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What drives you?

Living In Hope: 1 Thessalonians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Big idea: God entrusted his gospel to us - this should drive us
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Hi - my name’s Matt and I’m one of the leaders here at Hope City.
One of the strange things about this time of lockdown for me has been how this seemingly endless repetition of days, which are all basically the same, makes it harder and harder to get out of bed. I mean, why bother? Nothing’s going anywhere. No-one’s making any progress. Nothing is any different. Nothing’s moving forward.
It’s old now, but I keep thinking about Del Amitri’s song <50/50> “nothing ever happens” - the chorus goes like this:
nothing ever happens,
nothing happens at all
the needle returns to the start of the song
and we all sing along like before
And isn’t that what it feels like?
What can keep us going? What keeps anyone going? Today we’re going to be thinking about what drives people - what motivates them. What is it that gives them the oomph to push ahead, to work at something? Particularly when it’s difficult, when the going gets tough.
I was thinking about people we’d see as motivated, more than that - as driven, and wondering what might be behind that.
One obvious thing is money, right? Part of why people get out of bed in the morning and go to work - or why they used to, anyway - is money. Money’s often part of what’s driving people - whether it’s an entrepreneur persevering through the start-up of a new company - even though it takes every hour, occupies every thought, and keeps on demanding more and more - or a youtuber wannabe going through one more take to shoot for that breakthrough video, putting themselves out there time after time in pursuit of enough subscribers to get the ball rolling. Money’s got some power, it’s got some draw.
Maybe for some people it’s applause - maybe it’s the adoration of the masses they’re after. Think about a premier league footballer, training hour after hour, week after week - is it money that drives them, or the roar of the crowd in the stadium as they run onto the pitch? We’re not all these type-A driven people by any means - but we all have to keep going in life. So let me ask you a personal question: what drives you? What gets you out of bed? What keeps you going? ...
Part of why we gather as a church week by week - even if it’s just this digital kind of gathering - is to try and learn together from the bible and we’re going to have a go at that just now. This question of motivation, of what drives people, is right in the foreground of bible passage we’re looking at today. If you’ve not been with us before, or if you’d just like a reminder, we’re working our way through a letter to an ancient church preserved for us in the bible called “first Thessalonians.” It’s written to that church by the team who started it - but that team were run out of town for their message and the church they left behind faced some serious pressure. Two weeks back we heard how the message of God’s love transformed people, meaning that baby church was filled with faith, hope and love. Last week we heard how this launch team were a model to the new believers - how the Holy Spirit enabled them to find joy even in suffering, and to imitate the team, sharing this message with still more people. Ben’s reading for us this week, and we’re looking at first Thessalonians chapter two, just the first part of it.
<Reading: 1 Th 2:1-7a>
Thanks Ben. Remember we’re thinking about motivation this morning? Well there was lots of motivation chat in that passage, right? This mission team re-tell a bit of their story - you can find the full story in the bible book called Acts, chapters 16 and 17. They land in this new area with their message about Jesus but in the first place they share it, a place called Philippi, things don’t end well. They’re dragged before authorities, stripped, beaten with rods and then imprisoned. If anything could put you off of sharing a message, surely fear of consequences like those would do it, right? But when this team arrived in Thessalonica, they dared speak. Verse 2: “We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.”
That, that takes some serious motivation. I mean if you’re a follower of Jesus, have you ever been held back by the fear of a snarky comment or someone unfriending you? I’m sure fear of how people will respond has held back most of us at one time or another. But somehow this mission team dare speak - even though they’re facing opposition way beyond anything most of us have known. Somehow this mission team find the motivation and the drive to keep going even though there’s more struggle ahead. Where do they get this drive? What is it that motivates them? Is there anything here that can help ordinary people like us when we struggle with motivation?
