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1 THESSALONIANS 1:4-10 - No Way To Hide It

Real Gospel for Real People  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:01
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A regenerate church is a church whose testimony will not be hidden by any enemy of the Gospel

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Introduction

Last semester I was giving a tour of campus to the Veterans Affairs representatives for Clearfield County (I’ve said before one of my favorite parts of my job at Penn State is working with our veteran and military-connected students). At one point we walked into a room and there was one student there, working with a staff member. I had never met the student before, but one of the VA reps introduced herself to him and said, “You’re a veteran, aren’t you?” He smiled, and said, “Why yes, I am!” And they got to talking about what benefits he had, and how she might help.
Afterwards, at lunch, she mentioned that encounter, saying that she could always tell someone who’s been in the military. The way they talk, the way they carry themselves, all kinds of little things. If you have a military background, you know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you? The training, experiences and skills that you gained in the service have transformed you to the point where you can no longer “blend in”--you will always stand out like those undercover FBI agents at the January 6th rally!
This is what Jesus was talking about in the passage from the Sermon on the Mount that we read earlier--a city on a hill cannot be hidden. Paul is saying the same thing here as he writes to the church in Thessalonica:
1 Thessalonians 1:8–9 (ESV)
8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
In a day and age when it seems like so many churches struggle to make the Gospel known, or have a hard time seeing their faith impact the world around them, we read here of a church that couldn’t avoid making a Gospel-saturated impact on their world! Paul is saying here that the Thessalonians made his job easy!— “We need not say anything!”
Who here would not want the Apostle Paul to say that about our church? In a world where the enemies of Christ and His Gospel are working overtime to obliterate His light, what would it mean to be a church whose light cannot be hidden? If a church that cultivates Gospel-rooted virtues is a church to thank God for, how much more would we thank God for making us a people whose testimony to the Gospel and hope in Christ cannot be prevented from reaching our neighbors, our town, our county, our state?
This is what Paul is describing here in our text—and so what I aim to show you from God’s Word this morning is that
The LIGHT of a REGENERATE church cannot be HIDDEN from the world
What Paul is describing in these verses is a church that is composed of men and women who have been regenerated by God’s Spirit. In John 3, Jesus describes it as being “born again”, and in Titus 3:5 it is described as “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”. Regeneration is
REGENERATION: The TRANSFORMATION of a person’s spiritual condition from DEATH to LIFE through the work of the HOLY SPIRIT.
The work God does in the New Birth—in regeneration—transforms a person. And that transformation produces visible results in their life. And when a church is made up of regenerate people, that New Birth produces results that cannot be hidden.
In verses 4-5 we see the first characteristic of a regenerate church—the actual foundation of that new birth is

I. GENUINE Conversion (1 Thess. 1:4-5)

1 Thessalonians 1:4–5 (ESV)
4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction...
Paul says that he knows the Thessalonian church is a regenerate church because
The WORD came with POWER (cp. James 1:22-24)
We often like to talk about how a church must be a “Gospel-preaching” church, and that it is important to find a church that “preaches the Gospel”. Amen and amen—but Paul is saying something more here; not just that a church has a preacher that declares the Word, but a membership that delights to obey the Word! A church whose light cannot be hidden is a church where the Gospel goes forth in power to transform lives.
It is so easy for us to slip into the kind of response to the Gospel that James writes about in his epistle:
James 1:22–24 (ESV)
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
There are far too many congregations full of people that sit serenely under faithful preaching of the Word, nodding along at all the right moments and murmuring “Amen” at opportune times that, as soon as the service ends, they head home and promptly forget all about anything that happened at church. The Gospel proclaimed to them about their sin and the forgiveness of Christ and their call to holiness and discipleship means no more to them than the spam email that they clean out of their inbox every week.
But a church that has been transformed by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit delights in the Word, and seeks to be impacted by it. I have a dear friend who used to post pictures of his Sunday outfit every week on Facebook (he’s a character, to be sure). But I love the way he captioned his posts—every week, he’d say “I’m off to hear the Gospel”. I love that—that’s the way we should look forward to every time we gather for Sunday worship: “I’m off to hear the Gospel; I’m off to be transformed by the power of the Word of God in my life! I want to consider again how the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ fundamentally impacts every square inch of my living! When the Word comes to a church with that kind of power, that is a church whose light cannot be hidden.
Paul says that he knows the Thessalonians are born again because the Word came with power, and because
The SPIRIT came with CONVICTION (cf. v. 9)
1 Thessalonians 1:5 (ESV)
5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
Jesus said that the Spirit would “Convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). The Thessalonians were not the type to struggle against the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. When God’s Word came to them in power and the Holy Spirit uncovered their need for repentance and growth in holiness, they didn’t kick against His conviction or rationalize their sin or try to hold on to those evil behaviors and lusts:
1 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV)
9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
One of Satan’s favorite temptations to deploy against believers is to get them to hold every proclamation of the Word at arm’s length, so to speak. We are particularly good at it in our own neighborhood of Christianity where we focus on exegetical, propositional, expository preaching. Because we encourage members to dig into the Scriptures for themselves and take advantage of study Bibles and Bible study software and apps and you name it—all of that is a very good thing, and may their tribe increase.
But when you take all that ability to study the Word for yourself and turn it around to deflect the conviction of God’s Spirit so that you never have to confront your sin (“Well, the Greek word there can also mean...” “Well John Flavel says something entirely different about that verse...”), then you are kicking against the conviction that God brings into your life to make you holy.
Paul says that when the Thessalonians were confronted by their need to repent, they didn’t equivocate or temporize or contort themselves so they could continue loving their idols—they turned from them. They walked away from those false alternatives to God, and served Him alone. And anything that got between them and God—money, hobbies, work, relationships, anything—was abandoned in order to serve God alone.
The Thessalonian church demonstrated that they were a regenerate church through their genuine conversion to God from idols. And as Paul goes on in verse 6 we see the second characteristic of a regenerate church is

