Model believers - 1 Thessalonians 10:1 - 1:10
I want you to imagine a City. A city built on an estuary with a natural harbour. A city that was at the end of a major national motorway. A City that may have had it problems, but was now buzzing. Buzzing with cultural and economic life. Civic building and new shopping centres. And an increasing influx of people from outside. All over the world in fact. And a City with a council which was increasing pushing its international cosmopolitan image. Increasing pushing equality opportunities and diversity policies. Increasingly making sure all religions, cultures and beliefs were catered for and not offended.
Background on Thessalonica
And of course Iím talking about 1 century Thessalonica. Thessalonica was big; it was commercially v successful; it was very cosmopolitan; v multicultural. In fact Thessalonica was the capital of the northern province of Macedonia. Within Greece, Thessalonica was second only to Athens. And it was rich because of trade. A huge natural harbour had been turned into a bustling port. Thessalonica was at the crossroads of 2 major motorways. The sort of A1M and M62 junction of Northern Greece if you like, but right next to the ferry terminal.
And such a bustling commercial environment, just like big cities today, attracted traders and people from all over the Roman empire. Traders and refugees who brought their culture and gods with them. And so there was a temple for almost every imaginable Greek and Roman God. There was even a sizeable Jewish Synagogue as we read in Acts.
But just like multicultural Britain today, it was a bit of a farce. It was all a bit of a lie. The political correctness of the day said that you could believe whatever you wanted. Build whatever temple you want. Wear whatever religious clothes you want, including a veil. Do, believe and wear whatever you want, unless you threaten Rome; Believe whatever you want as long as your belief fit into the established religion of the day: worship of the state and the stateís right to do as it pleases. And so the apparent religious diversity was a bit of a farce. A lie in fact. Because, the Romans would sit very heavily on any dissent; political descent, or religious descent that had political overtones.
And that exactly where weíre at today in 21C Britain isnít it. Notionally, we still have freedom of religion. Notionally, weíre free to believe whatever we want and act on those beliefs in our lives. But for any nation to survive as a political entity, it must have a set of basic shared values which are enforced either by law or social convention. In Britain, those shared values used to be Christian; indeed, constitutionally Britain is still a Christian country. But the reality is that the belief system at the heart of todayís Britain is secular humanism. A belief that this world is all there is; a belief that gods are merely cultural inventions to be tolerated as long as they keep quiet. Tolerated unless they threaten the dominant belief system. And thatís why there are increasing clashes between Biblical Christianity and the secular state. Because the secular humanist state is increasing intolerant of Biblical Christianity. And so the government is increasing legislating against the practice of Biblical Christian beliefs. And the latest example is the Sexual orientation Regulations.
Background on the Thessalonian Church
And that brings us right back to Thessalonica. So if youíd like to turn back to Act 17 on p1722. And look at v1-4, youíll see that when he arrived in Thessalonica, as was his custom, Paul had gone to the synagogue and engaged with the Scriptures and proved that Jesus was the X. The message was that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Christ, the long awaited and prayed-for Messiah that had been prophesised in the OT. And in v4 we see that some Jews were persuaded; but not just Jews; a large number of god-fearing Greeks were also persuaded and joined Paul and Silas to form the core of the new Christian church in Thessalonica.
And so the new Christian church in Thessalonica was mainly Gentile. And a large proportion of the gentile congregation at the synagogue had moved over to the church. Most of the Jews had missed the point. The point that Jesus was the Christ. But the gentiles hadnít. And, we see in v5, that the Jews back in the synagogue were mad. Why? Because they were jealous. So jealous they hire rent-a-mob and start a riot. And then they try and use the law courts to back up the mob rule. Notice the way they put it in v6; these men who have cased trouble all over the word have come here [to Thessalonicaí; to the land of free ideas and tolerance. Tolerance of all views, except those which challenge Caesar.] And so they continue in v7: They are all defying Caesar's decrees saying there is another king, one called Jesus. And so in v8 the City is thrown into turmoil.
In fact it gets so bad that in v10, we see that Paul and Silas had to be parachuted out of the city. Paul had only been there a matter of months at the most. The church he was leaving behind was young. They hadnít had much Bible teaching. And they were living in a city that had just had an anti-Christian riot. To say that Paul was anxious was an understatement. He prayed of course. But his fear was that this young church would crash and burn under the pressure. Theyíd started off so well when Paul was there with them, but would they have carry on under that kind of pressure.
