I lived in the mountains of Southern California where I attended Bible College from 1991 –1993. I lived in a small town. It was a quaint little town surrounded by massive the pine forests of the San Bernardino Mountains. It was quiet. It was peaceful. It was the perfect place to meet with Jesus. I was shielded from the busyness of life down in the San Bernardino Valley. On the weekends a group of us from college would cram into my friend Dan’s Toyota and would venture down the mountain to enjoy the coastal cities located on the Pacific Ocean. I still vividly remember the traffic on the LA Expressway! This was a crazy place to drive… especially during rush hour.
I finished college in 1993 and I was set to fly back to my hometown Jamestown, NY. I asked a friend to drive me to the airport and we set off in the morning to get to the airport. This was pre-9/11 so there was no need to arrive early. You simply showed up, checked in and got on the plane. We started down the mountains about 3 hours before the plane was scheduled to takeoff. I figured this was plenty of time since the airport was only an hour and a half drive. I forgot to factor in the traffic. We were cruising along at a comfortable 70 mph and as I was nearing the airport the 10 lane expressway came to an abrupt halt on both sides. It was bumper to bumper traffic. I wasn’t too concern because the airport was within a few miles and this was just a minor setback. As time moved forward our car did not. For nearly an hour we barely moved a half mile. I began to sweat a bit. It was getting really close to my departure time. Fortunately the traffic began moving along fast enough so we could exit and I made it to John Wayne International with only a few minutes to spare.
I am sure most if not all of us know the feeling of being stuck in traffic. If you are anything like me you get frustrated when progress is hindered. There are times some traffic is so bad that the setback actually ruins the plans you made and you just give up and go back home. It’s never fun to have your plans thwarted because of an unforeseen occurrence or situation.
This was a minor instance of how a hindrance had affected me at this time in my life, I am sure the Apostle Paul was all the more familiar with this kind of frustration. On a couple of occasions he writes about certain hindrances that kept him for going to the place where he desired. In fact today’s passage (1 Thessalonians 2:17 – 3:5) is exactly one of those times. Paul understood roadblocks. He understood hindrance. He knew frustration. However he did not allow any hindrances to stop him from doing what God called him to do.
Hindered by Satan
Vs 17- 20: Paul wrote about the persecution he and his companions faced in Thessalonica when they brought the Gospel to this Gentile city. He mentions that they were “torn away from you, brothers for a short time, in person not in heart.” Paul was in the city for three weeks and the Jews became angry with him and they began stirring up the people. A riot ensued forcing Paul and his companions to flee for their lives. He had to physically remove himself from the city leaving his beloved Thessalonians behind; but he kept them close in his heart. Paul continued on his missionary journeys and he continually thought about the Thessalonians. He was only with them for three weeks, but he became very attached to this group of people and he missed them dearly. The separation that was forced upon them had created a deep longing in Paul’s heart to go back and be with the Thessalonians.
Vs 18b: “I, again and again, wanted to come to you- but Satan hindered us.” Paul apparently tried on various occasions to go back to Thessalonica but Satan put up some road blocks that did not allow him to go back. I am certain this was discouraging to him. His heart was set on going back and encouraging the Thessalonians because they were the fruits of his labor and the working of the Holy Spirit. They were young Christians. Most of them were Gentiles and they had little instruction in what it meant to walk with Jesus. The Thessalonians his children that he had not seen in a long time and he desired to go and be with them; BUT Satan would have none of that. Paul doesn’t give details as to how or why he was hindered. We can assume that whatever it was it was not good.
“One possibility is that in view of the trouble there had been with the city rulers Paul himself was forbidden to return to the town, and nothing had happened to change that position. It seems that some unjustifiable criticism of Paul was abroad, and so he emphasizes the strength of his longing to revisit them and encourage them.”
He wanted to encourage the believers and Satan did whatever he could to stop Paul from doing this. Paul knew all too well, as we should also, that Satan hates when believers join or unite together… Why is that? Because he knows there is power in unity in Christ. Beth Moore writes, “Satan throws his head back and howls when he can use small things to keep believers from uniting in great things for the (glory) of Jesus.” This is true. He wants to keep believers isolated and alone because when we are alone we can be weak and susceptible to his temptations. This is why Christian fellowship is important. I have spoken with people who say that they don’t need to go to church because it’s not church that saves them. I agree. Some have said they don’t need other Christians because their faith is a private matter. Others just don’t like being around other believers. When we join together as a body of Christ to worship our Lord, Creator and Savior this gives us great power especially in the Spiritual realm. This unity gives us power to overcome the oppression of Satan in our lives. It gives us power to be the people God created us to be. There is power in the body of Christ and Satan hates it when gather together and he will do whatever it takes to hinder God’s saints from gathering together in the name of Jesus.
