Friday, May 1, 2015

In This Loose World Immorality and Amorality are Easy to Come By, But...


“For God did not call us to uncleanness, but to holiness.” 1 Thessalonians 4:7

GOD called us, what a wonder! It is probably not something we think about often. How can we when the demands of life take up all our waking hours? God sentenced us to a life of hard labor because of Adam’s sin, and though we’ve been redeemed, the curse remains firmly in place until the end of the Age. Besides this we are spiritually dull, so we will always take our faith for granted. Taking something for granted is usually meant as a criticism, but we can take redemption for granted because God, who cannot lie, is the one who granted it. He accomplished it for us by the suffering and resurrection of the Messiah and granted it to us by grace alone. His promises are good and His love unceasing. This too is a great and mighty wonder, but taking God’s call for granted does not mean that we don’t appreciate it or that it has no effect in our lives. Quite the contrary! Our faith is always being stirred up as we take full advantage of the gifts God has given for this purpose: the church, the Word, the sacraments, the office of the ministry and the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us (Hebrews 12:1). By these things we fight spiritual sloth, reject uncleanness and endeavor each day to live lives worthy of the high calling to which we have been called in Christ.

We were not the first to be called. The original recipients of this letter were summoned nineteen and a half centuries ago under circumstances that could only be divine. Paul and his fellow apostles did not want to go to Thessalonica. Their plan was to take the Gospel north to the land of Bithynia, but in the Acts of the Apostles
(16:7) we read this enigmatic sentence: the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. Instead Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia, the country in which Thessalonica is located, saying to him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." (16:9). There’s a lesson here. All of us have plans and expectations for ourselves and our families, and in the case of Christ Lutheran Church for the future of our congregation. Will we continue to carry out God’s work in this location, or will we be called to another? We don’t know the answer at this time, but we do know that wherever we are located there will always be men crying out, "Come and help us." So we will work, pray and plan but at the end of the day the Spirit of Jesus will direct our lives, our congregation and indeed all things for His glory and our rich blessing.

Did the people of Thessalonica really need Paul’s help? We would be hard-pressed to find a more unholy city, and what else can cleanse men from the stain of sin except the Gospel of Christ? Like all glorious cities Thessalonica labored under the weight of its own greatness. It boasted one of the most famous harbors of the ancient world. The Egnation Road, which connected the eastern and western empires of the day, went right through the center of town, so its citizens were exposed to all that the world had to offer: the good, the bad and the ugly. There was a saying about the city that as long as nature does not change Thessalonica will remain wealthy and prosperous, but as we all know such endowments eventually turn lethal and lead men to their own destruction.

St. Luke tells us that when they arrived in Thessalonica they immediately went to the local synagogue as was their custom. For three consecutive Sabbaths they reasoned with the people, from the Scriptures, showing that Jesus was the Messiah; and that it was necessary for Him to suffer and rise again in order to deliver them from their sins. He reports that a number of Jews and prominent Greeks received the Gospel with joy, but others did not! Not only did they reject Paul’s message, but they went on the offensive. The trouble became so intense that the new believers had to spirit Paul out of town by night in order to save his life, but Christ’s Apostle to the Gentiles could not put this young church out of his mind. Could their newly formed faith survive the prosperity and pride that Thessalonica had bred into her sons? Could it conquer the sexual promiscuity which had been embedded into the culture for centuries? Could a three week old church endure persecution for a faith it hardly knew? Paul wrote this letter to confirm them in their faith, warn them against sin, and give them a source of lasting instruction from his inspired pen.

God called them, and He has called us as well, but not to uncleanness. In Scripture that word covers sexual sins of every type. Like the Thessalonians we live in a culture that encourages unbridled lust. It puts terrible pressure on young men to be un-chaste and ridicules young ladies for self-control. Nor are adults immune as every debauchery imaginable is publicly promoted, praised as good and made accessible for the cost of an internet connection. God did not call us to uncleanness so any use of the sexual gifts outside the bonds marriage is sinful. God did not call us to uncleanness, but to holiness! That excellent word means: to be set apart by God, for God.

How do we attain holiness? We are made holy by faith when we believe that Jesus suffered and rose again in order to cleanse us of sin. We receive it in holy communion. As Christ's flesh is free of sin and full of life, so we who partake of it are also made holy and full of life. By this sacrament we are nourished and strengthened to put off the dead works of the flesh, and fitted for immortality. The holiness we have been called to is not only a matter of the mind, but one that one that is lived out each day as we pursue pure thoughts, wholesome words and chaste deeds. Anything less than this is a contradiction of the communion we have with Christ’s body, and calls us to repent and receive absolution.

By any objective measure it appears that the true faith is on life support in this modern day Thessalonica of ours. The Scriptures have fallen out of favor, chastity is dead and perversion is praised. Men are more apt to believe in the tooth fairy than in the healing blood of Christ, or holy living, but as the rage of men could not kill the seed planted in Thessalonica, neither can it eradicate the holiness to which God has called us in Christ. However hostile things appear, however strong temptation might be, we should not be afraid because He who sanctified us by His blood, will keep us holy by His might, and bring all things to their proper conclusion. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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