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1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 - The Word at Work

1 Thessalonians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  35:49
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Today's sermon is about how the Word of God works in the lives of believers.

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How do we know that something is actually at work in us?
Let’s consider a blood pressure medicine for example.
In medical research, we have learned that uncontrolled high blood pressure over time can lead to heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage, eye issues, and brain issues among other things. We see high blood pressure at work in our bodies by seeing the results that it brings over time.
Yet, when someone takes a blood pressure medicine, we see these negative outcomes decrease.
We can measure how well the blood pressure medicine is working by checking blood pressure measurements over time. It becomes obvious over time whether a particular blood pressure medicine is effective based on the results of these readings. And over time we can see that the blood pressure is working in our bodies by positive outcomes as well.
In a similar way, how do we know that the Word of God is at work in our lives? How do we know there is any benefit from reading and studying regularly? How do we know that there is any benefit in regularly coming to church and hearing it preached and taught?
Today we are going to see some examples of how we can see and even measure the Word at work in the lives of believers.
Let’s jump in and read our text for today:
2 Thessalonians 2:13–16 ESV
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,
Let us pray.
There are three different ways that we see the Word working in the lives of believers in these four verses. The first is...

I. You Can Know That the Word is at Work… When it is Accepted (13)

1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV
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.
Interestingly, although Paul spent the entire first chapter with a greeting and thankfulness section of his letter, he goes back to giving thanks for this church yet again in verse 13!
Paul and his companions are thankful constantly for one thing above all. They are thankful that the church in Thessalonica received the Word of God as what it really is. They did not receive it as the word of man. They understood the message of the Gospel and the teachings that were brought by Paul and his companions as divinely inspired and authoritative.
Let’s go through a couple of verses that show us how to view the authoritative Word of God:
2 Peter 1:20–21 ESV
knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Timothy 3:16 ESV
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
John 17:17 ESV
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Hebrews 4:12 shows the power of the Word:
Hebrews 4:12 ESV
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
And finally we see that the Word of God stands forever:
Isaiah 40:8 ESV
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
As we have seen from these few verses here -
The Word of God is from God personally, useful and relevant, inerrant and full of truth, powerful and active, and eternal.
It is this Word of God that Paul praises the church in Thessalonica for embracing.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 (ESV)
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.
We actually see two different verbs used here when we consider how the Thessalonian church responded to the Word of God.
First we see that they received it. The Greek word for this is paralambanō (par-a-lom-bano) which is a positive word in which it means recieved in a technical term as in a tradition that can be recieved. This is a very positive word and is used in other parts of Scriptures in a similar way. However, Paul doesn’t stop with this word. He goes on to say that...
Secondly, they accepted it. The Greek word here is dechomai (theck-o-may) which is extremely close in meaning to the word recieved. Yet, it places more emphasis on a personal application of the word. This word can mean welcomed personally. In other words, the Word of God was warmly welcomed which is a good understanding of this.
And it was not just warmly welcomed by the church as the word of man with a few good ideas on holy living from Paul and his companions. It was warmly welcomed as God’s own Word.
When someone is warmly welcomed into a home, there is hospitality and attention given to them. The host spends time and energy discerning what the needs of the guest are. They spend time serving and expressing love to their guest. The guest is the focus for the host.
We can learn a lot from this analogy. The Word of God should be our primary focus because it points us to Christ. We read it to learn about Christ. We study it and apply it to our lives to become more like Christ and closer to Him.
I know that I encourage each of you to read the Bible regularly just about every Sunday. It very well might seem repetitive and it might sound like something that you already know and don’t need to hear. However, I think we all need reminded just how important the Word of God is daily.
I started the message off with an illustration of blood pressure medicine. As we all know, that medicine is not going to have any effect at all if it is not taken. There will be no working of the blood pressure medicine if there is not a medication ingested.
In the same way, we will not see the Word of God working in the lives of believers if it is not regularly consumed. The Word is also not something that we are to take sporadically. A blood pressure medicine isn’t at its most effective state if it isn’t taken as prescribed. Taking it once or twice a week won’t get the desired results. It must be consumed daily.
The Word of God is no different. It is to be our daily bread my friends. Job 23:12 shows us how much more important the Word of God is than even our food:
Job 23:12 ESV
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
If we want to see change through the Word of God in our lives and see it working in our lives, we must be taking it in daily and regularly.
Please don’t just toss this admonition to read the Bible as another good idea. But instead - make Bible reading a priority today. Get a daily reading plan. Start in a certain book and read a chapter or two or more each day until it is done and then start another. Make it a priority. If you don’t schedule it - it probably won’t happen.
My friends, you can know that the Word is at work when it is accepted and warmly welcomed into your lives. You can also...
Scripture References: 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20-21, Hebrews 4:12, Isaiah 40:8, Job 23:12

