Vision and Values, Part 3: Community | 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
Brian Hedges | April 29, 2018
Well, turn in your Bible this morning to 1 Thessalonians chapter 5. We’re continuing in our series on our vision and values as a church. We started this three weeks ago (or two weeks ago, I guess, this is the third week), and we’re just taking four weeks to work through our core values as a church. Let me give you our mission statement and then our core values. We’re going to focus on the third of these this morning.
Here’s the mission statement: “As people whose lives have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, our mission is to worship the Lord,” that’s what we looked at last week, “live together in community,” that’s today, “and reach out in both word and deed in the Michiana area and around the world.”
We’ve broken this down further into four core values: gospel, worship, community, and mission. The gospel we expressed in this way: “Trusting Jesus and his finished work with all of our hearts.” Worship is about “seeing Jesus every week in Scripture, prayer, and at the table,” mission is about “sharing Jesus in word and deed,” and this morning we’re focusing especially on community, which is “following Jesus in partnership with others.”
Now, as I’ve said in every one of these sermons, these core values, this mission statement is not particularly unique to us as a church. I think every church that is worth its salt wants to build its life on the gospel, wants to do so for the glory of God, to build up believers in the community of faith, and to reach out and be a part of God’s mission in the world. But it’s helpful for us to focus on this as a church every so often, and that’s what we’re doing in this series.
We’re doing that just to help us get centered once again in what we’re about as a church. It’s easy for us to drift. It’s easy for us to start thinking that the church is about something other than these things, it’s easy for us to get off point, and it’s helpful, especially in times of transition as we now are as a church with the proposed name change and a lot of tweaking and fine tuning and refining of the ministries and the inner life of the church going on, it’s helpful for us to just be reminded of our basic purpose as a church.
We are here for the glory of God, we are here to build up believers, and we are here to fulfill the Great Commission. We’re here for worship, community, and mission, and the only way that we can fulfill those three purposes is if we build our church robustly on and around the gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s what this series is about.
What we’re trying to do each week is just dig into one passage of Scripture that gives us a window into how to fulfill this, how to put it into practice. Now, every one of these core values we could do a 12-week series on and not exhaust everything the Bible has to say; that’s especially true this morning on community. But I think we’re going to find that the passage before us in 1 Thessalonians 5 is very helpful and amazingly comprehensive in covering the body life of the church.
I love this letter, the letter to the Thessalonians. This church, the church at Thessalonica, has been called a model church, and in many ways it was a model church. It was a church that Paul loved. Paul was involved in planting this church, he was there for just a very short period of time. He wrote two letters to them, this is the first of those letters, and there’s an amazing depth and breadth to what he tells the church to do in this passage. It is densely packed, so we’re going to cover it pretty quickly, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24.
So, you can read along on the screen, or you can follow along in your own copy of God’s word, which I hope that you have with you this morning. Let’s read the passage, and then I want to point out three broad things that this passage teaches us about our relationships. 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, beginning in verse 12:
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
This is God’s word.
So this passage is all about our relationships, and it gives us instruction about our relationships with leaders, our relationships with members, that is, with one another; and then our relationship with God himself. So let’s look at each one of these three things.
I. Our Relationships with Leaders
First of all, there are some very important and careful instructions about our relationships with leaders, and you see this in verses 12 and 13. In these two verses Paul gives us both the responsibilities of leaders in the church, something like a description of leadership, and he also gives us responsibilities to leaders in the church. Let’s look at each one of these.
(1) First of all, the responsibilities of leaders. You see that in verse 12. He says, “We ask you, brothers,” and by brothers he would include sisters, so brothers and sisters, “We ask you...to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.”
Now, the first thing to notice here is that he says, “Respect those who labor among you,” so it’s plural. Leadership in the church is plural. It’s not singular.
Now, I have the title here of lead pastor, but I am not the only pastor of this church; you need to understand that. I serve alongside a team of pastors. The elders are pastors of the church. They are involved in the shepherding of the church. They are involved in the oversight of the church. They are part of the decision-making of the church. I don’t make all the decisions, I don’t call all the shots; the elders do that, we do that together, alongside one another, with accountability to one another. That is a biblical pattern. “Those who labor among you.” It’s a plural group, and that was part of Paul’s pattern.
