How Can We Live to Please God? (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2)

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.

Image result for godly livingBut 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.

Surprisingly, 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?

24 thoughts on “How Can We Live to Please God? (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2)

  1. I think Paul went about this in the correct way. Especially back in their time people could really say anything and get away with it so it shows the character of Paul when he is stating the fact that it is not his own words but the commands come from the Lord Jesus Christ. I think giving them the incentive of pleasing the Lord was also a probably good idea because it showed them really what they needed to do to please the Lord and also it allowed them to realize that their work was not going unnoticed. Also, by giving incentives it also helps the process continue on moving forward in the sense of that society growing and continuing to pleasing the Lord.

  2. This is a common saying that is often misinterpreted in my opinion. I have seen this become a gateway to people taking others sufferings and using the information solely for gossip. It is our human disposition to be curious about others and their business. We feed off the drama of other people’s lives, without actually doing anything to help said suffering person. This has plagued the church. It seems to me that if the whole body suffers or sins, the whole body needs to come together to help their brother/sister through it. It is less about the whole body going through the same experience or comparing experiences and more about uplifting one another to overcome that suffering and sin. If we are taking on someone else’s burdens, it is not just for the sake of knowing what their sin is for gossip at after church coffee. “Be productive, not proactive. Be busy, but not a busy body, this will both enhance social relations and strengthen the congregation.” (Longenecker, 2014) The church is a unit and if it has any chance of being successful in helping the body grow, then the whole body must collectively take on the sufferings and sins of one another, but for the right reasons.

  3. Rachel Smith

    “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?” (P. Long, blog-How can we live to please God?) I do not think that the first part of 1 Cor. 12:26 means that if one part of body sins, the whole body sins. When Paul talks about the parts of the body (Body of Christ) suffering and rejoicing together, he is in the middle of explaining and discussing spiritual gifts. Based on the context of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul is talking about spiritual gifts. Therefore, it makes sense to me that when Paul is talking about the body being made of different parts; he is giving an example of why and how people in the Body of Christ have different spiritual gifts, given through the Holy Spirit. The complete verse of 1 Cor. 12:26 says “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” The following verses discuss how God has appointed some to be apostles, some prophets, teachers, miracle workers, and other specific gifts.
    In regards to one part of the body sinning, the one who sinned is responsible for their actions, or lack thereof. The Church, the Body of Christ, is responsible for holding each other accountable. If one person sins, those who are obeying God should direct him/her back to God in a loving manner. Yet the obedient people need to be careful, in case they fall into the same temptation. “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” Gal. 6:1

  4. If everyone was living their faith in a way that pleases God every moment, then we’d all be “perfect” and there wouldn’t be a need for Jesus. Everyone will stand before God someday. It’s our sin, surrendering our wicked ways to Jesus, and laying down our “sacrifices” that should guide us to live in a way that pleases God. If one person sins, then it ultimately hurts the body of Christ because we’re supposed to carry each other’s burdens. But I don’t think if one person sins, then we all sin. It is ultimately between you and God.

  5. If members of the church and the body of Christ began to truly live to please God then there would be less time spent on concerns about the minor problems that can be seen in many churches such as disagreements over how to change the building and over denomotional issues, and it could begin to focus more on the true ethical and moral problems that can be seen within the church and in the world. If we began to focus more on living to please God that worldview could be seen throughout the culture and the body. It would shift the living ideals of those who are in the body and who are believers. Our morals and ethics should reflect the faith and the ideals of what it looks like to follow this idea of living to please God.

    In addition to that I would disagree with the statement that if one part of the body sins the whole body sins. The whole body is made up of individual believers who are responsible for their own actions. Each believer is responsible for their own sin and what they do that affects themselves. Just because one member of the body sins does not mean the whole body is automatically sinful. while it is sinful because of the fall and the human nature (rom. 3:23) the whole body is not at fault for one person’s sin. The body may be unified but there are still individual parts included within it. Therefore, no if one part of the body sins that does not fall on the entire body of Christ.

  6. I think a very telling part of the verse, that seems to be a bit over looked as of yet, is in verse 1, where Paul writes, “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, 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.” (1 Thes. 4:1). The part that sticks out to me is “as in fact you are living.” Paul seems to be encouraging the set of believers that they are doing well, and that they should continue in the behavior they are partaking in.

