Faith Unpacked: 1 Thessalonians 1:1

Good morning church! I’m humbled & it’s a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to preach the Word this morning. We just completed a topical series last week titled “The church”. And we get back to our book study as we begin 1 Thessalonians.

I think this is a continuation on the topic of “the church” because it talks about the “abiding” or the “continuing faith” of the church.  

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace. (v1)

“Christianity is at risk”! This was the title of a news report in a UK newspaper Daily Express in 2019. They saw a dramatic decline in the number of people that call themselves as Christians in Great Britain. From 66% in 1983 to 38% in 2019. And this is a similar declining trend that is seen all over Europe where thousands of churches have been closing due to lack of attendees (Wikipedia).

Even in a country like the US that has been the source of a lot of good resources and writings, they’ve seen 10-15% churches shut down. People are turning to atheism or modern spiritualism where they take what they like from each religion to create their own version of a religion that suits them. And in the face of these real facts, I’m sure the question that the church asks is: Is faith in Jesus temporary like a trend or can there be genuine, abiding faith? Will my faith last till the end? Not just me – but will the faith of my brothers and sisters in Christ abide and survive till the end?  The theme of the letter to the Thessalonians is like an answer given to us to help us navigate and find help to these critical questions.

3 points of observations:

1) Christian faith is validated by perseverance

When Paul starts out mentioning “the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” & as he continues throughout the letter – he actually remembers the context in which the church was formed.

In Acts 17, Paul arrives in the cosmopolitan, business capital city of Thessalonica (similar to a city like Mumbai). And he arrives to Thessalonica after being beaten & imprisoned in Philippi. One would think that Paul, Silas and Timothy would’ve been intimidated by that previous experience but they were instead fearless because they immediately go to a Jewish synagogue (sort of like a gospel community or a small group) over 3 Sabbath days & they have open discussions with the people gathered out there on what the Scriptures tell about the necessity for the Messiah to suffer & rise from the dead.

Paul tells them that Jesus whom He proclaims is the Christ! Some Jews believed, a lot of Greek worshippers believed & many prominent women also believed!

Isn’t this is awesome? To have new believers in this amazing, fast paced, influential city. They were at the tipping point of a vibrant church expansion movement. But unexpectedly even before Paul could make the most of this new discipling opportunity, some of the unbelieving Jews who were jealous got together some people who were experienced in stirring up riots and a crowd and started attacking the house of Jason (probably the church met at his house).

They couldn’t find Paul and his companions so they dragged Jason and some of the new believers in front of the city authorities & accused them of being international troublemakers & more severely saying there is another King called Jesus apart from Caesar!

The only way in which they released Jason and the others was with a money security – to guarantee that Paul wouldn’t cause any more disruptions by continuing to preach in that city. That same night Paul and his companions were sent away from the city. All of this all tells us that the Thessalonian church wasn’t born out of a marketing strategy or a pastor’s big vision. This church was born in the midst of humiliation, pain and suffering!

The fact that they were standing in the midst of severe suffering showed that their faith was genuine! I find that a stark contrast to how we evaluate the genuineness of our faith. We say our faith is genuine because we know all the worship songs at church, we are fairly regular at church, and also we have a good relationship with the pastor and other church members – so we assume that’s what certifies our faith.

Instead the bible tells us that “Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness”. (James 1:1)

Losing our job, sudden loss of a family member or a loved one, a broken relationship, an unexpected illness, long wait on God to answer a prayer for a good thing like a spouse for marriage or a job, taunts and insults being hurled at you because you’ve chosen to follow Jesus – these are all very real and painful.

But at the same time suffering exposes our heart idols. Those idols of inconvenience, comfort, self-love, self-reliance, pride, anger, impatience suddenly come to the fore when we are met with unexpected suffering. And it’s not as though someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus will not undergo suffering. But here’s the difference – Genuine Christian faith will be displayed through repentance & faith in God.

Even though there might be seasons when believers doubt, are confused and might even look to sin for comfort but true believers will eventually come back to God in repentance and faith. Why? Because they can’t abandon the Lord who gave them a new heart to love Him. They can’t abandon the Lord who has placed His Spirit within them. They will indeed return back to him.

Maybe some of us have been frustrated or discouraged by the season of suffering that you’re going through. If you’re in that place today, could you ask God to reveal those areas in your heart that need repentance & faith in God? Could you ask God to use your current situation to display His mercy? Genuine Christian faith is validated by perseverance.