You can see this in the book of Acts, as he would plant churches, he would come back through those churches, and he would establish elders in each one of those churches. So it’s plural leadership.
And then notice the things that these leaders are to do. First of all, they labor. “Respect those who labor among you.” That word means “to work hard,” it means to toil to the point of exhaustion. For Christian leaders it especially refers to the labor of supporting the weak, the labor of evangelism, church planting, and discipleship; and the labor of proclaiming, warning, teaching, and discipling. I could give you passages for each one of those statements, as this word is used in different contexts in the book of Acts and in Paul’s leaders.
So, Christian leaders are to work hard. They are to be deeply involved in working for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the church.
Secondly, these leaders are said to be “over you in the Lord”; that is, they have authority. They have oversight. They are overseers. As you know, in the New Testament leaders in the church are called by different names.
Sometimes they’re called elders, and that word is meant to refer to their maturity and their wisdom in the faith, they are to be mature believers, not new believers. Sometimes they are called shepherds, and that has to do with their care for the flock. Sometimes they are called teachers, pastors and teachers, so that is feeding the flock with the word of God through teaching and preaching and proclamation. And sometimes they are called overseers, and that has to do with their role as those who exercise oversight, watching over the souls of the flock as well as with their spiritual leadership over the affairs of the church. They are over you.
And then notice that Paul says they are “over you in the Lord.” Now that’s important. They are “over you in the Lord.” The only authority that elders have over the flock is authority in the Lord, and that authority is prescribed by the word of God. I don’t have a right to tell you what to do in many dimensions of life, alright. There’s Christian liberty, and we respect the Christian liberty of one another.
We don’t have the right as leaders to tell the church, “This is the school you should send your children to,” or, “You should homeschool,” or, “You should do public school,” or whatever right to step into those kinds of areas. We don’t have the right to tell you what your diet should be; you know, should you be a vegetarian or should you eat meat, we don’t have a right to tell you about those things.
But there are certain things that we have a responsibility to tell you and to speak with the authority of God; that is, that we are to live holy lives, that we are to love one another, that we are to be united with one another, that we are to hold fast the trustworthy word as taught. These are the things that teachers and leaders in the church are to labor to share with the people of God, and that is the limit of our authority. We are over you, but in the Lord, as it is prescribed by God’s word.
And then thirdly, leaders are to admonish. Paul says they are “over you in the Lord,” and they “admonish you.” This is really a parental word. Admonition; it goes right alongside of teaching, and it’s a word that would describe what a father does with a child, admonishing and encouraging and instructing and warning.
So, for example, in 1 Corinthians chapter 4 Paul says, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” That’s the heart of the spiritual leader, like a father to his children, admonishing in love. So, this is what leaders are to do, the responsibilities of leaders.
(2) Now I want you to see, right alongside this, responsibilities to the leaders. You see this, again, in verses 12 and 13.
First of all, Paul says, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you.” Now, that word “respect” literally means “to know,” and in this context I think it means to recognize. It’s not carrying so much the idea of showing respect; that’s covered in the second statement, to esteem them highly. It really carries the idea of recognizing, and I think the idea is something like this: the church is supposed to look at those who are laboring, those who are admonishing, those who are doing the work of ministry, and then recognize them as your leaders.
In other words, the church is not called to respect a position, they are called to recognize the actual ministry that people are doing, and then those people who are actually doing the ministry, they are then to be given that role.
This is how we try to operate as an elder team. We don’t look for someone and say, “You know, we think that person would make a good leader,” and then give them a leadership position and then try to get them involved in doing leadership kinds of things. We rather look for someone who is serving, we look for someone who is teaching, we look for someone who is using their gifts, we look for someone who’s already deeply involved, someone who has a passion for ministry, they’re engaged in ministry, and we say, you know, “This person is doing the work of ministry. This is what an elder looks like. This is a person who should be in leadership.”
I think that’s the pattern here. Paul uses this same word, gives a similar exhortation, in 1 Corinthians 16:15, when he calls the church to recognize the leadership of Stephanus and his household. He just wants them to recognize what Stephanus is doing for the church. So that’s first: recognize the leaders among you.