    If it was a case that one person’s sin is all of our sin, I don’t believe Paul would be as encouraging in these two verses as he comes off. Sure, the church of Thessaloniki had growth that needs to take place, but they are striving for Godliness.

  7. I struggle with pleasing people instead of pleasing God. I have struggled with this issue my entire life. I usually convince myself that pleasing man is the same as please God, obviously it is not. We should be living in a way that brings glory to God instead of mankind. Longenecker talks about, “Having rehearsed and reinforced relations with the Thessalonians, the apostle now turns his attention to “other matters.” More specifically, he reminds the assembly that he had instructed them how they ought to live so as to please God” (69). He is saying that Paul talks the real matters that need to grab our attention. I, personally, believe that we should be worrying about how we, ourselves, can grow closer to pleasing God more. We should not be thinking about how we can make another person a better version of themselves. Matthew 7:3-5 talks about how we need to think about the plank in our own eyes before we go and pick out the specks in someone else eyes.

  8. I think it is important for the church to think as a whole. I think that it would help everyone stays more accountable and start to not worry about the petty little things. We are called to live life well and to please the Lord. Shouldn’t we all concentrate on the bigger picture? To live a life that is pleasing to the Lord is the goal. We need to make sure that we are trying to live how the Bible tells us and that will help us be examples for others. Too often, do I find myself, also Kate, trying to please people. In reality, though, their opinions are not important. God is who we should be trying to please, we need to have integrity every day. “Turning to God, serving this “living and true God,” and waiting “for his son from heaven,” (TTP 66). “Once we do those things, living a life pleasing to the Lord will be easier. for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath,” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Jesus saved us, Jesus saved the church. We should not take that for granted. We need to work together and have a team mindset instead of an individual mindset.

  9. Thessalonians 5:14-15 talks about how as believers we should be respectful of congregational leaders, but also that we are supposed to hold one another to a specific standard. (Longecker,73). When Paul tells the congregation to “live their faith in a way that pleases God”, I would hope that it would make us think very differently about the moral and ethical problems we face in a church. I would hope it makes us want to solve issues that happen within the four walls in a loving and Christ-like way, and that how we solve problems is in a way that is pleasing to God.
    1 Corinthians 12-26 talks about the body of Christ, and specifically in verse 21-24 : “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” Nor can the head say to the feet, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we consider less honorable, we treat with greater honor. And our unpresentable parts are treated with special modesty, whereas our presentable parts have no such need. But God has composed the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”.(Col.1:12-26). Its affirmed to me in scripture that if one part of the body sins, the whole body sins. We should hold one another accountable and also realize if someone is suffering, in a sense the whole body suffers. We are all one; we are one body of Christ.

  10. We often think of pleasing God as an action more so than listening to what others say or do. We also often forget that God uses other people to speak to us and show us the ways in which we are supposed to act. Take for instance our parents and elders. We are to honor them as they are the parents and elders that God gave us for a reason and a purpose. In some cases, by pleasing our parents we are then pleasing God, but in other cases, take sports, for example gaining the accolades of All-American may be pleasing to the parents but not to God if it is gained in that persons own selfish motives. Again, that skill in the sport is only capable through the Blessing and is a gift from God. Just as the Roman’s lived to gain a statue most athletes want to have a well-known name and become All-American’s then move to higher things if possible. We need to remember to live for the accolades of this world but to live for God and to please Him over people. Just as Romans 12:2 states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of you mind, that by testing you may dicers what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (ESV). This verse can be made in correlation to pleasing God in the things that God wants to be done not what we think He wants. We as a whole need to strive in pleasing God as a whole body not just individually but collectively. Helping one another when needed and continuing to build upon each other. “Even as believers are to be appreciative of and responsive to congregational leaders, they are also to be committed to each other’s well-being” (Longenecker, pg.73).

  11. This is an excellent question. I believe the ultimate goal of any Christian is to please their heavenly Father. It is to make Him proud. Ther is nothing you can do to make Him love you any more than He already does nor can you do anything to have Him love you any less. In 2 Peter 1:3, It says, “We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power-” So you see, to live a life of faith that pleases God takes God’s power. This supports that we cannot please God in our own ability because the verse says it is by His power.