Vs 3:1 – 5: “…we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s co-worker in the Gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith.” Paul was not going to allow Satan to destroy the works God did through him. He was not going to let Satan discourage these new believers. Paul may have been hindered but Timothy was not; so instead of complaining that Satan had put up road blocks he sought another way to get to the Thessalonians. Paul would visit them via Timothy. He entrusted this journey to Timothy. Paul calls him a brother and a co-worker in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was Timothy’s mentor. He was his Pastor. He was his co-laborer in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If Paul couldn’t come to encourage then he would send the one he trusted most.
I can imagine Paul’s concern for the Thessalonians when he left them in haste in the company of wolves. If these people were willing to go to the extremes with Paul then there is no reason they wouldn’t with the new believers in Thessalonica. This worried him because he was mature in his faith. He had determined and believed that there was nothing that could separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. He wasn’t so sure the Thessalonians would be able to hold up under the extreme pressure and persecution they were facing. Paul told them that they would face persecution. He knew what they were up against and he could no longer bear not knowing how they were doing. His concern was since Satan hindered him then he was certainly at work in trying to destroy the work of God in Thessalonica. For this reason alone, he sent Timothy to them in hopes to encourage and exhort. Ultimately God wins in this battle. Satan may have hindered but God got his way.
I truly see the heart of a man who loves people with a supernatural love. Having spent only three weeks with the Thessalonians he bonded with them and had great love and concern for them. In this love he faces the discouragement of being hindered from encouraging the believers. For us today many of us face obstacles in life that hinder us from moving forward in our walk with him. I have come to find that there are three kinds of hindrances we face.
You may be thinking, “How can I tell if a hindrance (road block, shut door, “No”) is from Satan, God or yourself?” I wish there was a nice an easy answer to this question or a simple four step process that is a sure fire way of knowing. But there isn’t. I would begin with prayer and reading God’s Word. When we pray we are in direct communication with God. He is the one who knows what is best for you. Sometimes the answer is glaringly obvious that Satan is involved, other times it is apparent God is, and even more so evident when it is ourselves but it is important to approach all things in life with prayer and communication with God.
So I wonder what things in my life are hindering me from following God wholeheartedly. What are yours? I think a good question to ask yourself is “What one, two, three etc. things are causing me to be hindered in my growth in faith?” The answer to this question could be the things Satan is using in your life to hinder you from true intimacy with God.
 New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (1280). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Children of the Day: 1 & 2 Thessalonians. 2014 (Beth Moore) Nashville, TN: LifeWay Press p. 66
There are numerous teachings, beliefs and religions claiming to possess “the way” to God. All or most of them claim to have the keys to eternal life, nirvana, paradise and happiness. Some people or religions even mix and match different theological and/or philosophical beliefs to make up their own personal religion; it is custom designed for each individual. Since the beginning of time humans have loved the idea of custom made spirituality. The world loves the pluralistic culture it has created. Society no longer holds to absolute truth. Truth is relative.
I was in a conversation with someone the other day and the person said with slight tongue in cheek, “When I was young 2+2 = 4, today though 2+2 = whatever you want it to be.” Unfortunately there is some truth to his statement. Sadly the idea of truth in religion has become taboo because people who believe in one way are often likened to narrow minded bigots. Religious tolerance is preached across the globe and if you think about speaking up about certain teachings or beliefs being false; then you are immediately deemed a hateful, judgmental phobic who is afraid of change and tolerance. It is not uncommon for Christians to be looked upon as a group of people who are stuck in the dark ages simply because we choose to live our lives believing the Bible is truth and Jesus is the only way and without him you cannot have life.
We also live in a consumer age where we have a choice to shop wherever we choose this include restaurants, department stores, electronics etc. Many people cannot grasp the notion of only one choice in life; especially when it comes to faith.
Many years ago the queen of talk, Oprah was confronted by a member of her television studio audience in relation to her views of God. The woman speaking mentioned the words of Jesus being the way, the truth and the life. Oprah responded, “There couldn’t possibly be only one way… there are millions of ways that lead a person to the Light or what others call god!” In her mind there are millions of ways to finding your way to what one thinks is God.
