1 Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians 1:1-4 – The church is a community of people (part 1)

1Thessalonians 1v1-4.

 

THE CHURCH IS A COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE…[part 1]

 

INTRODUCTION.

 

Life can be very confusing at times and it is hard to know what to believe or who to believe. At times it can be very hurtful and bruising and we can feel very unloved. At times it can be very uncertain and we can feel hopeless and insecure. What does a letter written nearly 2000 years ago to a small group of people in a town in ancient Greece have to help us on the brink of the third millennium?

I hope by the end of this service you will have a glimpse of what it has to offer.

 

BACKGROUND.

 

Paul, with his companion Silas, first visited Thessalonica in about AD 50. We read the account is Acts 17.

The town was founded about 400 years earlier by one of Alexander the Great’s officers who happened to be married to Alexander’s half-sister, Thessalonica. In time it became one of the major cities of the Roman Empire. Today it is the second largest city in modern Greece – Thessaloniki.

Acts 17 tells us how the gospel of Jesus Christ came to this town of Thessalonica.  The Jewish population of the town was big enough to warrant there being a synagogue. Paul follows his usual practice when he arrives in a town with a Jewish community in that he goes to the synagogue and on three Sabbaths enters into dialogue with those there.

¨     He goes to the OT and shows how the Messiah would suffer and rise.

¨     Then he tells about Jesus of Nazareth – the story of his life, death and resurrection.

¨     He then puts the two together and proclaims Jesus is the Messiah/Christ.

How long Paul and Silas stayed in Thessalonica is not certain – not very long but probably more than three weeks.  It is possibly that having started in the synagogue Paul move more widely as we are told that 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. Acts 17:4 (NIV)

 

It was not long before opposition arose and Paul and Silas had to be smuggled out of the city at night – leaving behind a new group of Christians in a very hostile environment – how were they going to survive?

 

 

GREETING.

1:1   Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.

 

Maybe we should learn to write as they did in the first Century – beginning with who it is from. When we receive a letter the first thing we do is look at the end to see who it is from. It makes a lot more sense the other way. We are changing with the advent of E-mail – it comes onto the computer with a title and the sender’s name!

What can Paul say to this very new group of believers? They have come straight out of Judaism or paganism. We could expect Paul to be biting his nails worrying about whether or not they will continue under the pressure or quickly revert to their previous way of life. Bear in mind that they did not have the NT to help them – Nor as far as we know any mature, experienced believers amongst them.

 

  1. 1.     ROOTED IN GOD … [v1]

How does Paul address this group of new Christians?

1:1  Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians …..

To us the word church is a religious word but this was not so in its original usage. The Greek word ‘Ekklêsia’ was used of both religious and secular groups – Jews and Greeks. What is it then that makes this group – this ‘Ekklêsia’ – this church different from all the others in Thessalonica?

 

What is it that should make the church in the 20th Century different from other groups – whether religious or secular? What is the difference between the church and a therapy group?

 

Over the past 25 years there has been a shift in the way many Christians view the Church. More and more literature and teaching on the ‘church’ is using the language of marketing. I am not saying we can’t learn from secular marketing techniques BUT we need to subject these things to the teachings of the Bible.

More and more members are viewed as customers; potential converts as prospects; the gospel, church activities and programmes as products.

 

Michael W Holmes [NIV Application Commentary] p.44 “Worship is confused with entertainment, being good with feeling good, and faithfulness with being successful or ‘blessed’. ‘Meeting the needs of the customers’ is said to be the key to church growth. …. Equally as revealing is the language one hears people using to explain why they changed churches (‘my old church wasn’t meeting my needs’) or to evaluate the Sunday morning service (‘that service really blessed me’ or ‘I didn’t get anything out of it today’).”

 

What is he saying? Really we evaluate that Church as to what we can get out of it. This shift in the way we view church has resulted from the influences of worldly philosophy – we live in a consumer society that is basically very self-centred. Over the last century or so there has been a shift away from a God-centred view on life to a human-centred view.

The ancient philosopher view the “Man in the measure of all things” has become the principle by which 20th century societies live. So we no longer talk about right and wrong or good and evil with reference to God BUT with reference to the popular opinion of human society.

 

If we view the Church from this humanistic perspective it becomes nothing more than another human organisation created by people to meet human needs.

