Monday, February 6, 2012

“The Testimony of a church filled with the Power and Joy of the Holy Spirit “


TEXT :     1 Thessalonians  1 : 2-10  
TITLE  :  “The Testimony  of a church  filled with the power  and joy of   the Holy Spirit “
DATE :     5th February 2012

We  conclude our prayer week  with this  text that speaks of the  church at Thessalonica  in Greece . This  is a church , we are told , that was  prayed for  regularly by Paul , Silvanus and Timothy ( 1:1) . Wonderful spiritual fruit  were manifested  in this congregation. Despite  much affliction , there was  the joy of the Holy Spirit .  Prayer and the Holy Spirit  - that has been our  focus in  Prayer week  . We  find here a  very winsome picture  of a church.   We want to be imitators of such a church. (1:6) 

We  begin by  taking a look at  the historical picture  and  the  context  :
The first letter to the Thessalonians is  apparently  Paul's first written letter to a church.  Paul had planted  this church on his second missionary journey ( Acts  17: 1-10 ). In this city  Paul and Silas    saw   both,  fruitful work in terms of conversions   (“many  devout Greeks  and not  a few of the leading women”  - Acts  17:4) ,   and  also much opposition  from the Jews in Thessalonica.  This was one of the cities   from which they had to escape by night,   fleeing to the city of Berea  ( Acts 17:10) .
And now   that they could not be physically with them  , apart from writing letters such as these,  the main work of Paul  and his friends was  “ to always remember  them in prayer  before   God the Father”  ( 1 Thess 1:3) . Eastside Baptist Church has assumed a similar responsibility in praying regularly   for our churches in Namibia.    This was  Paul’s  habit for all the churches   which he had  established  by the grace of God [1].  He encouraged the churches likewise to also pray for him and  for the spread of the gospel .[2]

Why did  the gospel  come to this city,   Thessalonica ,  which  was   in the main  very resistant  to the gospel ? We do not have to search for the answer.  It is right here: God had  a chosen, an elect  people  in this city ! They would respond to the gospel  message brought to them by Paul , Silas and Timothy .  Verse 4  :
 [4] For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, [5] because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…” .  They  are now among the many nations , tribes and language groups presented before the  eternal throne  of God  ( Rev 7:9), and when you get to heaven , you shall see them there  .
The gospel  had an impact upon a good number of people   in this city BECAUSE God , by His Holy Spirit made them responsive .  The  gospel  that  was  preached   (in word  ) to them  did not fall  on deaf ears . These words  came  “also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…” .  These words  weren’t just great and profound words  such as were common among the great Greek orators. These words were  empowered by the Holy Spirit  . They   sank deep  into their hearts , and changed their  wills  and  they  brought forth  a renewed life .  Can you say that  God’s Word has done and is doing  the same for you ?
And so they  became imitators of  their teachers , who were in turn imitators of the  Lord Jesus Christ  (1:5; 2:14 ; 1 Cor 4:6).
We also take note that  they  had   received the Word  ( they  became Christians )   in the midst  of some very heavy trials . To understand these trials  we must  read   Acts  17: 1-9
17:1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. [2] And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, [3] explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” [4] And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.  But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. [6] And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, [7] and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” [8] And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. [9] And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

Do you see what happened here ? As a result of  hearing  and accepting the gospel  ,  the believers (Jason is mentioned specifically)  were physically attacked and intimidated by a Jewish contingent in the city who instigated the Greek  city fathers.  These dear believers  continued  however in an undiminished joy of the Holy Spirit . (1:6)
It is hard for us  here in Namibia  to  conceive of such a happening. But this is certainly the norm  for those who become Christians  in many  Muslim dominated nations. Recently   we have heard  how  Iranian  believers  are being harassed [3]:
Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was arrested in Rasht on 13 October 2009 for protesting the regime's plans to force Islamic education on all children in violation of the constitution. He has reportedly been sentenced to death. Furthermore Pastor Yousef's wife, Fatemeh (Tina) Passandideh, was arrested on 8 June 2010 and is in solitary confinement in Evin Prison. The authorities have threatened to put the couple's children, Yoel and Daniel, in an Islamic institution.
A group of 15 new believers were travelling by bus to the provincial town of Bojnoord on 18 July 2010. Security forces were informed and ambushed and arrested them in the city of Mashhad. After a week of harsh interrogation, believers who signed 'confessions' were freed on conditions including due payment of all bail. Mr Reza (48, also known as Stephen) and Mr Ehsan Behrooz (23) refused to co-operate and so remain incarcerated in the 901st branch of the Revolutionary Court in Mashhad.