II. A DILIGENT Walk (1 Thess. 1:6)

1 Thessalonians 1:6 (ESV)
6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
The Greek word we translate “imitators” here in verse 6 is where we get our English word “mimic”—the church in Thessalonica were serious about their growth in their faith, and so they sought examples to follow. A church that is walking diligently in their faith is a church that
Seeks to be DISCIPLED by those who FOLLOW Christ (cp. 1 Corinthians 11:1)
Paul says that they sought to be “imitators of us and of the Lord”—this is our guide for how to choose our mentors in the faith. Paul says much the same thing in 1 Corinthians 11:1:
1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV)
1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
A mentor worth imitating is a mentor who is clearly imitating Christ. There are a lot of teachers out there who offer “Christian” teaching, but they themselves don’t show evidence of imitating Jesus. The Thessalonians weren’t interested in being discipled by or imitating just anyone—they wanted to make sure that they were imitating someone who would make them more like Christ Himself.
And Paul goes on to describe the specific way that they became imitators of Christ at the end of verse 6:
1 Thessalonians 1:6 (ESV)
6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
A church that has a diligent walk in Christ
Finds JOY in SUFFERING through the SPIRIT of Christ (cp. Matthew 5:11-12)
Remember the story of the birth of the church in Thessalonica—the turmoil caused by the enemies of the Gospel, members being dragged before the Roman authorities, the false accusations of treason and insurrection, the fines and imprisonment, and all the rest (Acts 17:1-9). But Paul says here in verse 6 that in all of that—the hatred and persecution and false charges did not cause the Thessalonians to be embittered or angry or resentful, but to be filled with joy in the Word as a result!
This is why Paul says that they were imitators of the Lord, because their response to the affliction they suffered was exactly what Jesus told us to do:
Matthew 5:11–12 (ESV)
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
There are a lot of people out there who wear “God, Faith Family, Country” t-shirts, people who will enthusiastically affirm their Christian faith—but who react to our culture’s reviling and persecuting and false accusations with fear and hatred and reviling in return. But what Paul writes here in 1 Thessalonians 1, and what Jesus taught in Matthew 5, is that a regenerate church is recognized by joy and gladness in the midst of these days. Beloved, when they are reacting to you the same way they did to the Apostle Paul, then you are doing something right!
A church that finds joy in suffering through the presence of the Holy Spirit within it and Christ’s promises of reward is a church whose light cannot be hidden!
The light of a regenerate church cannot be hidden from the world—it is a church whose members have experienced genuine conversion, it is a church that has a diligent walk, and we see in verses 7-8 of our text that it is a church that is a

