• Download

Our Story in Christ

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

Sunday, April 26, 2020  Brad Barrett

1 Thessalonians 1:4-10

In Word, Power, the Holy Spirit, and Assurance

When I first began seriously considering the claims of Jesus when I was 18 and 19 years old, my main complaint about Christianity was all the hypocrisy.  People dressing up, going to church, but then going home and living life no differently.

While this was somewhat of an excuse on my part to avoid the stark claims of Jesus as it confronted my stubborn soul, there was some truth to this.

We all know the importance of being an example, not a hypocrite.  As parents.  Teachers.  Boss at work.  Pastors.  Each of us to another. 

Now no one except Jesus was the perfect model, but still we value someone who “walks the talk.”  Someone who lives out, for the most part, of what they say.

The religious leaders in Jesus’ days on earth were hypocrites. 

Jesus said to them,

Mark 7:6 CSB  “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written:  This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

They were hypocrites… not because they weren’t perfect, but because they were faking it.  Sounding religious on the outside, but not living it on the inside. 

We are in our second week of  a sermon series going through a letter written by the Apostle Paul to a church in ancient Greece.  A city called Thessalonica.  Paul wrote this, probably from a city called Corinth, near Athens, in about 51 A.D., twenty years after Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. 

This morning we are going to read about this young church….everyone was new to faith in Christ.  But in spite of their spiritual youthfulness, they were examples of Christlike maturity.  They were an example not only to each other and their city, their example was noticed to a wide region.

As I’ve read this, I find myself both humbled and inspired by their example.  Humbled because I wonder, “Am I the example that they are?”  Inspired because I pray, “Lord, empower me to be like them.”

1 Thessalonians 1

Our text this morning is quite brief.  Let’s read it. 

Vs. 1-10

From last week:

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.

Now today’s passage:

4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,

5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.

6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

8 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.

9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,

10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Let’s go back and look at this.

Vs. 4

I like this verse. 

4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,

Several observations:

  1. Paul calls them brothers. 

Paul uses this term about 20 times in this letter.  This reveals Paul’s affection and love for them.  We’ll see more of this later in the letter.

  • They are loved by God.  This is not insignificant. 

We can’t remind each other too often that in Christ… we are loved.

Twenty months ago our sermon series was on the Gospel of John.  I remember being impacted by something the Apostle John said.  He never referred to himself by name in the letter.  But he did describe himself five times as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  That impacted me powerfully back then, as it still does today.  For all of us who have believed in Jesus, we can say, “I am the disciple whom Jesus loves.”

This is life-changing.

  • Third, the believers were chosen by God.

For some of us, this topic may bother us.  We want to debate free will vs. God’s sovereignty.  We have all kinds of questions about this.  But we can’t miss the impact here.  If you are in Christ, God has chosen you.  This is a fact clearly stressed in the NT.  He wanted you.  You might feel you are insignificant.  Perhaps as a child you felt unwanted or unplanned.  But in the Lord’s eyes, if you are in Christ, you are wanted and planned.  God chose you.

Verse 4 alone is life-altering.  The more we believe these simple yet rich words, the more God will transform us from the inside out. 

Now on to verse 5.

How did Paul know they were chosen by God (vs. 4)?  He could tell by the fruit in their lives.

Vs. 5a

4 … we know brothers…. that he has chosen you,

5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…

Here’s how Paul knew they were chosen….how they were part of God’s eternal family, bound for glory forever and ever.  It was because of how the gospel message came from Paul to these Thessalonians.

And it came in a fourfold manner.

  1.  It came in word, of course.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is a story of truth that is known and understood through words.  Romans 10:17 says that “faith come from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

We have to hear words in order to believe.  Simply seeing another Christian’s life—while extremely important— is not enough. 

The gospel also came to them with three others ingredients.

  • It came in power.  The gospel itself is powerful.  Romans 1:16 says, “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”  The gospel itself is no mere human story.  It has a heavenly, divine power. 

It is impactful.  It penetrates hearts.   Paul’s gospel came with power to these people.  Plus, the Holy Spirit gives us power as we speak and walk in the Christian life. 

  • It came in the Holy Spirit. 

God’s Spirit is invisibly but extraordinarily active in this world.  In the hearts of men and women.  We must never underestimate or ignore the Holy Spirit’s powerful, wise, convicting work.

  • He works in power in the messenger of the gospel.  In Paul, and the same in us today.
  • He works in grace through spiritual gifts given to help others grow in Christ.
  • He works in wisdom and insight to bring conviction  and understanding to hearts that have previously been darkened to the Truth. 
  • It came with full assurance.  Deep conviction. 

It seems Paul is speaking of a deep, inner persuasion, a conviction, a confident assurance that the story of Jesus Christ– this gospel– is utterly and eternally true.   Paul was absolutely convinced that God sent his Son to live, die, and rise from the dead in order to bring life forever and ever to everyone who believes.  He was persuaded that there was no other way to God except through Christ.  He was convinced that, by God’s amazing grace, he had been granted eternal life and adoption as God’s child.  And that conviction, when we speak, is obvious to the hearer. 

So concerning these four ingredients to Paul’s message of truth, it seems apparent to me that he speaks about himself as the preacher.  The speaker.   Paul was exemplary in these things. 

But Paul seems also to  refer to the impact on the Thessalonians themselves, that the gospel came upon them in power, the working of the Holy Spirit, and with conviction.

In other words, the gospel was delivered in this fourfold manner by Paul  And it was received the same way by the Thessalonians.   God desires to be at work powerfully in both the messenger and the hearer.  In both the preacher and the listener.

This is how Paul knew that God had chosen them (vs. 4), because he saw the fruit in their lives (vs. 5-10).