II. You Can Know That the Word is at Work… When it is Applied (14a)

1 Thessalonians 2:14a (ESV)
For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.
This is an important verse in this section. We will see in the following couple of verses that there is a judgment coming for unbelieving Jews throughout the ages. That is the focus of Paul although we know that there is judgment coming on all unbelievers. However, unfortunately people can misunderstand this next section as anti-Semitic. Yet, here we see Paul mention that the church in Thessalonica has become imitators of the churches in Judea. Note, that these churches in Judea were predominately churches made up of people of Jewish decent. So keep that in mind as we study the rest of this passage in the following point.
We also see that God still has a plan for the Jewish people even to this day as we see the 144,000 sealed in Revelation who will go and tell the world about Christ after the rapture of believers. It will be revealed that they have erred by rejecting Jesus Christ, and these 144,000 (12,000 from each tribe of Israel) will become Messianic Jews during the tribulation (Revelation 7). Somewhat of a spoiler alert - We will get into more about eschatology (or the study of end time) later in this great book!
And we see that God promises that Israel will return to God in verses such as Romans 11:25-27
Romans 11:25–27 ESV
Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
We can trust that God still has a plan for the people of Israel. Yet, at the present moment, most of them continue hardened against the truth of Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 2:14a (ESV)
For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.
Getting back to verse 14, we see that this church in Thessalonica had become imitators of those in Judea. And the churches in Judea were called the churches of God in Christ Jesus. This reference emphasized that these churches were set up by God, Himself - through the working of the Holy Spirit. We see that there were also multiple churches in the area of Judea which is what we want to see today as well. We want to see churches multiplying because of new believers coming to Christ. And each of these churches are considered to be in Christ Jesus which points to the doctrine of each church. They are formed by God for Christ. As we studied in Colossians 1:16 not too long ago, we see that...
Colossians 1:16 (ESV)
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
Check out those last two words. Everything is created for Christ’s glory.
These churches in Judea were no different. And this new church plant in Thessalonica was no different as well.
1 Thessalonians 2:14a (ESV)
For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.
And they have become imitators of these wonderful churches in Judea that are serving Christ and multiplying. This imitation that Paul mentions is actually more of a result of the applied word of God. Their imitation is not that they have accepted Jewish customs or embraced Jewish heritage. They have not become followers of the Jewish converts in Judea. They have instead, accepted and applied the Word of God.
The Word of God has been applied to their lives and is showing itself in the face of persecution - just like it has done for those in the churches of Judea. And because of this we see in our next point...
Scripture References: Revelation 7, Romans 11:25-27, Colossians 1:16

