Week of May 21

Using a Spiritual Fitness Tracker

Read: 1 Chronicles 25-27; 1 Thessalonians 4
“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.”
1 Thessalonians 4:1, ESV


David Wilkerson once said, “Love is not only something you feel, it is something you do.” The Apostle James wrote that we are not only to be hearers of the word but doers also (James 1:22). Our life goal should be to live out daily our devotion to God in the world around us. Hmm. Let me illustrate the point by way of introducing today’s Bible passage.
I often teach folks about the “big moral sea” where the surface represents the world’s standards for living. The waters there are choppy because of the many moral viewpoints and the currents are treacherous because morality is blown here and there by the whims of people. The ocean surface is hardly the best place to make right moral choices!
I encourage sincere Christians to find their way to the depths where basic core values like respect for life and health, family, work and recreation, education, and faith are unshaken by the tempests above. At the very bottom of this sea is the supreme value, which Christians know to be the worship of the Lord from Whom all that is good originates and has its direction (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:1; “how you ought to walk”)! Paul writes of this in 1 Thessalonians 4 where the aim is to obey the Lord to please Him. The Apostle challenges the Thessalonians and us to see the vital need to always express the love of Christ in all things.

The Meaning of the Text

How to walk with Christ: It is a lifestyle
The subtitle makes sense based upon our focal verse, but, plainly, many folks have no idea what a “Christian walk” entails! I have good news. Christ-followers in Paul’s day knew that there was a specific body of instruction that new believers would receive (cf. Matthew 28:19; make disciples; Matthew 4:23; “teaching”). They were to embody this apostolic instruction (cf. Deuteronomy 6:7) and, in so doing, to please God (4:1). Verse two suggests that this was the first “Experiencing God” study course. OK. I am stretching it a bit to suggest that the popular 36-week discipleship training course began in Paul’s day, but there was indeed a serious focus on the Christian lifestyle.
Desiring Christ
There was distinct motivation to take on the cloak of serious discipleship. When Paul “asks” and “urges” them to dedicate their lives to the teachings of Christ, he uses the phrase, “in the Lord Jesus.” He refers to the authority of the Lord Jesus two times in the first two verses. The sphere of the commands for Christian living is expressed in the first verse, and the second verse expresses the agency by which the commands were given (4:2). Paul stresses the urgency of these words of instruction and the Thessalonians were to receive them as having come from the Lord Jesus himself. This truth about Christ’s authoritative call to discipleship would transform the commitment in our Bible studies, wouldn’t it?!
Embodying Christ’s teachings
There was specific moral direction to the teaching. In an academic setting I would say that theology begs for ethics. In theories of learning, I would insist that we would craft learning goals from the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains. In church-speak, I’d say that you must live this Sunday School lesson at home and at work or school this week. Why? Paul uses a verb that meant to “pass on the religious tradition of Judaism” (NAC). There was no room for ivory tower learning in that culture. He uses present tense verbs, and this meant “consistent behavior was expected,” not just occasional acts of obedience (cf. NAC). All of this aimed toward their sanctification—growth in holiness (4:3; now read verses 3-8).
The point for your life!
Aim to please God in every aspect of your life. First, one pleases God by proclaiming the gospel (2:4-6). Share with others what Jesus has done for you and in you (verbal witness). In contrast to this lifestyle are those who oppose the gospel (2:15) and who live in the flesh (Romans 8:8). Secondly, develop the regular habit of practicing the truths of the Christian life in private and in public (lifestyle witness). The ethical imperative is stated in the way that Paul writes, “ought to walk and please God.” It is consecutive, meaning the way that a Christian should live is the way that is pleasing to God (NAC).
Secondly, live not simply to keep the rules (obey traditions), but to delight God. It is a lifestyle of worship that is in view. He wasn’t scolding them because they were failing to live this way; indeed, they were practicing what they had received from these missionaries. Nevertheless, he then adds extra emphasis when he says these were the marching orders (instructions) that we already gave to you. He uses a word that was common in military contexts of orders given to subordinates (4:2). Let’s apply the passage to our lives.

The Message for Our Lives

Did you get your steps in today? If you have a fitness tracker, or are a regular exerciser, then you know to what I am referring. I hear more and more testimonies from people who tell me that they logged their “10,000” steps that day. Of course, there are the humorous ones where they reach the end of the day and find that they are a few hundred steps short, so they walk around the house until they reach the required threshold! I discovered that I can sit in my easy chair and swing my arm back and forth and log steps on my tracker. I know. Such behavior misses the point of exercise, but it sure makes my spiritual point, doesn’t it?!
The Christian walk requires Holy Spirit-enabled effort because the Christian ethical code of conduct is rigorous (4:3, 8; “God’s will”). We are God’s possession, and this means that we behave in a manner consistent with God’s character (4:3; sanctification).
Here is Paul’s example, and it applies today. He illustrated this call to a devoted Christian walk in three ways: abstain from sexual immorality (4:3), know how to control one’s body (4:4-5), do not wrong nor take advantage of a brother or sister in this way (4:6). All forms of sexual impropriety were in view. Cultural social ethics varied as much then as it does now, but Paul called these Gentile converts to a biblical ethic based upon God’s Word, not cultural norms (see also Acts 15:29).
For example, turn your thoughts back to a spiritual fitness tracker for a moment. To control one’s body shifts the focus from sin to the sinner. I can log my steps from my easy chair, but the decision to do so indicates a heart problem, doesn’t it? I lack proper motivation!
Whether Paul refers to one’s own body or to one’s marital relationship, the point is to behave in an honorable way. A Christian sexual ethic differed from that of the pagan world (cf. Romans 1:21-32). Finally, Christians are not to step beyond the bounds of legal or proper behavior. They are not to defraud or cheat another person by violating their trust. This passage may be broadened to include all of the ways we show our love for Christ by the way we live in culture.

For Thought and Action

1. One teacher terms discipleship as “Vitamin D.” I like this idea. In that sense, the question from our focal passage today is, are we vitamin D deficient? Strive for consistent, daily growth in your Christian walk.
Dallas Willard, who was a beautiful soul and an expert in spiritual formation and discipleship, asks two questions for us to ponder at home and at church: 1) what is our plan for making disciples? 2) Is our plan working? Write down your plan for practicing your devotion to Christ, then carry out the plan.
2. For Families: How may our kids engage in discipleship and avoid becoming deficient? They can 1) sincerely pray daily; 2) read their Bibles each day and think about what they read (ask questions of the text, recast what they read and write it down, then ask what it taught them); 3) actively participate in a community of faith; 4) be mentored by someone who is wiser and more mature in the faith, and then be willing to become a mentor to someone else.

Think about forming a discipleship group in your home to train your children and their friends, one that is age appropriate, with a goal of seeing growth take place, and an intentional seeking to become like Christ. Begin praying about such a group, maybe to begin over the summer and to meet once a week?

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock