This was recorded for Lansdowne Evangelical Free Church during the UK lockdown. The previous week’s message can be found here.
When we are not together, worshipping, hearing His word, praying, enjoying fellowship and celebrating the Lord’s Supper, it is easy to forget who we are. Yes, we believe in the Lord but it is not like it was. We can feel very human and separate as individuals. It can feel like we’re not church because we are not gathered together.
During this time, many sports and social clubs are struggling. They cannot meet and so they have lost their purpose. But the church is not a club; this enforced separation of the church does not stop the church being the church. We are a group of people who have been gloriously converted, turned around, set free – all because of God’s sovereign love and power to save us.
Last week we saw what Paul gave thanks for as he prayed for the church of the Thessalonians, from afar. He couldn’t be with them, but he could pray. We can’t be together but we can pray.
Now Paul shows why he can pray with such joy and confidence. He writes about what He has seen that God has done in their lives. He does this to encourage them; even though they can’t see him face to face, he reminds them what has happened to them and what God has done. This is also an encouragement to us, because we are reminded what has happened to us in salvation and what God has done for us. Even though Paul wasn’t there, their salvation was still real and their future was still secure. Even though we are not together, our salvation is still real.
I) We know… (v4)
God wants us to be sure. And Paul is sure. He knows theologically – he knows the truth. Your salvation rests on God’s great love and His eternal plan to save you. This is the foundation of everything that follows in this chapter. We can grow in all the other areas, but this is part of God’s power – God’s love – God’s plan – and that is unchanging.
- loved. Loved with that committed, sacrificial love. The love that caused God to send His Son. By God: the God of the universe loved you and gave His Son for you. This is encouragement for you when things are difficult. Even if you are rejected by other people, the Lord of the universe loves you.
- chosen. Picked out by God. This creates questions that would take a whole sermon to cover. However, for today, let’s simply receive the truth. This is what the text says. It is amazing because: 1) it is the grace of God that saves us. 2) It shows we cannot save ourselves. No-one who comes is turned away; God never says “Oh, I can’t save you because you’re not chosen.” But all who come will look back and find that it was the grace of God alone who brought them – so He gets the glory.
II) Because of the way the gospel came and was received (v5)
The gospel came with words – that is God’s normal way of bringing people to Christ.
However, it was not only with words; it came with power – divine force to transform lives. It is power manifested according to His will – it is God’s personal intervention in people’s lives, the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the miracle of new life through Jesus Christ. This backs up v4 – chosen because we would never respond ourselves. We are dead in trespasses and sins. We need to be made alive. We are in spiritual darkness and the light of Christ needs to shine on us so that we actually see clearly. So, for us to be saved, the word of God had to come with power. Praise God that it did. Stop for a moment and thank God for what He has done. If you have believed, then it is because of His amazing power as you heard or read or the Holy Spirit brought to your mind the word of God. To Him be the glory!
The word was with conviction/full assurance, on the part of the apostles. Paul preached with full assurance as to the truth of the message. In fact, the whole of v5 seems to be talking about the apostles’ preaching and life (“You know what kind of men we proved to be among you.”) Paul, as he preached, was:
- Completely dependent on the Holy Spirit.
- Completely convinced of the truth of the gospel.
- Completely committed to godly living to display the gospel in his life.
Ask the Lord to help you to rely on Him. Immerse yourself in the word of God and wonder at what the Lord has done so that you become gripped with the glory of the gospel. Commit yourself to a godly, servant life that displays Jesus. All these things are things that we can pray for now. We haven’t got to wait until isolation is over.
III) Because of the transformation of lives (v6-10)
a) They became imitators of the apostles and Christ.
They received (welcomed) the word with joy even though they suffered for their faith. They became imitators in the sense that they persevered through suffering. It cost them to receive the gospel. And yet they still believed.
This is something else that we can pray for and seek to grow in, especially as we are tested through the coronavirus crisis.
Here is yet another scripture that tells us that suffering is normal. Christ suffered and the apostles suffered – and the church of the Thessalonians suffered for their faith.
To pray for: The word of God to be a source of joy for me. That I would truly delight in His word. That His word would bring joy in suffering. It is joy that is within and strengthens us. It is not just a quick flash of emotion, but is something that lasts because the truth is deep within our hearts.
Also: Do we pray for a welcoming of the Word, and preaching that comes with the power that is mentioned in v5? In this time of separation, the word is still going out and people can welcome it. Praise Him for the technology. Let’s make use of the opportunities that we have. At this time, people who are not yet Christians can hear and receive the word of God. The word of God is not chained. Let’s pray for it.
b) They became an example to other churches
The gospel was preached from them and other people came to hear about their conversion.
Notice : imitator of Christ and the apostles (v6). Something to be imitated (v7).
The gospel “sounded forth” like a trumpet or like a clap of thunder. The gospel is being shared because of what is happening to them. And their commitment to Christ has “gone forth” – people are talking about it.
The change in the people was well known, without the apostles pointing out. The fact of changed lives that became known because it was so amazing. We need to see in our day these kinds of conversions. Lives that are so turned around that the community that surrounds us starts talking about it . It has happened in the past – people become Christians and other people want to know what has happened – so the gospel spreads.
c) There was true repentance
They turned to God from idols. They turned around. Not simply the turning away from, but the turning to. They see the Lord as the living God.
They saw Jesus is unique – it is Jesus only, not Jesus plus. This is vitally important to grasp. We don’t add Jesus to what we already have, but Jesus becomes the centre and source of everything.
To pray/challenge: what is the place of Christ in your life? Is He one among many or is He first over all?
d) They were waiting eagerly for the Lord’s coming.
Waiting patiently and with confident expectancy. He is coming as Saviour and Judge. This shows the urgency of what we have said before – for the gospel to be sounding forth like thunder, so that people are saved. It is also comfort for the church because whatever wrath is thrown at us by people and circumstances, there is no wrath to come, because Jesus Christ has saved us.
There is much beauty in this world that God has created. There is much to be admired even in what human beings have achieved with all the gifts that God has given. However, this world is passing away. Even the best of what humanity can achieve is still corrupted by sin. There is still brokenness and disappointment. There is still sickness and disease and war and famine and greed. But Jesus is coming. Our hope is not in the future success of human beings, but our hope is in Christ alone.
This is what He has done. Not being able to meet doesn’t change what God has done and what He has made us in Christ.
If you are a Christian, you can be sure that you are loved by God, that you are safe and secure because you have been chosen by Him. Not because you deserve it, but because of abundant mercy. He is the God that doesn’t change His mind. Coronavirus cannot separate you. Lockdown cannot separate you. An uncertain earthly future cannot separate you. When you are struggling with the pressure of our current situation, focus your mind and heart on what the Lord has done and give thanks.
Let’s seek Him also for an increase in the signs of life that Paul speaks about in this chapter.
- Seek Him for a growing love for the word.
- Pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to be demonstrated in the preaching of the Word – even online preaching, so that people come to know Him.
- Pray that our attitude and example shine the glory of Christ to those around us.
- Pray that we would be exclusive. Christ alone. Christ first, not Christ plus. Search your hearts. Who is number 1 in your heart?
- Let your prayer be “Come Lord Jesus!”