Paul’s Final Instructions

Membership Sunday

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

12Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15Make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
16Be joyful always; 17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
19Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22Avoid every kind of evil.
23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
25Brothers, pray for us. 26Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. 27I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

This morning we want to take a look at Paul’s final instructions to the church at Thessalonica. Yes, they are the final instructions, but most of them hinge on what Paul has already written about.

This morning we are taking members into our church. The instructions Paul gives to the church there are also good for us. Especially as we remember what it is to be a member of Christ’s church.

First he tells the church to respect those in authority over them in the Lord. We don’t exactly know the structure of the early church, but we know that there was some type of accountability structure to the church. Here in our church the Local Church Conference is the highest authority. Most of their authority has been delegated to the Local Board of Administration or in our case the Ministry Leadership Team. The pastor is the chair of that team. We also have a District Board and a District Superintendent and General Board and three Superintendents. We must respect the authority of those over us. Will we disagree? Sometimes, but Paul tells us to hold them in highest regard. He also tells us that conflict should be the exception not the rule. We are given several quick instructions.
· Live in peace with each other – Oh that the church could learn to do this. What a wonderful witness to the world that would be.
· Warn those who are idle – some had stopped working thinking that Jesus’ return was soon. Paul tells them to get back to work and work until his return.
· Encourage the timid
· Help the weak – This is counter cultural – don’t we say that God helps those who help themselves. Guess what? It’s not in the Bible. We help these, not reject them.
· Be patient with everyone – HELP! This is a difficult prayer for us to pray. We want God to change the other person not me!
· Make sure no one pays back wrong for wrong – retaliation is never a Christian option
· Always try to be kind to each other AND to everyone else. – I think Paul is beginning to meddle here.
· Be joyful always – This is not the happy, happy, happy all the time, but joyful because of what Christ has done in our lives. This is a constant
· Pray continually – We should be in regular prayer for the church, each other and those who don’t know or have rejected the Good News.
· Give thanks in all circumstances – Because of what Christ has done by his work on the cross and resurrection from the dead, we can be continually thankful.
· Do not put out the Spirit’s fire – Stay in touch with what the Spirit is doing – Go with His flow, not ours.
· Do not treat prophecies with contempt – Prophecy is a communication of the mind of God imparted to a believer by the Holy Spirit. It may be a prediction or an indication of the will of God in a given situation – Sometimes God speaks, and we don’t listen.
· Test everything – a balance to the above statement – Sometimes it is just man speaking on his own behalf.
· Hold on to the good, avoid every kind of evil – I think you know where Paul is going with this. We’ve seen what Paul thinks over the past few weeks.
· Then we have this statement. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Here is prayer for entire sanctification (or set apartness to God’s purpose) where the believer is freed from sin and empowered to live a holy life. The whole person, not just the body or the mind is to be made holy. And those who are holy do not transgress God’s law. And it is God’s will that we pursue holiness in this life. And the God who calls us to holiness can be relied upon to complete what he began.
· Pray for us – all Christians are in need of prayer
· Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss – Paul sends his greetings to everyone even those he had to correct. The holy kiss was equivalent to our handshake.
· I charge you…to read this letter – Everyone (EVERYONE) must hear what is in this letter.

This morning we are Christ’s church. We are going to receive members into the church. We need to remember to do the things that Christ has commanded us to do through his servants…

