Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sermon: 1 Thessalonians 2: 9-16 Walking Worthy According to the Word

Have you ever thought about how many words we hear in a day? Whether it’s the TV, or radio, on the phone or face to face, it’s reckoned that we hear about 100,000 words in a day. But we don’t give equal attention to every one of those 100,000 words. Perhaps you turn off when Stephen Nolan comes on Radio Ulster. A chat with a friend will be more important than the chatter on Coronation Street. You’ll stay on the phone when it’s a relation, but quickly hang up when someone rings about PPI.

The importance of the words depends on who is speaking. What we think of the person will affect how we listen. Imagine the scene when Paul arrived in Thessalonica. He’s just got out of jail in Philippi, having been beaten. He’s not in great shape, might not smell too good. You might not be inclined to listen to him. But when the Thessalonians did listen to him, they discovered a remarkable thing. Paul was speaking to them the word of God. As Paul spoke, they heard God’s word. They accepted it for what it really is - not human words, manmade philosophy or made up stories - but God’s word. The God of the universe had spoken, and Paul was bringing a report of it.
It’s like the TV news people who report what the Prime Minister said. David Cameron said so and so about the NHS today... But this is so much more important. God has spoken. These aren’t just the records of people striving towards God. This is God’s word. And it’s at work in you believers.

Now if that’s the case, and this is indeed God’s word, then it must lead us to action. If we really do mean that ‘Thanks be to God’ after our readings, then we must see that work out in our lives. Paul shows us two things it calls us to do, even while circumstances are difficult. Having God’s word we proclaim it and plead for it, even while some prevent it.

The first consequence of having God’s word is that we want others to hear it. If God really has spoken, then we’ll want everyone to hear the good news. And we’ll make sure that they have easy access to it. For Paul and his team, they worked night and day so that everyone could hear without being burdened. Paul earned his keep, so that the pagans of Thessalonica could hear without cost.

It’s why we get involved with mission agencies - to support those who bring the gospel so that people can hear the good news for free. But what about closer to home? Are there ways in which we could put ourselves out so that someone else can hear the gospel? If we truly believe that God has spoken, a good news message for everyone, then we want them to hear. We need to put ourselves out so that they can hear. Could you help teach the gospel to Sunday School, or be available at SNATCH? Look out for ways to give of yourself to help someone else hear. Having God’s word, we proclaim it.

But more than that, Paul says, that we plead for it as well. Last time we saw how Paul was like a mother nurse with her own children, gentle. Now he shows how he was like a father, giving wisdom, direction, providing a lead and example for his young children. Through his pure, upright, blameless conduct, he was seeking to make them take God’s word seriously. To apply it to their lives. To make it their guide and rule.

Do you see the action words in v 12? Urging, encouraging, pleading. Like a dad watching his son playing football, cheering him on. Except this isn’t football, it’s even more serious. ‘Pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.’ God’s word calls us into his kingdom and glory. As we hear it, we need to heed it, and be moulded and shaped by it. Here in verse 12, Paul summarises it as ‘a life worthy of God’, or to ‘walk in a manner worthy of God’ (ESV). In chapter 4 we’ll see what that looks like in greater detail, but for now, it means a life reflecting his glory, becoming more like him. A life of worship to him, because we have heard and responded to his word.

It doesn’t come naturally. We need to work at it, together, as we urge and encourage and plead each other to stick at it. We need to be people who cheerlead for each other in our successes, and urge and encourage when we mess things up. We’re probably already aware of the ways in which we fail - so that fatherlike encouragement is so precious as we respond to and apply God’s word, and live out the call he has made on our lives.

Having God’s word, we proclaim it and plead for it. It’s amazing that God has spoken, that we can hear it, and pass it on. But not everyone thinks that. Some people jump to the other conclusion, the one that the Thessalonians had rejected, that it’s all just made up, human words.

As the Ashers case has been discussed, and in the debate around the referendum in the Republic, people try to rubbish or discount or deny the Bible as God’s word. Oh, it’s just ancient stories that don’t count in this new modern world. We’ve moved beyond all that nonsense. It’s definitely not God’s word, because God doesn’t exist. You can’t really believe all that?

When we see the news and watch the onward march of secularism and ‘progress’, we might think that things are getting bad. Will we be completely silenced? Will we be punished for holding to God’s word? Are things getting worse and worse? Actually, things are getting back to normal - not the way things should be, but the way things really are, and always were.

Having accepted the word of God for what it was, having that word of God working in their lives, the Thessalonians were feeling the pressure rise. They were suffering for God’s word - just as Paul had (2:2 last week). But that wasn’t unusual. This was how the very first churches had suffered as well. The churches of God in Christ Jesus in Judea had suffered at the hands of the Jews.

There was death, they were being driven out, they were trying to silence people from sharing God’s word. The Jews were acting in opposition to the church, but they were actually opposing everyone, ‘by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.’ The pressure is there to shut up. To keep quiet, and not share God’s word.

But those who might look at Christians and think that they’re an easy target could find they’re picking the wrong fight. It’s like the school bully who picks on the new kid in school, only to later discover that the new kid is the new principal’s daughter. To take on Christians who hold God’s word is to take on the God whose word they hold. They might be able to intimidate Christians, but God cannot be silenced.

That should be encouraging, as we seek to walk worthy according to the word. It’s God’s word we have, God’s word we’re sharing, God’s word we’re living out. And it’ll be God’s word that counts on the last day, when the full measure of sin is judged, and God’s wrath is paid out for the unbeliever.

In our school, you weren’t allowed to walk around the school during classtime. A teacher spotted two of us walking down the corridor and told us off. But we were carrying a message from the principal, taking it to every classroom. With that note, we had no reason to fear even the scariest teacher. We were on official business. We had a message to share. We, as the church (and only the church) have the message of the gospel - God’s gospel. God has spoken. We must proclaim it, and plead for it (living it out), even if some seek to prevent it.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 24th May 2015.

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