Well the first thing they tell us about what drives them is the fact that their message is true. verse 3. It’s not an error, that is, a wandering away form the truth. It’s still pure, not impure. It’s not a trick. If you’re listening today but you’re still sceptical of this message about Jesus, I’m glad you’re here because this is a significant piece of evidence for you. See, this team could have just given up on a lie when things got tough. If the message that was getting them in trouble was simply false - a distortion, a trick - and they knew that, surely the sort of opposition they had faced would see them arrive in a new town and shut up rather than speak up, right? But instead the message keeps spreading through this team - and through the movement they were a part of.
Look how they put it in verse 4: “we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” - their claim is that the message they are sharing comes from God himself - he has entrusted them with the gospel, literally with good news - because that’s what the word gospel means. And what is this good news that they’ve been given? Well, we get to see as the story of their visit is recounted in the book of Acts: Acts 17:3 NLT “This Jesus I am telling you about is the Messiah” That’s the good news. Why is that good? Well, we’ll have to take a step back to understand:
The world we’re living in is broken. We see that in a million different ways. death and disease. pollution and decay. hatred and division. hunger and injustice. Why is it broken? Because of us. Because we would not live according to our creator’s good design. But rather than just leaving us to live with the consequences of our rebellion, God promised a rescuer, a chosen one - a Messiah - that’s what the word means. The good news this mission team are announcing is that this rescuer has finally come: God loved us enough to step into the story himself, to enter into the mess - Jesus is the Messiah, and in Jesus, God has begun restoring this world from the inside out.
Now you might be thinking “hang on - this world is still totally broken. What kind of rescue doesn’t really change anything?” That’s a fair question - it is easy to see our word is broken, and harder to see anything being restored. But the bible tells us this restoration has already started - inside Jesus’ followers. That we are being restored, we are being changed - and through us, to an extent, the whole world is being changed. For example, did you know public healthcare was non-existent in the Roman empire, and the very first public hospitals were built by Christians? That church leaders gathered at the Council of Nicaeae in 325AD launched a programme to build a hospital in every cathedral town?
But it is fair to say this world is still broken. The damage is deep. It’s like an issue I had with my computer last week. Things started going wrong, one after the other. Programs kept crashing and I figured out I had totally run out of disk space. For the record, computers really don’t like totally running out of disk space. I could empty the recycle bin. I could restart the computer. And things would work for a bit. But the issue was deeper, bigger - it would take something much more profound to put things right. In the end, I had to take my computer apart, reach into its guts, replace parts, clear the disk totally and then reinstall everything from scratch.
This good news we’re talking about isn’t just that through Jesus, God has begun restoring this world. It is also his promise that, when the time comes, Messiah Jesus will return and finally release all creation from this groaning and waiting and mess. Finally it will be time for taking it all apart and making everything right. There is a recreation ahead - and even as we’re being restored in this life, through Jesus, we will also be restored into this new creation, resurrected like him. Now that’s good news.
<camera> Perhaps you’ve never understood this good news before - perhaps you’ve never even heard it before. Perhaps you’ve just never accepted it. Today God offers you rescue, restoration. Reach out to him. If you are watching live and you’re ready to respond right now, in the chat window, you’ll see an opportunity to raise your hand, virtually, and to reach out to God. Our team are ready to pray with you and help you step forward. Would you reach out to God right now? If you want to know more, stick around at the end of the stream. If you’re watching a recording, just email me and let’s chat. matt@hopecityedinburgh.org
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Let me return to this question of motivation, of what drives people - and particularly the question of what drove this mission team to continue sharing their message despite such opposition. So far they’ve told us it’s because the message it true, because they’ve been entrusted with truly good news. Next they take aim at two of the drivers we started with: money and applause.
They’re <50/50>not in it for the money, verse 5 tells us. It wasn’t greed that kept them going. As I’ve thought about this, I’m not sure greed could keep you going through such opposition.. In their day, travelling teachers of wisdom were well-known, a normal part of life - and normally in it for the money. Perhaps that’s one thing their audience could see in their story: if they were just in it for the money, surely they wouldn’t have opened their mouths in Thessalonica after the trouble in Philippi - or at least they would have changed their tune to something crowds would find more palatable. A bit like how you’ll find teachers of “wisdom” around today - teachers who’ll just tell you what you want to hear - teachers who are in it for the money. To be fair, I doubt you’d choose ministry in the UK if this was your driver - it’s not exactly lucrative, just so you know. But there are plenty of examples of people motivated by money who claim to serve Jesus. This mission team isn’t in it for the money - the fact that they hold on to their message despite opposition rather than change it shows us that.