But Paul wasnít there. From Thessalonica heíd fled to Berea, but rent-a-mob catches up with him there too, so he moves onto Athens and eventually to Corinth. So Paulís in agony in Southern Greece. Howís that young church in Thessalonica doing? O Lord, Iím so worried about them. Pl protect them from rent-a-mob. Pl donít let Satan snatch the seed of the Gospel out of their hands. Pl donít let the thorns of persecution strangle their young faith. And remember there were no phones, computers or TV in those days. News travelled by letter and word of mouth. And so Paul is longing for Timothy to turn up with news. His heart was literally aching with concern for this young church.
And so when Timothy arrived in Corinth, what was the news? Had this young church been decimated by rent-a-mob? Well letís have a preview of cpt 3 as we pick up the story.
1 Thess 3:1 ďSo when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. 4In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless. But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love.Ē
The news was good. So good, Paul is immediately driven to praise and thanksgiving. Turn back with me to 1:2:
We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.
But why? Why was Paul thanking God for the Thessalonians. Well in the rest of cpt 1 we see 3 simple reasons:
1. The Message to the Thessalonians (v10)
First, thereís the message to the Thessalonians. Look on to 2:2, where Paul says:
2We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.
What did Paul do when he turned up in Thessalonica. Did he sent up a soup kitchen or start a campaign for social justice. No, good as those things are in themselves. No Paul preached the Gospel. As we saw in Acts, he proclaimed and proved from the Scriptures that Jesus was the X. Or as v10 of cpt 1 puts it: Jesus is the true Son of the true and living God. Indeed Heís more that that as we saw in our series in Johnís Gospel last term. Because Jesus is God himself in human form. And after he was crucified, v10 tells us, that he was raised from the dead. Itís not a religious philosophy. Itís a claim of historical fact. Thatís the message that was preached to the Thessalonians. Either the crucified Jesus was raised from the dead or he wasnít. If we wasnít, then Paulís lying and we can ignore him. But if Jesus was raised from the dead, well that has implications doesnít it? If Jesus really was risen from the dead, then we need to listen to what he says. We need to listen to His message. The message of the Gospel. Whatís the message in v10? I'm the one; indeed Iím the only one who can rescue you from the coming wrath, say the LJ.
Coming wrath. Whatís that all about. Well Jesus is crystal clear and so is Paul. Hell and judgement are real. And if you want more detail on that, read 2 Thess 1 when you get home. Hell and judgment are real. And whatís worse, is that each and every one of us was heading there. None of us have lived up to God perfect standards. And so we all deserve Godís just judgment. But thatís why Jesus came: to rescue us from the coming wrath. Jesus, and only Jesus, can do it. Because when he died on the cross, he was taking the punishment his people deserved. On the cross, Jesus was punished in the place of His people; all His people. Thereís no other way to be saved. Only Jesus.
And thatís why this is where the clash with the surrounding culture comes in. Because Biblical Christianity says that all other religions are false. As v9 puts it, other religions are just dumb idolatries. False gods. Idolatrous philosophies that need to be turned away from; idolatries which need to be repented of. Idolatries that lead people away from the one and only saviour Jesus, who alone rescues us from the coming wrath.
Try standing on a street corner and preaching that. Try telling your work colleagues that, and there will be opposition. Some may believe and ask more question. But most will reject that kind of message. Because itís as un-PC today as it was in 1st C Thessalonica.
And so we need to be clear about this. We need to make sure weíre not silenced or sidetracked by pressure or outright persecution. And we need to remember that people need to hear the Message of the Gospel. People wonít become Christians simply because youíre nice to them or do good works. Yes we should be doing those things. But effective evangelism means proclaiming the Message of the Gospel. And thatís the first reason Paul thanks God: because of the message had been preached to the Thessalonians.
2. The Miracle in the Thessalonians (v3-6)
But secondly, back in v3-6, Paul thanks God because of the Miracle in the Thessalonians,; the miracle in the Thessalonians. With such a politically incorrect message; in the face of so much opposition, itís a miracle anyone said yes. But thatís exactly what these Thessalonians did. And their response to the Message of the Gospel is summed up in y v3:
3We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Literally itís: work of faith, labour of love and endurance of hope. And this is a familiar Christian triad: faith, hope and love. All 3 are related to the objective message theyíd said yes to. Faith is not some vague faith in something spiritual, like when people say I wish I had your faith. Either you believe what I believe or you donít; you canít wish you had my faith if youíve rejected what I believe as false. No that kind of faith is the faith of the tree-huggers and crystal gazers. No the Thessaloniansí faith, Biblical faith, means accepting the objective message of the Gospel. Believing who Jesus was and what he came to do. And that kind of faith leads to love; love for Jesus because of what heís done for us. A love for Jesus and a serving love for His people, the church. And that kind of faith, demonstrated in acts of Christian love, results in hope; not a vague hope that something might or might not happen; O I hope this dreadful wind dies down; no, Christian hope is solid hope: the sure and certain hope that when you die, you will be with Jesus for ever in Heaven; no doubt about it. Solid hope, resulting from true faith, demonstrated in true Christian love.