III. You Can Know That the Word is at Work… When it is Affirmed (14b-16)

1 Thessalonians 2:14b–16 (ESV)
For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 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!
Moving on through his comparison of the Judean churches and the church in Thessalonica, he mentions how the Gospel has been affirmed in their suffering. When believers are persecuted and stand firm, we should see that the Word is at work. The penetrating work of the Gospel shows itself as true in the face of persecution.
What kinds of persecutions does Paul go on to mention coming from the unbelieving Jews who persecute the churches in Judea?
Verse 15 spells these out clearly:
1 Thessalonians 2:15 ESV
who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind
Let’s break these down for a bit:
5 Accusations Against the Unbelieving Jews:
1) They killed Christ
2) They have killed the prophets
3) They drove us out
4) The displease God
5) They oppose all mankind
Paul’s first charge against these unbelieving Jews is that they killed Christ. Although we know that Christ suffered His crucifixion under Pontius Pilate and the Roman government, it is clear that this execution was not desired by Pilate. It was the rebellious and vocal demands of the unbelieving Jews that incited the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Next, he charges that they have killed the prophets. Jesus had this to say about the unbelieving Jewish religious leaders during one of His discourses with them:
Matthew 23:34–35 ESV
Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.
He references the rebellion and evil of Israel in killing the prophets of old and even references the Apostles that would be sent out and killed such as Paul and the disciples.
Third, Paul references the unbelieving Jews in the cities that he had preached in and been driven out. Thessalonica was one such city and this church had seen the vehement opposition of the unbelieving Jews up close and personal (Acts 17).
Fourth, Paul states that they displease God. This one goes without saying. Their rebellion is a stench to God. His wrath is growing through each rebellion as we will see in verse 16.
Lastly, he states that they oppose all mankind. This seems like a pretty extreme statement. But when taking into account the Gospel as understood and seen in John 14:6 it makes sense. By opposing Christ and those who minister in the name of Christ - they are not only keeping themselves from the free gift of salvation, but they are preventing others from hearing the good news of the Gospel. There is no worse opposition to all of mankind than to work at suppressing the Gospel. This work is to be understood as the work of Satan, himself. It is having the heart of Satan who is working tirelessly toward the condemnation of as much of mankind as he can. It is a work that seeks to be a stumbling block and wall that prevents others from hearing the Gospel.
Persecution has one goal. It is to hinder those who are speaking a message to be unable to do so any further. These unbelieving Jews were actively fighting against the Gospel spreading.
Yet, persecution comes in many forms and is expressed in many ways. It can be violent where lives are threatened or even taken. It can be social where believers are outcasts from societal functions. Although most of us know that there is violence against Christianity in many Islamic countries, we also see social persecution in many countries as well. Christianity may be legal in some of these countries - but those who are Christians are not allowed to have any prominent positions in society. They usually work in hard labor that is unjustly paid. They are treated as servants or slaves often.
The church in Thessalonica was experiencing persecutions of many types. But they were persevering despite it. The Word of God was being affirmed by how they were responding to this persecution.
Paul has had some harsh words for the unbelieving Jews so far but it actually gets harsher! Check out verse 16:
1 Thessalonians 2:16 ESV
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!
The first part of this verse explains what we already went through with them opposing all of mankind. But these last two statements are very tough statements. It says that they are filling up the measure of their sins and that the wrath of God has come upon them at last.
First lets address the first statement. They are filling up the measure of their sins. Because God is merciful, He patiently endures the sin of the world. We see this time and time again. Yet eventually the measure is reached and God’s wrath is poured out. We see this with Sodom and Gomorrah. We saw this with Nineveh. God relented when Nineveh repented. Yet, once Nineveh went back to their sinful ways, God handed them over to destruction a generation or two later.
We see God use this same terminology as he mentions the Amorites in Genesis 15:16
Genesis 15:16 ESV
And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
God, in His mercy puts up with sin and offers time for repentance until it reaches a certain point. And after that we see His wrath poured out.
Once the measure of sins has been filled up, God’s wrath comes. Paul speaks of the assuredness of this wrath so strongly that he states that it has already come.
Paul says that these unbelievers are filling up the measure of their sins. Paul wants the believers in Thessalonica to know that in the future, there will be no more room for their adversaries to persecute them. The wrath of God is coming. Paul speaks of this wrath as already have come because it is so guaranteed.
My friends, we need to be encouraged that God is going to right every wrong. Just as Paul encourages the church at Thessalonica - that they can continue to persevere despite persecution because God will act once for all after the measure of sin has been met - we can also rest in the fact that all of those who might persecute and harm us will be dealt with as well. God sees everything and nothing goes unnoticed by Him.
But I also implore you to consider the measure of this wrath as well. The teaching of the wrath of God has now come up a couple of times already in this book! And I realize that it is not a popular subject today. Yet, I pray that understanding that God will pour out His wrath on those who are not in Christ will urge us to share the Gospel with more zeal and urgency.
Everyone here was in the same boat as these unbelieving Jews at one point in your life. You may have gotten saved at a young age, so you might not remember what it was like to not have the Holy Spirit residing in you. However, some of you might remember very well. The only reason that we aren’t still without salvation and the indwelling Holy Spirit - is because someone shared the Gospel with us and God drew us and saved our souls. Someone did you the greatest favor of your life by sharing Jesus Christ with you.
I pray that you pay it forward my friends. Tell others about how Jesus Christ has saved your life. Tell others about what He did for you on the cross some 2000 years ago - how he died a horrendous death on the cross by crucifixion. How he was raised 3 days later. And how He has bore our sins and taken our punishment so that by repentance of our sins and faith in Him we can have eternal life in heaven with Jesus.
Friends, share this good news. See it as the good news that it is.
Scripture References: Matthew 23:34-35, Acts 17, John 14:6, Genesis 15:16
As we come to a close...
May We See the Word of God at Work By Being:
Accepted, Applied, and Affirmed
One way we see the affirmation of the Word of God working in the lives of believers is that they share it with others. Let the Word work greatly in you and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct you as you share the good news of the Gospel with those around you.
If you are someone who listens to these three words that describe the work of the Word of God in the lives of believers and you are realizing that you haven’t fully accepted the Word of God - namely the Gospel, and you haven’t seen it applied in your life, and you really don’t see your life seeming to affirm the Word - I’d love to discuss the Gospel more thoroughly with you. I’d love to sit down and try to help you navigate salvation and understand it more fully. Because true believers have the Word working in them.
Let us pray.
If you would like to learn more about salvation through Jesus Christ or want to obey Jesus by obeying the first commandment of a believer in going through the waters of baptism - please let me know.
Have a blessed week.
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