor do I believe it is true here, thankfully)...you could tell they wanted to excel in part because of a willingness and even a desire to receive instruction...

B. Understanding that following God’s will is a walk.

- did you notice that point in verse 2?...

- v. 2 – you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk...

- one of the great themes of Scripture is that our relationship with Christ is likened to walking...

- Ephesians 4:1 - walk in a manner worthy of the calling...

- Ephesians 4:17 - walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk...

- Ephesians 5:2 - walk in love...

- Ephesians 5:8 - walk as children of Light

- 2 Corinthians 5:7 -  we walk by faith...

- I John 1:5-7 – walk in the light

- so yes, we’re talking about excelling, but not as an unreasonable pace, or a perfectionistic pace...

- this also requires...

C. Having as your goal to please God.

- 1 Thessalonians 4:1 - ...as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God...

- the reason some persons are not excelling at following the will of God is because they are invested all their time and energy into pleasing themselves...

- it’s not about God’s will, it’s about theirs...

- one question often raised by people who on the one hand say they are Christians but on the other are living in clear disobedience to Scripture is – well, doesn’t God want me to be happy?

- here’s the answer to that question – no, not if you mean by that – is that His highest, and most immediate goal for your life?...

- God is much more concerned with your long term holiness than your short term happiness...

- and when you and I are thinking correctly...as our holiness increases, so does our joy because we’ve chosen to align our goals with His...

- but the truth of the matter is – the steps to holiness and productivity may involve short term steps that make up anything but happy on the front end...

- in fact one of the quickest ways to get off track is to make the controlling question in any decision be --- will this make me happy?...

D. With a sincere desire to get to a better place.

- that’s the controlling verb in these first two verses...

- v. 1 – excel still more

- people who want to know God’s will regarding a specific decision must be moving forward in following His will in all areas of their life...they are committed to excelling...

- Can I just ask you – would that be true for you?...

- are you committed to excelling?...and is there concrete evidence to support your answer?...

- none of this – you can’t teach an old dog new tricks...

- not – you’ll just have to accept me the way I am...

- excel still more...

- it’s possible for an individual Christian, or even for an entire church, to become self-satisfied...or complacent...or stuck...

- I’ve/we’ve gone about as far as we need to---or as we intend to...that is a very dangerous position to take...

- Paul told the people in the Colossian church about man named Epaphras, who was probably used to start the church and who had gone to visit Paul because he was so concerned about some of what was happening in the congregation...and Paul said that Epaphras was...Colossians 4:12 - ...always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.

- they needed to be committed to excelling on all fronts...

- one of the haunting things about that biblical detail is that a few verses later Paul told the Colossians that after they had read and studied his letter, that they needed to send it down to the Laodiceans...so they too could be challenged to stand perfect in all the will of God...

- if you know the Scripture, you know that that church was mentioned in the book of Revelation...and do you recall what Jesus said about them?...

- Revelation 3:15-17 - I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked...

- that’s one of the quickest ways to miss the will of God – for a person or a church to say...we’ve gone about as far as we intend to...

- that thought is concluded at the end of verse 2...

E. Joyfully submitting to the authority of Christ.

- we’re not talking about excelling as a self-improvement project---we’re talking about excelling so that our lives are more in conformity to the will of the Master...

- now, where does that start?...

- it begins by placing ones’ faith in Christ as Savior and Lord...

- Romans 10:9-10 - that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

- you couldn’t possibly know His will until you first know Him...[the good news is – I know of men and women this week who have decided to become followers of Christ --- cf. also those who were baptized last Sunday night]

- for this church to be able to accurately discern God’s will for the next 5 years, we have to be people who are excelling at submitting to His will today...

- can I ask you this – if your spiritual growth/maturity became the new norm for our entire church body, what would be the likelihood that our next 5 year ministry plan will be an effective one?...

- is your rate of growth helping the corporate decision making cause?

- now, the next verses make this even more pointed...you could say it this way...

II. You Must Value God’s Will Regarding Your Sanctification – vv. 3-6

- it couldn’t be any clearer than verse 3 -1 Thessalonians 4:3 - For this is the will of God, your sanctification...

- see, nobody could say – I just don’t know what God’s will is for me...here it is, as clear as can be...your sanctification...you say – what does that mean?...

- sanctify means “set apart”, or “make holy”...to become more like Christ and more pleasing to God in the practical areas of everyday living...

- you’re not just to be a friend, you’re trying to be a more godly friend...

- not just a husband, but a sanctified husband...

- not just a student...but a student who is growing spiritually in ways that are evident to others...and today’s point is...

A. Growing in personal holiness is a necessary prerequisite to discerning God’s will in the future.

- it is offensive to God to ask Him to show you His specific will about the future if you have ignored His written will about your past and present...

- it’s just like eating supper – you don’t ask for seconds until you clean your plate...

- you can’t ask God for something more if you ignored what He already told you to do...

