- True greatness?
I heard someone comment once that they felt the first half of a person’s life was dominated by the search for success, and that the second half was dominated by a search for significance. I wonder whether you think greatness is marked by success, or significance? Or something else? (9.45 - What want for these two children – what is it to be great?)
What does God think makes someone great? And are you great in God’s eyes? Good questions to think of as we come to this Bible passage from 1 Thessalonians. So you might like to turn to it.
- A great God
This book we’re looking at – 1 Thessalonians – is actually a letter.
I love letters – esp good letters eg thanks during the week – for a funeral service I took a week and a half ago, and another from some parishioners, just because.
This is a letter, it follows the standard forms of 1st Century letters, but it is a very personal letter.
From Paul, Timothy and Silas (or Silvanus – alternative version of the same name) – they were the 3 key people who had come into Thessalonica, and started telling the people there about Jesus. You’ll remember they were forced to leave Thessalonica when the Jews started getting jealous and upset, and had to flee south to Berea, and then Paul had to go on alone to Athens, and then to Corinth from where he writes this letter.
And it’s sent to … the church of the Thessalonians. Not just to an individual, but to the church. V1 - READ
Word for church = assembly. It was the same word used for any assembly of people who met in a public place.
If you look up ‘church’ in the local yellow pages you come across all sorts of groups – in fact even the heading is ‘churches/mosques/temples’ – and so you get Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Mormon, Greek Orthodox, Hare Krishna, Buddhist, Jehovah’s witnesses, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, all under one heading. But despite what some may think they are not all the same, nor are they all part of the true church of God.
But the Thessalonian Christians were. What makes them part of the true church? It is the work of God in them. God is a great God – he has made them a special assembly, united in Jesus Christ. This group of people were such a mix – some were Jews, some weren’t – but they all had in common faith in Jesus. Those who were Jews now believed Jesus is God’s promised Christ or king; those who weren’t Jews have turned to Jesus from false idols. And they were, as a church, only a few weeks old, yet had been brought together by God. Wow. This assembly has its very being in God. And is different to any other religion or group of people in the whole world.
Not just isolated believers, but a corporate body, and indeed part of a much bigger whole – the church of God throughout the world, and throughout time.
(9.45 - A – baptism is not just a private affair – but these two little ones are part of a much bigger whole)
And they are not just united with other Christians, they are actually in a vital union with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Father and Son together. Both God. And you cannot worship one and not the other. The only way to have that close relationship with God the Father is through God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
(A – at 9.45 – baptism is into the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
And as Paul writes this it would have been a great encouragement to them. A small group of disparate people facing opposition in a pagan city – but Paul says basically, regardless of size or location, spiritually they are in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ, they are the true church of God, and nothing can take them away from this.
And this God, this great God, has poured out on them his grace and peace – v1.
Grace – free, unmerited favour of God. What has God done – declared that everyone who trusts in Jesus’ death on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins is indeed pardoned and righteous in his eyes. And because of this has peace with God through Jesus. A peace which brings God’s blessings and wholeness to one’s life, because the cause of hostility between God and us has been dealt with.
Friends if you are a Christian, do you give thanks and praise to this great God, who has poured out grace and peace on you?
- A great pastor
If a great God such as this – what would be the marks of a great pastor under God?
Answer - Teach the truth and love them.
1 Thess full of Paul’s teaching and love – he is a great pastor.
And as part of his love for them – v2 - he reminds them he is always at prayer for them, esp giving thanks for them. Whilst he cannot be with them physically, he is with them in prayer. He remembers all of them – I’m sure he remembers each one of them. And he heaps up the words and phrases here to show his real affection for them and real joy because of them – we always thank God, we mention you in our prayers, we continually remember you.
A – our prayers – full of thanks. Day 29 – Joanne, Alison and Tim Wearne, Jennie and David Whitaker and their sons, Mark and Robyn Wilkinson, Diane Williams and Michael and Virginia Williamson and their children. What pray for them? Certainly much to pray for them – but do we overlook thankfulness? Thanks to God for them, and for his work in their lives, for Paul is acutely aware that anything good is from God, and so God is to be thanked for it. And as he thanks God so he encourages the Thessalonians.
