This morning, we continue our study of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. So far, we have discovered...
1) The Christian life is composed of three essential elements... faith, love and hope. These three spiritual components are what our lives are based upon. Missing any one of the three leaves a person lopsided. It is important to have our faith; our theology solid. It is vital we have the power of love working in our lives. Hope is... hopeful.
2) We also discovered that... our community is also formed in faith, love and hope.
--Faith in our Lord creates a covenant-community. We are a church because of our belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.
--Our love is the power of the kingdom.
--Our hope keeps our community going forward. Nick died! We keep on keeping on because we are assured of our future.
We, our covenant-community; we are Faith. We are Love. We are hope.
3) Last week, before Paul gets to the hope part, he reminds them of the power of love in a community. There is nothing as powerful as a sacrificial, authentic, God-glorifying, gentle, life-sharing, blameless, truth-speaking... covenant-community! We can out love the world!
We have learned 3 of the coolest things ever; so far! And we haven’t gotten to the main point of 1 Thessalonians yet. Paul is moving toward hope, because Nick died. But, Paul must first make a stop at... faith. This morning, we are going to look at faith.
Sometimes, when we are climbing a 14er in Colorado, we get up early; the sky is clear; we think it is going to be a wonderful day. We hike all morning to get to the summit. Sometimes, just as you get to the top and start looking on the other side of the mountain, you see dark clouds forming. What was a clear blue sky, on one side of the mountain, becomes an angry gray sky on the other.
So far, in 1 Thessalonians it has been blue skies. Faith, love, hope, it’s been fun. But as we peek over the peak... on the other side of the summit a storm is building...
1 Thessalonians 2:13-18 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved- so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God's wrath has come upon them at last! But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you- I, Paul, again and again- but Satan hindered us.
Just as Jesus suffered; just as Paul suffered there in Thessalonica; just as the prophets were persecuted; Satan has revealed his hideous plan... “Beat them, torture them, scare them; keep them separated; even kill them... anyway to hinder their speaking of the Gospel!”
Paul does not say how Nick died. But, with this paragraph, I think it is possible that Nick died in persecution. Since we made up Nick, let’s just say he died after receiving a beating from the officials of Thessalonica. Nick was arrested because he was boldly presenting the word of God. He was solid in the faith. Those who were jealous of Nikios had him whipped. Later, Nick died.
The storm clouds of persecution were dark over the community of believers in Thessalonica. Paul has tried again and again to come back to Thessalonica. Paul wanted to be with them; to love on them; to encourage them; to show them how to be strong in the storm... but Satan hindered him.
When something terrible happens, like Nick dying of a public whipping; when the gray storm clouds are gathering on the other side of the peak; faith is required!
Faith is the power to handle suffering.
Or, phrased differently...
Faith is victorious over Satan.
This morning we are going to discover a faith that can handle suffering by defeating Satan.
We had seven ways love has power, last week. This week, seven qualities of a faith that can be victorious!
1) Faith is belief.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God,
Paul reflects on those early weeks when his team first arrived in Thessalonica...
Acts 17:1-4 They came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ." And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.
Paul taught them about Jesus. Paul explained from the Scriptures. Paul proved that Jesus died and was resurrected and rules from his throne. Paul convinced them that Jesus is the Christ.
First, faith is intellectually believing. Faith is belief.
But that is not all that faith is...
2) Faith is Belief in the word of God
1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God...
Faith is not just faith. Some believe, “All you need is faith”. “It doesn’t matter in what. You just need to believe something.” That is not the kind of faith Paul is advocating. Faith is faith in the word of God.
The Thessalonians understood the words Paul spoke to them as true. They felt these were the very words of God! Our God speaks. Our God gives us words. Our God is truth and speaks truth.
The phrase “word of God” is fun; preacher fun. When I say, “Word of God”, I typically mean the Bible. But that is not what Paul means here in 1 Thessalonians. The word of God was spoken and heard and received. The word of God is not the word of men, but it is truth. It is real. It is God speaking.
