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Faith, Hope, and Love

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Sunday, April 12, 2020

1 Thessalonians 1:1-3, Acts 17

Faith, Love, and Hope

I was born in Sioux City, Iowa, in a safe hospital and in a good family.  I don’t ever recall being in danger growing up….unless it was doing stupid things, like riding down a snowy hill on my snow sled and ramming my head against a tree.  But my upbringing was safe. 

When I was 19, I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ in a clear way, and I believed.  And so I was born into God’s eternal family.

Over the years since then— similar to my childhood— I have never been in danger from religious persecution.

Your story may be different than mine.  But overall, my physical and spiritual upbringing was relatively safe. 

Centuries ago, Jesus Christ was born into a hostile world.  When he was a toddler, a king tried to kill him.

Then when he was in his early 30’s, as you likely know, the crowds became hostile and killed him.

In the first century, many people who believed in Jesus encountered a similar danger.

This morning, we are going to read of a church in that situation.  This church may surprise us, for find these very young Christians have a strong faith, a deep love, and a firm hope.

We are beginning a new sermon series going through a letter written by one of God’s most significant spokesmen, a man named Paul.  He wrote this letter to a church in ancient Roman world.  A city called Thessalonica.

1 Thessalonians 1

So let’s look at 1 Thessalonians.   Our main text this morning is quite brief.  Let’s read it. 

Vs. 1-3

1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:  Grace to you and peace.

2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,

3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Glance again at vs. 1.  Take note of these two groups:

  • Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy
  • The church of the Thessalonians

Who are they?  What is the background of the story?

So for a while, we’re going to leave this letter.  Let’s go to the book of Acts which will give us the background for this church.

Acts 16-17

Turn to Acts 16.  [Acts is the book in the NT that follows the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.]

Acts is called “Acts” because it is the “Acts of the Apostles.”  The DEEDS… of Jesus’ apostles.

Here in Acts, we will read how Paul founded this church in Thessalonica.  And it’s helpful to see under what conditions Paul first came to the city…. The conditions into which this new church was born.  Before we get to that city, the story actually begins in a city called Philippi [modern-day Greece]. 

Acts 16:16–19 (ESV)

16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling.

She was possessed by a demon!

17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”

Her words were true but insincere.  Mocking.  And unwanted. 

18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Paul couldn’t take it any longer.  So he cast the demon out of her.

All good, right? 

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.

How interesting.  The reason the owners of this demon-possessed slave girl got so angry is because they couldn’t make any more money from her.  They were profiteering from her demonically-inspired abilities, but now that was over.

Any rational and loving person would be quite happy for this girl.  But her owners are ticked off. 

So they started a riot with a large mob.  Paul and Silas are beaten severely with rods and thrown in prison.  The Lord causes a great earthquake and the prison doors are opened.  Paul and Silas are released because of their Roman citizenship.  They are asked to leave town. 

So much for a welcome to “Friendly Philippi!”  Seems like Philippi’s Department of Tourism needs to improve their image! 

So they leave Philippi and travel down the great Roman highway called Via Egnatia.  Comparable to our I-80…. (But without the heavy truck traffic.  Maybe they had heavy donkey traffic.)    They travel 90 miles southwest to the very large city, Thessalonica. 

Let’s go to the next chapter in Acts.  Chapter 17.  We will read about how the church was established.  This is in about 50 A.D., about 20 years after Jesus died and was resurrected.

Acts 17:1–10 (ESV)

1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.

Let’s pause for some background here. 

Thessalonica was a large and important city in the Roman empire, serving as the capital of the province of Macedonia. 

The city still exists today, called Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece with over one million people.      

2 And Paul went in [to the synagogue], as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,

3 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.” [the long-awaited Messiah]

4 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.

So some of the Jews and the devout Gentiles—the NON-Jews—believed in Jesus Christ.  Jesus calls that being “born again.”

Through faith in Jesus, they were granted the status of “children of God” because of what God’s Son, Jesus, had done in his death and resurrection.  Through faith in Jesus, we can be granted complete forgiveness,  eternal life, and true hope.  This is what it means to be a Christian. 

