February 21, 2011 David Balzer

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16: God’s word changes us and others

It makes all the difference when you’ve been entrusted with a powerful message to deliver.

As the rains fell in Queensland, and the Wivenhoe Dam overflowed, and the Brisbane River rose, emergency workers in Brisbane streets delivered the powerful message to residents. “The floodwaters are coming. They’ll be here in a matter of hours. It’s CERTAIN. Your house will be covered. Take whatever you want to save, and GO! You CAN’T stay here!”

It makes all the difference when you’ve been entrusted with a powerful message to deliver. It made a difference to the CONFIDENCE of those messengers. They’d been authorised, they had the POWER, to remove people who wouldn’t leave. It was FOR THEIR OWN SAFETY. No ifs or buts. The messengers didn’t care whether they were liked or not. People’s LIVES depended on the powerful message being delivered.

And it made a difference to THEIR SENSE OF PURPOSE. They knew what their job was. No mucking around. No time to waste. No distractions. This message was their NUMBER ONE PRIORITY. Everything else came SECOND.

And it made a difference to HOW HARD THEY WORKED. Their message was, without exaggeration, a matter of life and death. And so it didn’t matter if they had to work an hour overtime, or two, or even a double shift. There wasn’t time to stop for lunch. No time to read the paper.

It makes all the difference when you’ve been entrusted with a powerful message to deliver.

And God has spoken A POWERFUL WORD. His very own flood warning and rescue advice. The gospel about his Son Jesus. Who can rescue us from the coming disaster. It can bring us LIFE when we were headed for DEATH. It can CHANGE us.

And he’s ENTRUSTED it to US to deliver to OTHERS. And when THAT happens, it can CHANGE THEM TOO.

What sort of a difference does that make as we go about delivering that powerful message? What difference does it make in our attitudes? In our actions?

Is it a message as URGENT as the floodwaters racing down the Brisbane River? Or have we forgotten its POWER? Forgotten its URGENCY?

Is being changed by the message just a matter of OPINION, or taste? Like whether you wear a red shirt or a blue shirt? Doesn’t really make a difference? Or is it a matter of life and death?

It made a difference for the Apostle Paul and his co-workers. And I want to use Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica as a case study.

Acts 17 gives us the background. It tells the story of how Paul first turned up in Thessalonica, and went to the Jewish synagogue. And how he told them all about Jesus. How he was Israel’s Messiah. And how it had been God’s plan for Jesus to die and rise again. He proved it from the Scriptures, and he did it over three separate Sabbaths. And the result was THE MESSAGE WAS POWERFUL TO CHANGE. V4 says

4 Some of the Jews were PERSUADED and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

But that’s where the trouble begins. Because it’s not a popular decision. Plenty of the OTHER Jews are JEALOUS. And they race off to drag Paul to the courts. For turning people away from Judaism.

It’s the same sort of reaction converts to Christianity endure TODAY in many parts of the world. They’re ostracised, discriminated against, imprisoned, beaten, even PUT TO DEATH.

But God’s word is POWERFUL, and it convinces people, and gives them LIFE, DESPITE persecution like that.

And the Jews from Thessalonica are persecuting PAUL. He and Silas manage to escape to Berea, about 70km away. But the Jews don’t give up. Word reaches them where Paul’s ended up, so they chase him down to Berea, and try to start a riot THERE. Once again, Paul manages to escape. HE’S safe, but he’s left behind the brand new Christians in Thessalonica. They’re at the mercy of those zealots who’d chased him all over the countryside.

And before long, only a matter of MONTHS, he makes it to Corinth, where he sits down and writes a letter back to the church in Thessalonica. Because he wants to make sure they’re STANDING FIRM. That the persecutors haven’t got to them.

And that’s the letter of 1 Thessalonians we’re looking at today.

And what jumps out from the first two chapters is that GOD’S WORD’S BEEN POWERFULLY AT WORK.

Powerful in those delivering the message (2:1-12).

First, it’s been POWERFUL IN THOSE DELIVERING THE MESSAGE. Have a look there from v4 of ch 1.

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.

Paul’s MINISTRY was powerful because his MESSAGE was powerful. And God’s WORDS are powerful because God’s SPIRIT uses them to change people. He produced DEEP CONVICTION in the hearers. Who we’ll come back to in a moment.

