Sunday, May 03, 2015

Sermon: 1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10 Walking Worthy as Model Christians

I never imagined that when I moved to Fermanagh to become Rector here, that I would be adding ‘fashion model’ to my CV. Totally uncool, unfashionable me. But twice I’ve (been forced to) do a little turn on the catwalk. I might not be Claudia Schiffer or Naomi Campbell, but the idea of a model is quite simple. You wear some fancy clothes, you walk and hopefully don’t trip, so that someone might say - yes, I like that. I want to be like that. Here’s an example, a model.

If we jump from the fashion models to Christian models, who do you think of? Who are the Christians you look up to? 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 today, Paul describes the Christians in Thessalonica as model Christians - look at verse 7 they were ‘an example to all the believers.’ So how did they come to be thought so highly by Paul? What was it that made them model Christians? Could we also be model Christians throughout Fermanagh and beyond?

This morning we’re launching into a new book of the Bible. Paul had been a missionary in Thessalonica for about three weeks before he was chased out of town. He flees to Berea, Athens, and finally Corinth. When he gets there, he writes this letter back to the church in Thessalonica. He didn’t get to tell them everything he wanted to. But even in that short time, they have become model Christians. They are recent converts, but already they are an example to others.

It starts in verse 6, where they became imitators of ‘us and of the Lord’ - to be a Christian is to be a ‘little Christ’, to be modelled on Christ, to become like him. This group of people are copying Christ, so they are a model to others. And we see this in how they received and believed the word of God. That’s it. Nothing special or secretive. Model Christians have received and believed the word of God.

Paul mentions in verse 9 about the ‘kind of welcome 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. You see, 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 ‘in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.’

They received the word with the joy inspired by 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.’ Think back to Acts 17:5-9. Is this the ideal environment for the planting of a new church? Jealous Jews and city riots?

It’s precisely why the Thessalonians are model Christians - they received the word in spite of persecution. 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 (in spite of persecution)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 - ‘the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.’
Model believers receive the word of God. What steps are you taking to receive the word of God? Coming along to church is great, but it’s just the start. Think about coming along to the Bible study, or meeting up with a friend to read the Bible together. SNATCH members have started using daily Bible reading notes - we could start providing them for adults as well.

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 in Val Irvine’s shop 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 the essential Christian characteristics - 1 Cor 13.

The Thessalonians, having received and believed the word, were the talk of the town. 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.’ Churches often end up in the news for the wrong reasons, but here, people are talking about what has happened for all the right reasons. Wouldn’t it be great if people were talking about Aghavea like this - how we were a group of Christians who have turned from our idols and are serving the Lord in single minded devotion?
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? It could be that we believe it for the very first time, and we turn to God from our idols, the things we serve and live for. It could be to develop a holy boldness to live for Christ even under persecution from family or friends.

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 Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 3rd May 2015.

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