Summary: Holiness has everything to do with exercising self-control over our sexual desires.
Holiness and Purity
Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
Introduction: The Illinois Department of Resources reports that more than 17,000 deer die each year after being struck by motorists on state highways. I’m sure that a number of us have helped some of these beautiful animals commit suicide in the last few years. (Tell my story.) According to Paul Shelton, the State Wildlife Director, the peak season for road kills is in late fall. Why? The bucks are in rut in November. "They’re concentrating almost exclusively on reproductive activities," he said, "and a lot less wary than they normally would be." Unfortunately, deer aren’t the only creatures destroyed by a preoccupation with the sex drive. We all know that countless lives have been ravaged by sexual immorality as well. So this morning, in the fourth message in our series, "In the World, But Not of It," we’re going to talk about holiness and sexual purity.
Setting: During Paul’s past ministry to the believers in Thessalonica he had instructed them about how to live in a manner that is pleasing to God (See 1 Thessalonians 4:1). Obviously this was a primary concern of Christ’s (See John 8:29) and should be for us too (See Colossians 1:10). They had done well, walking in obedience to Christ. There is no evidence that sexual sin was a problem among the Thessalonians. This is no small thing because they lived in one of the most sexually decadent civilizations ever. Among the Greeks immorality was only lightly condemned. Self-control was regarded as an unreasonable demand to place upon men (remember that women exercised very little rights and privileges at that time). It was taken for granted that they would naturally seek the satisfaction of their sexual desires outside of marriage. Though the pressures must have been strong to conform to this view, the church refused to be influenced by the ideas of contemporary society. Paul now reminds them to excel more and more in the pursuit of holiness. He reemphasizes two important truths in order to properly motivate these believers.
I. God’s Will Regarding Our Sexuality: We should be holy (See 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6a). By way of review, this means that we are called to be set apart from the world, here in light of its views and practices regarding sexuality. Instead we are called to be set apart to God so that we can conduct our sexual lives in keeping with His instruction. (Note: Our sexuality was created by God, and commanded of God to be practiced so that we could have godly offspring. Contrary to the opinion that Christians believe it to be dirty and disgusting; we know that God called it good (See Genesis 1.) And what was that instruction?
A. We should avoid sexual immorality (See 1 Thessalonians 4:3b). The KJV translates this phrase as "fornication," which is a sexual relationship outside the bonds of marriage. The term, however, is broader and refers to any illicit sexual act. Permit me take a moment and list for you some of the sexual prohibitions found in Leviticus 18:6-23. Each of these assumes that the proper context for a sexual relationship is with the person to whom you are married. (1) Do not have sexual relations with any close relative who is a blood relative. (2) Do not have sexual relations with any person who has become a close relative through marriage. (2) Do not have sexual relations with a woman during her monthly cycle. (3) Do not have sexual relations with any person who is married to someone else. (4) Do not have sexual relations with a person of the same gender. (5) Do not have sexual relations with an animal. Those who engaged in these practices defiled (polluted) themselves! Many of us cringe at these prohibitions and can hardly stand to hear them read, yet God gave them to the Israelites. We would be remiss if we failed to ask "Why?" The answer is found in Leviticus 18:1-3. These were the practices of the unbelievers who inhabited the land from which they came (Egypt) and to which they were headed (Canaan)! Though they were clear perversions of God’s plan for sexual unity in a marriage, they were not uncommon!
B. We should learn to control our own bodies (See 1 Thessalonians 4:4-6a). James says that the mature man is able to control his body in all things (See James 3:2). Here, Paul reaffirms this truth, particularly as it applies to our sexuality. If people are to embrace God’s will for the sexual union between a man and his wife, it must be taught to them. Paul informs us that this is a learned behavior. And who is responsible to do this? Primarily it is the parents (See Ephesians 6:4), and secondarily it is the church’s (See Titus 2:6). The word "avoid" in verse 3 means to "hold oneself off." It implies that we are to teach others restraint when it comes to their sexual passions. There is one right and many wrong frameworks for a sexual relationship. The world in which we live is not concerned with teaching the former. Today you can buy a book in many bookstores entitled "Affair! How to Manage Every Aspect of Your Extramarital Relationship with Passion, Discretion and Dignity" for just $19.95. It was no different 2,000 years ago.