Saturday, February 29, 2020

Be Encouraged... through Fellowship - I Thessalonians 2:17-3:5

Be Encouraged… through Fellowship
I Thessalonians 2:17-3:5
Introduction: We’ve called our series “Be Encouraged,” and I know you were encouraged through the Word last week as Pastor David preached about the Bible as God’s inspired Word. Be encouraged, God has spoken! This week we will be reminded of our need for fellowship in the church, and it is another important means that God will use to encourage us as we live life and carry out God’s mission in this fallen world. In describing the early, Post-Pentecostal church in the book of Acts, we read in Acts 2:42, And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Our series ties in with that as last week Pastor David talked about the Word, this week we’ll break bread as we celebrate the Lord’s Table. Paul has mentioned prayer already in this letter, and the passage for next week will talk more about prayer.
       Today we’ll be reminded of our need for fellowship, sharing our lives together, using our gifts to encourage each other and build each other up, bearing each other’s burdens. In the previous verses Paul talked about the connection between the suffering of the church and the suffering of Christ. Jesus had said to His disciples in the upper room, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me first…” (John 15:18). John said in 1 John 3:13, Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” Peter said it this way…
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed… (I Peter 4:12-13).
There is a conflict between the light of God’s truth and the darkness of this world system, and “men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil…” The world rejected Jesus and crucified Him. What should we expect? God has left us here, but he hasn’t left us. He has given us the Spirit, and He has given us each other. Paul wants to encourage this young church, to assure them that he hasn’t abandoned them, and Jesus certainly has not. 
       By the way, I meet people all the time, and maybe you do too, who say that they are Christians, but they’ve given up on “church.” It’s become a “thing” these days. They read the Bible alone at home, or maybe even with their family, but they don’t feel committed to a local church. Too many hypocrites there, or they aren’t very warm and loving, or they are so prideful in their little cliques. And guess what, if you look hard enough, you will find problems with any church. But the church is God’s design. We need the accountability. We need to benefit from the gifts of others, and if we are not part of a church, we are robbing others of the benefit of the gifts God has given us! We are stronger together than any of us can be alone.
The Maine* Idea: God has given us the church to encourage us when life gets hard, so we can carry out His mission until He comes. We’ll see that 1) Fellowship flows from love for the brethren (2:17-20); 2) Fellowship strengthens us to live out the mission (3:1-3a); and finally Fellowship enables us to last through the trials (3:3b-5). 
I. Fellowship flows fromloving the brethren (2:17-20).
2:17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face,  18 because we wanted to come to you- I, Paul, again and again- but Satan hindered us.  19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?  20 For you are our glory and joy.  
      Throughout this passage Paul uses strong language to express his love for the Thessalonians. He said, “we were torn away from you…” (ESV). The verb “torn away” is the root from which the English word “orphaned” is derived. It occurs only here in the New Testament. Some English translations use the word “bereft.” This gives a sense of the strong emotion with which Paul is describing being forcibly separated from the Thessalonians. Remember the context: he has used the language of a mother’s tender, gentle affection, he has spoken of a father’s loving correction and direction, and now he describes their separation as “being orphaned.” Death is always hard, but some of the most heart wrenching funerals I have been to have been when a parent has lost a child… That is how this experience is described by Paul. He loved the people to whom he ministered, and if it were possible, he would have stayed longer to strengthen them and deepen them in the faith. And suddenly, prematurely, he is torn away from them by circumstances beyond his control! It broke his heart to have to leave them. 
       One writer said, “Nearly every word in this passage revolves around their love for Jesus, His love for them, and their love for one another.” (M. Howell, I Thess. P.54).  Notice Paul says that he was bereft, orphaned, “…in person not in heart…” Though he couldn’t be with them physically for a time, they were on his heart, and as he has already said, in his prayers. His love for them had not changed. Out of sight was not out of mind. 
       we desired all the more eagerly… with great desire to see you…” Paul uses this series of intensive, descriptive terms to describe the desire of his heart:  we desired all the more eagerly… with great desire to see you…” If someone was claiming that Paul had abandoned them or didn’t care about them, or that he didn’t want to see them again, Paul is affirming quite the opposite: His eager, great desire was to see them! 
       Though he desired so strongly to come, Paul says that “…Satan hindered us… How did Satan hinder Paul? We don’t know. How did Paul know it was Satan and that God himself was not shutting the door to his return (as he had done earlier on this journey in Acts 16:6-7)? Somehow Paul discerned Satan’s hand in the circumstances that kept him from returning personally to the Thessalonians. It is good to remember that we have an adversary, and that he is intent on shipwrecking our testimony individually, and as a church. We’ll get back to that in a minute. 
       “…our hope and joy and crown… at His coming…  Paul alludes to a culmination of this story, a day when God himself will judge the faithfulness of His workmen, at the “coming” [Parousia] of the Lord (Paul will talk a lot more about that in this letter!). This is the first use of that word in the epistles to refer to the Lord’s return. Jesus is coming again! We should be looking for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. God will not only ultimately deliver us from the wrath to come, but he will give us what we need to “bear up” under the trials of life in this fallen world. Paul’s “joy and crown” is the Thessalonians themselves. The “crown” [stephanos] was the wreath that was placed on the head of the winner of a race.  As John would later write, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). Paul loved the Thessalonians like that. Beloved, let us love one another. If God so loved us, we ought to love one another. God has given us the church to encourage us when life gets hard, so we can carry out His mission until He comes. 