They’re also not in it for the applause, verse 6 tells us - they’re “not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else” they tell the Thessalonians. And again, that makes sense. If you’re just in it for applause, then when people reject your message, when people even hate your message, surely you’ll just change it. So after Philippi went so badly, they’d have arrived in Thessalonica with very different message if this was what was driving them. And sadly that is just as true today as it was back then. If you’re in it for the applause - and it’s easy to be in it for the applause - then you have no choice but to say what people want to hear. I think most of us - at least many of us - long for applause. It has a powerful draw. But if we’re in it for the applause, then when the crowd’s taste change, our message has to change. This can’t be our driver if we want to persevere and stick to the true and unchanging message of Jesus.
Do you know what they’re in it for? They’re in it to please God. That’s that verse 4 tells us “we are not trying to please people but God”. And they know God doesn’t just look on the surface, look at their actions, but he has the ultimate x-ray powers - he’s the one who tests our hearts, they tell us. God knows what’s really driving them - and he knows what’s really driving us. X-ray. He sees straight through us so even if you can hide it from others around you, even if you can sometimes hide it from yourself, you can’t hide it from God.
So what’s really driving you? What are you in it for?
...
We started by talking about what is it that can keep us going - keep us going as lockdown grinds on and on, get us out of bed in the morning, help us work hard, help us persevere through difficulty, help us keep going through the whole of life. As I’ve been reflecting on this passage, I think there’s something pretty profound for Christians on motivation in here which we’ve not talked about yet. There’s one phrase which really stuck out to me and it’s in verse 4: “entrusted with the gospel” - this idea of being entrusted with this good news we’ve been talking about.
What’s that got to do with motivation? Well let me explain. One way of looking at the gospel sees it as primarily about me and God. Good news for me. Rescue for me. Transformation for me. Restoration for me. And that is all true. That all flows out of the good news of Jesus. But it doesn’t end there - it can’t. When we grasp the significance of this message “Jesus is the Messiah”, we’ve not just received something, we’ve been entrusted with it. And that comes with a responsibility. We entrust money to the bank. We entrust government to parliament, to a first minister, a prime minister.
Like this first mission team, we don’t just receive the gospel, we’re entrusted with it. It comes with a responsibility. It is like an investment - perhaps you’ll remember Jesus in Matthew chapter 25 telling a parable about a rich man going away on a long journey who entrusts his wealth to his servants while he is away? He entrusts it to them so they put it to work, not simply bury it. Maybe this idea, this understanding, that we have been entrusted with the gospel can help us when we struggle with motivation.
<camera>Why should you get out of bed in the morning? Why should I keep going, even in lockdown? Why, even though it’s hard, should we persevere in trying to share the message of Jesus? Because we have been entrusted with it. Yes, we should receive it as good news - good news for you and for me. But it is good news for the whole world too - and we have been entrusted with it for that. The gospel is not meant to end with me or with you. The gospel is meant to end with a global Church which declares God’s wisdom and grace to powers seen and unseen. It’s meant to end with the whole of creation renewed, transformed, restored. It’s meant to end with uncountable crowds from every tribe and nation gathered around God’s throne in the world to come, giving him glory for his boundless grace.
That’s why this mission team are driven to speak despite opposition: to please God who has entrusted this message to them. To change the world.
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Where we’re so often powerless, where we so often just have to live through the brokenness of this world, we’ve been entrusted with something that has the power to change it. We, too, have been entrusted with this gospel. May this drive us on. Just thirty seconds to reflect on what we’ve been thinking about today, and then I’ll pray.
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1 Thessalonians 2:4 NIV
On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.
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…prayer...
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