Expository Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 1
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 11/30/2019
©2019 by Maylan Schurch
(To watch the YouTube recording of this service, click the little white “play” triangle on the link just below. The sermon starts at the 49:43 mark.)
Please open your Bibles to first Thessalonians chapter 1.
I hope each of you had a pleasant Thanksgiving Day. I’m so thankful that, at least around here, the weather made it possible to drive on roads which weren’t snowy or icy.
Today’s sermon is the last in a sort of three-part Thanksgiving series. A couple of weeks ago I preached a sermon called “Thanksgiving 401,” where we looked at three Psalms and discovered upper-level thanksgiving, more mature thanksgiving. Then last week, we looked at some reasons Jesus said thank you.
Today I’d like to do the same with Paul. If you start reading pretty much any of Paul’s letters to the various churches, you’ll find that in most of these letters, the first thing he does is to greet them, calling out the name of their church. And then sometimes he’ll say “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and His son Jesus Christ.”
And then he will often tell his readers “thank-you.” The way he often puts it is “I thank my God for you.” Years ago, and I think I was still pastoring the Shoreline church, I’d finished the sermon one Sabbath, and was standing at the door shaking hands, when a little lady, a visitor, came up to me, and she said, “I thank God for you.”
I had never had anyone thank me in that specific way before, and I don’t think anybody’s done it since. And I don’t remember – and maybe I never knew – why it was that she thanked God for me. I have a feeling that wherever she went to church, she always said this to the pastor.
And you know, that is not a bad way to say thank you. It’s perfectly fine to directly tell someone thank you for a gift, or thank you for a good Sabbath school class, or thank you for special music, or a sermon, but when you say “I thank God for you,” that is really powerful.
Anyway, this is how Paul often starts his thank-yous at the beginnings of his letters. And I was interested in finding out what he thanked God about in these people he wrote to. What was Paul grateful for? Because these reasons for his gratitude just might be qualities we need to ask the Lord to add to our lives.
So I read through the introductions to all his letters. In Romans chapter 1, he thanks his readers for their faith. In first Corinthians 1, he’s thankful for how readily the Corinthians accepted the grace of God, and how they were trying to exercise all their gifts. In Ephesians 1 he thanks them for their faith in Christ and their love for the saints. And so on down through these letters. Often these thank-you’s are brief, maybe a couple of sentences each.
But when I got to First Thessalonians 1, I discovered a thank-you that was very complete. Paul mentions several things he’s grateful about among those Christians at Thessalonica. And the more I looked at these thank you’s, the more I realized that I myself need the qualities Paul is thanking God that these people have.
Every once in a while I find it helpful to take a walk while I’m preparing a sermon. I take along the Scripture passage and just read it as I go along. And this week I was walking along a trail which is a straight path. It’s actually the ground above a large underground water pipe which comes from the Lake Youngs Reservoir, which we live near.
And suddenly I thought, “The first 10 verses of First Thessalonians are like a path.” In fact, several times in the book of Acts, followers of Jesus were called “the Way,” using the Greek word for “road” or “path.” After all, Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and, He urged people to follow Him.
So why do I think of these first few verses of First Thessalonians as a path? Well, down at the end of the passage, in verse 10, Paul talks about the second coming of Jesus. You might say that this would be the end of the path. These Thessalonians were walking along their path, and that path would end when Jesus returned.
And it’s the same with you and me. We each have a path to walk. And our path will end when Jesus returns. And just as it was for those Thessalonians, what we do along our path will make all the difference.
So let’s look at the path these Thessalonians were traveling as they waited for Jesus’ return, and let’s see how much we can apply to our lives.
Let’s listen as Paul begins his thank-you’s.
1 Thessalonians 1:2 [NKJV]: We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers,
Notice the two “allness” statements? “We give thanks to God always for you all.” Paul isn’t leaving anybody out. He’s thankful for each person. Here in our church, you and I need to do our best to make sure everyone feels the gratitude God has for them. Let’s treat each other as though God is glad we’re here, because He is.
Now, let’s start walking along the path and watching for things Paul is grateful for.
Verses 2 – 3: We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father,
Have you ever heard somebody say, “That was a labor of love”? Well, this verse is where that phrase comes from.
So what is the first thing these Thessalonian Christians did to arouse Paul’s gratitude? If you’re taking sermon points, here comes what you could call Sermon Point One. What did these Thessalonians do?
They worked the First Corinthians 13 “trio.”
So what do I mean by the First Corinthians 13 trio? Well, First Corinthians 13, the “love chapter,” was also written by Paul. And do you remember what he said in the last verse of that chapter? “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three.” The Greek word for “three” here is tria. So the First Corinthians 13 “trio” is made up of faith, hope and love.
And that’s exactly what Paul thinks these Thessalonians are so good at. He remembers their “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope.” There’s that First Corinthians 13 trio.
And what’s so interesting is that Paul doesn’t simply say that these Thessalonian Christians have these three qualities. They’re doing them. They’re working at faith, laboring in love, and being patient in hope. Other translations will say “enduring” in hope.
So since Paul was grateful to God for the Thessalonians doing this, we probably ought to be doing these things to. But how can we do this? How, for example can we put faith to work?
Well, every time you pray, you’re putting faith to work. You have faith that God is listening, which means you can have faith enough to talk to Him about something. People who come here to prayer meeting Wednesday nights are putting their faith to work.
