The internet’s been WONDERFUL for those of us who are ministers. There’s pictures and illustrations and inspiration by the thousands at the tip of our fingers. We can listen to the best preachers in the world without leaving our studies. We can download resources, order books, read research articles, copy good ideas, and keep up to date with what other churches are doing.
But if there’s a downside to it, it’s THIS. There’s so many MODELS for churches and ministry out there, it gets CONFUSING AND DEPRESSING. So many great preachers to listen to. So many churches doing things WELL, achieving great results. With new programs, new ideas, new equipment and websites, new buildings. So many models we COULD copy. You can almost be paralysed by choice. So many churches doing things better than YOU, it can get depressing when you compare yourself.
A generation ago, there were just as many great preachers and churches, but most of us just didn’t KNOW about them.
So how can you decide what models to copy? Where should you turn for ideas to use? For examples to follow?
For all the examples on TV or the internet, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than following that of the Thessalonian church.
Thessalonica is in modern day Greece. The church there was planted by the Apostle Paul in around AD50. We read about it in Acts 17. Flip over to p785.
And it was a fairly shaking beginning. Not exactly straight out of the church planters manual.
Paul and Silas arrived in the city, and went to the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath (v2). And for three Saturdays in a row, reasoned from the Scriptures, proving that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. And then pointing them to Jesus.
They had some success with some Jews and some Greeks being converted (v4).
But they got under the noses of the Jewish leaders who were jealous. They started a riot, and stormed the home where Paul and Silas had been staying (v8). Paul and Silas were safe, but the brothers sent them away to Berea (v10).
You can imagine Paul’s concern for these brand new believers. Left behind in a hostile city. No pastor. No Bible other than the Jewish Scriptures. No direction, no regular, consistent model, or teaching to follow. Would they survive? Or would they give up and just blend back into their surroundings?
So as soon as he could, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out how they were getting on. Flip back over to 1 Thessalonians. You can read about it in Ch 3. Look there from v3.
4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.
So how DID they turn out? What did Timothy REPORT? Was it GOOD NEWS or BAD news?
A model church (7)
Actually, it was GREAT news. V2. Paul can’t stop thanking God for how they responded to the gospel. The news was SO great, the Thessalonians were A MODEL CHURCH. Look there at v7.
7 And so you became A MODEL TO ALL THE BELIEVERS in Macedonia and Achaia.
The way the believers at Thessalonica HEARD the gospel, and the way they RESPONDED to it was so appropriate, so positive, they became A LIVING EXAMPLE to believers everywhere.
When someone asked, “Who should we COPY? Who should we LOOK AT to imitate?” people all over the region would answer, “Thessalonica!” “They’ve got their act together. They’re following Paul. They’re following Jesus. Take THEM as your model.”
MODEL. It’s the same word PAUL uses when he instructs Timothy TO “SET AN EXAMPLE for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim 4:12).
And Peter uses it when he writes to ELDERS.
2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but BEING EXAMPLES TO THE FLOCK. (1 Peter 5:1-4)
That’s ELDERS who are called to be an example. A model to imitate. But Paul’s praising God that the WHOLE THESSALONIAN CHURCH is an example for others to follow.
And there’s TWO SPECIFIC AREAS that Paul sees the church providing a model.
A model response to the gospel (4-5, 2:13)
First, they provide a model RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL. Paul’s comforted and convinced of the reality of the Thessalonian’s faith because of HOW THEY RESPONDED TO THE GOSPEL. Look at v4.
4 For we KNOW, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with POWER, with the Holy Spirit and with DEEP CONVICTION.
Sometimes someone SAYS they prayed a prayer to become a Christian. But you can never be sure until you see the FRUIT in their lives. That’s what the parable of the sower is all about. People who accept the gospel, but don’t bear the fruit they should. They don’t should EVIDENCE that they’re faith is REAL.