- now, let’s bring some other passages of Scripture into this...this phrase “will of God” comes up in some other pivotal places in the Word of God...

1. This often involves repentance.

- if you were here last week, you may recall that I mentioned that the apostle Paul loved the people in the Corinthian church so much that when he received word that there were some unsolved problems there, he wrote them a letter that we now refer to as I Corinthians...and if you’ve ever studied that letter, you know...it is pretty direct and confrontational...he called them to repentance on several matters...

- and the good news is---many of the men and women in the church did repent...and here’s what Paul said about that in a subsequent letter to them that we refer to as II Corinthians...

- 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 - I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

- the principle is – you cannot have sanctification without repentance...and I hope and pray that our congregation is practiced at admitting our sin quickly and making it right with God and others...[cf. Prov 28:13]

- when is the last time you realized that it was God’s will for you to repent of something?...

- if we are skilled at recognizing and following that aspect of His will, we’ll be in a much better position to assemble a 5 year ministry plan...

2. This often involves sacrifice.

- here’s another interesting use of the phrase “will of God”...

- 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 - For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints,  and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.

- do you know who those verses are about?...the churches of Macedonia...which included Thessalonica...

- Paul is saying that even though they were experiencing deep poverty, they gave a special financial gift to the Jewish believers in Rome who were going through a severe trial...and that act of love had a significant impact of breaking the walls of racial division in the church...

- sanctification often involves sacrifice...and sometimes even financial sacrifice...

- by the way, that is one of the reasons I have great confidence that our church family, with the help of God, will assemble a top notch five year plan...its because many of the people around here are serious about sanctification, even when it comes to the way they handle their money...

- you would think that during a time of economic hardship---gas prices in uncharted territory, rising food prices, shaky stock market---you would assume that the giving to the ministries of the church would go down...

- the truth is, in the 20+ years I’ve been here, if you made one graph of contemporary economic conditions in our country, and then made an overlay of our congregations’ giving – there is absolutely no correlation whatsoever...

- and the truth is, when we started this year...as a result of our last strategic plan...we knew we were stretching ourselves financially...

- in order to support all the regular ministries you would associate with a church, and then to try to fulfill our desire to provide financial support to Vision of Hope, Faith Christian School, Faith Bible Seminary, Faith Community Ministries, and our special missions outreaches...we knew that we were extending ourselves...

- but if you have been following our quarterly reports...the fact is that the people of our church continue to give in ways that generous and sacrificial, regardless of the price of gas...

- and that is a private thing in the sense that the specific details don’t get published somewhere---there’s no public credit given...

- but that is one thing I’ve always appreciated about our church...its not flashy Baptist...but in a lot of cases, it’s the Real Thing Baptist...

- people who allow God to sanctify them are in a great position to discern His will about the days ahead...

- Paul gets more specific as the passage goes on...

B. This should be especially true of the way you handle your body.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 - For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;

1. Abstain from sexual immorality.

- one of the quickest ways to get out of the will of God is to be careless in this area of your life...

- friend, if this church honestly expects to show us His will for the future, then we have to be the kind of people who take sexual purity seriously...

- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 - Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

- there’s another reason we can be very thankful on Mother’s Day...

- there are a lot of godly, faithful moms in this church who are serious about keeping their marriage vows...

- there are many godly women in our church...

- I love hearing about “women discipling women” groups who get together and hold one another accountable for the very things we studying this morning...

- following God’s will is a delightful thing to behold...

- can I ask you – are you excelling in this area, or are you going backward?   [if you’re struggling, admit it quickly, and get some help...]

2. Learn how to possess your body in sanctification and honor.

- Romans 12:1-2 - Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

- it’s not just a matter of sexuality, its all aspects of the stewardship of our bodies...

- an I’m not talking about this cultural standard where people starve themselves and try to meet some sort of worldly standard that is not reasonable or appropriate...

- but on the other hand...part of God’s will involves issues like eating, and diet, and exercise...

- and God can do what He wants to do regarding your physical health and mine...but think about this from the perspective of our strategic plan...if I know this congregation, the next plan will be very similar to the last ones---where we’re going to stretch ourselves---and do all we can for God while we have the opportunity to do it...

- well, what does that mean?---we need you healthy, and strong, and on the team as long as you possibly can be...

- and not surprisingly...Paul says that this...

C. Starting with careful attention to your heart.

v. 5 – not in lustful passion

III. You Must Seize the Opportunity to be Different than Those Around Who Don’t Know the Lord – v. 5

- we’re not anywhere near knowing the specifics of the next 5 year plan yet, but there’s no question that a portion of it will involve outreach...

- we’ll talk more about this next week, but God has put us in a position as a result of our community based outreach ministries where we are having more contact with our neighbors than ever before...

- the question now is – what are they going to find when they come?...

- is there going to be a genuine difference that attracts others to Christ?

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video