Sunday, May 31, 2015
The bing-bong announcement comes over the loudspeaker in the shopping centre: ‘Could the parents of little Jimmy Jones please make their way to the security desk’. Wee Jimmy has wandered off, got separated from his mum and dad, and is now in floods of tears. (Or, as happened a friend of mine, they went into the toilet and their whole family hid on them coming out - and thought they had been abandoned!). The pain of separation might be particularly acute as a young child. But anyone can know that sense of separation, that loneliness. The day or week or longer in bed sick when everyone else has gone out. The empty nest syndrome when children leave home.
Back in Genesis 2, when God had made Adam, God said that it is not good for the man to be alone. We were made as social beings, made for interaction and partnership, reflecting the God who is Trinity, with the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet here, in the opening part of today’s reading, Paul is experiencing that sense of separation. He had spent just three weeks in Thessalonica, preaching the gospel and planting the church before he was driven out of town by the Jewish opposition.
Having moved on to Berea, Athens and then Corinth, he was worried about his new Christians. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen how he became so attached to the Thessalonians - being like a nursing mother and a father to them. Look at verse 17. He speaks of the separation in these words: ‘we were made orphans by being separated from you.’ The pain of being separated from his fellow Christians is like losing both parents.
Paul is showing that it is not good for us to be alone - especially in our Christian walk. To be cut off from fellow believers is a painful reality - something the housebound mention regularly. They wish that they could join with us, if only they were able to. They echo those words of Paul in 17-18. Longing, great eagerness, wanting to come, to see you face to face. Yet even with his desire, he finds his way blocked. Satan blocked him from returning.
Have we felt this pain of separation from other Christians? Perhaps it comes on a Sunday we don’t make it to church - it doesn’t really feel like a Sunday! Or an extended period of illness when we weren’t able to be with other believers. Or we miss the singing and voice of someone who always sat beside us or behind us. Perhaps we can gain a greater understanding for those who wish they were here, but now feel cut off, lonely and separated.
It got so bad for Paul, separated from the Thessalonians, that he could bear it no longer. He thought it was better to be without Timothy for a while, so that he could send Timothy to be with them. You see, Paul recognised the spiritual dangers of the pain of separation. We see them at the start of chapter 3. Verse 3 shows that they could have been shaken by these persecutions.
These were new Christians, facing opposition, and on top of all that, they were separated from the only Christians they knew. To give you a picture of their position, think of the three little pigs - living in the house of straw or the house of sticks, when the big bad wolf comes and blows your house down... Paul had promised that persecution would come, but it’s another thing to actually experience it in practice. They had watched as the persecution drove Paul out of town. They were facing the same opposition themselves. Would their house be blown down, shaken?
Timothy was sent to (2) strengthen and encourage you... and also (5) to find out about your faith. Paul’s great fear was that all his labour was a waste of time. So Timothy leaves, and Paul waits. Was it all in vain? As we wait for the answer, let’s consider who we, like Timothy, can go to, to bring strength and encouragement. Is there a neighbour we can look in on, and share a wee something from the sermon with? Or read the Bible with? Or keep informed?
The wait was finally over, and as soon as Timothy returns, Paul writes this letter. You see, the report is good - their faith and love continues! They too long to see Paul and the others again. They are continuing to believe, even in those difficult circumstances, through the pain of separation, because they found strength in the partnership demonstrated by Timothy. His visit and return sparks a firework display of thankfulness and praise, with mutual encouragement and strength and joy.
Paul has been encouraged in his distress and persecution (7), just as the Thessalonians were as well. The strength of partnership blesses and benefits everyone. That’s something I find in visits and pastoral work - when you think you’re there to bless someone else, often you find yourself being blessed even more, as you see someone’s faith grow, or hear them pray. Paul puts it this way in verse 8: ‘For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord.’
What are the encouragements we’ve found from being with and standing with other Christians? The cup of tea after church is a great way of getting to know one another, but could we take it a bit deeper - and talk about faith as well as the weather or the football? Ask someone to pray for you - and watch as God answers those prayers. Perhaps you’ve had an answer to prayer - share that encouragement with someone else, it’ll encourage them in their prayers!
Paul is seeking to overcome the pain of separation, so he prayers night and day most earnestly that he may see them face to face. But then in the closing verses of ch 3 he tells them what he prays. And this prayer sums up the whole letter. The first two bits round up what we’ve seen so far. ‘Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.’