It is remarkable  that  such people persevere and go on  loving and serving God. This  is  the  power  of the gospel . This  is  the  work of  the Holy Spirit .  When Christians survive  under such  inhuman pressure  even with joy , then God  the Holy Spirit is at work strengthening them  and comforting them  in their trials. This is what  Daniel  had experienced in the lions den  (Dan.6). When  Christians have joy  even under affliction  then we know that there is a God in heaven who knows how to comfort  and keep His people ! 
There  are  people among us  who have suffered  because God has granted  this to them. They know  what  the Scripture is talking about when  it speaks  about affliction in the same breath  as  the joy of the Holy Spirit
Paul speaks about this  in Philippians 1:29 : “ For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” . Assurance  of salvation is best experienced  under  affliction . When you have come through a great trial  and you are still standing , you know that God is  real  and that He is your Helper !  That is why  you must learn to embrace your sufferings .  God is at work in them.  God sometimes  takes us through a severe disciplining and pruning  process  - SO THAT we may know that we are His beloved , legitimate  children. (Hebr  12: 5-11 )

What we have before us here in  1 Thessalonians chapter 1 is a prayer of thanksgiving to God  for these Thessalonians who had been  powerfully touched by the gospel and who had subsequently become such a remarkable model of a vibrant church in Macedonia and Achaia  and even  beyond !  ( vv 7-10 ) – all this in the midst of suffering .  This is real faith .

Behind this real faith  is the work and  person of the Holy Spirit  and the prayers  of God’s people . The ministry of prayer  and the Holy Spirit  go hand in hand . In fact , we may  be certain that were people  are involved in    earnest prayer , the Holy Spirit   has stirred them to do it .  The Holy Spirit  is the “senior partner “ in this relationship. We  need to remind ourselves that  we do not receive  from God because we pray but we receive from God because the Holy Spirit helps us to pray. I  showed you that   when we worked  through Romans  8:26,27 . [26] Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. True, sincere  prayer is by the power of the Holy Spirit .

The Holy Spirit is  the energiser of the church  .  Paul says in  Col 1:29  that He labours with His energy . We can preach the Word of God , but unless  the Holy Spirit  helps us , those inspired Words  come no further than the  “ear gate“. The Holy Spirit  alone convicts , converts and  effectively  comforts   sinners. WE need Him to apply the truth to our hearts. The congregation needs the Holy Spirit  to listen effectively . The preacher  needs the Holy Spirit . John  Calvin  who is often described as the Theologian of the Holy Spirit   apparently  always ascended his pulpit with these words : “ Come Holy Spirit…!”
Paul teaches the Ephesians to pray in the Spirit  at all times  ( Eph 6:18) . It was the  Holy Spirit  who spoke to those assembled in  worship in  Acts 13:1-3:  “ Set apart for me  Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them .”  The immediate response to this was prayer , fasting and consecrating them for the work   to which  God the Holy Spirit  had directed them .
Prayer  that seeks the help of the Holy Spirit  is not disappointed .  God rewards those who seek Him ( Hebr 11:6) . The book of Acts  illustrates  this . We saw that last Sunday evening as we studied Acts 4 :23-31.  

And now as we consider the work that we must do as a church , consider these lessons well and ask yourself :
1.       What can this church  REALLY  do  on earth for heaven’s sake without  the  help of  the Holy Spirit  ?
2.      What  can you REALLY  do  without the help of the Holy Spirit  ?

Sadly , it appears  that we can do many things  without the Holy Spirit . People do get  a sense of purpose  and satisfaction working in the church.  But  that is not necessarily  something that glorifies God .  You can  serve tea , do door steward ministry ,teach Sunday School , do crèche  etc  , you can preach  -  all for the satisfaction of your own ego ,  but there will be  no genuine power  in your activities  unless  the gospel  moves you  by the power of the Holy Spirit  to do whatever you do   with  real  joy and conviction , and in the Name of Jesus . There is a difference  between giving a cup of cold water  (or tea)  joyfully in the Name of Jesus , and giving a cup of cold water (or hot tea)  because  you are simply on a duty list . Brother Lawrence,  a  17th century monk  wrote  a  Christian  classic   entitled  “Practising the presence of God” . He basically   worked in the kitchen  of the monastery, and he remembered this  as  he  trained himself to peel potatoes to the glory of God ! 
Such was the disposition of the Thessalonians . They became examples to the believers in  Macedonia and Achaia . This may have had  an effect  upon  the Macedonians  of whom Paul reports  in  2 Corinthians  8 &9 . They  were also hard pushed  in their poverty , and yet we  read how  earnestly and joyfully and cheerfully they gave out of their  poverty . Who made the difference ? It was God , Christ … the Holy Spirit in them ! Giving  becomes a pleasure when  God is in it !

So here we have  a  church that was prayed for  . Here we have a church  in  and through whom the Holy Spirit was pleased to work  in those days .  And it became known everywhere . This was an exceptional church  by virtue of the One who helped her so greatly!  And she was helped in prayer by others !

The lesson  is very simple :  Seek the help of the Holy Spirit in prayer  for all that you do  in Jesus Name .

Brothers and sisters  : Pray until you see Him  at work and in charge of your life and the church’s life . Pray until you see that  joy on   each others faces . There is nothing  greater than  seeing that . That is a church in the hands of  God . That is what God wants . That is what  we want . Amen !


[1] Rom1:8-10 ;  1 Cor  1:4 ; Eph 1:115-23 ;  3:14-19 ; Phil 1:3-11; Col 1:3-14; 1 Thess 1:2-3; 2 Thess 1: 3-12 ; 2 Tim  1:3 ; Phil 4-6
[2]  Rom  15:30-32 ; 2 Cor  1:11  Eph 6:19,20 ;   Phil 2:19 ; Col 4:2-4 ; 1 Thess  5:25 ; 2 Thess  3:1,2 ; 1 Tim 2:1-8
[3] ASSIST News Service (ANS) - web site at: www.assistnews.net

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