Secondly, Paul says, “esteem them very highly…” Now this is where the respect comes in. “Esteem them very highly.” You know, this is so counterintuitive, because in our culture we have seen so much abuse of authority that our initial reaction to authority is not to esteem it highly. It’s to be suspicious, it’s to distrust, and we have such good reasons to distrust. I mean, when we look at people in positions of authority who abuse power and who misuse their authority and abuse people and do all kinds of terrible things, of course we’re going to distrust authority in those kinds of contexts. The church should be the exact opposite of that, where we never see leaders abusing power, we never see leaders misusing authority, but we see leaders who are leading as servants who love the flock, and that love is what should commend and should generate this high esteem of leaders. I think Paul strikes just that note when he says, “Esteem them very highly in love.” In love.
As one wonderful church leadership book says, “Love is the divine glue that holds leaders and congregation together through all the disagreements and hurts of congregational life.” There should be a love for the flock from leaders to members, from members to leaders, and this is what holds the congregation together.
So we see here responsibilities of leaders, we see responsibility to leaders.
II. Our Relationships with Members
Now, secondly, I want you to just notice our relationships with members, or our relationships with one another. So, by member here I don’t mean necessarily only those who have their name on a church member list; I mean, rather, anyone who is a regular attendee of our church and is plugged into the body of Christ. If you’re a Christian and you regularly attend this church, you’re serving and you’re in fellowship with others, then you are a member of the body of Christ.
Now, I would like for that to be official, so that you actually go through the membership process and commit yourself in covenant to this church and us to you. That should happen; there are good biblical reasons for that to happen. But if that hasn’t happened yet, if that’s not where you are, this still applies to you, everything that’s said here.
What we have in these verses, verses 13 through 15, is something like a collection of exhortations about how we are to do body life. I want to just phrase it in terms of three broad applications and then show you the specifics under each one.
(1) Here’s the first. The first thing is this: we must recognize the diversity of people’s needs. Effective care in the body of Christ starts with recognizing the diversity of people’s needs.
Look at verse 14. Paul says, “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”
Now, those verses immediately confront us with the fact that the church is filled with difficult and needy people, right? Because he’s listing off different categories of people who have different kinds of needs, and all of us fit into those categories at one time or another.
Someone has described the church as a “society of sinners.” In fact, the same person, Charles Morrison, said, “The church is the only society in the world where membership is based upon the single qualification that the candidate shall be unworthy of membership.” So if you think you’re not worthy to be a member of the church, that’s exactly the person we’re looking for, okay. Come on in; the water’s fine.
We all have problems. We all have needs. That is true from the least to the greatest, from the youngest to the oldest. We all have needs, and there are a diversity of needs, and Paul recognizes this, and he gives very specific, concrete exhortations that connect to the different spiritual states of people in the church. This is just masterful pastoral care. He doesn’t give a “one size fits all” approach; he instead gives specific exhortations regarding specific kinds of people. Look at these.
First of all, he says, “admonish the idle.” The word “idle” could also be translated “lazy” or “unruly.” It’s a word that described a soldier who had left his ranks. The passage literally means something like this: “Warn the quitters,” or, “Warn those who are lazy.” He’s specifically looking at defective character in church members and the need to admonish them to get in line, and there’s warning that’s involved here.
Now, in the Thessalonian church, this was probably because of truancy in the church, that there were actually people in the congregation who were not working, and the reason they were not working was not because they weren’t able to, it wasn’t because of disability, it wasn’t because of unemployment; it was because of laziness, and he wants them to be admonished to not walk in idleness, but to do their own work quietly and earn their own living, 2 Thessalonians 3:12.
But laziness manifests itself in all kinds of ways. In fact, one of the seven deadly sins is sloth, right? Spiritual sloth. And that laziness can manifest itself in all kinds of neglect, such as neglect of spiritual disciplines, or an unwillingness to engage in service, or a lack of interest and a lack of caring about the priorities of the gospel. It’s spiritual laziness, and Paul says admonish them, warn them.
Then he says, “encourage the fainthearted.” Now, this is a different group of people, the fainthearted. Who are the fainthearted? This is a word that has a wide range of meaning. It can mean those who are timid, as the NIV says, or those who are discouraged or fearful or weak, those who are lacking in confidence; and Paul says, “Encourage them.” Encourage them. Encourage the weak. Encourage the fainthearted.