II. Fellowship strengthens us… to live out the mission (3:1-3a). 
3:1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone,  2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith,  3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. 
       The emotion of Paul’s bond with the Thessalonians comes out in almost every verse, does it not? He says in 3:1 and again in 3:5, that he could “bear it no longer” – that is, to be without word about the health and faith of these young believers, was more than Paul could bear. And so, unable to go himself, He sent Timothy to encourage the Thessalonians. He was willing to be left alone in Athens. From Paul’s perspective, making sure that the Thessalonians were taken care of was more important than Paul’s comfort or desires. That is the J-O-Y of the Christian life isn’t it? J-Jesus first, O-Others second, Y-Yourself last. The care and discipling of the Thessalonians was what mattered most to Paul at this moment. So, he sends Timothy. 
       Notice the titles: “…Timothy, our brother, and God’s co-worker…” Timothy was the “junior” member of the missionary team, but Paul counted him as a reliable representative of the message and the mission. Here he is not called Paul’s “son,” but rather his “brother.” He also calls him “God’s co-worker.” Think about that. A young missionary apprentice, himself being discipled in the faith by Paul, being described as “God’s co-worker.” 
       Do you feel unworthy to have a part in God’s mission? On your own, you are! And so am I. But because of Jesus, because of his grace toward us, we are counted righteous. And the Holy Spirit himself has sealed us and is in us. God has chosen to use the weak things of the world, the foolish things, to confound the wise (see I Cor 1:26-31). He saved you on purpose for a purpose. And He left you in the world because you have a part in His mission! There is no plan “B”! Will we embrace our calling? 
       “…to establish and exhort you in the faith…” “establish” seems to imply our initial grounding in the faith. “Exhort” is the familiar verb, parakaleo, to encourage, to call alongside to help. That is a beautiful picture of discipleship, God’s design for the church. We are not a team of independent contractors called to be “lone ranger Christians.” We are called into a family, the Body of Christ, each of us important to the proper working of the whole. 
       “…that no one may be moved…” The goal, or the end that Paul desired was that the Thessalonians stand firm in the faith. Timothy, along with Paul and Silas, had a part in getting them grounded, but we also need each other to grow and be strengthened. One commentator said, “We may be saved by grace alone through faith alone, but God never intended for us to live life alone” (M. Howell, I Thess., p.66).  God has given us the church to encourage us when life gets hard, so we can carry out His mission until He comes. 
III. Fellowship enables us… to last through the trials (3:3b-5).
For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.  4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.  5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain
       Paul had evidently taught them about life in this fallen world, including the certainty that believers will suffer. Jesus himself had told his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation…” As we reflect the light of Christ, fallen humans, blinded by the god of this world, resist, as “men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil…” Paul did not simply mention this once to the Thessalonians, read v.4, “For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass...” This is repeated, emphatic teaching, something that no one could have missed. He kept telling them beforehand, and indeed, that is exactly what had already come to pass as they well knew. 
       When you believed, did someone tell you that now life was going to be smooth sailing, all health and prosperity? If they did say that, they might have had good intentions, but they lied! We have an adversary who is intent on destroying us. He was called Satan earlier, here, he is the “tempter.” We are in a spiritual battle! Later in this letter Paul will say, “…since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation… (I Thess 5:8; cf. Eph 6:10-18). 
       We have an enemy, and he is going about as a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour! He would seek to tempt us and to lead us astray, and he will use any means possible to attack the church. Have you noticed, in the Book of Acts, the struggles of the early church? The church grows through testing, but the trials alternate between attacks from outside, overt opposition by Jewish and Roman authorities, and attacks from within, such as the issues with Ananias and Sapphira (5), and the neglect of the Greek speaking widows (6). Later, God’s work among the gentiles became a point of contention with the Jewish Christians – what should be required of them with respect to the Law? You get the idea? The enemy would look to sow seeds of discord, in our hearts and in our church. He knows humans well. But greater is He who is in us, than He who is in the world! We need to guard our hearts, and also to be on guard, not letting the enemy get a foothold. 
What is God saying to me in this passage? We’ve seen that 1) Fellowship flows from love for the brethren (2:17-20); 2) Fellowship strengthens us to live out the mission (3:1-3a); and finally Fellowship enables us to last through the trials (3:3b-5).  God has given us the church to encourage us when life gets hard, so we can persevere, and carry out His mission until He comes. So, we need to be ready, and stay engaged in God's work! 
