Category Archives: 1 Thessalonians

1 Thess 4:13-5:11: Living with the End in Sight

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,funeral
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message, “He Is Dead,”
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

So goes Wynstan Auden’s brilliant poem, Funeral Blues.

It captures perfectly the hopeless, lonely despair of the mourner. Someone he deeply loves has died. And life’s not worth living any more.

For all the bluster and bravado of the atheist or the scientist or the humanistic rationalist, all their ridicule and mockery of the Christian. When it comes to death, they all become very quiet. Subdued. Because death can’t be controlled or beaten or explained away or ignored or paid off or mocked or disproven.

I’ve seen it in the eyes of everyday Aussies as I take the funeral of their grandma or father. There’s a hopeless desperation. A steely look of determination in their eyes. Hanging on every word I say as if to life itself.

They might be quite content ignoring God for most of their life. But for THOSE FEW MOMENTS of the funeral service, they can’t escape its reality. Death is just staring them in the face. And they’ve got no answer.

And they look to US for answers.

Because the reality is, when it comes to death, Christianity HAS ANSWERS.

And that’s what Paul wants to say to the Thessalonian Christians in today’s passage.

The problem:

The background seem to be concerns they’ve got about Jesus’ return. They’d assumed Jesus would come back while they were all still alive. And then he’d take them all to glory.

Which was fine and wonderful.

But then some of them had DIED. And the rest begun to worry that the ones who’d died would miss out. They’d miss the resurrection, and paradise. Or perhaps they worried that their death was a sign God was JUDGING them.

That’s the PROBLEM.

And so Paul had written so they won’t be IGNORANT. To clear things up. Because he doesn’t want them to be LIKE THE REST.

You see it there in v13 of Ch 4?

13 Brothers, we do not want you to be IGNORANT about those who fall asleep, or to GRIEVE like the rest of men, who have NO HOPE.

The rest

You see, that’s the NORMAL position when it comes to death. IGNORANCE. People just don’t KNOW what happens after death. And so there’s hopeless despair. Like the Auden poem.

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Hopeless grief.

That’s ONE option. The other approach I see in the face of death is despair that’s mixed with WISHFUL THINKING. People say things like;

“God must have needed another angel, so that’s why he took Billy.”

 

Or “Fred will be up there now having a drink with St Peter. He always LOVED a drink!”

There’s no KNOWLEDGE behind statements like that. Just wishful thinking.

Over in Ch 5, Paul describes that sort of wishful thinking to do with the Lord’s return. Ch 5 v3.

3 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.

It’s burying your head in the sand. And just HOPING that things will be alright.

But there’s no BASIS – no KNOWLEDGE – for that sort of hope. Positive thoughts, on their own, make no difference at all.

In fact, they’re WORSE than impotent. Without trust in something SOLID when it comes to death, all that you can expect is DESTRUCTION. God’s JUSTICE. No escape.

That’s the fate of “THE REST”. (Everyone ELSE. Unbelievers) And Paul doesn’t want the Thessalonians to be ignorant or to grieve hopelessly like THAT. And so he’s going to clear some things up about the Lord’s return. About “THE DAY”.

The day

And his confidence, and his hope and his knowledge about that day is based on the historical facts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Right there at the start in v14.

14 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.

ONE is the guarantee of the OTHER. It’s BECAUSE Jesus has beaten death, we can have confidence he’ll beat it for US, TOO.

In 1 Cor 15, Paul describes Jesus’ resurrection as FIRST FRUITS. Like the first CHERRIES of the season. They’re rejoiced over and highly sort after. Because they’re JUST THE BEGINNING. They’re the visible sign, the downpayment, that THE WHOLE HARVEST will come AFTER them.

Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee of OUR resurrection.

And it’s that CONFIDENCE that means we can describe Christians dying as FALLING ASLEEP. There’s nothing to be FEARED in falling asleep. It’s REST, it’s RELIEF, it’s RESTORATIVE, it’s TEMPORARY.

It’s a LOVELY phrase. It’s there on the memorial of Jessie McGowan. “FELL ASLEEP. Forever with the Lord.”

What a COMFORT that is!

And it’s an interesting phrase that describes what God will DO for those who’ve fallen asleep. It’s a bit clunky, but a more LITERAL translation says something like, “God will LEAD (or BRING), with Jesus, those who’ve fallen asleep through him.

We might EXPECT to read that God will RAISE those who sleep. That’s down in v16. But here, God LEADS them. I think what Paul’s describing is that God will lead his faithful saints back from heaven, along with Jesus, to be part of the resurrection.

That’s where they are now. In paradise with Jesus. But on that day, God will bring them all back in a celebration parade to witness Jesus’ victory. With Jesus leading the way.

They won’t miss out! They’ll be part of the parade!

And here’s what they’ll be WITNESSES to. V16.

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 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.

The FIRST to receive new resurrection bodies will be those who’ve died. Who’ve been lead back from heaven by God.

And then, SECOND, those saints who are still alive. They’ll receive THEIR new eternal bodies.

Rather than what the Thessalonians were concerned about, their dead loved ones will actually be FIRST in line, come the resurrection.

Over in 1 Cor15, Paul fills out a few MORE details. 1 Cor 15:51

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed- 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be RAISED imperishable, and we will be CHANGED.

Two different SORTS of transformations. Depending if the Christian is ALIVE or ASLEEP at the Resurrection. RAISED imperishable if the saint has no body. And CHANGED if he still HAS an earthly body.

But what will it be LIKE? Now, at this point, I struggle to know what to say. Even if I KNEW exactly what will happen. Because words are simply inadequate to describe WHAT it will be like.

Paul says it’s a little like when a SEED germinates and becomes A PLANT. There’s a CONNECTION between the old and the new. In ONE sense, they’re the same. But in ANOTHER, they’re COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. 1 Cor 15.42.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

ANOTHER way he describes it/ is that it will be like PUTTING ON NEW CLOTHES. 1 Cor 15:53.

53 For the perishable must CLOTHE itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

A new resurrected, eternal, glorified, incorruptible body. Something LIKE our present body, but also COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

And then, once we’re all DRESSED for eternity. The fun can REALLY begin. (Flip back over to 1 Thess 4) v17. Those who are still alive will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

Coming UP. To meet the victory celebration as IT’S coming down to MEET them. ALL believers meeting the LORD. He’s the centre of it all.

And not just meeting JESUS. The saints who are still alive will be there “TOGETHER WITH THEM”. That is, together with the dead in Christ. ALL God’s people, alive or asleep. TOGETHER. With THE LORD. FOREVER.

The application

It’s WONDERFUL news. And what’s the appropriate RESPONSE to that truth? What’s the application? At least if you’re a Christian? V18 “THEREFORE, ENCOURAGE each other with these words.”

You see, knowing what’s going to happen after we die makes a REAL, CONCRETE, MEASURABLE DIFFERENCE in how you face life TODAY.

You’ll approach life DIFFERENTLY because of these truths. People will look at the way you cope with suffering and death and loss and disappointment. And they’ll see something UNUSUAL.

They’ll see HOPE. They’ll see PERSPECTIVE. LONG-SIGHTEDNESS. They’ll see AN UNSHAKEABLE CONFIDENCE in a better future.

Take HOPE in these words. Don’t be IGNORANT. Grieve at your PRESENT loss –sure. Death will ALWAYS be painful. But grieve WITH HOPE. Because now you KNOW.

But Paul doesn’t stop THERE. He moves on from talking about the NATURE of the day of the Lord/ to think about its TIMING. About WHEN.

Perhaps the Thessalonians hadn’t only been worried about brothers who’d DIED, but themselves TOO. Perhaps THEY’D be next to die. And Jesus STILL hadn’t returned. Would THEY miss out? And so they started looking at the calendar.

It seems like they’d begun to ask questions about WHEN Jesus would return. About times and dates. About identifying the signs. Putting together all the pieces of the puzzle to find the ANSWER.

And Paul says (v1), I don’t NEED to write to you about that stuff. Don’t bother trying to solve the puzzle, he says, because you know very well Jesus is going to come back LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT. You CAN’T work out the day or the hour.

But that doesn’t mean you do NOTHING. Jesus isn’t just coming back. He’s coming back SUDDENLY AND UNEXPECTEDLY. And there’s three more personal applications of that truth.

1.Be alert and self-controlled. V4 of Ch 5

2.Be properly dressed. v8.

3.Encourage and build each other up. v11.

The FIRST one almost sounds like a contradiction. Jesus’ return is unexpected, so be prepared. But that’s what Paul says, v4, (the day will come like a thief in the night),

4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should SURPRISE you like a thief. 5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be ALERT and SELF-CONTROLLED.

You may not know WHEN something is coming. But you can still be PREPARED for it. Like A FIREMAN. They don’t know when a fire might happen, but they’re ALERT and PREPARED.

While they’re on duty, they do all sorts of things. They dry hoses, they wash trucks, they practice drills. They even watch TV, make food, or sleep.

But while they DO all those things, their jackets and hats and boots are hanging ready. The truck is fuelled up and ready to go. The hoses are packed and the extinguishers charged.

They may not know WHEN, But they recognise that a fire will DEFINITELY come SOME time. They recognise the REALITY that a fire will come. And they recognise its IMPORTANCE.

And that’s what it means for us to be prepared and alert FOR JESUS’ RETURN. To recognise its REALITY. And to recognise its IMPORTANCE.

And we SHOW that in a similar way to the firemen. By lining up every aspect of our life to REFLECT the reality and importance of what’s coming.

If Jesus is coming back to take those who belong to him, and to judge those who DON’T, then that means making sure YOU BELONG TO HIM. And then making sure your life REFLECTS that. That each area bears the marks of someone who puts Jesus first.

Paul sums it up. V5. It’s like being sons of the light. Sons of the day. To be a SON of something means you bear its CHARACTERISTICS. The day-time is for being alert and sober. The NIGHT time is when you get drunk and sleep. It’s when you HIDE things. Things you’re ASHAMED of. But there’s no hiding or shame in THE DAY.

And when it comes to the Christian, this is what it will mean SPECIFICALLY (v8). The SECOND application.

8 But SINCE we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled (or sober), putting on FAITH and LOVE as a breastplate, and the HOPE OF SALVATION as a helmet.

Just like a fireman. When you recognise the REALITY AND THE IMPORTANCE of the DAY. You’ll make sure you’re READY. That you’re DRESSED APPROPRIATELY.

The fireman gets dressed in hat, boots, pants, jacket. All part of the uniform to PROTECT him, and help him to DO HIS JOB.

But for the Christian, it’s about being dressed in ARMOUR. The armour of FAITH, LOVE AND HOPE.

But they’re not just ATTITUDES to keep in mind. Feelings that make no practical difference. They’re ARMOUR to PUT ON. Qualities that are ASSETS to be USED. WEAPONS to be WIELDED. STRENGTHS to be EXPLOITED.

Back in Ch 1 v3 Paul mentioned the same three attitudes. He said

3 We 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.

When you TRUST God – trust his goodness, and trust his promises- you WORK for the things that are IMPORTANT to him. You build those things that will LAST until Jesus’ returns. You strive to make your life conform to what will reflect THAT day, rather than reflecting the things around you – things that WON’T last.

And LOVE can motivate you TOO. “Labour prompted by LOVE” Whether it’s love for God, or love for others. Loving GOD will mean you want to PLEASE him. You don’t want to DISAPPOINT him. You want more and more people to RECOGNISE his WORTH and BEAUTY.

And when you love OTHERS with God’s love, you want THEM to enjoy God the way YOU do. You want them to REJOICE on that day, rather than MOURN. So love will prompt your LABOUR.

And the THIRD piece of armour is HOPE. And hope inspires ENDURANCE. That’s specifically hope in the return of Jesus. The CONFIDENT EXPECTATION that he really IS coming back. You can be SURE of it.

And hope knows that when he DOES, he’ll right all wrongs. Reveal every secret. Punish all wickedness. Restore all brokenness. Comfort every sorrow. Heal every sickness. Re-unite loved ones. Answer every question.

And when we know THAT. Know it FOR SURE. When that truth is tattooed across our hearts. It means we can cope with ALMOST EVERYTHING. We can show endurance when the road is long and straight. We can show patience when people and situations are difficult. We can show long-suffering when the pain is unbearable. We can show stick-ability when everyone else is giving up.

That’s what it will look like for you to live up to your calling. Because God HAS called you to it. ALL of it. To live NOW in expectant hope for THEN. See it there in v9? (Put on faith, love and hope)

9 FOR GOD DID NOT APPOINT US to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s all part of his plan. YOU’RE part of his plan. A plan with A FINAL GOAL. V10.

10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, WE MAY LIVE TOGETHER WITH HIM.

However life turns out. Short life or long. Difficult or easy. Successful and significant or quiet and quickly forgotten. Awake or asleep. Jesus KEEPS all those who are his. And will LIVE TOGETHER with them. Forever. WHAT a PLAN!

And Paul finishes this section with the FINAL application. V11. Just like he’d finished Ch 4.

11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

THEREFORE. BECAUSE of everything I’ve just taught you. ENCOURAGE one another. Support and persuade those who are struggling. Take HEART.

But MORE than that. Don’t just keep going as BEFORE. BUILD EACH OTHER UP. GROW, extend, enlarge, renovate, re-energise, strengthen, toughen, improve. Grow down deeper in faith and knowledge, grow out wider in love.