William Barclay says, “The fainthearted brother is the one who instinctively fears the worst.” This is what I call the Eeyore personality. You remember Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh? He’s just always expecting the worst to happen. He’s always thinking things are going to go the worst possible way. He’s always seeing things in the worst possible light. This is the person where the glass is half empty – no, the glass is three-quarters empty. It’s all the way empty! I mean, things are really bad! There are some people in the church that just feel that way. That’s some of you. Some of you look in the mirror every morning and you just expect a bad day.
Do you know what you need? You don’t need to be rebuked; you need to be encouraged. You need to be strengthened. You need somebody to come alongside and hold your hand and say, “It’s going to be alright, brother. It’s going to be okay. Look to the promises of God, trust the Lord.”
I think one of the greatest examples of this is John Newton, a great pastor of the Olney church who pastored William Cowper. Now, if you know anything about hymnody in the church you know that John Newton and William Cowper wrote some of the greatest hymns of the English language. John Newton wrote, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me.” William Cowper wrote, “God moves in a mysterious way / His wonders to perform,” “There is a fountain filled with blood / Drawn from Immanuel’s veins…”
What you may not know is that John Newton was a wonderful, warmhearted pastor and William Cowper was a manic depressive. I mean, William Cowper was in and out of insane asylums all of his life, he attempted suicide multiple times, even after he became a Christian; he was terribly depressed. He was a poetic genius, but he just lived with a cloud, a black cloud, over his head, through his entire life.
And John Newton was the guy that just kept pulling him from the edge, over and over again, just pulling him back from the edge, by writing him letters, by visiting him. In fact, the Olney hymnal began because John Newton thought, “I have to get this guy to work. I have to get him using his gifts; I have to get him doing something. So let’s write a hymnal together.” So he gets this manic depressive creative genius, William Cowper, to start writing poetry in service of the gospel, and we all benefit today. That is a wonderful model of pastoral care, of someone who encouraged the fainthearted.
“Admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted,” and then, “help the weak.” Help the weak. Here the weakness carries the idea of weakness in regards to temptation, spiritual shortcomings, or perhaps even physical weakness or economic hardship. This is a person that needs help. They need help. So Paul says, “Help the weak.” That word literally means to put your arm around, to cling to, to hold onto, or at least it carries that connotation. It’s to come alongside someone and help them. To help the weak.
Now, you read these three exhortations and what you see is that there’s a diversity of people’s needs, and there are no panaceas in the spiritual life. There’s no “one size fits all” instruction; instead, there is complex, discerning, slow, patient, careful pastoral care.
You know, I’ve noticed something. I’ve noticed that people who try to have fast conversations, people who try to have fast conversations to get answers quickly often make big mistakes, because they’re not taking the time to actually get to know the state of people’s hearts. In church life, in body life, we have to carefully, patiently, lovingly work with one another to get to know what the real needs are so that we can address those needs with the wisdom of Scripture.
(2) Here’s the second exhortation: Be patient and peaceful, doing good, not evil. Verse 13 ends, “Be at peace among yourselves.” Verse 14 ends, “Be patient,” or longsuffering, “with them all,” and then verse 15 continues, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” So be peaceful, patient, and repay evil with good.
I’ll be brief on this, but it simply means this: if you’re going to be a part of a church for any length of time, you’re going to have to become an expert in forgiveness. You’re going to have to be very patient with people, because you’re going to get wounded. You’re going to get hurt sometimes. You’re going to get offended sometimes. People are going to tick you off sometimes. You have to learn how to extend grace to one another. That’s part of what it means to be in the church. You have to be patient. You have to love peace.
Loving peace – I think part of what that means is that we put the good of the whole in front of our own preferences and prerogatives, put the good of the body, we put the heart of the gospel, we put the mission of the church, we put the good of one another, we put that above our own sometimes petty differences and concerns. And even if they’re not petty differences and concerns, we still put the peace of the church above our own personal opinions and beliefs.
(3) Be patient and peaceful, doing good, not evil; and then number three, adjust your expectations. Adjust your expectations. By this I mean raise them higher and bring them lower, because you have to do both.