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Is the church a good idea for some people, but not really essential?  Can we “do” Christianity just fine on our own?  The Bible is clear on the subject. The writer to the Hebrews put it well when he said in Hebrews 10:24-25, 
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 
God designed the church for our good, and for His glory. So, let us faithfully seek to love each other, to hold each other accountable, to provoke one another to love and good works, and watch out for each other… and to be on guard against the enemy. Let’s use our gifts to build each other up, and to faithfully carry out the mission God has entrusted to us!  That means meeting together for worship and living life together. Small groups, Sunday School classes, and also informal meals together and just spending time with each other. We are doing so, let’s excel still more, to God’s glory, AMEN.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Be Encouraged: Gospel-centered Discipleship - I Thessalonians 2:1-12

Be Encouraged: …by Gospel-centered Discipleship
I Thessalonians 2:1-12
Introduction: Valentines’ Day is a time when we would express what is on our heart to our beloved… Our teens gave us a nice dinner right here Friday night! I guess they love us! Here, Paul is opening his heart, as a pastor, to the Thessalonians…

      Paul refers to the “Gospel” six times in this letter. Four of those references are right here in this passage, I Thessalonians 2:1-12. Paul had boldness to declare the gospel in the face of conflict (2:2), God had entrusted him with the gospel (4), he was ready to share with them not only the gospel (8) but his very soul, and he labored, so as not to be a burden, as he proclaimed to them the gospel (9). Paul’s ministry of evangelism and discipleship among them was centered on the Gospel. The letter is bringing encouragement to a young church, and that encouragement is centered on the Gospel, the Good News that God was, in Christ, reconciling sinners to Himself. That message empowered Paul, and it filled his heart with compassion for the people to whom he ministered. Let me refer to another letter by another apostle, listen carefully to John’s words in 1 John 4:7-11,   

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

If God so loved us, we ought, that is, we are obliged, to love one another. This passage is talking about a missionary-pastor’s love for his people, but it is also about each one of us. We should care enough to encourage one another…

The Maine* Idea: As we have been encouraged, so we can follow Christ, and encourage others through the Gospel. We’ll focus on how we can do that from four perspectives, 1) As a courageous witness (1-2); 2) As a careful steward (3-6a); 3) like a caring mother, (6b-9); and finally, 4) like a concerned father (10-12).

I. As a Courageous Witness (2:1-2). Trials, past and present, didn’t stop Paul, and shouldn’t stop us, from sharing the truth!
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.  2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.  
       Paul and the missionary team came to Thessalonica out of a difficult ministry in Philippi, but he reminds the Thessalonians that he did not come empty-handed. He had a message to share. Verse one says “our coming was not in vain,” which could imply that the reference is to the eventual results of Paul’s ministry there. Certainly the results were important, the fruit validated the message and the messenger! However that doesn’t seem to be Paul’s point here, in this verse. There is a strong adversative that begins verse 2 that the NIV left untranslated.  It doesn’t make sense, unless we include the contrast he intended: we didn’t come empty handed, without purpose, despite the trials we had come through we boldly declared the Gospel!  
       The situation that Paul, Silas, and Timothy had left in Philippi was know to the Thessalonians. Their bodies carried the wounds and bruises to make it impossible to miss that they had been abused. We read about it in Acts 16:22-24,
22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.  23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.  24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
The magistrates accepted the allegations of the mob, and had Paul and Silas stripped and publicly beaten with rods, and then secured in an inner prison with their feet in stocks. After the jailer comes to faith, before he and his family are baptized, they “wash their wounds.” They had been badly beaten and publicly humiliated. The had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi. They came to Thessalonica still hurting; but determined to faithfully share the message of Jesus as Messiah. And that is exactly what they did, and a church was born. Now, with the news of the faithfulness and growth of these new believers, Paul writes to encourage them to continue on in hope. And so we see…  
The Maine* Idea: As we have been encouraged, so we can follow Christ, and encourage others through the Gospel. It begins by looking past the trials of the moment and being a courageous witness. That is tied closely with the idea that we are called to be a careful steward of what God has entrusted to us.
II. As a Careful Steward (3-6a). Paul realized that he had been entrusted with a precious message, and he was determined to be faithful with what God had entrusted to him.
3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive,  4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.  5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed- God is witness.  6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others…
       The word “steward” does not appear in these verses, but the idea is clearly present in verse 4, “we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel.” Last week I was reading through the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. We see the idea of “stewardship” in Joseph’s experience in Egypt. First, in the house of Potiphar, there we read in Genesis 39:4,  
So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.
Joseph was trustworthy, and so was given charge over Potiphar’s household. You remember how Potiphar’s wife lusted after Joseph and then lied about him, and as a result Joseph was cast into prison. Even there, God was with Joseph, and his integrity was recognized by the jailer. And he entrusted Joseph with responsibility within the jail. So, we read in Genesis 39:22-23,
And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it.  23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.
After being in prison for at least two years, Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, and his wisdom is recognized by the Egyptian leader. And so again, Joseph is entrusted with responsibility, made a “steward,” this time over all of Egypt…
39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are.  40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you."  41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." (Genesis 41:39-41).
Paul tells us in I Corinthians 4:1.2, This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”  Just as Joseph was entrusted with responsibility, so Paul, and we, have been entrusted with a message and a mission. The message is the Gospel, the mission is to proclaim the Gospel and to make disciples. Remember how God was with Joseph, and enabled him to fulfill his responsibilities? The same God has promised to be with us, always. He told His small group of followers as much at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: 
Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” 
    May we be found to be faithful with what God has entrusted to us! That points us back to the Maine* Idea: As we have been encouraged, so we can follow Christ, and encourage others through the Gospel. We can do that as a courageous witness, as a careful steward, and thirdly…
III. Like a Caring mother (6b-9). As a mother gently cares for and nourishes her baby, so we should love and care for those in our charge.
