Nothing has gone wrong in the Thessalonian church.
It’s not perfect, but there are no significant problems there.
So, why write them a letter
To say, well done, keep going…because…
It’s not entirely true that there were no problems
There was no manufactured drama in the church…they were not “producing their own problems” like the Corinthians did.
But there was plenty of opposition and persecution from outside the church…they had, like everyone does…illness, death, job, family issues…they were trying to figure out how to live as Christians in their culture…always a very complicated thing to do.
And they had large questions…their faith was new, the church was young…Christians were dying, people were lying to them about Paul…how does all this work?
So, he wrote them to tell them…well done, difficulty is normal, hang in there.
I’ll repeat what I said last week…well done River.
We have had our share of drama these past two years…but it has been the drama of life, not the drama of self-inflicted, game playing and pettiness.
The young church at Thessalonica was holding steadfast in their faith and this fact went “viral” in the local area and out into the wider countryside…their reputation, to the glory of Christ, became widely known.
Had a reputation for violence, and other vices on WSU campus.
In fact, at times students would avoid walking past him on campus.
I avoided him when I could…until the Lord set up things where I could not.
In a God-ordained, unlikely set of circumstances…Robert and I became friends.
Eventually he came to Christ…and I had people on campus ask me… “what happened to Robert Lang?”
What happened was the power of idols had been (and was being) broken in his life.
Jesus was establishing his life in Robert’s life.
He didn’t change completely immediately…in fact he became angry at me once when he tried to “enjoy” his former lifestyle and found it was now empty.
I said “Don’t blame me, blame the Holy Spirit.”
The truth is, he never actually “enjoyed” that old life…now there was the added factor of the Holy Spirit in him producing conviction.
These believers at Thessonaliki likewise had experienced new life in Christ and were staying faithful in spite of outside pressures…and the change in them became widely known.
How could Paul not be encouraged about this?
Let’s take a look at chapter two of Paul’s happy letter to the Thessalonians.
2 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2 We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.
This is an understatement. “our visit was not a failure”
-The word translated “failure” means “empty”
Their visit was far from empty, in fact it was a spectacular success.
And he is likewise understated in saying “we had suffered and been insulted in Philippi”
That’s putting it mildly as well.
In fact…they had been stripped naked, scourged (a form of torture that often killed people).
Then they were put in prison in stocks…sitting on a cold dirt floor, feet fastened in wood and steel.
Open wounds, terrible pain…no way to get comfortable, or to get relief from their injuries…what a miserable situation…what happened next?
Since they couldn’t sleep…too much pain and discomfort…why not sing some hymns and pray.
Acts 16: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns and the other prisoners were listening to them…”
Then there was a divine jailbreak…but even then Paul didn’t try to escape…instead he led a late-night revival as the jailer and his family became Christians…and these new Christians tended to Paul and Silas’ wounds and gave them food.
The next day, when the local authorities found out Paul and Silas were Roman citizens and knowing that they could get in a lot of trouble for mistreating them this way…released them…then Paul went to Thessalonica.
So that’s the backstory on “we had suffered and been insulted in Philippi”
Let’s read on…
3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.
Part of the strategy of the local opposition to the gospel was to malign Paul.
Undermine the messenger, undermine the message…so they thought.
The problem was…the messenger and the message were both solid.
There are three points Paul makes here that show us the form the attacks on his character were taking:
-Our preaching was not from error (the gospel is true)
-Our motives are not impure (likely this meant they were accusing him of immorality…prostitution was a common part of pagan religion.)
-He was not trying to “trick them”…this was a word used for catching fish with a bait…Paul didn’t have some ulterior motive…nothing up his sleeve…there is no “bait with a hidden hook” in the gospel.
It does not trick or trap…it sets people free.
4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.
In fact, the exact opposite of what they were being accused of was true.
Their message was from God…they didn’t make it up…they received it, they were entrusted with it.
And they were not trying to build a fan base…they were looking to please God…after all, he alone can see what is happening in a person’s heart…and his opinion of us is the only one that ultimately matters anyway.
The gospel is the proclamation of sin/separation/salvation.
The bad news part of the good news has never been popular.
But there is no path to salvation apart from a recognition of sin and separation.
Again, when I was in college, my pastor was sharing the gospel with a friend of mine named Danny…we were visiting him in the dorms.
Danny, knew me well but he didn’t know my pastor as well.
My pastor started with the true statement…
“Danny, you know you are a sinner; right?”
Danny, a large, muscular young man from the inner city…clenched his fists and looked menacingly at my pastor and snarled “I ain’t no sinner man!”
My pastor looked at me with eyes that said “help!”
I jumped in and said, “Danny, we are all sinners…he is, I am, you are.”
Danny settled down and understood… “Oh, like that…yeah, I’m a sinner.”
He thought he was hearing “You are worse than I am.”
None of us are worse or better…but the good news must begin with the bad news…we are sinners separated from God by our sin.
