Sermon: The Gospel Comes to Thessalonica and The Church is Formed 1 Thessalonians 1.1.3

The Gospel Comes to Thessalonica and The Church is Formed

1 Thessalonians 1:1-3

Truth Taught- Paul encourages the new Christians by showing them that their faith is genuine because the good works they are engaged in can only be accomplished by faith.

 

Introduction

To begin our study in 1 Thessalonians it is important that we get the framework and setting of this great letter written by the Apostle Paul.

It was in AD 49 on Paul’s 2nd missionary journey that he and his missionary team took the Gospel to the ancient city of Thessalonica.

Thessalonica was named after one of Alexander the Great’s general’s wife. It is placed on the key route between Rome and the East. In Paul’s time it was the capitol of Macedonia. So important was the City of Thessalonica that one scholar writes that it narrowly escaped being made the capitol of the world.

The team was made up of Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke. These four missionaries sailed together across the North Aegean Sea into what is now Europe. What adventures they had. Anyone who thinks Christianity is boring does not know and has never experienced true Christianity. Lets travel together with Paul and the others and experience what the Gospel is and what it does when shared with pagan idolaters in this great ancient city.

We remember that it was in Acts 16 where Luke finally caught up with Paul and the others. As we read that section we remember the shift in the narrative from Luke’s third person plural they to first person plural we. It was in Luke’s narrative in Acts 16 that we have what is named, the Macedonian Call.

Acts 16:6–10 (ESV)

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Prayer

  1. The Adventure Begins, The Gospel Enters Thessalonica

In Acts 17 we have Luke’s eyewitness account of Paul’s time in the city. So, to set the stage for this great book let me read Acts 17:1-9…

Acts 17:1–9 (ESV)

17 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

Notice that Luke reports,

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

So, he enters the local synagogue where the Jews met every Sabbath and opened up the Old Testament and reasoned with them and proved to them that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Can you imagine preaching and teaching that Jesus is the Messiah and sharing the Gospel in a Jewish Synagogue? To do this you would have to explain that just about everything they currently believed is wrong. It’s easy to see why there were some who were convinced and then there were some who were enraged by what Paul said. He did this in their church!

Some joined them and some tried to kill them. Isn’t it strange what happens when the Gospel is taught and proven? When the Gospel is shared accurately there really is no logical reproof and so the only thing left is violence. This is exactly what took place in Jesus’ life. He proved that He was the Messiah by all He did. He proved that He was God’s Son, which left His opposition with one response…to kill Him. In God’s sovereign plan this is exactly what needed to happen in order for Jesus to be our Savior, He had to die.

For Paul and the missionaries things became so bad that the Christians of Thessalonica demanded that they leave so they would not be killed by the angry Jewish mob that was seeking to take their lives.

So, Paul had to leave just after 3 weeks of teaching them the Gospel. What would become of this little infant Church in the big Macedonian City of Thessalonica? We will discover that this little infant Church would be cared for by God and much like the baby Moses was carried along by God in the basket to safety so God would lead this infant Church to amazing growth in a very short time.

Let’s turn to our text for this Lord’s Day…

1 Thessalonians 1:1–3 (ESV)

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. The Apostolic Greeting

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

Today in our Internet world letters are almost a thing of the past. In our world even email is on its way out in lieu of rapid-fire texts. However, there is something special about receiving a letter. Many things are evident when one receives a personal letter. The writer cares enough to sit down and write it, fold it up neatly, place it in the envelope, lick the stamp, place it in the mailbox, and wait for a reply. When one sends a letter they are telling the recipient that they wish they could be with them, however, distance has separated them but their hearts are still knit together as friends.

When Paul wrote the letter to the Thessalonians, he was showing them that he cared for their wellbeing. He cared that they were enduring trials. He cared for their souls. He longed to be with them and their hearts were still knit together.

He addresses his letter to the Thessalonian Church. Literally, he calls them the ecclesia in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. His recipients are a special particular group. He didn’t write to the City of Thessalonica or any other group, he wrote to the ecclesia (called out ones) who were a part of the church in the large city. God had called out from among this great pagan city of idolaters a small group for Himself.

Between the time Paul was there with them and the time of his writing the Judaizers had entered into the Church and began teaching false doctrine.

Paul wrote this letter to encourage new believers in their faith, to exhort them to godly living, to give them assurance about the eternal state of believers who had died, and to defend the integrity of his ministry as an apostle. [1]

So, the first thing he wanted to make sure these young Christians knew was that they were secure in their faith. The Judaizers were teaching them that they were not true Christians and that their loved ones who had died in the faith were somehow outside of Christ. These Jews were basically claiming that to view Jesus as the Messiah was blasphemous, Paul wasn’t an Apostle, they weren’t God’s people, and their loved ones were also lost.

Paul’s emphasis is to reassure these infant Christians that they are, in fact, secure in their faith. So, he writes that they are the true Israelites, called out from among the larger group to form God’s people. That’s why he tells them that they are the ecclesia called out of the world and are in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ.

