Living to Please God

The verbs translated “ask” and “urge” (ἐρωτάω and παρακαλέω) in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 are commonly used to encourage a reader to a particular action.  They appear in personal letters between people of the same social status rather than a “superior” giving orders to his underlings. Paul’s view that the church is a family and that he is a “brother” within that family is implied by the use of these verbs (Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, 183).  Potentially Paul could have “pulled rank” and told the church what needs to change – but he offers these commands a social equal.

But Paul includes a prepositional phrase, he asks them “in the Lord Jesus.”  The commands in this section are not from Paul, but rather from the true authority, Jesus.  Verse 8 will make this point again, if you reject this command you are rejecting the Holy Spirit!

“To please” can mean simply to make another happy, proud, etc.  But the word was used for citizens who had performed some civic duty and had “pleased” the government enough to inscribe their names on monuments. This is the nuance of meaning which would have been familiar to the original audience: live in a way that gets you a statue in the local park! Most contemporary Christians would not hear this meaning, but for a person living in the Roman world, this would be a clear image of what kind of virtuous life the Lord requires.
In the context of the “ask in the Lord Jesus,” Paul is saying that these moral guidelines are ways to please the Lord, who is Jesus. Any citizen of Thessalonica would like to please their government and be honored with an inscription, therefore Paul says you ought to live your life the way the ultimate authority wants you to!

The Thessalonian church is already living to please God, but they can improve, they can do this “all the more.” Anyone that thinks they cannot improve is in trouble, not only have they ceased to grow, but they are probably moving backwards.  Paul says keep moving ahead!  Keep on pleasing God all the more.

In this case Paul says that they ought to live, in order to please.  Living and pleasing God are coupled elsewhere in scripture, Enoch, for example, was said to have walked with God and pleased him. The verbs in this section are in the plural.  He is talking to the whole church, even though some of the issues that follow only concern some individuals within the church.  There is a corporate dimension in Paul’s ethical thinking.

Judge LoveSurprisingly, Paul’s commands here apply to whole church, not just a small part of it.  The rest of the church that is not immoral is responsible for holding everyone accountable to the same standard. Contemporary Christianity tends to individualize these sorts of commands so that they apply to a single person rather than a whole church.

If this is right, then Paul is saying to the whole congregation, “live out your faith in in a way that pleases God.” How would this change the way we think about moral and ethical problems in a church? If one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers; does this mean if one part of the body sins, the whole body sins?

7 thoughts on “Living to Please God

  1. I think that Paul himself as stated in the blog, “offers these commands a social equal” (Long) thinks himself as one of the members of the church, not above or below anyone else, and thus shows that none of us are above others when it comes to having a sinful nature. In my opinion I think that Paul knows that God could have chosen anybody to do what he is doing, because Paul was in a messed up thought pattern with hatred towards the Jewish-Christian converts. I think that Paul is calling the congregation towards even further movement in living to please God. TTP thinks congruently with this notion, “Even though Paul is pleased with their ethical progress, he wants them to continue to grow ‘more and more’ (4:1-2)” (TTP, 69). On the topic of the whole church suffering because one part of it is suffering, my personal thought is that we should come alongside our fellow believers in times of suffering, but we shouldn’t make everything everyone’s problem. Our Goal is to keep pushing forward as Paul says in 1 Thes. 4:1-2, not pull everyone else back.

  2. In my eyes, if we try to see these statements (if one person sins, the whole church sins) as applying to the whole church as one group, it changes a lot of things. For the church to follow it, all the people in any given church would have to be FAR closer than any of them probably are at the moment. They would have to be close enough to help each other to “stay on the beaten path” if you will. Most churches are way too big to have everyone be responsible to hold everyone accountable. Megachurches wouldn’t be a thing. “The Spirit provides the resources for lifestyles that enhance the well-being of Jesus-followers and their corporate life.” (TTP 103). It seems that Longenecker is telling us that the Bible says we are equipped to live better lives as a part of a corporate group, but not that we have to. If we are living by the Spirit, then we are better inclined to be in harmony with the rest of the church.

  3. I do not think it means that one person sinning means that the whole body is sinning. While I hold to this statement, I do still agree that the church should hold its people accountable. This is good for a number of reasons, one of them being to look good to nonchristian. I do see a problem with telling the rest of the church to help the people who are immoral and needing to hold them accountable. I see this as a problem because everyone is immoral in some way.

  4. The answer to the first question that I can draw from 1 Thessalonians 4 has many facets. Two of the main points are:
    1.) That the Thessalonians already knew the teaching, but were charged “that you do so more and more”, just as the church today should always be striving to do more for Christ (v. 1) which was the perfect way “simultaneously to encourage and challenge the assembly.” (TTP p. 70)
    2.) “so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (v. 12) The application from verse twelve is that since the letter is implied for the church body, and not the individual only, that God wanted them, and the church today, to live in a way that proclaimed the Gospel to the Gentiles.
    To answer, or just discuss the second question, technically speaking I’m not sure if it is theologically sound to say that if one person sins, then the church sins. In a way it seems true that since the body is to support the members
    (1 Thess. 12:27, Gal 6:2, 1 Thess 5:7), then if one person falls, could it be in part because of the lack of community he has within the body of Christ?

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