But faith, hope and love are not what Paul gives thanks to God for. He give thanks for the Thessaloniansí work of faith, labour of love and endurance of hope. In other words: real faith works; real love labours and real hope endures. Real Christianity is not simple a creed which we stand up and say we believe. No real Christianity works; real Christianity changes lives. Real Xinaity will changes us from the inside out, not just in the next world, but starting here and now. In fact itís nothing short of a miracle. Only a miracle of Godís grace can change people so drastically from the inside out. How does that happen. How does the message of the Gospel lead to the miracles of changes lives.
Well v4 & 5 give us the answer. The Thessalonians had responded to the message of the Gospel: but theyíd only been able to do that because of the HS being them deep conviction, as v5 puts it. A certainty deep inside you that the message of the Gospel is indeed true. Why is it that 2 people can hear the same Gospel message: 1 responds and the other doesnít. Both hear the same message; the same true message. Why the different responses? And the Bibleís answer is that, by nature, we are so idolatrous, we are so opposed to the one true God, that we need the HS to work in us; the HS needs to bring us to new birth. And as v4 tells us, those God has chosen, those God has predestined back in eternity, will respond at the right time to the message as the HS works in them. Thatís the miracle in the Thessalonians: the work of the HS bringing them to new birth; the work of the HS convicting them of the truth of the Gospel Message; the HS leading them to truth faith and onto a real love that labours and a hope that endures.
Because the test of a true Christian is not just true faith reflecting in loving Christian service today. Not the mark of true Christian faith is that we persevere under pressure. Because God promises to keep those who are truly his. As v6 puts it:
6You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
Christians arenít masochists. We not joyful about persecution and suffering. But if we have real faith hope and love in us, then, like Paul, we will be joyful in all circumstances, including persecution, because we know that our eternal home is in heaven; because we know that nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God that is in CJ. Not because of my strength, but because God himself is preserving me. And so perseverance through testing times is a great test of the reality of our faith.
The Thessalonians were under great pressure. Persecution was intense. There will be always be persecution in this life for being a Christian. Back in October last year, a 14 year old boy was crucified to death in Iraq because of His Christian faith. In the same month, an Iraqi church minister was kidnapped and beheaded. I canít image that level of persecution in this country for being a Christian. But I can imagine a time when Christians will be sent to prison for believing Christian truth or living by them. Itís already happening in other Western countries and our government is increasingly anti-Christian.
But whether is persecution on that level or simply being ridiculed at work, are you going to stand firm under pressure. Is your faith real. Does it really work. Does your love for Jesus labour for the Gospel. And will your Christian hope persevere through the tough times in this life. Is there any fruit flowing from youíre your profession of faith. If there is, then letís praise and thank the Lord like Paul.
I always praise the Lord when I hear about someone confession faith for the first time. But what bring greater praises and thanksgiving is when we see Christian carrying on in the faith though thick and thin. Because thatís the kind of faith thatís real. And thatís the kind of faith that gets noticed.
3. The Mission of the Thessalonians (v7-9)
And that brings us to the final and much shorter point in v7-9. The mission of the Thessalonians. The mission of the Thessalonians. The reality of the Thessalonians faith, the reality demonstrated by their changed lives, their turning away from the idols in v9, had become known all over Macedonia and Achaia, all over Greece that is. Jesus said by their fruits you will know them; all men will know you are my disciples because of the way you love each other. Non-0Christians sit up and take notice when they see the Gospel changing lives. Some may mock and be repelled. But some will come and ask you why. Which is why weíre told to always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have. Be prepared to answer peopleís questions. Because if your faith is genuine, then it will change your live and people will notice.
And not only will non-Christians notice, but so will other Christians. And some like Paul will give praise and thanks to God for the reality of your faith. But there may be other believers who are weaker. Maybe like those in v7 in other parts of Greece, who hear about your faith and are inspired. Inspired by the model of you response. Inspired not only by the Message theyí heard, but by the Miracle thatís been at work in your life, and the mission that followed.
And so as we draw to a close, let me ask you, is this your faith? Do you understand the message; have you seen a miracle in your life as youíve responded. And are you stuck into the Mission of the church here at Riverside. Does your faith really work; is your love for Jesus labouring in His harvest field. And will your hope endure to the end. Letís pray.
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