Monday, March 16, 2015

1 Thessalonians 2:13 "Thank God for Spiritual Progress under the Word of God !"

And we also thank God  constantly for this ….” (2:13). Reading the letters of Paul  sometimes   feels  like  dropping in on a conversation  between  the apostle Paul and  God.   Paul’s letters  are not only  theology  soaked in prayer, but the people to whom he communicates this theology  are themselves  taken up  in his constant prayers  to  God.   Let me show you this by taking  you  through  a  ‘quick tour’ of this letter:

Ø  1:2 :  “We give thanks to God always  for all of you, constantly mentioning  you in our prayers, remembering  before our God and father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ…” .
Ø   I2: 13 he continues to   reveal to the Thessalonian Christians  the prayer of his heart: "And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
Ø   In  3: 9-10   he continues : For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
Ø   And finally  in  5: 17-18  he  exhorts the Thessalonians to be involved in this great work of prayer  :  “pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 
Ø   Following this in  5: 23,24  he prays for them:  “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. “
Ø  after which he  asks them to pray for  him and the ministry which he   is involved :  “Brothers, pray for us.”  5:25 . Prayer   begets prayer ! Prayer  is  a vital  mark  of a God- centered man, and a God centered man  will do everything in his strength  to export this attitude to the congregation (5:17).  So much for Paul’s prayerful heart . 

In   verse  13  we see that   the apostle Paul  continues to give   constant thanks  for this  new miracle – this new church in Thessalonica[1], a bunch of people  who,  as we saw, turned from idols  to serve the  living and true God (1:9) –  thus becoming God- centered people!  What a blessing , and what a joy when we  see churches  born  that are  filled with people  turning  from idolatry  to the living God , and so we  take note once again  how  thankful Paul is  not only to see  these people converted, but  also obedient  to the  Lord  in whom they had believed , and so he writes :   
2:13  And we also  thank God constantly [2] for this, that when you received  the word of God,  which you heard from us, you accepted it not as  the word of men  but as what it  really  is,  the  word of God ,  which   is at work  in you  believers.

The reason for Paul’s thankfulness ( and we can learn much from this)  is twofold :  (i)  They had  received[3] the word of God  and (ii)  they  had  accepted[4] the  word of God.  The first  refers to “the hearing of the ear” while the second refers to “the hearing of the heart.”  Many hear, but not all hear  with the heart.  A changed heart  leads to a changed life,  a God centered life , in which   God is loved and in which the  people of God are  loved , and  in which a lost world is loved through active evangelism  and missionary activity.    
Notice  the manner in which they received the  Word of God into their heart .  Paul  says: “you accepted it not as  the word of men  but as what it  really  is,  the  word of God ,  which   is at work  in you  believers.”

The Thessalonians   knew that the  word that they had received was not a man- made message. Hear this!  The Bible or the gospel is not a man -made message.  Many treat it as such , and therefore  the gospel  never penetrates their hearts . Hear this ! The word of God  is not a man – made message !
Paul makes this point  firstly  by stating it  negatively  - what  the word of God is not! - “you accepted it not as  the word of men . To the Galatian Christians  Paul had said a similar thing :  

·       “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12)
·       Peter said a similar thing :    “…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Secondly he puts it positively :  The  word of God  is  truly (Gr.  alethos)   God’s  word !  It is God’s  trustworthy inspired, inerrant Word!
I cannot  even begin to   tell you how important this statement is for us modern Christians. I cannot even begin  to tell you how much  damage has been done in the last hundred years  because large segments of the Protestant church  have  abandoned  this principle and have treated  the Bible as secondary by  importing human wisdom  into the church , using the Bible  only as tokenism , leaving  our members  spiritually  wasted  and  dried out.
Today, on this Lord’s day , a very important conference called by John Mc Arthur of the Grace Community Church  in the USA   comes to an end. The conference  is all about the  inspiration and the inerrancy of  the word of God. Since I have not been able to follow  it closely, I have  followed   some of the summaries  of the conference. Tim Challies has  reported on the opening  address  by Dr John Mc Arthur  who  gave a list  of   four reasons  as to why  he had called for this summit [5]. I will  repeat it here, because it  will underline  the importance  of Paul’s  statement : 

