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1 THESSALONIANS 2:13-16 - Welcoming The Word

1 Thessalonians: Real Gospel For Real People  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  38:44
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The way you welcome God's Word into your life is a demonstration of the authenticity of your walk with Him

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Introduction

Last week in our study of 1 Thessalonians we saw that Paul took very seriously the possibility that he could be laboring in vain—that it was possible for him to pour out his life and his strength and energy in evangelism, only to have all of his efforts go to waste because the people he preached to disregarded the Word he declared. Verses 1-12 of 1 Thessalonians 2 describes for us what a ministry looks like that is not a waste of time, but will bear good fruit in the lives of the people it reaches. Paul and Silas and Timothy never forgot that the Gospel message belonged to God, not to them—and that made their ministry effective.
So if verses 1-12 show us what an effective Gospel ministry looks like, verses 13-16 show us what a genuine response to the Gospel looks like:
1 Thessalonians 2:13 (ESV)
13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
So if the question last week was “What does an effective Gospel ministry look like?”, the question before us today is “What does a genuine Gospel response look like?” Of course, we can tie this back again to our study a couple of weeks ago about the New Birth—that a genuine response to the Gospel is demonstrated by our regeneration—being transformed from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life by the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in each Christian.
But here in 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul is keying in one one particular characteristic of the Thessalonians’ response to his message. Look at verse 13 again:
1 Thessalonians 2:13 (ESV)
13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
If it is vitally important for those who minister the Gospel to conduct their ministries in such a way as to be sure they are not laboring in vain, then how much more should we examine our lives to be sure that our response to God’s Word really demonstrates a genuine faith. Paul says that he knew that they did not labor in vain among the Thessalonian Christians because of their genuine response to God’s Word. And so the way we can say it this morning is that
If you are WALKING with God, you are WELCOMING His WORD
Paul describes two kinds of people in these verses; two different responses to the Word of God. In verses 13-14 we see the Thessalonian Christians’ response—their genuine walk with God was demonstrated by their

I. OBLIGATION to God’s Word (1 Thessalonians 2:13-14)

We see this in at least three ways—there are three indications here of how the believers in Thessalonica put themselves under the authority of God’s Word in their lives. Look at verse 13:
1 Thessalonians 2:13 (ESV)
13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
The first thing to notice is that when the Thessalonians heard Paul’s preaching, they received it as the Word of God. A faithful Christian’s obligation to God’s Word means that you will
Receive it REVERENTLY (cp. Acts 17:11)
Commentators and historians are all quick to point out that Thessalonica—being an active port city with a busy, cosmopolitan population—was filled with all kinds of religions, philosophies, opinions and debates. Roman and Greek culture clashed and mingled, Imperial emperor-worship and Greek philosophy conflicting with Judaism and Persian religion. The people of Thessalonica had heard it allbut when God’s Word came to them, they recognized that it was different—that it wasn’t to be argued with or analyzed: it was to be reverenced!
It’s the same in our day—we’re so accustomed to pushing back on everything we hear; always evaluating, always questioning, always holding things at arm’s length. But this Word is different, isn’t it? This Word isn’t one to be debated with; it is a Word to be obeyed!
This is not to say that we must simply sit back and accept whatever we are told is God’s Word, however. Receiving the Word reverently means that we take it seriously, and that includes understanding and verifying for ourselves what it says. This is the way the Word of God was received by the Thessalonians’ neighbors in Berea:
Acts 17:11 (ESV)
11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
As God’s Word is declared to us from this Book, we are obligated to see for ourselves that these things are so—to search out and see that God’s Word agrees with itself, that it is consistent it what it reveals to us about who God is, who we are, and what Jesus Christ has done for us on the Cross. When we are careful and diligent about the way we receive this Word, we are carrying out our obligation to receive it reverently.
And keep in mind that if the Thessalonians received the Word of God, that meant that someone had to deliver it to them, right? If the Word of God is to be received reverently, that means that we are also under an obligation to
Deliver it FAITHFULLY (cp. Acts 20:26-27)
If it is serious business to receive the Word of God reverently, then how much more are we under obligation to be faithful in the way we deliver it? Some time after he ministered in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul spent three years in Ephesus, pastoring the church there (Acts 20:31). As he was saying goodbye to the elders of the church in Acts 20, he declared to them:
Acts 20:26–27 (ESV)
26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
This is the obligation to God’s Word that should mark every Christian who bears the responsibility for teaching God’s Word! If you are involved in leading a Bible study, teaching Sunday School, witnessing—any role where you are given some kind of teaching responsibility, you do not have the right to skip over the parts you don’t like or play down the angular, sharp edges of the Word of God. As we are fond of saying, You may not stammer where God speaks plainly; don’t whisper where the Word roars. You will be called to account for how you delivered the Word of God someday; you are under obligation to deliver it faithfully!
Paul goes on to say in our text that
1 Thessalonians 2:13 (ESV)
13 ...when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
When the Word has been faithfully delivered to you, Christian, and you have received it with reverence and respect, you are under obligation
To accept it OBEDIENTLY
Paul says that the Thessalonian believers were obedient to what the Word of God called them to do—it went to work in them. This Word is not like any other word that has been delivered to us by any other authority. The Word of God alone has power to actually work in you to transform you into the righteousness of God in Jesus!
In verse 14, Paul compares the church in Thessalonica with the churches of Judea to demonstrate how the Word at work in their lives has transformed them:
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,
Thessalonica was in Greece, about 900 miles away from Jerusalem in Judea. There is no practical way that the church in Thessalonica could have had any contact whatsoever with the church in Jerusalem. And yet, Paul says, they both responded to persecution the exact same way! Paul says, “You are responding exactly the same way that the churches in Judea responded when their countrymen persecuted them! Nobody else told you what to do, nobody from Judea gave you advice on how to handle persecution; the only explanation of how you could match their response so closely is that God Himself has transformed you by the working of His Word in you!
The Thessalonians were responding to the sufferings they encountered at the hands of their countrymen in a way that could only be explained by the presence of God’s Spirit working through His Word:
They counted it a joy and not a hardship to suffer for Jesus:
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.
They did not respond with reviling; they responded the way Jesus did:
1 Peter 2:23 (ESV)
23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
They prayed for their countrymen that persecuted them:
Matthew 5:44–45 (ESV)
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven...
They trusted that the tribulations they were suffering would bear good fruit in their lives:
Romans 5:3–5 (ESV)
3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 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.
This Word will transform your life—if you are walking with God, you will welcome His Word in your life. You will receive it reverently, deliver it faithfully, and accept it obediently.
Paul rejoices over how the Thessalonian believers welcomed God’s Word into their lives—he says that he and Silas and Timothy “thank God constantly” for how they welcome the Word. But in the rest of the passage Paul goes on to write about the enemies of the Gospel and their

