Pleasing God More and More
“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. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.”- 1 Thessalonians 4:1–2
We return to our study of 1 Thessalonians today and pick up our examination of this epistle in chapter 4. Having thanked God for the Thessalonians and their perseverance while also expressing a desire to see them face-to-face and give further instruction (chs. 1–3), Paul turns in today’s passage to begin the more concentrated teaching portion of his letter.
The Apostle introduces this section by asking and urging something of the Thessalonians. Lest we think that he is making a request that is merely an option one may or may not follow without any consequences, Paul asks and urges the Thessalonians “in the Lord Jesus” (4:1). This qualifying phrase makes it clear that Christ Himself is the grounding for what Paul is about to say, that He is involved at every point with Paul’s teaching. In other words, Paul is going to be appealing to the Thessalonians on the basis of the command of Christ. He is setting before them the desires of the Lord for His people, having the Apostolic authority as Christ’s representative to do so. We find confirmation of this in verse 2, where Paul refers to what he is about to say as the “instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” The Greek word translated “instructions” refers to orders received from a higher authority and passed along to subordinates. Paul has received these instructions from the highest authority of all—God Himself in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ—and he is handing them on to those who are called to obey that authority.
Paul’s instructions are subsumed under the general heading of pleasing God, as we see in verse 1. The specifics to follow are required for pleasing the Lord, though Paul does not exhaust what it means to please God. We are to see the coming instruction in chapter 4 as essential components of God-pleasing behavior. A life fully pleasing to God includes more than this, but certainly not less.
Finally, note that the Apostle believes that it is possible to walk more and more in ways that please God (vv. 1–2). Judicially speaking, we can never be more righteous in the divine courtroom than we are when we first believe, for at that moment Christ’s perfect righteousness is put on our account in our justification (Rom. 4). Our place in heaven is secure. However, we can grow in how much we please the Lord in our practice as we are more and more sanctified, working out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12–13).
The early church father John Chrysostom comments, “There is only one calamity for a Christian, this being disobedience to God.” It is a calamity in the sense of incurring God’s fatherly displeasure, for those who follow Christ ultimately want nothing more than to please God. At times, we desire to please ourselves more than the Lord, but the direction of our lives overall will be steered by a longing to enjoy the Lord’s approval of our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Passages for Further Study