21 March 2007

1st Thessalonians: chapter 1

1st Thessalonians. I always thought the word "Thessalonians" sounded really neat. And if you had asked me a few years ago, I would have told you that Thessalonians came from Thessalonia. You know--Colossians come from Colossia, Corinthians come from Corinthia, Revelations come from...Revelatia. Uh, no. Colossians come from Colosse, Corinthians come from Corinth and Revelations come from...GOD. Thessalonians come from--or came from-- a city called Thessalonica. It is now called "Salonica". These people are mentioned in the book of Acts, chapter 17. Those who listened to Paul's preaching and understood and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ were devout in their beliefs.

Acts 17:1-4.--Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. But, there's always one bunch isn't there? Acts 17:5-6--But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too...”

But Paul loved the people of Thessalonica. And this letter is considered by many people to be the first one that Paul wrote. He gives these people so many promises from GOD. I mean, these were the first people to read about the rapture, when Christ will return and we will meet Him in the air. So let's go ahead and look at what God has to say to us through Paul has to say to the Thessalonians...from Thessalonia.

First, we see Paul's PURPOSE FOR HIS PRAYERS.
Verses 2-4
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.

Much like the prayer that Jesus models for us in the book of Matthew, Paul's prayer here is a model for us. His first purpose is giving thanks to GOD for these people. So many times our prayers are filled with requests. We pray for healing, we pray for deliverance from some hardship. But how many times do we pray, thanking GOD for the people in our lives? Especially the ones who know the LORD and are examples of His love? Paul opens by saying, "I love you people. And I thank GOD that He has brought you into my life and that He has brought me into yours." Listen to some of the thanks that Paul delivers to the brethren in different cities. Ephesians 1:15-17--Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him...
Colossians 1:3-4--We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints...
And you know, this shouldn't be just some, "Thanks for everybody" kind of offering. We should mention those people by name. Now that may take a while for some people. Someone told me once that our pastor prays for every member of our church (First Baptist Powell) by name. That's a lot of people. But whenever you get ready to pray, pray for all the saints. For Johnny and for Carol and for...me. Pray for these people whether you get along with them or not. James 5:16--Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. How many times do we pray for people we don't get along with? We need to. That's what "love one another" means.

The next purpose for his prayer was remembering without ceasing. When we thank GOD for the saints, when we lift them up and say, "LORD, thank you for bringing so-and-so into my life," we shouldn't just do it because we think we NEED to. We should have a reason to be thankful for these people. When we look at those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ, we need to look past what our eyes--or even our hearts, sometimes--see. We need to look at each other from GOD's perspective. Cause let me tell ya. Just because you may not think someone is worth a darn, just because you don't get along with that person, that don't matter. Because if they know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they get along with GOD. Romans 12:18 says, as best as you can, live peaceably with ALL MEN. "Aw, do I have to?" ........uh, yeah. Remember when you were a kid, and you'd say, "But mom, do I have to play with Timmy??" And your mom would say, "Yes you do!!" Well, GOD tells us the same thing. And it doesnt just mean those people who are saved. It says "ALL MEN". Remember without ceasing.

So, what was Paul remembering? First, he remembered their works of faith. Now, this is an example of the truth that Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9. We are not SAVED by our good works. If someone does not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they can lead Bible studies, sing in the choir, preach. But those things won't get them into the kingdom. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus talks about these people. "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’" Boy, how'd you like to hear those words? Spend all that time studying, and devoting to all these good works, and Jesus tells you, "Nah. I never knew you." BUT, these Thessalonians, their works were based on their faith. They knew the Lord Jesus Christ, they trusted Him as their Savior, and doing so was what motivated them to do these good things. Now, we don't know exactly what these "works of faith" were. But they must have been pretty awesome for Paul to hear about them in Corinth, which is where he wrote this.

