You are on page 1of 15

“Living Life in Light of Jesus’ Return: A Call to Christian


1 Thessalonians 4:1-2

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to 1
Thessalonians chapter 4. We’re going to be looking at the first two
verses of this chapter. As we've worked through this letter together
we've said repeatedly that Paul is teaching the Thessalonians and
you and me how to live life in light of Jesus’ return. And as we've
looked at chapters 1, 2, and 3, we've said, rather frequently, that
Paul is giving an explanation for why he has done what he has done
in ministry — for why he's not there, for why he stayed such a short
period of time — he's defending the integrity of his ministry because
there are people in Thessalonica, or Thessalonica, who are accusing
him, they’re slandering him to the Thessalonians, and they’re
attempting to plant seeds of doubt to whether he's a charlatan,
whether he's one of these traveling teachers that proliferated the
ancient Mediterranean world, that sort of showed up, made a little
money, and moved on to the next town. And he's defending himself
and we've seen this repeatedly in chapters 1 and 2 and 3.

Today, the focus of Paul's letter changes pretty dramatically and you
can see it if you’re using the ESV and many other modern
translations. The very first word of 1 Thessalonians 4:1 is “Finally.”
Now you know the old joke - when a preacher says, “And now in
conclusion,” what does that mean? The answer is, of course, no
much. Now you may say, “Now Paul, you’re half-way through the
letter, you’re about at the half-way point; we've got two full chapters
to go. Why are you saying ‘Finally’?” Well, the commentators debate

faith then practice. “So now. all truth serves to inform Christian living. and 4.” And suddenly. We’re now getting to the point of the letter that I'm writing to you. The same thing happens in Romans. “Therefore.” And that's what it clearly means. I wanted to get to the exhortation. Romans 12. You’re reading all this wonderful theology from Romans 1 to 11 and suddenly you get to Romans 12 verse 1 and you get this. As we study this passage over the next weeks together. And he’ll get into specific exhortations about living the Christian life. and death . and 14 are preoccupied with exhortations about the Christian life. doesn't he. if you’ll let your eyes scan down the first eleven. This is a regular pattern for Paul: doctrine then duty. and then suddenly you start getting all this exhortation. He does this regularly. Now finally I'm getting to the exhortation that I wanted to make to you. I told you in chapter 2. he will address vocation and how we go about our work.” or is he saying. 3. in letters. Paul getting into the business of exhortation now. truth then life. because for Paul. what our attitude is towards work. What is our response to the death of our loved ones? Do we have hope when that happens or do we lose hope? Sex. he will specifically address the issue of sexual immorality. all this instruction in ethics.a little bit about how “Finally” ought to be translated here. Is Paul really saying. twelve verses. 13. work. I told you in chapter 1. He’ll even address the issue of death. And Paul is going to give . You’re reading this wonderful theology in Ephesians 1. I wanted to get where I'd been going. let us be living sacrifices.perennial issues for Christians in every culture and in every generation. 2. all this teaching about living the Christian life. “Finally. I even mentioned it in chapter 3. It teaches us how we are to live. When you look at chapter 4. I told you about the exhortation that I'm going to give you.

Keep on doing it! I urge you. “You’re doing well! Keep on doing that and doing it more!” This is an encouragement. Paul means to encourage you in love and good deeds here. keep on! More! Keep on going! You’re doing this right. in the phrase that starts with the word “that” and ends with the word “more” — there’re two “thats” which actually are indicative of a clause in that section. He's not saying. The Gospel of grace doesn't mean that Paul doesn't have anything to exhort us to do and he's going to actually urge us to do something. And I want you to be on the lookout for three things. keep on doing just what you’re doing. “Just as you are doing. I urge you.specific exhortations about how we are to live life in light of Jesus’ return in those areas. “urge” — “I urge you brothers. Now what we're going to look at today in verses 1 and 2 is really just his introduction but he says something in this passage that is hugely important to get our heads around if we're going to understand properly the commands. Then. the directions.” This is an exhortation. I want you to hear that in this passage. the exhortations that he's going to give us.” So the exhortation is really an encouragement. . keep on doing it and do it more. This is an apostle not sort of saying. In verse 1. if you’ll let your eyes look a little bit further in verse 1. He then says. “You can't ever do anything right people so I'm going to have to correct you here. “You dummies are doing it all wrong! Do it right for the first time!” He's actually saying. an exhortation from Paul. in the very first phrase.” He's saying.” So you’re going to see. “You’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. you’re going to come across the word. So I want you to be on the lookout for the exhortation. that is.