With the millions of philosophical thoughts, ideas, teachings, religions, and theories out there today (and many more new thoughts being birthed every day), how is one ever able to discern or even embrace truth? How can you and I find truth amidst the piles of religious thought and belief’s that the world so lovingly embraces and pushes on us and our children?
The Truth Is In Here
“What is truth?” This was a question asked over 2,000 years ago by Pilate to Jesus. This question was asked in response to the statement Jesus made, “For this purpose I have come into the world- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” If you are a follower of Jesus Christ then you are a person of truth. We are people of the truth. We bear witness to the truth.
Vs 13: The Church of Thessalonica was a Church of truth. According to the Apostle Paul they were a Bible believing and Bible teaching Church. How do we know this? Because this verse tells us they accepted the Word of God. They loved the Word of God. They received the Word of God. Paul thanked God continually for their love of the truth. In the Bible the Word of God is equal to the truth. This is displayed throughout the Bible. Jesus prayed (for you and me no less) in John 17:17, “Sanctify (set apart) them in truth; your word is truth.” The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 33:4, “For the Word of the LORD is upright (straight, honest, truth) and all his work is done in faithfulness.” Proverbs 30:5 states, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”
When Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica years before he came proclaiming the Word of God.
Acts 17 shows us what happened prior to the Thessalonians embracing the Word of truth. Paul went to the synagogue in Thessalonica for three weeks, which was his custom, and he began sharing the Gospel with anyone who would here. Paul verbally spoke the Word of God. He proclaimed verbally the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ unashamedly. Why? Because the Gospel had impacted his life so much. The transformation in the Apostles life is nothing short of a miracle. He was once a murderous Christian killer who is now a redeemed follower of Jesus himself. Paul knew the reality of the transforming power of Jesus. He knew the power of the Word of God. It was his life, his passion and purpose and he was going to share it with whoever would here.
While he was preaching the Gospel he began to annoy some prominent men and he persuaded a group of others. The prominent were the religious Jew and the ones he persuaded were made up mainly of Gentiles. The Gentiles heard the truth and they responded to the truth and embraced the truth amidst all the turmoil that was beginning to go on around them. The Jews stirred up a riot and Paul and his companions had to flee for their lives to the town of Berea. One of the Gentile believers, Jason, home was attacked and he was dragged out with some other men and brought before the authorities (persecuted). The authorities took money from them and eventually let them go free. Paul and his companions had only spent three weeks with the Thessalonian Gentiles and they were so convinced of the transforming Word of God that they willing endured persecution and financial loss. These Gentiles were sold out followers of Jesus who lovingly accepted and embraced the Word of God, the Gospel.
Now get this. This was not a casual belief or even a response to the fad of the time. The people of Thessalonica accepted the words Paul proclaimed (the Gospel) as words spoken by God. These men were convinced that Paul was not preaching a man-made Gospel. He was preaching a divine, Holy Spirit inspired message from God himself. They were so convinced this was God’s Word that they were willing to endure persecution and potential death.
Vs 13b: “Which is at work in you believers.” This Church didn’t just listen to the Word of God… They were changed/transformed by it. It was at work in them as followers of Christ. The message they heard and embraced changed them; as it always should. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” What are some words that may stand out to you to show the Word of God is at work? It is LIVING – meaning that it has and contains life. God’s Word still speaks to the hearts of individuals today. It is ACTIVE and has power. The Word of God has the power to transform and change individuals for the glory of God. It is PIERCING which means it has the power to convict and correct.
Vs 14 - 15: Because they embraced the Word of God they also experienced the same trials, tribulations and persecutions that the Church of Jesus Christ was facing all over the world. The same people who had it out for Jesus had it out for his Church. These same men had Jesus killed. These same men had prophets killed. These same men inevitably opposed all mankind by hindering Paul, his companions and the churches by hindering them from sharing the Gospel on a grand scale. Because of this some were not able to receive salvation… But God will and does always have the last Word.
When we look at these three short verses today we can invariably ask, “How can these passages be applied to me/us today?” As followers of Jesus Christ everything we hold to be true must be rooted in the Word of God and in the person of Jesus Christ. We do live in a world where the lines of truth are clouded and even vanishing. Truth is now becoming about majority rule. If the majority agrees something is right or wrong then it is. So how does this affect us as believers in Jesus Christ?