Our Glorious Hope

I’ll never forget my first introduction to Christ’s second coming. It was at a youth rally and I was probably a little older than James at the time. At the youth rally they showed the film “A Thief in the Night.” I remembered seeing clips of it on television. Several years later, probably at youth camp the film was shown again. I know that it frightened me even as a Christian. Last week I said the beauty of preaching a series through a book is that you have to take it as it comes. This morning is no exception. I’ve never considered myself an expert on the second coming. There are those who do consider themselves experts and they have all kinds of charts and can proof-text their way through the Bible to make it all fit together. By the way, I have great difficulty with those who like to take the scriptures like this and try to put them together like it is a great big jigsaw puzzle. It is very dangerous to do that. This morning is not one of those types of messages. We want to take a look at what Paul writes about the second coming of our Lord.
Just a few moments ago we read a good portion of the text responsively. What was the purpose of Paul writing to the church at Thessalonica? It was to encourage the believers there and to fill in the gaps in the teaching that the missionary team did not get to take care of while they were there. The return of Christ is a concern for the church. The Greek word for Christ’s return is parousia. William Barclay explains it as the arrival of an emperor, a king, a governor or famous person into a town or province. There are some practical implications. If you are going to be visited by a VIP, you need to get ready for his visit. The coming of a king demands that all things must be ready — if such is true in the physical world, how much more so in the spiritual world. To participate in the celebration for the parousia of the King of Kings, even as one among multitudes in the welcoming crowd, would be an exhilarating experience, and just the beginning of the eternal celebration of his presence – which the word parousia basically means.
This is the glorious hope that we all have as brothers and sisters in Christ. This becomes the background of our message this morning. The believers at Thessalonica were concerned about those who had died since Paul had visited there. They were concerned that those who have died would not participate in the grand celebration of the return of the King of Kings. Paul tells us in verse 13, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep (or literally die), or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.” So Paul is reassuring the Thessalonians not to grieve for those who have already died in Christ. They will not be left out of the celebration. Paul says that they have a hope, unlike the pagan culture around them. Inscriptions on tombs and references in literature show that first-century pagans viewed death with horror, as the end of everything. Paul even reassures us this morning that death is not the end. We could even say that death is only the beginning, because we have a glorious hope of being resurrected with Christ.
Paul goes on the to describe what is going to happen. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of (an) archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” This particular passage is the only time in the New Testament that the world “rapture” is clearly referenced and it comes from the Latin Vulgate rendering (the first Latin translation.) While I was working on this sermon, I did some research on this. It was interesting to note that many who believe in the “rapture” of the church, believe it will be a silent rapture. Let’s take a look at the scripture. First the Lord will come down. It’s interesting to note that this event is important enough that the Lord himself will come. He will not send a representative from heaven but he himself will descend from heaven. Then there is a loud command. The word used in the Greek is used for a charioteer urging his horses. This is not a silent command. Second, there is a shout of an archangel. Third, there is the trumpet of God. This is not the first time a trumpet is used when God manifests his powerful presence. The text does not indicate whether these are one or three separate “sound effects,” but in any case when the Lord returns it appears the whole world will know. This will not be a silent occasion.
It is also interesting to note that this scripture tells us nothing of the unbelievers or those not in Christ. Paul only addresses the Thessalonians current concerns. So, as least in the words of Paul to the church is what is important. The Lord will come, with a loud shout, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God; the dead in Christ will rise first, and then those of us who are alive in Christ second. We will gather in the clouds (which by the way is symbolic of God’s eternal presence.) At that point we will be with the Lord forever. Paul tells the church to encourage one another with these words.
However, Paul is not finished in his teaching. In a classic example of a bad division of chapters, Paul continues, “Now brothers (and sisters) about the times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Allow me a point of personal privilege here. I wholeheartedly agree with Paul’s teaching here, I believe that there are far too many “prophets” out there who spend there time looking for signs of the second coming of Christ. There are far too many Christians trying to figure out when Christ is coming. Paul says don’t worry about it, because it’s coming like a thief in the night. Jesus said, “Keep watch and pray, because if we knew when the thief was coming we would have been ready for him.” Jesus coming will be like labor pains. He will come suddenly and without warning. Those who are not ready will not be able to escape.
Paul is encouraging the brothers and sisters to be ready for the coming of the Lord. How do they do that? He says they are not in darkness. This is a classic metaphor that John uses. Living as children or sons of light vs. living as children of the dark. We do not belong to the darkness, so (echoing last week’s message) we should live as children of light, sanctified (set apart) for God’s use, living the life that he has called us to live. Now in verse 6, Paul uses the word asleep in a different way. Let us not be like other who are asleep (in the dark), but let us be alert and self-controlled. This is really a continuation of the thought started in chapter 4. What happens to those who are asleep? They sleep at night and he takes it one step further. He equates being in the dark to being drunk. (Those who get drunk get drunk at night). He writes that we belong to the day. Think about this. Jesus Christ is coming as a thief in the night and we need to be ready at all times. Depending on the person, it is easy to rouse them from sleep, but a drunk person is even more difficult. Once I had to rouse a drunk person and it took ten to fifteen minutes until he was coherent enough even to have an incoherent conversation. Matter of fact his car that he was in was parked on the shoulder of the wrong side of the road facing oncoming traffic with his lights on but his motor off. I knocked on the window for a good five minutes to wake him. He had fallen asleep drunk in his car in front of our last church. At first I thought he was dead, because his french fries were still in his hand.
Paul tells us to be alert, (not like this guy I just told you about.) You could also add to be alert and sober. There are some Christians who are not ready; they are not alert and sober to the Christ who is coming back again. He also tells us to be self-controlled (where have we heard that lately?)
Besides being alert, sober, and self-controlled, he tells us to put on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet. Warren Woolsey writes, “Faith and love as a breastplate will protect vital organs, heart and lungs. The hope of salvation as a helmet, protecting the head is the climatic position. Hope is especially appropriate in a context of waiting for the Second Coming.
Christ brought us salvation, through his death on the cross, verse 10. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep (dead) we may live together with him. Christ’s atoning death for us and our union with Him by faith. Paul returns to the metaphor of awake and sleep as it refers to life and death and reassures his congregation that whether alive or deceased, that those in Christ will have forever fellowship with him.
So what? So Jesus is coming again. So Jesus is coming again for those who have died in Christ and coming again for those who are alive in Christ. So what? What difference does it make?
It makes a difference in the way we live. We must live to please God in all areas of our life. Now I know some of you are going to think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but nothing is of more importance in our Christian life. We MUST live to please God at all times, because he is coming back and we don’t know when. I don’t care what’s happening around the world, because if Jesus’ return was imminent in the First Century, how much more closer is his return today. Are you living a life that is pleasing to God? Would he come and return for you today? We never know when he is coming back. Are you ready?
If you are, do as Paul commands us in verse 11. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”

