Grow • Devotional #1: “Sexual Immorality”

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3 (NKJV)  

One of the questions that I am often asked as a pastor is, “What is God’s will for my life?” It is a question that I always love to hear, for I believe that all true believers want to know what God wants. The question comes in many forms:

“Is this the person God wants me to marry?”

“Is this the house He would want us to buy?”

“Is this the job that I should take?”

“Is this the move that God wants me to make?”

However, at the end of the day, each of those questions centers around the idea that God has a will, a desire, or a preference for our lives individually. That is thrilling to think about. What does God specifically want for me?

In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Paul answers that question in an overarching sense. By that I mean, it answers the question of God’s will in an ultimate sense. It says, “For this is the will of God.” That is pretty clear, right? We are talking about what God wants. It is His will. It is what He desires. It is what the God of the Universe wants.

It goes on and says, “For this is the will of God, your [our] sanctification.” The word “sanctification” comes from the Greek word for “holiness” (Hagios) and it means to “be set apart unto God, reserved for God and His use.” It refers to our hearts (emotions), minds (thinking), and lives (actions) being set apartto God. This means that we have separated ourselves from the world, from sin, from the worship of self, and the worship of other false gods. Also, we are His. We have given Him our lives. We are His. We are reserved for Him, His will, and His use. This is God’s will for us as His people.

Now one of the most important areas that this applies to is what is mentioned next in the verse, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality.” “Sexual immorality” is a broad term that refers to any sexual activity or thought that is outside of the context of a marriage between one man and one woman. What we learn from this passage (now that we understand the word “sanctification”) is that when we are involved in anything sinfully sexual, we are giving ourselves to that thing. We are taking what is reserved for God and we are giving it to another “god” in worship. Scripture confirms this understanding continually.

Romans 6:16 (NKJV) is an example when it says, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”

In 1 Corinthians chapter 6, Paul talks about how sexual immorality joins us to that thing. On and on we could go. The point we are making is this, sexual sin is more than just an act or a thought. It is the giving of ourselves, what is meant to be reserved for God, to the false “god” of sex and it will always bring death and destruction into our lives.

God’s will, as is made clear from His Word, is that we not only separate ourselves from all forms of sexual immorality but that we also actively give ourselves to the Lord. It is not an either/or, it is a both/and. We separate from other things and separate to the Lord.

Finally, 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 (NKJV) says, “Therefore Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” This is what God wants, and because it is, He will help us carry it out.

Gather • Devotional #6: “Increased Love”

“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.” 1 Thessalonians 3:12

Paul wants believers to “increase and abound in love for one another.” This is not a new concept. We know we need to love one another. It is not just a good idea, it is crucial.

In Mark chapter 12, a scribe asked Jesus what was the most important commandment. We are familiar with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5), but the Jewish leaders had added to the list. They had about 613 commandments. Jesus gives the greatest commandment, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (verse 30). The greatest commandment is to love God! Jesus did not stop there. He continued, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (verse 31). Loving one another is a commandment and it is high on the list.

It is hard to ignore how often this command to love one another is given:

  • “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12
  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34
  • “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” John 15:17
  • “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
  • Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11
  • “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” 1 Peter 1:22
  • “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:10
  • “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” 1 John 3:11
  • “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8
  • “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” 1 John 3:23
  • “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
  • “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:14

Finally, as Christians, love should be our distinguishing characteristic. John 13:35says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The key ingredient to our walk is love – love for God and love for one another.

Gather • Devotional #5: “Pray”

“As we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?” 1 Thessalonians 3:10

One of the best gifts I was ever given was when an inmate wrote me that he fasted and prayed for me for a whole day. Most people would view him as having nothing to offer, but he regularly encourages me. He also prays for me often. I am so thankful.

Paul was praying for them “earnestly night and day.” He wanted to see them, but more importantly, he wanted them to see Jesus. He wanted their faith to grow.

I like how Acts 20:32 states it, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” To commend someone to God is to pray for them. We pray for God’s best for them. We understand that God knows what is best, so we pray they would seek and follow Him.

I am regularly challenged by 1 Samuel 12:23, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” We owe it to each other to be praying for each other. Not only is it a good thing, but not doing it is a sin. Part of Gatherings includes prayer. We have prayer led by the Pastor, but we should also be looking around the room to pray for each other. Take time throughout the week to pray for others.

