I Thessalonians 1:1-10 (click to display NIV text)
November 18, 2012
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Gladdie Greenfield was the first one to catch it. The menu board on Pancake Night last Wednesday said, “Dinner for Breakfast.” It is a phrase that came from a children’s book we used to read, “The Man who Wanted to Save Time.” It told of a man who was always late in the morning, so he tried to save time by eating breakfast before he went to bed. But then in the morning he was hungry, so he had lunch. Then at noon he had dinner, and so forth. He never saved any time, but he ended up having “dinner for breakfast.”
So when I wrote out the menu board last week, I wrote, “Dinner for Breakfast.””Then I waited to see if anyone would catch it. But no one did; at least no one said anything, perhaps because they were too polite, or because they were not paying attention, or maybe it looked normal to them. Maybe they did not stop to read it. But Gladdie did, and she knew right away it was wrong, it was mixed up, it was backwards. I do know someone who enjoys a piece of cold pizza for breakfast, but mostly we do not like to have dinner for breakfast; that is mixed up for us.
The Thessalonian church was one that did not get their words mixed up when they came to faith in Christ. They caught a lived faith from Paul. So they both understood the Gospel and they lived it fully with faith, hope and love.
Thessalonica was a large city in Macedonia, one with a major trade route going through it. It was prosperous, and filled with many religions and idols, including a strong Emperor Worship cult. If there had been a menu board posted on the City Gates, it might have read:
- Caesar is Lord
- The Imperial cult is not to be questioned (that would be a threat to the city’s economic and political well-being)
- Idolatry provides us with a sense of identity and leads to prosperity
- Death causes life to be hopeless (there was a term they used for this, “snatched away.” Death snatches away people from life, from family, from citizenship. This makes life hopeless)
Paul arrived in 49 AD and preached the Gospel of Christ. If you read chapter 2 you see that he preached Christ in a very intense way. He says he became like “a nursing mother” to them and later calls himself like “a father dealing with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God.” While he was with them he worked at his trade, and so I imagine there was quite a bit of discussion around Paul in his little space at the marketplace. While he worked he preached to them the Gospel, a message that Michael Holmes thinks he summarized in the words “faith, hope and love”:
- The message of faith is that in Christ, God has acted to save us.
- The message of love is that in Christ our present relationship with God has been restored.
- The message of hope is that in Christ the future holds salvation for all who believe, and not wrath.
So the believers in Thessalonica came to a conversion, a commitment through faith in Christ to serve the living and true God, and a commitment in Christ to wait for the Lord’s return from heaven. They were involved in active service to God and they held a future hope.
This caused them to re-write the menu board in the city, to switch some words around. Not “Caesar is Lord,” but “Jesus is Lord.” Not the Imperial Cult, but the Kingdom of God, is eternal. Not idolatry that gives identity, but Christ gives us our identity. So we read that they turned from idols to serve the living and true God. Because they lived by faith in Christ, they knew they also would share in his resurrection, so even if they died, they would be with him at his return.
This is where they took a word from the culture and used it in a very different way. The word “snatched away” is the word we translate as “rapture.” The culture said that death snatches us away from life, all of us. The Christians saw that at the return of Christ, it will be the Lord who “snatches away” or “raptures” his people to life with him. That is the basis for hope.
You see, they read the cultural menu backwards and that caused them to be persecuted. But their faith, hope and love remained strong.
Michael Holmes concludes his commentary by making four statements about the church that come from Thessalonians.
- The church is a community rooted in God’s grace, love and election. What this means is that the church exists because God wants it to.
- The church is a community that is committed to Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection is the foundation of the church, he is the focus of faith, the model for life, and his coming again defines the future.
- The church is a community empowered by the Holy Spirit; the Gospel is not merely a human message.
- The church is a community that bears witness to the Gospel both through its message and also in its lived faith. The behavior of believers is to be consistent with the reality of their message.
The Thessalonian church was made up of people of faith, hope and love. Paul writes that the Gospel came to them with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. Only God can do that. As they responded to Paul’s message, these people found healing in their lives, both physical and also the healing of sin through forgiveness and the healing that brings a change in attitude and behavior. They received the Holy Spirit and in that found guidance as they lived in a hostile setting. They also received gifts for service. They came to their faith with deep conviction.
I like that phrase “deep conviction.” As you grow older you feel things differently in life. The emotional receptors can wear down. So I find in my life I don’t feel the presence of God as much as I used to. I no longer get those emotional experiences of renewal and transformation. The receptors are getting worn out. That is why deep conviction is so important. It sets your course. Now I understand what Edward Mote was getting at when he wrote,
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
“When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.
“On Christ the solid rock I stand: all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
I find it is deep conviction that helps me live more truly by faith, because the emotion or feeling part is not as strong.
I find deep conviction helps me live more truly by hope, because this world does not provide answers to all we need.
I find deep conviction helps me to live more truly by love, because the love of Christ is all that endures.
So my thanksgiving this year has to do with how the Gospel came to me and continues to come to me, by people who have spoken it clearly so I could understand it and by people who showed me and continue to show me how to live out a faith with integrity. I am thankful that faith, hope and love have been more than ideas or wishes. They have been realities because of real people and because of the grace of Christ that somehow continues to be new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness.