Sunday, January 03, 2010

Sermon: 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10 Model Christians

Who are your models? Now, I’m not talking about fashion models, people like Claudia Schiffer or Cindy Crawford. But who are your models, the Christians you look up to? We’ve already thought about this briefly - perhaps there’s some particular aspect of their life that you admire, something they seem to have attained that you struggle with.

Maybe when you hear the phrase model Christians you are already shrinking into your seat thinking that you could never be one of those, not with the doubts you have or the sins you still deal with or whatever. You’re thinking you’re too ordinary to be a supersaint.

In our reading tonight, Paul describes the Christians in Thessalonica as model Christians - they are ‘an example to all the believers’ in verse 7. But how did they win such an accolade from the apostle Paul? Why did he think so highly of them? We’re going to investigate this for a few minutes tonight, to see how they became model believers, and how we too can be model believers in our day.

To help us set the course for this evening - and just in case I can’t get through it all - here’s the summary statement: ‘Model believers have received and believed the word of God.’ That’s it. Nothing special or secretive or esoteric. Model believers have received and believed the word of God.

Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica shortly after having visited the city to preach the gospel. He knows the people he’s writing to, a very short time after leaving (in a hurry). Paul mentions in verse 9 about the ‘kind of reception we had among you’ - the welcome that Paul and Silas and his fellow missionaries received, but that welcome was because of what Paul was bringing to them.

They received not only the missionaries, but they received the word of God. Look at verses 6-7. They imitated Paul and the Lord, because ‘you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.’

They received the word with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Paul preached the gospel, the word of God, and they received it. The church was a mixed one - some Jews, some Gentiles, but all received the word of God, in contrast to the unbelieving, jealous Jews (Acts 17:5). Later in 1 Thes, Paul elaborates on their receiving the word of God: ‘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.’ (1 Thes 2:13)

But there’s one more thing about receiving the word of God. Something that I’ve glossed over so far when reading the passage. Something that is vital to grasp. You see, when we think of receiving the word of God, and hear the Thessalonians described as model believers, you might think to yourself - well that was easy for them - they were living in Bible times, things were much easier for them, less complicated. Surely they can be model believers. But actually, Thessalonica wouldn’t have been the place you would instantly pick for model believers. My choice would have been Berea, Paul’s next stop after Thessalonica - the Jews were more noble there, they searched the scriptures to check what Paul was preaching. They would be the model believers.

Yet we have the letter to Thessalonica, and no letter to Berea. The Thessalonians were model believers because they received the word of God, yes with the joy of the Holy Spirit - but also ‘in much affliction.’ Flip over to Acts 17:5-9. Is this the ideal environment for the planting of a new church? Jealous Jews and city riots? As Tim reminded us this morning, we’re still in a spiritual Babylon, where the culture and society are opposed to God and his people.

It’s precisely why the Thessalonians are model Christians - they received the word in much affliction. Not fair weather believers, they were in at the deep end. One of the church leaders (the only one we know the name of) has a criminal record, being bailed by the city authorities. Not quite what we would expect or seek to copy. Yet the Thessalonians received the word (even in their afflictions) with the joy of the Holy Spirit. As Paul writes in verses 4-5, it’s a mark of their being loved and chosen by God, that they received the word in such circumstances and are holding on - ‘our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.’ They were certain they had received God’s word and were holding on to it!

Model believers receive the word of God. What steps are you taking to receive the word of God in 2010? Maybe you’ve started one of those ‘read the Bible through in a year schemes’ - it’s not too late to start now. Or perhaps you’ll decide to read one good Christian book every month in 2010. That this year will be the year you get serious about receiving and understanding the word of God. You’ll sign up for the Fellowship Group for the first time; you’ll begin one-to-one Bible study with another believer - speak to Tim or Johnny or myself to set something like this up.

Model believers receive the word of God. But more than that, they also believe the word of God. Just hearing God’s word read and preached, or reading the Bible every day or reading every book on the church bookstall won’t do much for you if you still don’t believe the word of God! We see in 1 Thessalonians that the Christians there are model believers because they received and believed the word of God.

Believing God’s word was revolutionary for them. Literally. Look at verse 9: People throughout Macedonia and Achaia are talking about the Thessalonians, how ‘you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God...’ What a turn around! Believing the word of God means turning from the dead and false gods, and turning to the living and true God. They also believe God’s word concerning his Son - as they wait for Jesus to return from heaven, the Lord who was raised from the dead, who will deliver us from the wrath to come. For such a short visit from Paul, they have certainly grasped and believed the key doctrines of the faith.

They were thoroughly converted, having received and believed the word, and there was evidence of a changed life. Look at verses 2-3. Paul gives thanks to God because of them, every time he prays, because he remembers ‘your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Faith, love, hope - as we work through 1 Thessalonians, we’ll see these again, but these are, for Paul, the essential Christian characteristics - they also feature (for example) in 1 Corinthians 13.

The Thessalonians, having received and believed the word, were also turning to spread the word. In verse 8 Paul says ‘For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.’ The Thessalonians were reaching out with the word, telling others, so that others would also know the joy of the Holy Spirit and the blessings of the word of God.

Model Christians receive and believe the word of God. We’ve already thought about receiving the word, but what can we do to believe the word of God this year? Maybe this will be the year that you take the Lord serious in his call to repent in that particular area of your life that you are struggling with? That you’ll step out in faith, identifying yourself as a Christian in your workplace or school.

Or perhaps you’ll commit to learning more about your faith. Maybe you’ll get involved in some evangelism, building relationships with someone at the gym or the shops or the coffee shop or wherever you regularly go.

Or maybe the big step this year for you will be to become a believer - to actually receive and believe the word of God for the first time. What a great start to the year!

Let’s seek to make sure that we genuinely receive and thoroughly believe the word of God so that it really does change us. Then we will be model believers, urging others on, for the glory of God.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church Dundonald on Sunday 3rd January 2010, beginning a new series in 1 Thessalonians.

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