First, the Scripture is attacked and we are called to defend it. Any reader of the Bible understands that Satan will always threaten to undermine the Word of God. What continues to surprise us is that these threats more often come from within the visible church than outside of it. Yet before God there is no greater offense than to cause people to question the veracity, inerrancy, or authority of Scripture. He  (Mc Arthur)  went on to do a brief historical survey in which he pointed out the major challenges to the authority of the Bible through sacramentalism,  rationalism, liberalism, cultism, experientialism, pragmatism, and several other damaging philosophies. His point was this: Whenever the church abandons its commitment to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, the results are catastrophic. With eternity at stake, it is no surprise the Bible reserves its harshest condemnations for those who take away from God’s Words or who add to it.

Second, Scripture is authoritative and we are called to declare it. He went to 2 Timothy 3:16 and then several other texts to show how Scripture consistently claims to speak with the authority and voice of God. God’s Word is consistently pure and authentic, and not a word of it will ever be nullified or taken away.

Third, Scripture is accurate and we are to demonstrate it. While we can prove the authority of the Bible from within the Bible, we can also look outside of it to general revelation. MacArthur showed how the Bible accurately describes the universe and Creation and that it offers the only logical and compelling explanation as to why the world is the way it is. The Bible is always found to be accurate when it intersects with modern science. Everywhere you look in the Bible you will find consistency since, after all, this Author knows the way things really are in his world.

Fourth, the Scripture is active through the power of the Spirit and we are called to deploy it. The Bible is the means by which people are saved. ( The Thessalonians were saved by  this means – 1:5) The power is not in the presentation of the preacher, but inherent in the text. The Bible is sharp and powerful—more powerful than anything else. So we are saved by the Word, but also sanctified, edified, comforted, and instructed by it. There are lots of books that can change your thinking, but only one that can change your nature and your eternal destiny. The simple fact is that when we preach the Word we deploy the instrument the Holy Spirit uses to do his supernatural work.
MacArthur’s final call was to the pastors attending, telling them , “You cannot be an expositor of Scripture if you have a weak view of the Bible.” 

I have taken time to share this with you because  the heart of  true  God centeredness is ripped out of the church, when  the Word of God is not  clearly and carefully  expounded.  
So Paul says   that this  “really is the  word of God  which is at work [6] in you believers …”  When we receive God’s Word  through personal  Bible  study, or group Bible study or hearing of sermons , and when we receive it  by faith into our hearts , it brings the power of God to bear on our lives as the Holy Spirit makes the Word alive  to us. This is the product of the miraculous work of the Spirit of God using the Word of God (see  1:5).
It was by means of this  word of God  that the Thessalonian received  and  accepted , that they became  Christians and by which they  “ became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus  that are in Judea “ (2:14)
The same word of God that changed  the hearts of  Jewish  people in Judea  was changing the hearts  of  Gentile people in  the  gentile  Greco-Roman world  and here  especially  the Thessalonians. This was the work of God, and for this  progress of the gospel Paul  was deeply greatful  and thankful .  And we at Eastside Baptist Church are thankful  today for this same word  heard and received  has changed our hearts !

I am saying this  as we are  gathered around the Lord’s table, and  I must say the same thing to you :   “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”   
 Join  us now  in the celebration  of  our faith in the finished work of the Lord  Jesus Christ as we gather  around this communion table . Amen !

[1] See Acts 17:1-9
[2]  adialeipto”   -  an adverb which means “without interruption, continually, regularly.”   See also 1:2,  5:17
[3]  isparalambano”  - “to receive from another”
[4]  dechomai “  -  to receive in the sense of “welcoming someone or something .”
[6]  “energeo “  - from which we get our word energy 

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