Is it any surprise that many see the church simply in term of “What it can do for me!”

 

Paul gives us the right perspective in verse 1. The Church whether in Thessalonica or anywhere else in the world is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Apart from God and the saving work of Jesus Christ the church does not even exist! Now the Church does and should meet our needs – spiritual, social, emotional etc – BUT it is not just another social organisation.

God does not exist for the sake of the Church! The church exists for the praise and glory of God and to spread the good news about God.

Places this fundamental foundation right at the outset of his letter – The church is and must always remain God-centred otherwise it ceases to be the church.

 

…The Father … The Lord Jesus Christ

What does it mean to be the church “in God and Christ”?

Paul could have written “To the church of God in Thessalonica”  as he does in 2:14  ‘… the churches of God in Judea ..’ – it is true the church is in a geographical place.

 

The way he has expressed it in v.1. – in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: – emphasises the vital relationship with the father and the Son. It carries the same force of what Jesus taught the disciples in John 15 – the vine and the branches – abiding in him. Apart from him there is no life and no fruitfulness.

For the Church to be in God means therefore to ‘be living in God’ – ‘rooted in God’ – ‘drawing its life from God’.

 

Every Church [congregation] has two homes – two environments in which it lives – in God and in this world.

 

Why does Paul write this way to this particular church in Thessalonica? He doesn’t tell us BUT I guess it is because he knows that they are probably felt insecure being such a young and persecuted community. He wants to remind them that in the midst of their weakness and troubles God in their security.

Every church derives its life, its strength and its stability from God and NOT from its own abilities or organisational structures.

 

  1. 2.     LOVED AND CHOSEN BY GOD. [v4]

 

In v.2-3 Paul thanks God for them assures them of his prayers for them – First let’s look at the description of them in v.4.

 

This teaching about God ‘choosing’ or ‘electing’ has caused many people problems and questions. However it is truth that is taught in scripture – from Abraham  [God calls him – Gen.12] to the nation of Israel as a whole. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you ……. (NIV)

 

We can never divorce God’s electing and God’s love – Why does God chose us? Because he loves us! And why does he love us? Because he loves us!

 

Here again in v.4 Paul unites God’s love and electing – 1 Thessalonians 1:4

4 For we know, brothers [and sisters] loved by God, that he has chosen you,

 

The teaching about God choosing is never introduced in scripture to simply stimulate our intellectual discussions – it always has a practical purpose. To assure us of God’s love so we don’t presume upon it – to spur us on to holiness and away from moral apathy – to encourage humility as there is no room for our pride in salvation – to encourage our witness and to save us from selfish laziness.

 

If the reason for election is something that is known only to God how can Paul say For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you? He bases their knowledge on the evidence they see: 1) the fact that the Thessalonians responded to their preaching and accepted Christ and 2) their new found faith has produced in them faith, hope and love which has had practical out working in their lives.

Some think that because of the teaching about election we don’t need to evangelise – exactly the opposite is truth – evangelism becomes indispensable for it is only as the gospel is preached and accepted that God’s secret purposes are revealed and known.

 

The fact that we are loved by God [even while we were still sinners] assures us how much God loves and values us in spite of our weaknesses and failures. There is no reason for us to feel defeatist and have a low self-image.

We have great worth and value BECAUSE God loves us.

 

On the other hand, we are loved and valued by God because he is gracious and not because we are worthy and so there is no room for arrogance and pride and triumphalism BECAUSE it is entirely God’s doing!!

 

So the Church is community loved and chosen by God – rooted in him. How does Paul know the Thessalonians are God’s people? Because they show the characteristics of a true church – Which are what?

 

  1. 3.     CHARACTERISED BY FAITH, LOVE AND HOPE. [v2-3]

 

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3      2 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. 3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

 

Paul must have been a wonderful friend to know – he always and continually prayed for his friends. Included in his prayers was thanks to God for the evidence of God’s grace in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians.

 

Three of the most important characteristics of Christians faith are Faith, Love and Hope – it all three of these that Paul, Silas and Timothy praise God for in the lives of the Thessalonians.

 

John Stott has a particularly helpful summary of these three – which I have put together in chart form.

 

1Thessalonians 1:3

FAITH

LOVE

HOPE

OUTGOING

towards God

towards others

towards the future

PRODUCTIVE

Works –

Paul – Faith which issues in works.