III. POWERFUL Example (1 Thessalonians 1:7-10)

to the world. Paul says that the Thessalonians
1 Thessalonians 1:7–8 (ESV)
7 ...became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.
See here the two reasons Paul says the Thessalonians were a powerful example—first, they were an example of
Declaring the GOSPEL of Christ
1 Thessalonians 1:8 (ESV)
8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia,
A church can be known for a lot of good things—handing out back-to-school backpacks, giving away free cotton candy and snow cones at Community Day, collecting winter coats, volunteering and supporting a crisis pregnancy center, cultivating a garden to give away free produce to the community—these are all good things that a church can (and certainly should do). But Paul says here that these believers were a powerful example because they were known for declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the point where everyone in Greece (Macedonia and Achaia) had heard the Gospel to the point where Paul says, “we don’t even need to say anything—they are all familiar with the Good News of Jesus!”
Beloved, if the Thessalonians could declare the Word so faithfully that the entire Greek peninsula was at least familiar with the basic truths of the Gospel, how much more could we see to it that all two thousand people in Sykesville know that same Gospel? Thank God that we are known as the church that grows the garden and as the church that gives out backpacks—but how much more should we strive to be known as the church that declares the Gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven!
The Thessalonians were known as a church that declared the Gospel of Christ, and in verse 10 we see that they were a church known for
Displaying their HOPE in Christ (v. 10)
Paul says about their reputation in the rest of Greece,
1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 (ESV)
9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and 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 delivers us from the wrath to come.
The Thessalonians were known for their genuine conversion—they turned from their idols completely and served the true God only—and they were also known for their hope in the return of Christ. As we saw last week, they had a confidence in the turmoil of the days they lived in, because they had a sure and steadfast hope in Jesus Christ, Who has ascended on high and received all of the Kingdoms of this world as His inheritance!
A regenerate church—a church filled with men and women born again by the power of God’s Spirit that has transformed them from death to life—is a church that is not characterized by anxiety or uncertainty over the future. Paul will go on in these letters to write quite a bit about the hope they have in the return of Christ, but for now it is instructive for us to see again how they were known not for their conspiracy theories or their anxiety over coming persecution—they were known for their hope! They were known as the people who were waiting for the return of the resurrected Son of God, who is our deliverance from God’s wrath.
This is what it means to be a regenerate church—delivered by Jesus’ blood from the wrath of God over our sin, waiting for a Savior who has conquered death and the grave once and for all by His resurrection from the dead. How can that not create a church family that is joyful in the face of persecution, a church that always has the Gospel ready on its lips, a church that delights to be discipled by faithful teachers who are themselves seeking more and more likeness to the image of Christ, a church that never tires of hearing the old, old story of Jesus and His love poured out on the Cross for them!
This is the kind of church that we want to be here at Bethel—a church whose light cannot be hidden from the world. And this is why our membership class takes six weeks—this is why prospective members are interviewed by the elders. it’s not because we think of ourselves as some kind of exclusive club that exists only for the purpose of keeping people out— it is because we want to make every effort to be as confident as we can be that our membership roll is filled with people who have come to a living, active, genuine faith in Jesus Christ for salvation; that we have a regenerate church membership.
And this is why we practice church discipline as well—to be a member of Bethel Baptist Church means that you are making a public declaration that you are a born-again, regenerate Christian. And so, a member of Bethel Baptist who is constantly and publicly rebelling against God’s Word, who is living a life completely and utterly incompatible with that of a Christian has to be removed from that membership list—because we don’t want that to be the example of what a Christian is!
As we move through this new year, beloved, let’s make it our aim together that Bethel Baptist be that kind of church—a city on a hill whose light cannot be hidden. If you are a member of Bethel, look here again at what it means to diligently pursue discipleship, to be known for sharing the Gospel, submitting to the power of God’s Word by His Spirit with full conviction.
If you are a believer who has been attending Bethel and see here that God may be calling you to commit yourself to membership here, please know that we are praying for you—and with you—that you might discern whether this is the place He is calling you. We anticipate offering membership classes later on in 2023 that we pray will help guide you as you seek His will.
And if you are here and you’re not sure what your relationship is with God, then see here in these verses what God has brought you here to understand—that you really can start over in a new life this morning! Not in the normal sense of New Year’s resolutions or trying to break old habits or trying to be a better person—all that may make you feel good about yourself for a little while, but it will mean nothing on the Day when you stand before Jesus Christ to be judged for the things you have done.
The only way to face that day with any kind of confidence is to stop relying on how good you can make yourself, and put your faith in what God can do to make you acceptable in His sight by remaking you from the inside out! Jesus says that no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born again—regenerated by the power of His Spirit. Jesus died the death you deserve on the Cross, and He promises that when you come to Him in faith and ask Him to apply that forgiveness to you, He will do it—and He will transform you so completely that all of those old idols you used to serve will have no power over you anymore, and you will be freed to serve the true and living God and wait in confident hope for His Son from heaven—your Savior from the wrath of God, Jesus Christ!
BENEDICTION
Hebrews 13:20–21 (ESV)
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:

What does it mean that we are “regenerated”? What is the other term for regeneration that Jesus uses in John 3? Why is it true that if you have really experienced this work of God that it will produce visible results in your life?
Why is it not enough for a church to be a “Gospel-preaching” church? What is the other side of that characteristic of a church that is true of a regenerate church membership? Where does a delight for hearing the Gospel make itself plain in your life?
Read the story of the birth of the Thessalonian church in Acts 17:1-9. Why does Paul say in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 that the church received the Gospel “in much affliction”? What made their responseto that affliction so different from the way so many modern churches respond to reproach and scorn from the world?
If our neighbors in Sykesville were asked, “Why does Bethel Baptist Church exist? What are they best known for?”, how do you think they would answer? Read 1 Thessalonians 1:7-10 again. What does God’s Word say we should be known for? How can you work toward that end in our church?
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