He made mention of these people in his prayers, remembering always their works of faith, and their labors of love. Have you ever heard someone use this phrase? Someone says that what so-and-so does is a "labor of love." What exactly is a "labor of love". Listen to how one man defines the word "labor"--"The labor which...voluntarily ...endures troubles and pains for the salvation of others." It's when you enjoy doing something so much, and it is that something that gets you out of bed in the morning, and motivates you to do something to the best of your abilities, that no matter how demanding the job may be, you don't care. You'll strive and you'll push to get that job done and then when you're finished, you look back and say, "WOW!"

That's how we are to labor when we are performing whatever it is GOD leads us to do. Not with an attitude of, "Man, I really don't want to go to church today. But I HAAAVE to, so I guess I better." I've talked to several folks who have said how some days their body just doesn't want to get up out of that bed and come to church. But they do. And not because they see it as something to cross off a list. But they know who it is that really doesn't want them to come to church. And Who it is that really DOES want them to come to church.

How many times has someone gone out and just followed the LORD and done what He commanded them to do. They fought Satan at every turn, and in the end, when they were done sweating and toiling and going forth in the joy of the LORD, they look back and they go, "WOW!!" I'll bet David did, when Goliath's big ol' head hit the ground. Peter did, when he stepped out of the boat and ONTO the water. And you know, when all was said and done, when Moses saw the people of Israel eter into the Promised Land--the Promised Land that he himself could not enter--I'll bet even he said, "WOW!!" A labor of love is one that we undertake not thinking about what we're going to get out of it; not doing it so we can be seen by others. We labor because we love.

Remembering always your works of faith, your labor of love, and your patience of hope. Patience--"The characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and godliness by even the greatest trials and sufferings." WOW!! Listen to Luke 21:16-19--"You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls." By your loyalty to faith and godliness, do not be swerved from your deliberate purpose by even the greatest sufferings. There's a passage from Romans chapter 8 that talks about hope in things that are seen is not hope. Many people these days are all wrapped up in what they can get NOW. Stuff. Cars, houses, DVD's, surround sound. Basically,...junk. Now don't get me wrong. It's nice to have things. But when those things get in the way of your vision of eternity, then you need to get rid of those things.

These Thessalonians apparently didn't have that problem. Paul says that these people are steadfast in their faith and in their godliness. Then he tells them a few chapters later, in 1st Thessalonians 4:17--Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. How'd ya like to be hoping for that? Well, these people were. But guess what? Those who did not believe in Jesus were trying to tell them they were fools for believing this. They were saying that Messiah had not come. Or that there really was no Messiah. But these people could not shake these Thessalonians. They were not swerved from their loyalty to faith and godliness.

Now, one last thing about these works of faith, labors of love, patience of hope. One Sunday when our pastor was away, the fellow filling in mentioned this passage, and compared it to one that is slightly similar to one in the book of Revelation. In chapter 3, Jesus tells John to write to what He called a "lukewarm" church. This is one that isn't really on fire for GOD, but isn't quite dead yet. They show up, they sing some songs, they hear a guy give a speech. They go home. Whoopty-doo! Jesus tells John to write, "I know your works, that you are neither hot nor cold." They do things. But notice what's missing: There's no love in their labor. No enduring trouble and pain for the salvation of others. There's no patience. No loyalty to faith and godliness. But most of all, there's no hope. That could describe a lot of churches these days. People show up, they sing, they listen to a speech, they talk in Sunday School, then as soon as they say the last "Amen" they're out the door. Gotta beat the Methodists to Shoney's. And they're missing out on so much. Now. Just think what they'll be missing out on later.

So, Paul makes mention of these saints, giving thanks and mentioning them, remembering without ceasing their thoughtfulness, and, third, knowing their election. Boy this is gonna be tricky. There are people who believe that GOD chooses those who will be saved. On the other hand, some people think that the decision is completely up to us. Me, I think it's a bit more complicated than that. Well, in this verse here, Paul tells the Thessalonians that he is thankful that GOD has chosen them to be saved. And at the same time, he is probably also saying that he thanks GOD that he COULD preach the gospel to these people, that GOD tore down any barriers to the gospel being preached to these Thessalonians, because we will see later that in one instance, Paul and his companions were prevented from speaking to Gentiles, "that they may be saved".