Living to Please God

For the past three weeks, we have been taking a look at Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. We have discovered that for the most part the church at Thessalonica was thriving despite persecution that was happening around them. The first three chapters overflow with thanksgiving from the pen of Paul. This morning’s passage begins with the word finally and that can usually get us preachers in trouble. I know as soon as I say the word finally, I better start wrapping it up, because many are already starting to tune out. The word finally would have better been translated “and now…” or “further…” We are about two thirds of the way through Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians and Paul has much say to us in the last third. Let’s take a look at 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12.

1Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please god, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2For you know what instruction we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

3It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; 6and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. 7For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who give you his Holy Spirit.

9Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

11Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

What we want to take a look at today is Paul’s instructions to the church at Thessalonica on how to live a life that pleases God. As I’ve already mentioned, Paul starts with the word “finally.” This usually means I’m wrapping it up, but not here. Paul has much more to say. The next word in the sentence is brothers. Usually this is used to signify a new paragraph, but here it is used to signify that the following section deals with life in the Christian community, as we saw last week. An old gospel song says, “you will notice that we say brother and sister round here. It’s because we are family and these folks are so dear.” Occasionally at district conference, I heard someone reference brother so and so. This practice reminded us that we are a community of believers together and that we are a family. We are the family of God in Christ Jesus. We should think of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, because that’s what we are. While Paul and the missionary team were in Thessalonica, they instructed the church how to live to please God, and as we look at Paul’s writing they are continuing to live that way. Last week, we saw that a brothers and sisters in Christ should continually be moving closer and closer to Christ. The wording here is weak compared to the Greek. It should really read you MUST live to please God. We as brothers and sisters in Christ must live in order to please God and we MUST as Paul urges the church to do so more and more. Paul lets the church know that this is not in his own authority but the authority of Jesus Christ. So the first thing we are taught this morning is that we MUST live in order to please God. How do we do that?

As we look at this passage, Paul writes to us that it is God’s will that we should be sanctified. So many times we think of sanctification as a point in time. But here the word indicates an ongoing process. We don’t just get sanctified and rest on our laurels for the rest of our life. Sanctification is a process that follows us throughout our Christian life. Sanctification refers to the process of setting ourselves apart for God’s use. God has declared himself holy and he wants his followers to be holy as he is holy. Many will say that this is impossible, but why would God command us to do something that was impossible?

As we continue to take a look at this passage, we find that sexual purity was strongly connected with holiness. Ernest Best writes, “Sanctification is not something for worship alone but for every act of life.” Paul urges the readers of Romans to offer up their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, because that is our spiritual act of worship. He goes on to say, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Paul writes you should avoid sexual immorality. The word avoid in the Greek is a strong one. The Greco-Roman world was loose sexually. There were various forms of extramarital sexual union that were tolerated and even encouraged. It doesn’t appear that there is a specific instance that is being referenced, but that this is reinforcement because of the surrounding culture. The term sexual immorality is a broad term but includes adultery, fornication, prostitution and deviant sexual behavior. I don’t think our culture is much different than that ancient culture. This is something we need to hear in 21st century America. Paul’s teaching is clear: Christians should abstain from all sorts of sexual misconduct by doing what is right, whether by self-control or by restricting sexual activity to the marriage partner. In this way we honor God and can offer up our bodies as living sacrifices. Why, because sexual sin harms others besides those who engage in it. Just this past week, I stumbled across an account of a young woman who had recently discovered her husband had been cheating on her. You could see the way this had destroyed her life. We often forget that cheating will also affect the cheater as well. Paul warns not to act like the heathen do. John Stott writes, “Christians must behave in a completely different manner because we do know God, because He is a holy God, and because we want to please him.”

