1 Thessalonians 4:1-7 (ESV) – Finally, then, 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. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
I was in the 6th grade. I will never forget it. I had been teased pretty mercilessly but not about the usual stuff. Up to that point I had been teased about my height, or lack of it… I’m 5’6″ on a good day. I had been teased about my rather peculiar acumen for follicle activity… I’ve been shaving since the 5th grade – and no, I’m not joking. I had been called “shrimp” “ankle-biter” “Sasquatch” “monkey” and a host of other names not suitable to print. Oh, and the gap in my upper front teeth… But this was different. This time I was teased because, “Hey, YOU WALK LIKE A DUCK!!!”
Immediately, my mind raced. For years when the teasing came I thought about ways I could control it, but I couldn’t make myself taller, and the hair thing – I knew one day other guys would catch up. I hate the dentist, so braces were a no. But this… this, maybe I could do something about it. So, I went to it. Everyday I forced myself to point my toes inward as I walked. I constantly walked on rails, beams, and curbs to train my feet to straighten out and after a few months it worked! I stopped walking like a duck, and slowly the teasing stopped.
Bullying is not a good reason to change something about yourself, but I learned something: there are certain things over which I have control, and my body was one of them.
It’s funny, because I hadn’t thought about that time in my life until reading the above passage of Scripture for this Lenten plan. In this letter, Paul reminds the people that they were to walk so as to please God. In order to do that, he exhorts his readers to control their bodies from sexual immorality and to be fundamentally different than the Gentiles who continued to live the “unrestrained” lifestyles of pagans.
Today, it’s kind of difficult to talk about something like sexual immorality because so many people base their identities in their sexual desires and attractions. People aren’t viewed as people, they are viewed based on the lifestyle they’ve chosen. There is a sense in which people believe they don’t have control over what they do, think, or feel… that it all just happens to them. They are somehow slaves to genetics and predispositions.
But, I’m not sure it’s too dissimilar from the way the Thessalonians were tempted to live. They either knew God through Jesus Christ or they didn’t – and their lifestyles would reflect that. They either identified with the unbelievers around them and did not restrain anything in themselves. Or they identified with Christ and were free from the tyranny of fleeting desires and passions.
The thing Paul is conveying to us is that we should not be defined by anything other than our relationship with God – whether we have one or not. He is saying that if we claim to have that relationship, there will be a change in us, and that change is not meant to restrict our freedom, but to show us the way to live as we were meant to live. Through Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit anyone can be different… if they believe.
I used to walk like a duck, but now I don’t.