Finally, brothers, 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. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. (verses 1-2)
“Please God.” This is a recurring challenge from Paul. We’ve already encountered it in 2 Corinthians 5:9 (“we make it our goal to please him”) and Ephesians 5:10 (“find out what pleases God”). Each time, Paul uses the same root word. Each time he invites us to step more deeply into relationship with the Lord. Each time he urges us to bring our thoughts, attitudes and behaviours into line with the perfect will of God himself, in order to please him.
Paul encourages the Thessalonians by telling them that they’re actually doing it – they’re bringing pleasure to the very heart of God. (Oh, how I want that to be a true statement for me, too.) He then urges them “in the Lord Jesus” to press into this reality more deeply – to make it their ongoing life-purpose to please God. (O Lord, I make this choice.)
These verses remind the Thessalonians that they have received instruction, by the authority of Jesus himself, about living this God-pleasing life. So have we. The Scriptures, from beginning to end, unfold the will of God, giving us insight into his will and purposes. He’s told us how he wants us to live. By embracing that teaching more fully, allowing it to shape our lives, we step deeper yet into that refreshing stream of pleasing God.
Here, Paul reminds them of three things:
(1) Sexual Purity
“Avoid sexual immorality” (4:3) – that’s how Paul puts it. In the Greek culture of Thessalonica, as in our own day and age, such avoidance was a fairly tall order. What it tells us is that the drift away from biblical standards of sexual morality is not one we should embrace. It’s not that we’re to carry placards, protesting the standards of the world – rather, we’re to live in purity. Lean into the Lord, strengthened by his Spirit, to guard mind and imagination and body, submitting them to his will, even when it runs so contrary to the drift of the world around us. Especially so.
(2) Brotherly Love
“You yourselves have been taught by God to love each other” (4:9). This is so basic, but so easy to miss, because loving one another is actually much harder, much more costly, than we might expect. “My command is this,” Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12), speaking this just hours before the cross, the place of love’s supreme demonstration. Love like that, in big ways and small. Pay the price in loving others, and so please God.
(3) Live Quietly, Live Productively
“Make it your ambition to live a quiet life” (4:11). Who would have thought that Paul would put this charge right up beside the previous two, but he does. What does it mean? It’s a call to live a life that isn’t flashy, but rather consistent, full of grounded integrity, a life that engages energy productively, and carries its own load. Impress the world with a life like that, Paul says. And, in so doing, quietly please the Lord.
Oh, there’s more. The scripture is full. So many insights to glean. So many footsteps in which to walk. Make it your goal to please him. Embrace what’s here. Unpack the rest. Press into all the fullness of God’s will – “his good, pleasing (same word) and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
O Lord, strengthen my hands to do your work. Guide my feet to walk in your paths. Guard my imagination, keeping it full of your light. Watch over my tongue, that it speak your truth. In all my ways, may I please you. To your glory.
Reflect: Take a few moments quietly in the Lord’s presence. Ask him what “next step” he is calling you into in order to please his heart.