读经：箴24:23-34 帖前4:1-18 耶23:9-25:14
‘More Please’ is the title of the autobiography of Dame Edna Everage (Barry Humphries). He writes that these two words, ‘More please’, were his first coherent utterance.
He went on to say, ‘I have always wanted more. I never had enough milk or money or socks or sex or holidays or first editions or solitude or gramophone records or free meals or real friends or guiltless pleasure or neckties or applause or unquestioning love or persimmons. Of course, I have always had more than my share of most of these commodities but it always left me with a vague feeling of unfulfilment: where was the rest?’
However much we have of the kind of things listed by Barry Humphries, they do not satisfy. Seeking pleasure for ourselves will always leave us with ‘a vague feeling of unfulfilment’. In the passages for today we see what really will satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst, and the things that we should seek more and more. Paul highlights two things in particular: living to ‘please God more and more’ (1 Thessalonians 4:1), and ‘loving each other… more and more’ (vv.9–10).
1. More wisdom from God
Proverbs 24:23-34‘Wisdom’ comes from God and is very practical. The ‘Sayings of the Wise’ (v.23) cover many different aspects of our lives. Here we see some examples:
- Judge impartially
‘To show partiality in judging is not good’ (v.23b). For those who judge justly, ‘rich blessing will come upon them’ (v.25).
- Speak honestly
‘An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips’ (v.26). Sometimes it is hard to speak the truth in love, but we need to be honest with one another.
- Stay loyal
‘Don’t talk about your neighbours behind their backs – no slander or gossip, please’ (v.28, MSG). Anyone can stay true to your face but it is the people who stay true behind your back that really count.
- Show restraint
The temptation to pay back those who have done us harm is very great. However, the book of Proverbs warns against taking revenge: ‘Do not say, “I’ll do to them as they have done to me; I’ll pay them back for what they did”’ (v.29).
- Work hard
The book of Proverbs often warns against laziness. ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man’ (vv.33–34).
Lord, help me to grow in wisdom – in impartiality, honesty, faithfulness, restraint and industry – so that more and more I may live a life that pleases you.
2. More pleasing to God
1 Thessalonians 4:1-18Instead of just ‘looking out for number one’ – wanting more and more pleasure for ourselves – we are called to live lives that please God more and more (v.1). Rather than ‘more, please’ we should live lives that are ‘more pleasing’ to God. We are called to love God ‘more and more’ and to love others ‘more and more’ (v.10). How do you do this?
- Give dignity to your body
God is concerned about your body as well as your soul: ‘Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body’ (v.4, MSG). Paul writes, ‘You should avoid sexual immorality: each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God’ (vv.4–5),
- Live a beautiful life
‘God did not call us to be impure but to live a holy life’ (v.7) – ‘holy and beautiful – as beautiful on the inside as the outside’ (v.7, MSG). True beauty has nothing to do with looks. It is about how you are on the inside. The process of being made holy takes place through the work of the ‘Holy’ Spirit. God ‘gives you his Holy Spirit’ (v.8) for this purpose.
- Love each other
Paul writes, ‘About your mutual love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other’ (v.9). ‘Get better and better at it’ (v.10, MSG).
- Mind your own business
Paul writes that we are not just to be ambitious – but we are to be ambitious to live a quiet life and to be industrious. This is surprising to read, particularly given the great things Paul did for God, but it seems there is a deep significance in the apparently small things of life. Paul specifically tells us to ‘mind [our] own business’ (v.11). Gossip is when you are sharing information and you are neither part of the problem, nor part of the solution. Of course, there is a time when we need to get involved and help other people, but we are not to go around interfering in other people’s affairs.
- Get a job, if you can
Paul writes, ‘Work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody’ (vv.11–12). For some, such as stay-at-home parents, their work is in the home. Others work outside the home earning money to support their family. The general rule is that we should try to get a job if we can and not be dependent on others for our support. Some may be dependent on the body of Christ for support – such as those in certain types of unpaid full time ministry. But this is the exception rather than the rule.
- Enjoy an endless hope
No one can live well until they can die well. Death is another subject on which we are called to have a different attitude. Of course, we grieve when someone dies. But Paul says we should not ‘grieve like the rest, who have no hope’ (v.13) because ‘since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus’ (v.14, MSG).
Death is not the end. Paul is saying that just as Jesus died and rose again, in the same way we believe that in the resurrection God will bring with him all those who have fallen asleep. Paul uses a different word here – whereas Jesus died for us, we shall never die, we only ‘fall asleep’ (vv.13,15).
We will be reunited with Jesus ‘to meet the Lord’ (v.17a) and we will be reunited with each other: ‘caught up together with them’ (v.17a) – ‘one huge family reunion’ (MSG). Not only will we be with the Lord forever (v.17b), but we will also be with all those ‘who have fallen asleep in him’ (v.14). Many people see only a hopeless end, but we have an endless hope. We need to remind and ‘encourage each other with these words’ (v.18).
Lord, help me to live a holy life. Thank you for your Holy Spirit who is at work within me, and who helps me to live a life that pleases you more and more. Help me in my weakness. Help me to live a life of love, sexual purity, right ambition and of hope and encouragement. May I be transformed into the likeness of Christ.
3. More listening to God
Jeremiah 23:9-25:14God speaks. You and I can listen to the words of God. This is what makes the Bible so powerful ‘“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”’ (23:29).
Jeremiah spoke ‘holy words’ (v.9) to the people of God and rebuked their leaders for a failure to lead holy lives: ‘The land is full of adulterers’ and leaders who ‘use their power unjustly’ (v.10). He accuses them of being sex-driven, living a lie (v.14, MSG). He calls them to repentance (25:5–6).
At the root of their problem is a failure to listen to God, ‘You refused to listen’ (v.7, MSG).
The Lord asks through Jeremiah, ‘But which of [the prophets] has stood in the council of the Lord to see or hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word?’ (23:18). ‘I never sent these prophets, but they ran away. I never spoke to them, but they preached away. If they’d have bothered to sit down and meet with me, they’d have preached my Message to my people’ (vv.21–22, MSG).
If you hear the words of God and speak them out they will have a very powerful impact: ‘But you prophets who have a message from me – tell it truly and faithfully… Isn’t my Message like fire… Isn’t it like a sledgehammer busting a rock’ (vv.28–29, MSG).
Lord, help me to spend more and more time in the council of the Lord, listening to and hearing your words. Thank you that the words of the Bible are so powerful – like fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock to pieces. Thank you that, as I study it, it breaks the rock of my heart and begins a process of transformation and sanctification. Help me to live a life that is more and more pleasing to you and more and more loving and holy.
1 Thessalonians 4:11
‘Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands.’
It is rather a busy day for ‘a quiet life’, but I’ll do my best!