though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.  7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.  8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.  9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
       This is an unexpected analogy from Paul, but a touching one. What could show more gentleness, more tender affection, more selfless love, than a mother tenderly nursing and caring for her child? Notice the contrast from v.6b into verse 7. Paul says they could have come in apostolic authority, making demands of them, but instead, they came with gentleness, tenderness, as they shared with them the pure milk of the Word
     The language of verse 8 carries the idea even further, “…being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves…” Not only the milk of the word, but our very lives, literally, our souls, we would share with you!  These were not merchants or traders trying to make a sale, these were men whose lives had been transformed by the grace of God, who were constrained by the love of Christ, and so compelled to share the truth in love, urging these to whom they were sent to grow in the faith. Of course, Christ himself is the ultimate example of self-sacrificing love. As Mark Howell says,
What greater display of selfless love can be seen than the sacrifice of Jesus as He died on the cross? Mark captures this selflessness so well when he writes, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) [Mark Howell, I Thessalonians, p.35].
       Why did they do it, ministering with such selfless tender affection? “…because you became very dear to us…” Literally, our beloved (from the root agape). Remember back in 1:4 Paul called them “loved by God.” Now he affirms that they had become beloved by the missionary team, by Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy. There is a subtle polemic here. It is not as overt as in Galatians and in other of Paul’s letters, but he is responding to any from outside who would be charging him and his colleagues with ulterior motives, with a desire for financial gain or status. He is telling the Thessalonian believers, “you know how we came to you, how we ministered among you. We loved you, because Christ loved us. We were gentle and nurturing among you, because Jesus, the Gentle Shepherd, has so dealt with us.” Considering the context, the persecution here that followed the earlier persecution in Philippi, the words of Peter seem appropriate…
14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;  16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame… (1 Pet 3:14-16).
That points us back to the Maine* Idea: As we have been encouraged, so we can follow Christ, and encourage others through the Gospel. We can do that with courage in the face of conflict, as a careful steward, and with the gentleness of a caring mother. To complement these we can also serve… 
IV. And like a Concerned Father (10-12). As a father urges his children toward their full potential, we provoke one another to love and good works.
10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.  11 For you know how, like a father with his children,  12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
       If Paul is defending the integrity of the missionary team, the Thessalonians themselves are his witnesses. Most importantly, the Judge himself, God, knows how they walked among the Thessalonians. Paul had a clear conscience, because he and his colleagues encouraged the young church by their example as well as their words. He can say, “Do as I do… follow me as I follow Christ!” Following the picture of a gentle, nursing mother, Paul uses the analogy of a father exhorting and encouraging and charging the young believers to walk worthy of their calling in Christ. You are God’s children, you have been delivered out of bondage to sin, you have been rescued from the domain of darkness, now live in the light of that truth! This basis of exhortation is repeated in the New Testament: “This is who you are and what you have in Christ, now live like it!” In his letter to the Ephesians, after an eloquent exhortation concerning our position in Christ, Paul says in 4:1-3,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Similarly in the “twin epistle” to Ephesians, the letter to the Colossians, he says in Colossians 3:1-6,  
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
In Romans, over the first 11 chapters, Paul talks about the implications of the Gospel in terms of our justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And then we have that famous transition in 12:1-2,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
To the Ephesians, to the Colossians, to the Romans, to the Thessalonians. He is saying, "We taught you the truth of the Gospel of God. We lived among you, demonstrating faith, hope, and love. We nurtured you in the truth and encouraged you to lay hold of that for which Christ laid hold of you. You are new creatures, now part of a New Creation, looking for the coming Kingdom of which you are already a citizen. Now live like it." By application that admonition is to us as well!

What is God saying to me in this passage? As we have been encouraged, so we can follow Christ, and encourage others through the Gospel.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Do you have the courage to be a witness as you live your life in this fallen world? Because God has entrusted you with His message, He has called you to be His faithful witness, and He has also given you a spiritual gift to use to build up others in the faith. We are all called to be disciples who make disciples. Are we careful stewards of the what God has entrusted to us?  Do we carry out our calling with gentleness and respect, loving the people around us? Do we exhort and encourage and charge those around us to grow in holiness and grace, provoking them to love and good works? As we have been encouraged, let’s follow Christ, and encourage others through the Gospel. It starts by living a life that is holy, righteous, and blameless, in other words, a life that is pleasing to God, and a testimony to the world. Let’s determine to be courageous witnesses where God has placed us, and with gentleness and respect, let’s be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us!  AMEN.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Be Encouraged! God is working in you! - I Thessalonians 1:3-10

Be Encouraged! God is working in you!
I Thessalonians 1:3-10
Introduction: With seven kids, six of them being boys, my mother had her hands full trying to keep us in line. Every now and then one of us would pick up on something my parents were doing (or not doing) and use that for a basis of challenging the rules. That never worked out so well for us! Have you ever said, or heard it said by others, “Do as I say, not as I do!” How effective is an admonition like that?  Like it or not, people are watching. What do they see and hear?
Context: In opening this letter, Paul is expressing his thankfulness for the evident faith, love, and hope of the Thessalonians (1:2-3a). His time with them was brief. He and his colleagues had preached in the Synagogue for only three Sabbaths, showing from the Scriptures that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise again, and proving that Jesus is that promised Rescuer, the One spoken of throughout the Scriptures. Some Jews who had not believed stirred up dissention, and the three missionaries were forced to leave under duress.