Since the Bible is divinely inspired it should also be powerful enough to divinely inspire you to live for his glory. God’s Word transforms; if transformation is what you seek in your life then God’s Word is where you need to begin and settle in. Set aside time every day to spend with Him. Ask Him to change you to become more like Jesus as you embrace and receive His Word.
There was a song in the middle 80's by an all-female pop group The Bangles named “Walk Like An Egyptian”. I don’t think there was a purpose to the song. Ironically the song was added to their album as a joke and it went on to become their best selling single and a top charting song of the year. The song basically encouraged people to walk with the hand gesture that the ancient Egyptian paintings portrayed. Nobody knows why you should walk like an Egyptian it was pointless but fun (to some at least). Often when I hear the song I change the lyrics to “Walk like a Christian”; it may not fit as well but it’s a fun alternative way to sing the song as well to remind me that I should be mindful of my Christian walk and how I should live my life.
Vs 11 – 12: “As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his own children, exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you live in a way worthy of God who calls you to his own kingdom and his glory.”
In these two verses Paul writes passionately about his love and care for the people of Thessalonica. Paul tells the Thessalonians that he is the real deal in his mission work. He loves this congregation as a father loves his own children. It is interesting that Paul uses the uses the image of a father caring for his children. For some believers, the loss of family was a huge price they paid in following Jesus Christ (this was probably the case for most of the church in Thessalonica and more likely with Paul and his companions). Paul’s fatherly imagery and language suggests that this congregation is his new family, since many have lost their family because of their faith the new family will now substitute for those that have been severed or broken.
As a father myself (and anyone who is or has been a father knows) what Paul is telling his congregation. His love for his congregation is deep and sacrificial. I love my children and I will do whatever I can to ensure that they are well taken care of and provided for. I do try to encourage and exhort them to live their lives for God and for him alone. This does not mean though that I will do absolutely anything for my kids just because they ask. It means that I love them so much that sometimes it means I use discipline, or I say “No” to certain things. Showing love to my children is more than giving them “stuff”. It is about training, teaching, encouraging, exhorting and lovingly showing them how they can live in a way that is honorable to God. My wife and I both try to do this with our children. It’s not always easy but certainly necessary. As a parent I encourage them to live their lives separate from the world (and yet in the world) and this often entails living a life that looks different from many of their peers. I desire for them to live their lives in a way that brings glory to God. I hope that the life I live would serve as an example to them asof what the Christian life can look like. This attitude is the same in the Apostle Paul. He loves his church family with the same kind of love a father has for his children. It may not always have been easy but it was necessary.
Paul exhorts and encourages them to “walk in a manner worthy of God.” This means he is telling them to reflect the character of God in their lives (by how they live and conduct life) because they have committed themselves to Him. Notice he does not give a list of do’s and don’ts for Christian living. He doesn’t give them a list of commands to follow and rules to keep, he simply tells them to walk in a manner worthy of God. They apparently knew what this meant. I must also note that he is not telling them to walk in this manner so they will be accepted by God, it is not something that is earned. The worthy manner is a response to God who has called them to be his children. They walk in a worthy manner BECAUSE of who they follow.
Paul exhorts and encourages the Thessalonians to walk in a manner worthy of God and this can lead to asking the question, “How does one walk in a worthy manner before God today in 2015?” What steps can we take to walk in a way that reflects the God we love, worship and serve? I understand Paul does not give a list of rules but I think it might be helpful to share a few practical insights I have found helpful to me in living a life that is honorable to God.
These are JUST five action steps to take in walking in a worthy manner. I think these five serve as great first steps to take but the walk of a believer can be much more fulfilling than just agreeing to take five steps in following Jesus. The walk becomes deeper and more enjoyable over time as you continue to communicate with God and study and apply His Word. May these five steps be a jumpstart to encouraging and exhorting you to live your life to bring honor and glory to God.
Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (2:32). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Many of you have heard or read my story of an opportunity to share my faith at a bar I used to attend in my earlier years. I have shared this story on a number of occasions because it was a unique opportunity in my life where I felt I had to do something I thought I never could do and that was preach the truth in love in an environment that was hostile, indifferent and apathetic towards Christ. If you haven’t read my story go here. I still look back on that evening nearly 25 years ago with fondness because I responded to God’s nudging in my life. It was a time where I felt I needed to obediently step out of my comfort zone and share God’s story, the Gospel, with a group of people who could care less about God’s love for them. In my obedience the Lord brought at least one person into the Kingdom of God that I know of. By some standards this could not be considered very successful but by God’s standards it was a 100% success rate, because he got who he set out to get.