Life for you this week should be DIFFERENT because Jesus is coming back.

8 But SINCE we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12: On Being Different

Three Christians who’ve been in the public eye recently. And are at the tops of their respective fields.

One. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, committed Christian, and gracious debater of some of the world’s leading atheists. In Australia at the moment on a speaking tour. Appearing on TV, and speaking to Christian and non-Christians about the intellectual rigour of Biblical Christianity. Which must seem quite WEIRD to SOME academics. Last week he was on ABC’s Q and A program.

Two. Jarryd Hayne, great rugby league player, and a new Christian who attends Hillsong. Trying to live a very DIFFERENT sort of life from his team-mates. Last week, while celebrating a mate’s birthday, he was involved in an altercation with someone in a night club in Kings Cross. People sometimes try to bait footy players, and Jarryd seems to have responded in some way. He recognises it was a mistake he could have avoided if he hadn’t been there in the first place.

Three. Kate Bracks, mother of three from Orange. But perhaps better known as Kate from Masterchef. She’s a Christian, and member of Orange Evangelical Church. And when the contestants cooked for the Dalai Lama a few weeks ago, Kate respectfully addressed the spiritual leader as Dalai Lama, rather than the more expected “Your holiness.” Kate explained later that, as a Christian, she believed only God was holy, and that she SHOULDN’T call any HUMAN holy. And the internet opinions re running hot.

Three Christians. Mathematician, sportsman, cook. Each quite different, in a different area of life, with different challenges to conquer, and choices to make. But all with the same calling. The same calling WE have. Wherever we are. Gardener, teacher, storeman, receptionist, or accountant. Called to PLEASE GOD. Called to LIVE for him.

But what should that LOOK LIKE? How should Christians live in the world? That’s the question.

We ARE different from the world. We serve JESUS, rather than ourselves. We’re FORGIVEN, rather than living in rebellion against God. We’re bound for ETERNITY, rather than RETIREMENT.

But HOW should we be different?

ONE extreme is to run off into a separate Christian community. To withdraw from society. Have nothing to do with ANYTHING that’s not Christian. You might think of a monastery, or Christian hippy commune, or the Amish community in America who cut themselves off from modern technology and culture.

But we can separate from society just as well living in suburbia. There’s plenty of Christians who work with Christians, socialise with Christians, play sport with Christians. Having nothing at all to do with the rest of the world. If you asked them to name any non-Christians they know personally, they have to think hard before they can.

That’s ONE extreme. The OTHER extreme is for Christians to only be different ON THE INSIDE. To be SO involved, so INTER-CONNECTED with the world, they’re INDISTINGUISHABLE. They’re different, but only on the INSIDE. Like guerrilla warfare. You’d never know they were Christians. They never stand up for Jesus. They work and talk, and joke, and spend, and party like everyone else around them. They treat people the same, their attitudes and their priorities are the same. They worry about the same things, and they react the same way to difficulties and trouble.

I wonder which of these extremes YOU’RE closer to.

When it comes to how Christians relate to the world, where does a good balance lie? What sort of life is GOD pleased with?

In the practical “nuts and bolts” of day by day decisions, how should BEING DIFFERENT show itself in HOW YOU TREAT PEOPLE, what you spend your MONEY on, what you SAY, and how you WORK?

On being different (1-2)

It’s an issue that’s alive and relevant TODAY. But it’s been just as important ever since the very FIRST Christians were called to be different. Called to change their allegiance. To turn from idols to serve the LIVING and TRUE God.

Which is just what the Thessalonians had done when Paul preached the gospel to them.

And then Paul had taught them what that change of allegiance would LOOK LIKE. Practical teaching about the sorts of decisions they’d need to make. His teaching ON BEING DIFFERENT. In the rough and tumble of messy lives in the midst of non-Christians. See there at the start of Ch 4?

4:1 Finally, brothers, we instructed you HOW TO LIVE IN ORDER TO PLEASE GOD, as in fact you are living.

Whatever the particular decision or area of life, the key to it all is about PLEASING GOD. He’s the One you’ve turned to SERVE. And SERVING someone means doing what PLEASES them.

And what’s so good about living to please God is WE DON’T NEED TO GUESS. It’s not a matter of personal opinion. God’s TOLD us how to live in order to please him. It’s not JUST Paul’s opinion. V2.

2 For you know what instructions we gave you BY THE AUTHORITY OF THE LORD JESUS.

Paul had been commissioned as an apostle of Jesus. A SENT REPRESENTATIVE. An ambassador. With royal authority.

There’s lots of good advice for living out there. TV shows, magazines, self-help gurus, blogs, books. But it’s all just OPINION. When it comes to how to be different as Christians, we don’t have to guess. We don’t have to look any further. We can have complete confidence in Paul’s instructions. That we’ll PLEASE God if we FOLLOW them. Because they come with JESUS’ AUTHORITY. A royal seal of approval.

Our private relationships (3-8)

And he gives practical advice in THREE AREAS. Our PRIVATE relationships. Our CHURCH relationships. And our PUBLIC relationships.

First up, our PRIVATE relationships. Specifically SEXUAL ones.

And the platform we begin on. The FOUNDATION, there at the start of v3. Is that it’s God’s will for you to be SANCTIFIED. To be DIFFERENT. It’s from the same word family as SAINTS and HOLY.

And to be SANCTIFIED has two ideas connected with it. To be SEPARATE. To be reserved off to the side. For a special purpose. And when that’s applied to the things of GOD, it takes on the idea of being PURE – like the utensils associated with the temple. They were SET APART and HOLY.

And when we talk about PEOPLE being SANCTIFIED, or SET APART, then holy carries the ideas of being MORALLY pure. Of being separate from SIN. Of being morally UPRIGHT and RIGHTEOUS. Because that’s what GOD is like. God is the ultimate one who’s set apart. And for us to be SET APART for GOD means we’re to be LIKE HIM. Morally upright and set apart from sin. You ARE different, so BE different.

And the FIRST area Paul applies that difference to is SEXUAL IMMORALITY.

3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should AVOID SEXUAL IMMORALITY;

The word for sexual immorality is PORNEIA. Which means ANY sort of sexual contact that’s not between a married couple.

Notice it doesn’t say we should avoid SEX. There’s a rumour out there that God is AGAINST SEX. And that Christians have a PROBLEM with it. But that’s WRONG. Because God LOVES sex. He made it for us TO ENJOY. But he made it to be enjoyed WITHIN BOUNDARIES. That is, within the security and trust of marriage.

Anything OUTSIDE of that is LESS than God’s ideal. Less enjoyable, less special, less intimate.

It’s LESS, and it’s also SIN. It’s against God’s LAW and his DESIGN.

It’s like JAZZ music. People think jazz is just about playing whatever you feel like. Improvising. Which is true. But GOOD jazz is about freedom within LIMITS. Even in jazz, there are RULES you have to stick to. There may not be notes on a page you have to follow. But there are rules about rhythm and key and chords and volume. Rules about who plays when, and who doesn’t play. And jazz sounds great when people exercise their freedom WITHIN THOSE RULES. Playing whatever you like, without considering others just sounds HORRIBLE.

And it’s the same with God’s rules about sex. He’s given us freedom within limits. And when we play within God’s limits of marriage, listening to the other player, there’s great music.

But sexual immorality, porneia, is about getting rid of all rules. Doing whatever you feel like, without consideration for anyone else. And that makes TERRIBLE music. And it’s a recipe for DISASTER.

So God wants us to be HOLY. Sanctified. We’re to AVOID sexual immorality.

The word for AVOID can also mean DISTANCE as well as choosing not to do something. We’re to FLEE that sort of behaviour – put some physical distance between us and the temptation, as well choose to avoid it.

Which is a helpful way of thinking about the temptation. Put some SPACE between yourself and a temptation. FLEE it. Don’t go into the shop, or down that street. Don’t watch TV or use the computer on your own. Don’t spend time with that work colleague you connect with so well. Don’t “facebook-friend” that old flame from school. Don’t even meet up for coffee.

Make the choice when the distance is large, when the pressure’s NOT on, and the choice is EASY. Because the closer you get, the more self-control is required. Which Paul goes on to give instructions about. Fleeing sexual immorality is about SELF-CONTROL. V4.

4 that each of you should LEARN TO CONTROL HIS OWN BODY in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 NOT in PASSIONATE LUST like the heathen, who do not know God;

The culture of Thessalonica – pretty much like TODAY – was “If it feels good, DO IT!” The world doesn’t see any virtue in self-control. For people who don’t know God, the greatest sin is not being true to yourself. To NOT express yourself. To hold back. So the message of the world is that if you FEEL like doing it, GO FOR IT!

For people who don’t know God, if you have ANY sort of appetite, it’s NONSENSE to deny yourself that satisfaction. Just satisfy it – simple!

But God’s will is that we ARE in control of our bodies. WE CHOOSE what appetites we’ll satisfy, and how. There IS right and wrong. There ARE choices that please God.

And we please him when we show self-control over our bodies. When we deal with our bodies, and other people, with honour and holiness.

Paul goes on. (And it’s God’s will)

6 that in this matter no one should WRONG his brother or TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HIM.

Sexual immorality isn’t just a bit of harmless fun between two consenting adults. It’s WRONGING A BROTHER. If you’re married, it’s obviously wronging YOUR SPOUSE. It’s adultery and betrayal, and a breaking of your marriage vows to them.

But it’s just as much wronging the person you’re INVOLVED WITH. AND their spouse, or future spouse. Sexual immorality cuts DEEP. It’s NOT harmless. It produces wounds that take a long time to heal, IF EVER. Apart from the obvious dangers of diseases or pregnancy, there’s emotional scars from the broken trust and the superficial connection. Of unfair comparisons and exploitation.

Sex is FAR more important and significant than simply two ships passing in the night. God’s designed it to CONNECT people. To be the CULMINATION of getting to know each other and committing to each other. Sexual immorality is WRONGING a brother.

The other aspect that’s sinful is it’s TAKING ADVANTAGE of a brother. It’s USING someone else for YOUR BENEFIT. It’s basically SELFISHNESS.

Whereas that’s not the way God’s designed sex. It’s about self-LESS-ness. About serving THE OTHER PERSON instead.

Satisfying your physical appetites, wronging the other person, and taking advantage of them. That’s the normal way the NON-Christian world behaves. But you’re called to be DIFFERENT. Separate. So LIVE that way.

It’s all about REFLECTING THE MASTER YOU SERVE. God’s HOLY (separate and pure), so WE’RE to be holy TOO. Look there in v7.

7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to LIVE A HOLY LIFE. 8 Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his HOLY Spirit.

God CALLS us not to be IMPURE, but to be HOLY. And when we DON’T live up to that call, we’re rejecting God himself.

And then there’s one aspect of God’s work that’s emphasised. All sorts of descriptions Paul COULD have given about God. But he chooses “He’s the One who gives us his HOLY Spirit”. That’s the reason we’re to be HOLY, because we have God’s Spirit of HOLINESS IN us.

Just like when you’re Australian, there are certain things that are expected. When you’re Australian on the INSIDE, you’re expected to behave that way ON THE OUTSIDE. So, all manner of things are said to be UN-Australian. It’s UN-Australian to limit the amount Australians can gamble on the pokies. It’s un-Australian not to eat lamb on Australia Day, or to talk yourself up, or to spit the dummy on the sporting field, or to protest against globalisation.

Same with being a Christian. When you’ve got God’s HOLY Spirit on the INSIDE, you should be HOLY on the OUTSIDE. If you’re NOT, you’re rejecting GOD HIMSELF, who gives you his Holy Spirit.

2. In your church relationships

That’s point ONE. What it means to live out being different in your PRIVATE relationships. Next Paul moves onto our CHURCH relationships. How we treat our brothers and sisters in our church family. And, once again, the point is about living out BEING DIFFERENT. V9.

9 Now about BROTHERLY LOVE we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you DO LOVE ALL THE BROTHERS THROUGHOUT MACEDONIA. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

It’s a bit of a refrain for Paul. He keeps coming back to it. How he wants the Thessalonians to LOVE EACH OTHER. Even though they’re already doing it WELL.

1:3. We continually remember your labour prompted by LOVE.

3:6. Timothy’s just brought us good news about your faith AND LOVE.

3:12. May the Lord make your LOVE for each other increase and overflow for each other.

And here again in v9 and 10, we see it again. You DO love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet do so MORE AND MORE. Don’t settle for a SURFACE love. A passing affection. A half-connected, self-protective, comfortable, convenient sort of love that doesn’t really challenge or stretch you too much. PUSH yourself in love. Give up even more, take more risks, be MORE transparent, and generous, and forgiving, and patient, and tolerant and long-suffering.

How are we DOING at that? How are YOU doing at that?

If we were all doing it, people would TAKE NOTICE, wouldn’t they? Because it’s SO UNUSUAL. So counter-cultural for people as different and divergent as we are to get on so well, to love each other so deeply and sacrificially. To be so tolerant and patience. To be so UNITED.

We sometimes lament how much infighting there is in the church, but we forget how UNUSUAL it is that we get along as well as we do.

Let’s keep doing it more and more.

3. Public relationships

That’s Paul’s SECOND areas of how to live differently. His THIRD area, from v11, is in our PUBLIC relationships.

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

A whole list of actions and attitudes that will SET YOU APART as DIFERENT. All so that people will NOTICE.

