Monday, February 2, 2015

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 - The God - Centered Church !

Following our month and week of prayer,   I now want to  spend  a few weeks  in  providing  some biblical focus and perspective for our life and ministry  together as a church. I trust that you do see  yourself as  an indispensable part of the church (1 Corinthians 12).  One of the hardest  things  to do is to  keep focused  on being a God centered church!  We start the year in a  focused way  only to find  that  we  run out of  steam  about half way  through the  year. 

Why is this, we may ask?  The answer is  that  we tend  to  lose focus  as we run the race.  Runners  know what I am talking about.  There comes a time in a marathon  when you begin to wonder,  why  am I  doing this?    We get lost in the pain and the effort and the commitment,   and so  we forget  the goal . It is important  to keep the goal in sight to complete  the race and so to receive the satisfaction and acknowledgement  of having completed the race.  The goal  of our ministry together  is   to  do the will  of God in our generation,  as it is revealed in Scripture. Our goal is  to finish this earthly race   and  to enter into our heavenly reward, [1]  that is , to be with God our Father  in heaven.

The supreme focus is  on  God.  He is the center of our lives.  “In Him we live and move and have  our being” (Acts 17:28). “For from Him and  through Him and to Him are all things...” (Rom 11:36). From Him we receive  our natural life (i.e. we are born)   and  our spiritual life (i.e. we are born again)   through  Jesus Christ who died to save  us.  We are made for heaven  (John 14:1-3).   That is our ultimate destination.  Therefore we  remember that we are strangers or exiles  in the world (1 Peter 1:1, 17, 2:11) and so  we “look forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10).   That    is  our essential  biblical perspective. It is important to keep  our ministry constantly in focus. This is  my work and my  call as a pastor  - to keep you focused  on God , and live  in the light of that fact with  faith, hope and love.

To help us  at this time,  I have chosen Paul’s first letter to the  Thessalonians . Here we find  a  wonderful   example of  a  God centered congregation.   This church was started  by  Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-9). In  chapter two  we see   how  Paul had nurtured this congregation, like a  mother (2:7) and  like a father  (2: 11).  It was by no means a perfect congregation , but there can be no doubt that   this was  a   God- centered church.

What   does a God-centered church look like? Chapter  1  provides  us  with   the  most  essential  characteristic  of  a God-  centered church .

IT  WAS A CHURCH  OF CONVERTED  PEOPLE !   
These people  (i.e. some Jews and  a great many  of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women Acts 17:4)  were converted  when  Paul had preached  the Gospel  about  Jesus the Christ to them (Acts 17:3). When they had heard this gospel  they were persuaded, they believed  and they had trusted in Christ. As a  result  they  became  “the church of the Thessalonians  (the ‘ekklesia’ – lit.  the called out ones)  -  in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ “.  That little  word (i.e. a preposition)  “in”,  is  a word with huge  consequences. They were in  God and in Christ(1:1).  Once they  were “out” and now they were “in”.[2]   This happened  when they  had turned “ to God  from  idols “ (1:9).   They had   entered  into a union with the  Tri-une  God. They were  in   God  the Father  and in the Lord Jesus Christ The joy of the Holy Spirit was in them (1:6).    

Now  why is this such an important point?  It is important because  the  church is a  society  of converted people – marked by the fact that they were  a people in Christ !  
The essential  marks of the  converted person are found in verses 2 &3. In  his prayer  for them the apostle Paul  remembers  that they  possessed  the three vital marks  of a Christian personfaith , love and hope [3] . They were possessed by a genuine  faith in God ; they  were characterized by a love  that is  described in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7  and  they had their hope in eternal realities  i.e.   not in things seen , but in  things unseen (Hebrews 11:1   Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.) . This is the stuff that a God centered Christian  is made of .

Next , observe  that  these  three   marks  are  there as a result of the inner  workings  of the Holy Spirit in the soul of  the Christian believer (see vv. 4 &5). Why are they Christians  at all?  They are Christians because  God  had made them  Christians !  Please take careful note of the language of the Bible.  They were  loved by God and chosen by God (v.4 – see also  2 Thess. 2:13).    Their conversion  begins  not with the fact  that they had  made a decision  for Jesus  but because   God had chosen them.  This is  true for every  real  Christian. Our choice of Him is  ultimately  the result of His choice of us.  Jesus  told His disciples , “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you to bear fruit ” (John 15:16).  Likewise Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians   that  “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4). The entire 9th chapter    to the Roman Christians is an exposition of this  mysterious  truth!

