Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Living to Please God

Whom are you living to please? Think about the way in which you talk; the way in which you work; the way in which you play; the way in which you spend your money and your time; the way in which you interact with others; in short, the way in which you live; whom are you trying to please?

You may have a long list of answers, and some answers would be universal; such as: a spouse, parents, an employer, the payroll clerk. Some answers depend on your vocation. A politician needs to please his constituents. A business owner needs to please his clientele. A performer needs to please the audience. An athlete needs to please the coach.

We understand the dynamics in all of those interactions and associations. We accept the fact that there are certain people in our lives whom we should please; indeed, whom we must please. But have you ever considered the fact that we are to lead lives which are pleasing to God? Living to please God is this week's Thessalonian topic from the text of 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2.

Throughout the first three chapters of this letter we have been instructed as to what we ought to know. These final two chapters will provide us with instruction on how we ought to live. Two words that can be used in summarizing this small book are belief and behavior. There are certain things which we are to believe, and those beliefs should, in turn, affect the way in which we behave. This is always true. Your beliefs will determine your behavior; whether your beliefs are Biblical or not. All of us behave in accordance with our beliefs.

The Scriptures exhort us “walk and please God”. I believe that is a thought which should revolutionize our lives; the children of God living so as to please the Father God. The reason the thought is so revolutionary is not because it is new. Indeed not; it’s as old as the scriptures. It’s revolutionary because we live in such a time that desires only the pleasing of self. In a world of self we must become reacquainted with the priority of pleasing God.

Ours is a society of self-love, “pleasing ourselves” is the credo of our culture. All are encouraged to live by their own rules and to engage life without regard to the standards or rules of anyone else, not even God. The basic philosophy of this age can be summed up in two words: “me first.” And this is not just a secular ideology; there are those who call themselves Christian who also trumpet this self-love dogma. This man-centered theology proclaims that Jesus will make your life carefree and painless; that Jesus just really wants you to become a better a salesman, a better ball-player, etc. Jesus just wants you to feel better about yourself, to improve your self-image, to put an end to your negative thinking.

Robert Schuler is the leading evangelist of this self-love gospel; listen to this quote from his book Self-Esteem: the New Reformation,
“Classical theology has erred in its insistence that theology be God-centered and not man-centered.” He goes on to write that the "deepest needs of human beings are self-dignity, self-respect, self-worth; self-esteem…God’s ultimate objective is to turn you and me into self-confident persons...Once a person believes he is an unworthy sinner, it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace that God offers through Jesus Christ.”
Now that is as twisted and contrary to the Scriptures as one can be; I mean, if I don’t believe that I am an unworthy sinner, why should I accept saving grace at all. Christ Himself preached, Mark 1:15, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Why repent, unless I realize that I am indeed an unworthy sinner, dead in my trespasses and sins?

If your desire is to please God, if you are to be dedicated to a priority of God in a world of self, you must first come to the knowledge of God’s majesty and man’s misery. Man’s misery consists of this, that we have broken God’s Law and cannot please Him by even our best efforts. Only when we acknowledge the gravity of our condition that we are suffering from a terminal condition the Bible calls sin, only then will we understand our need for a Savior. We will never come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as a reality until we see Him as a necessity; only then can we who are by nature at enmity with God, be declared righteous in His sight. Ephesians 2:8-9 describes this transaction by which the penitent sinner is justified freely by God’s grace. Many are familiar with those verses, but Ephesians 2:10 must not be forgotten, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Paul declares that the believer will proceed to discover and do the good works which God has planned for him to do. Our heavenly Father enables us to seek and to do that which pleases Him, and, I believe, that our heavenly Father takes pleasure in our approaches and our achievements, no matter how minor of insignificant they may appear to others ()Psalm 147:11).

You and I make a grave mistake if we compartmentalize our lives into the “spiritual” sphere and the “physical” sphere, and we please God at church or when witnessing to someone, but pleasing God when we make the lunches? When we make a sale? When we teach a class? Yes!!!! The totality of our lives should be, must be, involved in pleasing God; whether we eat, drink, or whatsoever we do (1 Corinthians 10:31), we labor so that we may be accepted of (pleasing unto) Him (2 Corinthians 5:9).

In a society of self, we must give way to the priority of God; just as the Lord Jesus said in John 8:29. Surely we can do nothing other than to follow in Christ’s steps. And the final two chapters of 1 Thessalonians are intensely practical in how we are to please God. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 inform us how to please God in our love lives; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 in our professional lives; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 when we mourn the loss of a life; and in 1 Thessalonians 5 how to please God in the life of a church.