Vs. 5b-7

Paul says in the second half of verse 5, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”

Paul and his friends were models of Christ to the Thessalonians.  Models of faith, love, and hope.  Models of Christlikeness.  Of power, the Holy Spirit, and deep conviction. 

6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,

7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

This new church filled with brand new Christians imitated Paul who imitated the Lord.   They received the message of the gospel.  They embraced it and believed it.  And they did this in a city that was violently opposed to Jesus Christ.

And in spite of the persecution, they had the JOY of the Holy Spirit.  Then Christians all over Macedonia and Achaia (modern-day Greece) saw this young church and were inspired by them. 

Vs. 8-10

8 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.

9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,

10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

For all of us who believe in Jesus Christ, we have a story.  A testimony.  A story of our encounter with Jesus Christ, how he delivered us from the wrath to come. 

These brand new Christians in Thessalonica had their story.  Upon believing in Jesus Christ to save them from their sins, they changed.  They repented.  They had been idol worshipers.  They had given their hearts to false gods.  But then God brought them to their senses, removed the veil that covered their eyes, and he saved them.   They gave up their dead, lifeless gods—that’s what idols are—and began serving the Only True God.  The only God who is truly alive—he is LIFE.

The Thessalonians gave all that up for the TRUTH.   

Such a beautiful story, isn’t it?  I smile when I think of them.  I can’t wait to meet some of these believers on the other side of life to hear more of their story.

And also in vs. 10, they were no longer living in hopelessness.  There was no more despair or confusion or wondering about the afterlife. 

Now they had HOPE, hope from God that Jesus Christ, who died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, was going to come back to earth again someday.

These new Christians were waiting—longing—for that day.  They were HOPE FILLED.   And why wouldn’t they be?  Their salvation was a deliverance from God’s wrath. 

The Thessalonians’ powerful story was known over a large region. 

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?

I want to give you a question.  A question to consider and answer. 

Here’s my question to all of us:  WHAT IS YOUR STORY?

What is your story?  Specifically, what is your story about Jesus Christ and your faith in him?

Three things I will ask of you related to your story:

  1. Find your story.
  2. Live your story.
  3. Speak your story.

Let me explain.

First, FIND your story.

We need to know what our story is about Jesus and faith in him. 

Some of you don’t have a story.  Or you’re not sure what your story is.

You might have a story of your religious upbringing.  A story of your sincerity.  A story of your good works.  Of church attendance.  Of trying to be a good person. 

But you don’t have a story about an encounter with Jesus.  Your story is unclear about who Jesus really is and what he has done, and what you believe about him?

To help you find your own story, may I suggest a reading assignment?  Go to the Gospel of John.  The 4th book of the NT.  (Matthew, Mark, Luke, then John.)

Go to the Gospel of John.  Read one chapter a week.  21 chapters.  In 3 weeks you will have completed it.  Even better, read it with someone else.  As you are reading, even if you are unsure God is there, offer up this simple prayer,  “God, if you are real, would you help me to understand who your Son, Jesus, really is?  And what he has done?  And then help me to receive and believe what I am hearing.”

For example, in this gospel Jesus said this: 

John 5:24 CSB “Truly I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.

Jesus boldly declares, “The one who believes in me will cross this chasm from death to life.” 

So would you consider reading the Gospel of John to find your own story?

Others of you have a story about faith in Jesus. 

This is beautiful.  In Luke 15:10, Jesus says there was joy in heaven in the presence of angels when you, a sinner, repented, turned to Jesus.  Your story is a joy-filled and glorious one. 

So here is your question: 

Is your story clear?  Is it clear to you?  Or are you fuzzy and fumbling on the details?

And here is an important question for the question:  Is your story focused on Jesus?  Is he the True Hero?  Or is your story mostly about you?

If you haven’t already done this, write out your story.  That can help us to clarify the essential parts of our story of our encounter with Jesus Christ who saved us from the wrath of God.

So FIRST, we must FIND our story.

Second, LIVE your story.

We must live out this story.  It’s not just words in our minds.  It involves action and heart.

This passage tells us that the Thessalonians were not merely thinking or talking about Jesus.  They LIVED it out.  They were transformed.

Vs. 5 tells us they discovered the power of the gospel that saves.  They were filled and led and gifted by the Holy Spirit.  They held deep convictions of faith that what God says in the Scriptures is absolutely true.

Vs. 9 tells us they turned from idols to serve the living and true God. 

Like the Thessalonians, we need to live out our story.

We need to reject self-reliance.  Our hope is not in our works.  Our hope is in God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

We need to cast off our idols… any object or desire that turns our hearts away from the True and Living God.

We need to deepen our convictions by paying attention to God’s Word:  Hearing it, talking about it with others, praying over it… Then walking in it. 

So we must FIND our story.  Then LIVE our story. 

Third, SPEAK our story.

Our story is impactful because it is a testimony of God’s work for us and in us and through us.  Somehow the repentance and faith of the Thessalonians became known far and wide.  Someone in some way spoke about it.  You can’t hold back good news.  Amazing news. 

Likewise, as we FIND and LIVE our stories, we SPEAK them.  God has been good.  Jesus Christ has delivered us from the coming wrath. 

Honestly, when I read this chapter, I’m humbled.  I’m humbled by the life change of these Christians.  I’m humbled because I recognize my STORY is not on my mind as much as it seems to be on theirs.  I’m humbled because I don’t open my mouth as much as they seem to.

Yet I am also inspired by them.  I’m inspired to have my story more in mind.  To call upon God to help me live out my story to its fullest:  in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.  And then to speak it. 

So to bring us to a close, let us all seek the answer to the question, What is my story?

We must Find it.

Then live it.

And speak it.