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,  3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ
The Maine* Idea: The message we share with people is inseparable from the way we live among them.
I. A Changed life validates a profession of faith (3-5a).
3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,  5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. 
      Pastor and commentator John Stott makes the point that faith, love, and hope are inseparable from authentic Christianity. He said that
Faith, hope and love are thus sure evidences of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Together they completely re-orientate our lives, as we find ourselves being drawn up towards God in faith, out towards others in love and on towards the Parousia in hope. The new birth means little or nothing if it does not pull us out of our fallen introversion and redirect us towards God, Christ and our fellow human beings (Message of 1 Thess, Kindle, 284-287).
Do you see how these attitudes complement one another? Faith looks up to Him, love looks out to the world, to people around us, and hope looks forward to the promise of His coming! Paul was thankful that he could see these realities in the lives of the Thessalonians. Remember that this was a young church, these were new believers, but their lives demonstrated that they were the real thing, they were authentic Christians! He goes on to emphatically affirm that as he continues in v.4…
       For we know brothers, loved of God… that He has chosen you…” First, he calls them “brethren,” brothers and sisters in Christ, part of the family of God. That language is pervasive in the Bible. God is the Father of the faithful, that makes us all brothers and sisters! They are “loved by God.” I occasionally talk with people who say they believe, but due to circumstances in life they have begun to question God’s love for them. “How do I know God loves me? I don’t ‘feel’ loved… Why does he allow such pain, such trials?” The first question is easiest to answer. How do you know He loves us? Look at the Cross. Remember that “this is how God showed His love among us, He sent His one and only Son, so that we might live through Him” (I Jn 4:9). Or, as Paul said to the Romans, “God commended His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…” (Rom 5:8). As we read in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life…” Does God love us? Look to Calvary, look at the Cross, He loved us that much!
       The next phrase might seem unusual, but it is important to understand: “…He has chosen you…” We can’t exhaustively work through the implications of that word, but let me quote from another important passage, Ephesian 1:4-6a…
…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love  5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,  6 to the praise of his glorious grace…
I like the way our brother Herb M. used to put it: “He chose you on purpose, for a purpose…” Don’t read into it, and don’t try to explain it away, it’s what the Bible says. The problems come when we try to go beyond what the Bible says. Election doesn’t diminish the call to preach the gospel to all creation. It doesn’t change the fact that we are to urge people on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God, and that whoever believes will be saved. It tells us that God is that big, that He has a plan that reaches into eternity past. He began this story, and He will bring it to completion, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace. We don’t want to take human responsibility out of the Bible nor should we try to explain away God’s sovereignty. God is that big, let’s take Him at His word!
       Notice in 1:5a how Paul was sure that these Thessalonians were elect of God: “…because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…” The Thessalonians did not merely hear the teaching of the missionary team, and accept that it was true. It wasn’t only a decision to join a new movement. There was supernatural intervention. It did not come in word only, BUT… The message came with power and the Holy Spirit… The connection between the Spirit and power was well established since Pentecost: “…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit come upon you… We are not told here how the reception of the Spirit was evidenced in Thessalonica, but it was clear and visible. And the message was received with “full conviction.” That is a more unusual word, plerosoria, which only occurs in three other passages in the entire NT. It’s not about just being convinced. We can know that we are His.
Colossians 2:2that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ
Hebrews 6:11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end
Hebrews 10:22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
So in these passages the idea is full assurance, of understanding, of hope, and of faith. It is a real, supernatural, life changing encounter with the living God. It is what Jesus described in the “Good Shepherd Discourse” in John 10:27-28, when He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Do you remember when you first believed? You passed from darkness to Light, from this present evil age to Kingdom of the Son (see Col 1:13). Did the message come with power, the Spirit, and deep conviction, full assurance? It does not mean there is never a doubt or a struggle, because we are, after all,  still putting off the old and putting on Christ. It does mean that God is with us and in us, and that no one can snatch us out of his grip. That is Good News!  We proclaim it, and God has chosen through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. But, the message we share with people is inseparable from the way we live among them. Remember the famous saying of Saint Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel, and when necessary use words.” I think that was a deliberate exaggeration, because no one is going to get saved without the message, in words! But the point is that the Gospel changes lives, and how we live validates our testimony, it shows the Gospel to the world… Next, we see…
II. A Changed life is an example worth following (5b-7).
You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.  6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,  7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
      We lived out our faith before you (5b). Paul is not afraid to point to himself and his teammates and to say, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” They weren’t among them for long, but it was long enough for the Thessalonians to get a clear sense of the authenticity of the faith of Paul, Silas, and Timothy. They no doubt showed love and compassion in their preaching. They demonstrated commitment to this Jesus who they preached – It was clear that He had changed their lives! They showed courage in the face of opposition and difficulties. Like the first disciples in the early pages of the Book of Acts, it was evident that they had been with Jesus (cf. Acts 4:13)! Their “walk” validated their “talk,” it earned them a hearing.
       You “imitated” our example, but especially the Lord (6a). Paul says “ became imitators of us, and of the Lord…” Think about that. The original disciples walked with Jesus for three years or so. They saw His habits of prayer, how He handled interruptions, how He spoke to people. They saw His habits and consistency of life and message. They learned not only from what He said, but also from how He lived. Paul could similarly say in Philippians 3:17, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Follow my example, as I follow Christ! Whether we like it our not, people are watching. In only a matter of weeks the Thessalonians had learned from Paul and his colleagues. And already their lives had become models to others!
