The Word and the Christian

Posted: July 14, 2008 in 1 Thessalonians

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a Christian in the early 1st century? Obviously, it didn’t take long for the church to be corrupted by false doctrine coming in (Paul’s letters deal with a lot of it!) – but sometimes we can get a romanticized idea of what the early church was like: everyone sitting around a table, worshipping through the Lord’s Supper, doing miracles all day, and seeing 1000’s come to Christ. That wasn’t exactly the case…

Living out a faith that was unrecognized by the Roman authorities and viewed as a heretical cult from the Jewish population in the empire meant that the church lived in dangerous times. Purifying, to be sure! But even the act of conversion meant that someone might be taking a life/death stand. And yet, Paul is overflowing with joy! Why? Because people are being saved.

Context: Paul had only been in Thessalonica for a period of weeks (to perhaps just a month or two) by the time he had to leave suddenly. So he writes this letter to reinforce the teaching that he had begun with the church in order to help them have a solid foundation to their faith. So far, he’s commended them for their work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in their walk with Christ (as they served as an example to others) – and defended himself (and thus the gospel) from some rumors that had cropped up about him & the ministry there. Now he turns his attention back to the church as he looks at their testimony & responds to it in joy.

1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 (NKJV)
13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.

A. For which reason? Because God had called them into “His own kingdom & glory” (vs. 12). Gave the whole missionary team reason to be exceedingly thankful…and it’s a good reason! People have gone from death to life & Paul & the team was able to be used by God to make it happen. So they thanked God without ceasing!

a. The Great Commission is not merely a command from our King – it’s an incredible privilege! God has chosen to use people like you & me to share Jesus with the world…it’s something to thank God for.

B. When Thessalonica received the word, they welcomed it. Could be translated “accept” – but the idea is one of receiving a visitor, or to embrace. They took the word of God to themselves. How come they could welcome it? Because they recognized the truth behind it as the very word of God.

a. We have been entrusted not with the words & wisdom of men; we’ve been entrusted with the very word of God! Sometime we take the Bible for granted – but when we do, we forget what we are holding: the words specifically breathed out by the Holy Spirit and preserved for us today in order that we would know, be saved by, and follow Jesus Christ. Do we recognize it as such? This isn’t just any book!

i. In order to receive the word, they had to hear the word. Faith comes by hearing & hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17). (Courson) “People ask why we spend so much time teaching Bible studies…It is because we firmly believe that this is the very Word of God, and that it will radically alter and influence any person who spends time in its pages.”

ii. Do we worship the Bible? Absolutely not…we worship the God who gave us the Bible. But what a privilege it is to have it! What an invitation it is for us to receive & welcome it!

C. What’s different about the word of God than the word of man? The word of God works…there is effectual power behind the word of God because it IS the word of God. Hebrews 4:12 (12) For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. []

a. This is one reason is behooves us to get the Word of God into our hearts – we are effectually changed by it, and it guards us from sinning against Him. (Ps 119:11)

b. Note that the Word only effectively works in those who believe. Does it not work in those who don’t? Yes & No. The word of God is true regardless of our belief…[] BUT, the word of God is incomprehensible to those who don’t believe. 1 Corinthians 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [] It is effectual (energeo) & it is powerful (dunamis)!

D. Note that “believe” is present tense. Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God right now? It doesn’t matter what you believed in 4th grade; what do you believe today?

14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans,

A. They didn’t just receive the word; they kept the word & took it to heart as they followed Christ. Remember that other churches had later become imitators of Thessalonica (1 Thess 1:7) – but when they 1st received the gospel, they themselves needed to imitate someone; thus they imitated the original churches in Judea…they learned from other Christians what it meant to follow Christ.

a. Who are we imitating? Whether we realize it or not, we are learning from someone’s example. Who are we setting up as spiritual examples/teachers for us? What’s the standard we measure those teachers by?

