Posts Tagged 'moral purity'

Be’s of the Bible, Part 6

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There are many “be’s” in the Bible. When the Lord uses a “be,” it’s important to pay attention to what He’s saying. As God uses “be” in the Bible, He’s never making a suggestion; He’s issuing a command. We’re looking at a number of the “Be’s in Scripture,” and so far, here are the ones we’ve covered:

• Be Holy (because God is holy), 1 Peter 1:15, 16
• Be Perfect (or be mature), 2 Corinthians 13:11
• Be Still (and let God work), Psalm 46:10
• Be Sober (and be alert, keeping your eyes open), 1 Peter 5:8
• Be Faithful (no matter what), Revelation 2:10

Our sixth “Be” is found in the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah –

Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the articles of the Lord’s house. (Isaiah 52:11 TNIV)

A verse like that demands some context because it’s impossible to know what’s going on behind it or what prompted it. So let’s consider some context, both historical and spiritually.

Context: Historical and spiritual

There is an old saying that goes like this:

God helps those who help themselves.

Believe it or not, it wasn’t Winston Churchill who coined that phrase, although he probably did say it. It was Benjamin Franklin and, as far as the phrase goes, it’s partly true and partly false. A lot of people over on the Reformed side of the church get incensed when they hear somebody say, “God helps those who help themselves.” As far as Reformers are concerned, God instigates everything in the lives of people; people don’t do anything to merit the movement of God’s hand. They’re not altogether wrong about that. In terms of salvation, man does absolutely nothing to earn it or get it. Sinful man doesn’t wake up and decide today is the day to get saved. Salvation isn’t a matter of sinful man seeking God. It’s God going to the endth degree to draw sinful man to himself. And even when a sinful person appears to respond to God’s drawing power, it’s really God working in that person’s heart and soul, enabling him to respond.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9 TNIV)

So, we nod in the direction of the Reformers. They’re right when they that “God helps those who help themselves” is wrong when it comes to salvation. But after salvation, all bets are off. On that, the other side of the church is right. Once a person is saved, many – though admittedly not all – of God’s promises and blessings hinge on His people doing something to merit them. It’s hard to get by a verse like this –

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7, 8 TNIV)

Make no mistake about it: God is always ready to give to His people exactly what they need and what He has promised to them. But God wants His people to – at the very least – ask and stretch out their hands to receive. Christians who are so doubtful or apathetic receive nothing from the Lord directly and their Christian experience is disappointing and frustrating.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12 TNIV)

The words and phrases “fight” and “take hold” are not passive phrases! And living the Christian life is not supposed to be a passive existence. This is something a great many Christians don’t understand; they live passively, expecting God to do everything for them. Now, sometimes God in His sovereignty answers prayers and meets needs before we ask. But as a general rule, Christians are meant to ask, seek, or do something to receive what God has promised.

It’s always been this way, by the way; it’s the pattern revealed to us from the early pages of the Old Testament. God made an amazing covenant with Abraham, but Abraham had to step out in faith and start walking. When God delivered His people out of Egypt, He required of them to “rise up, and go forth,” and to make a perilous journey across a trackless desert. When God wanted to deliver His people from Babylon, only those who were willing to work for it, left all they had, faced peril and uncertainty, make a long and dangerous journey, received their deliverance.

And that spiritual context brings us to the historical context behind Isaiah 52, the book and chapter in which our sixth “be” is found.

The nation of Israel began as a promise God made to Abraham. In the course of time, Abraham’s descendants, Jacob’s family, went down to Egypt – as a family, not as a nation – around 1876 BC. But, they didn’t stay just a family for long. Settling in the land of Goshen, Jacob’s family grew and grew and overflowed the borders of Goshen. They grew into a nation that posed a threat to their hosts, the Egyptians, and in response, the Egyptians enslaved them. In 1446 BC, the Lord gloriously freed Jacob’s descendants, now known as Hebrews. In 722 BC, the Assyrians took ten of the twelve tribes of Israel captive to Assyria (2 Kings 17:1 – 6) and in 586 BC, the remaining two tribes were taken captive by the Babylonians, successors to the Assyrians. For a variety of reasons but mostly because of the idolatry, God used the Assyrians and later the Babylonians to judge His people . God gave them the Promised Land, and He took it away from them. This judgment shouldn’t have come as a surprise to either the northern Kingdom of Israel or the southern Kingdom of Judah because for centuries the Lord had sent His messengers, the prophets, to warn them to “shape up” of they’d be forced to “ship out,” either to Assyria or Babylon.