These Christians are part of the true Israelite Congregation established by the latter-day work of the Messiah Jesus. They are the true Israel and the Jews who are giving them such difficulties are actually not God’s people at all.

Romans 9:6–8 (ESV)

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

In his first verse he is reassuring the Church that they are the real thing. They are secure in their faith.

Not only does Paul reassure them of their faith but he also shows them the benefits of their faith. What is the resulting benefit of the Thessalonians now standing in the realm where God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ dominate?

Grace to you and peace.

Can you imagine the relief these words brought with them. Their lives had been in turmoil because of these false teachers. They were no doubt anxious, heartbroken, sad, frustrated and confused and then they get these words of truth.

Beloved we need truth to combat all the false ideas and teaching floating around our world today. False teaching is like a fire that spreads across a dry forest. It takes a strong rain to put it out. Truth is the strong rain that puts out the fire of false doctrine that turns us inside out and confuses us. Oh, what a relief Paul’s words are to these young Christians. They went from turmoil and confusion to Grace and Peace. The truth of God will always bring us grace and peace.

In this life, isn’t it good to read these words and know that while they were first meant for this specific Church they ripple through the centuries and are also intended to be applied by all who are called by God and are in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. By your faith, you are secure, you too are the real thing.

  1. Thanking God for the Endurance of Others

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here in verses 2 and 3 we see that Paul and the others are continually thanking God for the endurance and evidence of genuine faith of the Christians in Thessalonica.

What was it about these new Christians that caused Paul and the others to constantly give thanks and remember them in their prayers? Paul saw an amazing conversion within the lives of these men and women. He saw that God had changed them and they were showing true Christian behavior. He was aware that their faith was genuine because their lives match their profession. He’s determined to renew their confidence that they really are genuine believers. He does this by looking at three actions that were fueled by their inner being. These were not just deeds they accomplished because good deeds at times can be carried out by anyone, even a lost person. These were deeds that were manifested because of a changed heart.

Works produced by faith-

These were not just good works but things they did that were over and above the normal good deed type of work. These were things that in order to do them required their faith to be operating. In other words, Paul is reminding them of the good works that were so over and above that they had to have genuine faith.

He was probably thinking about the things they did while he was with them. Perhaps the time they hid Paul and lowered him over the wall to escape risking their own lives for his. He may be thinking about the amazing account Timothy has shared with Paul of their mass evangelistic efforts. Whatever the specific act/acts were they were things that came about because of their genuine faith.

Labor prompted by love-

Labor a different word from work is still something done but literally done, in essence, out of love for God and for His people.

Romans 5:5 (ESV)

and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Paul had in mind certain deeds that were clearly done because of their love for God and their love for him. This was the type of love that can only come about if God has poured it into us through the Holy Spirit.

Endurance inspired by hope-

What the apostle witnessed in these brand new Christians was perseverance of faith. They were enduring through trials because of the hope they had while waiting on Christ’s return. They were persevering not out of trying real hard to not cave in but they persevered in faith because of their hope in Christ. This was evident to Paul and the others and reason for them to see that only true faith produces this type of endurance.

These three God-wrought qualities have been called the Christian triad of attributes. Faith, hope, and love served to give the Thessalonian Christians needed confidence that their faith was genuine so these God given attributes can also give us confidence that our conversion is real as well.

Application-

If the Apostle Paul were with you for three weeks like he was with those early Christians what would he give thanks to God about in your case? In the three-week period would he have witnessed these qualities in your life? Would he give thanks to God because you went consistently over and above in your service to God and to others? Would he have seen things that could have only been accomplished by your faith at work?

To have a vibrant and working faith, our faith must be tied to truth. Their faith was so connected to the truth they had been taught that it fueled their actions.

  1. Children’s Illustration

So kids, here’s an illustration of how faith must be tied to truth.

Luke 5:1–7 (ESV)

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.

Now kids Simon Peter was somewhat reluctant to obey Jesus because it went against all that he knew as a fisherman. He obeyed but his obedience was somewhat halfhearted.

Then there was another time when Jesus told Simon Peter how to catch fish…

John 21:4–8 (ESV)

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

Peter wasn’t reluctant to obey this time because his faith was tied to truth. He knew Jesus could do this because he witnessed Him do it before. He obeyed at a moments notice because all his doubts were gone.

When we follow Jesus we will be involved in things that may not make sense and in order to obey we are going to have to rely on our faith. Like Peter, the more we obey what God tells us in His Word the easier obedience will be in the future because we will have seen what God can do when we obey. Peter knew Jesus could be trusted because Jesus had done this before and He had never lied to Peter. So, Peter’s faith was tied to the truth he knew about Jesus. This only comes from or experiences with following Jesus and seeing how He always tells us the truth in His Word and He can always be trusted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Resources Used:

1 and 2 Thessalonians by Robert Cara

1 and 2 Thessalonians by G K Beale

1 and 2 Thessalonians by John Stott

1 and 2 Thessalonians by Leon Morris

1 and 2 Thessalonians by FF Bruce

1 and 2 Thessalonians by G L Green

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Th). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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