Month: October 2017

The ‘Yeast’ of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13-20)

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Paul, Silas & Timothy shared the Gospel in Thessalonica then had to leave the city after only a short time for fear of their lives. Would the believers who came to faith in Christ remain? Would the church that formed as a result of their Gospel sharing survive without their input and leadership?

We know that Paul believed that the Gospel is a powerful force because he says in Romans 1:16 that it is ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’. Here, having had to leave the brand new Thessalonian believers alone Paul had a confidence…WHY?

I love making bread. It often amazes me that only about 0,5% of yeast is needed in dough to make bread rise. The seemingly insignificant amount of yeast slowly begins to start working through the dough eventually transforming the whole batch of dough as it gets ready to become bread.

The Gospel is similar, it can just seem like some profound but seemingly insignificant or simple words like the yeast in over a two kilograms of flour and water. But the Gospel is the power of God!

And this I believe is Paul’s confidence, they shared so little with the Thessalonians but what they did share in those three weeks was the Gospel, the good news about Jesus, WHO He is and WHAT He has DONE for us. And that good news is ‘the word of God’ ‘which is at work in you believers’ (vs13). Like some yeast, the Gospel was at work, producing ongoing transformation in these believers who had to be left when Paul and his team fled for their lives.

The Gospel is not just how we enter the Kingdom of God, the gospel is the power of God to save and change us continually ever increasingly into the resemblance of God’s glory.

Back to yeast for a moment, as a baker apart from mixing the yeast into the ingredients there is nothing else you can do, no work required for the yeast to do its transformative work…

Similarly you and I can trust in the power of the Gospel to produce it’s transformative effect in our own lives and in the lives of others whom God has chosen. Whatever it is that needs transforming in your life, I am convinced that the Gospel is the power you need to bring about that transformation.

So I urge you to meditate continually on the fact that you are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than you dared to believe, yet at the very same time you are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than you ever dared hope (Tim Keller) – and let those truths melt your heart and guide your actions.

Exhort, encourage, charge (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12)

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For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. – ESV

And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. 12 We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory. – NLT

Not all things in life have equal value.  Friends who’ve watched a good film might encourage other to do so themselves.  It’s not life altering, just a suggestion of something that might be nice.  While a parent or a mentor might exhort or even plead with a young person to avoid certain places or people for their life’s sake or might even charge them to promise that they won’t do something or will do something of great importance…

The more important something is, the more urgent the appeals tend to become and the urgency of the appeals reveal something of the perceived importance of the matter to the person speaking.

So what is worth someone’s exhortation, pleading, encouraging, urging even their charging others?

Paul uses three phrases all in one sentence, translated as we ‘exhorted’, ‘encouraged’ and even ‘charged’, to stress how important this thing is that he wants to emphasise for them to make a priority in their lives….so what is it?

Paul is urgently insistent that the Thessalonian believers, that we ourselves would live our lives in such a way that God would consider those lives worthy of God’s having called us and saved us.

He feels like a dad as he says this.  As a dad it’s a terrible thing when I see my kids taking something for granted, not valuing what they have been given, seeing them ignoring something incredible they’ve been blessed with, seeing no gratitude in their response.

The Christian life is a response.  It’s a response to the wonder and mystery of the goodness and kindness and mercy of God’s saving love for us.  The more we see the magnitude of what God’s done for us in sending Jesus to die in our place for our sin, the more we will respond with a life fuelled by gratitude expressed towards God who has loved us so incredibly.  And that life will be a God-pleasing life!  A life that is worthy, is an appropriate response, considering what God has done for us.

The Christian life is a response of whole life worship (Romans 12:1-2), not just 1-2hrs on a Sunday, but 24/7 worship of God in all and through all you do and say.  That’s the type of life that Jesus’ gift to you and to me is worthy of.

So, how’s your life response, is it a worthy one?

What might you want to change?

What might God want you to change?

We love Jesus back by living our lives as a wholehearted response to His wholehearted giving of Himself for us.  We do so not out of a sense of debt and trying to pay Jesus back but rather out of gratitude for who He is and what He has done for us  – we respond by loving Jesus back with our whole lives.

And this is worth exhorting, encouraging & charging others with!

Leadership Expectations (1 Thessalonians 2:5-9)

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What’s appropriate behaviour & motivation for church leaders?

Sadly we live in an age of celebrity leaders spurred on by the power of media such as television, books, audio, podcasts, vodcasts & social media.  With this notoriety comes the potential pitfalls of financial gain, aloofness, opulence, self-serving agendas or teachings…

We already know from 1Thessalonians 2:4 that Paul and his team as leaders in God’s church, were motivated by pleasing God, and not by trying to people-please.  Now in verses 5-10 we discover that these leaders were also not self-pleasing but rather self-sacrificial in nature.

