Saturday 2 September 2017

1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

It is truly a pleasure to be back here to join you in worship; I always look forward to seeing you all.

This is the first Sunday in the Methodist Church calendar when members will be returning from holidays, some with hope and anticipation for the coming year, whilst others will have regrets at the empty seats where friends no longer sit, either because they have gone to be with the Lord, or just fallen away as so many have done.

One subject which should be on all our hearts is the future of the Church. So many members have been lost over the past ten years, which should be a matter of concern for us all. As I return to Churches I notice a smaller attendance than when last there and congregations are predominantly people of older years and female.

We hear it said there are so many other distractions, yet these do not distract from other necessities of life. It is also claimed that the pressure of modern life restricts, but Muslim people face similar pressures yet manage to attend their services of worship.

We should not be dominated by numbers, but we have to be practical and realise the Church should face up to the fact it faces becoming a total irrelevance in the nation.

When Jesus said, ‘I will build my Church’ he meant he would have those people who were committed to follow Him and His teaching. A study of the Scriptures reveals that Jesus was not so much wanting quantity as quality. He said, Jesus said, ‘íf anyone does not take up his cross and follow me, he cannot be my disciple.’ He also condemned what He called lukewarm faith, and we can find much of that in our Churches. He taught that only 1 in 4 people could be expected to respond.

In many parts of the world the church is growing very rapidly, but in the United Kingdom attendance is falling dramatically with less than a million people attending Church regularly. This is in direct contrast to Eastern nations where there is faithful bible teaching, as opposed to here where so many want to amend and re-interpret the Bible to meet the morality of our time.. If we have any concern for the future of Christianity in this country, we need to change direction from the present way we are going.

Today I want to turn to Paul’s Letter to the Church in Thessalonica.

This Letter of Paul which we are looking at this morning is thought to be the first of his thirteen New Testament Letters, and one which is very relevant to us to-day. We can learn from this small passage what the Bible teaches us is a successful Church, and what it means to be a Christian in the purest sense.

Most of the believers at Thessalonica had come to Christ from idol-worshiping. Paul’s brief ministry resulted in a congregation made up mostly of converted Greeks, along with a few believing Jews. Such was the vibrancy of their faith that it had spread widely and people were speaking of their devotion, their past practices were behind them. The result here was that the believers shared the good news widely through the area, telling what God had done for them. The friends of those believers began to ask questions about what had happened to make such a change in those believers.

The enemies of the Gospel were trying to undermine Paul and his ministry, saying he was deluded and was just in it for himself. Paul defends his ministry, saying far from taking anything, he and his team brought something. Prior to arriving in Thessalonica he had suffered much being beaten and imprisoned, and had travelled 100 miles just to preach he gospel and encourage them.

He told them his message had the authority of God who had appointed and trusted him pleading that it was God who tested people’s hearts not men. He came with the purest possible motive, and rather than seek support for their visit, he provided all himself, preaching the gospel by day and working as a tent maker by night. They did not seek praise or fame and he had treated them as a nursing mother looks after the child she has born. He also treated them as a father educates and admonishes his children to show his care.

Although they were obstructed by opponents they were enduring suffering and called for all to be true to Jesus Christ.

In verses 13/16 we come to the main thrust of the passage. Paul thanks God that the Thessalonian Christians had not only welcomed God’s Word, but had taken it into their lives; they realised the power of that Word. This is the hearing of the heart.

There is a difference because it’s very possible to come to Church and listen to a sermon and dismiss what you hear. How God must weep when he sees men and women singing His praise and hearing His Word on Sunday and living in direct contrast the rest of the week. There is really only one issue at stake. We should all ponder quietly and sincerely, does my faith measure up to what God calls for in His Holy Word?

The Church was facing strong opposition, as those of us today are when trying to be to be faithful to the Word of God. The Jews hated the gospel and tried to hinder the preaching of it to the Gentiles. It is one thing to oppose oneself, but to try and dissuade others is wicked. This is one of the most serious sins man can commit against God, and it is happening now; the secularist agenda is to wipe Christianity out of the public arena. They seek every means to obstruct and find grounds to complain of offences committed by Christians

The Bible states, ‘all Scripture is inspired by God’. Paul told Timothy to go and ‘preach the Word, by which he means the whole Christian message in simple terms, that Jesus is Lord and that salvation is only obtained through Him. Paul warns Timothy not to give in to the prevailing fashions of the day, but to keep steadfast in the faith and speak boldly without anger or fear of causing offence.

A preacher has to teach what people need to hear rather than what they want to hear, and do so without fear or favour, and as long as we do strictly according to the Bible, if we do offend anyone it must be asked why they are so offended. We are not to act like a spiritual dispensary offering soothing words, but to tell what God has said.

When the Word is based on Bible preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit, it produces deep conviction in the hearts of the hearers and people become convicted of their sin and their need for a Saviour, and accept Jesus as that Saviour who died on the Cross that they be forgiven of all sin. It is noticeable when a Church is fully committed to accepting and living according to Scripture, it grows. This is because God chooses to bless it.

Some people will not want to hear that we are called to live our lives worthily according to the Bible’s teaching; they take the attitude that ideas have now been changed by society, and all the old morals and social ethics can be laid aside as long as you just accept the theory; this is not God’s idea however.

The Bible was not just written for yesteryear. It is impossible to read the teaching of Jesus without hearing moral commands, standards and warning of Christians how to live in order to please God. From its earliest days the Church gave priority to the reading of scripture and every bible believing Church must give pre-eminence to the Bible in its services of worship, for it is the way to hear God speaking.

Recent cultural changes have destroyed the moral landscape to such an extent that anyone who holds views based on bible teaching on sexual ethics, one man/woman marriage, abortion, biological gender, will find them isolated. We have to accept that if you state you believe in the full authority of the Bible you will find many will oppose you, and even those close to you will challenge you, perhaps within your own family. You will be called narrow minded, bigoted or of having some kind of phobia.

When the Church abandons the truth in an effort to accommodate society it ceases to be the Church of Jesus Christ and will be little more than a social club. It has been stated, ‘Whereas Christ turned water into wine, the visible church has succeeded in doing something more difficult; it has turned wine into water."

The purpose of coming to Church should be to join with other Christians in singing praise to God, listening to His Word, having it fearless and boldly preached so there is spiritual nourishment for the week ahead, and to join in prayer for the needs of the world and ourselves. Ideally, the Methodist form of service allows for these necessities, with its freedom to present a coherent and meaningful form of worship, rather than being bound by a fixed liturgy. I have to admit having a different preacher each week is not always helpful as each could take a different approach to Scripture and so cause confusion. A lot of people are put off by disunity, for if we in the Church cannot agree what we believe in, what is right and what is wrong, we are not a credible body to lecture to others.

In saying all of this, I point out that our heritage lies with those who believe the Bible; much has changed. I’m sure that John and Charles Wesley would hardly recognize the church today. They knew nothing about computers, or any modern technology, but one thing would please them; there are still some of us who believe the Bible as faithfully as they did.

This is why the debate over the nature of the Bible is so crucial. If the Bible is the word of God, then it is utterly and completely authoritative, and if it is faithfully preached, what the preacher states is what God has said; he is speaking for God. If the Bible is the word of God, it is utterly exclusive in its claims. It does not ask or seek for our approval, and it does not need or allow any subtraction, addition or amendment. God never asks us to correct the New Testament. The Bible stands approved as read.

I want to close this morning with the words of John Wesley. ‘I want to know one thing; the way to heaven, how to land on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book; at any price give me that book.’

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