Ethics: Duty or Relationship?

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Duty has that feel of doing more in terms of law, to perform more and more actions. Those actions seem to be based, if we don’t watch it, those actions can be based on rules. You don’t not have fornication because you have to obey the rule. You don't do anything because the rule's there. The rule is there because of the love. Not that you have the rule first and then comes the love.

I think what is going on is there is a transformation of the human personality that takes place as a result of coming into contact with God. And when you come into contact with God your entire life gets put under question and you have a different organizing center than you've ever had before. And because of that it will result in different behaviours.

I was really struck by that, when I started to think about pleasing God. At first you can think of appeasement. But then you start to think about it: pleasing God has a relational connotation to it. A spirited dance. When you think of a child's desire to place, the comes from an implicit trust. And the child isn't doing things perfectly. Its not pleasing in order to perfect. And we usually have the idea strung together that God is only pleased when we obey the rules.

So what he [Paul] instructs them in is not so much a set of rules, the household codes that the Stoics and others used. If you look at the way other people [traditions] were teaching this it was with the household codes, the rules. What Paul's teaching them about is learning what it means to please God. What it means to be in relationship and have someone be happy for you or to be happy with you. Which is reflective of the first three chapters [of Thessalonians]. In a sense, Paul is modelling ultimately our relationship with God..."I really want to be with you...I feel connected to you...when we're separated its not right...". So in a sense he's saying ultimately that is the kind of relationship we have with God. And actually Paul's relationship with them was primary because he was mediating God to them. So even to have them please Paul by listening to his instructions would be the closest they could come to pleasing God. But even to listen to his [Paul's] instruction in that spirit, you wouldn't just be following a rule. It sort of implies that, in the sense of "you were taught by God". I thought of how earlier in the book Paul talks about how "the authority I speak with is not from man but divine authority." Like the gospel actually has its own authority. And I wonder if that's what he's getting at when he says you were taught by God. "You received the gospel as if from God." God taught.

The relationship with Christ informs the conscience; unclarity comes when we aren’t tethered to this relationship. “Pleasing God” can reflect this relationship, a response of spirited dance. Not pleasing as perfection, but pleasing in terms of in the right direction.

So Paul doesn’t instruct them in household codes, as was common. He is teaching what it means to please God. To be in relationship and have someone be happy for or with you. So the issue of sexual morality is placed into this relational context: “you don’t want to fool around on God”. In Thessalonica, it was expected you would have multiple sexual relationships: husband-wife, man-companion(intellectual) and man-harlot, just to name a few. Close relationships were found with companions, not with wives. The morals of the whole society was different than the Christian society, and even from our own society. The Christian ethic turned the mores of the day on its head. Christianity claimed that no matter what relationship you have, its a union. And because its a union, it should model union with God, and therefore should be exclusive. Its not marriage or family first, then God. Its God first, then others things near to God. God is the primary lover of human beings. Relationships were to be pure and covenantal, not because of the man or woman involved, but because of God.

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