They did not flatter people so as to manipulate them for their own advancement.  They did not have a motive of greed or financial gain, and they did not seek their own fame and glory, or the adulation from people.  Paul writes how God is their witness in these things…

Rather as godly leaders in this context they were;

  • Gentle: they didn’t wield their authority but gently appealed to people’s consciences (2 Corinthians 4:2) as they lead them. (vs7)
  • Caring: they loved sacrificially like a mother, caring always for those they’d been charged by God to lead by serving. (vs7)
  • Authentic: they didn’t just share their words/ideas but shared their whole lives with those they lead.  They lived revealed, transparent accountable lives with those they lead. (vs8)
  • Sacrificial: they were bi-vocational, preaching while also working to raise money so as to not be too much of a burden on this young church plant in Thessalonica (vs9-10)

These are the types of attitudes and actions that can be expected of godly leadership.  Godly leaders are not perfect, but they are to represent Christ who was all of these things in the extreme.

There is no place for leaders in God’s church who are harsh, unloving, seeking-fame, unauthentic, aloof or self-serving.  Such characteristics ought to be lovingly challenged, repented of and turned away from.

Leaders get their marching orders from Jesus Christ who is the ultimate example of sacrificial love, authenticity and integrity and a gentleness that never compromised but always cared and loved for even the most unlovely.

Father God may we have more leaders who are like Jesus!

And may I/may we who are leaders always check & re-check our hearts!

The God-Pleasing life… (1 Thessalonians 2:1-4)

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‘People-pleasing’ is a terrible insatiable noose that breeds nothing but insecurity and robs one of joy and confidence.  And yet its such a common ‘life-operating-system’ that people function from.

Double checking everything you do or say through the grid of; ‘what will they think of me if…?’  Such a life-operating-system results in inconsistency as one always feels you need to adapt your words or actions to what will please those you’re with.  And so this life-operating-system sets oneself up for compromise and the inability to hold strong convictions.

Here in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4, Paul is looking back at his time sharing the Gospel with the Thessalonians (see Acts 17) and makes some arguments for why they can stand on, trust in the Good News He shared with them;

  1. He reminds them that he and his team had just escaped Philippi where they were  beaten up and then imprisoned for the Gospel.  People don’t tend to risk their lives for something they are not convinced of… (vs1-2)
  2. He reminds them that again in Thessalonica they had preached despite being ‘in the midst of much conflict’.  They were again risking their lives to share this Gospel news…
  3. Therefore the Thessalonians can know that there message is authentic, is not some made up story or con-man’s scheme to trick them
  4. They know that God approved them and entrusted the Gospel message to them and this is why they keep going, keep speaking the Gospel despite opposition and threat – they are living to please God and not people.

There it is, an alternative life-operating-system at work deep in the apostle Paul;

‘God-pleasing’ not ‘people-pleasing’.

What’s your current default ‘life-operating-system’?

God-pleasing or people-pleasing?

Living the God-pleasing life results in;

  • Conviction: because you’re living out of eternal truth & unshakeable relationship
  • Consistency: because what you believe is founded on solid rock not quicksand.
  • Courage: because you know the ONE you’re serving, & He promised to Help you.
  • Commitment: because you’re living to please the ONE that matters forevermore.
  • Celebration: because you will be rewarded one day into eternity for living this way.
  • Calm: because you know the ONE who loves you, the ONE you’re living for!

The Gospel came, was received & was passed on… (1 Thessalonians 1:5-10)

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1) The Gospel CAME to you… vs5

‘not just with words’

This means at least two things; firstly, it did come with words, words are important, we must share the good news about Jesus with our words as Christ followers, with our preaching as the church.

‘but also in power and in the Holy Spirit’

Secondly, words alone are not enough but need to be confirmed with God’s power which at least is God’s miraculous power at work through Holy Sprit in anyone who believes.  More than this it can also point to external miracles of healing etc that authenticate what is being spoken of about God/Jesus.

So when we share the good news we should pray for our words to come with Holy Spirit power and we should step out in faith allowing God to use us to authenticate His word with acts of power!

 ‘and with full conviction’

The Gospel was proclaimed as it is, the truth and so was proclaimed with confidence and or it was received with full conviction by those who heard it.

2) And you RECEIVED it…vs6

The Thessalonians received the good news about Jesus with joy that was given by the Holy Spirit in spite of much affliction from the surrounding culture (opposition/persecution) because they believed.