I think the flavor here is the close to what I mean when I say theology. Or when Bill says worldview. Or when philosophers say truth. It is the body of belief that is what it really is!
The point is this... Our faith must be in the word of God. The package of reality! Jesus; YHWH, left heaven to come to earth to restore his creation through his ministry, his death, his resurrection, his ruling from the throne through his church. Our theology must be as close as we can possibly be to truth!
What we believe makes a difference. Theology is important.
Which leads to the third quality of faith....
3) Faith works.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
Our intellectual belief in the real word of God is not just a brain thing. It begins to change who we are. Theology dictates behavior. The word of God begins to change people from the inside out. You will never be better than your theology.
This process of change is called sanctification. Faith, real faith, begins to make us more and more like Jesus. The word of God works sanctification in the believer! It is the word inside of us that realigns who we are. Theology is important because it pushes sanctification!
There is an element of obedience in the word faith. When a father places a toddler on the table and tells her to jump into your arms... it is faith that obeys. Her faith in her father creates obedience... she jumps. Her behavior is driven by her faith.
Faith is the word of God sanctifying who we are!
Bam... but it gets better...
4) Faith is transformed in community.
1 Thessalonians 2:14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.
Sanctification occurs in a faith community. It would be hard to be faithful all by your lonesome. It would be hard to get it right, if you were a Lone Ranger. It is in the interaction of people of faith rubbing against each other where we learn to be more like Christ.
I can talk about love all day long... like last week... but when I actually sacrifice for you... I learn love. I get more loving. I am sanctified.
It works with our theology. Over the last several years, we have worked diligently on our theology. If I had been left alone, I doubt I would have studied as hard. But in our Sunday morning adult class we rub against each other to learn more about God and the word of God!
It is vital that we as a community be imitators of each other. It is in the imitation that we learn to be more like Christ... sanctification!
Faith is done in community!
Now back to the gray clouds on the other side of the peak.
5) Faith is challenged.
1 Thessalonians 2:14-18 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved- so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God's wrath has come upon them at last! But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you- I, Paul, again and again- but Satan hindered us.
Faith is challenged. Satan is not going to let a community of faith grow and prosper without hindrances. In Thessalonica Satan killed Nick. Satan drove Paul out to soon. Satan drove wedges between believers.
You can expect Satan to challenge a developing faith. It may not be overt persecution. His opposition can take many forms... sometimes from within, sometimes in tragedy, sometimes in false teachings, sometimes through entrenched stubbornness, sometimes in the hurt of loved ones... expect...
Faith to be challenged.
Watch this... this is ironic...
6) Faith grows when challenged.
Maybe 6 years later, Paul writes of the Corinthians about the Thessalonians...
2 Corinthians 8:1-5 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, (Thessalonica is the leading city) for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints- and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
The gray storm clouds of Satan’s persecution resulted in an abundance of faith! This kind of faith we call... trust. The Thessalonians became extremely poor most likely because of the ongoing persecution. But out of that poverty they had some much faith; so much trust in the Lord, that they gave beyond their means to help others. That is trust!
Satan never has got it. Or, at least, he doesn’t have many other options, but Satan goes double or nothing every time he persecutes a Christian. He may discourage a few, but most believers grow when challenged.
I said it was ironic... the persecution designed to defeat, instead builds. God doesn’t cause persecution or suffering... That is Satan’s job. But God transforms suffering into faith!
Which lead to our last quality of faith... the best quality.
7) Faith overcomes.
1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.
For Paul, the awesomely, faithful Thessalonians were his glory and joy. When Paul stands before Jesus, at his coming, he will point at the Thessalonians as his glory as his joy. Because... they were victorious!
Whenever the storm clouds of suffering are gathering in your life, you will need faith; a faith in the word of God, which works within you to produce obedience, forged in a faith-community, transformed into trust, which is victorious!
Los Alamos Church of Christ
October 7, 2018