Most of us would agree that what Paul is talking about is not pleasing to God. I want to take a risk here and point out that we have been conformed to the world more than we think. All we have to do is take a look at what was shocking on television twenty years ago. By today’s standards, it is tame. The moral line is moving all the time in our culture. The culture shapes us in various ways; music, television, movies, and the Internet. There are things that we see and hear in the media that we should not be filling our minds up as believers. Because what happens, is that spills over ever so subtly into our lives and it becomes part of the norm and I’m not so sure God would be pleased with it. Before we continue on, what is in your life today, that if God did a complete inventory of, he would not be please with? Sometimes this even appears in subtle ways. Sometimes we will say things that have a double meaning; we flirt and call it being friendly; we watch movies or television programs that stir up the darker side of us; we wander the internet and “stumble across” things we should be viewing; we listen to music that sends the wrong message. So many times we think just of rock music as sending a bad message, but many types of music have bad and even raunchy lyrics including rap; r & b, pop, and even country!
As we were at the Power Rally on Monday night, Steve Wilson talked about standing on holy ground. In order for Moses to stand on holy ground, he had to take off his shoes. What do you have to get rid of to stand on holy ground today? What changes do you need to make in order to offer up your body as a living sacrifice the king that God will accept? What is standing in your way today to live the life that God is calling you to live? Paul tells us that “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” However morally bankrupt the society may be in which one seeks to live an authentic Christian life, he or she need not conform to the prevailing pattern. The God who calls to sanctification also enables holy living through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So we know that we need to stay pure in order to please God, but what else? Again Paul calls for love. He calls for the church to love it’s brothers and sisters more and more. Again you’ll notice to progression that needs to happen. It’s not just love one time and your done. No, it’s over and over again. The word for love here is not the familiar agape or unconditional love, but philadelphia or brotherly love. It is a term when we tell our children to love their siblings, those who are related by blood birth. It is a God-given love and it is mutual. It reaches beyond these four walls to brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Just this week, I had the opportunity to renew acquaintances with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the Shenandoah district. Most of my brothers and sisters in this district are fellow co-labors of the Good News. We had a great time (and for the most part, we did not talk about how our churches were doing, but how we were getting along spiritually.) This is great brotherly love for each other. It’s part of the connection that I still have with FLAME. To encourage my brothers and sisters who are preparing for the ministry. Paul lets the church know that they are doing what they are supposed to do. Let me say as Paul did. You do love the brothers and sisters in the church and I urge you to do it even more and more.

Paul is not done yet with telling us how to live a life pleasing to God. One of the dangers in preaching a message like this especially one with so strong a challenge to live a live pleasing to God, is that those who have their house in order begin to meddle in the business of others. Let me say that this message did not come without me spending some quality time with God and getting my own house in order during the past week. It appears there were some in the church who were spiritual busybodies. They were trying to make other’s business their business. We have a wonderful altar here in front of us. We used to call it the mourner’s bench. We need to be very careful when people come to the altar. Matter of fact, nothing would please your pastor more than weekly use of the altar. In a way it gives us a sense of our spiritual pulse. Are lives being changed? But when people are concerned to come to the altar because of spiritual busybodies, nobody wins. God’s work cannot be done. Paul says to knock it off. That does nothing to build the body of Christ. That does nothing to win the respect of outsiders. Nothing hurts the kingdom more than when the world sees us picking at each other and minding each other’s business rather than our own. Paul is about to discuss about the second coming of Jesus and this next statement might be a warning to those who are doing nothing because Christ’s return is “around the corner.” Paul says to keep busy, and I’ll add, even if it only means teaching the gospel to those who desperately need it. Some suspecting the imminent return of Christ had stopped working and were relying on others to support them. This is not a good witness to the Good News. Paul says keep working until Jesus comes, so that you will be a good witness and that you won’t have to be dependent on anybody.

We have a great challenge this morning. As with the past few Sundays, the altar is open. How is God speaking to you this morning? Have you surrendered everything to him? What is standing in the way of you standing on holy ground? What is standing in the way of you standing constantly in God’s presence? What would it take for you to be a living sacrifice – holy and pleasing to God? Do you want to live a life that is pleasing to God? The altar is open, God is speaking.

There’s No I In Church

As our family gathered around for lunch after church last Sunday morning, a thought came up. Do you think people know what a podcast is? Let’s start from the beginning. Who knows what an iPod is? How about MP3? What about a CD? Several weeks ago, I wrote in our monthly newsletter about how many of our students wouldn’t know what you would mean by “You sound like a broken record.” That sounds as strange to them as podcast, iPod, and MP3 sounds to you. So what is a podcast? Let’s take it from what we know. Most of us are familiar with CDs. Think of each audio track on a CD as a computer audio file. This can then be made into a MP3 file or a podcast. A podcast is a new way of delivering audio to the masses. An iPod or MP3 player allows a person to select their own listening experience. It is highly individualized. It suits our rugged individualism American culture well. Unfortunately this same rugged individualism shows up in the church. We have become long ranger Christians. This becomes especially true of pastors. It is easy to become a lone ranger pastor. As I have been reading through 1 Thessalonians over the past week, this thought came to mind. So often we treat the epistles or letters as if they were written from one person to another person. We are wrong when we treat the letters this way. We need to remember that they were written to a group of people, in most cases a church and then passed around to other churches. Not only are they letters written to churches, but also the letters many times are written in team style. Remember the intro to this letter several weeks ago? Paul and the others listed are writing to the church, not to individuals. How does this apply today? It’s often been said on the playing field – There is no I in team. We could put it this way – There is no I in church. The church is the body of believers working together under a servant leader shepherd to build the kingdom of God or as Jesus put it the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul is writing to us today as the church. We pick up our reading in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2:17 and we will read through chapter 3.