Next,   the apostle Paul  answers the question as to how and when   it came about that these Thessalonian Christians were converted.  It happened when  the gospel was  preached to them!   Foundational to  anyone being converted  is  the preaching of the gospel [4], and notice how  Paul puts  it:  “and 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 in full conviction  (v.5).    The gospel  did it!   But what exactly is this gospel?
The word “gospel”(Gr. euangelion) literally  means “ an announcement of good news” . The good news  is  contained in a person  called  Jesus  Christ. Paul literally preached Christ!  The Bible introduces Him  as  the eternal Son of God, and God  come  in the flesh (John  1:1ff).  It is a high mystery   that the eternal  Christ  should,   by God’s decree  become  a man by a miraculous birth.  He  lived  a sinless life  and in the 33 years in which He lived,  He  clarified  the teachings of the OT prophets with mighty works of power and authority ,  and he showed  us that in Himself  all  the  promises of  God  were  fulfilled. Most notably   He would become the Passover lamb – the  sacrificial  Lamb of God  who  takes away the  sin of sinners , by His death on a cross , and by  His burial  and by His resurrection.   This  is the  gospel  word  about Jesus.  But Paul is not content  to leave it there.  Secondly, he tells us  that this  gospel word about  Jesus     must be preached  with  power  (Gr.   dunamis) and in the  Holy Spirit   and  with  full conviction.   In addition  note also  that  the gospel must be reflected in  the own  consistent  testimony of the preacher …  There must be a consistency between what he preaches and how he lives. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “ you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” (v.5).

The combination  of  these things  - the  gospel facts  spoken about Jesus , by the power of  the Holy Spirit   and with  full  conviction of the preacher ( and  mirrored in his own life)  – THAT , brothers and sisters  is  what biblical  gospel preaching  is  made of !  

Next , we take note of the result   in verses 6- 8:  The preacher  so embodies the message that to follow him is, in fact  to follow the Lord “… and  you  became imitators [5]of us and the Lord” (v.6a). 
The  goal  of every true Christian must be to become like Christ. “Whoever says  He abides in him  ought  to walk in the same  way in which  He walked” (1 John 2:6).  The  goal of preaching the gospel  is THAT   people  might become  followers and imitators of Christ .

Now, notice also  that receiving God’s Word always involves conflict, but Paul immediately makes the point  the  joy of the Holy Spirit  is given  in the midst of suffering.  Knowing Christ always involves  a  sharing  in His suffering (Phil 3:10). “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12). In the midst of  suffering, God gives greater grace, leading to a deeper experience of joy in the Lord.  The God-centered  church will always  be resented by  the world. She  will suffer because  she  is different from  the world, but all those in the world that  are called by God will receive  this  God centered message gladly  , and so we read  in vv. 7,8:  “They became  an example to all the believers in Macedonia  and in Achaia.  For not only  has the  word of the Lord sounded forth  (Gr. exechetai lit.  to blow a trumpet)  from you  in Macedonia and  Achaia, but your faith in God  has gone forth everywhere …”  
They not only received the  Word of God , the gospel of Jesus Christ … they  trumpeted  it  in  their area!  The God-centered   church  desires to share  Christ with the world!

A Note on Repentance  ( vv 9-10 )
One of the great marks of   saving faith is genuine repentance.  Wherever there is a turning to Christ, there will be a turning away from idols:  “ For they themselves report  concerning  us the  kind of  reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve  the  living and true God (v. 9). This repentance was so dramatic that everyone knew about it, far and wide. They abandoned their false gods  and  they  embraced  God and  the  Lord Jesus Christ. In any true conversion, there must be a  renouncing of  idols – those things or people which we  put in the place of God.
Believing always involves repentance. You must turn from your idols and you must turn to  Christ.  Repentance includes three  aspects:   change of mind, a change of heart, and a change of will. This  leads  us   not only  to  a change of life  but also  to  a change of eternal destiny- heaven (v.10). I want to  speak more about this,  God willing,  next week. 

Conclusion :  
The God centered church   is a church in which  God is loved  because of  what Christ   has done for us,   as the Holy Spirit  applies  these truths to our hearts  in convicting and converting power.  Everything else fades in the light  of this principle.   
My prayer is that we may be such a church – a God centered  church,  marked by converted hearts and changed lives,  with  clear convictions and convicting preaching. May we be a church  with courageous commitment, as well as contagious faith, with complete repentance, and a confident hope. Amen !




[1] 2 Timothy 4:7,8
[2] See also  Col 1:21 : “And you who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death…”   and  1 Peter  2:10  “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people…”
[3] See also  1 Corinthians  13:13
[4] See also Romans 10:14-17
[5] See also  1 Cor. 11:1

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