Word of Commendation for Changed Lives – 1 Thess 1:1-5

commendationChristianity is about the power of the gospel to change lives. The death and resurrection of Christ are the keys to the gospel message and the keys to unleashing the power of God in our lives. Jesus died to deliver us from our sins and introduce us to a new life of holiness. We have been made a new creation and we are now growing to become more like Jesus Christ. The good news is that we died with Jesus Christ. And “As Christ was raised from the dead… so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). That is radical truth… life transforming reality. How do we know whether we are really a genuine believer or not??

Fake Christians… Hypocritical Christians… merely Professing Christians are deceived when they imagine that they have some form of personal relationship with Jesus Christ but without a Changed Life. Yet many evangelicals today teach such a powerless gospel. They expect very little in the way of the fruit of the Holy Spirit from those in their church. Sadly Christ will one day reject these satanic counterfeits and expose them as being outside of the kingdom of God. No fruit… No root / No changed life… No Union with Jesus Christ – it’s that simple.

It’s sad to see many genuine believers sit under the teaching of the bible for many years and yet grow so little in their faith and in their character. Why is that? Too much fascination with doctrinal truth and too little heart application and exercise of spiritual ministry. Christ did not produce armchair disciples. We should be here this morning because we want to be changed even more. Hopefully we can look back and see how God has been working in our life; but we are not satisfied. We have not arrived. We want to see more spiritual fruit. We want to be equipped for ministry. We find ourselves challenged as we try to live for Christ and witness to others during the week; we need to be built up and transformed.

The preaching of the gospel at Thessalonica by Paul and Silas and Timothy produced changed lives. Paul starts off this epistle of 1 Thessalonians with a Word of Commendation – assuring them that they have demonstrated themselves to be genuine believers by the fruit of their changed lives. They have responded admirably to the truth of God in a context of great pressure and persecution.

BIG IDEA:

CHANGED LIVES (THE MARK OF FAITHFUL DISCIPLES) SPUR THANKSGIVING BECAUSE THEY CONFIRM GOD’S ELECTION (AND OUR FAITH)

SIMPLE GREETING (:1)… THEN 3 INSIGHTS REGARDING CHANGED LIVES

(:1-5) Today: Changed Lives Confirm God’s Election

(:6-10) Next Week: Changed Lives Confirm Our Faith

(:1) SIMPLE GREETING

A. Author and Co-Laborers – Examples of Changed Lives and Partners in the Gospel Ministry

They have individually responded to the gospel and jointly labored in ministry to bring that same gospel message to Thessalonica

  • Dependence upon God
  • Need for one another

1. Author – “Paul

No secret how Jesus Christ intervened in the life of Saul the persecutor to turn him around literally on the road to Damascus; calling him to be the apostle to the Gentiles; to suffer great things for the sake of the gospel; church planter expert – laid out the model for others to follow – we talked about that model last week from Acts 17:1-9 as we looked at 7 Distinctives of an Effective, Godly Church Plant – (get message from website)

Not insisting on any special status or distinction here

2. Co-Laborers – presented as partners in the gospel ministry

Silvanus (Latinized form of Silas — same person) and Timothy” – not quite as dramatic testimonies – but requiring the same power and grace on the part of God

a. Silas – well known in the Jerusalem church

  • Paul chose him as his missionary companion for the 2nd missionary journey when he had his falling out with Barnabas over whether they should take John Mark (Acts 15:36-40) – so he was no slouch spiritually – very gifted – called a prophet
  • You probably get to know one another fairly well when you share a prison cell in Philippi – Acts 16:22-25 – singing duets with Paul from prison

b. Timothy – father was a Greek and mother a devout Christian Jew (Acts 16:1)

well spoken of by the brethren

  • Phil. 2:19-22 quite an endorsement from Paul
  • He had just returned to Paul at Corinth after checking on the status of the believers at Thessalonica

