Thursday 9 January 2020

 Thessalonians 1
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.
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 along the way.

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.
Paul begins this Letter in a different manner from others in that he writes, ‘to the Church of the Thessalonians, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’.  This is to show he recognises they are truly Christians, who have fully accepted God and Jesus Christ.  It is a Church IN God, not a Church of God.  They had listened to Paul, their minds were engaged. They were the church in God. They knew the Lord Jesus Christ. They had experienced the grace and peace of God. Paul prayed for them. He thanked God for them always.
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.
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 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. 
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. 
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
 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.
The name “Christian” was one given to them by others and apparently had a negative meaning in the beginning: “those belonging to the Christ party;’.  It was a term of contempt or derision, and there was a sense of suffering and reproach attached to the word in the New Testament.

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.  There must be a desire to become accepted by the Lord.
Paul tells the believers they had been chosen by God.  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.  
God finds us before we find Him.  He moves a person’s heart, but like anyone offering a gift, it has to be taken, and God is gifting us with his grace.  There does however need to be a personal response.
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.
Two people can come to a service, one with an open heart, the other a closed one. One hears a message which touches their heart and causes them to respond; the other hears just words which mean nothing to them.
This is why two people can listen to the same message and respond in utterly different ways?  One will follow Jesus, while the other completely rejects him.  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.
Without the “full conviction” that the message must be believed, no one will ever become a Christian; there must be a personal response.
After Peter had given his famous sermon at Pentecost, 3,000 we are told people were cut to the heart, and turned to Christ and devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles. We are told because of that, God added to their number. I never know in advance who my sermons will touch.  Sometimes I am told right away, but in other cases I have been told quite some time later of how I helped.  
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.
In the Creed we say we believe in one Apostolic Church, which in many cases nowadays is incorrect, for to be an Apostolic Church, the teaching should be as given by the Apostles which God has preserved for us in the New Testament, and we know the teaching is far removed from that left by the Apostles.
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.
This why preachers should always endeavour to preach a gospel message, for more people are converted through listening to preachers than any other way. 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.
Preaching should not be on human opinion, or be a re-interpretation of the gospel to suit the time. 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.
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.
A Christian is someone who is prepared to accept suffering of some kind, whether it be just mockery and ridicule, to that experienced so bravely by our brothers and sisters living in some non Christian countries, where facing real hardship of beatings, imprisonment and even death are regular occurrences. It is in such places that being a Christian really demands commitment and devotion beyond our comprehension in this country. Here we have been inclined to be unaware of hardship in being identified as Christian and felt able to express our faith if we so inclined, but since the premiership of David Cameron this is becoming more hazardous, with numerous prosecutions for merely quoting Scripture, which a judge recently stated might hurt the feelings of sensitive men.
True Christianity means you stand up for Jesus even when things become hard. A Christian is someone who follows Christ no matter the cost. Christians in Africa have had to demonstrate that far too often.

These Thessalonian believers faced suffering, for like us they lived 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 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.  Robert Louis Stevenson once said he lived opposite two Salvation Army people and it changed his life. A Christian is a person whose changed life changes others, because of a commitment to be like Jesus and to follow him wherever he heads. 
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.

When we look to the Lord, this is what we find. Two thousand years ago Jesus died on the cross, shedding his blood for our sins. He died in our place, bearing our sins, taking our punishment, that we might be saved, cleansed, forgiven, declared righteous, be born again and become the true children of God. When God looked down from heaven and saw Jesus dying there, he said, “I am satisfied with what my Son has done.” We know he was satisfied because on the third day, he raised Jesus from the dead.
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.

No comments:

Post a Comment