that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God. look at verse 2. that you do so more and more. just as you are doing. hearts that actually embrace in living the teaching of Your Word. this is Your Word. and inerrant Word. inspired. This is the Word of God. Every word of it is inspired. then.” Amen. Now he's going to spell that out from verses 3 and following in those areas that we've already talked about. brothers. you've got an encouragement in verse 1. by the Spirit. and thus ends this reading of God's holy. I don't mean a secret in the sense that Paul won't tell you this unless you pay him some money. Before we read it. every word of it is supremely practical. He reminds them of the instruction that he had already given them about how to live the Christian life. So you've got an exhortation in verse 1. and then grant. a vital truth about how you go about . So by Your Holy Spirit. and you've got a reminder in verse 2.And then third. amen. Hear it in 1 Thessalonians 4. let's pray and ask for His help and blessing. but he reminds us. that if we’ll understand it will change the way we go about viewing obedience in the Christian life. beginning in verse 1: “Finally. every word of it is profitable. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Paul gives us a secret. so that we understand how we're to live this Christian life. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. O Lord. we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus. And the secret has to do with an attitude. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts. In this passage. Heavenly Father. Be on the lookout for those things as we read God's Word. so that we aspire to the right things. I mean he's telling us a principle. bring Your Word to bear on our hearts so that we love the right things.

but that does not prevent Paul from urging them to do things. And the apostle Paul is here exhorting Christians. You want to lose the weight.on the way that you look at God's commandments. They are not saved by what they do. we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus…” Paul has taught them a robust theology of the Christian life. It does not bother you at all when your personal trainer pushes you just a little bit because you want to get where you’re going. They know that they don't get saved by trying hard or doing well or being nice or being better. AN EXHORTATION The first thing I want you to see is his exhortation of the Thessalonians. Now isn't that a contradiction? No. It will give you a joy and a delight on those things if you properly understand them. on the way that you view obedience and duty in the Christian life. Think of it this way. “I've got to do something about this. So I want to give close attention to what Paul says here. They know how they got saved. I'm going to go to a personal trainer who's going to help me get this off. “Finally. they’re saved by what Jesus has done for them. They get saved because of what Jesus has done and they trust on Him as He is offered in the Gospel. to do what? To urge you to accomplish what you've set out to do. They know that they’re saved by what Jesus has done for them. But they also know that one of the reasons that God has saved them is so that they will . brothers. about how you go about growing.” And you want someone who's on your side. along with you for your goals. Let's say you've gotten a little flabby around the middle — not like anybody I know! And you've decided. that if you’ll understand that it will have a dramatic effect on your Christian experience . then. They know that they’re saved by grace. you want to get back in shape.

It's a metaphor for the Christian life. Sometimes Paul will talk about the fight of conformed to the image of His Son. and look at the second half of verse 1 to see how he puts it. “Walk” in the New Testament is a metaphor for the Christian life. just like you’re walking somewhere. It's not the only metaphor for the Christian life. in the short time he was able to be with the Thessalonians. And therefore. AN ENCOURAGEMENT Now secondly I want you to see his encouragement. unspectacular progress. They want to be more like the Savior. Sometimes he’ll talk about us offering ourselves as living sacrifices. There are all sorts of metaphors for the . he’d already been teaching them how to live the Christian life. “That as you received from us how you ought to walk” — he’ll repeat that again in verse 2. you’re kind of making slow. one of the ways that God's grace in us manifests itself is on our growing Christian maturity. He's just explaining a very important principle that he sums up in a little phrase: Grace reigns in righteousness. Grace reigns in righteousness. In other words. when he urges them to do that very thing. they’re not offended by it because he's urging them as their friend to get them where God wants them to do. So there's the first thing I want you to see. this exhortation from Paul where he urges us to live the Christian life. Paul says that. They want to grow in grace. They want to be mature. And so Paul doesn't mind coming along and urging us to behave as increasingly mature Christians. And he does it all the way through the letters of the New Testament. Sometimes Paul will talk about running. he's already. You know. Paul's not forgetting what he taught about grace at all. That is. So don't be surprised when you see Paul urging and imploring and commanding and directing.