II. OPPOSITION to God’s Word (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16)

Look at verses 15-16. Paul is saying about the enemies of the Gospel in Judea, that they:
1 Thessalonians 2:15–16 (ESV)
15 ...killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
Notice that instead of receiving the Word reverently, those who oppose the Word
Prevent it from being RECEIVED (v. 16)
“…hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they might be saved...”. The Word of God must be stopped, and Paul says that they prevented it from being received by driving Paul and the others out. Paul writes in Romans 10 that in order for people to hear the Word of God, someone must be sent (Romans 10:15). So, stop the messengers from being sent, drive them out and kill them off, and the Word cannot go out, and people cannot receive it and be saved.
Paul describes the violent and bloody methods the enemies of the Word used to prevent the Word from being received in Judea (killing the prophets and even Jesus Himself in order to silence them), and draws the same parallel with what the Thessalonians’ countrymen were doing to them. In their case, they weren’t being stoned or crucified, but they were being falsely accused of treason and insurrection:
Acts 17:6–7 (ESV)
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.”
In whatever way they can, enemies of the Gospel want to prevent this Word from being heard—if they can cast doubt on its authority or question its message or equate it with bigotry or hatred or malice, if they can drown out this Word with all of the noise and clamor and dazzlement of a culture bent on entertaining itself to death—whatever it takes, just don’t let this Word speak!
Any other religious text in the world is welcome in our culture with open arms—the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Dialects of Confucius, the Book of Mormon—you name it, and it’s all good. You can believe whatever you want, you can read and endorse and talk about and share whatever sacred text you want. Except for one!
A closer look at verse 15 gives us an understanding of the underlying reason for this unique hatred of the Word of God:
1 Thessalonians 2:15 (ESV)
15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind
The reason that the world around us wants to stifle and derail and minimize the faithful delivery of the Word of God is because they are desperate to
Keep it from REVEALING CHRIST
That’s why all these other books are readily welcomed, and why the Bible is unwelcome—because those texts won’t point anyone towards Jesus Christ! If this Word isn’t proclaimed, then Jesus won’t be proclaimed—the message His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins and rescue from the wrath of God won’t be received, and so people won’t be saved:
1 Thessalonians 2:16 (ESV)
16 ...hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved...
When this Word is faithfully delivered, and the person and work of Jesus Christ is clearly revealed to people, this Word has the power to bring them to salvation! This Word is unwelcome by those who want to keep “filling up the measure of their sins”—who don’t want to be confronted with their guilt before God, who don’t want to be told that they have to become obedient to God through Christ.
Notice that this was the case with the Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus as their king:
John 19:15 (ESV)
15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
And it was the case with the Thessalonians who accused Paul and the others of treason:
Acts 17:7 (ESV)
7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
To the extent that this Word reveals the authority of Jesus Christ and His call for repentance and salvation, it is unwelcome among those who do not walk with God. But if you are walking with God, you will welcome this Word into your life as the Thessalonian believers did.
So let me ask you—what is your relationship with this Word this morning? Your relationship with this Word will be a direct indication of your relationship with the Jesus that this Word reveals. Do you receive this Word reverently—do you open this Book differently than any other book? Do you expect this Book to teach you, admonish you, encourage you, convict you? Are you eager for this Book to do for you what we read earlier in Psalm 19?
Do the perfections of God’s Word revive your soul when you are exhausted? Do these testimonies give you a sure wisdom from the Lord? Do you rejoice at how right these commands are? Does your heart leap for joy, do your eyes light up when this Word makes its way into your heart? Is this Word more precious than gold and sweeter than honey because it reveals your Savior to you in all of His grace, power, authority, love and splendor? Does this Word transform you to become more and more like Jesus Christ, so that you can rejoice in suffering and love holiness and hate sin? Is this Word at work in you who believe?