Be busy, not a busy-body. When everyone’s gossiping around the water cooler about the latest juicy rumour, or grumbling about the conditions, or back-stabbing the boss. Don’t get dragged in. Just lead A QUIET LIFE, mind your own business, get on with your own work. You might say something, or you might just walk away.

People NOTICE. They RESPECT integrity and honesty and loyalty. I’ve spoken to a few of you who’ve made conscious, prayerful decisions to address certain things at work. I won’t embarrass them by naming them. But they’ve seen things CHANGE when it comes to swearing, or complaining, or gossip. They’ve just decided to get on with leading a quiet life, and minding their own business, and doing their job. And people NOTICE.

Because we ARE different, so let’s ACT THAT WAY.

And not just AT WORK. Just in your everyday life. In small things.

Different in your ATTITUDE TO LIFE. Are you thankful and grateful for your life? Where you count your blessings. Because God’s given you far more than you deserve. Or do you complain and moan about your workload, or your luck, or your in-laws?

Are you different in the way you talk to the check out girl in the supermarket? In a way that shows you really care – really interested – even though you don’t know her. Because God has shown YOU mercy and grace.

Or different in the way you cope with traffic? That instead of getting parking spot rage when you’re absolutely at the end of your tether with the Christmas shopping, you actually smile and let somebody else take the spot. Because God’s shown YOU grace and forgiveness more than YOU deserve.

Or different in the way you deal with stress and uncertainty? How you can deal calmly with unexpected situations, and take life as it comes. Because you know God’s got it in control, and he’s working everything for good.

Or just different in the way you approach CONVERSATIONS. Don’t be DEPENDENT on anybody. Look to GIVE, rather than RECEIVE. Even in our conversations. Do you come into a conversation with AN AGENDA? With something YOU want to get out of it? Keen to get YOUR point of view across, or get help for YOUR project?

Why not listen well? Ask questions. Be AVAILABLE for the other person. Let them know you’re FOR them. On their side. Praying for them, interested.

That’s the life that wins the respect of outsiders. That pleases God who calls you to it. You ARE different, do LIVE differently. Whether you’re a mathematician, a politician, or a sportsman. Whether you’re a truck-driver, a carpenter, or a housewife.

Live to please God, be sanctified and holy, because he who calls you is holy.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28: Follow the Leader

Head down to Bunnings, or Flower Power, or even your local library this weekend, and you can join any number of SELF-IMPROVEMENT WORKSHOPS. Watch, listen to, and copy the experts, and before you know it you’ll be building a verandah, pruning fruit trees, learning a foreign language, or getting rid of those post- Christmas love handles.

You’ve got to hand it to those experts. They deserve RESPECT. They INSPIRE you with their knowledge, and their skills. Even their PASSION for their area of expertise.

And the way to improve. The way to achieve peak performance is to WATCH THEM CLOSELY. Respect them. Listen to them. Ask them questions. And then COPY them. Even practice ALONGSIDE them, so they can watch and correct YOU.

Attitude to Others

And that’s what the Apostle Paul wants the Thessalonians to be doing here in the last few verses of his letter. He’s given them all the instructions, all the rebukes and encouragements. And now he’s got to finish, and hand them over to OTHERS. The models they need to follow. To listen to and copy.

Follow the Leader

But it’s not tradesmen or gardeners or personal trainers he’s pointing them to. It’s their CHURCH LEADERS. V12. Paul’s saying, “Use THEM as your models. The ones over you in the Lord.” V12

12 Now we ask you, brothers, to RESPECT those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 HOLD THEM IN THE HIGHEST REGARD in love because of their work.

Paul’s strategy for Christian improvement. For spiritual maturity. Is to be like your leaders. Look up to them. Respect them. And IMITATE them. Follow the leader.

Which comes as a bit of a surprise in our culture, really. To have LOCAL CHURCH LEADERS as the models you follow. When we can cruise the internet, watch the Christian channel on TV, or listen to Hope 103.2. And learn from far smarter, more successful and famous Christian leaders. From John Piper, or John Macarthur, or Tim Keller, or Martin Lloyd Jones, or Don Carson.

It seems a bit strange to hold up LOCAL CHURCH LEADERS as your role model. I mean, nobody’s ever asked ME for an autograph, and I don’t think anyone’s got a poster of Stu or Jake or Ron on their bedroom wall.

Why are we to respect our church leaders? To hold them in high regard? It’s very different from why we might copy our local self-improvement experts at Bunnings or the gym. It’s not because our church leaders are EXPERTS. It’s not because they’re particularly clever, or successful, or good looking.

It’s because of WHAT THEY DO AMONG YOU. We should respect and copy them because they WORK HARD AMONG YOU, and because THEY ADMONISH YOU.

If YOU’VE had to do it, you’ll know it’s hard work admonishing people. Not much fun having to correct people. But Paul says not only should you look up to your leaders and respect them for it, you should LOVE them for it. It’s hard work. And it’s helpful to you.

Have you ever thought about that? About how hard it is to be a church leader? To have to correct people. To have to be the one to say the hard words that sometimes need to be said. I can tell you, it’s agonising. I’d rather do anything else.

And you might as well draw a target on your back. Because it doesn’t always go down well. Heartfelt thanks is not the normal response. No matter how gentle, no matter how helpful. No matter how loving the approach.

And it’s something we elders don’t take lightly. We spend a lot of time praying for you guys, asking for God’s help for you. Asking for his wisdom FOR US as we lead you.

And I’ve seen how hard your leaders work. Elders or Bible study leaders, management committee, Sunday school teachers. And how hard they wear the responsibility they’ve got to look after you. I’ve seen our elders AGONISING over decisions and situations.

I’ve seen our leaders so busy with work or family. And yet they turn up to meetings and home groups. Straight from work. Or they turn up with their microwaved dinner in a Tupperware container, because they walked in the door from work, then walked straight out again.

So let me ask you. How well are you TAKING this instruction? Think about those people who LEAD you – our elders or Bible study leaders. Have them pictured in your mind. Now, let me read v12 again.

RESPECT those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 HOLD THEM IN THE HIGHEST REGARD IN LOVE because of their work.

Is that what YOU’RE doing? How do you take CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM? Are you DEFENSIVE? Do you become BITTER? Do you want to point the finger straight back? Do you want to take your bat and ball, and go home? Withdraw from church events?

If we’re going to take on board what Paul’s saying here, instead of BEING OFFENDED, we should be DELIGHTED. We should RESPECT it. Rather than fuming and muttering about hypocrisy. Rather than gathering up gossipy critics.

We should LIVE AT PEACE WITH ONE ANOTHER. THRILLED that someone would care for us enough to do that. We should thank them. Hold them in high regard because of it. We should LOVE them for it.

What does it LOOK LIKE to respect our leaders? To be DELIGHTED at their concern for you? You SHOW you respect the advice by what you DO with it. By whether you prayerfully take it on board. And then DO SOMETHING about it.

It’s ONE application of v19-22. That command us not to put out the Spirit’s fire, and not to treat prophecies with contempt. And to TEST everything. And to hold onto the good. And avoid every kind of evil.

God’s Spirit works through God’s people, as we speak God’s words to each other. That’s often what the Bible means by prophecy – “thus says the Lord. Repent, or do this. Or don’t do that.”

So by listening humbly and prayerfully to what our leaders are saying to us, we’re allowing the Spirit to work. And we’re open to prophecy.

Now, our leaders may not always be right. It may only be something from that leader’s point of view. They may have misunderstood something. But at least take it on board. PRAYERFULLY CONSIDER it. That’s testing everything (v21), and holding onto the GOOD advice. And it means you avoid evil.

Humbly and prayerfully LISTEN to your leaders. THAT’S how to hold them in the highest regard.

Serve others

But not only that, we should use our leaders as A MODEL.

The one aspect of a leader’s job mentioned here, other than working hard, is that he ADMONISHES. All sorts of OTHER parts to the job TOO – like encouraging, and helping, and being patient. But THIS BIT is probably the time when people need REMINDING to respect their leaders – when they’ve been ADMONISHED.

But notice what instructions Paul gives THE REST of the church. There from v14.

14 And we urge you, brothers, WARN THOSE WHO ARE IDLE,

It’s translating the same word as ADMONISH. LEADERS are to admonish, but so are THE REST of the brothers. Paul wants EVERYONE to be doing the sorts of things their LEADERS are doing.

And then he continues. All the OTHER things we want our leaders to be doing. EXCEPT Paul wants US ALL to be doing them.

Encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

Notice what your leaders are doing. Then IMITATE them. COPY them. Watch them, and USE THEM AS YOUR MODEL. Do THAT, and I reckon our church would really be looking after each other the way God wants.

Our leaders here put themselves out again and again. They sacrificially SERVE you. Putting themselves LAST, to put you FIRST.

They’re not empire-building. They’re not on an ego trip, loving the power. They’re not BULLIES. They genuinely want to see our church growing more like Jesus. Growing in perseverance and humility and patience and love. Building a genuine community. And they’ll PRAY it, and they’ll WORK at it to see it HAPPEN.

And that’s the sort of attitude Paul says we should COPY.

It’s a very OTHER PERSON CENTRED attitude. So different from the normal way the WORLD works. From the SELF-IMPROVEMENT workshops. That are all about developing YOURSELF. Achieving your OWN goals, improving your OWN performance.

Listen to the comment of someone who attended a self-improvement workshop run by the motivational speaker Anthony Robbins. Robbins is the author of the book, “Unleash the Power Within.” And here’s what someone said after attending his course. See if you can count the number of times he refers to himself.

I don’t have to go by anyone else’s values or anybody else’s beliefs. This is my life, and if I want to enjoy the process, I have the techniques and I now know how to.

It’s a very ME-centred philosophy.

But the strategy PAUL’S suggesting to achieve Christian maturity will have very different outcomes to those of Anthony Robbins. It’s not about ME, ME, ME. It’s about YOU, YOU, YOU. Listen to those couple of verses again, this time listening TO WHERE THE FOCUS LIES. Who people are looking towards.

Live in PEACE with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are IDLE, encourage the TIMID, help the WEAK, be patient with EVERYONE. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for WRONG, but always try to be KIND to each other and to everyone else.

Try to see things from THE OTHER PERSON’S point of view. Don’t DEMONISE them. Don’t make it us versus them. Put yourself in THEIR shoes. Live at PEACE.

And look around you. Be OTHER PERSON CENTRED. See anyone who’s IDLE? WARN them. It’s not GOOD for them to be lazy. It’s not good for them to give up coming to church because they can’t be bothered. Might be tough for you to SAY it, might be easier for you to say NOTHING. But do it anyway!

It’s not just the LEADERS’ job to warn. We’re ALL to do it. As we follow the model of our leaders.

(Let’s keep going.) See anyone who’s TIMID? Anyone not included. Encourage them. Include them. Don’t leave them on the outside. Bring them into the middle. A compliment costs NOTHING. But it’s PRECIOUS.

See anyone who’s WEAK? Who’s not coping? Then HELP them. Support them. Let them LEAN ON YOU. It’ll COST YOU, cost you in time, or money, or emotional energy. But that’s the path to Christian maturity. For YOU, as WELL as for the weak person you’re helping.

Or see anyone who’s ANNOYING? Don’t snap back. Don’t avoid them. Be PATIENT with them. Good for YOUR maturity, AND for theirs.

Or into v15. More OTHER PERSON CENTRED attitudes. Someone does your WRONG? Let it go. Truly! Don’t just PRETEND everything’s alright face-to-face. And then grumble about them behind their back. Honestly forgive them. And work at MENDING the bridge. Try to be KIND to each other. Good for YOU, and for THEM.

And if you’re doing all of THOSE things. It actually makes it easier to do the DIFFICULT job of WARNING or REBUKING. If you’ve shown love and concern, your rebuke will be better received. If you’ve EARNED the right to comment, the person will be more inclined to ACCEPT it. Because they know you LOVE them.

Be thankful

But it’s not only your attitude to OTHERS you should model on your leaders. What about your ATTITUDE TO LIFE? V16

16 Be joyful ALWAYS; 17 pray CONTINUALLY; 18 give thanks IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I wonder how many people at an Anthony Robbins self-improvement seminar have one of THOSE verses as a life motto. Or a goal in their ten year plan.

I wonder how many people say, “What I really want out of life. Where I want to be in ten years. Isn’t to own a string of investment properties, or to be successful and independent. It’s to be JOYFUL ALWAYS. To PRAY CONTINUALLY. And to GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES.”

I could safely say there’d be NO ONE.

And yet, there it is. Paul’s commands for a Christian approach to life. A path to self-improvement. Not so much to be SUCCESSFUL in what you do. Or constantly to be IMPROVING in your abilities and skills. But to be THANKFUL no matter what. Thankful when things DON’T go the way you’d like. Thankful when you miss out, while others seem to get everything. Or get AWAY with everything.

And notice the last little phrase? For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. WHAT is God’s will? To be joyful, prayerful and thankful DESPITE your circumstances. God’s will for you ISN’T that you’re healthy, wealthy and wise. It ISN’T that everything always falls into place perfectly in your life.

If you think like that, then you’re bound for disappointment. You’ll RESENT God. You’ll think you deserve something BETTER.

Or else you’ll feel GUILTY, and BLAME yourself because your life ISN’T perfect when EVERYONE ELSE’S seems to be. And wonder what you’re doing wrong. Why you’re missing out on God’s blessing.