This obedient response was not easy at all. I remember the feeling when I stepped up on the stage to speak. I was scared. I was unsure of what I would say. I was afraid that I might offend someone. In spite of me the Holy Spirit took over and I am glad I that I was obedient. What is strange for me is that it sometimes difficult for me to boldly proclaim the truth in love because of my fears of offending or potentially losing friends and loved ones. I am glad I have the Apostle Paul to look at as he always offers encouragement and insight in his writing and in the life he led.
Today’s passage is in 1 Thessalonians 2 and it is perfect for inspiring and encouraging all of God’s people to go out and boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Vs 1 – 3: Paul has never shied away from preaching the Gospel nor did he ever try to hide it or act like it didn’t impact his life. He boldly proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ regardless of where he was. I wish I could say the same about me. I use excuses like I don’t want to come across as pushy, I don’t want to be made fun of for my faith or I think that for some ridiculous reason that I will come across as overly righteous. I think it is important to know and learn from Paul… in proclaiming the Gospel that we have nothing to be ashamed of. The Gospel is full of hope, joy, peace, love and freedom. The Gospel is our foundation and it is everything we hold on to as followers of Jesus Christ.
The word Gospel is derived from the Greek word Euaggeleion (Yoo-ang-ghel-ee-on) which means good tidings or good news. The Gospel proclaims the good news of the kingdom of God which has come and is still to come through Jesus the Messiah. It is the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to those who believe. It is the good news of the death of Jesus Christ and how he has reconciled (or made peace) with God. It is the good news of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ. He rose again for our justification. It is the good news of his return in all majesty and His coming Kingdom. This good news needs to be proclaimed boldly.
Vs 4 - 7: Speaking the truth in love. Saying what needs to be said is often difficult. I feel that speaking the truth of God’s Word from the pulpit is one of the joys and curses of being a pastor. I have had moments in ministry where I knew that speaking the truth might offend. There have been times where I felt I needed to speak about something that was sensitive subject matter and I had to determine in my heart... do I speak what God wants me to speak or do I skirt the subject and go on to something else? When I face these situations I am reminded of the words written by Paul to the Thessalonians, "So we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts." (vs. 4)
I/we need to be reminded often that proclaiming the Gospel (in the pulpit or in everyday life) is not intended to please people or make people feel good about themselves. Hopefully the words I do speak from the do bring hope to people not because it was spoken with eloquence or creativity but because the truth was proclaimed and received. The gospel message is offensive to many and if pastors and believers continually proclaim it they will eventually offend. Since this is the case we cannot let this affect the message we proclaim. We have the great privilege to proclaim God's Word because we are "approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel."
This does not, however, give us permission to be abusive or manipulative in the words we speak. We are to be "gentle" in our delivery and let the Word of God speak for itself and penetrate the hearts of those to whom we proclaim it. Our job is to deliver the Word of God to the people in love and if it offends some, realize it's not because of you. They are offended by God and there is nothing you can do about that.
Vs 8: There is a myth in Christianity where people believe that the Christian walk is a private matter. They have the attitude that their faith is all about Jesus and me. They think (and sometimes say), “I don’t need anyone as long as I have a personal relationship with Jesus.” If you know me well enough you have heard me say, “There are no such thing as ’Lone Ranger’ Christians” and this is true (and I have even been lovingly corrected because even the Lone Ranger had a companion in Tonto).
The Gospel of Jesus is the core of our faith. As Christians we are to share the “good news” of Jesus. Paul tells the Thessalonians that they were ready to share it with them. Then he says (and I am paraphrasing), “We not only want to share the Gospel but we want to share ourselves with you because you are like family to us.” You see as disciples of Jesus we are called to community and not seclusion. We are to share ourselves with one another. What does this really mean though? I believe Paul is telling his dearly beloved readers in Thessalonica that as Christians we need each other. We need to share one another’s burdens, joys, trials, concerns and so on. We need to share ourselves with one another so we may be able to edify and build up the body of Christ. We need to share ourselves so we can pray for, encourage and give hope to one another.
