A Manner Worthy or a Moralistic Way?

One of the things that I love about the Apostle Paul, is that he always connects ethics with his theology. He never just taught about theology but always taught theology for the purpose of providing the basis for his ethics. Likewise, he never just taught ethical standards without providing that theological basis. For him, they went hand in hand, you couldn't have one without the other.

That's why I took careful notice this morning as I studied through chapter two of 1 Thessalonians. The first half of the chapter contains one antithetical statement after another. In other words he would say "not this, but that." Don't behave this way but that way. Don't do this, do that instead. The reason this struck me as odd, is that it sounds like moralism (addressing only outward behavior rather than dealing with the heart). Paul is giving a list of things to do and a list of things not to do. Look at the long list of antithetical statements his witness(paraphrased):

  • NOT vain BUT profitable
  • NOT error or impurity BUT approved by God  
  • NOT deceit BUT pleasing to God 
  • NOT flattering BUT gentle like a mother 
  • NOT greed BUT working day and night 
  • NOT seeking glory BUT devout and blameless   

Paul has called the people to whom is writing to imitate him (1:6), and now he is laying out for them his witness, behavior, and ethics. So is this just moralism? Is he simply telling them how behave? Is he simply giving them a list of things to do and not to do? Obviously, the answer is "no." The end of this section of his letter is verse twelve where he give the "why" behind everything he has just said:

so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
Paul is not preaching moralism. At the end of this long list of antithetical statements, he calls these people (and he calls us) to live a life that is "worthy of God" – that is, a life that reflects the character of and honors God. About this verse Dr. Michael Holmes said, "Paul directs his converts' attention not to a list of commandments or directory of prescribed behaviors, but to the character of God. This reminds us that for Paul, internal motivation, not simply external actions, is of critical importance."
For Paul the bottom line is living a life that is worthy of God. I've read this verse probably a 100 times before, but this truth hit me hard. As I assess myself this morning, I'm positive that the life I live is not yet worthy of the God who has called me into his kingdom and glory. I can only pray, that with his help my life will reflect the character of God a little better everyday.