If Satan has blocked our way (2:18), then they ask the Father and the Son to remove the roadblocks. He prays that (just as we’ve seen today) he will be able to see them again. But more than that, he prays that their love will be like his love. You can’t doubt Paul’s love for them - his nursing mother, father-like, orphaned love for them. He prays that they will love like this, for one another and for all. We’ve seen these things already in the letter.
But the last part of the prayer points us forward. Here’s what we’re coming to now. ‘And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.’
The Christian life can often bring these times of separation. We’re isolated for various reasons, but the partnership of the church gives us strength for the road. Paul lifts our eyes from the here and now and points us to the end. One day we won’t be on our own. One day we’ll know the fullness of joy, when Jesus comes with all his saints, when we are gathered with Jesus.
Between this day and that, Paul prays that we will be strengthened in holiness, to be one of the saints, God’s holy people. Now that sounds very churchy, but as we’ll see, it’s very practical, and very down to earth - about living in purity, in hope, and in every day life. The pain of separation may be real, with all its spiritual dangers. But God has given us the strength of partnership, as we come together, face to face, to encourage one another, to build one another up, and also as we pray for one another. Let’s pray now.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 31st May 2015.
Sunday, May 24, 2015
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.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
This morning I’ve got a question for you. It’s a big question, an important question. Where is Jesus now?
Jesus is in heaven - today we’re thinking about why that’s important, and what it means for us as well.
We’re thinking today about something important - a special day that we read about in our Bible reading. A special day known as samtsirhc day... Does anyone know what that is?
Samtsirhc Day is the reverse of Christmas Day! At Christmas, Jesus came down from heaven. He was born as a baby, and grew up and became a man. He gathered his disciples and taught them for three years. He was crucified, died and was buried. He rose again from the dead, alive, and taught the disciples for forty days. Showed he was alive, prepared them for the work to come.
He was lifted up to heaven, seated at God’s right hand. Jesus is in heaven. He’s not here in person. Wouldn’t it be good to have Jesus with us in person? Listen to him speaking rather than me?
But Jesus is in heaven. How can we do the work he has called us to do? How could the disciples start that same work?
What are these? What do they tell us to do?
Traffic lights tell us to: Stop; Wait / Get Ready; Go!
Stop: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem’ (4) - disciples were to stop, stay where they were.
Wait: ‘but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ (4-5) - weren’t ready just yet... needed someone to help them - Holy Spirit. Comes to be with us, live in us, to be like Jesus with us - Jesus is in heaven, but gives us the Holy Spirit to be with us.
Go: ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ - Spirit gives us power to work, power to speak.
Power to move out - Jerusalem; Judea; Samaria; ends of the earth.
First disciples had to go through all the traffic lights. Red - stop. Red/amber - wait. Ten days later, at Pentecost: green - go.
Which traffic light do we have? It’s not red, because we’re not in Jerusalem. It’s not red/amber, because if we have trusted in Jesus, we already have the Holy Spirit, we don’t need to wait. We now have the green traffic light - the disciples have moved from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth. We’re part of the ends of the earth.
The Sunday School project, little lights, is helping us think about how we can be little lights here; and people in DR Congo are little lights there. We have the power promised. We have a green light. We can tell people about Jesus.
These sermon notes formed the basis for the All-Age Bible Talk at the Family Service in Aghavea Parish Church on the Sunday after the Ascension, 17th May 2015.
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Do you remember about a year and a half ago, for a few Sundays in November, we had the Church of Ireland census? On each of the Sundays, every person in church was asked to fill in their age and sex. The figures were added up by parish, diocese, and the whole C of I, to give us some idea of who we are and where we’re at. This week at General Synod, the stand out figure was 15%. On any given Sunday, about 15% are in a Church of Ireland church. But it’s not 15% of the whole population of the island, which wouldn’t be too bad; no, it’s 15% of those who identified themselves as being C of I in the 2011 census. In terms of total population, just 0.97% are worshipping in a Church of Ireland church.
The call to mission was clear, and clearly needed. How can we reach out to the people out there, as well as the 85% of our own non-attenders? As things stand, it sounds really bad. But already, we’re better off than Thessalonica was. Last week, we heard of how there weren’t any Christians at all, but then the apostle Paul and his mission team arrived in town. They shared the good news of Jesus, and a church was formed, made up of people who had turned from idols to serve the living and true God.
But then the Jews got jealous, and Paul had to flee town. When he sits down to write this letter to the church (from Corinth), the people of Thessalonica (outside the church) are casting aspersions on Paul and his team. Oh aye, he was one of those fly boys, he came, wanted your money, and then flew off to exploit the next lot of gullible people in the next town. If he was around today, you’d see him on Watchdog or some of those dodgy cowboy preacher channels...