We all have trials, concerns, troubles, health issues and etc. We are human and these all come with the human territory. Don’t you think we can weather these storms when we have loving brothers and sisters to support us? On the other hand, when something fantastic happens and you see the hand of God in action in your life, don’t you want to share it with someone? As a Pastor I DEPEND on the prayers of a congregation. I thrive on celebrating little victories with others. When I am down-trodden and beaten up I lean on the support of fellow believers who are there to support me. The simple truth is, we need one another. The Christian faith is a journey that we walk and we cannot walk it alone.
Vs 10: I am in awe of the confidence and boldness Paul has in his conduct and faith. I came across this quote, “If the best sermon is a holy life, Paul was a great preacher.” You and I have the great joy and burden of not only proclaiming the Gospel but also in living a godly life. It’s not the “job” of only Pastors to preach and live a holy and upright life; a holy and upright life is the call of every follower of Jesus. Jesus says, in John 13:35, “By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our character and our conduct speaks volumes about who we serve. For example a selfish, unloving, and greedy person shows that he serves self. A selfless, loving and giving person points to the Jesus she serves.
Paul lived a life that was honorable among the people he ministered to and the God he served. I pray one day I will be able to stand before all the people I have served over the years and say, “As you and God are my witnesses I have lived a holy, righteous and blameless life by the grace of God.” Notice I did not nor does Paul say “sinless”. To live a holy life means to live your life set apart for God. You aim to please the Father through your life and you live with him as you God and King. To be righteous means you live a just life or aim to be in right standing with God. To live a blameless life means you have lived a life (or strived to live a life) where nobody can make accusations of you living contrary to what you believe. In other words as Christians we must live our lives to please God. We cannot live to please God in our own power. Each one of us must depend on the Holy Spirit to help us live holy, righteous and blameless lives. This is why I make it a point to pray often “Lord help me to live the life that will bring honor and glory to your name. I can’t do it in my own power so I depend on your Spirit to live it through me.”
What is the take home for today? I want to challenge you to do as I wrote about in my last post and strive to be imitators of Jesus. In doing so there are three action steps from todays passage that we can take with us.
Thessalonica was a large city of over 100,000 people and was the capital of Macedonia. It was a wealthy commercial center due to its location on a harbor. It was a diverse city religiously speaking, meaning it had “something” for everyone. It was a prominently pagan city and represented traditional Greek worship and philosophical thought, Roman imperial worship (Caesars are worshiped) and the city also housed a couple of temples dedicated to Egyptian gods Osiris and Isis. There was also a sizeable Jewish community in the city so naturally there was a synagogue as well. The Apostle Paul had planted the church of Thessalonica (as a result of preaching in the synagogues) but was forced out the city prematurely due to a riot that resulted because of Paul preaching the Gospel and he was not able to return (cf Acts 17).
The Church that Paul is writing to is a local congregation made up of a few converted Jews and many "Jesus believing former pagans". It is believed that this church was a predominantly Gentile congregation; so they were young in faith and unfamiliar with Jewish traditions and more specifically Christianity. Almost immediately after its establishment this young congregation faced persecution from both unbelieving Jews and Gentiles which was not uncommon at this time.
Paul’s reason for writing this epistle was to encourage this young congregation. He was unable to properly disciple this group of believers because of his premature departure so he may have been afraid that they would not stick with the faith during their intense persecution. Initially Paul had wanted to visit the believers of Thessalonica but he was hindered. Instead he sent his travel companion, the young pastor Timothy, and upon his return to Paul and he gave him the great news that all was well at the Church of Thessalonica. Timothy not only reported about their faithfulness in the midst of persecution but also that the church was in fact growing a midst the persecution.
Vs 1 – 2: "We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers."
Prayer is such a powerful tool and I think we as Christians don't utilize it nearly as often as we should. I am as guilty as the next person concerning neglect of prayer, but I know that this is one avenue that God has given us in keeping in communication with him. We, like the Apostle Paul, must be disciplined to maintain this line of communication. I often think God must be in heaven scratching his head in wonder as to how we must be disciplined to make time for him. We have to actually schedule a time to talk with our God (if time permits)! If you are anything like me I sometimes get so consumed in life that I forget to talk to the Creator the one who matters most in life. I forget!? I am perplexed as to how often I neglect my primary source of power simply because I either forget, don't want to or think I don't have the time.