Now I've told you before that I had a father who grew up in the Great Depression who didn't have a lot. Now I want you to think about that for just a moment. as if God was some hard to please ogre in the sky and you’re a hamster on a wheel working really. And he. is to perform. And so he said.” And look at what he says. There's not some kindness that you ever show that there's not some criticism of. really hard to try to please Him. and no good deed you do goes unpunished.” Now let's stop right there and camp on that for a minute. You know. “You received from us how you ought to walk and to please God. This is not “performance is pleasing. to do things. I also know that some of you are in relationships where no matter what you do to please somebody it's never enough. He had a father who was an alcoholic who . That's not the picture at all. There's no extra effort that you make that's either overlooked of positively criticized. the only way I can get this person to love me.” Some of you have come out of a relationship here you felt like. This is really important but very easily misunderstood. “The only way I can get this person to pay attention to me. And that's now what Paul is talking about here. “We taught you how to walk. as Christians. Paul is talking about viewing your obedience in the Christian life in light of the pleasure of the Lord in you. how to live.” That's not what Paul is talking about here. Paul does not mean that the believer has to please God in the sense that what we do becomes the reason that He loves us. there were Christmases where they got some oranges and apples for Christmas because that's all the family could afford during the Great Depression. as a teenager.Christian life but the walk is one of the main metaphors for the Christian life. signed up for the United States Marine Corps and ended up in the South Pacific seeing some hard things.

how did you make this man so tender because there's nothing in his experience that would lend me to think that this man would easily show affection and express love. son of an alcoholic father. He was kind of cruel to him. “Son. son of the Depression. not because he couldn't be pleased. When he was ten years old his father took him downtown to buy him the last pair of shoes that he ever owned and he mocked him because of how big his feet were because he wore what his father considered to be massively sized shoes. And consequently. but because I knew his love and pleasure and I loved that.would go off for days on drunks and show back up again and who never ever said that he loved him. affectionate father. “This is Alpha and this is Omega — the beginning and the end. You understand that? There is no rush in this life like pleasing a person who is pleased by what you do to please them because you love them and because they love you. far from it. I can remember as a boy thinking. And there was nothing like the affection and affirmation that I received from him. my father was an incredibly tender father. There's nothing in this life that is a rush like that. I can remember my father. on more than one occasion. There is no satisfaction or fulfillment in this life like pleasing a person who is pleased by what you do to please them . we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” And I can remember him saying. I loved pleasing my father because he was easy to please. And that always blew me away.” And given that he had boxed in the Marine Corps. I never tested him on that one. not things that you would think would conspire to make a man tender. “Lord. Far from it. it killed me to disappoint him. They were size nine. marine. saying. And yet my father.” And I don't mean that my father was a push-over who would let me get by with anything. but he was a tender.

” And he said. don't fret yourself. don't you realize that you’re doing this for a Father who loves you and who loves to be pleased with you in your seeking to please Him?” And think about this in Jesus’ life. “Jenny. This conversation never happened but it's such a good illustration I'm going to tell you about it. And Paul is saying. Now why — “When I run. and she's arguing with him about his running. Jenny. that scene is the scene that hurt Eric Liddell's sister.” Now what was he saying to his sister? That actually was his attitude towards his running. Do you remember . Jenny. but in Chariots of Fire there is a scene — by the way. Jenny. I feel His pleasure” — what's going on there? Exactly what Paul is exhorting the Thessalonians about. and she is objecting to his running in the Olympics because she's saying that it's not spiritual. but the screen writer had to develop some dynamic tension in the movie and so he had her opposing his running. most about the movie because she was very supportive of his athletic career actually in real life. “When you live the Christian life. And he drew out of Liddell's actual real life story an attitude that he had about his athletics.because you love them and they love you. Now that. He literally did his running in order to glorify God and he loved the experience of knowing that he was doing what God built him to do for God's glory. And in the story — you remember the scene? They’re standing on the side of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. it's a fictional scene.” The movie's thirty years old now so most of you have only seen it on DVD. And he says. it's a beautiful scene. “I want you to set the whole of your understanding of the Christian life in light of that reality. I say that scene is fictional and the reason I say that it is. It's a scene between Eric Liddell and his sister. He's saying. “God made me fast and when I run I feel His pleasure. by the way.

