This is the first message in a new 12/13 sermon series on 1 Thessalonians, which was intended (God willing) to take us through the remainder of lockdown. I am posting these sermons backdated to the day they were preached so that they can be referenced by date. Each week I produced a video of the message plus a summary for those who do not use the internet.
Last Thursday, we were told by the government that there is at least a further three weeks of lockdown. This is difficult because the church is meant to be together (the word “church” means: “a gathering of people who are called out.”) So it is a challenge, but God is faithful.
There can be many reasons why people cannot meet together. In some countries, it is impossible due to persecution. Some people are separated from church due to being pioneer missionaries. They are working in countries where there is no church. The present situation shows us that meeting together is not something to be taken for granted; it is a great privilege.
The book of 1 Thessalonians is written by Paul to a church that he planted but was forced, through persecution, to be absent from them (see Acts 17:1-10). In 1 Thessalonians 2:17, we see Paul’s longing to be with them. He had tried to come back and see them later but that didn’t work out (2:18 – Satan hindered us). Paul writes the letter out of longing to see them, and concern for their welfare. So it seems appropriate for us in these days to spend time in this book. We see Paul’s heart for the church, we see what the church is meant to be like and we see our final hope – our destiny as believers.
Please read 1 Thessalonians 1.
I) Understanding who the church is (v1)
“In God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Separation doesn’t change who we are. Although we cannot meet together in one place, we are still the church at Lansdowne in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We are joined to the Father through the Son. We have access, as Paul speaks in Ephesians 2:18, by the Holy Spirit. We have Christ in us, through the Holy Spirit. We are bound up with the entire Trinity. One God, who has called us and made us His own special people.
“Grace and peace.” We are recipients of grace and we continue to receive His grace.
Grace – favour/undeserved kindness/joy. We have received the undeserved kindness of God because of Christ. We have received His committed, unchanging covenant love – the covenant of grace, by which we are accepted and are recipients of God’s kindness. We have the joy of sins forgiven and knowing the Lord.
Peace – shalom. We have peace with God through Christ. We are related to Him rightly, no longer separated because of our sins. We are friends of God, not enemies. Adopted children, welcome and accepted. We have the experience of peace in our hearts because of the peace that we have with God. We are givers of peace to those around us.
II) Our attitude to one another (v2)
“We give thanks to God always…” Not grumbling but expressing gratitude and appreciation to Him.
“…for ALL of you.” What a challenge! In any congregation that are people that we find it harder to get on with.
Notice that he thanks God. The people in your church are gifts from the Lord God to you! They are saved by HIM and they are precious.
If we are saved by grace alone, then every other believer is a gift of grace. They have received life from the Lord, they are bought at a price, they are fellow travellers with you on the road to glory, they will be beside you in the great crowd that is before the throne.
In some ways the challenge of separation can help us to appreciate one another more. As Paul thought about the church at Thessalonica, this stirred him to praise God. They are precious.
This is something that we can cultivate during our time apart. Do you think about your brothers and sisters? Do you think about the encouragement they have been? Do you begin to praise God?
Let the absence of fellowship increase our appreciation of each other.
III) Our priority (v2b)
“Constantly mentioning you in our prayers.” This is the same word as “without ceasing” in 1 Thess 5:17. This doesn’t mean that we pray 24/7, but that we pray regularly and consistently and we don’t give up.
Matthew Henry says, “The best way of manifesting our affection to our friends is by praying and giving thanks for them.”
There is no such thing as “I can only pray”. The most important thing we do is pray!
How? The specific areas come in the next verse, but the words “mentioning” in verse 2 and “remembering” in verse 3 help us with the practicality of how we pray. Prayer starts with remembering and thinking about that person. Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those who are in prison as if you were in prison also. So, think about what you would need/want if you were in prison and, as you bring those things to mind, it will help you to think of things to pray for.
It is easier with people you know. What are they like? What do they need? What are their gifts? What are the challenges that they are facing? As you remember them, think about them, you will be able to pray for them intelligently.
IV) What we pray for (v3)
The NIV has v3 as a new sentence, but in reality it carries on – “mentioning you in our prayers, remembering…” Paul is thanking God for them as he thinks about how knowing Jesus has changed their lives, but these are also things that we need to pray will grow in our lives. What things are the subject of His thanksgiving and prayer?
- Work of faith. Saved by faith alone but not a faith that is alone. Faith is busy. Faith responds to the wonders of what God has done by serving the Lord and one another. The word “work” has the sense of “duty.” Work that is an appropriate response to what He has done. A life that has got hold of the gospel and realises our obligation to the Lord.
- Labour of love. This is a love given irrespective of merit, modelled on the love of Christ. It is a love that involves toil (that is the word here – something that is laborious – something that is done out of love and is hard work, painful). It is seen most clearly in the cross. It is sacrificial. It is costly. Although this is harder when we are apart, let’s look to see how we can support each other.
- Steadfastness of hope. Endurance. This is not a passive putting up with problems, but a pressing on despite problems. It is not clinging on to the edge of the cliff for dear life, but climbing up the cliff even though it hurts. Not a guard waiting at his post, but a soldier moving forward despite the bullets flying. Hope is referring to our complete assurance in Christ: assurance of His work and what He has done, and the eternal outcome of what He has done – and that assurance keeps us going forwards.
None of these things come naturally. They are only possible when a person is born again, because in Christ they have new life. So we can thank God for people’s work, hard work and perseverance because this only comes through His work in our lives. But we must also pray for these things, because we are still living in a fallen world and we still face a battle with the flesh.
So, we need to pray for one another – Lord, help us/them to persevere; help them with their labour for you; build their faith that they would want to serve you.
Notice that these are not prayers for a comfortable life, but prayers for gospel living.
There is something else very important about the way we pray. Prayer is coming before (in the presence of) our God and Father (this is at the beginning of the verse in English, but at the end in the Greek). Prayer is not sending a petition from a distance, hoping that someone will respond. It is coming into the presence of our God and Father. It is coming, knowing that He is generous. It is also coming to pray for the most important things, those that are in line with His perfect will.
These are elements of normal church life. This is what we can pray for and this is what we need to long for, both for ourselves and our church family.
Some closing questions:
Are you praying or are you silent?
Are you thanking or grumbling?
Are you prioritising comfort or asking the Lord to help you grow, even through the troubles?
Is your sight on the here and now or are you looking to the fulfilment of the hope?