Way more important than a smooth and carefree life is a GOD-FOCUSSED ONE. One where your basic orientation to life, WHATEVER comes your way, is towards God. Recognising him, considering him, and being thankful for whatever he gives you. Because he knows best. That’s God’s will for you.

That’s what the Thessalonians had. They were joyful even though they were treated TERRIBLY. They suffered persecution, but they welcomed the gospel WITH JOY.

And God’s will for us is the same. To be joyful, prayerful and thankful. WHATEVER our circumstances.

Joyful, prayerful and thankful.

Even when your baby is born sick, or your mum’s diagnosed with cancer, or you’ve lost your spouse. Or you’ve been unemployed for ages. Or your kids are growing apart from you. Or your hair’s falling out, or your eyesight’s failing. Or your bones are creaking.

But how do you DO that? It’s not easy. And I’m no expert. But I reckon the key is there in the MIDDLE of that section. PRAY CONTINUALLY. Which doesn’t mean 24-7 on your knees. It means going through your day RECOGNISING THAT YOU’RE IN GOD’S PRESENCE. That he’s controlling everything that happens. That you’re going through your day IN PARTNERSHIP with him. That nothing happens without his say-so. That he’s your loving father who brings difficult things to train you. To discipline you. To teach you to rely on him. And to make you hope for heaven.

And I think recognising THAT/ makes it easier to be joyful and thankful always.

There’s a well known hymn called “It is well with my soul”. The hymn’s well known. But it’s not so well known that Horatio Spafford wrote it in tragic circumstances. In 1871 a fire wiped out a big chunk of Horatio’s investments in Chicago. His son had died shortly before the fire. In 1873 Horatio planned a trip to Europe with his wife and four daughters. While he was there he was going to help with some evangelism, with his friend Dwight Moody. At the last minute business prevented Horatio from going, but he sent his wife and his four daughters on a ship ahead of him. On November 22 the ship was struck by another ship and sank. Only his wife survived. And in the light of the loss of his four daughters this is when he wrote this hymn. The words of the first verse:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

See, improvement and growth is so different for Christians. It isn’t so much about being SUCCESSFUL as it is about being JOYFUL. Deep, real, contentment and acceptance. Way better than happiness. Than feelings that depend on circumstances. On whether you’ve got up on the right side of the bed that morning.

Joy is about trusting in what God’s doing despite the circumstances. This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Be joyful, pray, give thanks.

And as Paul comes to the end of his letter. A letter with lots of advice about how WE’RE to act. About how WE’RE to think and speak and behave. About our self-improvement. He finishes with a wonderful PRAYER based on a wonderful TRUTH. V23.

A truth we really should have realised if we’re living out joyful and prayerful and thankful lives. If we’re living out that God’s in control of the world. The truth is/ God’s in control of US TOO. Of our progress, and our destination. It’s really about our GOD-improvement, rather than our SELF-improvement.

He WANTS to work his power in us to make us like Jesus. And to bring us to the end blameless. That’s HIS will, and HIS goal. His power will bring it about. And you can trust his faithfulness to DO what he promises. And to finish what he starts.

And I can’t think of a better way to finish than to finish with these words. V23. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians. It’s my prayer FOR YOU.

23 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. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Amen.

 

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13: Out of sight, not out of mind

In 2008 four year old Andrew Thompson was taken out of Australia by his mother against the orders of the Family Court. They flew to Frankfurt, Germany, and then disappeared.

His father, Ken Thompson, was heart-broken. Andrew was his only child. He spent the next TWO YEARS trying to find him. He suspected his ex-wife had taken Andrew to Europe. Then, in May 2011, he took the desperate step of cycling through Europe, publicising Andrew’s disappearance wherever he went, and looking for clues. Eventually, in October, Andrew and his mother were found in Amsterdam, and he was re-united with his father.

For Ken, the separation had been terrible. It wasn’t just the broken relationship – that he missed out on seeing his son grow up. There was the uncertainty – not knowing where Andrew was, whether he was safe. And healthy. And happy.

Paul’s longing

And it was the same feelings Paul had for his SPIRITUAL children, the Thessalonian church. We saw a couple of weeks ago how he’d STARTED the church. From Acts 17. How the kids had been born.

And like MOST births, it was a difficult labour. The Jewish leaders were jealous, rounded up a mob, and started a riot. They drove Paul and Silas out of town, and began persecuting the new believers.

And being separated cut Paul to the heart. Listen to how he felt. Ch 2 v17.

17 But, 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. 18 For we wanted to come to you-certainly I, Paul, did, again and again-but Satan stopped us. 19 For 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? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

He’d been separated in person, but not in thought. It literally says torn away “by sight, but not by heart”. Paul might have been distant PHYSICALLY, but his love was just as strong as if they’d all been in the same room.

And it wasn’t just a cool, professional responsibility. Paul felt INTENSE LONGING to be with them. They were much more than a project or a target. They were his glory and hope and joy. He’d be so proud of them when Jesus returned.

The picture is of the proud parent at the graduation of their child. All the hard work and pain and struggle. Now being acknowledged and vindicated and appreciated. And the parent is full of pride and love and gratitude for how the child’s turned out.

But it’s not just THE SEPARATION Paul’s feeling. There’s the UNCERTAINTY. Because things were so UP IN THE AIR when he was run out of town. Would the brand-new Christians give up in the face of the violent persecution? Would they just take the EASY option, and blend back in to their old lives?

Because it’s so common, isn’t it? (People giving up on being Christians.) I’ve known DOZENS of people who’ve started out strong. Who’ve made commitments. Who loved coming to church, and learning more. Who said all the right things. But for a whole RANGE of different reasons, one small wrong decision after another. They drift away, and blend back into their old lives. And before long, there’s no trace left of following Jesus at all. You’d never even have KNOWN they’d once said they were Christians. And it breaks my heart.

And Paul’s got the same concerns. He can’t help imagining the worst. So he has to do something about it. He can’t go there himself – it just seems like one slammed door after another. But he does the next best thing. He sends his co-worker, Timothy. V1 of Ch 3.

3:1 So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We 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,

That’s what we ALL need. Leaders to strengthen and encourage us in our faith. Gardeners in God’s garden to pull up weeds, kill pests, trim branches, and fertilise healthy fruit trees.

The sad truth is, though,/ not many of us have HAD someone like that. Someone who took it as A PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY to strengthen and encourage and disciple and pray with you SPECIFICALLY.

That’s in the past. But let me ask you a question MOVING FORWARD. Let me turn it around. Who can YOU could help in that way? Who could YOU offer to meet with once a week, or once a month, to read the Bible and pray? Ask them questions about how they’re travelling? Where they doing well? Where they’re STRUGGLING?

I can’t do it all. Our elders can’t do it all. It’s OUR JOINT RESPONSIBILITY! Wouldn’t it be WONDERFUL if our church was just FULL of a complex web of those sorts of relationships, happening in all sorts of different ways, at different times and in different place, reaching all different sorts of people! Who KNOWS how God could use those sorts of encouraging relationships to build his kingdom.

But, for Paul, the Thessalonians were in SPECIAL need of strengthening and encouragement. So he sent Timothy. v3. Timothy came 3 so that no one would be UNSETTLED BY THESE TRIALS. You know quite well that we were destined for them. 4 In 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.

And Timothy’s job isn’t just to strengthen and encourage, but to send word back to Paul about how they’re doing. V5. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I SENT 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.

Paul’s DESPERATE for news. News about whether they’d given in to temptation, and whether all Paul’s work had been wasted. There’s nothing worse than losing what you’ve worked so hard for. Like when you’ve spent hours working on the computer – an assignment or a project. And the computer crashes, or you bump the power cord, or you forget to save it. And, just like that, it’s all gone. And you can never go back. You can try re-writing it. But there’s this nagging feeling that it’s never as good SECOND time around as what you’d done the FIRST time. It’s so frustrating. All that effort WASTED.

But much worse than a lost assignment, Paul’s concerned that all HIS efforts aren’t wasted. The stakes are FAR HIGHER. These are lost SOULS, not lost ASSIGNMENTS. He worked so hard to start the church. Put up with all the persecution, all the sleepless nights, all the emotional energy and prayer. And they’re so PRECIOUS to him. And it would be TRAGIC for it to all go to waste.

Unless, of course, you’re SATAN. The tempter, there in v5. He LOVES to see people giving up. Blending back in. Loves to see hard Christian work go to waste.

And it’s SO EASY. He just has to whisper little lies into your ear. “You’re imagining it all. It’s not real. You were much happier before. You can’t trust God. You’re missing out.”

Or he sends PERSECUTION to add a little more weight to the whispers. “See how DIFFICULT life is. If you just give up, everything will be SO MUCH EASIER. It’s not WORTH the hassle.”

That’s what Satan had been TRYING with the Thessalonians, as well as with Paul. But notice what Paul thinks about the trials. There in v3 and 4. Satan’s BRINGING them, Trying to tempt and undermine.

But Paul KNEW they’d come. And he’d WARNED the Thessalonians. In fact he says in v3 they know quite well “WE WERE DESTINED for them.”

The word for DESTINED is also translated as SET or ESTABLISHED. Who DESTINES things? GOD does! GOD’S established the trials. Satan’s BRINGING them, but GOD’S plans are being worked out through it all. And that gives Paul, and US, a perspective on it all that makes it easier to bear.

But that’s not Satan’s ONLY trick. He’s already had another mention in this passage. Back up in v18 of Ch 2. It was Satan who was PREVENTING PAUL FROM VISITING. We don’t know exactly HOW he was doing that. Perhaps there was official opposition, or persecution, or Paul was sick, or there was bad weather stopping travel.

Whatever the reason, Satan didn’t WANT Paul and the Thessalonians getting together. Because CHRISTIANS GETTING TOGETHER IS POWERFUL. Fellowship is the ordinary means God uses to keep us standing firm. It’s one Christian speaking God’s words of encouragement to another. Singing, praying, reminding, challenging, correcting, training, providing an example, strengthening.

If Satan doesn’t want us DOING it – if it matters so much to HIM (pause) – why does it mean SO LITTLE TO US? Why are we so laid back about whether we meet or not? Why do we only make the decision to come to church if we don’t have a better offer? Why do we think NOTHING of missing a week or two?

And why haven’t you REGISTERED FOR THE CHURCH RETREAT YET?? March 12. Narrabeen. Do it TODAY!

There’s a good strategy when you captain a sporting team. When you’ve got a decision to make – whether to bat or bowl, whether to kick for goal or run the ball, or whether to substitute this player for that player – here’s what guides your decision. Do whatever the opposition WOULDN’T want you to do. That’s the best decision for YOUR team – do what’s WORST for the OTHER team.

And it should be the same for US. If Satan doesn’t WANT us meeting together. If he tries to STOP us. If he TEMPTS us to give up, down tools, throw in the towel, so all our effort’s WASTED. Then, let’s do THE OPPOSITE.

Let’s make sure we DON’T take the easy option. Let’s push through the barriers, and the excuses, and the soft alternatives. Let’s KEEP meeting together. Even when it’s easier NOT too. When there’s no one at church at YOUR stage of life. Or with YOUR particular interests or concerns. Even when YOU’RE not getting YOUR needs met. Do it to meet OTHER’S needs. Do it because Satan doesn’t WANT you doing it.

And let’s make the MOST of that time when we’re together. Let’s do what Satan HATES. Let’s strengthen and encourage each other in our faith – just like TIMOTHY did. Let’s speak constructive, strengthening, useful things to each other. Let’s be servant-hearted, other–person centred, and open- handed. Let’s be generous, and humble, and genuine.

Paul’s relief

That’s what PAUL wanted to do. And that was TIMOTHY’S job. To strengthen and encourage.

So how did it turn out? Paul couldn’t WAIT for the news. And in v6 we see Paul’s RELIEF. He was HOPING his work wasn’t wasted, v6 But 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. 7 Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution WE WERE ENCOURAGED ABOUT YOU BECAUSE OF YOUR FAITH. 8 FOR NOW WE REALLY LIVE, SINCE YOU ARE STANDING FIRM IN THE LORD. (All the things that COULD have gone wrong.) But the reality was God kept them safe and sound. They’re STANDING FIRM. Unshaken.

And that just makes Paul’s day! “Now we really live,” he says (v8). It was like we were only HALF ALIVE before we heard the news. But now WE’RE ALIVE. Life’s worth living. There’s a purpose and a satisfaction to life that makes all the struggles WORTH it. Because the hard work’s PAID OFF. And Paul can’t stop thanking God – because he’s the One who’s made sure it’s such a good outcome. V9. 9 How can we thank GOD enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

When Paul’s thoughts turn to the Thessalonians, he just breaks out in a smile and a chuckle. Because it’s been such a good outcome. They HAVEN’T been unsettled by the trials. They HAVEN’T stumbled, or been tempted. They haven’t wasted their effort. They’re STANDING FIRM.

Paul’s tonic

But that’s not an excuse for Paul to stop working. To turn his attention in some other direction. He can’t wait to deliver a tonic to make them EVEN STRONGER.

It’s extraordinary to see his train of thought. He just finishes in v9 telling them how JOYFUL he is that they’re powering on. And then he says (v10)

10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again AND SUPPLY WHAT IS LACKING IN YOUR FAITH.

