This post is by my friend John Frye, who blogs at: Jesus the Radical Pastor. He’s got a very important point, and it is one that ties with T’s post last Friday: Discernment through the Spirit on how to live today. Do we really believe in the Spirit? Or, do we believe in Scripture alone and that Spirit is entirely contained there? Or, does the Spirit lead us to do things today the way the Spirit led Jesus to break down boundaries and for Paul to start ministries with Gentiles?
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. – 1 Thessalonians 4: 3 – 8
Note Paul’s encouragement for the believers to “learn” and he offers little specific sexual direction. God calls us to a holy life. Paul concludes that on the issue of being holy (sexually) that God in fact “keeps on giving the Holy Spirit” (present active verb). Little instruction, few directives.
I once was at a pastors’ seminar….
… in Detroit attended by hundreds of Christian leaders being taught by a renown Bible teacher. The topic of sexual purity was on the agenda. This famous Bible teacher, based on teachings of Jewish Rabbis, taught that the Levitical sexual purity laws (e.g., Leviticus 15) given to Israel were God’scontinuing directives today for the church. I am not kidding. I sat stunned. This was a blatant expression of the Galatian heresy confronted by Paul in the fiery little Book of Galatians. This guru of the faith was dragging New Covenant believers back under the legislation (Law) of the Old Covenant…without even batting an eye! I looked around and saw hundreds of leaders taking notes like this was the best news since the resurrection of Jesus.
Now compare that example of “Bible teaching” in Detroit with Paul’s words to the Thessalonians. If anyone knew the levitical code for sexual purity and cleanliness, it was the former Pharisee named Paul. When he wrote that it was God’s will for the Thessalonians to be sexually holy, he could have whipped out a divinely revealed litany of directions (from Moses) and written it to the new church. Paul did not do this, but the Bible teacher in Detroit did. Who was correct on the topic?
Most of the church in Thessaloniki were converted Gentiles. Paul even said that they had turned from idols to serve the living and true God (1:9). The levitical sexual purity laws given to Israel would have meant nothing to them. So, Paul gives directions for them to learn to be sexually holy and reminds them that holiness is best learned from, get this, the Holy Spirit. Paul could rest in the reality of the living presence of the Spirit in that young church Who would guide them into a practice of sexual purity. The new believers would learn to discern. They did not need a code of conduct. They needed only to attend to the Holy Counselor.
What a challenge discernment is! Do we have that kind of trust in the Spirit’s ability? Do we have that kind of trust in believers’ ability to develop Spirit-empowered discernment? Do we have the courage to tear up all the fine-tuned directions we want to lay on people so they will be sure to live holy lives?