This fourth message in the series on 1 Thessalonians looks at the power and importance of the word of God. The message was recorded on VE Sunday, hence the references to that at the beginning.
The video is below, followed by the notes that I prepared for those without internet access.
This weekend, we have been celebrating VE Day. It is good to be thankful for this – that our nation was preserved from being ruled by people that would take away basic freedoms, including the freedom to worship the Lord according to scripture.
But Christians celebrate freedom from an even greater form of slavery. It is not the slavery of a foreign invader, or an earthly government, but slavery to sin and death that holds every single person in the world; there are no exceptions apart from Christ. But “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). Without this rescue, we would be separated from God’s love for all eternity.
So it is understandable and right that Paul starts today’s passage with this: “We also thank God constantly…” (see also 1:2), because of their salvation – because it is the greatest miracle of all. It is something that we can thank God for whatever else is going on in our lives.
Last time, Paul spoke about the true Christian ministry and how he had come boldly to declare the gospel. He is now, with his thanksgiving, showing them and us the instrument that God used to bring their salvation. What God used (and uses today) is His word. Not a religious experience or ceremony, but the word of God.
Nothing has changed. In these times of separation, it can be easy to forget the centrality of the word of God. There are so many troubles and worries, but what is the thing that will strengthen us, what is the thing that God uses to feed us? It is His word.
And the power of the word is not limited by the lockdown. It is still the word of God. So today we’re going to look at the word of God. What it is, what it does, and why it is so important.
I) The nature of the Word (v13)
Notice what it says, “you received the word of God… as… it really is, the word of God.”
Here we have a declaration that Paul wasn’t bringing his own message, but he was bringing the word of God. He is repeating himself to reinforce the point. What does it mean that the message is God’s word?
- Not the word of man. This is not philosophy or advice; this is the word of God. The gospel, and according to 2 Tim 3:16, the whole of the scriptures, are the very words of God.
- Of course, we need to rightly understand the meaning of God’s words and apply God’s word rightly – which is why we read AND study the Bible, and why we have teachers in the local church – but when we read and rightly teach God’s word, His voice is truly heard.
- So, when the word of God is being taught, you should have your Bibles open and check references for yourself – and their context.
- And so, because it is the word of God, it is not to be negotiated with. Yes, it needs to be studied, discussed and prayed over in order to come to a correct understanding but, once we have that correct understanding, it needs to be believed and obeyed.
“In you believers” – they accepted it and believed it. That is the attitude that we need to have.
- It is powerful. It is the means by which they were saved. God worked faith in their hearts and minds, they heard and obeyed, and they were born again (1 Peter 1:23-25).
- It needs to be preached – it was heard from Paul and his companions. Preachers need to preach and we all need to witness.
- It needs to be preached as the word of God. The job of the preacher is not to communicate his own ideas, but to communicate as God has revealed to us. It is not something to be changed to suit the age, but something to be declared.
- It needs to be declared, rather than defended. As we will see in a little while, there will always be people who reject the word, who get very angry about it, but the word of God doesn’t need our help. It has its own power. It defends itself. Let’s not be shy or ashamed of it. Let’s be willing to give it away.
II) The nurture of the Word (v13-14)
It is “at work in you believers”. It has effective power and energy (same word in James 5:16 – great power as it is working). See also, John 17:17
It changes lives. As we receive it, it works in us because it is God’s word. There is an energy that is imparted to us through the preaching of the word of God. Luther: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”
How does God’s word work in us? There are many ways. In 1 Thessalonians, we’re told:
- It works to save (1:5-6): “The gospel came… in power and in the Holy Spirit… and you become imitators of us.” God is mighty to save through His word. Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17).
- The word of God sanctifies (1:9) – they turned from idols, to serve the living and true God. Later in the book, this is explained in more detail.
- It works to preserve (v14). They became imitators (also 1:6). But specifically here, it is an imitation of endurance. This is a passive imitation – the circumstances make them imitators of the church in Judea – they are persecuted also and yet endure, because the word is powerful to preserve them. The word is the rock on which we stand.
III) The separation by the Word (v15)
While the word is powerful in the lives of those who believe, it also stirs up great opposition. There is division caused by the word, just as there was division caused by Christ. There are many who are indifferent, but there are some who are active opponents. For them, the word stirs up all kinds of violent reactions, which we see in these very strongly worded verses.
The Pharisees drove Jesus to the cross. In the Old Testament, the prophets were opposed and even killed (Acts 7:52). We see it in Acts 7 when Steven is stoned, and in Acts 8 with the great persecution. Today, in North Korea and Afghanistan and Somalia and in parts of India, China and Russia, and in many other places, there is not just indifference to the Christian message, but complete hatred of the message and the believers.
The reference to Jews is not to the race as a whole (Romans 9-11 shows Paul’s passion for Jewish people to be saved) but to the leadership and those that eagerly followed them in the persecution of Christ and of His people. God’s Old Testament people had serious issues with obeying God, which simply carried on when Jesus came and when the apostles preached the gospel.
Much of what is said is true of opponents of the gospel today, wherever they are from:
Look how he describes the situation in v15-16: “drove us out” – that is referring to when Paul and his companions were forced to leave Thessalonica – Acts 17:1-10.
“Displease God” – this is the reality of what they are doing. This is not just opposing ideas, but opposing the living God. They make themselves unacceptable to God. they are heaping sin upon sin.
“Oppose all mankind.. hindering.” The opponents are causing others to miss out on hearing the gospel. This is what people like Kim Jong Un are doing – they are opposing mankind. They are opposing people hearing the gospel of God’s grace, of having that relationship with God, forgiveness of sins, eternal life. They are opposing the hope, joy and peace that comes by knowing God through Jesus Christ. People accuse Christians of being unloving, but in reality it is the opponents who are unloving by opposing the only way of salvation.
IV) The need for the Word (v15-16, v13)
…which leads to the reality of wrath: sin has its consequences and the waiting judgement accumulates. There is a filling up (Matt 23:32). This is a serious matter.
God waits for people. For those who do not repent, sin reaches the point when justice falls (at last, to the uttermost, in the end). For those who repent and believe, salvation comes and people are delivered from the wrath to come (1:10).
So it is vital that people respond to the word of God:
- This gospel needs to be heard (v13): Not just hearing the words but hearing God speak. Not simply enjoying a preacher, but believing what God Himself says.
- This gospel needs to be believed: the Word has to be received (v13 – NKJV: “welcomed”). It has to be taken hold of as truth, but truth which demands your personal response. It is not mere belief in a fact. You can believe something is true. You can believe that Jesus existed, you can even believe that Jesus died and rose again. But this is more than believing a fact, it needs to be accepted (v13) by you and for you – “Jesus died for me.”
For all these reasons, I need to challenge you: have you received and accepted the gospel, not as something from human tradition, but as from God Himself. Have you received it by doing what it says – repenting of your sin and trusting Christ alone for your salvation?
What is your attitude to the Word? Do you see it as the word of man or the word of God?
Is His word a priority for you to read and study? Since it is the word that “works in you who believe,” it should be.
Are you moved by the urgency for those who are lost to receive the word? Do you share the word, do you give it away? Do you pray for God’s mercy on those who do not believe?
May He help us all to love, receive and share His word.