Isaiah was just such a messenger. In chapter 52, Isaiah is addressing exiles living in Babylon.  Jerusalem had been devastated and most its inhabitants had been deported to Babylon. When Nebuchadnezzar steam-rolled into Judah, he would eventually take the majority of the inhabitants of the southern kingdom. Just how many? The prophet Jeremiah helps us out with that –

This is the number of the people Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile: in the seventh year, 3,023 Jews; in Nebuchadnezzar’s eighteenth year, 832 people from Jerusalem; in his twenty-third year, 745 Jews taken into exile by Nebuzaradan the commander of the imperial guard. There were 4,600 people in all. (Jeremiah 52:28 – 30 TNIV)

But not all were taken. Isaiah lived before these events took place, but He wrote to his fellows in Babylon prophetic words of encouragement, encouraging them to remain faithful to their faith even while surrounded by heathens and pagans and false gods of every sort. The temptation must have been intense, especially given the fact that many of these Jews were already discouraged and frustrating, thinking God had abandoned them.

God’s message

The call.

Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength! Put on your garments of splendor, Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, Daughter Zion, now a captive. (Isaiah 52:1, 2 TNIV)

It was not a good time for these Jews living in exile. Conditions weren’t the greatest and the pall of hopelessness had settled over these exiles. What they needed to know was that all was not lost. They did have a future – Jerusalem had a future, even as it lay in ruins at the moment. Blessing would come the city and it would be glorious once again.

When will this happen? Well, it sort of happened when many of the Hebrews returned from exile under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. But it won’t fully come to pass until Jesus Christ returns, at which time He will restore not only Jerusalem, but the whole physical universe, which right now is “groaning” under the weight of man’s sin. When our Lord returns He will redeem our bodies and all creation will be redeemed and set right.

The condition.

For this is what the Lord says: “You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.” For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “At first my people went down to Egypt to live; lately, Assyria has oppressed them. “And now what do I have here?” declares the Lord. “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock, “declares the Lord. “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” (Isaiah 52:3 – 5 TNIV)

This is the Lord, not Isaiah, talking about Israel’s history. This really is quite a stunning soliloquy when you read the phrases and think about what God is saying. These were God’s people taken captive and kept in exile – God’s possession – and since He received nothing from those who took His people, He will give nothing in return. God will take from the enemy what belongs to Him: His people and Jerusalem.

Of course, God is talking about His people in exile; He’s trying to encourage them; to buck them up. Just because they are in exile didn’t mean He’d given up on them or given them away. They were still His holy possession. And that ownership of His people – the Jews – continues down to this very day. In a sense, they are still in exile. And they will be until the Lord returns.

The promise.

For this is what the Lord says: “You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed. ” Therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.” (Isaiah 52:3, 6 TNIV)

Again, God owes no nation anything. It is true that He used Assyria and Babylon as His instruments of judgment, but He is sovereign – He is over all nations whether they know it or not. The Babylonian exiles brought no glory to Him from those nations, therefore when His purpose was fulfilled, He would take them back, giving nothing in return. It’s His right to do that.

The messengers.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. (Isaiah 52:7, 8 TNIV)

Here is God’s estimation and characterization of true evangelists. God hadn’t forgotten His people and even in Babylon in exile, He still sent prophets to encourage them.

And that gets us to our sixth “be.”

Things would get better for these exiles. In the short term, they would be permitted to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild it. But the final fulfillment – the final restoration – of Jerusalem won’t happen until the Lord returns.