Raise your expectations, because sometimes your expectations are too low. So, I think sometimes we treat church membership as if it’s something more like a club membership. It’s sort of nice to belong, but we’re not deeply engaged. We’ll go on Sundays, but we’re too busy to invest deeply in ministry or in fellowship and small group, we’re not going to pour our time and our energy there, and there are all kinds of reasons why we don’t do that.
Now, understand, I’m not saying if you’re not in a small group it’s necessarily because of a sin problem, alright? I’m not saying that. There are all kinds of reasons why you may not be in any given season of life. But if there’s not an impulse, if there’s not a desire in your heart to move deeper into relationship with others, you need to do a heart check. If you’re holding back, you need to do a heart check. If you’re not investing, if you’re not serving, if you’re not giving of yourself, if you’re not building deep friendships in the church but you’re keeping people at arms’ length, then something’s off, and there needs to be an adjustment.
And sometimes our expectations are just too low: too low of ourselves, too low of what the church can give and offer to us, too low of how we can contribute. We just kind of settle for minimalistic participation instead of deeply engaged body life. And if that’s the case, you need to raise your expectations.
On the other hand, sometimes we need to lower our expectations because they’re too high. So, have you ever thought of what the ideal church is like? Do you have an image in your mind, “This is what the ideal church would be”? You know, “The preacher would be like this, and the music would be like this, and the church leaders would do this, and all the members would treat me in this way, and they would sing this kind of music, and the service would only go this length of time, and no longer, but the sermons aren’t too short.” You know? “But they’re not too long either.” I mean, you have an ideal in your mind of what the ideal church should be like.
Listen to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his wonderful little book Life Together. He said, “The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and then try to realize it, but God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. He who loves his dream of community,” Bonhoeffer says, “more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter.”
Get rid of your ideal. You’re never going to find it. There “ain’t” no perfect church, alright? There’s not a perfect church, including this one. We don’t have perfect leaders, I am far from being a perfect pastor, we don’t have a perfect elder team, we do not have a perfect small group system, we do not have a perfect internal system and structures, and we don’t make perfect decisions. And you know what? You “ain’t” perfect either! [Amen] Alright, one honest person here. Thank you.
Now, seriously, all I’m trying to say is this: lower your expectations and give one another a break, alright? Give one another a break, and don’t get offended over minutia and over small, inconsequential things. Don’t get offended if somebody walks by you in the hall and doesn’t shake your hand or smile or say hello. You know, some of us just have a one-track mind, and sometimes it’s just hard to break out of it. I’m trying to learn to do better at that. I’m sure that there have been times where I have passed by someone and have not said hello and it felt like a personal affront, and it wasn’t! I wasn’t thinking anything except, “I have to make it to the sound booth; it’s 10:25 and I have to get this done!” That’s just the kind of thing that happens.
So, that’s a minor example, but I’m just saying, give each other a break, don’t get easily offended, lower your expectations, and love one another for Christ’s sake. Adjust your expectations.
III. Our Relationship with God
Now, number three: our relationship with God. Our relationship with God.
So, so far what we’ve been looking at are almost entirely the horizontal dimensions to community life. But one of the driving convictions in this series and of our core values is this, that we only get real Christian community when it is Christian community that flows out of the gospel, out of a deep understanding of the gospel. So what I want to do now in the rest of the sermon is just show you five sources of Christian community that all have to do with our relationship with God.
You see, it’s our relationship with God that actually drives and motivates and empowers everything else that we’ve talked about so far, and I want to show you five ways that we see this in 1 Thessalonians. Two of these are from elsewhere in the letter, and the other three are from this final paragraph in chapter five. So we’ll go through these quickly, but notice five of these things. These are five components to our relationship with God that drive Christian community.
(1) Number one is a genuine response of faith and repentance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s first. A genuine response of faith and repentance to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I mentioned earlier that the Thessalonian church was a model church in many ways, and one reason we can say that is because of the very thing Paul says about this church in chapter 1. I want to just read part of chapter 1; it’s a short chapter. I want to read this, and I just want you to see the evidences here of this church’s genuine response to the gospel. Because listen: you cannot have genuine Christian community unless you have (get this) genuine Christians! I mean, if we’re not converted, where we’re actually turning from our sin and trusting in Jesus Christ, we’re never going to live up to the ideals of Christian community that are laid out in Scripture. So it starts here. It starts with a heart response to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I want you to see how Paul describes them.