In chapter 2, Paul is writing to remind them of his work in Thessalonica. In doing so, he’s telling them what they already know, but may have forgotten. And as he does so, he shows us what we need as we seek to share the gospel of God - the good news about Jesus. I know that even as I say those words - share the gospel; or the ‘e’ word (evangelism), that the reasons start flowing - I couldn’t do that; I’m no good at speaking; sure isn’t that why we have a rector? Paul shows us how we can do it. Here’s what we need to share the gospel of God.
Firstly, we need courage. Some were criticising Paul, he ran away, just forget about him, but Paul says that his coming was not in vain. In that short period of time, they had became Christians. The change was evident. But how did it come about? Before Paul arrived with them, he had been in Philippi, where he was beaten and thrown into prison, because he had been talking about Jesus.
He could have been tempted to be quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t stir things up. Anything for a quiet life - especially when the trouble started in Thessalonica as well. But look at verse 2. What helped Paul to open his mouth? ‘we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.’ They may have feared the trouble, but they found courage in God.
It’s the same courage our brothers and sisters find when they are lined up on a Libyan beach to be executed, and yet still declare the name of Jesus. We too can have courage in God to invite someone to come along to church, or say what Jesus means to you - even when it’s not easy to do it. God is bigger than any enemy. He gives us courage.
But there’s more. Sharing the gospel of God also needs conviction. Again, Paul says what it wasn’t and then how it was (a bit like watching a tennis match back and forth, not this but that...). Paul’s motives were being questioned. Was he out to deceive, to lead people astray? Or had he impure motives? Some trickery? He says no - our appeal doesn’t spring from those things.
Rather, his motive is to please the one who sent him. Look at verse 4. ‘Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.’ Paul doesn’t speak to please people. It would be so easy to just say nice things so that people like you. We could have an easy time if we tell people what they want to hear. But Paul was sent by God, entrusted with the gospel.
If you sit down to write a letter and pop it in the postbox, you have entrusted it to Postman Pat (or at least, one of his colleagues). You don’t expect him to open the letter, and change what you have said, then deliver it. You expect him to pass it on as it is. In the same way, Paul is just the deliveryman, passing on the message of the gospel. Knowing that he has been sent by God, Paul is out, not on a people-pleasing mission, but on a God-pleasing mission.
The danger is that as we speak about Jesus, as we talk to our neighbour or friend or family member about God and the gospel, we can sometimes want to please them, so we don’t mention about hell or sin, or the need for repentance. After all, they won’t want to hear about that, we reason. We want to please them. But will that please God, who sends us and entrusts us with his message? Who is it you’re trying to please in your use of words (or absence of words)?
Sharing the gospel needs courage in opposition, and conviction to share the good news faithfully. But those together could lead to arrogance, that we have the truth. Some Christians may come across in that way, their manner suggests some sort of superiority. Paul was accused of flattery, of greed, and of seeking praise for himself. Even though he was an apostle, he wasn’t like that.
Rather, in verse 7 he shows what he was like (as they know and God is witness), and what we also should be like as we share the gospel with others: ‘But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.’ Paul takes the image of a nurse who cares for patients, and is even more tender and loving and caring for her kids. This is how we’re to do mission - loving the people we’re talking to, caring for them. Paul had this connection with the Christians in Thessalonica, having spent just three weeks with them. In that time he shared the gospel with them, but he shared something else as well. ‘So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.’
Now for some, that might be the hardest step - to share ourselves; to grow closer together. But it comes from that compassion - caring for people leads to sharing with people. Take some time this week to think about three people you care for, who you would like to see come to faith. Pray for them. Care for them, and look for opportunities to share with them the good news about Jesus.
We started with stats, so lets end with a different sort of stat. On Thursday night, the exit poll predicted a Tory majority in the General Election. The commentators thought it was nonsense, the opinion polls said that Labour and the Conservatives were neck and neck. The problem was ‘shy Tories’ who didn’t want to admit they were planning to vote Tory in the opinion polls. So they kept quiet, or pretended to be something else. Let’s not be ‘shy Christians’ who never speak about our faith, who are too shy, or embarrassed, or nervous to say that we believe in Jesus. Sharing the gospel of God needs courage (in our God in the face of opposition), conviction (because we’re sent by God to share his message of good news), and compassion (caring for those we share the good news with). Courage, conviction, and compassion - perhaps there’s one we need to develop, maybe we need to grow in all three. Let’s follow Paul’s example, as we share the gospel, so that our existence as a church family is, as Paul says, ‘not in vain.’
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 10th May 2015.
Sunday, May 03, 2015
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.