Do you remember that feeling of bubbling joy, the feeling that something was exceedingly right when you came to faith in Jesus?  

Coming to faith might mean much struggle, much that needs to change or even opposition… But nothing can rob one of the joy of knowing, sins are forgiven, future is secure, identity & belonging are resolved forever!

3) You were TRANSFORMED & you RESPONDED passing it on to others…vs8-10

The result of the Gospel in their lives was that they became an example for other believers.  The Gospel sounded out from them in the whole region, more than that their faith was reported way further….

The testimony that rung out from them was specifically how they had; ‘turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’ and how you’re now waiting ‘for His Son from heaven’.

True Gospel transformation starts with the gospel coming to us, then us responding to it with faith and then our being transformed so that we become ‘speakers’ relaying the very same Gospel to others.

Meditate again on your salvation, the goodness of the Gospel message.

Meditate again thanking God for saving you, for convincing you, for giving you freedom and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Ask God to use YOU, to let the Gospel ring out from you, your lips, your life.

Gospel Transformation (1 Thess 1:1-5)

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The preaching of the Gospel always transforms! In Thessalonica the Gospel transformed people in the following ways;

  1. The Gospel formed relationships that had previously not existed. New relationships both within the church and also between those in the church and Paul’s apostolic team. Paul could write how they would regularly pray giving thanks to God for the Thessalonian believers and for what happened in the lives of those who believed there. (vs2)  They had previously not known each other, but now they were joined at a heart level.
  2. The Gospel resulted in inner-life transformation in the believers of Thessalonica.  Having believed the Gospel, they were described as those having faith, love & hope despite harsh opposition in their city. (vs3)  They were described as having faith, hope & love.  This triad (faith, hope, love) is used regularly in the New Testament to describe what the believer’s life becomes characterised by as a result of the Gospel’s transformative effect.
  3. The Gospel produced tangible external transformation.  Note how each of the three Gospel characteristics is paired with a practical observable outworking in their lives;
  • Faith results in work (action/deeds)
  • Love results in labour (toil/trouble/pains)
  • Hope results in steadfastness (cheerful endurance)

True faith in God is evidenced by actions that show that faith to be real.

True love received from God through the Gospel results in real committed love for others that’s robust.

True hope in Christ fortifies us in the midst of present trials and suffering enabling cheerful endurance.

When we believe the good news about Jesus, that truth doesn’t leave our lives unchanged but transforms our relationships, our experience, our thinking and our actions in very observable ways.

Gospel priority & power (Acts 17:1-9)

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In the month of October we are going to be reading through Paul’s letters to the believers he left behind in Thessalonica, the church that was formed through his  brief preaching in that city.

We start, today by looking at the record the book of Acts has of the genesis moment of this church in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9).

Having been beaten, imprisoned then miraculous released from prison in Philippi for preaching the good news about Jesus, Paul & Silas are ejected from Philippi and move on to Thessalonica and within days they are preaching the Gospel again in the synagogue at Thessalonica;

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 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.” (Acts 17:2-3)

Don’t miss this.  Paul and Silas have just miraculously been released from jail and having been beaten for the Gospel by the authorities in Philippi and they don’t go into their shell, they don’t back-off their God-given mission, not even for a moment.

The Gospel was their priority and preoccupation.  They had good news about Jesus that the world around them needed to hear.

Can you say that sharing the Gospel is a priority in your life?

What small changes can you make to change this if change is needed?
Amazingly it appears as though Paul & Silas were only in Thessalonica for about a month or so.  They proclaim the Gospel in the Synagogue for only three weeks and then hostile opposition forces them out of the city…

And yet during that time it’s recorded that Gospel seeds had been sown;

4 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. (Acts 17:4)

When the Gospel is preached, it’s power is released and new communities of faith are formed.  This brand new church community began to form in response to the Gospel message.  A new community of faith was formed, made up of God-fearing Greeks, some of the Jewish people from the Synagogue and a number of leading women in that city.  Paul recounts in 1 Thessalonians 1:1-9 how they were saved when they ‘turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.’

And this is the church that Paul writes his letters of 1 & 2 Thessalonians to.  He had only preached there for a month or so, and yet the Gospel is so powerful that lives are transformed, people who were previously not connected become a community of faith that endures despite significant threat and opposition and becomes a church of Jesus Christ.

Are you convinced of the power of the Gospel to transform lives and form community?

When we share the good news about Jesus, always remember it is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16) and so you can be confident that it will bring about transformation in people’s lives.  So keep sowing Gospel seed everyday, wherever God sends you in your everyday life.