2) Christian faith is personal & yet inter-connected

Our Christian faith is personal in the sense where God has a unique and direct relationship with every person who believes in Jesus. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12)

But at the same time Christian discipleship happens in community – with other brothers and sisters. Throughout the whole letter it’s filled with language that mentions the presence & necessity for deep relationships within the church.

You became imitators of us and the Lord (1 Thes 1:6)

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thes 2:7-8)

I remember a time during my first-year in college when this truth hit home for me. Now I had been a believer for about 2 years or so but Christian life for me was just Sunday. I was the most spiritual and most committed on a Sunday but the rest of the week I lived a double life – isolated from the rest of the church & world and joyless.

I assumed that was what Christian life was for most people. About that time, I was introduced to a brother who came to India on a two-week trip during his college break to share the good news about Jesus. I accompanied him throughout those two weeks, watching his life closely, paying attention to his words and I was amazed to see the joy & purpose with which he lived his life.

In every conversation I saw him have, he would somehow bring every conversation back to Jesus because it looked like he truly loved Jesus. For him time with the Word wasn’t a duty or a Sunday activity, he enjoyed reading the Bible and telling people about what he learnt. Plus, I was amazed to see a young college student come to India on a trip to tell people about Jesus during his summer break when he could’ve spent it with his friends.

Just imagine what this did to a young believer like me. This brother didn’t sit down and preach “discipleship” to me – but I saw him live it out during those 2 weeks. God used that brother to rejuvenate my relationship with God.

And I really want to challenge you brothers and sisters today. Maybe just like my experience, you see yourself as a Sunday Christian and desire to change. Let me encourage you to find a brother or sister in the Lord whom you know is living for Jesus & just go and spend time with them.

Observe how they are loving Jesus and allow them to speak into the insecurities & fears & doubts of your heart. That is God’s design for us to experience full joy. Christian faith is personal & yet inter-connected.

3)  Christian faith is based on God’s faithfulness

As we are reading through chapter 4 & 5 in 1 Thessalonians, if we read it without any context, we might be mistaken to think that it is simply a bunch of rules: abstain from sexual immorality, help the weak, admonish the idle, pray without ceasing.

We may assume that Paul is telling us that “Jesus has done half the work of saving you, now it’s up to you to perform and make sure that Christ receives you as perfect in the end”. Although we may say that we theologically don’t agree with that but practically we might believe it’s true.

What I mean is this – there is a reason why we feel super happy and assured on days when we read our bibles early in the morning, are able to have a productive day at work, manage to minimize our sinful behaviors & even share the gospel with one person.

At the same time, we struggle with immense guilt and condemnation on days when we aren’t able to do any of the above. On those days we don’t “feel” like God’s child. We instead “feel” like we are orphans.

If we are absolutely honest, all of us will confess that even on our best days – even our best efforts aren’t good enough before a Holy and Perfect God. There’s nothing we can do to make ourselves a loved child or an accepted child of God. So then what does that mean? Can our faith survive with this kind of failed record?

1 Thessalonians is a reminder for our hearts that when we fail – and fail we will, God still remains faithful. Even when we feel like we’ve let go, God continues to hold on those whom He has chosen. Think about it – Paul and his companions thought they lost these new believers.

They were anxious and thought that these believers may have gone astray in the midst of severe suffering and persecution. Instead when Timothy meets them, he is overjoyed to find them loving Jesus no matter what it may cost them. How come? The Lord Jesus remains faithful. He doesn’t let go.

No one can snatch them out of my hand – says Jesus in John 10:28

At the end of the letter in chapter 5 – Paul says some remarkable things – read with me in v23, 24:  Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

Who sanctifies or makes us Holy? God does. Who will keep us – people who fail and sin blameless? He will. Because He who calls me is “FAITHFUL”. He will surely do it. Does this cause us to be lazy in our faith? No, in fact it makes us zealous to serve him because of His faithfulness.

For some of us who are feeling like they’re orphans this morning in spite of believing in Jesus, I believe we should be reminded that our faith, our identity, us being the child of God is not based on our performance.

It is based on God’s faithfulness – His faithful Son who lived a perfect life and died the death that we deserved so that through His resurrection our faith is firmly anchored in His faithfulness. For some others, it’s probably the first time where God has opened your eyes to His faithfulness.

Till now you’ve been living a life against God, apart from Him but today God’s moving your heart to trust Him. And God is true to His Word – if you believe in what Jesus has done for you, you will be saved. He will surely do it according to His promise.

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