By the way, if you’re unsure or confused about this, reach out and ask me or another pastor… or a friend you have at Stonebrook.  You can contact the pastors from our website, www.stonebrook.org.  We would love to have a conversation with you.

So back to Acts 17, this is a profound moment.  Along with the new Christians in Philippi, these are some of the first known Christians in modern-day Europe.  A church has begun in this Roman city. 

5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.

6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also,

7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

Another riot.  Money motivated the riot in Philippi.  Jealousy motivated this riot in Thessalonica. 

The scene was madness.  Terrifying.  They attacked Jason’s house.  They dragged several new Christians before the city officials.

8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things.

9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.

Paul and Silas had likely been in the city for several months.  Enough time to see numerous people saved and to establish a church in the city.  This is how Paul started churches.  He would go into a city, preach the gospel, see people saved, then gather them together as a community which the NT calls “the church.”

So Paul and Silas are kicked out of the second city.  First Philippi.  Now Thessalonica.   So Paul is forced to leave the city.

He leaves this brand new church with baby Christians in a hostile environment.  A city that is antagonistic towards Jesus Christ and his followers.

Sounds like a recipe for trouble for these new Christians, doesn’t it?

Several months goes by.  There is no easy communication in those days.  No Zoom meetings to check up on them.  No email.  No phone.  Paul is quite concerned.  How are these baby Christians surviving in the midst of severe persecution?

How would you and I do?

Have they turned away from Jesus, or are they still following?

Paul taught them all he could about Jesus and the New Covenant.  But now he is several hundred miles away, and his only way to serve the church is through prayer.  Desperate prayer for their souls. 

After a while Paul sends his young disciple, Timothy, back to Thessalonica to check up on them.  Timothy returns with good news.  No, GREAT news.  The church is not simply getting by.  They are thriving.

This… is the occasion where Paul wrote his first letter to this church.  This is First Thessalonians.   Probably written a few months after being kicked out of the city.

1 Thessalonians 1

So that is the back story.  Now let’s go back to this letter Paul wrote. 

Vs. 2-3

Verses 2 and 3 is what I want to focus on this morning.

2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,

3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since Paul could not come to see them personally, he wrote this warm and affectionate letter, with both a parental and pastoral heart.  Here and in the rest of the letter, Paul expresses his love for them and exhorts them to not lose heart in suffering and to walk in holiness and sound doctrine.   He yearned that they continue to grow in faith, love, and hope. 

Purpose of Series

This brings us to the purpose of our series in this letter:  Paul is commending the church for standing fast in the Lord, even in the face of severe persecution.  And he urges them to continue standing fast.  Continue in the faith.  Continue in sound doctrine and hope in the Second Coming of Christ.  Don’t give up.  Hold on to what you have believed.

So in this series, our goal is that all of us to capture that same heart:  To STAND FAST in the LORD, even in the face of suffering and trials.

So back to vs. 2-3 again.

The first thing I notice here and  throughout this letter is Paul’s love and affection for these people.

He thanks God for them.

He prays constantly for them.

He talks to God about them, remembering them.

To Paul, helping God’s people is not just a J-O-B job merely to collect a paycheck.  This is his life.  This is his family.  This is his mission.   We will see in Chapter 2 that he is like a tender mother to them.  And an encouraging, guiding father. 

This is a challenge and a calling for us.  As we engage in our Christian activity, at the core should be a growing motivation of love and affection.  Paul’s love—as ours should be—was founded upon knowing how much God loved him.  The Apostle John in his letter said, “We love because he first loved us.”

When we are having trouble loving and showing affection toward our fellow family members in God’s church, we can know that at some level we are not grasping the depths of God’s great love for us. 

One of our top prayer requests ought to be that God will open our eyes to understand better his great love for us. 

So like Paul, our Christianity should be increasing in love and affection for people.

The second thing I notice here is what Paul commends them for.  What qualities he values: 

  1. Faith
  2. Love
  3. Hope

This is an often-used triad of Christian qualities.  Someone called these three qualities a “shorthand summary of the essentials of Christianity.”  Another author called them the “trinity of Christian virtues.”