Look at 1 Thessalonians chapter 1, let me start in verse 2, and I’m just going to comment a little bit as we work through here. He says, “We give thanks to God always for you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Right there you have the Christian triad of virtues, faith, hope, and love. These are the greatest evidences of genuine salvation, faith, hope, and love; and Paul says, “We remember this, we see this, and so we thank God for it.”
Then in verses 4 and 5 he describes why he is so confident in their salvation, and it’s because of their response to the gospel. He says, verse 4, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 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.” He remembers how they responded to the gospel. They didn’t just hear the message, but the Holy Spirit worked, brought real conviction, real change, real transformation. They really responded. They were really changed by it.
And then you see further fruit of that change in verses 6 and 7. Paul says, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord.” They imitated Christ. They followed Paul’s example. “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction with joy in the Holy Spirit.” So they were willing to suffer for the gospel; they received it in affliction, they’re persecuted, but they do that with joy. Suffering with joy. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. It’s a paradox, but it’s what’s true of a Christian: able to suffer and yet be joyful at the same time.
And then in verse 7 he says, “You became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia, for not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” So here you see that they’re an example to the churches and that they have this evangelistic zeal. The word “sounded out” from this church. Here’s a church renowned for their evangelism, for their missionary labor and zeal. Do you want to know one of the greatest that someone’s a true Christian? It’s if they have a hunger to share Christ with others.
And then here’s one more mark, one more thing that shows their genuine response to the gospel: their deep repentance. Look at verse 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 the true God and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” They turned from idols to serve the living and true God. That’s what a genuine Christian does; he turns. He turns to God.
I want to just stop right here and just ask you, have you ever turned from your idols to serve the living and the true God? If you have not turned from your idols, if you have not turned from your sin, and I will say and are in the process of turning, because it’s not just a one-time thing. We keep doing this, don’t we? We keep repenting. But if you have not repented and if you are not in a process of ongoing repentance, you’re not a Christian. You may think you believe, but if you’re not repenting and you’re not a repentant person, you’re not a Christian.
But you can be. You can turn this morning, in your heart of hearts. You can turn to God and you can say, “Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. I’ve done what is evil in your sight; forgive me, cleanse me, change me, transform me. For Jesus’s sake, make me a new person.” You can ask him to do that, and then start working that out in a lifetime of ongoing repentance from sin, and God will save you, will save you for Jesus’s sake, because of what Christ has done for you, and he will work what is pleasing in his sight; he will work that into your heart. I encourage you to do that if you’re not a Christian this morning. Look to Christ, be saved, turn from your idols, serve the living and true God, do that today.
(2) Here’s the second component to this relationship with God: not only genuine response and repentance in faith to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but also an eager longing and anticipation for Christ’s glorious return. You see it right there at the end of chapter 1. They not only turned from idols to serve the true and the living God, but they also waited for the Son. Waiting for the Son. They’re looking forward.
It’s interesting that in 1 Thessalonians every chapter in this letter has a reference to the second coming of Christ. Every chapter. Let me give you just two more examples.
In chapter 3:11-13, Paul prays, “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, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts, blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
Do you see how all these different things converge together? I mean, he’s praying to God, he’s praying about their life together, loving one another, about their holiness, and he’s doing it in view of the second coming of Christ.
Then in 1 Thessalonians 4:12-18 we read these words: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again,” there’s the gospel, “even so through Jesus God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” He’s talking about believers who’ve passed away. Verse 15, “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, with the sound of the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words.”
It’s a second coming church. I mean, here’s a church with an eternal mindset. Their eyes are set on the glorious return of Jesus Christ, and that’s part of what motivates their love for one another. It’s part of what propels them into mission. It’s what strengthens their community. That’s why Paul says, “Encourage one another with these words.” We need to be a church with an eternal perspective.
(3) And then number three, back to chapter 5 now, verses 16 through 18, we also need to live joyful, prayerful, thankful lives of worship. We need to live lives of joyful, prayerful, thankful worship. All of these commands, in verses 16 and following, are set in the context of worship. They’re addressed to the congregation, and they include language that is common to worship in the New Testament church, especially the language of prophecies and then the holy kiss; these are staples in early Christian corporate worship.