17But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us. 19For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

3:1 So 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.

6But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

You will notice that we picked up right at the end of chapter two and read until the end of chapter three. As we begin looking at today’s scripture, let me remind you that Paul did not write his letters with chapter and verses. These were added much later. Many times a thought crosses a chapter heading. The chapter headings will sometimes complete a thought, but many times they will not. Chapter 2:17 begins the thought completed in chapter 3.

We will notice that this passage begins and ends with references to the coming of our Lord Jesus. We are beginning to get to the heart of the reason for Paul writing this letter. Paul has been enduring severe persecution. We have gotten a glimpse of it this week as we have been reading through Acts. Through it all, Paul is reminding himself that Jesus Christ is returning for the church. Paul is greatly encouraged by the church at Thessalonica and tells them that they are his glory and joy. He is proud of them that they are following the Way.

Paul is worried about his new congregation. Isn’t amazing what little things we worry about at times? Paul has picked the right things to be concerned about. What are you spending your time thinking about and contemplating about? Is it something important in the scope of eternity or is it really nothing at all? Paul was concerned enough to send Timothy to check up on them. He was very pleased with Timothy’s report. Let’s take a look at that report.

6But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

Despite all of what Paul is suffering for the cause of the gospel, Timothy’s good report is encouraging to him. I’ll paraphrase Paul here, “Since you are living in the faith of Jesus Christ, we don’t have to worry about being persecuted, because you are standing firm.” I remember several years ago attending FLAME up in Vassar, MI. Vassar was about 30 miles from our first church. It just so happened that the senior pastor had resigned and they hadn’t yet called a new pastor. I called the vice-chair knowing that I would be in the area and would love the chance to preach at my old church. Many had never heard me preach because at the time I felt God was calling me in the area of worship ministry. The vice-chair and his wife even let me stay at there house on Saturday night and we got to talking about old times. In the morning, we got up and went to church. It was a wonderful, healing experience for me. Many of the people were excited to see me and to see pictures of the kids and Pam. As I looked around that morning, many of the things I implemented while I was there were still being used. Then I had a chance to preach to the congregation and encourage them. We enjoyed the morning together. I think that’s how Paul may have felt by Timothy’s report. I could thank God for what He was doing at First Wesleyan and is continuing to do to this day.

This is not to say that Paul wasn’t concerned about some gaps in their teaching. Look what Paul writes in verse 10, “Night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill up anything that may still be missing in your faith.” Paul would really like to return and finish the work he was called to do in Thessalonica. It’s my prayer as your pastor that even though I see you each week, that I can assist you in filling the holes in your faith. One of the things I believe is that we never stop growing as believers. If we stop growing as believers, we are in danger of sliding back to what we were. It doesn’t matter how old you are, we can never rest on what we have learned, we must always press ahead. The same holds true for the church. So many times we talk about growing in a physical sense, but the church needs to grow most importantly in a spiritual way. I get concerned when I see churches stagnate in their spiritual growth. Do you know what happens when water stagnates; it stinks and is not very nice to be around. The same thing can happen in the church when we stop growing spiritually. Individual growth is good; but growth together is even better.

So what is Paul’s prayer for the church at Thessalonica? Let’s look at 3:11-13.

11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Paul’s prayer for this church is that they would love each other to overflowing and not just love each other but for everyone else. One of the comments I have heard about churches is that they say they are a friendly church. Usually you can translate that to say they are a friendly church to their friends. How do we treat those whom we don’t know when they come to our church? Do we love them with a love that overflows? Our job is to love those who are around us, even those who appear to be unlovable.

Paul finishes with this comment in verse 13 and begins to touch on a subject that we will look at more in depth next week. 13May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
I want to ask you this morning if you are ready for His coming. Are you ready for the glorious return of Christ Jesus? Are you holy? Are you living a life that is separate from the world? Are you living a pure life? Are you living a blameless life? This is my concern for the church. I mentioned earlier that many times we think of these things as individuals, but God is calling His church to be holy and blameless. Remember the story of Achan and the fall of Ai? Achan decided to not follow God’s command and the whole nation of Israel suffered as a result. Are WE living holy and blameless lives before our Lord? Will we be ready for His glorious return?

Every Christian A Minister

One of the things that I do when I visit churches is to collect bulletins. I have bulletins from various places in the country. I like to see how other churches are putting their bulletins together. What information do they put in? What information do they leave out? At College Church in Marion, IN, they would start the list of ministry personnel like this: All members of the congregation – ministers. From that point on they listed the various paid and unpaid ministry directors. I like that. As believers and as members of the body of Christ and His church, each of us are ministers. At times we may not feel like a minister, but no matter how you feel, that doesn’t change who you are. This morning as we look at 1 Thessalonians 2, we want to take a look at the qualifications of a minister.