You might be wondering, “What should I pray for them?” Paul gives a great example in Philippians 1:9-11, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Pray that their love for the Lord and others may continue to grow. Pray that they would not settle for good when God is offering excellent. Also, pray for proper living. Pray that God would protect them from the evil one. Jesus taught in Matthew 6:13, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

“Pray without ceasing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:17

Gather • Devotional #4: “Thankful”

“For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God?” 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Pastor Chuck recently recommended The Pillar New Testament Commentary. It went on sale on Logos so I bought it. I am enjoying it. I was enlightened on how Gene L. Green translated 1 Thessalonians 3:9, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?”

Actually, this passage is a rhetorical question. With a rhetorical question, one is not expecting an answer. The question might not have an answer, or it might have an obvious answer. So, why would you ask a question and not expect an answer? A question can be so obvious that it is a statement.

Psalm 116:12 also asks the same kind of question, “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?” God has been so good to us, how can we ever repay Him. What do you buy or give the One who has “everything?”

However, what is Paul saying he is thankful for? He is thankful for the other believers. He is overjoyed with how other believers encouraged him and what they had accomplished together by the Lord.

Weekly Gatherings consist of singing, giving, and a message, but that is not all. Hebrews 10:25 mentions that part of Gatherings should be the act of “encouraging one another.”

This Sunday, look around the auditorium and realize how blessed you are by being able to freely meet and by those around you. Pause and pray for them. Thank God for them. Paul recognized and acknowledged the hand of God at work in the lives of his readers.

One of the biggest choices many of us make each day is whether we will focus on affliction or blessings. Do you think God placed the wrong people around you? That was a rhetorical question. Look around you and be thankful.

I challenge you to let others know your feelings. Say something like:

  • “I am thankful for you!”
  • “I appreciate you!”

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”

Philippians 1:3

Gather • Devotional #3: “Pride and Joy”

If I were to ask you what gave you the most hope, brought you the most joy, or made you the proudest, what would be the first thing that came to your mind? Would it be an accomplishment, or perhaps a possession? Would it be a talent, your career, or your prized collection of baseball cards or designer handbags? Would it be your family, children, house, or car? What are your pride and joy?

Paul asks this question of himself when writing to the believers who lived in Thessalonica. In 1 Thessalonians 2:19, he asks “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming?” Before I tell you his answer, let me give you a little back story. Paul is writing this letter (the Book of 1 Thessalonians that we find in the Bible) to these believers praising them on their Christ-likeness and Christian conduct, and has just told them how much he desperately wanted to see them again. It seems that the last time he was with them, he involuntarily had to leave and was prevented via Satan from returning “over and over again.” So while he waits for the time when he can return, Paul writes this letter and asks them what they think is his hope, joy, and crown. His answer is simple. What made Paul the proudest is those who had received the Gospel of Jesus Christ – especially these believers at Thessalonica. Verses 19-20 say, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.”

Paul knew that the real value on this Earth (apart from himself knowing Christ) is people. It is not possessions, money, or even talents or abilities. Before Paul was born again, he had all of these things. Before Christ, he was a man named Saul who was one of the top Jewish religious leaders. He was incredibly knowledgeable of the Law and Scriptures, was likely very talented in his teaching, and would have had every earthly thing he could have wanted at his fingertips. He knew the value of those things, and yet once he met Christ, he happily let those things fade away as he traded his value system for something else: sharing the Gospel of Jesus with people and seeing them saved. This is what gave him joy, made him proud, and gave him hope.

Paul knew what the Thessalonians were before they trusted Jesus as their Savior: idol-worshipping pagans, completely lost in darkness. Yet here they were, completely transformed by the power of God into loving, faithful Christ-followers. For Paul, who gave everything he had, put every effort he had into seeing people saved, and was persecuted beyond what we could understand, this was more than enough to keep his fire burning. He knew that he had the honor of being used by God to further the Kingdom and that one day, he would receive that crown in Heaven that he could lay at the feet of Christ.

For me, this is quite convicting. In our American cushy lives, we face little opposition with sharing the Gospel with others, and yet do we yearn with a passion to see people saved? Is it our pride, joy, and hope? Let this be a challenge to us to refocus our mindset and value systems. May we passionately yearn to share the Gospel of Jesus with the lost world around us. May it bring us hope and joy to win souls for Christ, seeing them transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. May we earnestly run the race that the Lord has put before us, earning crowns along the way that we can one day lay at the feet of our Savior!

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