In fact, some commentators point out that these commands read like headings of a worship service. And notice that they are both God-centered, as we talked about worship last week, but they also involve the total response of the heart. Paul says, “Rejoice always.” There’s affections for God. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
So again, we see some of the things we saw last week. We see this pattern of revelation and response. The revelation is God’s will, God’s will “in Christ Jesus concerning you.” He reveals his will, and we are to respond to that with constant rejoicing, ceaseless prayer, continual thanksgiving. You have a balance here of theology (a whole letter full of it) and then these short, staccato exhortations that have to do with our emotions, our affections, our response to God.
And once again, I just want to strike the note from last week, that we need both of these things coming together. We need the doctrine. We don’t want to lose that. Brothers and sisters, that doctrine should be like fuel in our hearts, set on fire by the Holy Spirit, so that there is a blaze of love for God. That’s what it should be. And if our hearts are not blazing for the love for God, then either we’re not fueling it with doctrine or we need the Holy Spirit to do something fresh.
I think nobody brought these two things together better than Jonathan Edwards, that New England Puritan leader of the Great Awakening. In Jonathan Edwards’s Thoughts Concerning the Revival he said, “I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possible can, provided they are affected with nothing but the truth.”
You have a wonderful balance there: affections raised as high as they possibly can be. Zeal for God, love for God, joy in Christ, gratitude to God, hope in the second coming, hatred of sin, zeal for the Lord’s work. That’s what he means by affections. He says, “I want to raise the affections of my congregation as high as possible. I want them on fire for God, but I want them moved by the truth.”
Moved by the truth; not just the music, not just the atmosphere, the aesthetics. Now, those things…they’re important to a degree, but they’re not really the most important thing. The most important thing is that our hearts are moved by truth. So the worship of the church, and then two more; I’m almost done.
(4) Number four, responding to the Spirit’s fire and the prophetic word. Look at verse 19. Paul says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” That word “quench” carries the idea of extinguishing a flame. So Paul pictures the Spirit as a flame, as Scripture often does. Remember the tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost, remember how John the Baptist spoke of the one who had baptized with the Spirit and with fire. The Spirit is this fire! Fire’s an image, a symbol, for the Spirit, and Paul says, “Don’t put it out! Don’t extinguish it! Don’t quench the Spirit!”
What does he mean by that? I think he means that there are times in the life of a church and in the life of a congregation when the Spirit is moving, when the Spirit is speaking through the word, when the Spirit is moving on the hearts of people, and there’s always a danger of stifling it, putting it out. Maybe because it makes us uncomfortable, maybe because it’s not the way it’s always been, maybe because we don’t like the conviction. Paul says, “Don’t put out the Spirit’s flame. Don’t quench the Spirit.”
We do this sometimes as individuals, too. Have you ever had those times where you knew, maybe you’ve been doing chores around the house or you’ve been washing your car, running your errands, you have now 30 minutes or an hour of some quiet to yourself, and there’s a little whisper in the back of your mind, “This would be a great time to just open up your Bible, spend a little time with the Lord, go to the Lord in prayer.” You think that for just a minute, and then you think, “Nah, I think I’ll watch the game.” You put that on instead.
And you know what happens? The Spirit moves away, moves on. You’ve quenched the Spirit. You quenched the Spirit, because you didn’t obey when the Spirit prompted you to seek the Lord.
Or maybe there’s been a time where you have felt this prompting, “I think I need to reach out to this person. I’m concerned about this person. Maybe I need to pray for them. Maybe I need to send a word of encouragement. Maybe I need to call them on the phone and just see what’s going on.” You obey that, and you find out they are in a deep trial and the Lord has moved on you to encourage them.
You know, that happened to me recently. Not a deep trial, but a minor trial that I’ve recently experienced, and someone that’s a family member but also a dear sister in Christ reached out to me on Facebook and said, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I just sense that something’s going on, and I’ve really been moved to pray for you.” That was so encouraging, so encouraging to me.
But what if she hadn’t done that? What if she’d quenched the Spirit? How many times have you quenched the Spirit and not followed through on the exhortation, or rather the prompting, of the Holy Spirit?