James – works which issue from faith

Labours –

True love is not sentimentality but extended effort for the good of others

Endures –

Patient fortitude in the face of opposition

Every Believer…

… a believer

… a lover

… a hoper

 

Each of these three has an outgoing aspect –

 

Faith towards God – People without such faith in God are not Christians – Any collection of individual without faith in God through Christ and enlivened by the Spirit, no matter how religious is not a Church by biblical definition.

“Without faith it is impossible to believe God”

 

This faith in God works out in attitude and deeds. There are practical results from faith – A true faith in God leads to good works and without works faith id dead.

Paul and James – another NT writer –  are in agreement here no matter what the sceptic may say and they are not contradicting each other. Paul stresses faith that issues in works while James stress works that issue from faith. Faith is not abstract mental assent but also practical and productive. Our salvation means little or nothing if it doesn’t shake us out of our sinful introversion and self-seeking and redirect us towards God, Christ and other human beings.

 

Love towards others – this is love that is within the Christian fellowship and beyond it. It is a love that focuses on doing for someone else good.

We are so devious sometimes that when we do something for someone else it can really be for our own benefit – our own egos – our own pride. A good test to see whether or not this is so is when we are not thanked or appreciated as we would like and we get miffed. “Well if that’s the thanks I get after all the effort I put in I will never do any thing for them again!”

 

God never just looks at the outward activity – he always examines our motives.

True love is doing for other for their good – doing for them what is right in God’s eyes!

Often the only expression of God’s love that people will see, they will see in us. What kind of image of God’s love do others see in us? John 13:35 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Not just loving our fellow believer but also those outside the church – the Thessalonians had made a determined effort to love the unlovely and to do so with strenuous exertion.

 

True love is never sentimental but is always extended for the good of others.

 

Hope towards the future – every Christian is a believer, a lover and a hoper – hope is not a hollow optimism. Optimism has more to do with temperament – some people are naturally positive and optimistic.

Hope, like faith and love, is an essential part of every Christian’s make-up. Our English word doesn’t really convey what Paul is trying to say. We tend to use the word ‘hope’ in a speculative way. “Will it be sunny tomorrow? I hope so!” We use the word when we are not certain about something. We use it more as a wishing word.

 

Paul had something very different in mind.

The Christian’s anticipation of a golden future with God in heaven is not simply a matter of likelihood or probability BUT an absolute certainty.

Jesus will return. How can we be sure? He said he would die and rise again and ascend into heaven and he did – He said he would send the Holy Spirit and he did – There is no doubt that he will keep his word, as in the past, and return to make all things new.

 

ILLUS. Michael Faraday, the Victorian Physicist, made no secret about his Christian faith. When on his deathbed he was chided by friends, “Where are your speculation now, Michael?” “Speculations?”, he retorted, “ I am dealing with certainties!”

 

That same certain hope was the experience of the Thessalonian Christians – Is it yours and mine? We are not talking about a stoic resignation BUT about a confidence and patient fortitude in the face of opposition – a hope that can endure the shocks of life.

 

As you look at your situation – as your life as it is now – maybe you are facing difficult circumstances. A unhappy relationship, boring employment, tough family responsibilities, financial difficulties – maybe life is just tedious and routine and dull and you wonder if this is all there is to life. Is it ever going to improve? I assure you that if you are a believer in Jesus Christ your future is bright – not ‘Orange’ – but gloriously splendoured in the presence of God. Whatever things might be like in the short-term it will turn out well in the end.

 

We have much to praise God for – collectively as a church and as individual believers – loved and chosen by God, rooted in him and as he enables and we obey characterised by faith, hope and love.

 

 

1Thessalonians 1v1-4.

 

 

 

THE CHURCH IS A COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE

 

 

¨  Rooted in God v1

 

¨  Loved and Chosen by God v4

 

¨  Characterised by Faith, Love & Hope v2-3

 

 

 

FAITH

LOVE

HOPE

OUTGOING

towards God

towards others

towards the future

PRODUCTIVE

Works –

Paul – Faith which issues in works.

James – works which issue from faith

Labours –

True love is not sentimentality but extended effort for the good of others

Endures –

Patient fortitude in the face of opposition

Every Christian …

… a believer

… a lover

… a hoper

 

 

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