1 Thessalonians: Discipleship
8-9 July 2017, Christ Mountain Top
Call to Worship, Psalm 99
Children, Matthew 22.15-22
Message, 1 Thessalonians 1
Vince Lombardi: Let’s get back to basics … This is a football.
Paul and his team spent only four weeks with the folks in Thessalonica before the riot forced them out of town. And they’ve fallen in love with them, with their authenticity, with the way they are real. We talk about spirituality here at Christ Church in terms of being “giving, faithful, and real”. It was the realness of these folks and their response to God that captured Paul’s heart.
Two towns and one riot later, Paul is in Athens. Timothy and Silas had stayed behind after the riot in Berea to give Paul’s last minute instructions to the new church there. It appears that, after finalizing details in Berea, Timothy went back to Thessalonica to handle details there and pass on Paul’s greeting and prayers.
Paul’s obviously gotten some good news from those folks and writes this letter with much tangible pleasure in the stories he’s heard.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-- Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
Everyone serves something
Perhaps a traditional idol
Perhaps another projection of who we are and what we want
Security – financial, employment, relationship
Love life or sexual pleasure – based on fantasy not reality
Children – their success (by our definition) or their love
Empire (Caesar) or God
Will we serve a living and true God? A God who really hears prayer, because this God made our mouths and ears. A God who offers the pleasure of knowing as we are known. A God who offers not security in stuff or other people but in relationship with Godself.
1 Thessalonians 1:4-8 For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.
What kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake
Clear who we were
Clear that we were not about us, but serving you
You imitated us and the Lord
You became an example (that others imitate)
Our message came to you … not in word only but power/Spirit
The word has sounded forth from you in every place … so that we have no need to speak about it
Not that our witness is entirely without words
Our witness is in power and the Spirit when it is with our LIFE
St Francis (attribution): Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.
BE the Gospel!
Curiosity, zest (biking, birding, camellias)
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The 3 cardinal virtues in ACTION, not simply our work.
Work of faith
In biblical language, faith is the way to acceptance before God and to self-acceptance. The opposite road is the road of guilt, a road too often traveled in the name of good religion. We have an understanding of how guilt can prompt action, and can taint good things. When the flowers and candles are on the table, one question becomes the subtext in a relationship riddled with guilt: “What have you done this time?”
So, what is the “work of faith”? The work of faith is audacious, all-out, unreasonable risk. If our own soul is never truly at risk, because we have been accepted or “justified” by God, then we have nothing to lose and everything to gain in following Jesus. Why hold anything back?
Annie Dillard, An American Childhood, man chasing her in the snow
That’s the work of faith, what Kierkegaard first called a “leap of faith” – to totally abandon yourself to the arms of God, to dare things that are beyond our grasp, to put ourselves on the line . . . because, in the end, we are accepted. What a difference between such abandon and guilt-ridden, apologetic so-called discipleship: I’m going to church because I screwed up, I’m giving because I feel guilty, I’m serving but secretly doing it to work off my penance. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Labor of love
In Christian theology, love is the path to holiness – to participation in the mystery of God and to the integration of the self in a disintegrated, disjointed world. The opposite road is the road of law or rule, the sense of obligation or requirement (“Do I have to?”) accompanied by the grim determination of our will:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
to serve your turn long after you are gone
and so hold on when there is nothing in you
except the Will which says to them, “Hold on!”
It is easy to talk about holiness in terms of rules and standards. Surely, those are good things. But they are not adequate to transform hearts.
A former pastor of mine had his conversion experience at a traditional raise-your-hand-and-walk-down-the-aisle revival service. His older brother heard the distressing news the next day and woke him up: “What were you thinking? Now you won’t be able to have any fun!” That’s what you get if holiness is about rules and grim determination. But the Thessalonians knew better than that. Following Jesus is more fun that we imagine, and it flows from love.
Perseverance of hope
If faith is the way to acceptance and love is the path to holiness, hope is the soul’s anchor in the promise and future of God (Hebrews 6:18-19). And its opposite is despair’s memory. Despair’s memory (as opposed to blessing’s memory) is the memory that repeats every negative thing that we’ve heard said about us. It is the memory that rehearses every past failure. It is the memory that insists that we will never be better people, never be better off.
Hope, on the other hand, takes the promises of God seriously and exclaims, “The best is yet to come!” When the boat of our lives is stuck in the shallows, hope is the anchor we cast out and use to pull ourselves into a better future. When we need a moment of rest and peace, we tie our lines to a buoy anchored in the promises of God.
The perseverance of hope, the mental toughness, the focus. In a distance race, you pace yourself for one thing in the future, the finish line. It pulls you forward. If you began the race and the finish line was constantly shifting – the way some parents, teachers and bosses change expectations mid-course – we’d tend toward despair. No matter what we do, we’re not good enough, we will not “finish”. But Christian hope is anchored in the promise and future of God. No one can keep it from us. Nothing can deprive us of it!
Already in the short time since Paul had been at Thessalonica, the disciples there were facing persecution. It only began with the riot. But they were impervious to despair because their souls were anchored in God’s promise and future. Paul is encouraged to hear this news.
The book of The Revelation begins with short notes to seven different churches. To the church in Ephesus, Jesus says, “I know your work, your labor, and your perseverance . . . but I have something against you. You have forgotten your first love” (Revelation 2:1-4). Our work is nothing if it is not the work of faith; our labor is nothing if it is not the labor of love; our perseverance is nothing if it is not the perseverance of hope. If your spirituality has become one of guilt-ridden effort, standard-driven labor, and despair-dominated perseverance, today’s the day to turn the corner, to remember our first love, to reclaim that authentic spirituality that is the birthright of every child of God.