1You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 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. 3For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 5You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 9Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

10You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

13And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. 14For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, 15who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men 16in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

As we learned last week, Paul commended the church at Thessalonica in the way that they were imitators of him and of the Lord. Paul was a minister of the gospel or the Good News. If the church is going to be the church, each one of us from the youngest to the oldest need to consider ourselves a minister of the Good News. Paul gives us some great guidelines in what it means to be a minister of the Good News.

First, however, he wants his readers to know that the missionary team does not consider the first visit to Thessalonica a failure. Paul and the team had already had some difficulty in Philippi. If you been reading along with us in our readings, we’ve just read this week the account of Paul and his colleagues being thrown out of Thessalonica and Berea. Suffering for the cause of spreading the Good News was nothing new to the ministry team. Matter of fact, Paul was promised that by God after his conversion. Paul just counts is part of the process and knows that the gospel must be preached in spite of the opposition.

I hope that you have heard this before and I hope that it brings comfort to you and spurs you on to preach the Good News. Remember that when people reject the Good News that you spread, they’re not rejecting you, but the Christ you serve. Now, I know even that can be difficult. Most of us have a living, active relationship with the Christ we serve and it disappoints us when others reject Him. In times like these, we just need to remember that He has commanded us to spread the Good News and if people reject it, they are rejecting Christ, not us. Also when people reject the Good News, and us Paul writes, we should never consider it a failure on our part or Gods.

Verse 2 tells us that Paul’s message was the Good News or the gospel. Four of the books of the New Testament are considered the gospels. Those are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. What are these four books about? They are about the story of Jesus. That is what Paul’s message was about. It was about the redeeming story of Jesus – how Jesus came to earth, paid the price for sinful man on the cross, died, was buried, and most importantly rose on the third day and forty days later returned to heaven where his is preparing a place for those who believe his message and he is coming back for to take us to that wonderful place. That is the gospel in miniature. It is what the apostles were preaching in the book of Acts that got them in trouble with the authorities.

What motivates Paul to preach the gospel? What should motivate us to preach the gospel? Well, Paul tell us that it’s not impure motives such as pleasing people, greed, or seeking praise from people. This is a strong checkpoint for all of us as ministers. What is our motive in preaching the gospel? Is it to tell the good news to those who desperately need it? Is it simply to get an “atta-boy” from others? Or is it to get you noticed? Or maybe you help preach the gospel because you think that’s what the pastor wants you to do. None of these are good motives for presenting the gospel. The only motive we should have in presenting the gospel is pleasing God. Paul says, “we speak as men approved by God…” He goes on to say, “We are not trying to please men, but God.” To take it one step further, we need to make sure that we are not playing the judge for how we perceive others attempts at sharing the gospel. In our humanness, it is difficult to determine what a person’s motives are. We need to let God take care of that. Remember what Paul says to the church at Philippi? Whether the gospel is preached from pure or impure motives, I rejoice that the gospel is being preached. Amen to that! This does not give us an excuse to preach and teach from impure motives, because it is very clear that Paul models preaching from pure motives and that motive is to please God.

So far we know that in order for someone to be a minister, his or her message must be the Good News of Jesus Christ and the motive must be to please God.

The third characteristic to be a minister of the gospel involves the manner in which the gospel is preached. Again, we are given some bad examples and then some good examples. Paul says that we are not trying to trick you. The Greek word for the word trick was originally used of a lure for catching fish, it became known for any sort of cunning used for profit.

This morning I don’t have to go into any detail in giving you bad examples of preaching the gospel for profit. It seems there is no limit to the lengths men AND women will go to to preach the gospel for their own financial benefit. (Even as I say that my own heart is judging their motives, again I don’t know that that is their motive, but everything I see in their ministry points that way.) Perhaps they are sincere, but when you take a Bible passages and twist it so that you ask people for a certain dollar amount so that God will bless them, that appears to be trickery.

Paul also says that they don’t use flattery. What is flattery? It is the process of complimenting excessively especially to gain the favor of someone. It also means to please or to gratify. Again, it wasn’t Paul’s intention to preach the gospel to “tickle” the ears of the hearers. We can look at many examples again of those who preach or teach the gospel to flatter the people. Sometimes as preachers and teacher of the gospel, we are going to have to present ungratifying things. Sometimes, people aren’t going to like what we have to say from God. This happens to laypeople and clergy alike. I’m sure, if it hasn’t happened yet, you may disagree with something I say. This is going to happen if the gospel is being presented correctly.

