That You May Excel Still More
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Every four years teams representing nations from around the earth gather together in one place to compete in athletic events known as the Olympics. Whether it be Mexico City, Barcelona, Moscow, Los Angeles, Munich or Atlanta, you can be sure that the athletes' work does not begin with the opening ceremonies. They have worked hard to be a part of a select few. They have trained and competed in national forums, facing heavy competition to make the team. It simply will not do to be good. One must be the best.
Coaches are an important part of this. They are the ones who have expected so much from the athletes they are training. They had to, else the athlete would not be prepared. Hours upon hours of training, much of it grueling, prepared the athlete for competition. Correction, instruction, reprimand and counseling all play a role. The best coaches demand the best from those they train. The best athletes expect nothing less of a coach.
It would be the coach's voice shouting encouragement during those hours, knowing when to demand a little bit more. During the competition itself, perhaps no spectator is more interested and aware of what is going on than the coach. Every coach is pulling for his athlete to win the gold. All those hours of effort wherein he or she has encouraged the already excellent athlete to "excel still more" are about to pay off.
"Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you have received from us instructions as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that YOU MAY EXCEL STILL MORE. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who know not God; and that no man transgress or defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity but in sanctification. Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but God who gives His Holy Spirit to you." (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).
How To Please Our Coach
"Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you have received from us instructions as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more" (I Thessalonians 4:1).
To run our spiritual race with success, we must rely on our Lord's instructions. It will simply not do to take His counsel lightly, He has our best interests at heart. He wants us to win. He knows what He is talking about. If we think we know better than He, then we will lose the race.
To please the Lord, we must live our lives in obedience to His will. There simply is no other way. We have no right to address Him as "Lord" if we are unwilling to do what He says (Luke 6:46). How frustrating it must be for a coach who knows how to bring an athlete to victory, but the athlete refuses to cooperate by putting his faith in the coach. The coach watches his charge throw it all away by not showing up for scheduled practices, or by insisting on training his own way. How tragic that so many insist today that obedience to Christ and endurance are not necessary qualities for winning the race (Matthew 10:22; 24:13).
It occurs to me that this is exactly how some professed disciples treat Jesus. How can we win the victory when we refuse to live by His instructions? How foolish it is for us to think we can improve upon His instructions with our own religious opinions, creeds and traditions. After all, hasn't He proven Himself to us by now? Remember, He has already run the race set before us...and He won it!
What Will Keep Us From Victory?
"...not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who know not God; and that no man transgress or defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you...Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but God who gives His Holy Spirit to you." (1 Thessalonians 4:5-6;8).
Lots of things can keep us from running the race to victory. One cannot reject the Lord and win the victory, even if at one time he had accepted Him. It is up to us to get rid of those things that would keep us from victory; "...let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1,2).
Paul gives us what he calls a "solemn warning" in our text. We are solemnly warned not to give ourselves to lustful passion like those who do not know God. We are told that those who defraud their brethren will meet an avenging God in judgment. In the context, this probably refers to committing adultery with a brother's wife, but certainly would include other types of wrongdoing to a brother. Suffice it to say that living this way will cause a Christian to lose his soul, else the warning would not have be given.
What Does the Coach Expect Out of Us?
"For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor," (1 Thessalonians 4:2-3).
The Lord expects us to obey Him, and this means that we will abstain from sin, setting ourselves apart from that which is dishonorable and replacing it with behavior that is honorable. The word "sanctification" refers to this process of being holy unto God (1 Peter 1:13-16). We must purify ourselves from the things contrary to God's will in order to be assured of victory by God's grace (1 John 3:3-6). Those who say success can be had apart from this are not speaking the truth. But, on the other hand, we can be absolutely confident of victory in our race if we will only listen to and obey our running coach. If we do this, we cannot lose!
What is the Coach's Goal for Us?
"For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity but in sanctification." (1 Thessalonians 4:7).
The ultimate goal is that of heaven. That is our true finish line. Whether we reach that goal or not will be determined at the point we leave this world. Paul said that the crown which was laid up for him in heaven by the grace of God was his because he had "fought the good fight" and "finished the course" and "kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7,8).
Later, Paul describes the goal this way: "The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever. Amen." (2 Timothy 4:18). We can have that same assurance of victory at the end of our race as well, but first we, like Paul, must fight the "good fight" and finish "the course" and keep "the faith". Never doubt it; Jesus is a coach that wants very much for His people to win, and He wants it enough to die to make it happen.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 3.8; August 1996