As Christians we are called to order our steps according to Biblical standards (1 Thessalonians 4:2). Not only has Christ given us new life, but He also expects us to live a new lifestyle. In Colossians 1:9-12 you will find four common threads that must be woven into the fabric of believers' lives if we desire to “walk and to please God.”

Fruitful Living – Colossians 1:10

The first of these threads is fruitful living. Ephesians 5:8-11 declares that a believer's life was formerly characterized by the fruitless deeds of darkness, but now - following conversion - a Christian should become fruitful. In verse 9 Paul describes this fruitfulness as “goodness and righteousness and truth.” God is pleased by our goodness.

Titus 2 teaches that the mature women are to teach the younger women what? How to be happy in all situations? How to improve their self-image, be confident and assertive in a male dominated world? Not quite, the mature women are to be “teachers of good things” (Titus 2:3), and those good things are listed in Titus 2:3-5.

Likewise, mature men are to exhort the young men “In all things shewing…a pattern of good works” (Titus 2:7). Yes, the Gospel is theological in its foundations, but it is ethical in its implications. This fruitful living, these good works, are not accomplished by human endeavor but by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We are not left alone to figure out how to please the Father. He has given us His book and His Spirit, and thereby He enables us to do that which is pleasing to Him, and He loves it when we do well!

Knowledgeable Living – Colossians 1:10

Christianity is not served by mindlessness, but by the knowledge of God through the Word of God, and such knowledge engages our minds, stirs our hearts, and transforms our lives.

This knowledge is personal and is fostered by listening to what the Lord says (priority of preaching), by engaging God in conversation (emphasis of prayer), by spending time in God’s company (need for a devotional life), and by being with others who know God too (gathering corporately for worship and in smaller groups for fellowship). This knowledge is also progressive; it is dynamic not static, so that at the end of our journey we may speak as does Paul in Philippians 3:10-14.

Powerful Living – Colossians 1:11

To be focused on a priority of God in a society of self will require a power beyond you or anything this world can offer. As the prophet Zechariah said, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Christian service demands divine resources; aspiration, determination, nor perspiration are adequate for the challenge, but by the indwelling Spirit of God which resides in any and all who trust Christ as Lord and Savior. He will enable you to please God. And according to Paul this divine enabling is a present continuous experience. It is not like being a human cannonball – experiencing a great initial surge of power followed by the awareness of being on your own! Not at all; the Biblical picture is one of steady allotment of power that is sufficient for the journey.

Notice what the second half of v. 11 says, “…unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness." We are so infatuated and intrigued with dramatic manifestations that we miss the point that powerful, Holy Spirit led living is displayed most often in lives of quiet confidence in and steady persistence to glorify God. Powerful living is demonstrated in the lives of those who care without complaint for the needs of others; displayed in the fortitude of those who endure the pain of progressive illness or personal heartaches without succumbing to bitterness and resentment. Don’t be so enamored with God’s power to heal illness and restore relationships that you fail to understand the miracle of God’s grace in granting the power necessary for joyful endurance and patience.

Thankful Living – Colossians 1:12

God is pleased when gratitude colors everything that you and I do. Some of the distinguishing marks of the last days will be men who are “lovers of their own selves…unthankful…lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4). Unthankful people take things for granted and assume that they are owed something or have a right to receive but no obligation to give, and believers should stand in stark contrast to that mindset, not blend in with it. We who are so undeserving of Christ have been made by Him as inheritors of the Kingdom of God. God has “Delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son: In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13).

We who are saved have nothing for which to be ungrateful, and everything for which to be grateful! An unfading awareness of God’s mercy must yield in our lives the fruit of thankfulness, but therein lies the problem, because we often become obsessed with this preset world and our awareness of God’s mercy does fade away. Let it not be so among us!

Fellow believer, all our desires, decisions, aspirations, and affections should be governed by a prior determination to please God. This desire to please God is distinct from a superficial interest in religious things that is really nothing more than a thinly veiled form of self-preoccupation. God does not exist to please us, but we do exist to please God.

Therefore, make sure that you avoid the pitfall of living to please men – (Galatians 1:10) or living to please myself – an inverted Matthew 6:33. Adopt the perspective of 2 Corinthians 5:9, “We labor, that, whether preset or absent, we may be accepted {please} of Him”. (cf. Luke 6:46)

Where should we apply the principle of living to please God? Everywhere! With whom should we apply this principle? Everyone! To what should we apply this principle? Everything! There is not a thing that you can think about to which this principle does not apply.

Ask yourself, “Who is [your church's name here] living to please?” Ask yourself, “Who am I trying to please?” Determine as an individual and as a church family to make a concerted effort of living to please God.

No comments: