Monday 10 July 2023


1 Thessalonians 1

This Letter of Paul which we are looking at 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 Letter what the Bible teaches us is a successful Church, and what it means to be a Christian in the purest sense

In our modern age, success matters. One of the main aims of people is ‘success’.  The attainment of it is eagerly sought at work, in politics in sport, to the extent that it ceases to be sport and becomes a highly fought battle. But today we are concentrating on what success is in relation to the Church. We often speak enviously of a particular Church as being a successful one, but on a false premise. 

Most people consider a Church to be successful when it has a large congregation, is well financed, in a big building preferably with car park; but such is a misconception and reveals mankind’s ideals as compared with that of God.  This letter from Paul gives practical illustration of a successful Church.

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, and I am coming to be quite fond of it. 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.

     Paul begins this Letter in a different manner from others in that he 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 Lord Jesus Christ. They had experienced the grace and peace of God. Paul prayed for them. He thanked God for them always.

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 and some leading women of the city.   These former idol-worshipers had a huge impact as brand-new Christ-followers.     

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, and that way it became to have a large attendance.

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’ 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, perhaps just mentioning they attend Church, and we are as proud of our faith, just as much as the other faiths are.

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, all of which leads to growth. 

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.  Abraham Lincoln stated  that God must have loved ordinary people, he made so many of them.  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.  They would never have passed a selection board here today, their strong Bible teaching would have disqualified them right off.

God acts when people respond to His Son.  It can be in the smallest of Churches; God acts when people turn to Him  

 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.

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.

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

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, for the Lord may be telling them something they need 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. For without that power, even the best preaching is useless to change the human heart. 

I read in aNew Yorker’ magazine, that they carried out research in 50, 000 churches, with 6000 congregations, and  75% of people consulted stated the sermon was the core of worship, which should be based on the Scriptures.  I cannot imagine any British magazine carrying out such a survey, but how it inspires to read at least in the United States there are so many people devoted to the Bible

The survey showed in median churches a sermon lasted 37 mins; in Black Churches 54 mins; and in Roman Catholic 14 mins. This reminded me of a visit I made to lead a service here in the United Kingdom, and I asked how long I should preach for, and the Vicar replied, not more than 10minutes or they will get restless!   Those American pastors sure have it made.

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.

Have you ever wondered why two people can hear the same message yet respond in opposite ways? It happens because 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. 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.

A sermon must be based on Scripture, the direct Word of God, and always be relevant, and whilst some preachers are dramatic in delivery, such is not essential. Much does depend on the pastor. I saw a Church in the United States 15 years back when it had a very large congregation, with a famous leader, now deceased, but although the same formula is followed, it is noticeably less well attended.

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 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.

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 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.

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.
May the Lord bless you as you study his Holy Word.

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