    I think the question of one person’s sin is the whole body’s sin is an interesting question. A part of me says “Yeah, if we are the Body of Christ then we do sin together” and I think it would be selfish to say “no way I didn’t sin they did!” However, it is also interesting to note that Paul is so adamant about sexual purity in Thessalonica. The text Thinking Through Paul mentions that “He reminds the assembly that he had instructed them how they ought to live as so to please God. Even though Paul is pleased with their ethical progress-” (TTP, 69). Their progress pleased Paul however, he wanted to reaffirm them in living a life that pleases God.
    Finally, the last note concerning the whole Body of Christ sinning. Paul does say that sexual immorality is the only sin that affects the body so much. So then, with that being said, does that mean our unfaithfulness to God is like a sexual immorality and it affects the entire Body of Christ?

    When it all comes down to it, I think we get that selfish mindset of “That’s not my sin!” and it does divide the church. Galatians 6:2 says to “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the Law of Christ”. For this reason this renewed outlook on share each other’s burdens and confessing them to each other (James 5;16) then the church would start thriving in the grace of God.

  12. In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul gives ethical instructions to the church. He starts with an appeal to them as a brother speaking in the authority of Jesus. He asks the believers to please God more and more with their lives suggesting that this is a continuing process. As Long mentions the word for “pleased” that Paul used was often used referring to citizens completing a civic duty and being rewarded with an inscription. Maybe Paul’s intent in this was to remind the Thessalonian believers that they are citizens in the kingdom of Jesus and must live according to his guidelines. I believe that we also must look at ourselves as citizens first and foremost in the kingdom of God. Longenecker mentions the three main areas that Paul reminds the Thessalonians of which are sexual purity, brotherly love, and civic responsibility (namely being employed to provide for one’s own needs and avoiding idleness) (p. 69). Paul draws a line between the conduct that believers ought to have and that of the Gentiles who do not know God. 1 Thessalonians 4:7 says, “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” meaning that a life of holiness is part of the call for all believers. Living in sexual impurity is to reject the Holy Spirit and the law he writes on the hearts of those who believe in Jesus. Paul required the same ethical standards for everyone in the church that he required for himself. Today we must seek to live in holiness not only as individuals but as the body of believers in Christ.

  13. Blog Post #2
    I personally do not agree with the statement, “ if one part of the body sins, then the whole body sins” simply because one part of the body can not account for all. I would rather agree that if the whole body sins then every part of the body too will sin, because we are all accountable for our own actions for it is up to us or “part of the body” to adapt and to change. Moreover, “the whole body” is supposed to be our influencer and supposed to help us walk and be children of the light. Just like 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 says that we are brothers and sisters and that we have already been instructed on how to live a life pleasing to God. This verse is very pivotal because like I said it is up to us “the part of the body” to control and obey the commands and true ways of life that were not given to us by human origin rather; these instructions were granted to us by Jesus Christ himself. I think if one part of the church suffers then that will be the only part of the church that suffers, for when Parousia is amongst us it will be the people that are “asleep” that will suffer while the “sober” ones will join our Father in Heaven. Nonetheless, it is very important that we try to save as many unsaved people as we can because living a life pleasing to God means that we must do “more and more”; and how I would like to interpret that would be to spread the Gospel and save as many people as we can before the coming of Christ Jesus.

    Another thing that I would like to talk about is how P.Long adds “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” I think that this is a very important thing to note because Jesus Christ is our ultimate authority; because when He comes like a thief in the night we will all know and if we are not prepared we will all pay. Because Jesus’ authority will be so great I think that if the Thessalonians could obey the authority of their government we most definitely need to obey the authority of our savior.

  14. Reading through this blog post made me realize the importance of the words you use when speaking to people and trying to get your point across. Paul did a great job of this by using terms such as “urge” and “ask” because these words imply that Paul is an equal to the people that he is speaking to rather than higher up or of authority. However, Paul also uses the phrase “in the Lord Jesus” which shows that these commands are not from the Paul, but from the true authority, Jesus. Therefore, by rejecting Paul’s command they would be rejecting the Holy Spirit.
    Another important aspect that Paul preaches is living to please God. He states that you are to keep moving ahead and keep living to please God. Paul is addressing the whole church, not just one part of the church. Like stated in the blog post, the rest of the church that is not immoral is responsible for holding everyone accountable to the same standard. I agree with the way Paul is addressing not only the people struggling in the church, but the whole church. That is part of what the church is for, being in community with one another to help each other grow in faith and hold each other accountable. If the church holds each other accountable, it is easier to continue to grow and please the Lord together. I believe that this is something we should still be doing today in churches.