     You became an example to others (6b-7). “…in affliction with joy…” Now doesn’t that sound contradictory? How do those idea go together? The point is that tribulation or “affliction” cannot destroy our joy in the Lord. Joy goes beyond the circumstances of the moment, and is anchored in the certainty of our standing in Christ. We are not necessarily thankful for trials, but we can be thankful in our trials. We know that God is good, all the time, so we can trust Him, whatever the circumstance of the moment. We know the end of the story, we have the promise of victory in Jesus! And so as we read in Philippians 4:7,  “…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That peace will command the attention of the world, especially those in our sphere of influence. It is part of our witness. And Paul could say of the Thessalonians, that they had become an example to others, their lives were a model of Christian faith and faithfulness. That is the Maine* Idea: The message we share with people is inseparable from the way we live among them.
III. The Gospel “sounds forth” from an authentic Christian (8-10).
8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.  9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,  10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. 
       Word and Witness go hand-in-hand (8). Notice the two aspects of their witness. First, “Not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you…” This term, “sounded forth” occurs only here in the New Testament. It has the sense, “sound forth, ring out!” According to F.F. Bruce, it denotes “a loud ringing sound, as of a trumpet blast.” (p.17). The idea is they weren’t whispering! They were shouting from the rooftops to whoever would listen! This news was too good to keep to themselves. Jesus is the promised Messiah, and he died and rose again as promised in the Scriptures. Trust Him and find life, true life! The Word sounded forth from them with clarity.
       But the Word was not in a vacuum. Their faith “sounded forth” everywhere, throughout Macedonia and Achaia, basically from the north part of Greece to the south, and beyond. That means not only the Word of the Gospel, but the testimony of their changed lives.  The story of their conversion, from the way they received the disciples and the message of Christ, to the radical change in direction that followed their hearing and believing.  
       “…you turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God…” We are reminded that, authentic faith will be visible: a new life (9). Notice that they turned from their idols, false, lifeless gods, to serve the living and true God, the God who is, the God of the Bible. The Bible makes it clear that idolatry was not something that started in Greek culture, it was nothing new. You remember when Aaron collected the gold from the people and made a calf, and said “This is the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt!” You don’t get to decide who God is and what God is like. God is. Period. The prophets speak to the foolishness of just making up our own Gods. For example in Isaiah 44:14-17 we read that a man…
cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it.  15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it.  16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, "Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!"  17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!"
Ridiculous, right? Before we laugh too hard, realize that anytime we distort the truth about God, and begin to insert our own ideas, we are essentially falling into a kind of idolatry. Many people, when they hear some aspect of biblical doctrine that they don’t like or that they can’t understand, will begin to substitute their own ideas. “My God would never send someone to eternal hell.” Have you heard that? Or, “I think ultimately, since God is love, he’ll let everyone into heaven.” The problem is, we don’t get to make up our own idea of God, and we don’t get to make up the rules. The God who is, the true and living God, has spoken. And though no man has seen God at any time, the only begotten, Jesus, has made Him known (Jn 1:18). In fact, Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”
       The sure hope of believers allows us to look beyond this current evil age (10). Paul expresses the sure hope of the Thessalonians, and us. We too “…wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Ok, there is bad news there, wrath is coming. But the good news is that those who believe are delivered from it! We have the promise that Jesus rose, ascended into heaven, and He will return. Paul will have a more to say about that in this letter—the Thessalonians need some clarification. Our sure hope enables us to be steadfast as we live life in this fallen world. We are His witnesses!
What is God saying to me in this passage?  That is the Maine* Idea: The message we share with people is inseparable from the way we live among them.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Are Christ-centered faith, love, and hope evident in your life, looking upward, outward, and forward? God has given us the church to help us. Is there a Paul or Barnabas or Silas in your life, who can encourage you and hold you accountable? The Lord’s design for discipleship is that we learn from others, and that we keep on learning. Our ultimate example is Jesus, but He has given us the church, to encourage one another, and provoke one another to love and good works. Who is your Paul? Someone who has been a Christian a bit longer or who has gone through a bit more and can help you on the way? Who is your Barnabas or Silvanus, a like-minded believer who can encourage you and hold you accountable? Is there a Timothy in your life, who you can be an example to, and lead deeper in the faith?
       These verses are somewhat convicting because I know how often my life can fall short. Not that we will be perfect, but because we are forgiven we’ll be different. What we long for is to be a good witness to the unsaved in our sphere of influence. It all goes into their processing: tweets, Facebook posts, what we say at the grocery or Hammond lumber… We are a witness… may we show by our lives that God is real, and that He is working on us and through us! May the way we live among our neighbors testify to God’s amazing grace in Christ. AMEN.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Be Encouraged! - I Thessalonians 1:1-3

Be Encouraged!