But if you jump down to ch 2 you can see how the message was powerfully at work in Paul and his co-workers. V1.

2:1 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2 We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we DARED to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.

It makes all the difference when you’ve been entrusted with a powerful message to deliver. It meant Paul could show COURAGE. He didn’t care about opposition. His personal safety wasn’t a priority.

And because he trusted the power of the message, he didn’t have to jazz it up, develop a sales pitch. V3.

3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.

Or there in v5

5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed-God is our witness.

Paul had been entrusted with a powerful message, so he could present it TRANSPARENTLY. Trust the PRODUCT, rather than THE PITCH.

And he could do it with PURE MOTIVES, because it was his number one priority. Nothing else mattered. Pleasing PEOPLE counted for nothing. Building his own reputation, or empire didn’t matter. It was all about pleasing God, the one who’d appointed him to the task. V4.

we speak as men APPROVED BY GOD to be entrusted with the gospel. We are NOT TRYING TO PLEASE MEN BUT GOD, who tests our hearts.

God’s word had CHANGED Paul and his co-workers. They’d recognised God’s love and faithfulness, and so their response was to PLEASE GOD in everything they did.

ANOTHER change God’s word had caused in Paul and his co-workers was THEIR CHARACTER. God, by his Word, was making them more like Jesus. And that showed itself in the WAY they presented the message.

They were GENTLE like a mother with her children (v7). They didn’t push their own opinion. When you’re confident in your powerful message, you let the MESSAGE do the work.

There’s a saying of US President Teddy Roosevelt that fits “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” While he was talking about political policy, it can just as easily apply to EVANGELISM. When it’s THE POWERFUL MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL you’re speaking, you don’t NEED to shout it. You can be gentle and compassionate and quiet. And let the MESSAGE do the work.

And because the gospel was working in Paul and his co-workers, they treated the people as Jesus would. V8. They DELIGHTED to share their lives with the Thessalonians. It wasn’t just a JOB to them. There was a GENUINE LOVE. They weren’t TARGETS or PROJECTS, they were FAMILY.

And, v9, they worked HARD. Some people put in big hours at work, because they get PAID the big bucks. But OTHER people work night and day at something simply because THEY LOVE IT. Like a painting, or a craft, or reading a great book, or building some furniture.

Some people get a new computer game, and spend 24 hours STRAIGHT playing one level after another. Just to get to the end. They work HARD because they LOVE it.

And Paul and his co-workers LOVED the people. So they worked HARD. They didn’t want to be a burden as they shared the message. V9.

9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

“Night and day” probably means they worked normal jobs during the DAY to support themselves, so they could spend EVENINGS talking to people about Jesus. Burning the candle at both ends. You’ve got to LOVE it to do THAT.

And finally, the power of the message showed itself in the BLAMELESSNESS of Paul and his co-workers.

It’s the dodgy scam-artists who have to resort to tricks and cons. Because they know they’ve got nothing worth selling.

I was looking around at joining a gym a few weeks ago, and one gym gave me the big sales pitch. “If you JOIN TODAY, you’ll save the $200 joining fee.”

When I hear a deal like that, my first assumption is they’re trying to RUSH me. They don’t WANT me to think about it. To make an informed decision. Perhaps they’ve got something to hide.

In the end I went to ANOTHER gym where the girl showed me all the facilities, explained stuff to me, and then said, “Go away and THINK about it. You can see what we’ve got. Every gym’s different. Decide if we’re a good fit.”

And that’s the approach Paul takes. Because he’s CONFIDENT in the produce. Look there in v10.

10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and BLAMELESS we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

All in all, Paul’s message MADE A DIFFERENCE in his life. Let me ask you, What difference is the gospel making IN YOUR life?

I’m sure you’ll SAY it’s a valuable message, and it’s powerful. Even believe it with YOUR HEAD. But how’s that SHOWING itself in your character? In your attitudes to others? In your priorities? In how you pray, and what you pray FOR?

How does it show itself in the sorts of things you talk about during the break at church? In catching up with people who haven’t been around? If you believe the gospel has power to CHANGE, then PROVE it! Prove your confidence BY YOUR ACTIONS.

If it’s not making a difference in your life, maybe that’s why it’s not making a difference in the lives of the non-Christians you’re trying to share Jesus with. They’ve got to see it working IN YOU before they can trust that it will work for THEM.