Christian character is incomplete without a growing sense of faith, love, and hope.  [REPEAT]

Faith.  Love.  Hope.  They are mentioned together in at least seven NT passages.

And then I love what Paul said about these three qualities.  They are not passive.  These qualities result in changed behavior and godly fruit.   “Works of faith.  Labor of love.  Endurance of hope.”

In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist preached, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”    This brand new church certainly did that. 

They had works prompted by their faith.  Works do not save us.  Only faith does.  But genuine faith looks like something.  A genuine trust in God and his Son Jesus is displayed in action.

They had labor and service motivated by their love.  We all understand in our hearts that deep love compels us to serve others and to care for them.   If I say I have love, but do nothing to help someone, you can legitimately question my love.

And third, the had an endurance that was inspired by their hope.  Let’s define “HOPE”:  Biblical hope is not wishful thinking.  Biblical hope is a confident expectation that good will happen in the future.

This is not about being an optimist.  Having a cheerful personality.   This is about trust in God that he has eternal good planned for his children.  Eternal life with him.  Resurrected bodies living in a resurrected world.  Receiving the kingdom of God as an inheritance.  Being rewarded for all our labor of faith in Jesus. 

God promises this.  So the Christian has hope.  This hope inspires an endurance… perseverance…. Steadfastness… in trials.

  • Trials of persecution, like the Thessalonians were experiencing.
  • Trials of COVID-19.  Of health concerns.  Of economic and job pressures. 
  • Trials of family and parenting strains. 

In all such things, the Christian doesn’t give up on his faith in Jesus because he has HOPE.  He knows that something better….something glorious… is coming soon. 

These Christians—very new to the faith, perhaps only a few months old in the Lord—were exemplary to the world around them of faith, love, and hope. 

Application

So I want to finish up by answering the question, “So what?”  So what does all this have to do with me?  How does it relate?  What do I do with this?

For today, I want to say…. Let us hold on to the essentials.  Let me propose those three essential attributes of the Christian life. 

FAITH.

LOVE.

HOPE.

Here’s the main application I take out of this today:  Seek the virtues of faith, love, and hope in Jesus Christ

Seek these attributes.  Pursue them.  Yearn for them.  And then ACT on them.

And then help others do the same.  Your family.  Your Community Group friends.  Others in the church.    

How shall we seek these virtues?

  1. Immerse ourselves in God’s Word.

The Bible contains truth from heaven.  It contains life here.  Immerse ourselves wherever we can hear God’s Word.  Sunday service.  Community Groups.  Bible studies.  Podcasts.  Solid music.

If you feel you’re constantly failing in this area, that’s what grace is about.  Don’t feel guilty;  just get hungry. 

  • Lean on the Holy Spirit.

To grow in the virtues of faith, love, and hope, we need the power and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Do NOT seek such noble qualities in your own strength.

We are to walk in the Spirit and be filled with the Spirit.  Seek that in the Word and in prayer and in humble dependence.   

  • Be constant in prayer.

Just as God was at work in power in this church filled with young Christians, so he desires to work in our lives.

Pray for your own growth in these virtues.  Pray for your family.  Pray for your Christian friends.

Pray, “Lord, help me to walk by faith.  To trust you…to trust you for salvation and trials and in my fears and in my guilt.”

Pray, “Lord, open my eyes to see your love.  To know it deeper in my heart.  And then help me to love others like you have loved me.”

Pray, “Lord, give me a greater hope….a greater confidence in the good and the glorious that you have promised us in the future life in heaven.”

  • Embrace the church.

Though for several weeks here this Spring we are apart physically, we need one another desperately.  We need one another to grow, to encourage each other, to reprove, to comfort, to speak.   May we value one another even more the longer we are apart. 

  • Pass on what you know. 

Whether you are young in the Lord or have known him for years, you have something to pass on.

We will see next week that this young, young church was spreading the message of Jesus far and wide. 

May God empower us to stand fast in him….

…stand fast in childlike faith that prompts us to good works.

…stand fast in a holy love that compels us to serve others.

…stand fast in an eternal hope that strengthens us through trials.