B. Recipients

1. Identified as to their Nature

to the church” – refers to the people… not the building

Ekklesia – called out assembly

Addresses the epistle to all of the saints, not just the leaders

2. Identified as to their Physical Location – simpler times back then – complex today

of the Thessalonians” – talking on Thurs about picking a name for this church;

Open to suggestions; college: Westerly Road Church – easier when you have a permanent building – your location is not going to change

3. Identified as to their Spiritual Location

In God the Father” – writing to a group of young believers

and the Lord Jesus Christ” – on the same level as God the Father

Great picture of the Trinity as you see the Holy Spirit referenced in vs.5

Ryrie: The oneness of the Father and Son as well as the oneness of believers with the Godhead is affirmed.

Stott: Living in, rooted in, drawing their life from…

C. Salutation

Grace to you and peace

Ryrie: Peace to us today means the absence of war; but in the Old Testament it meant harmony between man and God and the resultant wholeness and prosperity of the soul. As used here it of course has that Old Testament flavor with the Christian additive that the harmony was made possible through the death of Christ.

3 INSIGHTS REGARDING CHANGED LIVES:

I. (:2) THE INTERCONNECTION OF CHANGED LIVES – CHANGED LIVES BIND BELIEVERS TOGETHER IN THANKSGIVING EXPRESSED IN PRAYER

In his introduction to this epistle, the missionary team wants to express their bond of connectivity with the believers back in Thessalonica – what type of glue is holding them together; it is not out of sight, out of mind; the body of Christ mentality

A. Dominant Tone of Thanksgiving

We give thanks to God always for all of you

  • the entire missionary team feels this way – united in this
  • all the time – regardless of circumstances
  • for all of you – despite your individual quirkiness

Check ourselves – Do we need an attitude adjustment? Some Christians walk around all down in the mouth; minister to others and feed an attitude of thanksgiving to God for His working

3 Motivations for a Consistent pattern of Thanksgiving:

Anticipating Future Reward1 Thess 2:19-20For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” That’s why our present circumstances should never compromise our tone of thanksgiving to God; we live in light of eternity

Antidote for Anxiety – Key to experiencing the peace of God – cf. Phil. 4:6-7Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Context of fellowship in the gospel despite being in prison in Rome; despite relationship conflicts that need to be dealt with in the church between Euodia and Syntyche

Appropriate in every situation — Do you want to know what the will of God is for your life = Thanksgiving – 1 Thess 5:18In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” – Paul exemplified this; asks these young believers to follow his example – in context of persecution

Opposite = spirit of grumbling and complaining and lack of contentment and covetousness

What will bind us together is being thankful for one another = key to unity

B. Persistent Pattern of Prayer

making mention of you in our prayers

– Specific Intercession for their needs

Look at needs we have experienced in just one week

Jon – laid off this week

Sheree – serious physical problems – hospitalization

  • How are we doing in our prayers this past week?
  • What types of things and people are we making mention of before the throne of grace?

What will bind us together is praying for one another = key to unity

II. (:3) THE IDENTIFICATION OF CHANGED LIVES – CHANGED LIVES CAN BE IDENTIFIED BY THE FRUIT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

(Note the parallelism between vs. 3 and vv. 9-10)

A. The Fruit of Changed Lives = Evident to the Missionary Team —

constantly bearing in mind your…

These prayers were not mindless babble; not some incoherent language; offering up specific thanksgiving; making particular petition; focused and concentrated – not daydreaming

Christianity engages the mind

Should be evident whether or not someone is following after Christ – can’t always tell… but that should be the normal expectation; Timothy had been sent back for just that purpose – to see how they were doing and bring a report

B. The Fruit of Changed Lives = Only Produced by the Holy Spirit

Brand Awareness – it will always look like this

A strange thing about death is that it leads to lack of identification. The body gradually decomposes. Pretty soon one pile of ashes is indistinguishable from the next. All traces of identity have disappeared. Life is just the opposite. As life develops and matures it leads to more distinct identification. Lots of babies look very similar… but as you mature your features become more distinct. The same in the spiritual realm. As the spiritual life matures it becomes more and more identifiable. The common thread is the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. But the manifestations are very different. God allows us to tap our creativity in designing ways to please Him through godly character exercised in ministry towards others.

Cf. the Caterpillar brand – a lot invested so that people will be able to identify what is genuinely associated with Caterpillar and what is not – words like quality, strength, reliability, technological innovation

Whole group of people at a major corporation like Caterpillar dedicated to protecting and advancing the brand

Your advertising and campaigns center around this brand awareness

God wants to protect His Brand – He wants it to be recognizable

Satan wants to counterfeit it

Living for Jesus involves hard work; great effort to the point of exhaustion; disciplined life; managing priorities; effectiveness use of all that God has entrusted to you:

Time is precious – cannot be wasted

Gifts and abilities are precious – cannot be wasted

Money and material possessions are valuable – cannot be wasted

3 Distinctives of the Christian Brand: (Gal 5:22-23 – fruit of the Spirit)

Active Faith, Active Love, Active Hope

1. Work of Faith – work produced by faith

John 14:12He who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father

Study the Book of James to see what genuine faith looks like in action

What are we trusting God to accomplish? What effort are we expending in that direction because we believe God is at work? How are we stepping out in faith?

We need a facility in which to meet – we have to go after it – investigate… ask questions… see what door God will open

2. Labor of Love – labor motivated by love

Study the Book of 1 John to see what loving the brethren looks like in action

How are we practically showing love to one another? Someone is in the hospital… who is taking care of them and going to see them; someone is out of work… are we sensitive that their needs are being met

3. Steadfastness of Hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father

Study the Book of 1 Peter to see what it means to maintain a steadfast Hope and live in light of eternity despite the pressures of a world that would like to quench your Hope

How solid is our hope or are we living on shaky ground?

Piper: Those are the two kinds of texts you find in the Bible concerning endurance. [ SHALL passages and MUST passages] The one kind assures us that we SHALL endure because we are saved. The other kind urges us to endure so that we will be saved. Endurance is a gift and endurance is a duty. And these are not in conflict. When dealing with a holy and sovereign God these are not contradictions. We MUST endure to the end for he is holy; and we SHALL endure to the end, for he is sovereign.


(:9-10) (PARALLEL) Evident to Other Believers — “For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you…”

1. Turned to God from idols

2. To serve a living and true God

3. To wait for His Son from heaven

Whom He raised from the dead

That is Jesus

Who delivers us from the wrath to come


2 phases of changed lives:

  • the initial change in response to the gospel proclamation = conversion
  • the ongoing change in modeling the truth = sanctification and discipleship

III. (:4-5) THE INITIATION OF CHANGED LIVES – THE INITIAL CHANGE IN RESPONSE TO THE GOSPEL PROCLAMATION CONFIRMS GOD’S ELECTION

– What produces changed lives

– What is the effect of changed lives

Knowing…” look at all of the references in this section to the mind – what we know is important… as long as we act on it

A. The Subjects of Election

a. Brethren – family identity – Paul uses this intimate expression 21 times in 1&2 Thess — Who begat who into the family? God caused us to be born again into His family – “born again by the will of God” – not by our will

John 1:12-13But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God

Ultimately, we are not in God’s family because we chose Him but because He first chose us.

We want to experience that sense of brotherhood and sisterhood in our church

b. Beloved by God – Initiated by the Love God set on His – we cannot explain His rationale – 1 John 4:10In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the Propitiation for our sins

4:19 “We love because He first loved us

Isn’t it great to be loved by God?

B. The Explanation of Election (“His choice of you“)

in what sense and on what basis did God choose us?

4 Perspectives to help us understand the Doctrine of Election:

Background of Election = Election of the nation of Israel – Deut. 7:6-9 – chosen out of the world to be a holy people dedicated to obeying God and enjoying His favor and faithfulness

Basics of Election

  • a deliberate Sovereign choice by God independent of any merit or worth on the part of man
  • involves choosing specific individuals and not choosing others
  • took place in the beginning before the foundation of the world
  • renders our eternal salvation secure
  • does not compromise the balancing principle of human responsibility or of the free offer of the gospel to all men
  • is consistent with the justice of God

Bias against Election = “That isn’t fair” – answered by Romans 9

Does everyone have equal opportunity to believe and equal access to God’s working in their life so it all hinges on their decision? Does God treat everyone the same?

Has led to some false views of election

– Election based on God’s Foreknowledge – looked ahead and saw who would believe

1 Pet. 1:1-2 “who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father

Don’t deny the causative relationship – We come to faith in Christ because we are the elect… not the other way around

– Election based on God just choosing Christ – we become in Christ by our choice of Faith

– Beauty of Election = the only way any of us would have ever come to know the Lord Jesus; You must understand Election from a foundation of believing in the doctrine of Total Depravity

we were enemies in need of reconciliation with the Almighty God of the universe;

we were dead and unable to respond;

we were lost and unable to find our way;

we were blind and unable to see;

we were in bondage and unable to escape

2 Pet. 1:10Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble

MacArthur: Though God is certain who His elect are and has given them an eternally secure salvation… the Christian might not always have assurance of his salvation. Security is the Holy Spirit revealed fact that salvation is forever. Assurance is one’s confidence that he possesses that eternal salvation. In other words, the believer who pursues the spiritual qualities mentioned above guarantees to himself by spiritual fruit that he was called.

C. The Efficacy of Election – The Fourfold Testimony That Converted the Elect

1. Proclamation of the Genuine Gospel Message – “for our gospel did not come to you in word only” – But not only in Words

Assumed that it did come in Word – not just in lifestyle or by way of example;

It is good to give out solid tracts; to distribute Gideon bibles…

The words are important… but they are not everything

The Next 3 = all involve the working of the Holy Spirit through the proclaimers

1. God’s Power at work (cf. Rom.1:16-18)

but also in power” — not timidity but boldness in both delivery and effect

No power in the messengers – we are just earthen vessels

2 Cor. 4:7 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.”

Are we convinced of the power of the Gospel?

Psychology doesn’t offer the power to change lives – heard a presentation years back from a Towson psychiatrist – he admitted how hard it was to change people’s attitudes and behavior – even if they wanted help – I liked his joke about psychologists:

“Have you heard how many psychologists it takes to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb must really want to change.”

2. God’s Presence at work – in the person of the Holy Spirit

and in the Holy Spirit” – very special kind of power

Have we abandoned the power of the Holy Spirit to the charismatic movement?

They expect the presence of God to manifest Himself – they expect great things – maybe not always the right type of manifestations – but what is our expectation?

3. God’s Preachers at work – God’s instruments

and with full conviction” – much assurance; much confidence; certainty

the confidence of the missionary team in their preaching

Rom. 10 – Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God – requires preachers!

Is. 55:11So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

Transition: The changed lives of the gospel proclaimers are consistent with God’s election (their motives, manner of ministry, etc.)

just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake

Transparent in their character and conduct – important since they were under attack for their motives and methods – taking this opportunity to defend themselves

Very important verse for church planters –

– Do we have lives that are consistent with the Christian Brand: Faith, Love, Hope –

– Are we involved directly in the lives of the people so that they really know what type of person we are?

– Have we proven ourselves as we have interacted with them or have we proven to be inconsistent?

– Are we living unselfishly – for the sake of the flock; or selfishly – for our own interests?

Stott: No church can spread the gospel with any degree of integrity, let alone credibility, unless it has been visibly changed by the gospel it preaches. We need to look like what we are talking about. It is not enough to receive the gospel and pass it on; we must embody it in our common life of faith, love, joy, peace, righteousness and hope.

CONCLUSION:

Changed lives is what a relationship with Jesus Christ is all about.

When God reaches out to minister to people and they don’t respond in genuine repentance and faith and their lives are not transformed that grieves the heart of God.

Is 5 – the song of the vineyard – what more could God do?? The problem is not with God or with the need for more revelation. The problem is the hardness of our heart.

But when people like the believers at Thessalonica respond to the gospel, it is a cause for great Thanksgiving to the glory of God!

CHANGED LIVES SPUR THANKSGIVING BECAUSE THEY CONFIRM GOD’S ELECTION


DEVOTIONAL QUESTIONS:

  1. How could this relatively young group of believers have progressed in the faith so quickly that Paul could commend them so highly? From whatever point I am in my spiritual life, how quickly can I grow if I am truly a disciple of Christ in every respect?
  2. Why did Paul put such a heavy emphasis on God’s election and yet always carefully balance that precious truth with references to human responsibility? Do I shrink away from proclaiming either side of this dynamic or become unbalanced in some type of soapbox diatribe? How can I know whether I am truly one of the elect?
  3. Who have been the key examples that God has used in my life to impact my growth? How faithful have I been to reproduce their example and become imitators of them and of the Lord? Am I discouraged by suffering or do I find the joy of the Holy Spirit to be my strength?
  4. What type of impact am I having on the spiritual growth of others?

QUOTES FOR REFLECTION:

Life Application Commentary: This is a short introduction compared to Paul’s other letters. Here he did not distinguish himself from these co-workers, even though he was an apostle and they were not… This probably indicates that the relationship between Paul and the Thessalonians was strong and that they were not doubting his apostleship.

Stott:To whatever denomination or tradition we may belong, the doctrine of election causes us difficulties and questions. To be sure, it is a truth which runs through Scripture, beginning with God’s call of Abraham… Moreover, the topic of election is nearly always introduced for a practical purpose, in order to foster assurance (not presumption), holiness (not moral apathy),, humility (not pride) and witness (not lazy selfishness). But still no explanation of God’s election is given except God’s love. (Deut. 7:7-8)…

Here, then, is Paul’s threefold delineation of the church. It is a community beloved and chosen by God in a past eternity, rooted in God and drawing its life from him, and exhibiting this life of God in a faith which works, a love which labors and a hope which endures. What stand’s out of Paul’s vision of the church is its God-centeredness. He does not think of it as a human institution, but as the divine society. No wonder he could be confident in its stability!

MacArthur: A sure evidence of the Thessalonians’ election was that they submitted to a new Master. Salvation meant a decisive break with pagan religion and a redirecting of one’s whole life. The Thessalonians abandoned all polytheism and embraced only God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul expressed this change as their having turned to God from idols. Turned is from the verb epistrepho, which is used in the New Testament to indicate the fact that in the sinner’s conversion there is a turning in the absolute opposite direction (Acts 9:35; 11:21; 26:18, 20; 2 Cor. 3:16; cf. Luke 1:16; James 5:20). Such conversion entails repentance, a turning from idols and in faith submitting to the Savior alone (Acts 20:21). Such turning is far more than merely changing one’s belief about who Christ is – it is a complete reversal of allegiance, from idols to serve a living and true God.

Hiebert: In looking back over this summary statement of the remarkable testimony concerning the Thessalonians, one is impressed with the richness of its compressed theology about God, His Son, and the Christian life. Concerning God it indicates that He is a living person, is truly God, has a Son, raised Him from the dead, is the proper recipient of Christian service, and has wrath against sin. Concerning Jesus Christ it indicates His dual nature as the God-man, His death and resurrection, by implication His ascension, His expected return from heaven, and His delivering of believers from wrath. Concerning the Christian life it teaches the need for conversion as a definite break with past evil, that Christian living is characteristically a life of serving God, and that the Christian has the living hope of deliverance from the wrath of judgment through the returning Christ.

Piper: Regarding how it is that hope produces endurance…

Let us probe the connection between hope and endurance by asking a very crucial and practical question: are Christians supposed to endure in the path of obedience in order to inherit the blessings of heaven; or are Christians supposed to endure because the blessings of heaven are certainly and infallibly theirs?…

The SHALLS of scripture do three things.

1) They turn us away from all self-reliance and boasting (1 Corinthians 4:7) and direct us to the sovereign power of God. “He will cause us to endure!”

2) The SHALLS of Scripture turn us away from all legalism — the thought that we could ever earn the heavenly reward. It was bought by Christ. It is a free gift and cannot be earned. Endurance is not a way of paying for salvation. It is a way of experiencing grace (1 Peter 4:10-11; Galatians 15:10) and living by faith (Galatians 2:20).

3) The shalls of Scripture give confidence and peace to the broken and contrite who cast themselves on Jesus for forgiveness and help.

The MUSTS of Scripture do three things.

1) They remind us that the miracle of conversion is not a legal fiction. You can’t be converted to Christ and have everything stay the way it was. There MUST be a change — a change that endures. There must be the “work of faith, the labor of love and the endurance of hope.” “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh” (Galatians 5:24).

2) The MUSTS of Scripture direct our attention to the exceedingly great value of the reward of heaven. If we must endure, and if endurance comes from hope, then I must get my heart free from the love of the world and set it on the value of the things above so that my hope in God will be kindled and I will have the power to endure in obedience to Christ.

3) The MUSTS of Scripture provide us with a way of testing whether we have any right to claim the SHALLS for ourselves. To whom do the SHALLS of Scripture belong? They belong to those who are broken by the musts of Scripture and who fly to Christ for forgiveness and help.

So the SHALLS of Scripture give the Christian life its peace and security and stability, and the MUSTS of Scripture give the Christian life its urgency and earnestness and mission. The SHALLS base the Christian life on the sovereign grace and power of God. The MUSTS remind us of the necessity to depend on this grace and power.

So in the end both the SHALLS and the MUSTS of Scripture point us to the same thing: they point us away from ourselves to the sovereign grace and power of God. The SHALLS do it directly with promises of grace. The MUSTS do it indirectly by commanding us to do things we can’t do without grace.

And so when you read in Scripture that God SHALL cause you to endure (Jeremiah 32:40), the aim is that, with all peace and joy, you would set your hope on the sovereign grace of God, and in that hope find the strength to endure. And when you read in Scripture that you MUST endure (Luke 21:19), the aim is the same: that, with all urgency and earnestness, you would set your hope on the sovereign grace of God and in that hope find the strength to endure.

The SHALLS of Scripture are sweet and reassuring calls to hope in God. The MUSTS of Scripture are urgent and earnest calls to hope in God.

The MUSTS are not telling us to endure in our own strength. And the SHALLS are not telling us that we don’t have to endure. Both the SHALLS and the MUSTS are telling us: HOPE IN GOD! HOPE IN GOD! HOPE IN GOD! For this is the great source of power to endure in the path of obedience.

If you put your hope in the sovereign grace and power of God and not in your own strength, or in the approval of others or in money or in fleeting pleasures or in status, then when the limelight shifts off your ministry and your life, and the praise of man is gone, and the glamour of self-denial evaporates and all the supports of men crumble, then you SHALL endure — with the endurance of hope.

Mayhue: Characteristics of the Thessalonian Church

1. Committed Church

they labored long and hard on Christ’s behalf

2. Submitted Church

imitated the faith of their spiritual father and his associates… even in much tribulation

3. Reproducing Church

4. Repentant Church

had turned from the false to the true God in their salvation

5. Serving Church

committed to serve God rather than Mammon

6. Patient Church

were looking for the blessed hope

7. Accepting Church

responded to the power of God’s Word

8. Persecuted Church

9. Staunch Church

standing firm” – stood their ground without compromise

10. God-Pleasing Church

11. Loving-the-brethren Church

12. Praying Church