The reality is I don't feel like praying every day. I sometimes don't make time to pray. I sometimes think prayer boring. Nevertheless I think it is an important and necessary part of my life. God constantly reminds me of the words and actions of Paul in this first part of Thessalonians. I'm sure when they were in prison for a crime they never committed the last thing they "felt" like doing was praying... But that's what they did. I'm sure when the mobs were surrounding them and beating them they didn't have the time to pray... But that's what they did. I am also sure that there were times when they would have rather been out doing something other than praying... But pray is what they did. WHY? Because it was their lifeline and they saw the value of prayer. That's where I want to be in my walk with the Lord.
Vs 4: "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,"
How is that for reality? For we KNOW that God has chosen you. Do you know this and believe it? God chose YOU!
People have problems with knowing that God chose them and not vice versa. Jesus says in John 15:16, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." God chose us unto salvation. He gave us the faith to believe. We are saved and redeemed! Now we are truly free! We have the freedom to turn our backs on sin. We are free to choose to do good works. We are free from the bondage of sin and Satan. Through God's sovereign grace I am chosen and truly free.
Vs 5 - 6: "And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,"
The evidence of salvation in a person is a changed life. Paul writes to the Thessalonians that after they received the Gospel by word and through the power of the Holy Spirit they became imitators of them (Paul and his travel companions) and ultimately imitators of Jesus Christ. There are a number of times in the Bible where Paul tells his readers, "Imitate me". Most of the time he writes, "Imitate me and imitate the Lord." He actually equates the two, he essentially says, "If you imitate me, then you imitate Christ." I don't think Paul is exalting himself by saying these things. I think he was simply saying, "Do as I do because I am imitating Christ."
Vs 6 – 7: “for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”
Affliction and joy; these are two words that you rarely see together today. If you do a study in the book of Acts you would see one common denominator throughout and that is joy in trials and persecutions. For example, the Apostles get a beating and they leave rejoicing because they were considered worthy of the cause, Another time Paul and Silas were singing in prison... Singing!? There are so many times that we read that the believers rejoiced after or during trials and persecution.
The early church has set a great example and precedence when it comes to having joy in the Lord in times of trial and persecution. We should also imitate the Thessalonians and no matter what we face, we would want to receive the word of God with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
Vs 8: “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”
It is important to be part of a church that preaches the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately many churches today spend so much of their time, energy and resources trying not to be too "churchy". They want to be a "cool" and "hip" place to go. They want to be a place where people don't feel like they are in church. They don't want to be too preachy because it will not attract people. Some go so far as to eliminate words like sin, salvation and Hell because those are archaic, negative or "not relevant" in this postmodern society.
I think Jesus' plan for the Church was/is much simpler than what we have made it. We often think of the church as the building and forget that the Church is not necessarily a physical place but a gathering of fellow believers who set out to live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know I would rather serve in a church that is known as a body of believers who "sound forth the word of the Lord" instead of being a church consumed with building maintenance, marketing and "keeping up with the times” all the while neglecting the Word of God.
Vs 9 - 10: For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come."”
This is another quality about the Thessalonians that I admire. They turned from idols to serve the "living and true God." They weren't star struck with royalty and celebrities. They didn't allow money or possessions to rule their lives. They had forsaken all of this for the living God.
Since the Thessalonians have turned from idols and worshiped the "living and true God" they now anticipated Jesus' return. They were living with the hope that Jesus would return soon and they anxiously awaited the day. I can understand how they felt. I look forward to Christ's return as well.
I know there are a lot of "theories" on how and when Christ will return. Theologians have argued for years about how and when Christ will return. We don't know when Jesus will return. God's word says, only God knows the day, the hour and the time. We get our boxers in a bunch arguing about when, where and how and I think we just need to live our lives as though Jesus may return any day.
Will there be a rapture? Will it be pre, mid or post trib? Will Jesus come back tomorrow? Will He be back today? I honestly don't know. I have actually stopped filling my mind with end time scenarios. All I know is Jesus will return some day (as the Bible says) and it will be a glorious day for the believer.
I have covered a lot of ground today so I have a few points to highlight for you to contemplate and apply.
Imagine for one moment that your life was so dedicated to Christ that you could honestly tell others to imitate all you do because you imitate Jesus Christ. What would that look like? How would this change the way you live your life? If you knew people were watching you and using you as an example what would you do different? What would I do different? Would I change the way I talk? Would I change the way I treat others? Would I change the way I drive? The list goes on...May we all strive to be imitators of Christ?
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I currently live on the Gulf Coast of Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with over 25 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful.