I don’t normally try to purposely be different than other people, but I have learned over the course of time that some people consider me to be different when it comes to eating breakfast, because when it comes to eating breakfast, I like to be all dressed up for the day – even now all the way to my shirt and tie. Growing up I never knew that it was really considered different to be dressed for the day when eating breakfast until I started having breakfast at other people’s houses and realized that the people at the breakfast table next to me with their pajamas and mussed-up hair looked different than I did — but that I was the one who was really different. This certainly is not the most difficult burden in the history of mankind to bear – and maybe there are some get-dressed-before-you-eat people out there, but sometimes I have to say to myself what many of us have to say to ourselves about other things, “It’s okay to be different” – even if it may seem a little weird to most.
I pray that as we walk through these words from the apostle Paul we will see that our Lord is not talking about being odd or weird, but he is talking about different – and that it is much more than just okay to be different when it comes to God. God says it’s great to be different, so let’s see why it’s great to be different and how we can be different in a way that pleases our Lord, which is exactly what the first verse wants us to do, “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living.”
The thought of being “different” as a Christian comes from the words that are underlined in our lesson in verses 3 and 4 and 7. In verse 3 St. Paul says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” In verse 4 Paul says that we “should learn to control (our) body in a way that is holy and honorable.” And in verse 7 Paul says, “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” Each of those words – sanctified, holy and holy – is really the same word, whether translated sanctified or holy. It is a word in the Bible that refers to God making someone different from everyone else – literally, to “holify” a person – to set him apart as holy and special. It means he has taken you and me away from being an unbeliever and has placed us into a different family that believes differently, because we now believe we need a Savior and that we have a Savior – and that lives differently, because we now want to live in a way that pleases the God who has saved us.
So can you tell what is the key thing to remember when God tells you he wants you to live a different life, a Christian life, a sanctified life? You already are different; you already are sanctified. In another of his letters in the Bible the apostle wrote to us Christians, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I pray that distinction is helpful. God declares to you and me that it a fact of spiritual life that he has made us different. When he put the faith in your heart to believe in Jesus, he sanctified you; he set you apart from the unbelieving world; he said he considers you holy because you are covered by the blood of Jesus; he made you different. And now he wants you and me to live as the people he says we are – different. In the words from our lesson he mentions in particular being different in regard to three different areas of Christian life: our sexual lives, showing simple Christ-like love to one another, and minding our own business and leading a quiet life. So let’s talk about those three things for a few moments.
It does not take someone more than a few years of life to know that, just like at Paul’s time, so in our time, there is a lot of sexual immorality and that there are many examples of people using their bodies in a way that demonstrates not a holy respect for God’s special gift of the sexual relationship, but rather, to use Paul’s expression, a “passionate lust” that looks at bodies as things – as objects – to satisfy our own never-able-to-be-quenched cravings and desires – something that God says here is living just “like the heathen” – people who don’t know God or care about him one bit. Even in the midst of this very loving and positive encouragement to live as the holy people God considers us to be through Jesus, he also warns us not to take that love of God for granted, because as he tells us in these words, that would not just be rejecting some person saying this from a pulpit, but that would be rejecting God – the one who has given us his Holy Spirit, who in turn is the one who has given us the faith to know we are different, which in turn is the power to show our faith by living in a different way. Certainly since we know this sexual obsession is such a huge part of everything that goes on in our lives around us, we want to ask God to help ourselves personally and to help others around us to stay pure and holy and honorable in the way we treat this special gift that so many people don’t treat in a very special way at all.
St. Paul talks to you and me with the same heartfelt conviction in connection with the second area of Christian life — encouraging us to just plain love one another in verses 9-10. In those verses he reminds them at that time, just as we tell each other at this time today, that it is so wonderful to see the love you have for one another – a love that stretched in their case beyond Macedonia (where they lived in modern day Greece) – and a love that stretches beyond Brookfield (where you and I live today). Obviously we fail and we falter and we sin, but to see God’s love in action through you and with you is such an encouragement to us who serve you with the Word that I cannot adequately express it. All I can do is repeat the desire of our Lord for everyone of us at the end of verse 10. As with them in that place, so with us in this place, “We urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.” You and I will never, ever run out of opportunities to show love, because the love God has shown to us will never, ever stop.
And then the final two verses – verses 11-12 — show us a third way we can show how great it is to be different because through Christ we are different. Our Lord says, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands…” It seems that Paul is talking to people in that culture – particularly the leading men of the country – who really liked to hear themselves talk and were always expressing opinions about what should be other people’s business. We are told, in fact, that one of the most important school subjects for young boys was oratory – the art of speechmaking. For many people of that day, working with their hands – manual labor – was beneath their dignity.
Now, putting your nose into other people’s business and liking to hear yourself talk and not wanting to work hard is a fault not just reserved for a few, since it is common for all us as men and women and boys and girls to have to be careful about things like that. But, very importantly, if we seek to be different than that with God’s help, what does the last verse – verse 12 – say will result? Two things. For one thing, some people out there will respect that and may be led to ask more about what makes you different – and you can tell them. “I really am no different than you or anyone else. But knowing Jesus has made things different for me. I know he loves me and has forgiven whatever I have done wrong – and he is going to take me to heaven someday.” That’s not liking-to-hear-yourself-talk talk. That’s talking-the-way-God-likes-to-hear yourself-talk talk – the kind of talk the Holy Spirit can use to make those people you are talking to just as different as you are by coming to faith in Jesus.
And the other result, Paul says, is that we will not be dependent on anybody. We do need to depend on each other – and we want to of course care for those who can’t care for themselves — but we won’t do so in a way that results from us being lazy or uncaring or giving the impression that other people owe us simply because we are here. We want to be good stewards – good users – of the abilities and the time and the resources which God gives us so that people around us can see the joy we have as we just go about a simple, quiet life – a life that doesn’t want to draw attention to itself — and in so doing does draw attention to the Someone who has made us so different.
So it really is okay to be different. It must be, because to say the least, God is different. And because of Jesus, his Son, so are you. In Christ be who you are – and see what kind of difference God just might let that make for someone else, too!