B. One thing they learned? How to live out the word & endure persecution…see vs. 15.

15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men,

A. Is Paul blaming the death of Jesus on the Jews? Can he be viewed as a father of anti-semitism? No! Paul consistently prayed for his Jewish brethren – to the point of wishing himself damned if it meant their salvation (Rom 9:3). The problem is a crossroads between history & distortion. The historical fact is that the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem specifically called out for Jesus’ crucifixion (even when offered a choice around it)…and they whipped up a mob in their favor. The distortion is that we forget that ALL of the disciples were Jewish & indeed Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Over the centuries, some within the church have taken the few & projected it upon the entire Jewish race…and some real atrocities have taken place by those who called themselves “Christian.” …

a. Keep in mind the real reason God sent Jesus to die on the cross was for OUR sins. He was wounded for our transgressions & bruised for our iniquities. The Cross is not something to blame anyone for; it’s something to thank God for – the demonstration of His love & the payment for our sins!

B. So what IS Paul doing? Simply stating the fact… Persecution from the Jewish leadership at the time was the rule (not the exception) & whether it was the prophets or the apostles, the results were the same.

a. ‘Did they really persecute their own prophets?’ Yes! Jesus affirmed this… (Matt 23:31-36) It makes sense, when you think about it. They were quick to persecute the apostles who spoke the word of God; why not those who spoke it before Christ? Persecution is nothing new – it’s been around since Cain & Abel.

C. Persecution does not please God (for obvious reasons), but it is an unavoidable fact. We can be assured that we will experience persecution at some point (John 15:20 – 2 Tim 3:12). As we saw last week, the question is: will we be ready to respond to it when it happens?

16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.

A. The problem with Paul’s persecution? Not his own safety – but that it prevented the gospel of Christ from going forth! []

B. Historically speaking, the wrath of God did come down upon the Jewish nation in 70AD. Absolute devastation was brought by the Romans upon Jerusalem (and the whole nation)…which is one reason the revival today of Israel as a sovereign nation is so interesting from a prophetic perspective.

C. Wrath is coming upon those not saved by the blood of Christ (as proclaimed through the gospel)…and in fact, it seems to be building up over time. Saw something similar with the nations of Canaan – Genesis 15:16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” []

a. Why does God allow nations & peoples to go on sinning? Why does He allow them to “fill up the measure of their sins”? I suggest that even this is an act of God’s mercy. Every day that goes by is another day that God gives them an opportunity to repent. At our very 1st sin, God has every right to destroy us in righteous anger…yet He doesn’t. He is longsuffering with us & allows us immeasurable opportunities to fall to our knees & ask for forgiveness. But eventually His justice must break forth – and it is just & it is perfect.

b. Thus people need to be saved!

17 But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire.

A. Referring to his quick departure from town in Acts 17:10 (had to leave under cover of night due to the mob…).

B. taken away” literally means “to be orphaned” – speaks of not only the suddenness of Paul’s departure, but his relationship with the church. It was like being ripped away from family that he couldn’t wait to get back to.

i. That’s exactly what we are in the Body of Christ: family! We are brothers & sisters together in the Lord Jesus; born again of His Spirit – adopted by His Father – joint heirs together in eternity.

18 Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.

A. Can Satan hinder us from the work of God? Yes! [Daniel 10 – received a vision & mourned for 3 weeks] Daniel 10:12-13 (12) Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. (13) But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia. [] We don’t know exactly what happened, but he was hindered by the work of the demonic realm…

a. We need to keep in mind that although the WAR is already decided & won (Jesus wins, in case you were wondering 🙂 ) – we still have many battles to face. With certainty, we have an enemy that hates God, hates us & will do everything he & his forces can possibly do to try to hinder the work of God & the gospel going forth into all the world.