How should we present the gospel? We’ve sort of mentioned the first one. The gospel should be presented with courage. The message of the gospel is not always a popular message. We can see that in the gospels and the book of Acts. We must not back down. However, you’ll also notice that the gospel should be presented with gentleness. In verse 7 Paul writes, “we were gentle among you.” That almost seems like a oxymoron, to preach the gospel with courage and yet with gentleness. We are told to be ready to give an answer to the hope we have, but do it with gentleness and respect. In our pluralistic culture, we know that we have the answer, and yet we must communicate that answer with gentleness. We also need to present the gospel in love. Let me remind you again that I love each one of you. My desire continues to be that we can build the kingdom of God together. Again, there will be times when we will disagree. That happens, even among believers. We need to present the gospel in love. As I look at many of the students who show up here on Wednesday evening, I know that many don’t know what real love is. And that is our job in building the kingdom to show them the love of God and to present the gospel. One of the ways you did that this week is in the way you supported our teens in going to camp. First of all let me recognize Tommy. He volunteered last Sunday morning and make the appeal for the shortfall in cash. You responded wonderfully. That shows love and it is also part of the hard work or toil in building the kingdom, which is another characteristic of a minister. A minister is a hard worker and works to build the kingdom. Labor is hard work as we said last week. So we need to present the gospel with courage, gentleness, love, toil and holiness.
In verse 10 Paul writes, “You are witnesses and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you…” God has called us as ministers to be holy, to be separate, to be pure. Paul also uses the word righteous. He also mentions that the Thessalonians were witness to that. As presenters of the gospel, we need to have an impeccable witness.

In just 10 verses we covered a lot of territory this morning. God has called each one of his children to be ministers to this world. Let’s review

· Our message is the gospel of Jesus Christ
· Our motive is to please God, not men
· Our manner is not trickery or flattery, but courage, gentleness, love, toil, and holiness.

Perhaps you’ve never considered yourself of minister. If you are a child of God, you are a minister. Does your life line up with what Paul tells us a minister should be?

Reflecting Christ

Imagine with me that God has called you to spread his word throughout the empire.. In fulfilling God’s call, you visit many different cities, even starting new churches in these cities. Imagine after being in a new city for three weeks, the local government starts trouble for you. In a matter of time, your, effectively kicked out of the city. You go to another city, and somehow the officials of the city you were first kicked out of, manage to get you kicked out of that city as well. This leaves two newly started church without a pastor.

This happened to Paul and Silas as they followed God’s call to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. The first church that I’m talking about is Thessalonica. Paul and Silas had started’ preaching in the synagogue about the Good News of Jesus the Messiah. This was a great place because they could use the foundation of the Old Testament (which many Jews who were attending would understand). In the process many Jews and even “God-fearing” Gentiles came to know Jesus Christ.

It’s not surprising that Paul and Silas’ quick success made the synagogue leadership jealous, so they began to stir up trouble for the two evangelists. As a result, Paul and Silas had to leave their new church plant and move on.

For the next few weeks we are going to take a look at the pastoral letter of Paul to the church at Thessalonica. This letter was written to a fledgling congregation who lost their pastor due to no fault of either party. As we take a look at the book of 1 Thessalonians, we want to take a look at Paul and his pastor’s heart for the church located there.

There is little disagreement on who wrote this letter. Paul’s known characteristics are apparent in this letter and few have ever disputed Paul’s authorship. It is usually agreed upon that this letter was written about AD 51. This is probably one of Paul’s earliest letters.

The city of Thessalonica was a seaport city and was an important communication and trade center. The population was around 200,000 and was the largest city in Macedonia and was the capital of the province. By looking at the book of Acts, we can determine that the church was largely Gentile in membership.

So what is the theme of 1 Thessalonians? There are various subjects covered in the letter, but the primary subject is (watch out, here comes one of those $5 words) eschatology (the doctrine of last things.) Each chapter of this book ends with a reference to the second coming or Christ or his second advent. We will take a deeper look at that when we get to chapter 4. 1st and 2nd Thessalonians together are considered to be the eschatological letters of Paul (or Paul’s letters of the doctrine of the end things.)

This morning we want to deal with the introduction and Paul’s opening prayer to the church in Thessalonica.

1 Paul, Silas, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace to you.

2We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.
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.
4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 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. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia–your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.

They tell 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 rescues us from the coming wrath.

This letter begins in the typical fashion of letters written in this time period. First, we see who the letter is from; Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Next, we see who it is written to and that is the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a distinguishing mark. It makes them different from all other assemblies that might be gathering in Thessalonica. It also tells us their true identity is found in Jesus Christ. Finally, the salutation contains a greeting; “Grace and peace to you.” This greeting combines the source of the blessing, grace – and that is God’s undeserved favor – with the result of that blessing and that is peace. This is more than an absence of conflict but wholeness.

Most of Paul’s letters start with a prayer of thanksgiving for those he is writing to and this letter is no exception. Paul wants the believers to know that he cares about them. Paul is often thought of as a pastor, missionary, church planter, and evangelist, but usually not thought of as a prayer warrior, but as we look at this passage we see that he is a strong and constant intercessor. The believers at Thessalonica are constantly on his mind. As we take a look at what Paul thanks God for in the lives of the believers here are three things; faith, love, and hope. These should be virtues that each and every believer should have. Why? They are God’s good gifts to us and they are habits of the heart that we should exercise.