“That's how our heavenly Father is.” The Father was expressing His pleasure in His Son and Jesus. And no matter how hard you try and no matter how loving you are.not as someone who can't be pleased. significant human relationships in which you are deeply hurt by people who cannot be pleased. they will crush you over and over again. And when He sees them seeking to love and serve people who just can't be pleased and seeking to do His will in this world. And if your goal in life is to get . you say.the words that God the Father spoke from heaven to Jesus and the assembled multitude when Jesus was baptized? “This is My beloved Son. in the Gospel says that He loves to please His Father . I know because you let me in on your lives. you know.” And why is that so important? It's important for a thousand reasons. in whom I am well pleased. He's pleased with His children. “What can I do for you?” and the person just says. He takes pleasure in that. “Thessalonians. He loves to delight in His children. On the one hand.” Do you know what it is to feel that kind of pleasure in you? Paul's saying. it's important because you will be involved in numerous. That's not the kind of thing that Paul's talking about. There are many people in this room this morning who have relationships with husbands or wives or parents who children where it doesn't matter how hard you try. “All you need to do for me is keep breathing because I delight in you. you can't please them. Do you know what that's like in a human relationship? Have you ever had a human relationship where.” And Paul's saying. no surprise. I want you to live so that your constant aspiration is to please the Lord and to experience His pleasure in your pleasing Him. Paul is talking about the joy of seeking the pleasure of the One who delights to be pleased in him. Let me just give you two.

” You know. it's His pleasure that we want in what we do. You’re what the Puritans used to call “man pleasers. it's Him. We want His approval. you get your sense of significance and security because of other people's estimation of you and you’re constantly craving that approval. Delight in His delighting . And He delights. Keep on doing it.pleasure and satisfaction out of that relationship in which that person absolutely never can be pleased. it's not going to happen. he's encouraging. No. We want His “well done. He delights and takes pleasure in what we do for His pleasure. But if in that relationship. “Just as you are doing.” More. The One ultimately that we want to please is not them out there. then you can do anything because your Father will take pleasure in you and He’ll especially take pleasure in you when He sees you loving and serving where you’re not going to be loved or served back. he's encouraging the Thessalonians and you and me in love and good deeds. if in that relationship your goal is not to find your satisfaction and your fulfillment from the pleasure that that person is not going to take in your service but to please your heavenly Father.” Others of you are approval junkies. “more. He is the One we want to please. And what he's doing here is. And He’ll say. And that allows us to be freed from the shackles of what other people think and of getting up on our little gerbil mills to try and please other people. please call Jan and get an appointment this week because I'm sorry. And this truth will set you free from that.” His “well done” is the “well done” that we're looking for. Paul's wanting to reorient the whole way we look at the commands and the directions that He gives us in His Word because of the Father's pleasure. do so” and literally reads. Do it more. “Behold my child who is like My Son in whom I am well pleased.

” And they spend the rest of their lives waiting for that to come. I want disciples who obey what I command. And what is it? It allows you to have non- circumstantial fulfillment in every relation and season of life because we're all going to be in relationships and in seasons of life where the fulfillment is minimal from the human beings that we're interacting with. “You know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. and it in fact comes from the Lord Jesus.” It's life changing if we understand that. all who are in the Lord Jesus. now he says he instructed them through the Lord Jesus.a reminder. “It never has to be that way if you’re a believer because your Father takes pleasure in your seeking to please Him.” Two things I want you to notice. Notice he said he urged them in the Lord Jesus. Jesus is saying.” So in the Great Commission. And you need to live out of that experience of His pleasure. He will always delight in you no matter what's happening in your life. He will never let you down. when Jesus sends His . And the apostle Paul is saying. In other words.” And the end of the Sermon on the Mount. I'm telling you the same thing that the Lord Jesus told you. “The exhortation I'm giving you now is an exhortation for all Jesus’ disciples.” In other words. I want people who do what I say. Go back to verse 1. Feel His pleasure in your seeking to please Him. “I don't want people who just listen to Me. “You need to work to believe and to feel your heavenly Father's pleasure in you.” A REMINDER Third. what does Jesus say? He tells the story of a man who built his house on a rock and a man who built his house on the sand and the punch line is — “the hearers and doers of My Word. Paul is saying. I'm proud of you. Paul's saying. Paul says .in you. “I love you. You know. I know women whose fathers never ever said.