I Thessalonians 1:1-3; Acts 17:1-9

Introduction: The “backstory” to I Thessalonians is found in Paul’s second missionary journey in Acts 17… Paul is writing to encourage a young church he had only recently helped plant. Remember the start of the second missionary journey. Paul had had a dispute with Barnabas over John-Mark, and the result was they decided to go out on two separate teams. Barnabas took John Mark and Paul took Silas. As Paul and Silas came to Lystra, they met a young disciple named Timothy, who continued with them on their travel westward. God somehow closed the doors for ministry in Asia minor, we are not told how, just that the Spirit did not allow them to minister further in Asia Minor. As they neared the coast, Luke joined the team, and God spoke to Paul through a vision, a man from Macedonia was beaconing him to “Come, and help us!” The team concluded God was calling them to cross over into Europe. After a successful ministry in Philippi, accompanied by persecution and being jailed, the team traveled down to Thessalonica. The pattern was repeated there, successful ministry starting in the synagogue, where Paul and his colleagues ministered for three Sabbaths, where they “…reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead…” (Acts 17:2-3). He preached that Jesus is that promised Messiah. Persecution followed, forcing them to leave under duress. The team traveled on to Athens, and before heading to Corinth, Timothy was sent back to check on the status of the Thessalonians. Paul writes this response from Corinth, after having received Timothy’s positive report on the church in Thessalonica. As we look at this opening we’ll see…
The Maine* Idea: As believers living in a fallen world, we can be encouraged by God’s presence as He works in us and through us.
I. Be Encouraged by the Presence of God (1). Unlike typical letters that we would write today, in the ancient world letter writers would typically begin by first identifying themselves, and then extending “greetings” to the recipient(s). Paul makes a change from the typical Greek salutation, “Greetings,” and adds something similar to a Jewish greeting, “Grace to you and peace…” He begins,
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 
       First, the Encouragers: Paul, Silvanus, Timothy. This opening identifies the “writers” at the outset, which would have been typical.  Paul does this in all of his letters, but even so this letter is a little different in a couple of respects. For one thing, Paul doesn’t set himself off from the other members of the missionary team, simply identifies the three leaders of the team that the Thessalonian had seen and heard, Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy. In letters like Galatians, where Paul’s authority as an apostle was being attacked, he asserts forcefully his authority as a messenger of Christ: Paul, an apostle, not from men or by men, but through Jesus Christ… In fact in that letter he spends two chapters affirming the authority and the message he had received directly from Christ. Here he is less formal, it seems these believers knew and recognized the message and the messenger.
       Paul is writing to encourage this young church, reminding them that they are in the world, they dwell in Thessalonica, but they also have a new position!   First, Paul is addressing the Thessalonians as a church, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The word “church” of course never refers to merely a building in the New Testament. It is the assembly of believers in Christ Jesus. In some cases it can refer more broadly to the universal church, but most often it refers to the believers in Christ in a particular location.  But they also have another sphere, or better, source of identity. John Stott points out that
Jesus spoke of his disciples being ‘in’ him as branches are ‘in’ the vine, while Paul sees us as being ‘in Christ’ as limbs are ‘in’ the body. In both cases the relationship in mind is a vital, organic union which makes possible the sharing of a common life.
What is unique here is how Paul uses the preposition “in” and links it with “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” We get a sense of how the church was understanding and assuming the relationships in the Godhead. Father, Son, and Spirit, three persons, one God. The Holy Spirit can be called the “Spirit of Christ” in one place (Rom 8:9) and then in another a divine person sent by the Son (See John 14-16). There is mystery, but we can accept even what is beyond our full understanding. So the church is “in” Thessalonica, but the source of its life is God Himself. So, Stott eloquently says that
…the church is ‘in’ God as the source from which its life comes, whereas it is ‘in’ the world only as the sphere in which it lives. Nevertheless, it is still correct to say that every church has two homes, two environments, two habitats. It lives in God and it lives in the world
       It is to this fellowship of believers, who, like us, have a kind of dual citizenship that Paul is writing! The Greeting is one that will become a favorite of Paul, “grace and peace to you…”  Paul seems to have originated this form of greeting, emphasizing key aspects of Christianity. First, he desires grace for the Thessalonians. God’s unmerited favor. In this letter, Paul only uses the word twice, here in the greeting, and in the last verse, as a benediction. This letter is not primarily defending or presenting the doctrine of salvation, it assumes it, the Thessalonians are clearly believers! Grace is the basis of our standing before God. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:5,8 “by grace you have been saved…”
      Peace, likewise, is an important concept for Paul.  Foundationally, we have peace with God. We were enemies, by nature children of wrath, but now have been reconciled to Him in Christ. In this sense it describes our relationship with God. We also have the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ. Paul also uses the word to describe our relationships in the church, particularly Jews and gentiles now at peace in the body of Christ. Read the beautiful description at the end of Ephesians 2…
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,  21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
So here the church is a building after all, metaphorically speaking! A holy temple to the Lord! Think of what the Temple represented. The presence of God in the midst of His people. In the wilderness the Tabernacle could be described as “the holy place,” because God was there. It was the “tent of meeting,” because it was where the people, through Aaron and Moses met with God and heard from Him. It was the “dwelling place,” because it symbolized God’s presence in the midst of his people. When Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, God's glory decended on it. Paul would later write to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Here he greets the church of the Thessalonians, in Christ Jesus and God the Father. The tabernacle in the wilderness. The Temple in Jerusalem. The church in the world.  He will never leave us or forsake us. He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” God’s presence brings peace, the provisional, initial peace that we can experience now, as we anticipate shalom, the peace, the rest, the good life for which we were created. Already, and not yet. As believers living in a fallen world, we can be encouraged by God’s presence as He works in us and through us.