And I want to encourage you to keep raying for one another, and especially thanking God for one another. As you have been doing so, please do so more and more.
What sort of things then is Paul thankful for in their lives?
- A great church
We see it in v3, when Paul tells them what he give thanks to God for – and I suggest to you these are the marks of a great church. Not numbers of people, not how much money they give, not how big their church building is, not how many services in a day, but 3 characteristics – faith, hope and love. And not just characteristics of a great church, but of great Christians.
And as we look at them I want you to think - do you have them? How do you know?
Paul tells us how each of these 3 shows, as he encourages the Thessalonian Christians.
Let’s just think about each of these…
a) work produced by faith, or your work which flows from faith.
How do you know you have faith – you see it in your works.
It is the first work that Jesus calls for – so in John 6:29 – ‘the work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’
Faith is warm personal trust in a living Saviour which transforms the whole of a person’s life, and brings forth all kinds of works, good deeds, out of obedience to him, and love for him. Faith is based on the assurance that God has acted for his people’s salvation in Christ. But it is not just intellectual assent to some truth. It is a lifestyle, lived in Jesus daily. Faith shows – in works.
So for the Thessalonian Christians their faith couldn’t be contained – but it expressed itself in action, deeds, works, doing what pleases God and not doing what displeases God (eg baptism service), showing they trust God to know what is best for them.
Salvation is of course only by Christ’s work on the cross, but true faith in Jesus is never without works.
Let me ask us – how do we show our trust in God? If behaviour follows belief, then would someone looking at your life say there’s a person who has faith in Jesus?
b) labour prompted by love, or again your labours which flow from love.
How do you know you have love – you see it in your labours
Love here is the Greek word agape – it is not erotic love, it’s not emotional love, it’s not just feelings, but agape is sacrificial love. It is intentional – it is what I choose to do. And what I choose to do for the best of the other person. And because I want their best for them, then I will act accordingly. I will love them. Love given with no thought of gain or advantage, love given despite the unworthiness of the one being loved, love which is intentionally active and costly and self-sacrifical. Which is why it is marked by labours. Such love is always giving, even without getting, it is never easy, it is always demanding and it is frequently exhausting. At heart it is God’s love, seen in Jesus and his death on a cross because of his love for us.
John 3:16 – for God so loved the world he (felt really good)? No – he acted; for God so loved the world he gave his only son. Love is that present and continuing relationship between God and his people through Christ.
The Thessalonian Christians have received the love of God in Christ, and are now showing that same self-giving love to others. In their labours. Toil stimulated by love.
Gladly bearing the toil, given unceasingly. Never tiring of working for what we love. Unselfish care for someone else, despite the cost. Love that labours and works hard.
Again let me ask us – how do we show God’s love? How much do we sacrifice for the good of others?
c) And finally, endurance inspired by hope, or again your endurance which flows from hope.
And not just any hope – but hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Being convinced that God will finish the good work he has begun in my life on that day when Jesus returns, and being certain Jesus will come back one day.
And such hope shows then in patient endurance. Not just quiet, passive resignation, but active constancy in face of difficulties. In the face of the trials and sufferings and calamities and adversities and setbacks and delays and the bad things in this life. Looking for opportunities even in the midst of trials to grow in faith, to show forth love and good deeds, whilst we wait for glory to come.
Heb 6:18-20 - we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.
The hope of Jesus’ return is still open to us today – but we don’t know for how much longer – make sure you don’t miss out on it.
Again, let me ask us – how do we show hope?
In these opening verses of this great letter Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they have a great God, who has given them a great pastor and made them already into a great church, as evidenced by their exhibiting these 3 graces.
And in fact the cause of all three of these graces is the work of Jesus Christ. The Thessalonians were not like this, until God worked in them. Their faith is faith in him, their love is love for him, their hope is in him. They were only great because of Jesus. And we will not and cannot be great in God’s eyes without Jesus. These 3 characteristics we have looked at this morning are basic to Christian experience, John Calvin called them a ‘brief definition of true Christianity’, they are the 3 unmistakeable signs of new, spiritual life – works of faith, labours of love, and endurance of hope. If these 3 are the hallmarks of a great church, then we need to ask – do people should see these 3 in us – faith, love and hope in Jesus Christ? May they do so more and more.