in the Lord Jesus. notice what he says. All truth is practical. It's meant to change the way we live — all of it.” He's saying this again. “You remember what we taught you about how you were to live. In other words.disciples out in Matthew 28:18-20. “I'm just saying what Jesus said here.” go back to verse 1. Verse 2 — “You know what instructions we gave you. We don't . they taught the Thessalonians truth so that they could live the Christian life. he's saying. All Christian doctrine is for the living of the Christian life. it's because we haven't adequately understood the truth that has been taught in God's Word and we need to go back to that truth again until we get it. I want you to do what the Word says. with the aim of living it out.” Now what's important about that? That reminder is important for two reasons. All Christian teaching is connected to living. Sometimes when we do not see ourselves growing in the Christian life like we should. one of the mottos for believers is. it works itself out in . One is.” And then secondly. And so Paul's reminding them that they didn't just teach the Thessalonians so that the Thessalonians were smarter than pagan Thessalonians. what does He say? “Go make disciples teaching them to…” listen to what I command? “Teaching them to observe what I command. through the Lord Jesus. I want you to do what the Lord commands. The second thing that reminder is important for is this. I want you to live the Christian life in accordance with God's Word. Theoretical truth is not the kind of truth that God is concerned to convey by His Word. “that as you received from us how you ought to walk.” So Paul's saying. “You don't know the truth until you live it. The truth that He wants to convey is know. it shows that all Christian teaching is connected to living.” You don't know the truth until you live it.

the doctrine of the hypostatic union you've not adequately understood. And so if you understand the hypostatic union and you’re still a jerk to your wife. He is . not because we're trying to get Him to love us. I'm getting to much out of this relationship I sure hope my friend is getting something out of me because I want my friend to be happy because he means a lot to me or she means a lot to me. You need to go back and work on it some more. Have you ever had that feeling in life? Have you had that in other relationships? Maybe it's a friend. she takes care of she feeds me. He loved us before we loved Him. “You may understand the hypostatic union perfectly. And Paul reminds the Thessalonians here. “I want to please my heavenly Father because there is nothing in this world like the pleasure I receive from Him in my little feeble attempts to please Him. our aim in everything ought to be to please Him. And because of that.” So all of Christian truth is meant to impact the way that we live. You can still go home and be a jerk to your wife. when I wake up in the morning I want that woman to be happy. this woman respects me. she loves me when I don't deserve it. He's so kind to accept our feeble attempts at obedience and He loves us. He exhorts them. have you ever had that experience in relation to your wife? You know. not because He's hard to please. Man. but precisely the opposite — He's not hard to please.” Or maybe it is a wonderful parental relationship or even a relationship with a child. Paul's saying. he encourages them. and he reminds them.” Husbands. And he attempts to re-center their whole approach to living the Christian life to understanding that when they get up in the morning their attitude ought to be. So I tell seminary students. I want that woman to be happy. “Boy. Maybe there's a friend in your life like that that gives you so much that you think. In fact.

mercy. You mean it's going to please Him if I do these things? Where do I sign up?” Let's pray. “You mean. . Receive our thanks and praise in Jesus' name. it changes the whole way you look at obedience in the Christian life. It's not a list of things to do.” It's. Grace. Receive the blessing of the Lord. thank You for Your Word. Forgive our sins. “or else. Let me remind you again that as you leave we have an opportunity to give to the Gideon work of distributing the Bible around the world. and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Well take your bulletins in hand and turn to “By Faith” and we’ll sing about what it means to live by faith.the person we want to please more than anyone else in this world. Work it into our hearts. There will be ushers at the exits and there will be plates there that you can put your money in. If you understand that. Heavenly Father. if I do these things it's pleasing to the Lord? Are you kidding me? These are things that I ought to do anyway. Amen. amen.