We are currently doing a sermon series called ‘Abiding Faith’ as we are going through Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. The passage we will be looking at today is 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16, and if you have your bible or an app you can open and read with me.
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved-so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
Being part of a Sunday worship is not enough
Being part of a community group is not enough
Having being born in a Christian family is not enough
Having being called Christian, a follower of Jesus by others is not enough
It takes a lot more than these to be called a true & faithful follower of Jesus.
The mark of a strong and healthy church is not in the strength of its numbers, not in its well-organised services and bible studies and community groups, it is not in its electrifying singing time, and it is not even in its online presence.
The mark of a strong and healthy church is in the quality of its people.
In our passage today Paul is calling out and thanking God for the church, the people of God. He is highlighting some of the great qualities these men possessed that made them different. So, let’s listen carefully to what he has to say about the Church in Thessalonica.
And as we hear and learn from these verses let us come with an open heart, examine ourselves before God and allow the Holy Spirit to bring conviction and lead us into repentance and faith making us a strong and healthy Christian and a healthy church.
There are three qualities of the church that Paul is thanking God for, the first one is that …
• They received the word not as the word of man but as word from God
In verse 13 he writes “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
When Paul and his associates went preaching the gospel in Thessalonica and teaching from the scriptures, the people didn’t just hear the word as its coming from the mouth of Paul or other men, they heard and accepted it as if it were the words of God himself. And Paul says that which you believed to be the words from God is at work in you. What an encouraging thing to say.
Their attentive ears and their attitude towards the word of God brought the Gospel alive in their hearts and is now at work in them.
In hard times like these, when we are going through a threat like Coronavirus – where people, news channels, neighbours, office colleagues are constantly talking to us – where everyone’s giving their views and opinions about the current situation and how to react to it, what is our source of truth? Where do we draw our strength from? What is at work in our heart?
Brothers & sisters, it is only the word of God that can be our source of truth, the only hope for our heart in such difficult times.
The scriptures, preaching of the word and others devotionals are how God communicates to us, giving words of instruction, rebuking us of our sin patterns, encouraging our hearts in difficult times, provoking us to live a Holy life, worthy of His calling. As Pastors and leaders when we prepare our sermons we pay very careful attention not to speak or present to you anything that is not in the purview of the scripture and we even hold each other accountable to it.
The transforming word of God was at work in the life of the believers in Thessalonians, but for the word to produce transformational results in their hearts, they needed to trust God’s word with the right attitude and a desire to walk in unconditional obedience.
Imagine you’ve been given a new responsibility at work, a new project to handle. And while your manager was training you for the job, explaining the process and instructions as per the guidelines given by the company CEO – instead of paying attention you were distracted on your phone or some other things, you said: “chod na, yeh manager bak bak karat rehta hai”. What do you think the result will be? We will make a wreck of the job and even ruin the company and the CEO’s reputation.
Now, when we ignore reading the Bible, not giving heed to the preaching of God’s word. If that’s the attitude we carry, then aren’t we risking our lives? God who made the world, God who knows the end from the beginning expects us to give Him a listening year and trust His word and not what the world has to say.
When we read or hear Gods word, do we see them as man-made fables written to entertain our itching ears or do we see them as from God, the Holy one. If we believe these words are from God we will pay full attention, protect it, guard it, set reminders for our heart.
While we are in Sunday gatherings, in bible study groups, in GC’s we will make every effort to align our heart and mind to make sure we get it right, that we are not missing the point. And even if for any reason we sometimes fail to make it for these gatherings, we will still make an effort to get hold of God’s word by other means.
Brother & sisters, if you are in a place where you feel fearful with the spread of this deadly disease, you don’t have hope in your heart, or you feel depressed and lonely while you are isolated in your home…. my encouragement to you is pick up your bible and hear God, I promise you will see your faith increasing, your hope growing and sense the arm of protection of our loving Father.
The second quality Paul mentions in that …
• They became imitators of the Churches of God in Christ
In verse 14 Paul writes “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea”
They didn’t just heed to Gods word but to grow healthy they started imitating other churches and other believers. It doesn’t mean that they started imitating each other’s dressing style, worship style, talking style etc. But I believe they imitated each other’s Faith, [Pause] imitated each other’s responses to the call of God over their lives, [Pause] their response to sufferings and most importantly imitate them in preaching and spreading the good news of Jesus wherever they went.
Imitating each other is a good thing, that’s the primary way in which we learn and grow. Children imitate their parents and family members, younger ones imitate their older ones. Jairus sometimes finds it annoying when Amaze imitates whatever he does, but isn’t that how are programmed to grow. Paul writes to the Corinthian church saying “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ”
As Christians it is healthy to imitate each other, apart from all how we imitate each other as mentioned earlier, we can imitate healthy marriages, imitate servanthood, imitate prayer life, we also imitate faith-filled responses of other strong believers when we go through troubled times.
But beware, the greatest hindrance that keeps us from imitating each other’s Godly life is Pride, don’t let your pride tell you that you know it better and that you don’t need to learn from others.
As a church and as your leaders, we actively fellowship with other churches in our network to learn from them, to find encouragement from them and to imitate their godly pursuits. I can’t express the number of ways in which I have benefited from such Godly imitations, helping me grow stronger in the Lord.
Beloved, don’t sulk in your pain, sorrow and fear, but identify the areas in which you are struggling and find a godly role-model whom you can imitate so you can grow as a follower of Christ.
If you are not able to meet a brother and sister physically, pick up your phone and call them. As your pastors and leaders, we and our wives are always available to speak to you. Pls, do not hesitate to do so especially in times like this.
Don’t let these circumstances to draw us apart from each other, rather let it bring us, even more, closer to each other.
And the final quality Paul mentions is that …
• They suffered for the sake of the Gospel
For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose al mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved-so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
Their faith in Jesus was not just a decorative badge they carried around but it invited trouble and persecution from their fellow men. Jesus said in John 16:33 “In this world, you will have tribulation”, and especially when you are a follower of Jesus.
Often we desire that our suffering would end, but please believe me when I say to you that suffering is good and you ought to be rejoicing when you suffer for the sake of Christ. You know why? Because in our sufferings on earth for Christ we get to share in the sufferings of Christ. Isn’t that a wonderful experience.
Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:13 “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”
Paul writes in Corinthians 1: 5 “For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.”
I don’t know what kind of sufferings you are experiencing at this moment, maybe suffering because of your faith in Jesus, or maybe suffering because of the responses of this broken world in your office, in your society. When we go through such sufferings its a reminder that Christ endured the same suffering and much more for our sake, dying for sinners like us and mending our broken relationship with our Heavenly Father. Let our sufferings draw us closer to Jesus in repentance and faith in Him and his saving grace
The believers in the early church when faced with trials and testings, instead of breaking down and giving up, endured it with joy knowing that the experiences were drawing them closer to Christ. Let us also, therefore, embrace such sufferings with joy.
Brothers and sisters, my hope and prayer for us all this morning is that our hearts would be inclined to grow as quality Christians, not cold or lukewarm but hot, super hot for Christ. And that will happen as we take God’s word seriously, use our free time to dive deep into scriptures and engage with it in a meaningful way. Remember Psalm 1:2-3 “those who delight in the word of the Lord, who meditates on his law day and night, are like a tree planted by the streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.
We will also grow super strong when we are together, connected in love, encouraging each other, imitating each other in the Lord and when we endure suffering with joy.