He wants to fill up what they’re LACKING! It’s not that Paul thinks there’s anything WRONG with their faith. After all, he’s said lots already that’s COMPLIMENTARY about their faith. Like Ch 1 v3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, Or down in v5, the gospel came to them WITH DEEP CONVICTION.

And in v8. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia-YOUR FAITH IN GOD HAS BECOME KNOWN EVERYWHERE.

And even here in Ch 3 (v6) Timothy brings good news about THEIR FAITH. And then in v7 Paul, in all his distress and persecution is ENCOURAGED BY THEIR FAITH.

And yet, when Paul hears about THEIR FAITH. (Hears about how they’re standing firm.) He can’t wait to get there to FILL UP WHAT THEY’RE LACKING. The word for “supply” means things like “prepare” or “repair” or “mend”.

That’s the thing about the Christian walk. You never arrive. Until Jesus returns. However FIRM you’re standing. However MATURE you become. However patient and loving and sacrificial and prayerful. There’s always FURTHER TO GO.

And that’s what you realise as you grow as a Christian. How much further you’ve got to go. The more you become like Jesus, the more you realise how much you’re NOT like Jesus.

And from Paul’s point of view, when you see God GROWING people, there’s nothing better than ministry that encourages MORE AND MORE of that growth.

Like Peter and Cindy with their little olive tree. They’ve enjoyed the first crop of fruit from it. They’ve been excited to see how many olives it’s given. And it makes them want to work even harder so even MORE fruit is produced.

And when you’re serving in some sort of ministry, the greatest buzz you get is when people start CHANGING. When they get EXCITED by the Bible, and by following Jesus. And when the pieces start falling into place. And they start putting him first in more and more areas of their life. It’s ADDICTIVE. It’s what keeps you coming back week after week and year after year.

Is that a joy YOU’RE seeing in YOUR ministry? With your kids. Or home group. Or Sunday school.

Or flip it around. How are you RESPONDING to the ministry of those people teaching YOU? Are you a cause of thanksgiving to them? Are they encouraged by YOUR PROGRESS? By practical ways your faith is working itself out? Have you TOLD them what difference they’re making?

So what sort of things is Paul thinking about? Have a look from v11. The specific areas Paul wants to top-up in their faith. His ANTIDOTE

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your LOVE increase and overflow FOR EACH OTHER and FOR EVERYONE ELSE, just as ours does for you. 13 May 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.

FIRST, he wants them to increase in love for each other, and for everyone else. So much love, that it ABOUNDS, or FLOWS OVER.

And it’s to MODEL itself on the love PAUL has for them all. Which is genuine and rich and real and ENJOYABLE. There’s FEELINGS involved.

Yes, we’re COMMANDED to love each other. And there’s an element of OBEDIENCE to that. Of DECISION AND CHOICE. Yes, it’s about SERVICE. But there’s also a GENUINE WARMTH of FEELING there. Is that how YOU feel about God’s people here? Do you LOOK FORWARD to catching up?

But that’s not all. Paul goes on (v13). And the result of growing love will be that their HEARTS WILL BE STRENGTHENED, they’ll be even MORE solid and stable. More steadfast. More consistent. More unshakeable. More determined.

With the final goal that they make it to the finish line blameless and holy in God’s presence.

Paul PRAYS for it. And God can do it WITHOUT Paul’s physical presence. But Paul ALSO prays that God would clear the way for him to visit again (there in v11). It’s a lovely phrase – it’s literally “May God straighten our road to you.” That’s what he wants.

The normal way God keeps us strong is Christians meeting together. Satan wants to keep us apart. So let’s not give him the satisfaction. Let’s have the same burning desire to encourage each other that Paul had. There’s no excuse NOT TO.

Let’s keep spurring each other on to increase in love, and to be blameless and holy.

And let’s keep reminding each other of the finish line. That appearing before our God and Father, when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16: A Royal Invitation

When Prince William and Kate Middleton became engaged, they sent out 1800 wedding invitations. ROYAL invitations. To the wedding of the century. What an offer! What an opportunity!

It was THE event of the social calendar. Ian Thorpe scored an invitation. So did Elton John. Julia Gillard was there. And Victoria and David Beckham. All sorts of people. Celebrities, royalty, politicians, sportsmen and women. But also lots of ORDINARY people too – University and work friends of Will and Kate.

And when the invitations arrived, people made all sorts of plans to be there. Bought dresses, booked flights, re-arranged schedules, changed plans, designed silly hats. They put up with crowded hotels, security scans, traffic chaos. All for the chance to be part of an unforgettable event.

When you receive a royal invitation, you give it the respect it deserves. And you do whatever you can – put up with all sorts of inconveniences – to ACCEPT it.

And that’s what the Thessalonians had received. A royal invitation. From the king of the Universe. From God HIMSELF.

You see, the gospel isn’t some HUMAN INVENTION. The latest philosophy or trend. It’s not a passing fad. Or a relic of ancient history. A quaint, culturally specific, outdated irrelevancy.

No! The gospel is the eternal, God-ordained, God-inspired, God-executed plan to restore the whole Creation. His plan to save mankind, and bring us back to Himself. THE GOSPEL IS GOD SPEAKING!

And when you see the gospel LIKE THAT. As a royal invitation. It’s GOT to have a huge impact on your ATTITUDE to it.

Have a look at what THE THESSALONIANS thought of the invitation Paul delivered. Jump down to v13. The middle of the passage.

13 And 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.

Paul and Silas had DELIVERED the message. But it wasn’t THEIRS. They’d been ENTRUSTED with it, but only as MESSAGE BOYS. Mouthpieces. Like the mailmen delivering the royal wedding invitations.

They spoke THE WORDS, but the MESSAGE was God’s. And that’s the way the Thessalonians ACCEPTED it. Not as man’s words, but God’s. It’s an invitation ON A WHOLE OTHER LEVEL when GOD’S issuing it.

And you can see that’s the case there in v12. Paul says his job was to encourage, comfort and urge them to live lives worthy of GOD WHO CALLED THEM INTO HIS KINGDOM AND GLORY.

Who’s doing the calling? God is! Paul’s speaking the words. But God’s doing the CALLING. It’s his whole PURPOSE for the gospel. To call people back to himself. To call them into his kingdom. Under his rule and reign and influence.

And notice who’s INITIATIVE it is. It’s GOD’S. God does the calling. And we RESPOND. It’s never our idea, or our decision. It’s a gap that can only be bridged because GOD bridges it. He’s the One who wants to see people everywhere living under his rule. And who CALLS people to turn to him..

And, if you jump down to v15, you can see the FLIPSIDE of that. The message Paul preaches is to SAVE people. To RESCUE them from death and judgment. But there’s OPPOSITION. People who PERSECUTE the Thessalonians, and Paul, as well as the first Jewish Christians.

There from the end of v14. Notice what’s going on from God’s point of view. What He thinks of people like that.

You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. THEY DISPLEASE GOD and are hostile to all men 16 in 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.

God WANTS people to be saved.

He’s issuing his invitation through his messengers. And he’s NOT PLEASED with people who HINDER that invitation. In fact, his WRATH is coming. God will STOP people who try to STOP HIS MESSAGE. Who try to STOP people BEING SAVED.

Wrath is just and right because it’s against people who put lives at risk.

Avoca Beach has got a large rock platform at its southern end. And it’s very popular with fishermen and surfers. But it’s also DANGEROUS. And people are often swept off the rocks by unexpected big waves. And so, there’s a big orange life buoy hanging up on a hook on the rock. In memory of someone who drowned there.

It’s not locked up. That would make it USELESS. It’s easily accessible for anyone to use. Just hanging on a rock. Or steal. Which idiots occasionally DO.

And that makes locals, understandably and rightly, FURIOUS. Because it puts lives at risk.

And it’s the same reason God’s wrath is coming against those who persecute the Christians. Because it’s putting lives at risk. Lives God wants TO SAVE.

So hear it, receive it and let it work in you (13)

So that’s the royal invitation God’s issued. But what do you DO with that? Because God’s not just giving the invitation BACK THEN. Through his Word, the Bible, it’s an invitation that’s gone out to hundreds of nationalities and thousands of languages across oceans, up mountains, down rivers. And down across almost 2000 years.

God’s royal invitation is TO YOU, TODAY.

What do you DO with it? It’s fairly obvious really, isn’t it? You ACCEPT IT. God wants to SAVE you. He’s calling you into his kingdom and glory. Calling you to live lives worthy of him.

The OPTION, instead, is to risk his anger and wrath and judgment. How are you ANSWERING?

Look again at v13. At how THE THESSALONIANS responded.

13 And 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.

They didn’t just HEAR it. They heard it and ACCEPTED it. They took it in. Received it gladly.

But that’s not all. They didn’t just hear and accept it, they LET IT WORK in them. (The word of God, which is at work in you who believe). Because that’s what God’s word DOES. His powerful word brought the Universe into being. His word keeps it going. And when it’s received by people, IT GOES TO WORK in them, TOO.

How does it work? It’s a bright light to shine on black hearts and dark valleys, it’s living water to pour new life into dead souls, it’s ointment to unblock deaf ears.

It’s a needle to prick dull consciences, and a sharp sword to prune off sin,

It’s a rock to lean on, and a shelter to rest under.

So hear God’s word, receive it, and let it WORK in you. If you haven’t done that before, do it for THE FIRST TIME. Accept his invitation to be saved. To return to him. Turn from your sin.

If you HAVE done it before. Do it AGAIN. DO it EVERYDAY. Hear his word, receive it. And let it work in you.

So live lives worthy of him (12)

And what that will mean, as you do it more and more, is that you’ll begin to live lives WORTHY of him. Have a look at Paul’s encouragement in v11.

11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you TO LIVE LIVES WORTHY OF GOD,

It literally says TO WALK WORTHY of God. When God’s given you a royal invitation, the right response is to walk WORTHY of the One who’s issued it. To MEASURE UP to the dignity of the one issuing the invitation. Imagine turning up to Will and Kate’s wedding wearing thongs and board shorts! The invitation is embossed gold lettering, the wedding reception cost millions of pounds, and the best you can do is pull on a pair of shorts and a clean T-shirt!

But to walk worthy of God is FAR more significant than simply WHAT YOU WEAR. The worthy response to God’s royal invitation is to give EVERYTHING to the One who GAVE everything for you.

Listen to how Jesus puts it in Mt 10:37-39.

37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is NOT WORTHY OF ME; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me IS NOT WORTHY OF ME. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and WHOEVER LOSES HIS LIFE FOR MY SAKE WILL FIND IT.

To walk worthy of God is to lose you life for Jesus’ sake. To hand over EVERYTHING.

Nothing less will do. Nothing less is WORTHY of him. This invitation is FREE – you can’t buy it or earn it. But at the same time, it’s SO VALUABLE, it costs EVERYTHING. It

Jesus lost his life for our sake. The worthy response is to lose our life for HIS sake.

Are you DOING that? Does Jesus have EVERYTHING? Or are you holding back? Perhaps it’s not mother or father or son or daughter you’re holding back. Perhaps it’s your security, or your holidays, or your money. Perhaps it’s your work, or your Sunday mornings, or your sport. Perhaps it’s your past, or your pastimes. Your emotions, your ego, or influence. Anything that you’re looking to  to satisfy instead of God.

Perhaps it’s a secret sin you’re not willing to let go of, or a special friendship you know’s not appropriate, but it’s so nice and comforting. And it’s not hurting anyone.

But that’s not walking WORTHY of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory. Which is what Paul’s encouraging and comforting and URGING you to do.

So issue the invitation

You see, PAUL realised the significance of the royal invitation. And that influenced how he passed it on. How he encouraged OTHERS to respond to the gospel.

And that’s the SECOND consequence God’s royal invitation should have. FIRST, we should ACCEPT it. SECOND, we should PASS IT ON. We should issue it TO OTHERS.

Look at the impact it had on how Paul did things.

Dare to tell it (2)

Back up in v2, he DARED TO TELL IT despite being smashed for it.

2 We 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.

They knew what was coming because they’d already experienced it. But they SPOKE IT ANYWAY. People who do that are either crazy, or they realise that their personal safety is less important than the message getting out.

And Paul’s convinced that they did it WITH GOD’S HELP. See it there in v2? His Holy Spirit who gives courage and the right words to say. Who guides, and protects. And who opens the ears of those who hear.

God’s HELPING you, so DARE to tell his gospel.

Approved by God (4)

And because it’s God’s message, and because he’s HELPING. Paul’s convinced he’s APPROVED by God. V4.

4 On the contrary, we speak AS MEN APPROVED BY GOD to be ENTRUSTED with the gospel.

Just like the Royal Mail is delivered with the approval and authority of the Queen, so God’s gospel comes with his authority. It’s got his stamp of authority.

Don’t flatter or trick (3,5)

And when you’ve got that sort of authority behind you, you don’t need a sales pitch. A devious presentation that compels people. v3.

3 For the appeal we make does not spring from ERROR OR IMPURE MOTIVES, nor are we trying to TRICK you.

You can just speak it plainly, and simply. You don’t have to hide behind emotional music, or manipulative altar calls, or snazzy publicity that disguises what you’re REALLY doing.

You don’t NEED it, because it’s GOD’S invitation. He’s CALLING people. And he’s APPROVED you, and he’s HELPING you.