There are social implications for the gospel…it changes cultures…but social change always begins with individual heart change…one heart at a time.
Hearts can only change when we understand the real need of our hearts.
Paul again says, “We are not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.”
We have always said what is true not what we think people want us to say.
Here is that powerful paradox…you cannot love people well if you are living for their applause.
We must care about people more than we care about what people think of us.
This doesn’t come easy…no normal person likes to be disliked.
But we cannot let the search for the applause of people dictate the course of our lives…we must live for the applause of God.
As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7 but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
He is saying that it would have been appropriate to take financial support from them…in fact that would have been the norm, but he chose not to.
In his role as Apostle, planting new churches in areas where there had been none…he chose to work at his trade, tent-making (leatherworker) while he shared the gospel.
This helped counter the accusations that Paul had ulterior motives…he wanted something for them, not something from them.
10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
The reason Paul is so intent on making sure they understand, or paid attention to the reality that that his motives were pure is because of how important the message was.
The truth doesn’t depend on our ability to defend it or even live it…truth is truth regardless.
However, we can live in ways that make the truth easier or harder for others to believe.
Paul was intent on living in a way that made the gospel easier for others to believe.
The reason I said he wanted them to “understand or pay attention” is that sometimes our friends need to be reminded of our friendship…to pay attention to what they already now to be true.
We can all become foggy, confused…wondering if we can trust anyone…
Especially during times of crisis, or times when our emotions are running high…when we are tempted to believe lies.
During those times…if we have already earned their trust…it is good to say to our friends…
“Hey, I’m your friend…remember…this is me…remember how we have lived our lives together…remember what we have been through.”
Don’t doubt in the dark of night…when you knew was true in the light of day.
Paul’s message has a sense of urgency to it.
“…encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
He uses three verbs here: encourage, comfort and urge
-Living as a believer in that time and place was enormously difficult…so, much encouragement was needed.
-Well, that’s true now as well, isn’t it?
-Likewise…ongoing comfort was important…a word used for those who were bereaved, or in danger of losing heart…they were new believers in an adversarial cultural setting.
-We need this comfort too, we get sad, we lose heart.
-Urge to live lives worthy of God…literally means “walk worthy”.
-The New Testament often portrays the Christian life as a “long walk.”
Steady, unspectacular progression…movement towards Christ…that looks, and feels like…slow, long progress.
Beware, Proverbs warms, of “get rich quick schemes”…this applies to money, physical health, and spiritual progress…you name it.
Embrace the “long walk” mentality…and you will see spectacular change…but it must measured over a lifetime…not in a moment, or a day.
This was a summary of Paul’s life message:
“…encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
What is your life message?
“I don’t have one, I don’t want to preach at people.”
You do, in fact have one…everyone does…everyone is “proclaiming” a set of beliefs and values all the time.
Your life…like it or not is…preaching.
Everyone is communicating, demonstrating, and celebratating…what is most true, or valuable to them…with their words and actions.
Examples of a life message could be:
-Sports are the most important thing
“No they aren’t”
“Could have fooled me, based on what you talk about and what you spend time on.”
-My image is the most important thing
-Pleasure, or money, or power
There is no getting around this…we all have a life message.
And Paul is grateful…because they received his life message as the truth of God.
13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
It is super important that our life message align with the truth of who God is.
It doesn’t mean that we can’t ever talk about the Chiefs, or jobs, or hobbies…of course these things are important for a variety of reasons.
But when people get to know us…what is at the center of our hearts will become evident to them.
That’s what happened to these young believers…they received the gospel as the truth of God…and God through that truth…was changing their lives.
Look again at what he wrote…
The word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
Truth “works”…but so do lies.
In fact, everything we choose to believe…works.
What we choose to believe is true and real “works” on us from the inside out.
Just like everyone has a life message, likewise everyone is believing something and what they choose to believe is “at work” in them shaping them into someone or something.
The truth of God, the gospel…shapes us into the image of Christ…
Things that are not true…when believed, work to make our hearts, minds, lives…mishappen things…broken things.
Often, it’s not some huge lie…normally it’s just enough to take us off course a single degree…and over years we are so off course we crash on the rocks.
Then to the evidence that God’s truth was at work in their hearts and lives.
14 For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.
What is the key evidence of the truth at work in them?
They were enduring faithfully in spite of persecution.
This is not the only evidence of God at work in a life…but it is an important one.
Perseverance, endurance through difficulty is a powerful display of faith.
Faith in God shows up in enduring faithfulness to God.
Why is this so?
Think about it.
Let’s use a marriage analogy.
Suppose a man says to a woman (and this actually happens but not in so many words):
“Let’s get married and see if I like it or not…if you turn out to be good for me, make me happy, make me feel good…and if nothing better comes along…then I am willing to commit to you.”
“So, what do you think…will you marry me?”
Marriage is, in God’s view at least…a covenant commitment.
“I promise…through health/sickness, riches/poverty…to stay faithful to you until death parts us.”
