Today is Wednesday – the sun is shining and the sky is blue…….it’s going to be a great day!
Our Bible reading is 1 Thessalonians Chapter 4 vs1-8, and I’m going to focus on verses 3 and 8 from the Message translation which say,
“You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life……If you disregard this advice, you’re not offending your neighbours; you’re rejecting God, who is making you a gift of his Holy Spirit.”
The sun may be shining in Sheffield, but in Westminster the clouds have gathered, and the intensity of anger felt across the nation towards Dominic Cummings and his failure to follow lockdown guidelines, would suggest that this is going to be a ferocious political storm that the government will find it very hard to weather.
There have always been cases where those in the public eye have appeared to act as if it was one rule for them, and another for us – whether it is tax fraud, sex scandals, or fat cat bonuses and pay rises.
However, the reason Dominic Cummings is facing such vitriolic attack is because he broke the rules at a time when all of us were following guidelines that restricted our personal freedoms more than at any other time in the history of our nation.
Let’s read verse 3 again:
“You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life.”
As followers of Jesus, God also sets us guidelines – but rather than restricting personal freedom; these guidelines are about growing or developing greater purity.
In this passage Paul refers specifically to sexual purity, but we know that there are other behaviours which could also lead us away from the blameless and holy life that God intends for us.
In Ephesians, Paul warns against obscene language and coarse joking; in Colossians it’s anger, rage, and lying. In 1 Timothy, he cautions against the love of money, and in 2 Timothy 3 we read,
“People will be lovers of themselves……boastful, proud……ungrateful, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control…….lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”
These are the types of behaviours that Jesus gave us guidelines about and, because of our lack of self-control, following them is hard and requires a great deal of self-sacrifice. When it comes to the guidelines that Jesus has set us as Christians, we have all fallen short.
And I wonder, when we read these sections of Scripture outlining what it means to live a pure life, whether, because we would prefer an easier option, we sometimes take a similar attitude towards God’s guidelines for us, as Mr Cummings appears to have done to the Covid-19 guidance……..that the guidelines which Jesus laid out are flexible, can be interpreted to suit us, or maybe they just don’t apply in our context.
With regards to sexual purity, we know that this is the pervading narrative of our culture.
We hear arguments that say God’s plan for sex to be enjoyed within the context of marriage is simply outdated nowadays – there’s no mention of dating in the Bible, people got married much younger in those days (they didn’t have to wait), and how will we know if we are sexually compatible if we don’t sleep together before we get married, and surely it’s just repressive to deny our sexual desires?
And so rather than being infused by Christ’s ideals, we soak in the views of the world, and make God’s guidelines for purity flexible and not applicable in our 21st century context.
And then there is the issue of Jesus’ way of life being considered offensive – which Paul addresses in verse 3.
We live in a culture that says people are entitled do whatever they want, whenever they want, with whomever they desire, so long as it doesn’t impact or effect anyone else (as referenced by the neighbours in verse 3). Because of this we often hear that upholding Biblical guidelines for living a pure life is offensive to others.
Therefore, through fear of causing offence, we begin to act as if Jesus’ guidelines are optional, and we start to interpret the Bible in such a way as to keep others happy, rather than first living to please God.
But in doing this, we forget the second part of that verse – that disregarding these guidelines for living a holy and blameless life is rejecting God’s plan for how we should live.
Ignoring the government guidelines during lockdown would be a risk to our earthly life. But rejecting God’s guidelines for living a pure life will have consequences into eternity.
And that is why, in verse 1, rather than telling the Thessalonians they can relax their approach to Godly living because they have been doing so well, Paul says the complete opposite. He writes, “We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.”
Living a pure, blameless, and holy life is not about restricting our personal freedoms, it is about experiencing a life of even greater freedom as we are transformed into the likeness of Christ.
Rather than looking for ways in which these Godly guidelines can be relaxed, instead we should be wanting to follow them as carefully as possible, for as long as we live.
As the last few months have shown us all, following the guidelines can test and challenge us in ways we never knew. When it comes to obeying Biblical guidelines for living a pure life, God knew we would also find this difficult, and so he sent us a gift – the Holy Spirit – to help us follow Jesus’ guidance, and live a life that is holy and blameless.
Over the coming days and weeks, so much of the news will be about guidelines from the government, how to interpret new laws as the lockdown is eased, what flexibility there is, or what context and situation does it apply to.
In the midst of all this let us continue to remember the guidelines that were set out for us by Jesus and, when we find ourselves looking for flexible interpretations, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to give us strength and perseverance to follow God’s guidelines more and more closely, rather than doing things our own way.
Heavenly Father help us to live a pure life that is holy and beautiful in all contexts and all situations. Fill us with your Holy Spirit, so that we can experience the life of freedom that you promised to all those who are found in Jesus. Amen.
BIBLE READING: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 (MSG)
One final word, friends. We ask you — urge is more like it — that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life.
Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity.
Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing it, as is so common among those who know nothing of God.
Don’t run roughshod over the concerns of your brothers and sisters. Their concerns are God’s concerns, and he will take care of them. We’ve warned you about this before. God hasn’t invited us into a disorderly, unkempt life but into something holy and beautiful—as beautiful on the inside as the outside.
If you disregard this advice, you’re not offending your neighbours; you’re rejecting God, who is making you a gift of his Holy Spirit.