Pleasing God not men (4,6)

And because it’s GOD’S invitation, that affects who you’re WORKING for. Your goal isn’t to build up a church, or meet people’s felt needs, or help them achieve their potential, or satisfy their longings. You’re not working for the denomination, or raising your profile, publicising your website, or furthering your career.

Some of those things might happen. But you’re ANSWERABLE ONLY TO THE ONE WHO’S MESSAGE IT IS. Look there in v4.

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.

And again down in v6.

6 We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.

People are EASY to impress. You only have to worry about externals. Appearances. But God looks at the HEART. He looks THROUGH performances and results. Right past competencies and ability. He sees ATTITUDES, AND MOTIVATIONS. He see whose empire you’re REALLY building. Whose glory you’re REALLY working for.

So let me ask you – Are you a person-pleaser, or a God-pleaser? When you’ve got a difficult choice to make, how much does WHAT OTHER PEOPLE WILL THINK influence your decision?

The opportunity comes up at work to say something about Jesus. You worry what other people will think. The strange looks, the awkward silence, the muffled sniggers.

Or you want to invite a friends to church, but you not sure whether it will spoil the friendship. Whether they’ll come up with a weak excuse, and then keep brushing you off.

Or you want to pull out the Bible at family meal-times, but you’re worried about everyone complaining.

Or there’s a Christian who you need to have a tough conversation with. To correct them. Encourage them to change their attitude or behaviour. But you’re worried about their reaction. Will they get defensive? Or still worse, accuse you of being a hypocrite, because you’re not perfect either?

Follow Paul’s example. Don’t worry about pleasing PEOPLE, but God. Look for HIS PRAISE. Work for an audience of One.

Giving it top priority (6b-12)

For Paul, everything else came second. Delivering the message was TOP PRIORITY. Look there from the second half of v6.

Rather than stand up for his RIGHTS, rather than be a burden to the Thessalonians, he was GENTLE. He COULD have demanded a living from them. But instead, v9, he worked night and day in order not to be a burden, while he preached the gospel.

In other words, he earned a living AT NIGHT, so he could preach to people ALL DAY. ANYTHING rather than put a barrier in the way of them accepting his message.

There in v7. He was LIKE A MOTHER CARING FOR HER LITTLE CHILDREN.

8 We 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.

Mothers will DO WITHOUT, rather than see their kids miss out. Someone told me they grew up thinking their mum’s favourite part of the chicken was the parson’s nose and the neck.

It was only when he grew up, he realised his mum only took those leftover bits, because that’s all that was left.

And that’s Paul. Sharing not just the message, but his LIFE as well. Doing without, so his kids could have what they needed.

How well does that reflect the way WE treat each other? Are we willing to get down and dirty with people? Share the REAL parts of our lives? Or is it just the EASY bits? Sunday mornings and Thursday nights?

Are we helping each other in real, practical, sacrificial, costly ways? Are we SERVING in ways that push us out of our comfort zones? Just because there’s a need, just because Jesus would WANT you to. Rather than because there’s something in it for you.

Are we sharing REAL, PAINFUL, PERSONAL prayer points, or just the nice, safe, homogenised ones. The ones that don’t give too much away?

Let’s be a little RISKY in our relationships. With each other, and with our friends who don’t know Jesus.

Let’s remember who we’re seeking to please. Whose praise we’re looking for. Whose invitation were passing on. Who we’re to walk worthy of.

 

1 Thessalonians 1: A model church

The internet’s been WONDERFUL for those of us who are ministers. There’s pictures and illustrations and inspiration by the thousands at the tip of our fingers. We can listen to the best preachers in the world without leaving our studies. We can download resources, order books, read research articles, copy good ideas, and keep up to date with what other churches are doing.

But if there’s a downside to it, it’s THIS. There’s so many MODELS for churches and ministry out there, it gets CONFUSING AND DEPRESSING. So many great preachers to listen to. So many churches doing things WELL, achieving great results. With new programs, new ideas, new equipment and websites, new buildings. So many models we COULD copy. You can almost be paralysed by choice. So many churches doing things better than YOU, it can get depressing when you compare yourself.

A generation ago, there were just as many great preachers and churches, but most of us just didn’t KNOW about them.

So how can you decide what models to copy? Where should you turn for ideas to use? For examples to follow?

For all the examples on TV or the internet, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than following that of the Thessalonian church.

Thessalonica is in modern day Greece. The church there was planted by the Apostle Paul in around AD50. We read about it in Acts 17. Flip over to p785.

And it was a fairly shaking beginning. Not exactly straight out of the church planters manual.

Paul and Silas arrived in the city, and went to the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath (v2). And for three Saturdays in a row, reasoned from the Scriptures, proving that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. And then pointing them to Jesus.

They had some success with some Jews and some Greeks being converted (v4).

But they got under the noses of the Jewish leaders who were jealous. They started a riot, and stormed the home where Paul and Silas had been staying (v8). Paul and Silas were safe, but the brothers sent them away to Berea (v10).

You can imagine Paul’s concern for these brand new believers. Left behind in a hostile city. No pastor. No Bible other than the Jewish Scriptures. No direction, no regular, consistent model, or teaching to follow. Would they survive? Or would they give up and just blend back into their surroundings?

So as soon as he could, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out how they were getting on. Flip back over to 1 Thessalonians. You can read about it in Ch 3. Look there from v3.

4 In 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. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent 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.

So how DID they turn out? What did Timothy REPORT? Was it GOOD NEWS or BAD news?

A model church (7)

Actually, it was GREAT news. V2. Paul can’t stop thanking God for how they responded to the gospel. The news was SO great, the Thessalonians were A MODEL CHURCH. Look there at v7.

7 And so you became A MODEL TO ALL THE BELIEVERS in Macedonia and Achaia.

The way the believers at Thessalonica HEARD the gospel, and the way they RESPONDED to it was so appropriate, so positive, they became A LIVING EXAMPLE to believers everywhere.

 

When someone asked, “Who should we COPY? Who should we LOOK AT to imitate?” people all over the region would answer, “Thessalonica!” “They’ve got their act together. They’re following Paul. They’re following Jesus. Take THEM as your model.”

 

MODEL. It’s the same word PAUL uses when he instructs Timothy TO “SET AN EXAMPLE for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim 4:12).

And Peter uses it when he writes to ELDERS.

2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but BEING EXAMPLES TO THE FLOCK. (1 Peter 5:1-4)

That’s ELDERS who are called to be an example. A model to imitate. But Paul’s praising God that the WHOLE THESSALONIAN CHURCH is an example for others to follow.

And there’s TWO SPECIFIC AREAS that Paul sees the church providing a model.

A model response to the gospel (4-5, 2:13)

First, they provide a model RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL. Paul’s comforted and convinced of the reality of the Thessalonian’s faith because of HOW THEY RESPONDED TO THE GOSPEL. Look at v4.

4 For we KNOW, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with POWER, with the Holy Spirit and with DEEP CONVICTION.

Sometimes someone SAYS they prayed a prayer to become a Christian. But you can never be sure until you see the FRUIT in their lives. That’s what the parable of the sower is all about. People who accept the gospel, but don’t bear the fruit they should. They don’t should EVIDENCE that they’re faith is REAL.

 

But with the Thessalonians, there were REAL CHANGES that flowed into their lives after they heard the gospel. The gospel came with POWER.

But it wasn’t the power of extraordinary spiritual gifts, or of all sorts of bells and whistles. It was the power of DEEP CONVICTION. Being FULLY CONVINCED of what they heard.

But how do you MEASURE the level of conviction? How do you tell whether someone has DEEP conviction, or whether it’s just MILD conviction?

How? By putting it TO THE TEST. Like a cardiac specialist giving your heart A STRESS TEST. The way to tell whether your heart is VERY fit, or only MILDLY fit is to WORK IT HARD. To raise the level it works at, and see how it copes.

 

And the reason Paul’s so sure is he’s seen the STRESS TEST the Thessalonians were under. Their suffering and persecution. There in v6.

IN SPITE OF SEVERE SUFFERING, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

You’ve got to be FULLY CONVINCED of something to stick with it even though you’re being persecuted for it. I’m convicted that coffee’s a fantastic drink. But if it became illegal to drink coffee, punishable with public whipping, I’d pretty quickly give it up. I’m not THAT convinced.

 

I was watching a video from Voice of the Martyrs about the persecution of Christians in Vietnam. And a young 15 yr old Vietnamese Christian girl was interviewed about persecution she’d experienced. And she told how since she’d become a Christian three years earlier, she’d been arrested, beaten, imprisoned 5 times, and deprived food. She said it all with a smile on her face, in quite a matter-of-fact way. To her, it was all nothing compared to what she’d GAINED in knowing Jesus.

That’s deep conviction.

And that’s the sort of response to the gospel from the Thessalonians. Persecution had forced Paul and Silas to flee Thessalonica, but the brothers who’d remained behind had to put up with it every day. And yet they received Paul’s message with JOY.

 

Which isn’t the same as HAPPINESS. Despite the pain and fear of persecution, JOY is A DEEP SATISFACTION that your life has purpose, and significance. That there’s a REASON and a FUTURE for what you’re going through.

That sort of response could ONLY come from the Holy Spirit. Because HUMANLY SPEAKING, it doesn’t make sense.

A model of changed lives (8, 3)

But not only with JOY. Paul was convinced of the reality of their conversion because of the tangible, practical changes in their lives. They provided a model for changed lives. The sorts of real changes that people NOTICED. Look there from v8.

8 The 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.

So what did they notice? What was DIFFERENT?

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.

BEFORE their conversion, they served IDOLS. AFTER, they served the living and true God. They’d TURNED, and they SERVED. That’s the essence of REPENTANCE. Their whole orientation was changed. Their life moved from serving dead, false and useless idols to serving the LIVING and TRUE God. Who’d MADE them, and CHOSE them, and BOUGHT them.

And because they TRUSTED this true God, they trusted his PROMISES. That his Son was returning. Returning to restore justice. To redress inequities. To punish persecutors.

Which is a very real reason for his people to accept the gospel WITH JOY in the face of persecution. A practical, real joy that people NOTICED.

And that SERVING resulted in real, practical, measurable changes in their lives. Look there at v3.

3 We 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.

Real faith in God, real LOVE for him, real HOPE in Christ’s return. They don’t exist on their own. They PRODUCE QUALITIES in the life of the believer.

When you TRUST God, you trust HIS WORD. You trust his PROMISES. And so you WORK. You work at proclaiming the gospel, because you trust God’s power to open people’s eyes, and lead them to repentance.

On the other hand, people who have no real faith will quickly run out of steam.

A year ago we were concerned about the introduction of Primary Ethics classes threatening Scripture classes. But the reality is most schools don’t have people willing to TEACH it. In THEORY people want to see Ethics classes run, but when it comes to THE PRACTICALITIES. The hard slog of being trained, and then turning up week in and week out. There’s not that many people willing to WORK at it.

But compare that to Scripture teachers. I’ve met faithful Christians who’ve been teaching Scripture for 50 years! Backing up year after year. You don’t do that if you’re only theoretically committed to Jesus. That’s WORK PRODUCED BY FAITH.

The second outworking of their changed lives was from THEIR LOVE. Their LOVE prompted their LABOUR. Their love for God, their gratitude for what he’d done for them in Christ, their desire to protect and honour his name all PROMPTED INSPIRED ENERGISED their labour.

When you LOVE someone you’ll work above and beyond the call of duty. It’s what drags Diane out of bed at 2 in the morning to feed Aron. It’s what makes Ross head down to Wagga to look after his parents, or down to Young to visit his kids.

And it’s our love for Jesus that PROMPTS us to LABOUR for him. To work for his GLORY, to live for his HONOUR. To do what pleases him. And encourage others to do the same.

The THIRD outworking of changed lives is ENDURANCE inspired by HOPE in our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s talking about hoping IN HIS RETURN. Longing for it. Longing for salvation, for justice, for deliverance. Longing for his “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

And when you CONFIDENTLY EXPECT Jesus’ return, you’ll keep following him, and keep working for him until he DOES. It will FUEL your endurance. It will keep you turning up to school Scripture when the kids run wild. It will keep you praying for your husband or grown children who don’t know Jesus. Because you know, one day, they’ll have to give an account to him.

It will keep you turning up to home group through those cold winter months, and reading your Bible when it seems so dry, and staying on the roster to set up chairs even though no one else notices. Because, one day, Jesus is going to DECLARE IT ALL. Cast his eye over it, and enter it into evidence for all to see. “Here’s the sorts of things my people keep doing. Here’s what their FAITH PRODUCES. What their LOVE prompts, and what their HOPE INSPIRES!”

 

How does that prospect IMPACT your decisions and behaviour TODAY? How will it do that THIS WEEK?

What impact is your faith, love and hope having on your life? How convinced are YOU of the gospel? How do you SHOW that? Are there tangible, visible differences in your life that EVIDENCE the reality of your faith? Is there more joy and generosity? Less impatience and anger? More endurance and stickability? More holiness, less worldliness, more contentment?

What level of persecution would it take for YOU to start to consider giving it up? What level of pain would it take for you to change from JOY in the gospel to REGRET? Or BETRAYAL?

If you were arrested for being a Christian, what evidence would a prosecutor find to CONVICT you? If he interviewed your friends or family, what sorts of things would they volunteer as attitudes and behaviours that PROVES your faith.

