Sunday 5 November 2017

1Thessalonians 2 v 1 ff

Paul had been on a mission with Silas and Timothy and chose to visit Thessalonica. This was a proud capital city of Macedonia with a large population, a fine harbour, and was a busy trade centre, strategically situated on the main highway between East and West across Europe.

The three missionaries preached in the Synagogue for three weeks and converted a number of people, mostly Greeks but also Jews. Instigated by Jewish opponents, rioters attacked supporters of Paul, causing Paul Silas and Timothy to have to leave the city. Timothy was later sent back by Paul to review things and found the Christians were responding well, causing Paul to write two Letters to the Thessalonians Christians, of which this is the first one

Turning to the Epistle, in verses ¾ Paul is positively stating that they preached the gospel as those approved by God, and as those committed in speaking in order not to please their human audience but to please God, and God did approve of their inner motives and integrity.

This morning I want to consider what makes for a true Christian. If we follow the teaching of the Bible, that is what we will achieve.

1 Thessalonians is one of the oldest books in the New Testament. Scholars date it at approximately 50-51 A.D., meaning that it was written only 18 years after Jesus’ life and death. As such it is one of the earliest pictures we have of the Christian church in the very beginning. This, together with other Scripture, tells us why Christianity spread so far and fast, without all the modern means of communication we have, and why the Church was so successful.

Most people would think of a successful Church as one which had a large congregation, well financed, perhaps in a big building, but that could be a complete misconception. Here was a Church which started off with people new into the faith, but such was their commitment and enthusiasm, it made others want to join them.

Such was the vibrancy of their faith that it had spread widely and people were speaking of their devotion, their past practises 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’ lives.

Paul commended them for the main element of a Christian life, faith love and hope. For a faith that works, a love which labours and a hope which endures. Faith is not merely belief, it is something that changes you, making you turn from what is wrong to that which is right; love which causes you to work for the gospel; and hope which makes you steadfast in the faith and enable to endure. This is the whole Christian life, which begins in faith, continues in love, and culminates in the hope of eternal life.

There is a story of a farming village which was desperate for rain to fall. They decided to have a prayer meeting to pray for rain and one young woman went to the meeting carrying an umbrella. That is faith.

So we may think of a successful Church as one where there is commitment, enthusiasm, and the teaching is that of that given by the Apostles, passed down to us in the New Testament.

This is Christianity in its purest and rawest form, stripped of centuries of man influenced additions and ritual, which transformed the ancient world. This is how it was in the beginning. This is what makes a successful Church. It is not a religious club united by common interest; it is a people chosen by God, receiving power through Jesus Christ, who demonstrates this in faith. We all have to consider how deep our commitment is to Jesus Christ

God does not choose large Cathedrals to perform His plans, nor pick rich influential people. He chose a humble Jewish village girl to bear the Saviour of the world. None of the Apostles had a degree between them, they were ordinary working men. God acts when people respond to His Son. It can be in the smallest of Churches; God acts when people turn to Him

Now let us consider what we mean when we say a person is a Christian, in the Biblical sense.

For most people a Christian is someone who is not of another faith, or is an atheist; that is not the Bible’s definition. A Christian is someone who is a fully devoted follower of Jesus. You are not born a Christian nor are you a Christian simply because you were born into a Christian family, or in a Christian country. The heart itself must be changed so that you become a follower of the Lord.

In order for a person to be converted two things must happen first—something from God’s side and then something from the human side; but God’s side must always come first.

Paul wrote, ‘our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction’. The Word was preached with the power of the Holy Spirit.

People come to know Jesus by various means when the Holy Spirit touches them. The most effective way is through preaching, although there are other ways such as someone close telling them of their own faith, or by a message on a poster, the London City Mission touched many by their message posters on the London underground, but the majority come to know the Lord by preaching

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.

A Christian is someone who responds to the gospel message.

I had a lady who attended my Church infrequently and one day she said to me I always feel you are getting at me when I come. I told her that as I could never foretell when she would come, and as I prepared my sermons in advance, it may be someone higher than me was getting to her. God does use men to speak on his behalf.

It is quite interesting to watch the different reactions. Most people are listening intently whilst others look as if they wished it was all over. The reason is that some are willing to have an open heart and let God speak to them, which He does through the preacher. This explains why some members of a family are Christians and others are not.

Jesus always warned that following Him would be costly and involve suffering. Such may be the mild kind of mockery or losing friends. It may lead to suspension from work or similar penalty when there is a government which does not want any opposition to its legislation, as we have seen in our own country. On the other had it may mean violence, imprisonment or even murder, in non Christian lands as we read of in Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt or other Middle Eastern lands.

These Thessalonian believers faced suffering having come to Christ from idol worship, in a culture which did not appreciate Christianity, but such was their faith and devotion that they triumphed and the Christian faith spread far and wide around them.

Paul who had suffered much in the gospel cause called on them to follow his example and be imitators of him, which they did. Many of us are inspired by people who leave a great impression upon us, and whilst we may not match up to their brilliance, we can benefit by following a similar path, and it is good to do so. A lot of young people imitate footballers or pop stars with dreams of becoming the X factor, neither of which materialise nor do them any good.

We all owe it as a duty and a privilege to be able to do something in the cause of evangelism in however small a way. This can be done by simply letting friends know you attend Church, ordering your life in a way which clearly demonstrates you are a Christian, and you don’t have to go to the other end of the earth to do so.

Remember Jesus told one man to go to his own town and tell what the Lord had done for him. We just start living for Christ in our daily lives to show others what a difference he makes. Having responded to Gods’ Word you live it on a daily basis and others will notice. Robert Louis Stevenson once said he lived opposite two Salvation Army people and it changed his life.

A Christian is a person who’s changed life changes others, because of a commitment to be like Jesus and to follow him wherever he heads.

You have to come tp Church with ears and mind open so God can enter your heart, and strive for the fruits of the Spirit, namely love, joy kindness peace and gentleness, faithfulness and self control. I have seen too many who have the opposite characters and do not reflect any credit on the Church.

So let us pray that we will always hear sound doctrine preached, and pray for the Holy Spirit to be upon us, and then we must depend on the Lord to give people the grace to respond with saving faith, and so that we may be true Christians worshipping in a successful Church.

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