Clearly that person was not serious about a covenant commitment.
How do you know if a person is serious about their marriage covenant?
Well…if they in fact keep it…they perservere…even in the midst of difficulty…especially in difficulty.
That’s why the older vows…and newer good vows…verbalize commitment in difficulty as well as in good times.
Likewise, the NT says a lot about perseverance in faith….because
Faith that lasts through difficulty over time shows itself to be genuine.
Real faith…finishes…it perseveres.
Be careful not measure too soon…God uses a calendar not a clock to measure by.
People can wander away and come back…but those who are his…come back.
Let’s finish up…
17 But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us.
The “but” puts Paul in contrast to those who were opposing and persecuting them.
“They” meant you harm and are they under God’s judgement “But”…when we were torn away…out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you again.
It’s common for people to not want to appear overly eager or needy in relationships.
To play it cool…act nonchalant… “I’ll see you when I see you.”
Paul is not needy in this relationship but neither is he going to play those kinds of games with people he loves.
“I was torn away”
“Again and again I wanted to see you.”
Why didn’t he then?
Satan stopped us.
What? Really? How did he do that? Tell us more, tell us more?
Finally something interesting!…all this plodding endurance…now the good stuff… “Satan”
“I know Satan not good…but he is very interesting.”
Not to Paul…at least not as much as other things are.
We don’t know how Satan stopped Paul…he doesn’t elaborate…so evidently it wasn’t a main point of concern for Paul, or interest of Paul…just a statement of fact.
Satan, a Hebrew word meaning “adversary” is opposed to our best interests.
We would probably want Paul to write a lot about this in detail…but he doesn’t.
Paul focuses on what he is most interested in…and it is not on Satan…or answering questions of curiosity about him.
What is his main point…of which “Satan stopped us” is merely an almost meaninglessly side point of reference
“Why didn’t I come to see you…Oh, well…Satan Stopped us…BUT…back to my point…”
19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
He loves these people…his love for them is his point.
God has put this love in his heart and Paul has nurtured that love.
“Joy” indicates that on the inside of Paul…in his heart…he took great joy in hearing about, thinking about…knowing that these believers were faithful to Christ.
Crown was the wreath given to the victor at the Olympic games…an external sign of victory.
On the inside (his joy) and on the outside(his crown)…it was these faithful believers that Paul celebrated…they motivated and encouraged him.
If you took Paul to lunch at Fuzzies it would not be long before he was talking about how the church at Thessonalika.
Sure he would be happy hear about your work, your family…maybe he would want to hear about the Chief’s game…and he would be glad tell you about some of his recent adventures…
But over and over…what fills our hearts flows from our mouths.
He would, if you gave him the chance…talk about what God was doing through the gospel in the lives of his people.
Let’s return to the old adage… “Your heart follows your investment.”
Please don’t spend any time or energy feeling guilty about not having a heart for people or the gospel like you should.
Please don’t waste time thinking about the things you talked too much about last year…that maybe, were not, in retrospect…worthy of that many of your words.
Instead…decide who and what you want to most value in your heart
Then…give time and energy to investing there.
Then…your heart will follow your investment…it must, it is how God has designed it to work.
Then…you will find the things you think and talk about, more and more aligning with what will matter most at the end.
Take Paul as a case study:
-He sacrificed: time, energy, physical pain, financially, prayer, thoughts, enduring attacks…to invest in these Christians.
-His heart followed that investment: He loved them, deeply.
-it’s not complex, not magic…your heart will follow you investment.
-You choose what you love by choosing your investment.
-This his genuine words of encouragement and longing: flowed freely from that heart.
Another case study: This time in reverse
-A man talks a lot about his car…constantly…or hobby, or job, or diet…you name it.
-Because that man loves his car…or whatever he talks a lot about.
-Because that man has invested…not just money, but effort, thought, pride in that new car.
Your words follow your heart follows your investment.
What is the most valuable thing you can invest your life in? People.
Pour yourself into the lives of people…get a heart for people…watch how you change.
And what how God uses your life to bring change
BARRIERS TO INVESTMENT IN PEOPLE:
- Making it too complicated
-Walk with Jesus, Walk with others
-Don’t need a program…don’t need permission…no special training.
-Do you need to take some risks and take the time.
-But most often, it fits in well with your life as it is…just takes some intentionality and some imagination.
-Put it on your calendar…keep it simple.
- Making it about yourself
-Thinking too high of self
-They need to pursue me
-People don’t reciprocate, they have told me no…
-Thinking too low of self
-They don’t want to spend time with me
-Thinking too much of self
-I don’t have time to invest in others, or interest, or energy
*We must, at least to a degree…get to the boundaries of self if we want to experience God.
*Make this your mantra as you interact with others: Bless not impress
What if people, knowing and loving God…became for each of us…our joy and crown?
Now that would be a really good thing…and it is not beyond us for that to happen.
Our hearts will follow our investments.