Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, reflects on his missionary trip to Thessalonica
Good morning, church! How are you all doing today?
What a privilege and an honour to preach the Word of God this morning and indeed I am so humbled to be filling the gap in the absence of our elders.
To begin, I wish to remind you of an incident in the Bible. Two people were on a journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus – walking frustrated and de-motivated after the crucifixion of Jesus. On the way, a stranger joined them and began to expound the Scriptures to them and their hearts burned within them.
He was none other than our Blessed Lord. As we dive into the passage for today morning, may the Lord open our hearts to see wonderful things from the Word and be ignited, encouraged, comforted, corrected and lifted up.
Let us turn to our text for this morning – 1 Thessalonians 2:1-3
For you yourselves know, brothers,[a] that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive
Let us turn to the Lord in prayer.
On January 8, 1956, a 28-year old American missionary Jim Elliot was speared to death as a martyr on a sandbar called Palm beach in the Curaray river of Ecuador along with four missionary partners and friends.
They were trying to reach the Auca tribe for the first time in history with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Elisabeth Elliot – his wife – wrote down his story in her book – “Shadow of the Almighty”. This is where Jim Elliot was slain – in the shadow of the Almighty.
She had not forgotten the heartbreaking account of her husband’s death when she began writing 2 years later. When he was killed, they had been married for 3 years and had a 10-month old daughter.
The mission seemed to have ended even before it just began. Jim and his partners were preparing for this since months – trying to learn the language of the Aucas and circling their village with a plane and trying to make contact with them in some way or the other.
Finally, when the day came to meet them personally – due to a misunderstanding – the villagers speared them to death. Seemed like an open and shut case until Jim’s wife – Elisabeth, decided to go to the same tribe which murdered her husband – to give them the love of Christ. Seriously? The same uneducated, unloving murderers? They who had destroyed her family and home – left her alone with a 10-month old kid? Why did she do that? How could she do that?
In this passage, Paul seems to describe on her behalf and on the behalf of many who threw their lives for the sake of the Gospel. They were bitten by the Gospel virus – as Jeff described last week. They were ignited with a passion for the Gospel. No one infected by the Gospel virus could stay the same.
The man who penned down this passage – Paul – who was responsible for the killing of many of the followers of Jesus Christ – when the Lord encountered him on the road to Damascus – you remember what happened to him? “He who once persecuted the people of God was now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
The man who speared down Jim Elliot once bitten by the Gospel bug went to the US and preached the story of God’s love which came after him even though he tried to destroy it. Beloved, the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes us radical Christians – empowered by the Holy Spirit.
As I attempt to describe the passion that was ignited in Paul’s heart for the Gospel’s sake – in his message and his life – let us examine our own hearts – cause honestly, all of us – having been bitten by the Gospel bug years ago need a reminder again and again – week after week – daily – of what Jesus did for us in laying down His life for us and redeeming us and making us his own.
So, here in this passage – we see Paul – being ignited by a passion through and for the Gospel – how he ministered to the Thessalonians – through the message of the Gospel and through a life saturated by the Gospel. I would like to title my sermon – “Ignited by a passion for the Gospel” and drive home these following truths from the passage:
Passion for the Gospel is:
- Characterized by boldness in conflict and
- Enriched by the purity of the Gospel
Characterized by boldness in conflict and
A guy bitten by the Gospel bug is characterized by boldness in conflict as mentioned in verse 2 and I quote – “But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.”
Paul had just come out of a great conflict – beaten at Phillipi, thrown into prison, wrongly charged, shamefully treated – for the Gospel’s sake. He could have packed his bags and gone off for a vacation or a recovery break. He had enough of reasons not to go on for his next challenge.
If it was me, I can imagine myself trying to find out which is the next flight home – I have a wife and a kid to take care of. But not so with Paul. Sufferings made him rely on God for more boldness to stand as a messenger of the Gospel.
Paul in himself was a weak man and when we think about any of the saints of old, let us not have a notion that they had a strength which was different from ours. Inspite of all his weaknesses, he says, “We had boldness in our God”.
Beloved, the Bible and our rich Christian heritage is filled with people who were weak, helpless, weary in themselves yet who were extremely bold in their God. Think about a Moses who killed a man and ran away from Egypt and was feeding his father-in-law Jethro’s sheep for 40 years.
When God asked him to go to Pharaoh, he had so many questions – “Who am I to go? I smell of sheep”, “What if they will not believe me or listen to me?”, “I cannot speak. I am a man of stammering lips” and finally – “Please send someone else”.
Don’t we resonate with the same objections and questions in our lives? What about Gideon – He was hiding in a winepress when the angel of the Lord said to him, “O mighty man of valor?” – “What? Who? Me?” Jeremiah said, “I am just a child”; Isaiah – “I am a man of unclean lips”. The apostles when they were beaten and were commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus, they went back and prayed for what? – Boldness!