A model ministry (6)

Follow the example of the Thessalonians. They’ve provided the MODEL. Will you COPY it? What OTHER examples will you look for to imitate?

Notice how it worked for the Thessalonians. How they followed Paul and Silas’s example. And as they followed that of Jesus. Look there halfway through v5.

You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 YOU BECAME IMITATORS OF US AND OF THE LORD; IN SPITE OF SEVERE SUFFERING,

What examples are YOU following? Paul Gallen? Tiger Woods? George Columbaris? David Koch? Lady Gaga? Michael Clarke?

 

Or are you consciously looking for SOME OTHER example? Some BETTER one to follow?

Your LEADERS should be setting that example. If they’re NOT, ENCOURAGE them to. Support them as they live out their faith. And as they provide you an example to follow.

Or let’s turn it around. Who are you setting an example FOR? What relationships can YOU be developing with younger Christians? People YOU can be encouraging, developing, discipling, and setting an example for?

Follow the model of the Thessalonians. Live out your faith, love and hope in REAL practical ways. Follow good models, and model that real practical Christianity to OTHERS.

 

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16: God’s word changes us and others

It makes all the difference when you’ve been entrusted with a powerful message to deliver.

As the rains fell in Queensland, and the Wivenhoe Dam overflowed, and the Brisbane River rose, emergency workers in Brisbane streets delivered the powerful message to residents. “The floodwaters are coming. They’ll be here in a matter of hours. It’s CERTAIN. Your house will be covered. Take whatever you want to save, and GO! You CAN’T stay here!”

It makes all the difference when you’ve been entrusted with a powerful message to deliver. It made a difference to the CONFIDENCE of those messengers. They’d been authorised, they had the POWER, to remove people who wouldn’t leave. It was FOR THEIR OWN SAFETY. No ifs or buts. The messengers didn’t care whether they were liked or not. People’s LIVES depended on the powerful message being delivered.

And it made a difference to THEIR SENSE OF PURPOSE. They knew what their job was. No mucking around. No time to waste. No distractions. This message was their NUMBER ONE PRIORITY. Everything else came SECOND.

And it made a difference to HOW HARD THEY WORKED. Their message was, without exaggeration, a matter of life and death. And so it didn’t matter if they had to work an hour overtime, or two, or even a double shift. There wasn’t time to stop for lunch. No time to read the paper.

It makes all the difference when you’ve been entrusted with a powerful message to deliver.

And God has spoken A POWERFUL WORD. His very own flood warning and rescue advice. The gospel about his Son Jesus. Who can rescue us from the coming disaster. It can bring us LIFE when we were headed for DEATH. It can CHANGE us.

And he’s ENTRUSTED it to US to deliver to OTHERS. And when THAT happens, it can CHANGE THEM TOO.

What sort of a difference does that make as we go about delivering that powerful message? What difference does it make in our attitudes? In our actions?

Is it a message as URGENT as the floodwaters racing down the Brisbane River? Or have we forgotten its POWER? Forgotten its URGENCY?

Is being changed by the message just a matter of OPINION, or taste? Like whether you wear a red shirt or a blue shirt? Doesn’t really make a difference? Or is it a matter of life and death?

It made a difference for the Apostle Paul and his co-workers. And I want to use Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica as a case study.

Acts 17 gives us the background. It tells the story of how Paul first turned up in Thessalonica, and went to the Jewish synagogue. And how he told them all about Jesus. How he was Israel’s Messiah. And how it had been God’s plan for Jesus to die and rise again. He proved it from the Scriptures, and he did it over three separate Sabbaths. And the result was THE MESSAGE WAS POWERFUL TO CHANGE. V4 says

4 Some of the Jews were PERSUADED and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

But that’s where the trouble begins. Because it’s not a popular decision. Plenty of the OTHER Jews are JEALOUS. And they race off to drag Paul to the courts. For turning people away from Judaism.

It’s the same sort of reaction converts to Christianity endure TODAY in many parts of the world. They’re ostracised, discriminated against, imprisoned, beaten, even PUT TO DEATH.

But God’s word is POWERFUL, and it convinces people, and gives them LIFE, DESPITE persecution like that.

And the Jews from Thessalonica are persecuting PAUL. He and Silas manage to escape to Berea, about 70km away. But the Jews don’t give up. Word reaches them where Paul’s ended up, so they chase him down to Berea, and try to start a riot THERE. Once again, Paul manages to escape. HE’S safe, but he’s left behind the brand new Christians in Thessalonica. They’re at the mercy of those zealots who’d chased him all over the countryside.

And before long, only a matter of MONTHS, he makes it to Corinth, where he sits down and writes a letter back to the church in Thessalonica. Because he wants to make sure they’re STANDING FIRM. That the persecutors haven’t got to them.

And that’s the letter of 1 Thessalonians we’re looking at today.

And what jumps out from the first two chapters is that GOD’S WORD’S BEEN POWERFULLY AT WORK.

Powerful in those delivering the message (2:1-12).

First, it’s been POWERFUL IN THOSE DELIVERING THE MESSAGE. Have a look there from v4 of ch 1.

4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with POWER, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.

Paul’s MINISTRY was powerful because his MESSAGE was powerful. And God’s WORDS are powerful because God’s SPIRIT uses them to change people. He produced DEEP CONVICTION in the hearers. Who we’ll come back to in a moment.

But if you jump down to ch 2 you can see how the message was powerfully at work in Paul and his co-workers. V1.

2:1 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2 We 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.

It makes all the difference when you’ve been entrusted with a powerful message to deliver. It meant Paul could show COURAGE. He didn’t care about opposition. His personal safety wasn’t a priority.

And because he trusted the power of the message, he didn’t have to jazz it up, develop a sales pitch. V3.

3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.

Or there in v5

5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed-God is our witness.

Paul had been entrusted with a powerful message, so he could present it TRANSPARENTLY. Trust the PRODUCT, rather than THE PITCH.

And he could do it with PURE MOTIVES, because it was his number one priority. Nothing else mattered. Pleasing PEOPLE counted for nothing. Building his own reputation, or empire didn’t matter. It was all about pleasing God, the one who’d appointed him to the task. V4.

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.

God’s word had CHANGED Paul and his co-workers. They’d recognised God’s love and faithfulness, and so their response was to PLEASE GOD in everything they did.

ANOTHER change God’s word had caused in Paul and his co-workers was THEIR CHARACTER. God, by his Word, was making them more like Jesus. And that showed itself in the WAY they presented the message.

They were GENTLE like a mother with her children (v7). They didn’t push their own opinion. When you’re confident in your powerful message, you let the MESSAGE do the work.

There’s a saying of US President Teddy Roosevelt that fits “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” While he was talking about political policy, it can just as easily apply to EVANGELISM. When it’s THE POWERFUL MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL you’re speaking, you don’t NEED to shout it. You can be gentle and compassionate and quiet. And let the MESSAGE do the work.

And because the gospel was working in Paul and his co-workers, they treated the people as Jesus would. V8. They DELIGHTED to share their lives with the Thessalonians. It wasn’t just a JOB to them. There was a GENUINE LOVE. They weren’t TARGETS or PROJECTS, they were FAMILY.

And, v9, they worked HARD. Some people put in big hours at work, because they get PAID the big bucks. But OTHER people work night and day at something simply because THEY LOVE IT. Like a painting, or a craft, or reading a great book, or building some furniture.

Some people get a new computer game, and spend 24 hours STRAIGHT playing one level after another. Just to get to the end. They work HARD because they LOVE it.

And Paul and his co-workers LOVED the people. So they worked HARD. They didn’t want to be a burden as they shared the message. V9.

9 Surely 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.

“Night and day” probably means they worked normal jobs during the DAY to support themselves, so they could spend EVENINGS talking to people about Jesus. Burning the candle at both ends. You’ve got to LOVE it to do THAT.

And finally, the power of the message showed itself in the BLAMELESSNESS of Paul and his co-workers.

It’s the dodgy scam-artists who have to resort to tricks and cons. Because they know they’ve got nothing worth selling.

I was looking around at joining a gym a few weeks ago, and one gym gave me the big sales pitch. “If you JOIN TODAY, you’ll save the $200 joining fee.”

When I hear a deal like that, my first assumption is they’re trying to RUSH me. They don’t WANT me to think about it. To make an informed decision. Perhaps they’ve got something to hide.

In the end I went to ANOTHER gym where the girl showed me all the facilities, explained stuff to me, and then said, “Go away and THINK about it. You can see what we’ve got. Every gym’s different. Decide if we’re a good fit.”

And that’s the approach Paul takes. Because he’s CONFIDENT in the produce. Look there in v10.

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

All in all, Paul’s message MADE A DIFFERENCE in his life. Let me ask you, What difference is the gospel making IN YOUR life?

I’m sure you’ll SAY it’s a valuable message, and it’s powerful. Even believe it with YOUR HEAD. But how’s that SHOWING itself in your character? In your attitudes to others? In your priorities? In how you pray, and what you pray FOR?

How does it show itself in the sorts of things you talk about during the break at church? In catching up with people who haven’t been around? If you believe the gospel has power to CHANGE, then PROVE it! Prove your confidence BY YOUR ACTIONS.

If it’s not making a difference in your life, maybe that’s why it’s not making a difference in the lives of the non-Christians you’re trying to share Jesus with. They’ve got to see it working IN YOU before they can trust that it will work for THEM.

Powerful in those receiving the message (2:13-16)

That’s the FIRST area the gospel is powerful in- those DELIVERING the message. But the whole reason Paul’s rejoicing. The whole reason he’s writing to the church in the first place. Is because the gospel’s been powerful in those who’ve RECEIVED it.

Back in ch 1, Paul’s CONVINCED God’s chosen the Thessalonians because (v5) the gospel came with POWER as well as words. That power was the Thessalonians’ UNSHAKEABLE CERTAINTY of the truth of the message. DEEP CONVICTION. Which was just as well, because they moved on in their Christian walk DESPITE SEVERE SUFFERING.

Paul had heard of the persecutions. The Jews had made life difficult. They couldn’t get to PAUL, so they took it out on the new Christians. But the power of the message was seen in their HEADS, their HANDS and their HEARTS.

With their HEADS, they were deeply convicted (v5). Determined to remain FIRM.

With their HANDS, v6, they became imitators of Paul and his co-workers, and of Jesus. The gospel changed THEIR WAY OF LIFE.

And with their HEARTS, they welcomed the message with JOY given by the Holy Spirit. From a human point of view, there was every reason to DESPAIR. Persecuted, ridiculed, alienated from their people, expelled from the synagogue, shunned and despised. Perhaps even beaten.

But God’s Spirit had given them life and hope. He’d given them peace and forgiveness. Reconciliation and purpose and contentment. He’d given them an ETERNAL security. And that all meant they were JOYFUL.

Give me JOY any day over HAPPINESS. They’re not the same.

Joy is FAR RICHER than happiness. Happiness depends on your external circumstances. But joy comes from somewhere ELSE. Joy brings a different perspective to your external circumstances. Even IN SPITE of them.

For the Christian that comes from the Holy Spirit. Who works through the power of the GOSPEL to remind us of OUR DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. How much we mean to God. How huge his grace towards us is. How undeserving we are. How dead we WERE. And how alive we ARE. And how rich his eternity for us will be.

And that’s the message that caused the Thessalonians to welcome the message with JOY.

But it wasn’t JUST good news. The way we might feel happy because we heard tomorrow would be SUNNY. But Paul’s news brings the change WITH IT. The news itself has the power to CHANGE. A bit more like a letter that arrives, not just telling you you’ve won the lottery, but giving you the account number and the password to ACCESS the money. The news is powerful to implement the change.

And the way it works with the gospel is explained over in ch 2 v13. The words are powerful to change because they’re GOD’S words. 2:13.

13 And 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.

The message of the gospel isn’t someone’s opinion, or a sales pitch, or a technique for self-improvement. It’s the words of God himself.

God SPOKE and there was LIGHT. He SPOKE and land and sea came into being. He SPOKE and life entered Adam’s body.

And he speaks TODAY. He speaks about his Son. He speaks of sin and judgment. Of justice and grace. Of LIFE AND DEATH. He speaks, and eyes are opened. He speaks, and new life comes. He speaks, and lives are CHANGED.

And it worked that way with the Thessalonians. Paul KNEW the message was powerfully at work in them (2:14) because they’d CHANGED. They’d suffered for their faith, and STILL STOOD STRONG. V14.

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. 14 For 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,

When people look AT US. Do they see evidence of the gospel powerfully at work in us? Is it CHANGING us?

Unlike what SOME churches will teach, the evidence of God’s power at work in you ISN’T wealth or health. Paul wasn’t rejoicing because the Thessalonians were now the richest and fittest group of people in the city.

When people look at us, do they see evidence of the power of God’s word in us? Do they see people STANDING STRONG in the face of tragedy?

Do they see PATIENCE in the face of suffering or poverty?

Do they see STRENGTH and ENDURANCE in the face of sickness or relationship breakdown?

Do they see HOPE in the face of unemployment or financial insecurity?

Do they see A SELFLESS SERVICE AND GENEROSITY FOR OTHERS in the face of deep problems of our own?

THEY’RE the signs that God’s word is working powerfully in us.