But with the Thessalonians, there were REAL CHANGES that flowed into their lives after they heard the gospel. The gospel came with POWER.
But it wasn’t the power of extraordinary spiritual gifts, or of all sorts of bells and whistles. It was the power of DEEP CONVICTION. Being FULLY CONVINCED of what they heard.
But how do you MEASURE the level of conviction? How do you tell whether someone has DEEP conviction, or whether it’s just MILD conviction?
How? By putting it TO THE TEST. Like a cardiac specialist giving your heart A STRESS TEST. The way to tell whether your heart is VERY fit, or only MILDLY fit is to WORK IT HARD. To raise the level it works at, and see how it copes.
And the reason Paul’s so sure is he’s seen the STRESS TEST the Thessalonians were under. Their suffering and persecution. There in v6.
IN SPITE OF SEVERE SUFFERING, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
You’ve got to be FULLY CONVINCED of something to stick with it even though you’re being persecuted for it. I’m convicted that coffee’s a fantastic drink. But if it became illegal to drink coffee, punishable with public whipping, I’d pretty quickly give it up. I’m not THAT convinced.
I was watching a video from Voice of the Martyrs about the persecution of Christians in Vietnam. And a young 15 yr old Vietnamese Christian girl was interviewed about persecution she’d experienced. And she told how since she’d become a Christian three years earlier, she’d been arrested, beaten, imprisoned 5 times, and deprived food. She said it all with a smile on her face, in quite a matter-of-fact way. To her, it was all nothing compared to what she’d GAINED in knowing Jesus.
That’s deep conviction.
And that’s the sort of response to the gospel from the Thessalonians. Persecution had forced Paul and Silas to flee Thessalonica, but the brothers who’d remained behind had to put up with it every day. And yet they received Paul’s message with JOY.
Which isn’t the same as HAPPINESS. Despite the pain and fear of persecution, JOY is A DEEP SATISFACTION that your life has purpose, and significance. That there’s a REASON and a FUTURE for what you’re going through.
That sort of response could ONLY come from the Holy Spirit. Because HUMANLY SPEAKING, it doesn’t make sense.
A model of changed lives (8, 3)
But not only with JOY. Paul was convinced of the reality of their conversion because of the tangible, practical changes in their lives. They provided a model for changed lives. The sorts of real changes that people NOTICED. Look there from v8.
8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia-your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.
So what did they notice? What was DIFFERENT?
They tell how you TURNED TO GOD FROM IDOLS TO SERVE THE LIVING AND TRUE GOD, 10 AND TO WAIT FOR HIS SON FROM HEAVEN, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
BEFORE their conversion, they served IDOLS. AFTER, they served the living and true God. They’d TURNED, and they SERVED. That’s the essence of REPENTANCE. Their whole orientation was changed. Their life moved from serving dead, false and useless idols to serving the LIVING and TRUE God. Who’d MADE them, and CHOSE them, and BOUGHT them.
And because they TRUSTED this true God, they trusted his PROMISES. That his Son was returning. Returning to restore justice. To redress inequities. To punish persecutors.
Which is a very real reason for his people to accept the gospel WITH JOY in the face of persecution. A practical, real joy that people NOTICED.
And that SERVING resulted in real, practical, measurable changes in their lives. Look there at v3.
3 We continually remember before our God and Father YOUR WORK PRODUCED BY FAITH, YOUR LABOR PROMPTED BY LOVE, AND YOUR ENDURANCE INSPIRED BY HOPE in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Real faith in God, real LOVE for him, real HOPE in Christ’s return. They don’t exist on their own. They PRODUCE QUALITIES in the life of the believer.
When you TRUST God, you trust HIS WORD. You trust his PROMISES. And so you WORK. You work at proclaiming the gospel, because you trust God’s power to open people’s eyes, and lead them to repentance.
On the other hand, people who have no real faith will quickly run out of steam.
