We would like to look at the first letter the Thessalonians the first chapter today. I would like to give a little background information before we look at the actual chapter.
According to Acts 17:1-10, Paul, Silas, and Timothy arrived at Thessalonica after leaving Philippi. The team of Paul and Silas were successful in the Macedonian city of Philippi but met stiff opposition. Paul and Silas were stripped, flogged, and thrown in jail. "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them." (Acts 16:25) They were freed by an earthquake and the prison keeper and his family were saved that night. They were escorted out of the prison the next day and left Philippi. The ext city they came to was Thessalonica.
In Thessalonica Paul preached at the Jewish synagogue for three Sabbath days to prove that Jesus had to suffer and die and that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. Opposition developed and Paul left the synagogue to develop a congregation composed of a few Jews, a large number of God fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
It is interesting to note the composition of this group of new believers in Thessalonica. First there were Jews that understood that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that he had died for the sins of the world. They believed and wanted to understand more of Jesus' teachings. These were like people who grow up in the church but never understand about the redemption of Jesus until one day the light goes on and they commit their lives to Jesus.
Then there were quite a number of God fearing Greeks. These were local citizens who had not completely converted to becoming Jews but believed in the God of the Old Testament. They still kept some of their other religious beliefs and some may still have worshipped idols. They might be compared to people who come to church to learn about the Bible but are not baptized nor join the church. Church is interesting but they don't give up their old sinful ways.
The third group that join Paul and Silas at the new congregation were a good number of prominent women. These would be rich women who were religious and enjoyed socializing with the Jewish community. This tells us that the people at the synagogue were wealthy Jewish families with whom these ladies felt comfortable. These might be compared to people who enjoy the clean fellowship at churches but never become believers themselves.
All these people were convinced that Jesus had died for their sins and wanted to learn more about the teachings of Jesus and what Jesus had done for them by dying on the cross for their sins.
Jewish synagogue leaders were jealous that a good number of people had left the synagogue and succeed in stirring up a mob demanding that Paul and Silas be expelled from the city. In order to keep peace, city leaders extract promises and bonds from Jason, a prominent member of the new church, that Paul and Silas will not return. The apostles were secreted away that night under cover of darkness.
Under the cover of darkness Paul and Silas left Thessalonica and went to the nearby town of Berea. There the people at the synagogue were very diligent to discover the truth and instead of weekly meetings at the synagogue they met daily, learning about what the Old Testament said about Jesus and what He came to do. Many Jews, prominent Greek women and men became believers. The Jews who had stirred up trouble in Thessalonica heard that Paul was in Berea and came and agitated the people there. Paul was again forced to move on. Silas continued there with Timothy but Paul went on to Athens.
Instead of being intimidating the new church in Thessalonica grew bold and began sharing the transformation that they had by following Jesus. They travelled to surrounding towns and villages sharing the great news about Jesus. Perhaps they were doing business in a number of these places in northern Greece and so as they travelled to do business they found people who were interested in hearing about how they could have peace and joy by following Jesus.
Let's look at I Thessalonians 1
Verse 1: Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
We see that at the time that the letter was written when the team was together again. The first letter to the Thessalonians was probably written from Corinth in the later part of 50 AD, and the second letter followed a Thessalonians a few months later. These letters are filled with references to the return of Jesus.
This was Paul's customary greeting when he wrote his letters. He saw the church in Thessalonica as being indwelt by God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. How would people see our church? How do people see you?
Verse 2 says, "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers."
How many times do you give thanks for all those in the church? There are a few times that I have taken the phone directory and actually prayed for each of you by name but this is something which I need to do more often. As a body of believers we are to pray for one another. We are to intercede for others but we are also to be thankful for other believers with whom we can worship together with.
Three things that Paul is thankful for about the believers in Thessalonica.
1) Faith that expresses itself in helping others.
2) Love that does things for others to show that love and helping others because of the love that Christ showed us. Labouring in love.
We love others because of the love that is extended to us by God and the value of every person made in the image of God. God loves everyone. We need to give the message that God sent Jesus and He died to forgive all people so that they could be cleansed and live forever in Heaven. The agape love talked about in this verse is pure and unconditional and given to others who are in need of a saviour.
3) the persistence of hope that ends up focussed on two areas
a) our Lord Jesus Christ and
b) the presence of our God and Father.
What are you thankful for? Give thanks right now.
Verse 4 & 5 reads, "Knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; 5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
God loves everyone and sends the Holy Spirit to bring conviction on people. They can respond to that sense that they need God by accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and confessing their sin and receiving the substitutionary atonement of Jesus who died on the cross to give His life for each of us. Or they can reject a holy God and go their own sinful way. Which have you chosen to do? Do you accept Christ's atonement for you or have you rejected that offer of God's forgiveness and chosen to go to Hell?
Just this past week the Jews again celebrated YOM KIPPUR or Day of Atonement which is an annual day of fasting and forgiveness. Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year. In the Old Testament, they offered sacrifices of a bull, a ram, 7 lambs and a goat to celebrate together the forgiveness of their sins. We no longer have to make sacrifices of animals for the forgiveness of our sin because Jesus has become the final sacrifice for all our sin.
Verse 5 tells us that Paul saw that the Thessalonians not only were convince by the power of the word of God but God's power came to them to understand and recognize the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The people of Thessalonica recognized the godly character of Paul's team.
This understand was so clear that the people became imitators of Paul's team and also modelled the life of Jesus. This included much persecution and tribulation for believing that Jesus was the way, the truth and the life but it also brought them much joy because they knew that they were freed from their burden of sin. They were so diligent in their new faith so that they became an example to all believers in the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia.
The Thessalonians had such a deep relationship with Jesus that they wanted more and more of Him. They became examples of what believers should look like in the whole northern part of Greece. We often have a casual attitude toward our relationship with Jesus.
What kind of report would there be about LEMC or any other church? Do people recognize that individuals from church are excited about their relationship with Jesus? How many people in the community not just know about "the church at the round about" LEMC but know what it believes and the quality of the people who attend. Could it be said that people in Essex or as far away as Windsor have heard about the great work, the care and compassion that goes on here at LEMC?
The Thessalonians served a living and true God. They had turned from their idols and dead religions. They now proclaimed joyously the freedom that they experienced by believing in Jesus. Do you share that same enthusiasm for your faith in Jesus or has it become as dry as an old crusty slice of bread. While they served God by sharing their faith, love and hope, they were waiting for the return of Christ. Fortunately He has not come back because He wants all people everywhere to repent and turn to Him.
There are over 50 passages that talk about the return of Christ. We look forward to His coming, not to escape the trials we have on this earth but to be able to enjoy time with Jesus in Heaven for eternity. He is coming back to judge the world. Will you be ready for him?
A judgement is coming after He returns. If you have accepted Jesus as your personal saviour, you will go to be with Him in Heaven forever but if you have not, you will condemn yourself to Hell. Jesus rescues us from the wrath to come.
When Jesus returns will he find us busy serving to bring others into the kingdom as the Thessalonians were? A judgement is coming, are you ready? How many others have you helped to bring into the kingdom so that they can experience Heaven forever with Jesus? Jesus is coming and his reward is with Him for those who have been faithful. Serve with joy while we wait for His return.