Devotional # 174. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5

Devotional # 174. 2/1/16. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5.

Intro. Two weeks ago (Devotional #172) we started the book of 1 Thessalonians (pronounced “thess-uh-lone-ee-ans”) and we talked about how Paul wrote this letter to encourage the church there. In verse 1 we saw Paul’s multi-layered greeting and the significance between God being both “the Father” and “our Father.” And we saw the multi-layed title/name of “Lord Jesus Christ” as being very important.

Today we’ll have a lesson in two huge tenants of the faith: “thankfulness” and “prayer”. And we’ll also see the three attitudes of the Christian: faith, hope and love. Lastly, we’ll see four things that the gospel came “in.”

v. 2. Just in this one verse Paul gives us possibly the two most important rules to live by in the Christian faith: thankfulness and prayer. As was Paul’s custom, and we should make it our own also, the first thing that he does is to give “thanks to God“. By being thankful he puts his heart and mind in the right place. He knows that whatever he’s about to say, whatever he’s going to do and however he’s going to exhort them or correct them it is with thankfulness to God for providing the wisdom to do these things. If Paul recognizes how blessed he is and the church recognizes how blessed they are, their thankfulness will pour over onto non-Christians and they will have to seriously consider who God truly is. And so Paul is thankful to God “always for you all” which tells us that Paul is never not thankful for them (“always“). No matter how lackadaisical or frustrating or seemingly perfect our sisters and brothers in the faith are we should “always” be thankful for every single one of them (“all“).

And then Paul says that he, Silas, Timothy and others make “mention of you in our prayers.” What an encouragement to know that men like Paul and Silas and Timothy were praying for you! That they remembered you and your needs and brought them before God. This doesn’t just have to be a thing that we fantasize about, this should be something that we do in our own lives. For us to go out of our way and get to know little churches all over this country and all over the world will take some time but we have more than enough resources. When we start to recognize the names and families of people that we may have never met it starts to change her heart and that’s when God can use us. It may seem trivial but it will put a little more weight behind your prayers of “and God take care of the church around the world.”

From “thankfulness” and “prayer” will come everything that we need to know to do in the Christian faith. Think about it, if we’re not thankful for what God has done, is doing, and will do, why would we be willing to serve Him or help others or share Jesus with others? And if we’re not praying about it how will we know what is God’s will for us to do, who we should speak to and how we should love? It all comes down to “thankfulness” and “prayer”.

vv. 3-4. I like lists, or at least lists from the Bible, because it helps me clearly see what I’m supposed to do. Here Paul shows us three things the Thessalonians were doing: 1. “work of faith”, 2. “labor of love” and 3. “patience of hope.” The “work of faith” can be simply being used by God for anything He asks you to do. He’ll never leave you to do it alone, He’ll always have prepared you (even if you don’t know it) and He’ll have given you the spiritual gift(s) to accomplish it. We’re used to hearing the expression “it was a labor of love.” It generally means something was a lot of work but it wasn’t that bad because you enjoyed doing it. That’s exactly what God is saying here. He will give you a passion that you never had, to do work you never knew, to impact others you never cared for. This passion you have is not something you came up with on your own, often it’s the furthest thing from your mind, but once you’re saved His thoughts become your thoughts, His passion becomes your passion and His love becomes your love. Lastly, the “patience of hope” is an attitude only available to a Christian. Really, without Jesus no one has “hope” and so the believer has a comfort and “patience” in knowing that this world is not the end and there is always “hope” in Jesus. Each of these (the work, the love and the hope) were done “in Jesus” and with God the Father watching (“in the sight of“).

Next we see the Thessalonians “election” was evident to Paul by their unceasing “work of faith” their “labor of love” and “patience of hope.” God had “elected” them to salvation and to do these things while still on earth. This is a great thing and still applies to us to this day! But I must make a warning: if you’re like me you like lists because they clearly tell you the expectation of what’s due. In other words I don’t like “to do” lists but if I have to do stuff I like it clearly stated and separated. The mistake we can make here is to look at this as a “to do” list and think that we’re working ourselves into getting “elected” to go to heaven. But that’s wrong. All signs here (and elsewhere in the Bible) point to the opposite. Let’s look at it again. Their “work of faith” was in who? Faith in themselves and their abilities or Jesus’? Their “love” came from themselves or Jesus? Their “patience of hope” was a hope in themselves and how great they were, or in Jesus? It clearly states here it was “in our Lord Jesus Christ.” So it is only after we have been saved by Jesus that we have the power to do any of the things that God works into us. Let’s look into that power in the next verse…

v. 5. When Paul says “our gospel” he’s not saying that it’s his and Silas and Timothy’s. He’s saying “our” as in it is something shared by all Christians, including the Thessalonians. They should be proud of their spiritual heritage and the blessing of being “elected” and hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here we see four things that the gospel came in 1. “word” (not in word only, implies that it did come in “word”), 2. “power“, 3. “the Holy Spirit“, and 4. “much assurance“:

It would be amazing in and of itself that the good news of Jesus came in “word” only but if that word didn’t include “power” then at best it would be just another religious writing. But it did come with “power” – the power to heal people’s physical bodies, to heal their minds and to heal their spirits. The gospel also comes with the power of the “Holy Spirit”, one member of the Trinity, God Himself! And the power of the Holy Spirit “will convict the world of it sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (John 16:8). Amazingly it is both the Holy Spirit that convicts us of our sin and comes to live in our heart when we accept this gospel of Jesus. And lastly the gospel came “in much assurance” which just means that the people prior to this were assured by God that this good news was true and for them.

