Monday 8 July 2019

               I Thessalonians 1

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. This is the first of Paul’s thirteen Letters in the New Testament, and 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. 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.

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.  What happened there tended to happen all along the way between.

The three missionaries preached in the Synagogue for three weeks and converted a number of people, mostly Greeks but also Jews.

Paul writes to show he recognises they are truly Christians, who have fully accepted God and Jesus Christ.   They had listened to Paul, their minds were engaged, they were the church in God. They knew the life and ministry of Jesus Christ  .They had experienced the grace and peace of God. Paul prayed for them. He thanked God for them always.

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.

Research has shown that the most successful form of evangelism is that of ordinary men and women Christians telling others of how Christianity has changed their lives.

Paul commended them for the main element of a Christian life, faith love and hope. For a faith that worked, a love which laboured and a hope which endured. 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.

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. 

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

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.  Such was their devotion to our Lord’s teaching, if they faced a Church Selection Board today, they would likely not be selected.

Remember in Acts we are told how the Church grew as the people listened to the teaching of the Apostles. 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 demonstrate this in faith. We all have to consider how deep our commitment is to Jesus Christ

I want to now consider with you how this model of evangelism emanating from the local church can make such an impact.

Paul tells the believers they had been chosen by God.  
In order for a person to be a true Christian rather than pretend one, 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.

 So many people have said to me over the years, and still do, ‘I don’t go to Church but I am a Christian’.  This is usually said in good faith, they truly believe this, but nowhere in the bible can this be justified. The church has perpetuated this belief that everybody is going to heaven irrespective of lives lived with its unqualified liturgy, and the fact preachers haven’t the courage to tell them it is false, deceitful and improper.

People come to know Jesus and become a Christian by various means when the Holy Spirit touches them.  The most effective way is through preaching.  This why preachers should always endeavour to preach a gospel message, for more people are converted through listening to preachers than any other way.

Preaching should not be on human opinion, or be a re-
interpretation of the gospel to suit the time; it should not be on the false doctrine of climate change That’s why we ought to pray for the preaching of the Word, that it might be accompanied with the power of the Spirit. 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.

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.

 The Billy Graham meetings were evidence of this, as so many millions over his forty years of preaching became committed Christians.  He spelled out plainly the consequences of rejecting Christ.  Sadly now, too many preachers are afraid of upsetting congregations, but if people are upset, perhaps they should search their conscience lest the Lord is telling them something they don’t want to hear.

The Bible tells us that God knows the secret working of our hearts, and when He knows we are ready to acknowledge Him through Christ, by whom alone we can come to God, He by His amazing grace chooses and calls us into His family.  We can either respond to God’s calling, or reject him. When we respond, we accept Jesus’ death on the Cross was so that we might be forgiven for all that was wrong in our past life, and that we declare we will then live by the teaching and commands that he has given us in the bible.  God acts when people respond to His Son, and when people turn to Him.

This can become costly as some, friends or even family will turn against  you; it may mean a change, of lifestyle if you have been living in a way which is against what the Bible states, but the reward will be greater, for you have a promise to be in heaven with the Lord when your life here on earth is over.

But you have to make the decision to turn to Jesus; you cannot inherit, you can’t earn it no matter how honest, good-natured, you can’t buy it. God in his amazing grace offers it free to us.  It is however like someone offering you a present, you have to accept the gift to obtain what offered.

There does however need to be a personal response. Have you ever wondered Why two people can listen to the same message and respond in utterly different ways? Why will one brother follow Jesus while another completely rejects the gospel? Why does one person believe and the other say, “I want nothing to do with Jesus"? The answer must be that one person had an open heart while another person had a hard heart in terms of the gospel. The reason for people to respond differently is one man hears words, while the other man hears the message. It is the Holy Spirit who takes human words in preaching and makes them alive inside the human heart.

You will find some people mock the Bible, usually knowing little of its contents. I know a young lady who I always thought of as having a brilliant mind, yet she expresses her opposition to the Bible in a manner so fatuous as to be unworthy of anyone of a balanced mind.

It is quite interesting to watch the Billy Graham Crusades where you see the different reactions.  Most people are listening intently whilst others look as if they wished it was all over.  At the end of the meeting, thousands respond to the call to make a commitment, whilst similar numbers do not.  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.

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 or 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. 

It is possible for people to come for Church for years, listening to the Bible being read, listening to preaching, singing devotional hymns, yet never opening hearts to God. You have to come 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.

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.

God bless you and be at Church on Sunday.

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