Powerful in those receiving the message (2:13-16)

That’s the FIRST area the gospel is powerful in- those DELIVERING the message. But the whole reason Paul’s rejoicing. The whole reason he’s writing to the church in the first place. Is because the gospel’s been powerful in those who’ve RECEIVED it.

Back in ch 1, Paul’s CONVINCED God’s chosen the Thessalonians because (v5) the gospel came with POWER as well as words. That power was the Thessalonians’ UNSHAKEABLE CERTAINTY of the truth of the message. DEEP CONVICTION. Which was just as well, because they moved on in their Christian walk DESPITE SEVERE SUFFERING.

Paul had heard of the persecutions. The Jews had made life difficult. They couldn’t get to PAUL, so they took it out on the new Christians. But the power of the message was seen in their HEADS, their HANDS and their HEARTS.

With their HEADS, they were deeply convicted (v5). Determined to remain FIRM.

With their HANDS, v6, they became imitators of Paul and his co-workers, and of Jesus. The gospel changed THEIR WAY OF LIFE.

And with their HEARTS, they welcomed the message with JOY given by the Holy Spirit. From a human point of view, there was every reason to DESPAIR. Persecuted, ridiculed, alienated from their people, expelled from the synagogue, shunned and despised. Perhaps even beaten.

But God’s Spirit had given them life and hope. He’d given them peace and forgiveness. Reconciliation and purpose and contentment. He’d given them an ETERNAL security. And that all meant they were JOYFUL.

Give me JOY any day over HAPPINESS. They’re not the same.

Joy is FAR RICHER than happiness. Happiness depends on your external circumstances. But joy comes from somewhere ELSE. Joy brings a different perspective to your external circumstances. Even IN SPITE of them.

For the Christian that comes from the Holy Spirit. Who works through the power of the GOSPEL to remind us of OUR DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. How much we mean to God. How huge his grace towards us is. How undeserving we are. How dead we WERE. And how alive we ARE. And how rich his eternity for us will be.

And that’s the message that caused the Thessalonians to welcome the message with JOY.

But it wasn’t JUST good news. The way we might feel happy because we heard tomorrow would be SUNNY. But Paul’s news brings the change WITH IT. The news itself has the power to CHANGE. A bit more like a letter that arrives, not just telling you you’ve won the lottery, but giving you the account number and the password to ACCESS the money. The news is powerful to implement the change.

And the way it works with the gospel is explained over in ch 2 v13. The words are powerful to change because they’re GOD’S words. 2:13.

13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.

The message of the gospel isn’t someone’s opinion, or a sales pitch, or a technique for self-improvement. It’s the words of God himself.

God SPOKE and there was LIGHT. He SPOKE and land and sea came into being. He SPOKE and life entered Adam’s body.

And he speaks TODAY. He speaks about his Son. He speaks of sin and judgment. Of justice and grace. Of LIFE AND DEATH. He speaks, and eyes are opened. He speaks, and new life comes. He speaks, and lives are CHANGED.

And it worked that way with the Thessalonians. Paul KNEW the message was powerfully at work in them (2:14) because they’d CHANGED. They’d suffered for their faith, and STILL STOOD STRONG. V14.

you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, WHICH IS AT WORK IN YOU WHO BELIEVE. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You SUFFERED FROM YOUR OWN COUNTRYMEN the same things those churches suffered from the Jews,

When people look AT US. Do they see evidence of the gospel powerfully at work in us? Is it CHANGING us?

Unlike what SOME churches will teach, the evidence of God’s power at work in you ISN’T wealth or health. Paul wasn’t rejoicing because the Thessalonians were now the richest and fittest group of people in the city.

When people look at us, do they see evidence of the power of God’s word in us? Do they see people STANDING STRONG in the face of tragedy?

Do they see PATIENCE in the face of suffering or poverty?

Do they see STRENGTH and ENDURANCE in the face of sickness or relationship breakdown?

Do they see HOPE in the face of unemployment or financial insecurity?

Do they see A SELFLESS SERVICE AND GENEROSITY FOR OTHERS in the face of deep problems of our own?

THEY’RE the signs that God’s word is working powerfully in us.

And when we begin to SHOW that to the people around us, we’ll begin to see God’s word working powerfully in THEM, TOO.

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