Conclusion. We have received much today. Keep in mind the reminder to be “pray” and be “thankful.” Practice the three attitudes of the believer: faith, hope and love. Treasure how the gospel came: in “word”, in “power“, in “the Holy Spirit“, and in “much assurance“. Have a blessed day!

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Devotional # 57. Acts 17:1-34

Devotional # 57. 10/21/13. Thessalonians, Beareans and Athenians.

This week’s Reading: Acts 17:1-34.

Introduction. Last week we talked about Lydia and a warden who both gave their lives to Christ. This week we’re talking about three different types of people: Thessalonians, Beareans and Athenians. As you’ll see some stir up trouble just to keep religious rituals, some are so smart that they’re stupid and some want to know truth…and are willing to change their lives accordingly.

vv. 1-9. Paul and Silas walk to Thessalonica (read what Paul wrote to this church in 1 and 2 Thessalonians) and immediately go into the synagogue (Israeli church) and preach. Some of the people listen but a small group created a riot, angry at the Christians who “turned the world upside down” !!!

vv. 10-15. So the Christians of the city send Paul and Silas to Berea where Paul does the same thing preaching in the synagogue. But there was something different about the people here, called Beareans, which is “now known as Veriain what is today Greek Macedonia” (Source 1). They have become famous (there is even a Christian chain of stores by this name) because of how they handled the gospel. They wanted to know truth instead of follow their own desires or religions. Jesus often asked people to check out if what He was saying was true (as did the apostles and many good pastors will ask this even now). We should model ourselves (and disciple others) to behave in a “fair-minded” way so that we “search the Scriptures” to make sure we are living according to God’s will and not our self righteousness.

Sadly, the small group of “jealous” men making “dissension” (see Galatians 5:19-21) worked themselves up to go to Berea and run Paul out of town. I feel sorry for people like this who feel obligated to stubbornly try and stand in God’s way as He’s working.

vv. 16-31. To understand this next section we need to know what “Epicurean” and “Stoics” believed. Epicurean philosophers believed that God didn’t get involved with humans and when you died your body and soul just disintegrated (Source 2, p. 1665). Stoic philosophy started around 200 BC and by Paul’s time was championed by men like “Seneca (4 B.C.E.–65 C.E.), Epictetus (c. 55–135) and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180)” (Source 3). The basic idea of stoicism was indifference to pain or pleasure (Source 2) which is where we get the term “stoic” from today. These philosophers would sit around and discuss all kinds of ideas and worship idols but never get anywhere with it. So they initially mock Paul for his beliefs because his premises start with a loving God who would take action in sending His Son to die on the cross for every human’s sin. These biblical truths stood in contrast to everything they thought and theorized.

Paul gives us a great lesson when he points to the alter for “THE UNKNOWN GOD” and claims it for the One, true God. Often when we share the Bible with people we fail to meet them at their level. This can happen in our own neighborhood but it is even more obvious if we travel to a different country with dissimilar customs and a different language. I’ve been to England where they speak mostly the same words as Americans but it’s a totally different language and culture. From driving on the other side of the street to calling a cookie “a biscuit” and a biscuit a “savory scone” it took some getting used to. Here in Athens Paul points at an alter that every one of these people have seen many times and quotes their poets (v. 28) yet doesn’t water down the message. If God has sent us to share with people about Christ then we meet them on their level (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) but with personal, yet logical reasons (always having a reason for believing what we believe, 1 Peter 3:15) we convince them (Titus 1:9) with the foundation of the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15) as the Holy Spirit speaks through us (Matthew 10:20).

vv. 32-34. When Paul mentions Jesus’ resurrection many start mocking him. This is usually the case. Most people are OK with ethical teaching or discussing their idea of God but as soon as you mention raising from the dead, people get scared. The initial layer is that they’ve been conditioned to it sounding like a bad horror movie. So they don’t accept it because it goes against what we know to be truth. But the deeper layer, the spiritual battle, is this: if there really is a perfect God who took all of our sins and died for us so we could be in heaven with Him than that would demand some sort of response from us. It convicts us because we are living self-centered lives where we are the priority and we would have to change. We would have to humble ourselves and forgive others as Christ has forgiven us.

Conclusion. So who are you like? Are you a Thessalonian? Is it easier for you to just go to church or youth group instead of opening your Bible and having a relationship with Jesus? Are you an Athenian? Always thinking about ideas but never taking action, always debating but finding that you’re just addicted to feeling smart instead of humbling yourself and recognizing you and your bright ideas aren’t the center of the universe?

Or are you interested in becoming a Christian? If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Savior then read John 3:16 and talk to God about it (also email me if you want).

Do you already consider yourself a Bearean? Well, there is always room for improvement and we have so much room! One of the greatest things you can do to see how much you still have to learn is to get involved in a younger (in age or maturity) believer’s life (Titus 2:1-10) and teach them to be a Bearean.

Are you a younger Christian who wants to become a Bearean? First, pray for God’s guidance. Second, start reading your Bible! I don’t care how many verses, just read until you get to something that makes you think – something that you don’t understand and have to pray about or ask another Christian what it means. There is a free Bible app for iOS and android called youversion (https://www.bible.com) with tons of reading plans to help you…so you have no excuse. Third, get connected with another human(s). You need fellowship no matter how much people, doctrines or how waking up before noon has hurt you. God is none of those things and in Hebrews 10:25 (and a lot of other places) He tells you to interact with other likeminded believers.  These are just three ways to start living spiritually-minded so that you “search the Scriptures” and find what you’re searching for!

 

References:

Source 1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bereans

Source 2: John MacArthur, the John MacArthur Study Bible.

Source 3: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/stoicism