II. Be encouraged by the Promise of Prayer (2).
“…We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers…
           Praying with thanksgiving about you… What a wonderful testimony these young believers already had, so much so that Paul was compelled, as he prayed for them, to express his thankfulness to God! We recently had a series on prayer in one of our adult classes. I know Al preached here on “Kingdom Prayer.” Paul no doubt taught and exemplified prayerfulness while with the Thessalonians. He wants to make sure they understand that though, as he is writing, he is a distance away in Corinth, that he is still praying for them, and thanking God for them in his prayers. How thankful are you
        Praying without ceasing for you… “constantly mentioning you in our prayers.” It is easy to say that we will pray, but it is harder to make it a priority. Aren't you encouraged when you learn that someone is praying for you? What a privilege it is to pray! And not only prayers regarding our wants or even our own needs, but also prayers for others, including thanking God for what He is doing in them. Why should we be thankful for God’s work in our brothers and sisters in the church? Because, now that they are being transformed, they bless us personally? That may be something to be thankful for, but I don’t think that is at the heart of it. As we read this chapter we’ll see that the testimony of the Thessalonians is going out into the world, and as it does, it is bringing glory to God. Think about that. 
       We’ve heard that the fastest growing church in the world right now is the church in Iran. Have we paused to pray for those believers? I think so, though we should pray still more. Have we thanked God for those believers? Hmmm… We should! Why? Because it is God’s work in them and through them that will bring glory to Him! Jesus is building His church! Praise God, thank Him for what He is doing in believers in Africa and Asia, countries like Iran, and India, and China, even in North Korea. The same God who is working in them is working in us. To God be the glory!  As believers living in a fallen world, we can be encouraged by God’s presence as He works in us and through us.
III. Be encouraged by the Power of the Gospel (1:3; cf. Rom 1:16). The gospel can transform people, empower a church, and impact a city. Paul wrote tot the Romans and said in Romans 1:16, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” That was the missionaries’ model in Thessalonica, they went first to the Jewish synagogue, and there encountered not only Jews, but God-fearing gentiles. Paul will reflect throughout this chapter on the reception of the apostolic preaching of the Gospel by the Thessalonians. Here we have a summary statement that will be “fleshed out” in the following verses…
“…remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
       John Calvin called this verse “a brief definition of true Christianity.” The substance of Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving to God center on the evidence of their lives transformed by the Gospel.  Ronald Ward comments,
The triad “faith, love, hope” can be used as a summary of Christianity. Faith looks back to the Cross, with all its wealth of meaning; Christians love the brethren in the present; and hope has its eye on the future, sure and certain… (Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians, p. 29).
        …your work of faith… A working faith (1:3a). James says that faith without works is dead, being by itself. Paul is in agreement, here he says that authentic faith, works. Later in this chapter Paul will describe the conversion of the Thessalonians: “…you turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God…” For Paul faith is not just an intellectual assent to certain facts, or simply acknowledging as true certain points of theology. It means believing Jesus is who He claimed to be, trusting Him as your only hope of salvation, and believing Him, taking Him at His word. Paul is grateful to God, and remembers before Him in prayer, the “work of faith…” Of the Thessalonians Paul is implying that their profession of faith was followed by an observable transformation in their lives. They turned to God from idolsTheir past idolatry was exactly that, PAST. Their new faith was accompanied by a new life, and God was at the center of it. As the chapter goes on he will specifically spell out how their conversion was so dynamic, so evident to onlookers, that it was being spoken of far and wide. Remember in our Jonah series how the Ninevites turned from their wicked ways to the God of Jonah? We see that same idea here. This was no mere “decision,” no simple “profession of faith.” It was a conversion, a complete “about face.” Friends, let me say it again, that kind of change will be visible, that will be noticed by the people in your oikos especially, the relatives, friends, neighbors and co-workers that you interact with on a regular basis. Do they see in your life a faith that works?
       …your labor of love… A laboring love (1:3b). We sometimes use that expression, right? “Wow, that looks like a lot of work you are doing!” someone asks. You reply, “It’s really a labor of love.” You could mean that it is something you just love to do, or you could mean, it is something that you can do with joy because you love the people/person you are serving! Later in this chapter Paul will note how the Thessalonians “…turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…” Is our labor in the Lord, our Christian service, burdensome?
       …your… steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. An enduring hope (1:3c). “Hope” in the biblical sense is something that we have talked about. It looks to the future, with a confident expectation. This is the first reference to the promise of our future victory in Jesus in this letter. Besides bringing encouragement, both letters to the Thessalonians seem to be answering some questions the Thessalonians had about the future return of Christ. Here we get a hint as to one of the practical implications of our future hope: it results in steadfastness, the ability to bear up under trials.
What is God saying to me in this passage? As believers living in a fallen world, we can be encouraged by God’s presence as He works in us and through us.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? As we read the Scriptures, we often will identify in some way with that characters in the story. The Thessalonians were new believers, but they had a clear testimony of new life through faith in Christ. It wasn’t just what they said, it was how they lived. Their conversion was being spoken throughout Macedonia and Achaia. When we see evil or injustice around us, remember Jesus, what He endured, why He came. And remember and be encouraged, we have victory in Jesus!   AMEN.