Let’s take a few moments to break this down. 1) Faith works. Most of us know that faith is much more than intellectual, but neither is it blind. God wants us to use our intellect so that we can know him more. Faith is a total commitment to Christ which leads to action. Remember what James says, faith without works is dead. If we have faith in Christ but do nothing about it, we should be cut off to use Jesus’ illustration in John 15. 2) Love labors. The word labor is a strong one. Think of a woman who is giving birth. We call it labor because it is. It is hard work. I’ve never given birth and from what I’ve experienced (it’s nothing compared to the woman’s part) I never want to. The word labor implies painful, persistent effort. That describes a woman giving birth. I like what Warren Woolsey says, “So if faith works; love is prepared even to toil; it never wearies of serving those who are loved.” I like that. Paul is a great example of a pastor. We never catch Paul acting like Eyeore of Winnie the Pooh fame. Paul never says, “Oh poor me, I always get the worst of it.” Paul is actually energized by the work that he has to do for the ones he loves. Earlier this week, I was struggling to get started. Guess what helped me. Reading this passage and working on the sermon that you are hearing now. You are loved by God and you are loved by your pastor. As I started writing the words, I found new energy that I didn’t have before. That persistent labor of love is sustained by hope. So many times we think of hope as simply being optimism about the future. Hope is so much more than that. It has a solid foundation of confidence in God, based on what He has done through us in Christ.
It is this faith, love, and hope that inspired the believers in Thessalonica to persevere even in the midst of persecution. Look at verse 6, “You became imitators of us, and of the Lord; in spite of sever suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” We often forget that living the Christian life in early Roman Empire was a matter of life and death. Christianity survived in the midst of great persecution. What’s even more amazing is that they were able to have joy in the middle of the persecution. They were able to receive God’s word with joy in spite of their suffering. Tribulation was the normal Christian experience. Remember Jesus’ words in the Upper Room? “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

As I was reading the commentary for this passage, I came across this. “We have no detailed knowledge of what hardships the Thessalonians experienced, but certainly the forces that succeeded in getting rid of the missionary team would next focus on the local believers, who were probably in a vulnerable position. The only explanation for their continued joy, Paul affirms, is that this is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives. It may be legitimate to raise the question, if tribulation is the context for normal Christian living, is it only a matter of time until we are back to ‘normality’? Or is our Christianity so diluted that it no longer threatens the existing state of affairs? Are we no longer dangerous?” Ouch! That hurts. Think about that for a moment. It’s interesting that throughout the course of Christian history, persecution has been the norm. During the 20th century, more Christians died for their faith than in the previous 19 centuries. It’s interesting that more and more people perceive Christianity as a threat. Just this week I read an article about how a movie with no sex, violence, or foul language received a PG rating. “Why?” you ask, because it mentions Christianity in a positive light. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Persecution is coming. I wish it weren’t. We need to pray for God’s grace to be overcomers, just as Jesus promised.

But what about the persecution, so what? How we behave when undergoing stress tells us a great deal about our character. Verse 7 says, “. . . so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia…” By being imitators of God, the word of the Good News spread. Remember that Thessalonica was a seaport and commercial center. It was at the beginning of the road to the Danube. Because of the witness of the Thessalonian believers, the word spread. It didn’t just spread to the region of Macedonia but became known everywhere. This is a great witness. This is a great model of what we should be. There witness is so strong that Paul and the missionary team don’t even have to elaborate on it. Those who have encountered the Thessalonian church tell of the great things God is doing there. What was happening? This little church plant that was suffering persecution had turned away from idols to serve the true and living God. What kind of idols do you have in your life this morning that you need to turn away from; work, sport, television, lust, food, drugs, alcohol, sex, or selfish ambition, money, power or fame? These all take away from the allegiance that we should have to God and God alone. These Christians not only turned, but also turned to serve God. What does serve mean? It means to perform the duties of a slave, serve, and obey. A great transformation happened in the life of these believers and everyone knew it. They had a fantastic witness.

One of the things about receiving Christ is that we are bought with a price. Paul writes about the work Christ does in us and tells us, “You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you an heir.” So we have a wonderful inheritance waiting for us in heaven, but we can also experience that here and now, even in the midst of persecution. That is what gave the believers hope. That is why they “wait for his son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus, who rescues us from God’s wrath.” There is coming a day when Jesus will come to take those who have placed their faith in him to heaven where we will have the inheritance of a lifetime. It will be ours for all eternity.

This morning I have two challenges:

Have you placed your faith in the living and true God? If not today could be your spiritual birthday. The inheritance is only available to those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus. Do you want to do that today?

If you are a believer here, does your life reflect the Lord you serve? Have you completely turned away from the idols that can entangle you? This morning can be a new starting point for you as well. So that people can see your witness. It’s amazing that the Thessalonian believers didn’t go around telling people what God had done. The people knew simply by observing. Is your witness that strong? Is your faith completely grounded in Christ that you could face severe persecution as the Thessalonian believers did?

The altar is open for anyone this morning. Do you hear God calling you this morning? Are you willing to obey?