  15. In reading this passage I think it is very interesting that Paul tells his readers that that they ought to walk and to please God (1 Thess. 4:1). Paul is both asking and urging them to do so, something we should note when reading this passage. It almost seems as if he is requesting this more out of obligation than out of a heart of true obedience, with the hopes that they will come to true obedience over time. Yet, it is clear that their actions, even prior to this letter, are pleasing to God and Paul and his companions are encouraging the readers to go even further.
    Although Paul was writing this almost 2,000 years ago, it is clear that he desires us today to follow in the same steps. In his other letters he commands a specific group of people (such as 2 Cor.6:11-13). Yet, in this passage Paul is simply saying “brothers”, literally, all siblings in the body of Christ. Therefore, we must recognize that this is a call we all need to follow.
    There are several questions that need to be asked regarding our own lives in examination of this passage. Do we live our lives in a way that pleases God in everything we do? Do we live this way out of obligation or rather out of true love for the Lord?

  16. So many people can preach to others to live a life that is pleasing to God and obey him, but they fail to provide instruction on how to do so. Paul teaches the Thessalonians three basic ethical instructions when he is there. These are sexual purity, brotherly/sisterly love, and civic responsibility. Sexual purity is remaining holy and faithful to Lord by refraining from temptations that would disobey God. Do not abuse your power or your status to gain sexual favors. Do not take advantage of other believers or non-believers. Long states: “There are people who take advantage of their position in the church to gain sexual favors; it was true in Paul’s day, and it is true in our day.” (Long, 2017) The next ethical instruction was brotherly and sisterly love. This means that we should love each other just like God would. The Lexham Bible Dictionary states that: “The nation should respond to God’s faithfulness by following the law, which directs the community to love others.” (Kuo) Paul tries to teach the Jews and Gentiles that this is crucial and keeps om reiterating it to them. The last part is the civic responsibility. Longenecker says: “Make it their ambition to lead a quiet life, mind their own business, and work with their hands.” (TTP, 70) By practicing these moral and ethical aspects it beings you closer to God and it also brings the Church closer together. It is so important to make sure the things that you are doing or saying would be pleasing to God. In the end, all the matters is the good works you did and the life you lived for the Lord. Just like the Thessalonians, we all have ethical instructions we follow to be pleasing to God. Whether it involves civic responsibilities, sexual purity, or brotherly/sisterly love, we all must follow God’s orders without sin.

  17. The blog post starts out by giving some context on what Paul is trying to get across to his audience. He is very particular of the words that he uses in order to get his message out in order to have the greatest impact on his community around him. It talks about how the verbs, “ask” and “urge” are used in order to show the church of Thessalonica, who Paul is writing to, that he is one of them and not a superior. This allows him to come to the church and show them that he is not forcing them to listen but rather allowing them to participate in the Body of Christ the same way that he does. He continues on in verse 8, that these actions to follow a life pleasing to God are not from himself but rather from the Holy Spirit and that disobeying what Paul is saying would be disobeying the commands of the Holy Spirit. “The Thessalonian church is already living to please God, but they can improve.” Just like anything in life if you do not practice, you will not get better and that is what Paul is trying to convey here. He wants them to keep moving forward in their faith with God in order to keep them from moving away, backwards, from their mission of living a life pleasing to God. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be focusing only on what the people who don’t follow God and live their life to please themselves, but we should be focusing on everyone as a whole body. Professor Long talks about how contemporary Christianity tends to individualize these actions instead of relating it to the entire body of Christ. This can cause a lot of people to begin to struggle with the faith and living their lives pleasing to God as people in the church begin to point fingers at one another. My mom always said that if you point someone out for something, you have three fingers pointing right back at you.

