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?

13 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.

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