Don’t quench the Spirit’s fire, and then, respond also to the prophetic word. You see this in verses 20 through 22. Paul says, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil.”
Now, this could of course lead us into a discussion of the nature of prophecy. I’m not going to do that this morning. I want to give you my interpretation without the reasons. I think he’s talking about the preaching of the word, the prophetic word, the word being proclaimed. And Paul is saying, “Don’t despise it.” By that he doesn’t just mean have contempt for it, don’t have contempt for it, he also means don’t treat it lightly. Don’t despise it. Don’t treat it lightly.
But instead, “test everything; hold fast what is good,” and abstain from what is not. That should be our response to the word, right? Every time you hear a sermon, every time you hear a lesson, what should you be doing? You should be opening your Bible and you should be asking yourself, “Is this biblical?” If it’s biblical, then you receive it; if it’s not biblical, you throw it out.
(5) Number five; here’s the last one, I’m almost done. The fifth component is a deep trust in God’s faithful, sanctifying, keeping grace. A deep trust in God’s faithfulness and in his sanctifying, keeping grace. Look at verses 23 and 24: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There it is again, the second coming.” And then this wonderful assurance, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
This is so encouraging, because Paul does not cast us on our own resources, he casts us on God’s sufficiency. He gives us all these commands, but then, in effect, he’s saying, “You can’t do this on your own. Don’t pull yourself up by your own boot straps, but rather God, who his faithful, he is going to do it! May God himself sanctify you. May God keep you in his grace.” He points us to God.
So, from beginning to end, our whole life together as a community is strengthened and motivated and resourced and empowered by the gospel, by the grace of God, by what God himself does for us.
You remember the chart I’ve given you, the diagram I’ve given you the last several weeks, with our core values? The gospel’s at the center, and the reason the gospel’s at the center is because without the gospel you don’t get any of the other things. If you don’t have the gospel you don’t get genuine worship. You can’t worship God in spirit and truth apart from the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ.
But you also don’t get Christian community without the gospel. You don’t get a gospel community without the gospel, because you don’t get genuine Christians without the gospel, and you don’t get the sustaining power to live in this kind of way, with love for one another, with zeal for the work of the church and in holiness and in love and in hope – you don’t get that unless you get it from the God and Father of Jesus Christ and all the grace that he has shown us in him.
So, once again this morning, here’s the final call. If you’re a non-Christian, hear the gospel, respond to the gospel, do so today, turn from your sins, and look to Jesus Christ. He will make you into a new person, and he will place you in a community, maybe this church, a new community, a new family, where your relationships will be transformed by grace.
Christian, if you are a believer in Christ this morning, I encourage you, sink your roots deep in this gospel, and as you do you will find all the grace, all the power, all the strength that you need to live faithfully as a member of the communion of saints, the community of Jesus Christ, the church of the Lord. Let’s pray.
Gracious Father, we thank you for your word, we thank you for the gospel, we thank you for the instruction that we see here in this wonderful letter, 1 Thessalonians, this morning. And we pray right now that you would give us responsive hearts. Whatever the particular need of individual in the room this morning, would you give what is needed? Give repentance and faith to those who do not believe, regenerate them by your Spirit, bring them out of darkness into light, turn their hearts from idols to serve the true and living God and to wait for your Son from heaven, Jesus, who rose from the dead and who delivers us from the wrath to come.
For every Christian, for every member of this church, would you saturate our hearts in grace, would you stabilize us in this good news so that we can live with one another in peace and with patience and with love? Would you give us unity as a church, would you give us a heart not only for one another but for this neighborhood and a heart for the nations? Would you take us to the next step, the next level in terms of effectiveness in the mission you have called us to?
Lord, I believe that you have great things in store for us as a body if we will obey you, if we will follow you, and I also believe that the adversary will be at work to distract us and discourage us, divert us in any way he can, so I pray that you would guard us, that you would help us. Lord, we need you. We need your grace, and we call out to you for it right now.
As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, may the Lord’s table itself be a means of grace. We know that the elements are merely bread and juice, but as they are consecrated they become for us powerful symbols of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. So as we come, may we do so in faith, feeding on Christ our Savior, trusting in him and all of his finished work with all of our hearts, may we be strengthened by it, and may you be glorified. We pray in Jesus’s name, Amen.