But when someone does enter into the kingdom of GOD, through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we should always be thankful that that person has gone from darkness to light, that GOD chose that person, just like He chose you and me. And let's face it, we didn't deserve it any more than anybody else. In fact, none of us deserve it. That's why they call it "grace". So, we have seen the purpose of Paul's prayers. Giving thanks for the saints at Thessalonica, remembering without ceasing their thoughtfulness, and knowing their election. Now, after he finishes encouraging these saints, he shows them--and us--that the gospel is not just a teaching to be told in words. But the gospel has the full power of GOD behind it.

Verse 5.

For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.

First, the gospel comes in word. It has to be told. We have to use words to tell it. Romans 10:14-15--How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things! How can they believe if they don't hear? I mentioned earlier that Paul says he was stopped from preaching and bringing Gentiles to Christ. If we don't open our mouths how will people know? In Mark 16:15, Jesus told His disciples "go preach the gospel." But as important as words are, they are just that. Words. If I try to order you to get on the floor, you can look at me like I've got three eyeballs and ignore me. Why? Because there is nothing behind those words. Well, that's not the case with the gospel.

Not only does the gospel come in word, it comes in power. Many times in the the Bible talks about the power behind words.
Ecclesiastes 8:4--Where the word of the king is, there is power.
Romans 1:16--I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of GOD unto salvation...
1st Corinthians 1:18--The preaching of the cross is...the power of GOD.
1st Corinthians 4:20--The kingdom of GOD is not in word, but in power
You see, if we try to convince someone to follow Christ, but we're just doing it either out of half-heartedness, or we're trying to convince them our own way, we'll fail. First, we need to pray for that person, and ask GOD to really burden our heart for them. Then we need to ask Him for the words to speak, because if we are using our own words, we usually wind up getting in the way. Besides, OUR words don't have any power behind them.

Listen to this from Acts 19:13-16--Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. Because that man's words did not have the power of GOD behind them.

The gospel comes in word, it comes in power, it comes in the Holy Spirit.
1st Corinthians 12:3--No man can say that Jesus is Lord but BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.
Romans 8:15--You have not received the SPIRIT of bondage...but the SPIRIT of adoption...

1st Corinthians 2:4--My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the SPIRIT and of power.
It is by the Holy Spirit that we become convicted--that is, we feel that deep sense of regret--over our sins. It is that same Holy Spirit that, when we hear the gospel, that we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior, and seek to live a life that is pleasing to our GOD. But that desire does not come from any sense of goodness we can gin up from inside of ourselves. It can only come from GOD.

The gospel comes in word, in power, in the Holy Spirit, and in assurance. Philippians 1:6--He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. If GOD has begun the work of salvation in our lives, He chose us out of this world we live in, He put His Holy Spirit inside of us, changed us from a sinner to a saint, He will complete. He's not gonna start a project and leave it half-done. The gospel comes with this assurance. That's why it's called faith. Because you put your total, complete trust in GOD to do the saving. Because we cannot do it ourselves. And even if we could, we couldn't do it nearly as good as GOD does. We use the WORDS that have the POWER of the HOLY SPIRIT and that gives us ASSURANCE. Paul and his companions were godly men, men of honor that the people knew they could trust. Because they didn't go forth trying to please people in order to make themselves look better. They went out and preached the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, from a pure heart and with the power of the Holy Spirit. And look at the change...

Verses 6-10
And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

The Thessalonians spread the gospel to Macedonia and Achaia, which would be like Anderson county, and Nashville. And because Paul and his companions were honorable men, and were examples to the Thessalonians, they turned form their idols to serve the living GOD. Then these Thessalonians went and told the people of Macedonia and Achaia what kind of man Paul was, and that was all it took. It wasn't a special program they went through. It wasn't a big huge conference about how to influence people. Godly people shared the power of the gospel, and the world was changed. Guess what? It could happen today. The people have changed. But we still serve the same GOD.

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