John Piper on 1 Thessalonians 4

January 25, 2007

I’m neither alone nor ashamed in saying I regard John Piper as one of my favourite living preachers. This is a man who defines preaching as “expository exultation.” Appropriately, Piper models it as well as anybody.

For today’s “Workman Watch” I’ve chosen to review one of his sermons with a rather long title: “This is the Will of God for You: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” A few reasons why I picked this particular sermon…

Firstly, because it models how to preach with exegetical accuracy and emotional appropriateness on a challenging topic. I for one need to see good examples of preaching on difficult themes. Secondly, many people hear Piper at Conferences not realising that his week to week style involves trawling through a couple of verses in an expository style. And finally, on a personal level, this sermon helped me a great deal when I had to preach on this same text a few years back. Do take time to listen to it and compare notes. You can read the sermon here. Its a cracker!

What was the opening sentence?
“For three weeks now we’ve been working on this series – a little mini series between Romans 8 and 9.”

What was the introduction about? This was a review of the previous two sermons (seeking the lost; seeking social justice). Piper brought out the point that Christians don’t have to choose between evangelism, social justice and sexual purity, and addressed those who feel that Christians are hung up on sex. He points out that Jesus managed to succeded in all three areas: seeking lost people, social justice and sexual puritiy.

What was the main point? Sexual purity is one of God’s priorities for His people and we will only attain this by knowing Him better.

What was the sermon structure?

1. What?
a) sexual impurity – avoid it (fornication and adultery .v 4)
b) sexual purity – pursuit it (walking to please God .v 1, sanctification .v 3, holiness .v 7)

2) Why?
a) the incentive of pleasing God (v 1)
b) the incentive of doing the will of God (v 2)
c) the incentive of honour (v 4)
d) the incentive of Christian love (v 6a)
e) the incentive of God’s vengence (v 6b)

3) How?
Knowing God (v 5 – “not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God“)
a) know the patience of God (v 1 – “more and more”)
b) know the power of God (3:13 – “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of God the Father)
c) know the preciousness of God

Did the preacher cover the scope of the text? Thoroughly. I especially appreciated that this wasn’t merely a “how to” sermon, but that all the aspects of the text (the what, the why and the how) were dealt with.

What aspects of the preacher’s style did you appreciate?
A number of things, not all related:
i) Piper’s intensity. No matter how many times I hear this man, his passion takes me aback. There is a palpable intensity, which combines a seriousness for the subject and a love for the people.
ii) Piper’s ability to be frank without being unhelpful in his language. On subjects such as this, many preacher’s seem either to not live in the real world (where things like “pornography” and “masturbation” exist) or, on the other hand, seem to revel in speaking about risque things.
iii) Piper’s attempt to speak to children in terms they could understand. Not only will this benefit the children, but parents are seeing how they might talk to their children on such matters. Admirable indeed.

Was there anything in the sermon that you would query? I did wonder a little about Piper making so much out of the last point – which is only an inference from verse 5. Not to say that the logical deduction couldn’t be made (i.e. if the heathen’s not knowing God leads to sexual impurity, then knowing God will lead to purity). I’m just not sure this was a point Paul was making here.

What one thing will you remember in a week’s time? Piper’s description of how someone might pray whilst on the internet to maintain their sexual purity. (“Lord, lift my hand from that mouse!”)

Is there a single aspect of Piper’s preaching that you will attempt to incorporate into your own preaching? Piper’s sheer passion for the subject and the people. This, I know, can’t simply be mimicked but has to come from much time spend with God in prayer and the Word. Earnestness, however that may look like through my personality, is a quality Piper models for me in abundance.


One comment

  1. I thought this was a very helpful exercise. Thanks for putting in the work to listen well and publishing it so everyone could benefit.

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