Real life is full of ups and downs. Good days and tough moments or even seasons when life can feel like an incredibly hard uphill battle. It’s been said that its not a matter of when you and I will face hardship, sorrow or trials but rather just when.
And yet so often we are knocked off our balance entirely by hardships and or suffering as believers. Why is this?
In part I believe that there is an unhelpful belief/teaching that makes out as if the Christian life is just victorious, just joy, just plain sailing… And when real life isn’t like this, such teaching/belief leads to a potential crisis of faith (God’s not faithful, loving or sovereign) or unhelpful spiritual introspection or even depression believing that the root cause must be lack of faith or an underlying sin issue that’s not been dealt with.
However, a simple reading of the New Testament letters reveals a different picture for us regarding suffering/hardships. Paul expected affliction/hardship, as did the Thessalonian believers because Paul had warned them in those first three weeks of their faith that hardship would come as a result of their faith in Christ. Paul says to them;
“For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4)
Paul wanted “no one (to) be moved by these afflictions” (vs3) that’s why he had warned them before the time that they would come.
I don’t believe Paul was morbid, negative, stoic or resigned to just enduring suffering and letting people walk all over him like a ‘welcome mat at the door’… I believe Paul was REAL, he knew that the enemy although defeated on the cross and having ultimately destiny with destruction at the Lord’s second coming was still the enemy and able to inflict pain and hardship, able to hinder the Gospel and able to hinder believers.
So, he anticipated hardship so was not shocked by it, not knocked off balance by it, but rather he and those he lead could be fortified in it and know how to respond to it with faith.
Paul and his team eventually send Timothy to Thessalonica to establish and exhort the Thessalonians in their faith in Jesus so that ‘no one would be moved by these afflictions’. (1 Thessalonians 3:2-3)
On his return to Paul in Athens Timothy brought back a good report of the Thessalonians faith, love and also their warm friendship and longing to meet again (1 Thessalonians 3:6).
This report comforted Paul and his team and provoked them to thanksgiving and more fervent prayer (night & day) for the Thessalonians that their faith might be firmly established.
What can we learn from this?
The Gospel forms new relationships that didn’t previously exist (1 Peter 2:10)!
Paul is worried, eager to hear news, wanted to come visit, was hindered, prayed, sent Timothy, then was relieved and prayed day and night – all for a group of people he didn’t know prior to their salvation and whom he only spent a month with. But in that time God joined their hearts and true spiritual friendship formed so that they really cared for each other.
God established a heart level partnership between Paul’s team and this church, these believers so that the church longed to see Paul and team again and they were eager to see them and hear from them and wanted to see them built up and encouraged in their faith.
God does this at an individual level when we get joined to individuals in our church who come alongside us or whom God uses us to come alongside to establish and encourage them in their faith.
God does this at a church level when we as a church have people that speak into the life of the church, pray for and care for a church that is not theirs but is a church community of faith that they care for and love.
Over the years, as Oasis, we have had many people like that who have prayed for, loved and cared for Oasis Church even though they have been from somewhere else and have only visited or been with us for a short time – God has joined them to us in partnership & prayer…
We thank God for every Frontier Year Project person who’s ever invested in the life of our church, we thank God for Craig & Shannon Botha and their investment in our church, for Ray & Sue Lowe who love Oasis, for Lois who has advocated for us for so many years and prayed continuously, for Gerry & Donna too for their love and generosity & the whole of Centre Street Church for their partnership, for Common Ground Church & GodFirst Rosebank for their exceeding generosity and the many other Advance churches that have partnered with Oasis Church, for local churches who have supported and prayed for Oasis, for the Waldron family who made us their home and carry us in their hearts…………. I know I have missed out on many but the point is made.
We have been joined together with others in partnership and prayer as a local church, it’s what we see in the New Testament and its been our experience.
May we partner with others! As individuals, may God use us to exhort and establish and encourage others in the faith, may God join our hearts in prayer and partnership for their growth and benefit, and may God keep using us more and more as a local church to plant and strengthen other local churches all over South Africa!
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.
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!
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!
‘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;
- 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)
- 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…
- Therefore the Thessalonians can know that there message is authentic, is not some made up story or con-man’s scheme to trick them
- 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!
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.