Lent 2, 2020
The Epistle – 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
The Gospel – St. Matthew 15:21-28
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
The Collect for today is always so clear and direct and humbling.
Almighty God, who sees that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. Keep us both outwardly in the body and inwardly in the soul, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul, though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
To admit that we are powerless is not easy for us. Some may be more readily able to say the words, but we all to some degree or another still hold out the belief that we have some power to defend ourselves and even save ourselves.
Or some of us may well believe it completely but still may act as if we do have a little power ourselves.
But the Collect is clear, and it is based on Biblical principles.
Scott - “We pray for the defense of Divine providence for our bodies, and for the defense of Divine grace for our souls. We are outwardly and inwardly weak, and the weakness of the spirit is intensified by the weakness of the flesh. We need continual “keeping,” for we know not what temptation each day and hour may produce.”
This is so apropos for Lent. This is the battle we are in and this is the front on which we fight.
We fight for both body and soul in subduing the lusts thereof.
St. Paul refers to Sanctification in today’s Epistle section.
He says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”
He then goes on to list some of the things that affect the Sanctifying grace of God in our souls.
In the case of the Thessalonian Church, he refers to sexual immorality here in this chapter.
This is most likely because of what he has heard by way of report about this Church…or it may be his awareness of the Thessalonians living in a culture and surrounded by a culture that is sexually immoral and promiscuous.
They may be taking care to avoid such an ungodly lifestyle themselves, but their surroundings might concern Paul.
He is very happy about the Thessalonians and their progress in sanctification, but this one sin seems to be still prevalent in relation to this Church…enough for him to have to address it in a letter to them.
He even begins by commending them. He says, “…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.”
So first off, Paul urges all Christians, down to us today, that no matter how holy and righteous our walk may be, we should do so more and more.
We will never in this life reach a threshold where we can relax our pursuit of holiness. Perfection is always just out of reach.
Our fallen nature prevents us from perfection in this life.
We have been given the Holy Spirit to incline us to right and good desires, but we still resist Him from time to time.
Someone wrote in a devotional just recently, “We resist the Spirit’s work in our sanctification when we sin.”
This is true. When we sin, the work of the Holy Spirit is hindered.
He certainly continues to work through our resistance, and He will finish that work in those who are appointed to eternal life, but this is why Paul urges us not to resist the work of the Spirit and to rather work to abstain from all kinds of sin.
He continues in verse 2 letting them know that his instructions are from a higher authority.
The Lord Christ has commissioned him to not only plant Churches but to build up the members with sound teaching.
His instructions that he gives are through the Lord Jesus. They are what Christ wants us to know and obey.
This is the will of God. Not only that we listen to the sound teaching of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, but that we heed the message and follow through with it.
And whether it’s sexual sin or some other kind of sin, his message to us still is applicable… “let each one of us know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,  not in the passion of lust…”
This is the life of the Christian…to know how to control our bodies in holiness and honor.
The body, lest we forget, is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
On the same topic of sexual sin in his letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul says,
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?
For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”  But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.  Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15–20, ESV)
Subduing the body against sin is such an important pursuit as you can see from this passage as well as today’s and many others. Why?
Because Paul there says that our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Notice he did not use words that convey house or residence…but Temple
A place of worship… of holiness.
The Holy Spirit seals us for the day of redemption and indwells us for the days that lead up to it.
This body that we have is sanctified by God. Set aside to be a place where God dwells.
It should be kept clean and in order. Thought, word and deed need to be kept in order so that the Holy Spirit is not grieved by our behavior.
Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30, ESV)
The Holy Spirit is not indwelling us to then receive abuse from us or to be ignored. He indwells so that He might further sanctify us daily so that we might then be empowered to live holy lives that are pleasing to Him.
Paul goes on to compare the sanctified behavior of Christians to the Gentiles.
He says that we each ought to know how to control our own body in holiness and honor “…not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” (ESV)
The Gentiles who do not know God.
The Thessalonian Church was set amongst Gentiles.
The Thessalonian Church was made up of Gentiles.
But Paul is trying to get them (and us) to understand by saying this, that since they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and they have been sealed by Him, they have also become something new.
Paul would teach the Jews this way. He would appeal to the Jewish Law. He says to the Roman Church, regarding their Laws about circumcision, that though the Law requires it to make one a member of the people of God in the Covenant, it loses its value, if you break the Law and circumcision becomes uncircumcision.
In other words, the Law is there to be kept both outwardly by obedience… or like our Collect today… outwardly in the body…but also inwardly in the soul.
Many Jews missed this dual understanding of Law keeping. They figured that outward obedience was full obedience. But God wants inward obedience from the heart as well.
So, Paul then says, “…For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter…” (ESV)
“…not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,  and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring…” (ESV)
“Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6, ESV)
Some of the branches (Jews) were broken off through disobedience and unbelief and wild olive shoots (Gentiles like us) were grafted in.
All this to say, that though we and they are and were respectively Gentiles, we are no longer to reckon ourselves as such.
If we are in Christ by the Holy Spirit, then we are now God’s own, Temples of the Holy Spirit and full members of the Covenant family of God. And considered part of the Israel of God.
So, we can really just substitute unbelievers or those who are still in the world for the term Gentile and we will understand more clearly.
We have been separated out.
We have been given a new identity in Christ.
We have the Holy Spirit sealing us and dwelling in us…and now we know God.
We are not of this world in the same way we were before.
Therefore….we return back to the imperative commands of Paul here today.
He says, I don’t want you to be acting like Gentiles, since you have been bought with the price of the precious blood of Christ, and therefore, we are never to “… transgress and wrong [our] brother in this matter…”
What matter? The matter of sexual sin in the case of Paul’s letter here, but in all things, we are not to transgress or wrong others.
And we are not to do so, not only because it is not becoming of Christians and not only because we are to love one another, but as Paul says today, “…because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.”
God is the avenger.
God will set all things right.
But also, know that if Paul says God is the avenger, He will also put right what we have done wrong to one another.
God is not into revenge.
God, in this case here with Paul, will, if not now in this life, set all things right.
“From the Lord [we] will receive the inheritance as [our] reward. [We] are serving the Lord Christ.  For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.” (Colossians 3:24–25, ESV)
So, if “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” … then praying that He would keep us both outwardly in body and inwardly in soul is important.
Both are vulnerable to attack as well as unaided sin.
Paul tells us about our behavior and closes the section by saying, “…whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (ESV)
Let us not ever disregard the commands of God. They are for our good and benefit. They are not designed to spoil the fun and ruin the day.
They are designed to shape us into the people He has called us out and separated us out to be.
They are designed to bring about true goodness and happiness.
So, continue on in this time of Lent, contemplating the ways in which we sin against one another and against God and pray that we each would be kept in both body and soul…
…so that though powerless in and of ourselves, we might lean more greatly on the Spirit of God for the grace that we need.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
 Excerpt From: Melville Scott. “The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels.” Apple Books.