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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 all—but 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
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.
“…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.
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