It is hard to grasp that this is the last Sunday of 2020. As we come to the close of this year, I have decided to preach a “one off” sermon. I guess technically it is not a one off since it is a series that we will pick up throughout the year (and maybe longer). There are times throughout the year where Pastor Sam and I have decided that we would take a week to preach whatever we like as we transition from one sermon series to the next. This is one of those weeks. Today I will start a series from the book of 1 Thessalonians chapter 1and we will come back to at various throughout the next year.
Purpose of the Letter
The Epistle of 1 Thessalonians is a letter the Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Thessalonica. The church is believed to have been a mixed local congregation made up of a few converted Jews and many Jesus believing former pagans. It is believed that it was a predominantly Gentile congregation; so, it is assumed that 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. Unfortunately, the apostle was unable to properly disciple this group of believers because of his premature departure from the city due to a riot (Acts 17) 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. Since he was hindered, he sent his travel companion, the young pastor Timothy, and upon his return to Paul 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 thriving amidst persecution.
City of Thessalonica
At the time of Paul’s letter (50 - 60 AD) the city of Thessalonica was a large port city located on Aegean Sea and had a population100,000 to 200,000 people and it was the capital of Macedonia. It was a wealthy commercial center due to its location on a harbor. It was a religiously diverse city which meant that it had “something” for everyone. It was a prominently pagan city and represented traditional Greek worship and philosophical thought, Roman imperial worship (Caesar worship) and the city housed a couple of temples dedicated to the 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 as previously stated was forced out of the city prematurely due to a riot that was the result of Paul preaching the Gospel thus, he was not able to return.
Imitators of Christ
Read vs 1 - 10
Vs 2: " We always thank God for all of you, making mention of you constantly in our prayers."
Paul begins his letter much like his other Epistles by telling the recipients of the letter how thankful he is for them and that he is praying for them. Prayer is such a powerful tool, and it is one we do not utilize nearly as often as we should. I am as guilty as the next person concerning neglect of prayer, but it is one primary avenue that God has given us in keeping in communication with him and we, like the Apostle Paul, must be disciplined in maintaining 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. If you are anything like me I can sometimes get so consumed in life that I forget to talk to the Creator the one I claim matters most in life and I forget. I forget!? I am baffled as to how often I neglect the primary source of power in my life simply because I either forget, I don't want to, or I think I don't have the time.
The reality for many of us who neglect prayer is we aren’t so much forgetful as we don't feel like praying every day. I sometimes don't make time to pray. I sometimes think prayer boring. Nevertheless, I claim it is one of the most important and necessary disciplines of every believer’s life. God constantly reminds me of the words and actions of Paul in this first part of Thessalonians.
In Paul’s life I'm sure when they were put 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 praying 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 and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you,"
How is that for reality? For we KNOW that God has chosen you. Do you understand this and believe it? God. Chose. YOU!
Surprisingly, people have problems grasping and believing this truth of God’s election. There are many people who do not like the idea that they had no part to play in receiving Christ. They believe that they chose Jesus and not the other way around. I think people hold this view because they feel that by God choosing them, they lose the freedom to have a will of their own. However, Jesus says in John 15:16, " You did not choose me, but I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you." It cannot be more plainly than this. God chose you unto salvation. He gave you the faith to believe and as a result we are saved and redeemed by God’s grace. Since this is true, because of God’s grace we are truly free to choose; how so?
Vs 6: " and you yourselves became imitators of us and of the Lord when, in spite of severe persecution, you welcomed the message with joy from 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." Seems kind of prideful, doesn’t it? I do not think Paul is being prideful or exalting himself by saying these things. I think he was simply saying, "Do as I do because I am imitating Christ."
Vs 7: “As a result, you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”
Affliction and joy; these are two words that you rarely see together in a positive manner. A general study through the book of Acts would lead you to see one common denominator throughout; and it is joy amidst trials and persecutions. We see many examples throughout Acts where the Apostles receive a beating and leave a city rejoicing because they were considered worthy of the cause. We see in some accounts that Paul and Silas were singing in the prison... Singing??? There are so many times that we read 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. We should also imitate the Thessalonians and no matter what we face, we would want to receive the word of God with joy of the Holy Spirit.
Vs 8: “For the word of the Lord rang out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place that your faith, in God has gone out. Therefore, we don’t need to say anything.”
It is important to be a church that preaches and lives out the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, too many churches spend much of their time, energy and resources trying not to be too "churchy". So many work hard to try to be a "cool" or "relevant" place to go where people don't feel like they are in church. Some churches do not want to be too preachy because it will not attract people. They want to remain “positive” and “encouraging” at all costs, which is not always wrong. However, 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.
Jesus' plan for the Church was/is much simpler than what it has become. People 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. For me personally, I would rather Southside Church be known as a body of believers who "ring out 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 what kind of reception we had from you: how you turned to God from idolsto serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
This is another quality about the Thessalonians that I admire. They turned from idols to serve the "living and true God." They were not 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.
There are a lot of "theories" on how and when Christ will return. There are the Pre-tribulation view, Post-tribulation view and the Mid-tribulation view (if you want to know what these words mean you look them up or search them on Google). Theologians have argued for years about how and when Christ will return. But the God’s honest truth is we don't know when or how Jesus will return. God's word says, only God knows the day, the hour and the time. People get all up in arms arguing about when, where and how and the truth is we need to stop divisively arguing and debating and focus on living our lives as though Jesus may return any day. This is all we know… 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 this morning so I have a few points to highlight so you can easily apply this first chapter to your life personally. They are as followed…
I pray that I can live my life for Christ that I could be an example to others and to live a life pleasing to him that I could encourage others to imitate all I do because I imitate Jesus Christ. What does that look like for me? What does that look like for you? How would living this way change the way you live your life now? If you knew people were watching you (and they are) and using you as an example what would you and I do different? Would it change the way I talk? Would it change the way I treat others? Would it change the way I drive? The answer is yes, it should and would. So may we all strive to live lives where imitate Jesus everyday?
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
Preview or purchase Jeff's Books