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1 THESSALONIANS 1:1-3 - A Church to Thank God For

Real Gospel for Real People  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:14
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If we want to be a church that we can thank God for, we must cultivate faith, hope and love in Christ

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Introduction

Wouldn’t you like to be the kind of people that people outside the church think you are? Think about it for a moment—what is one reason outsiders like to give when you invite them to visit here? “Oh, if I showed up there, the roof would cave in!” “Oh, I don’t belong with ‘church people...’” There’s this assumption on the part of unchurched people that they wouldn’t fit in at church because everyone there has it all together! That “church people” have their lives all sorted out, everything works, they don’t have any bad habits or failures; church people have life figured out, and so they tend to look down on people who don’t.
Now, of course, we don’t want to be that kind of “church people”—judgmental and pompous about our spiritual perfections. In fact, if anything, we are acutely aware of how far we are from “spiritual perfection”, aren’t we? Over the years, this has led me to start describing our fellowship here at Bethel Baptist as “The Island Of Misfit Toys”—we’re the Charlie in the Box and grape-jelly squirt gun and train with square wheels and doll that cries ice cubes—we’re not the group to look down on anyone who has a mess of a life!
But at the same time, we aren’t a congregation that revels in being the polka-dotted elephant of churches. We don’t want to be a church that takes some sort of weird pride in ourselves for being “misfits”—we want to be the kind of church that the Thessalonian church was. The Apostle Paul could say about them that
1 Thessalonians 1:2 (ESV)
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,
This is the kind of church that we want to be, isn’t it? We want to be a church to thank God for!
Now, I want to say this next part carefully, because it’s typically the kind of thing that a preacher doesn’t really say out loud. But these are days in which we can’t afford to be coy or to speak in insubstantial generalities. We need to speak plainly. Some of you have recently started attending here at Bethel because you are looking for something that you have not found in other churches you have attended. And I hasten to say at this juncture what many of you have already heard me say about other congregations and other ministries and other churches that you may have been involved in— “Not my circus; not my monkeys!” I have plenty to answer for before God someday for this church family; I certainly don’t need to be throwing my two cents in about anyone else’s pastorate or congregation or church.
So what we are about to dive into here in this passage is not about any other church that you have attended. This is about what we want this church to be. If you have come here recently—or if you have been a member here for decades—you want to belong to a church that you can thank God for. And here in our text Paul lays out exactly why he thanks God for the church in Thessalonica. And so here is the way we can say it this morning:
A church to thank God for is a church that cultivates GOSPEL-rooted VIRTUE
These virtues are spelled out in verse 3:
1 Thessalonians 1:3 (ESV)
3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the Apostle Paul, these three virtues were the three pillars of a church to thank God for. Over and over in the New Testament he structures his exhortations to churches around faith, hope and love:
1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV)
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Romans 5:1-2,5 (ESV)
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.... 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Galatians 5:5–6 (ESV)
5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
And here in our text Paul grounds his thankfulness for the Thessalonian church on the same three virtues. A church to thank God for is

I. A Church with a faith that WORKS (cf. Acts 17:4ff)

In verse 3, Paul says he and Silas and Timothy
1 Thessalonians 1:3 (ESV)
3 [remember] before our God and Father your work of faith...
Every year up at the Sykesville fairgrounds there is an exhibition of antique farm tractors. It’s entertaining for us because one of the tractors on display is a vintage 1950’s-era John Deere Model B—it’s perfectly preserved, pristine paint job and authentic upholstered seat, shiny clutch drum, working headlamps—a beautiful specimen of a 70-year old tractor.
Well, we have a John Deere B in our barn that Dad has been using for as long as I remember. It doesn’t look anything like the show model at the fair—because it is a tractor that works. No shiny paint job or perfectly tuned engine—just a tractor that pulls its weight and does the job.
Beloved, there are far too many people who go to church every Sunday with the equivalent of a show tractor—they polish up their faith and put it on display on Sunday, but other than that it is sitting in the shed, ignored and unnecessary until the next time there is a show to take it to. A church full of that kind of “faith” is not a church to thank God for.
A church to thank God for is a church full of people who aren’t just coming to show off their “faith” once a week—a church to thank God for is a church full of people whose faith has been at work all week! A working faith isn’t just for show--
It TRANSFORMS your heart (cp. Acts 17:4; 1 Thess. 2:14)
Paul is rejoicing at how the Thessalonians have been changed by their faith in Christ—when Paul went into the synagogue and presented the Good News of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah,
Acts 17:3–4 (ESV)
3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.
—it changed their lives. They could not go back to their previous way of life; they had been transformed from the inside out. Instead of being conformed to the world, they were transformed by the renewal of their minds and hearts. Their faith was not just for “show”; as we’ll see in a moment, their faith worked in them to produce changes that set them at odds with the rest of the city:
1 Thessalonians 2:14 (ESV)
14 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,
Paul rejoiced that the Thessalonians had a working faith, because he could see the way it transformed their hearts. And consider also how Paul was gladdened by the Thessalonians’ working faith—that transformation of their hearts was a great comfort to him. This is another characteristic of a working faith;
It ENCOURAGES one another
Paul was greatly encouraged to see the Thessalonian church’s living and active faith. This is due in part to the fact that he had to leave town in a hurry, being driven out by enemies of the Gospel. But seeing their perseverance and working faith was a great joy and comfort for him:
1 Thessalonians 2:17, 19-20 (ESV)
17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face… 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.
A church family that exhibits this kind of living, active, working faith—faith that they clearly live in every day, faith that transforms their every day lives—is faith that greatly encourages everyone who sees it. A church with faith that works is a church to thank God for.
A church to thank God for is a church that cultivates Gospel-rooted virtue. It is a church with a faith that works, and see also in our text that it is

II. A Church with a love that LABORS (cf. Acts 17:9)

1 Thessalonians 1:3 (ESV)
3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love...
A working faith—follow me closely here—produces work! This is the point of the book of James, that “faith without works is dead”—when your faith is a working faith, it will put you to work! As we like to say, we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone—the sign of a living, working faith in your life is that it produces loving labor.
The Greek word for “labor” here indicates troublesome labor, hard work, sacrificial work on behalf of the one you love. A church to thank God for is a church that will
Strive in our love for ONE ANOTHER
Paul thanks God for the sacrificial labor that the Thessalonian church carried out on his behalf: When the city broke out in a riot over the accusations of treason leveled against Paul, Silas and Timothy, the city magistrates made the church pay an indemnity against any further trouble Paul and his friends might cause~
Acts 17:9 (ESV)
9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
See how the Thessalonian’s love for Paul and his associates caused them to sacrifice—they paid a fine in order to allow them to leave the city. They didn’t hesitate to put their resources, their money, their energy to the aid of their brothers. Their working faith led them to sacrifice for each other out of their love for one another.
That is a church to thank God for, isn’t it? A church that willingly and joyfully gives of itself for one another. A family that doesn’t withhold good things from each other, but is glad to give of their own substance for one another—Paul had this very same delight in the Thessalonians themselves, as he writes in Chapter 2:
1 Thessalonians 2:8 (ESV)
8 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.
A church family that loves each other so dearly as to be ready to give their own selves to each other is a church to thank God for. Working faith leads us to strive in our love for each other, and
Strive in our love for GOD
Is there any better congregation than one that is going hard after God every week? Is there any more powerful season of worship and prayer and attention to the Scriptures than in the midst of a people who will give anything to know God better, to sharpen our love for Him, to magnify His glory in our every day experiences, to place ourselves at His feet to command us as He will by His Spirit? A working faith produces a laboring love that is driven to love God as much as we can in this life as we wait for the life to come when our labors will be ended and we will find fresh ways to love Him every day throughout all eternity. And what a blessing to find yourself a part of a church family like that!
A church that cultivates Gospel-rooted virtue is a church to thank God for—it is a church with a faith that works, a church with a love that labors, and it is

III. A Church with a hope that ENDURES (cf. Acts 17:5-7)

1 Thessalonians 1:3 (ESV)
3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope...
We read earlier in Acts 17 that the church in Thessalonica was born in the midst of a great deal of turmoil and opposition. When the new believers came to faith in Christ as a result of Paul’s preaching in the synagogue, it caused an uproar:
Acts 17:5–7 (ESV)
5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
It’s interesting to note, in light of our present political and social upheaval, that our brothers and sisters in First Century Thessalonica had the same charge leveled against them: “They are acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another King, Jesus!” Christians today are accused of wanting to make America a Christian nation (which, of course, is exactly what Jesus told us to do when He said in Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...). Unlike our present day, however, there is no indication in Acts 17 that the Thessalonian believers ever tried to deny that Jesus was king over Caesar!
The church in Thessalonica was born out of persecution and suffering—being dragged before the authorities and falsely accused of crimes against the state. But that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces hope.
And as that hope works in us,
It makes us a PATIENT people (cp. Romans 8:25)
Hope makes for a steadfast people, a people who can wait to see God’s promises revealed. As Christopher Dawson once put it, “The Christian church lives in the light of eternity, and so can afford to be patient”. As Paul would put it in Romans 8--
Romans 8:25 (ESV)
25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
The Thessalonians were thrown around in all the turmoil of a culture and a ruling class that didn’t want them around, that wanted to eject them or silence them or at the very least fine them out of existence. But they were a patient people—Paul could thank God for them because of the steadfastness of their hope.
An enduring hope makes us a patient people, and
It makes us a CONFIDENT people
The Thessalonians weren’t cowed by the opposition they suffered, they weren’t intimidated or threatened by being dragged in front of the Roman authorities. Paul says here in our text that he thanked God for their confidence in the face of opposition. That’s not to say they didn’t have questions about what God was going to do in the future—Paul spends time in this letter and the next assuring them of God’s plan for His return and the part they would play in it someday—but they were a church that was marked by confidence in their hope.
There are so many Christians today marked not by confidence but by fear. Afraid of the government, afraid of getting “cancelled”, afraid of the IRS, afraid of China, afraid of Democrats, and on it goes.
But the Scriptures say that that fear does not come from God:
2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)
7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
God calls His people to be marked by confidence for the days that lie ahead—not to cower, but to look ahead with expectation of how He will accomplish His purposes for His Kingdom. And a church marked by that kind of confidence and patience in steadfast hope is a church to thank God for.
And that confidence does not come from braggadocio or some inflated sense of our own ability to meet challenges—an arrogant church is not a church to thank God for! But a church to thank God for is one that roots its confidence in the same place Paul said the Thessalonians did:
1 Thessalonians 1:3 (ESV)
3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
A church to thank God for is a church that is fully confident for the future because it believes the promises of Jesus Christ! A confidence and steadfastness of hope that comes from believing Jesus when He said that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him (Matt. 28:18) and that He will reign until He has put every enemy under His feet (1 Cor 15:25), and that
Daniel 7:14 (ESV)
14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
A church that you can thank God for is a church that grounds its confidence in the reign and authority of Jesus Christ. So be that church—put away that fear and pessimism, stop feeding on the fear and division and hatred that the media (on both sides) are feeding you. You serve the King Who reigns now, and Who is in the process of bringing all of His enemies under His feet. And so you can afford to be patient in hardships, you can afford to be confident in the days He is leading you into. Look with joyful expectation on the way that Christ will bring His Kingdom to bear through your faithful, confident, patient declaration of the Good News of His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin and steadfast hope for eternal life!
A church that you can thank God for is a church whose labors of love come from the sacrificial love they have received in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to you, trading His riches for your poverty so that you might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He came to take on your sin and give you His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21), He came to suffer your penalty on the Cross so that you could go free (Matthew 27:26). This is the way Christ labored in love for you, and in the same way you demonstrate Christ’s love for one another—
1 Corinthians 12:26 (ESV)
26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Just as Christ took on your burdens to free you of them, so you
Galatians 6:2 (ESV)
2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
A church family you can be thankful for is a church that grounds its labors of love for one another on the work of Christ who sacrificed Himself for us. So be that church—be known as a people who do not hesitate to take on someone else’s suffering so that they can have relief. To gladly trouble yourself with their troubles so that they can get out from under them. To give up your time with your family for the sake of the lonely one who has no family so they will not be alone. A church that grounds its labors of love in the substitutionary work of Christ is a church to thank God for!
Do you want Bethel Baptist Church to be a church you can thank God for? Then make it your aim that this church will be a place filled not just with “show tractors” of a polished and painted Christianity that looks good from a distance but doesn’t work itself out in real life.
This is way too important not to be clear about: If your Christianity is composed of nothing more than faithful church attendance and lots of Bible knowledge and a bunch of Instagram posts of Scripture verses or “God, Faith, Family” t-shirts and everything else necessary to project an image of being a Christian, but your heart is full of lust and malice and bitterness and envy and pride, if you can put on a real good show of Christianity on Sunday mornings but don’t give religion a second thought through the rest of the week, if you are not daily hungering and thirsting after the righteousness God has promised in Jesus Christ, if you have no desire to seek after Him or fight your sin or increase His glory in your life or the lives of those around you, if knowing Christ and making Him known has no place in your affections or thoughts, then you will make this place a church to be ashamed of.
You cannot build a church to thank God for out of people whose “faith” does nothing in their lives. Because those are the people who will come to the Last Day and stand before our Lord and boast about all the good spiritual work they had done—all of their mighty works, their preaching, their spiritual warfare—only to hear Him say
Matthew 7:23 (ESV)
23 ...‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
And so let me plead with you this morning—it doesn’t matter how long you have been here, it doesn’t matter how fine a Christian image you have projected. If you have been going through the motions of a Christian testimony that has never actually worked in your heart, if you have gotten by because you’ve used all the right jargon and made all the right statements about salvation in Christ but don’t actually believe any of it, if your “faith” makes absolutely no difference in the way you live your life outside of these walls and outside of this hour, you need to repent of that hypocrisy before it’s too late. Come and talk to me, come and talk to another one of the elders, talk to another member. For the sake of your never-dying soul, don’t turn away from this opportunity to make sure that you have a living, active, working faith grounded in the person and work of your Savior, Jesus Christ.
BENEDICTION
Ephesians 3:20–21 (ESV)
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

What are some characteristics that people outside of church tend to assign to “church people?” In what ways are those characterizations inaccurate? What are some ways that believers might (even unintentionally) reinforce those stereotypes?
What kinds of things do people look for when they are searching for a church to attend? What are some good reasons to choose a particular church? What are some unwise reasons?
What are the three “cardinal virtues” of the Thessalonian church that Paul says he thanks God for? Which of these three do you feel is most evident in our church’s life? Which of these do you think may be lacking?
Spend some time this week praying for Bethel Baptist Church using 1 Thessalonians 1:3 as your pattern. Thank God for where we are cultivating Gospel-rooted virtues, and pray that He will continue to grow these virtues in our church life as well as your own!
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