But God’s stern warning to these exiles echoes down through history because it is just as relevant to believers today as it was to those Jews back then. Think about it: They were surrounded by pagans; Babylonian society was prosperous and enticing; many of these Jews eventually settled in among the heathens, even intermarrying with them. To those exiles, and to God’s exiles today comes the word –

Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the articles of the Lord’s house. (Isaiah 52:11 TNIV)

It is the responsibility of all believers, but especially those in positions of leadership within the Body of Christ, to avoid all impurity – to not even touch things the Lord considers unclean. “Be pure” is an admonition that sounds almost old fashioned. The notion of “purity” has become passé or even maudlin. But God demands it of His people. God wants His people pure and the easiest way to be pure is to simply avoid impurity. Don’t go near things that are impure. You may want to, and the shiny objects of impurity may get your attention from time to time, but if you want to be obedient to the Lord and if you want to blessed by Him and have His promises come to pass in your life, you won’t go near impurity.

IT’S ALL ABOUT INTEGRITY!

It’s so hard to find nowadays, you need a sign to help you find integrity.

1 Thessalonians 4:1—12

You hear a lot about “integrity,” especially during an election cycle. We often think of integrity in terms of one’s character and reputation. We think of a Christian with integrity as one who is dedicated and committed to Christ regardless of his environment. The test of his integrity comes when he finds himself in a difficult situation where living his faith doesn’t come easy. How he faces that demonstrates his integrity.

Living a life of integrity isn’t always easy, especially when we try to do it under our own steam. However, the Christian has help: he has the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will help us live right and make right decisions. Maintaining our integrity in a world where integrity is rare is a solid witness for Christ.

1. Live in Moral Purity, 4:1—8

a. The Christian Life. vs. 1, 2

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.

The NIV’s “ask…and…urge” and the KJV’s “beseech…and exhort” are phrases that indicate the seriousness of what is to follow. Paul doesn’t threaten or warn his friends, but he wants them to know how serious his next admonition is going to be. He had just written about being “blameless and holy” in God’s presence when He returns:

May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (3:13)

With verse 1 of chapter 4, Paul continues this thought. As far as he was concerned, purity in living is the goal of Christian character. Holiness isn’t so much an additional, separate grace as it is the end result of maturity in the faith. One writer has observed:

What the heart is to the body that the soul is to the man; and what health is to the heart holiness is to the soul.

At the end of chapter 3, Paul prayed that God would fill the Thessalonians with love in order to achieve holiness of life. While Paul understands that a holy life cannot be achieved apart from God’s help, he also knows that the believer bears a responsibility in its development; they must attain it. Human effort is not done away with by the Divine.

From what Paul wrote, the Thessalonians were well on their way in holy living. The phrase “as you are living” is Paul’s way of praising them. But his emphasis here, as it always in his writing, is on achieving, moving ever forward, making greater progress.

Paul and his friends had taught the Thessalonians about holy living “by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” In other words, holy living isn’t Paul’s idea, it’s God’s will for His people. He taught them how God wanted them to live, not how he wanted them to live. Paul didn’t teach opinions, he taught God’s Word. Like much in the Christian life, holy living doesn’t come naturally even to the most dedicated believer. We must be taught how to live right. Obedience should always be in direct proportion to knowledge; knowledge and practice go hand-in-hand.

b. Sexual Purity, vs. 3—8

The first phrase of verse 3 should be memorized by every serious Christian:

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified

There is no doubt that it is God’s will for believers to be holy. Holiness is not an option. But holiness takes many forms, just like sin. So, from a general statement about what God wants, Paul gives his readers a practical example:

that you should avoid sexual immorality

J.B. Phillips translates verse 3 in a way that makes Paul’s intention a little clearer:

God’s plan is to make you holy, and that entails first of all a clean cut with sexual immorality.

God makes us holy—He sanctifies us—but we play a part in the process. In the case of the Thessalonians, they needed to make a clean break from sexual immorality. We get a glimpse, perhaps, of the true state of the believers in Thessalonica. While Paul praised them for their attempts at holy living, it seems as though more work was needed. The Christians in this church were converts from paganism; from very sensuous religions that practiced sexual rituals in their worship. Many of the members of this large church had been raised in an environment where polygamy, homosexuality, and other sexual deviances were commonplace and accepted. To grow in their new-found faith they needed to completely do away with their old attitudes toward matters of sexuality.

