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 . He encouraged the churches likewise to also pray for him and for the spread of the gospel .
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 :
 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,  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.  And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  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.”  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.  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,  and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”  And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things.  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 :
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 .  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 !
 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
 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