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Saturday, July 9, 2016, 4:47 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Near the Cross.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 (ESV).

Encouraging Others (v. 1)

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.

We all need encouragement, not just the kind that cheers us or that reassures us, but also the kind that inspires, reinforces, and that urges us to live holy lives, pleasing to God.

In today’s world, and in the worldly church, encouragement is often presented only as that which makes us feel good about ourselves, but it also means to spur, to urge, and to incite, i.e. to move someone to action. So, if we are in a situation that calls for someone to motivate us to move to a particular action, and all someone does is pat us on the back and reassure us that we are ok just where we are, then that person truly has done nothing to encourage us, or to help us, or even to show love to us.

Yet, if we do encourage others in a way in which we urge them to change course, or to progress in a particular direction, we may be accused of being negative, critical, and/or of discouraging and disheartening others. I believe these accusations are purposeful, as Satan does not want us to be urged to change course, and so he presents love as something which just accepts people where they are, and as that which just makes them feel good inside.

Yet, the Bible teaches love, not as something which just makes us feel warm and fuzzy all over, but as something for which we give up our lives (our reputations, time, energies) to help meet the legitimate needs of others; and as that which considers what is in others’ best interest over our own reputations, and over our own personal comfort. In other words, if we truly love people, we will share with them the true gospel of salvation, and we will urge them to live holy lives, pleasing to God, even if it gets us hated and falsely accused in return. And, we will do so because we care about others’ true needs, and their relationships with God, and their eternal destiny more than we care about whether or not people are going to like us.

Your Sanctification (vv. 2-8)

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

“Sanctification” is a big word that not everyone understands its meaning. According to Strong’s Concordance, it means “the process of making or becoming holy, set apart, sanctification, holiness, consecration” (See: biblehub.com). According to Helps Word-Studies, it means “the process of advancing in holiness; use of the believer being progressively transformed by the Lord into His likeness” (See: biblehub.com). And, the word “holy” means to be set apart for God, and from the world (different, unlike the world) because we are becoming like Jesus.

When we believe in Jesus, we are crucified with Christ in death to sin and we are resurrected with Christ in newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). So, this life-long process of sanctification begins when we die with Christ to sin and we are born anew of the Spirit of God (See: Ro. 6:1-23; Ro. 8:1-14).

So, what should this “sanctification” look like in our lives? Well, first of all it means that we are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God that we might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ (See: Ac. 26:16-18). It means we deny self, take up our cross daily (die daily to sin and self) and follow (obey) Jesus Christ. It means we lose our lives (are crucified with Christ in death to sin) so that we might have eternal life with God (See: Lu. 9:23-25). And, it means that we live our lives in the power and working of the Spirit within us like we believe that Jesus Christ died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (See: 1 Pet. 2:24).

What this means in all practicality is that we no longer live like the world lives. We don’t immerse ourselves in today’s culture in order to relate to the world thinking we are somehow going to influence people for Jesus Christ. Jesus, although he lived in the world, was not of this world. He did not copy their customs, and he did not follow their human traditions, and he did not sin, nor did he applaud sin in others. And, neither should we. This is not saying that once we become Christians that we will live in sinless perfection, but it means we will die daily to sin and live daily to righteousness; that we will walk according to the Spirit, and no longer according to the flesh, and that by the Spirit we will daily put to death the misdeeds of our sinful flesh in order that we might live with God for eternity.

So, that means that our lifestyles should reflect this teaching from God’s word. We should not be engrossing ourselves in the things of this world - in their philosophies, morals, ethics and values - but we should be bathing ourselves in the Word of God and we should be doers of the Word and not hearers only. In other words, we can’t spend the majority of our non-working hours filling our minds with what is worldly, evil, and immoral, and even applauding or being entertained by the sins of others, and then expect to live holy lives pleasing to God. We need to get rid of what is hindering our walks of faith so that we can run with perseverance the race God has marked out for us. We need to cut those things out of our lives which are dishonoring to God, and we need to let Christ rule in our hearts and to determine our steps and guide us each day in the way he wants us to go.

Brotherly Love (vv. 9-12)

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

When we truly love our brothers and sisters in Christ, or the people of this world, we do not do to them what will cause them harm. I believe this includes willfully withholding from them what we know will benefit them because we are more concerned about people liking us. In other words, we can harm others physically, spiritually and/or emotionally either through willful or thoughtless actions towards them or through holding back what we know they need because we are thinking about ourselves more than or in place of loving them. The Bible calls sin, not just things like lying, cheating, stealing, and committing adultery, etc., but it says if we know the good we ought to do, and we don’t do it, it is also sin.

Near the Cross
Fanny J. Crosby / William H. Doane

Jesus, keep me near the cross;
There a precious fountain,
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary's mountain.

Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the bright and morning star
Sheds its beams around me.

Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day
With its shadow o'er me.

Near the cross I'll watch and wait,
Hoping, trusting ever,
Till I reach the golden strand
Just beyond the river.

In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever,
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.