  18. Paul was always very careful of the words he was saying when speaking to his followers. In the beginning of this blog post it starts by explaining what the verbs “ask” and “urge” mean. By Paul using these types of words it is allowing the reader and his followers to ask questions and really think. Paul was never one to speak in a way that would make him sound like he was superior to anyone which can be very inviting to listeners and readings. Paul would speak in a way that would make people rethink their views while also being one to walk beside them and make the followers feel equal to himself. Another phrase that Paul used to allow himself to be equal was “in the Lord Jesus”. This is important because it is showing the reader that Paul is not the one using these phrases, but it is Jesus. With this phrase it implies that if you are one to not do these commands then you are disobeying the word of God. Near the middle of this post, it speaks on how Paul would tell the people of Thessalonica that if they truly wanted to please the ultimate authority who was Jesus, then they would live in a way to please God. Within the congressional statement of living out our faith in a way that pleases God is a powerful statement to remember because I feel as if we as humans are meant to be people pleasers rather than being here to please God. I believe that if one part of the body sins the whole body sins because if we commit a sin we do that from our heart and our heart is the main source of keeping us alive.

  19. As I read this post, it reminded me of how important communication is, and how the words you use can be translated. The beginning of this post breaks down how Paul used the words “ask” and “urge” in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2. Paul strategically used these words to encourage listeners to act in a specific way, and I liked how P. Long specified how it doesn’t appear in communication meant for giving order. Paul always seemed to carefully communicate that allowed his listeners to feel comfortable with learning without risk of feeling belittled.

    P. Long also points out another great point about how Paul uses the phrase, “in the Lord Jesus” to show believers that these were not his commands but Gods. This emphasizes that when you choose to disobey the commands God sends you are not disobeying the physical messenger that might be relaying the command, but you are rejecting God himself.

    Lastly, Paul is constantly encouraging the Thessalonian church to live in the ways that please God, P. Long points out that he is also asking them to continue working on the ethical instructions he gives. The Thessalonians are successfully living lives that please God, but they are encouraged to desire more and continue to please Him. There is always room to grow and improve. Whether that be in how you love those around you or how you progress through your walk with God. A believer’s faith is a journey that never finishes, if you are content with where you are you never obtain the drive to get better or learn more.

  20. It is significant that Paul’s commands are written to be applied to the whole church not just some individuals. We can read 1 Thessalonians with a mindset that these only applied to the Thessalonians back then. That he was only talking to those who were acting immorally. But that is not necessarily the case. There are aspects that we can take and use today from Paul’s ethical instructions. Not all the new Christians were acting in a way that they should not have. The group of believers were doing good, but they could do better (1 Thessalonians 4:1). Long adds that “Anyone that thinks they cannot improve is in trouble, not only have they ceased to grow, but they are probably moving backwards” (Long, 2017). Paul encouraged the people to keep going and do better. He both challenged and encouraged them (Longenecker, 70). Just like this, we can take this to know we can always do better. Each day we can continue to grow in our relationship with God and grow closer to Him. This is also done with the help of community. As a church we should encourage and challenge others as well. As a whole, we should be following these ethical instructions like the church in Thessalonica. This often takes accountability. “The rest of the church that is not immoral is responsible for holding everyone accountable to the same standard” (Long, 2017). It is not our job to condemn or judge others, but to keep them accountable. To move forward in living in a way that pleases God.

  21. In my opinion when stated at the very end when you said does it mean if one part of the church sins does that mean the whole church sinned and my answer is no, God wants things done in excellence he wants his house/ church to be ran with excellence and if one part of the church isn’t doing there job its for the other part of the house to hold each other accountable for their actions. personally the church doesn’t sin individually but as a church whole as a family supposedly operating out of excellence then yes they have all fallen short in some area if everyone hasn’t caught the vision of what is needed to be done. Paul encouraged the people to keep going and to do better, he challenged them and encouraged them.

  22. Another thing to add to what i said previously is that if your brother or sister tend to fall short it is not the opportunity to shut them out point or gossip about there situation. Many people point figures at someone else’s set back that looks greater than there overall problem and judge them for it when in all actuality, they might get out of there storm before you are even able to recognize your storm in all actuality the person who seen there brother or sister fall is supped to be praying and uplifting one another.. When your brother or sister in Christ falls apart it is for the church to help revive them and get them walking on the right path again moving forward in living the way that you know is pleasing in Gods eyesight. Each day we as Christians find our selves in Christ and are striving to be Christ like, there is no from to point figures when you could be the next one that God or Satan brings an obstacle to.

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