...each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable… (verse 4)

This verse puts to bed the abominable notion that we can’t control our urges, or that “the devil made me do it.” In fact, we are able to “control our bodies” so as to live in obedience to God’s will that we be holy people.

But there is another way to interpret verse 4, and this is reflected in the GNT:

Each of you should know how to live with your wife in a holy and honorable way…

In other words, as this interpretation suggests, sexual satisfaction is to be found within the confines of a healthy marriage.

Regardless of the precise meaning of the difficult verse 4, the sense of this paragraph is clear. The Thessalonians and all Christians are to abstain from any form of sexual immorality in their efforts to cultivate a life of purity and holiness.

2. Increase in Christian Love, 4:9, 10

Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

In his letters, Paul almost always stressed love and unity within the church ahead of any teachings on morality. Here, though, the order is reversed. After dealing with the area of morality, Paul turns to the topic of love. Specifically, brotherly love between Christians. Brotherly love (philadelphias) is a translation of two words meaning, “love” and “brother.” Outside of the Bible, Greek and Jewish writers used “brotherly love” of the kind of love that exists within the family unit. The New Testament writers all glommed onto the word as a way to describe the love that ought to exist within the Church. Clearly, God wants Christians to view their relationship to each other as familial in nature.

Paul’s only directive is: “we urge you.” Paul’s teaching on “brotherly love” reveals something important as to its nature. The great apostle simply “urges” his readers to love each other as they have been “taught by God.” When it comes to “brotherly love,” it is implanted in every believer at their new birth. All they have to do is let that implanted love manifest itself.

The Christian church of Paul’s day was a true anomaly in a cold, heartless, pagan world. In a world were hatred, jealousy, and contempt reigned supreme, members of this new Christian church actually loved each other! It should be this way, today. Love for our fellows is clear evidence of the new birth; it is something unrepentant sinners don’t have.

This kind of philadelphia needs to increase in the Church.

3. A Life of Industry: Work Hard!, 4:11, 12

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you… (verse 11)

Paul moves quite naturally from relationships within the Church to the Christian’s relationship with his community. How should the Christian be seen by the community at large? According to Paul, hard working, above reproach, living and working in such a way as to bring respect from a community of sinners.

Make it your aim to live a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to earn your own living, just as we told you before. (GNT)

Ambition (one’s “aim”) is not a bad thing, in fact, Paul encourages ambition in the right direction. To lead “a quite life” is to be distinguished from the kind of life full of busyness that leads nowhere. One can be busy doing the wrong things; things that lead away from God, and that kind of ambition is wrong. A “quiet life” means a peacefulness of the mind. When selfish ambitions are one’s aim, there can only be unrest. But when Christ is the end desire of all we do, then He will be in control and rest will follow.

This kind of attitude will lead to two things. First, believers will mind their own business. It’s tempting to be like Mrs. Kravitz on the old “Bewitched” TV show. It’s tempting to be a nosy, meddlesome neighbor. Christians are to be mindful of each other within the Church, making sure our fellow members are doing well both in the Lord and in the world, but we should never cross the line (within or without the Church) of concern into being the kind of person who has an inordinate curiosity into the private affairs of others.

Second, believers are to work hard. Christians should never be lazy; they should never become a burden to their families or to society if they can help it. In the Thessalonian church, it seems that some of the believers were not working, and becoming restless because they believed the Lord was going to return at any moment. They were, in effect, lazy and sponging off the generosity of others. That way of life is not at all glorifying to God.

…so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (vs. 12)

So, when Christians are busy working and minding their own business, they will “win the respect of outsiders,” that is, people not part of the Church will respect them. The other benefit is that they will “not be dependent on anybody.” Another way to look at the phrase is like this:

…that ye may have lack of nothing. (KJV)

God will supply all our needs, but we are expected to our part! Hard work has its rewards, and one of them is that NEEDS are met.

Of course, our world today is vastly different from the world of the New Testament. Our economy is totally different from that of first century Thessalonica. But Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians is still relevant to the church today. Maintaining an honorable independence is essential in maintaining a good testimony to unbelievers. The work of the kingdom is always moving forward, as it was in the first century, through the lives of believers who go quietly, dutifully, and respectfully about their everyday chores.


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