And when we begin to SHOW that to the people around us, we’ll begin to see God’s word working powerfully in THEM, TOO.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 Sanctified through and through

It’s no good STARTING WELL. But then not SEEING IT THROUGH TO THE END. Like those runners at the start of the City to Surf. Who SPRINT AS HARD AS THEY CAN… for the first 200m. Then they collapse. Perhaps they don’t even make it to Bondi. But at least they can say they were winning the City to Surf. But there’s no prizes in being first to the first set of traffic lights.

It’s no good STARTING WELL. But then not SEEING IT THROUGH TO THE END. Like choosing a beautiful cross-stitch to embroider. Buy the kit. You organise all the colours. Put the backing material onto the frame. You begin the cross stitch. But then it all gets too hard. And it sits in the closet for the next 10 years.

Or what about this one? A while ago, we were inspired to grow our own veges and herbs. So I built a great garden bed. Good foundations. Nice and sturdy. I filled it with soil. Even forked manure and fertiliser through it. I’ve bought the seeds. All the things we need to enjoy fresh, home-grown veges.

But do you think we’re ENJOYING fresh home-grown veges yet? No! Because WE NEVER GOT AROUND TO PLANTING THE SEEDS!

It’s no good STARTING WELL. But then not seeing it through to the end. You’ve got to FINISH WELL.

Blameless and Holy

And it’s the same with the Christian life. Paul’s planted the Thessalonian church. He’s preached the gospel, and people have become Christians. He stays for a while, working night and day, so he can nurture them. Chapter 2 v7 Paul says he was like a mother caring for her children.

But eventually, he has to move on to other places. And he leaves the baby Christians there, all on their own, except for God’s care.

While he’s away, he hears reports of persecution. He’s concerned they’ll just give it all up as too hard. Return to their old way of life. Blend back in, and be just like everyone else. Waste their good start. He wants to drop everything and head straight back. Look at 2:17

17 But, 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. 18 For we wanted to come to you-certainly I, Paul, did, again and again-but Satan stopped us. 19 For 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? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

You can just hear the worry in Paul’s voice as he dictates those words. So, in ch 3, we read he sends Timothy, one of his deputies, to strengthen and encourage them. So they wouldn’t be unsettled. And so all the hard work wouldn’t be wasted.

And, 3:6, Timothy sends good news. They’re standing up well. Paul’s overjoyed. 3:8

For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.

And he goes on to pray that God would enable them to KEEP GOING. All the way to the end. 3:13

13 May 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.

That’s the finish line Paul’s got his gaze fixed on. The end of this world. The day of justice. When all wrongs will be righted. All sin punished. And all God’s people found BLAMELESS and HOLY. (Keep those two words in mind, because we’ll come back to them.)

And so Paul goes on, in ch 4. How they’re to run the race NOW, so they’ll be found holy and blameless THEN. How to RUN WELL, so they can FINISH WELL. Plenty of practical advice on how they’re to be DIFFERENT. Like v3.

3 It is God’s will that you should be SANCTIFIED: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is HOLY and honorable,

Holy and sanctified come from the same word. To be SANCTIFIED means to be set apart, or to be made holy. To be DIFFERENT. To be PURE/ in contrast to IM-purity. V7.

7 For God did not call us to be IMPURE, but to live a HOLY life.

And then in the next two chapters we see the sort of behaviour that should SEPARATE Christians from non-Christians. That shows them to be pure and different. The colours of their supporters gear. V11 of ch 4.

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

Or jump down to ch 5 v12. More of the same. A whole series of instructions about RESPECTING those over you. And living at peace with each other. Encouraging the timid, being patient with everyone. Not seeking revenge. Being kind. Being joyful always. Not grumbling.

Do THOSE things. And you really WILL stand out from the crowd. Your colours will be clear.

And finally, in v21 and 22. (Have a look at it). Summing it all up. First in the POSITIVE. Then in the NEGATIVE.

Hold onto the GOOD. 22 Avoid every kind of EVIL.

Hold onto the GOOD. Cling to it. Search it out. Go hunting for it. APPLY yourself to it. Stick at it over time. Don’t give up when you fail. Jump back on the horse.

Hold onto the GOOD. Good thoughts and attitudes. Good influences. Good motivations. Good actions. Good responses. Good words. Good relationships. Good priorities. Good use of your time. Hold onto WHAT’S GOOD.

And avoid every kind of evil.

FLEE it. Put some DISTANCE between yourself and it. Walk out of the room. Leave the pub. Quit the team. Find a new job. Smash the modem. Burn the books. Avoid EVERY kind of evil. That’s the way to be holy. Different. Sanctified.

I was talking to a friend last week about a young guy in his church. He says he’s a Christian, and WANTS to be following Jesus. But his problem is he’s a really talented rock star. Got a manager, and a contract, and a great band. Which doesn’t SOUND like a problem. Except that it’s a lifestyle that’s leading him into so many temptations, and all sorts of bad influences, and upside-down priorities. That he’s just drifting further and further from Jesus. And my friend’s really WORRIED for him. Worried that he won’t finish the race. But this guy can’t SEE it.

God’s will is for us to be blameless and holy. To cling to what’s good. And to flee every kind of evil.

And so, Paul reaches his conclusion. His closing benediction. The BIG WORDS we’re focussing on today. V23.

23 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. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Sanctified through and through

The first idea to think about is SANCTIFIED THROUGH AND THROUGH. Hopefully, by looking at what Paul’s ALREADY said, we can see what he means by it. It’s a prayer that God would make us HOLY AND DIFFERENT AND SEPARATE.

There’s a sense in which EVERY CHRISTIAN is ALREADY sanctified. We’ve been SET APART by God to be his people. Like in Acts 20:32, where Paul says to the Ephesian elders.

I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance AMONG ALL THOSE WHO ARE SANCTIFIED.

Or 1 Cor 6:11. Talking about the whole Corinthian church.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

That’s a POSITIONAL sanctification, if you like. ALL Christians have moved from ONE team to the other. Set apart into GOD’s team.

But there’s also a PERSONAL sense. A growing holiness. A gradual process. Each day and week and month and year, becoming more and more like Jesus in your thoughts and words and actions and motivations and priorities. And that’s the sense Paul’s thinking about here. That’s why his prayer is that God would sanctify them THROUGH AND THROUGH. Completely.

Your on God’s TEAM, but over time, you need to be getting more and more of the team UNIFORM. What SEPARATES you from the OTHER team. First the jersey, then the beanie, then the flag, then the face paint, then the tattoo.

Some things are EASY to put on, and others incredibly painful. But the point of it all is to distinguish which team you’re on/ when that FINAL day comes. GRAND final day. When JESUS’ team will be declared the victors. And all those wearing HIS colours declared BLAMELESS.

And the more of the TEAM GEAR you’re WEARING, the more OBVIOUS it will be. And so Paul’s prayer is that God would sanctify his readers “THROUGH and THROUGH”. Thoroughly. Completely.

It’s an interesting word. Only time it’s used in the New Testament. Made up of two parts. HOLO-TELEIS. Wholly – To the end. Or, wholly – to COMPLETION. It’s not just fully, but fully – with a TARGET in mind. A DESTINATION.

It’s an idea spelled out in the NEXT part of the prayer.

May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Can you see the two ideas there? Wholeness, and completion?

Your WHOLE spirit, soul and body kept blameless. That’s every aspect of who you are – as you relate to God, the aspect that’s eternal, and the aspect that’s physical. ALL kept BLAMELESS. Without accusation or fault.

It’s an idea that connects with the previous verse. “Avoid EVERY kind of evil”. If you do that, then your WHOLE spirit, soul and body will be kept blameless. Avoid the evil that drags down your spirit – that undermines your relationship with God. Avoid the evil that pollutes your soul – that distorts your identity as a person of value and purpose, created in God to be his image in the world. Avoid the evil that pollutes your body – like sexual sin, that elevates GOOD things into IDOLS. Things made to be ENJOYED, but that we take TOO FAR, and replace God with them.

“Your whole spirit, soul and body kept blameless.”

And the TARGET? The GOAL? “At the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. GRAND final day”. When life histories are replayed, when charge sheets read out. And when God’s people will be found BLAMELESS, easily identified by their lives. The degree to which they’ve been SANCTIFIED THROUGH and THROUGH.

Jesus or Me?

But perhaps there are TWO questions running around in your head. First. “I thought salvation was about JESUS doing the work on my behalf. His death in my place. It sounds like it’s about MY performance. If I’m good enough – blameless – then God will save me on Judgment Day. Which is it? Jesus or me?

The answer is Yes, we ARE saved ONLY by Jesus. His death in our place. And Paul SAYS exactly that. Back in ch 1 v10. Paul’s heard how the Thessalonians

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.

See, it’s Jesus who RESCUES us. HIS work, not ours. And our RESPONSE to that/ is to SERVE the living and true God. And this blameless living. This holiness. This sanctification. Is what that service LOOKS like. Look at the order of things back in v3 of ch 1.

3 We remember your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ work comes FIRST, then OURS. Faith comes FIRST, then work produced by it. Love comes first, then labour PROMPTED by it. Hope in Christ comes first, then endurance INSPIRED by it. You’re MADE part of the team by Jesus, then you set about putting on the uniform.

John Calvin said: “We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone.”

God or Me?

But perhaps you’re asking a SECOND question. “Sanctified through and through” and “wholly blameless” is a pretty tall order. Dave. I just don’t think I’m capable of becoming holy like that. I keep failing. Does that mean I miss out?”

To go back to the footy idea. Perhaps it seems to you a bit like grand final day? There’s the TALENTED ones – the ATHLETES, out there in the middle, with everyone cheering them on. Performing the super-human feats.

And then there’s YOU, looking on from the grandstand, cheering. Sure, you’ve got SOME supporters gear on, but you’re NO CHAMPION! You’re dressed in the same gear, and no one’s going to mistake you for being on the other side. But you’re never going to perform the same sorts of deeds as the PLAYERS!

But this isn’t an expectation for ELITE ATHLETES ONLY. It’s God’s will for EVERY Christian. To be growing in holiness. To be WORKING HARD AT IT. To be putting on more and more of the team’s colours. That’s why he gives us TRAINING TOOLS to help us. At least FIVE I can find.

1. Like THE BIBLE. God’s commands to US. Like Paul’s letter, this one we’re reading, written to encourage us to work hard. Giving us specific COMMANDS about good things to hold onto. And evil things to avoid.

2. And God gives us the EXAMPLE OF JESUS. Ch 1 v3. As we dwell on all Jesus has done for us, our faith, love and hope in him, inspire and energise our work for him.

3. And God gives us HIS SPIRIT. Ch 1 v7. Paul describes how his readers were able to respond in the face of severe suffering. “You welcomed the message WITH THE JOY GIVEN BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.” That’s, literally, a super-human effort. Suffering doesn’t produce JOY, unless it’s God’s Spirit working his sanctification in you. Same with all the other equipment – love, joy, patience, kindness, perseverance. All the work of God’s Spirit. Impossible to generate without him.

4. And finally, God’s given us PRAYER. That’s exactly what the verses we’re looking at today are. A prayer that God would sanctify us. If you struggle to measure up to this picture. If you constantly fail. If you’re indistinguishable from those around you. Perhaps you even struggle to WANT to be different. Then PRAY. Pray for the DESIRE to be holy. Pray for the strength to change. Pray for the vision and the faith to trust Jesus. Pray for team-mates to HELP you in the fight.

5. And God’s given us his PROMISES. Promises to LEAN on. Promises to push back against. Promises that he’s dealt with our sin. That Jesus will come back and take us to himself. That justice and truth will rule. That pain and sickness will end. Promises like v24.

24 The one who calls you is FAITHFUL AND HE WILL DO IT.

God’s given us his PROMISES to equip us to become holy.

But, of course, it’s not just US struggling. God giving us five training tools still sounds like it’s US doing all the work, with God lending a helping hand here and there.

The reality is, as v24 makes obvious, it’s GOD WORKING. In partnership WITH you. That’s what PRAYER implies. That’s what the gift of God’s Holy Spirit is. That GOD can equip you, and sanctify you.

It’s what v23 itself makes obvious. “May God HIMSELF sanctify you through and through.” Ultimately, he’s the one who does it. Humanly speaking, we’ve got to do all WE can. But only God can bring the holiness, the blamelessness. The true fruit that pleases him. That DISTINGUISHES us from the rest.

God is faithful

And that’s where the promise of v24 comes in.

24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

God never HALF-does a job. If he CALLS you, he’ll make sure he sees you through to the end. His plans ALWAYS comes together. He called you with that one goal in mind, that you be kept blameless at the coming of Jesus. And, if God is ANYTHING, he’s FAITHFUL. True to his word. Trustworthy. And so, he’ll make sure he sees you through to that end.

HE will do it.

God is faithful. Will YOU be faithful?

The year was 155 AD. The place was Smyrna, a city in modern day Turkey. The elder of the church there, Polycarp, was put on trial before the Roman consul. The consul gave Polycarp a choice: Burn incense and worship the Roman Emperor. Deny Christ and you’ll be freed. Or remain silent, and die.

Polycarp remained faithful, and was sentenced to death by fire. As the flames were lit, he was given one final chance to deny Jesus. He replied, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and HE HAS NEVER DONE ME WRONG. How can I deny him now?”

That’s FINISHING WELL! The one who CALLED YOU IS FAITHFUL and he will DO IT. Trust him. Lean on him.

May God sanctify you through and through, and keep you blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.