Dear brothers and sisters, do we find our passion for the Gospel running out due to fear and struggles and sufferings? I exhort you this morning to seek for boldness in our God inspite of conflicts, sufferings, struggles and weaknesses.
When Jim Elliot was killed, Elizabeth found boldness in her God to go out to her husband’s killers and preach the Love of God through the Gospel. Conflicts do not kill passion, rather they only serve to increase it even more. Conflicts do not end Gospel stories – they only begin another new chapter.
Beloved, the Gospel welcomes you this morning to find boldness in God to stand firm in the midst of much conflict and not be bogged down by sufferings and taunts from unbelieving family members and friends. Paul says – “We have a treasure in our earthen vessels.
We are hard-pressed on all sides, yet not crushed. Perplexed – yet not driven to despair.” He says elsewhere in Galatians 6:17 – “We carry in our bodies the brand marks of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Conflicts and sufferings are going to be an integral part and brand of a Christian’s life yet his boldness in his God will enable him to carry out great exploits.
But our boldness in God must stem from a deeper understanding of the Gospel which brings me to point 2.
Enriched by the purity of the Gospel
Let me read to you what Paul says from verse 3 – “For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive”. Beloved, Paul has a Gospel message – free from impurity and error – which makes him appeal to the Gentiles in boldness.
He is so passionately caught up with the Gospel message that it burns like fire in his bones – He knows that the Gospel is the power of God to those who are being saved. He need not add or subtract to the Gospel that he received.
He warns as well in the epistle to the Galatians that ‘let anyone who preaches to you any other Gospel than that which you received from me – let him be accursed.’
He knows that the Gospel is sufficient to save – both himself and his hearers and so he preaches it. He knows that nothing else other than the Gospel can ever save and so he preaches it even more.
What is the Gospel? “I am a great sinner. Jesus Christ is a great Saviour”. The purity of the Gospel makes a man go passionately crazy such that they are termed as “fools for Christ’s sake”. Let me take an example here – Martin Luther – the leader of the reformation – when he was moved by the purity of the Gospel in the doctrine of justification – he turned the world upside down.
How else can you explain a person being willing to defy every authority structure of this world and to stand utterly alone as a young priest against all of the authorities of the church—against the pope, against church counsels, against the finest theologians in the land?
Martin Luther had a high and holy view of God. He trembled before a Holy God. He kept evaluating himself, not by comparing himself to other human beings, but by looking at the standard of the character of God—the righteousness of God.
As he saw himself so awful in comparison to the righteousness of God, after a while he began to hate any idea of the righteousness of God.
He had such a fear of the wrath of God that, early on in his ministry, somebody put this question to him: “Brother Martin, do you love God?” You know what he said? “Love God? You ask me if I love God? Sometimes I hate God. I see Christ as a consuming judge who is simply looking at me to evaluate me and to visit affliction upon me.”
Imagine a young man preparing for the ministry declaring that he goes through periods of hating God. Luther’s hatred was inseparably related to this paralyzing fear which he expressed that he had about God.
Then one night he was preparing his lectures as a doctor in theology to teach his students at the University of Wittenberg in the doctrines and teachings of the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans.
He then came to these words: “For the righteousness of God is revealed by faith, and the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). And suddenly the concept burst upon his mind that this passage in Romans was not describing that righteousness of God by which God Himself is righteous, but the righteousness of God that He graciously and freely provides for you, me, and anyone who puts their trust in Christ.
Anyone who puts their trust in Christ receives the covering and the cloak of the righteousness of Christ.
Luther said: “It broke into my mind, and I realized for the first time that my justification, my station before God, is not established on the basis of my own naked righteousness, which will always fall short of the demands of God. Rather, it instead rests solely and completely on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which I must hold on to by a trusting faith.
And when I understood that, for the first time in my life I understood the gospel. And I looked and beheld the doors of Paradise swung open, and I walked through.”
It’s like Luther said to the world, from that day forward, to popes and to counsels, and to kings: “The just shall live by faith; justification by faith alone. ‘God is holy and I am not’ is the article upon which the church stands or falls, and I negotiate it with no one because it is the gospel.” Is that crazy?
Brothers and sisters, if that’s crazy then I pray that God would send an army of insane people like that into this world so that the gospel may not be eclipsed.
So that we might understand that, in the presence of a holy God, we who are unjust may be justified by the fact that God in His holiness—without negotiating His holiness—has offered us the holiness of His Son as a covering for our sin. This is the Gospel for which Luther was ready to die!
Beloved, maybe there is someone here who has never experienced what this passion and craziness is all about. And it is our prayer that you would be ignited today with a fiery passion through and for the Gospel.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose” – Jim Elliot wrote this down in his diary.
Jim threw his life for the Gospel as he was ignited by a passion through the Gospel and Elisabeth continued the good work seeking boldness in an all-Sovereign God who entrusted them with the Gospel.