B. ‘But I thought God was sovereign?!’ God IS sovereign – but He’s not fatalistic… Though the Lord Jesus has been given all authority in heaven & on earth – though God has always been on the throne, He has allowed Satan to roam during this time…and thus he can stop godly people from doing godly things. He’s actually looking to do this very thing – 1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. []

a. Here’s the good news: He that is in you is greater than he who is in the world! (1 John 4:4)

19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

A. What is it that can possibly motivate Paul & others to endure such relentless persecution? The fact that people are being saved by Christ Jesus!

a. Hope: Generally speaks of the believer’s hope of heaven through Christ & contextually that still the case – but with a twist. Like a parent with his kids, Paul not only has a confident hope for himself, but a confident hope for the church – that they would also stand firm on the promises of Christ & live forever with Jesus.

b. Crown: Greek speaks of the wreath or crown given to the victor of an athletic contest. Paul fought the good fight & persevered & the proof of that would be the various souls brought to Christ through his ministry.

i. It’s been often said, “You can’t take it with you.” But even though you can’t take stuff with you to heaven; you can help bring people. What a joyous celebration it’ll be at the Bema Seat of Christ to see how Christ saved so many!

c. Glory & Joy: We can rejoice in our salvation! Our conversion may be the glory of those who gave us the gospel, but ultimately all the glory belongs to God!

B. The Lord Jesus Christ IS coming! One of the resounding themes of 1 Thess is the idea that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming for His church. Every chapter mentions it in some way & Ch 4-5 go into it in detail. Why does Paul emphasize it so much? Because he was waiting for it! Jesus could literally call us home at any moment – there’s not a single thing stopping Him from doing so outside of the timing of God the Father. This is one reason we can have such a joyful hope: because as Christians we can live every day with great expectation as we prepare to meet our King.

a. ‘Oh come on. Christians have been saying that for nearly 2000 years.’ Yes – and for 2000 years, the Lord could have called us home at any time. J The fact that it’s been so long shouldn’t be discouraging; it should be something to praise God for – it’s a direct testimony to His mercy in allowing more people to be born-again into the Kingdom of God! 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. []

b. Rest assured that day IS coming. Are you ready? Are you prepared to be in His presence? Whether you believe in Jesus or not, you WILL stand before Him one day: either as your Savior or your Judge. Every day you’re alive is another day you’ve been given to be prepared and to seek His forgiveness.

Conclusion:

Was it tough living as a 1st century Christian? Sure, but what a testimony to the church at Thessalonica!

  • They received/welcomed the word – they recognized it for what it was: the very word of God to be embraced & received into their lives.
  • They kept the word – they didn’t merely hear it, they appropriated it to their own lives as they imitated the church in Judea.
  • They lived the word – they stayed faithful to Christ despite the persecutions that abounded around them. The spiritual & physical battle was intense, but they never gave up their walk with Christ.
  • The result? They were prepared to meet the Word – Jesus Christ Himself!

One day we WILL see Jesus face to face. Are we ready? Even as believers, we need to ask ourselves this same question. There are many who receive the word, but then never do anything with it & become couch-potato Christians who are tossed to & fro by the world. That’s not God’s will for you at all! Who among us does not want to hear the words “Well done, good & faithful servant!”? As we recognize God’s word for what it is, we’ll take it to heart & be transformed by it – so that when we’re confronted with the spiritual battle that’s guaranteed to come we’ll be ready to live it out.

If you know you’re not a believer in Jesus Christ, you’re in another boat entirely. Again, you will meet Jesus one day – but you’re definitely not ready. What will you be able to say when you’re called to give an account for every word spoken, every deed done, and every thought that you dwelt upon in your mind? Who can stand? Every lie, lustful thought, and blasphemous word brings conviction & no amount of “good works” will be able to balance it out (all our good works are like filthy rags in comparison to God). Friend, you need to experience the grace of God & His forgiveness – and that’s only available through Jesus Christ. He died on the Cross as punishment for your sins & rose again on the 3rd day promising new life to those who believe.

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Comments
  1. Howdy!

    WORDPRESS says that our two blogs (at least our most recent posts) are related, so I came by to check you out. Please stop by my place and let me know what you think (and maybe add Jesus + Compassion to your blog roll so we can stay connected).

    God bless you!

    Cd

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