A year ago we were concerned about the introduction of Primary Ethics classes threatening Scripture classes. But the reality is most schools don’t have people willing to TEACH it. In THEORY people want to see Ethics classes run, but when it comes to THE PRACTICALITIES. The hard slog of being trained, and then turning up week in and week out. There’s not that many people willing to WORK at it.
But compare that to Scripture teachers. I’ve met faithful Christians who’ve been teaching Scripture for 50 years! Backing up year after year. You don’t do that if you’re only theoretically committed to Jesus. That’s WORK PRODUCED BY FAITH.
The second outworking of their changed lives was from THEIR LOVE. Their LOVE prompted their LABOUR. Their love for God, their gratitude for what he’d done for them in Christ, their desire to protect and honour his name all PROMPTED INSPIRED ENERGISED their labour.
When you LOVE someone you’ll work above and beyond the call of duty. It’s what drags Diane out of bed at 2 in the morning to feed Aron. It’s what makes Ross head down to Wagga to look after his parents, or down to Young to visit his kids.
And it’s our love for Jesus that PROMPTS us to LABOUR for him. To work for his GLORY, to live for his HONOUR. To do what pleases him. And encourage others to do the same.
The THIRD outworking of changed lives is ENDURANCE inspired by HOPE in our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s talking about hoping IN HIS RETURN. Longing for it. Longing for salvation, for justice, for deliverance. Longing for his “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
And when you CONFIDENTLY EXPECT Jesus’ return, you’ll keep following him, and keep working for him until he DOES. It will FUEL your endurance. It will keep you turning up to school Scripture when the kids run wild. It will keep you praying for your husband or grown children who don’t know Jesus. Because you know, one day, they’ll have to give an account to him.
It will keep you turning up to home group through those cold winter months, and reading your Bible when it seems so dry, and staying on the roster to set up chairs even though no one else notices. Because, one day, Jesus is going to DECLARE IT ALL. Cast his eye over it, and enter it into evidence for all to see. “Here’s the sorts of things my people keep doing. Here’s what their FAITH PRODUCES. What their LOVE prompts, and what their HOPE INSPIRES!”
How does that prospect IMPACT your decisions and behaviour TODAY? How will it do that THIS WEEK?
What impact is your faith, love and hope having on your life? How convinced are YOU of the gospel? How do you SHOW that? Are there tangible, visible differences in your life that EVIDENCE the reality of your faith? Is there more joy and generosity? Less impatience and anger? More endurance and stickability? More holiness, less worldliness, more contentment?
What level of persecution would it take for YOU to start to consider giving it up? What level of pain would it take for you to change from JOY in the gospel to REGRET? Or BETRAYAL?
If you were arrested for being a Christian, what evidence would a prosecutor find to CONVICT you? If he interviewed your friends or family, what sorts of things would they volunteer as attitudes and behaviours that PROVES your faith.
A model ministry (6)
Follow the example of the Thessalonians. They’ve provided the MODEL. Will you COPY it? What OTHER examples will you look for to imitate?
Notice how it worked for the Thessalonians. How they followed Paul and Silas’s example. And as they followed that of Jesus. Look there halfway through v5.
You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 YOU BECAME IMITATORS OF US AND OF THE LORD; IN SPITE OF SEVERE SUFFERING,
What examples are YOU following? Paul Gallen? Tiger Woods? George Columbaris? David Koch? Lady Gaga? Michael Clarke?
Or are you consciously looking for SOME OTHER example? Some BETTER one to follow?
Your LEADERS should be setting that example. If they’re NOT, ENCOURAGE them to. Support them as they live out their faith. And as they provide you an example to follow.
Or let’s turn it around. Who are you setting an example FOR? What relationships can YOU be developing with younger Christians? People YOU can be encouraging, developing, discipling, and setting an example for?
Follow the model of the Thessalonians. Live out your faith, love and hope in REAL practical ways. Follow good models, and model that real practical Christianity to OTHERS.