This is what a walk with God that welcomes the Word looks like—and this is why we strive to make this Word more and more available to you. From the Bible reading plans that we provide to the Bible studies we conduct to the Sunday School curriculum we teach to the priority we give to reading the Scriptures in worship and singing the Scriptures in the Psalms. We want to give you every opportunity we can to welcome this Word into your life.
But if your attitude towards the Word is indifferent; if this Word has no place in your affections, if you are happy to read the Bible as long as it makes no demands of you, if there are parts of this Word that embarrass you or things that this Word says about you that you reject, then what does that say about your walk with God?
One of the most chilling realizations about our text this morning is when you see that this Word was gladly accepted by people who had no prior acquaintance with it—the people of Thessalonica had only just heard the Word and immediately recognized it for what it was. But the people who had been acquainted with this Word for centuries utterly rejected it—even to the point of murdering the One that every page of this Word declares!
If you have had a long, unremarkable acquaintance with this Word—you’ve grown up in church, you know where all the books are without using the index, you got your Timothy Award in AWANA, whatever—if you have had a long history with the Bible and it remains nothing more than an unremarkable, hard to understand and (truth be told) somewhat irrelevant book, then let me ask you: What does that say about your walk with Christ? There is great peril in living your whole life under this Word but never submitting to it.
If you truly do love Jesus and you know that you belong to Him by faith, then you need to come to Him and confess the deadness of your spirit concerning His Word—ask Him to forgive you for not receiving this Word for what it really is, for ignoring its counsel and remaining stubbornly blind to what it reveals to you about your Savior. Pray in the words of the Psalmist:
Psalm 90:14 (ESV)
14 Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love, that I may rejoice and be glad all my days.
Psalm 86:11 (ESV)
11 Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
Psalm 119:36 (ESV)
36 Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!
Psalm 119:18 (ESV)
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
And if you are here and you know you have no desire for this Word at all, that there is nothing in you that is inclined to receive this Word for what it really is, then this is what this powerful, authoritative, transforming Word of God says to you this morning: That if you persist in stifling this Word and ignoring its call on your life, if you would hinder the this Word from speaking to you and hinder others from receiving it by your disdain—this Word that you disregard warns you that you are filling up your life with condemnation. You are filling up the measure of your sins, and the day will come when the wrath of God will come upon you for your pride and your stubborn refusal to submit to the One this Word reveals. So drop your pride, lay aside your indifference, turn away from all of the lies that say that this Word is irrelevant and the Christ that it reveals has no claim on you—lay all of that at the foot of His Cross and come—and welcome!—to Jesus Christ!
BENEDICTION:
1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 (ESV)
11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. To Him be glory forever and ever, Amen

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:

How did the Thessalonians respond to the Word of God? Why might people today respond in a similar manner?
What is the difference between knowing God’s Word intellectually, and knowing God’s Word from the heart? Give some examples.
What does a church look like that welcomes God’s Word into its life? What are some ways that we make the Scriptures a priority in our church? How might we grow in this regard?
How does Paul describe those who set themselves in opposition to the Word of God? Read 1 Thessalonians 2:16 again. If God’s Word draws us to walk more closely with God in holiness, what happens to our lives if we constantly reject and refuse God’s Word?
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