And what is a “labor of love”? How do you put love to work? Every Wednesday morning at 9:30, all the way up until 12 noon, several people put their love to work in our clothing bank. Our Pathfinder leaders in the staff put their love to work Wednesday evenings and on weekend campouts, mentoring the young people, guiding them toward their Savior.
There are so many labors of love happening in this congregation. The 9:30 Sabbath school special feature is a labor of love, and many of you have helped with that. At the same time, there is a children’s feature which also starts at 930 down in one of the Sabbath school classrooms, and the leaders there are laboring in love. Then of course the kids go to their regular classes, and so do the grown-ups, and people play the piano, and perform music for the worship service, and take up and count the offering, and so on. And every time you and I return our tithes and give our offerings, and support our student tuition assistance fund, those are labors of love. And I could go on and on.
And how about “patience of hope”? Well, hope often takes patience. Because hope means you’re looking ahead to something that hasn’t happened yet, but you’re confident that it will. But you often have to wait patiently for that happy outcome, enduring what you have to in the meantime.
So as these Thessalonian Christians were walking along that path toward Jesus’ return, they were working the First Corinthians 13 trio, working out their faith, their love, and their hope.
Now let’s keep following them along that path and see what else they were doing which made Paul so grateful.
Verses 2 – 5: We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance . . . .
So why else is Paul thinking God for these Thessalonian believers?
Not only were they working the First Corinthians 13 “trio,” but they were opening their hearts to the Holy Spirit.
Do you see those two words which surround “the Holy Spirit” in that verse? “Power” and “assurance.” Other translations will say “with power and deep conviction.”
Shelley and I enjoy stopping in at various Barnes & Noble bookstores in the area. Not long ago we were in one, and I was near the religion section. I was standing in front of a large display of Bibles. Barnes & Noble is really good about mounting large signs which tell you the names of the sections. Sure enough, right above these Bibles was a large green sign with white letters which said “Bibles” on it.
As I was standing there looking at it, I noticed that the next aisle over had a sign above it also. But that sign said “Self-transformation.” I snapped a picture of those two signs with my cell phone camera, and later when I enlarged the photo of the “self transformation” shelf I discovered that it had several books about atheism on it. This wasn’t a “business books” shelf that had perfectly sensible volumes like Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. No, these were books that deliberately pushed God to the side so that the human beings could learn how to control their own destiny.
Which is so silly. Because when you open your heart to the Holy Spirit, God gives you power you need, and assurance too. In John chapter 3, Jesus told Nicodemus that the Holy Spirit was like the wind. He comes and goes as He wishes, but you don’t control Him. But if you give the Holy Spirit permission to enter your heart, your heart becomes changed for the better.
And that’s what we need to do to stay on the path those Thessalonian Christians were following. We need to ask the Lord to send His Holy Spirit into our hearts every day. The Holy Spirit Himself is humble, and he will keep us humble if we allow Him to. There is no place for selfish pride in the human heart. The Bible is packed with stories about how God casts down the proud and exalts the humble. Humble people are so much more enjoyable to be around, and those are the people who will be in heaven.
But let’s keep walking along the path, following behind those Thessalonians, and trying to spot something else Paul was grateful for.
Let’s pick it up with verse four.
Verses 5 – 9: For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God . . . .
So what is another quality these Thessalonian Christians had which made Paul so grateful?
Not only were they working the First Corinthians 13 “trio,” and opening their hearts to the Holy Spirit, but they let themselves be mentored so completely that they had become mentors to others.
Paul told them, “You Thessalonians have become an example to churches all over.” And they became such successful examples because they had carefully observed good Christians like Paul and the people he was with in action, and they patterned their lives after him.
When I was younger, and read all those Bible verses where Paul says, “Be imitators of me,” or “Be imitators of us,” I would say to myself, “Wait a minute. It kind of sounds like Paul is bragging, or claiming to be perfect.”
Well, Paul never claimed to be perfect, but there is something to be said for modeling your life on the life of someone who is close to the Lord. You do this carefully, of course, and mainly when you’re just starting out as a Christian, until you can get your feet on the ground and be yourself. And of course it’s very important not to choose just one or two people and try to be like them. Gather good qualities from everybody.
After I had come from seminary out here to Washington, I was an intern pastor for a year and a half at the Auburn City Adventist Church. When Shelley and I got there, its pastor was Charles White. Charlie was calm and friendly and thoughtful, so for a couple of months I saw how a thoughtful and rather introverted pastor ran a large church.
Then Charlie took a call to another congregation in California, and Tom Adams arrived to be the pastor. Tom was totally different. He was just as successful, and just as beloved as Charlie was, but he was a bundle of energy. His eyes sparkled, and he ran the church board very differently than Charlie did.
I remember at that time we owned a little Datsun Honeybee car, which my dad had found for me, and which had lasted us all through seminary. Unfortunately, driving back and forth on the heavily-salted winter roads near Berrien Springs, Michigan had pretty much rusted out the Honeybee from underneath.
One time, Tom Adams was standing by my Honeybee and teasing me about it. As he was talking, he casually placed his hand against the side of the car and leaned on it, and his hand broke through to the inside! That’s how bad it was rusted. Tom was horrified, and very remorseful.
It was a pleasure to watch Charlie at work, and then watch Tom take over. I was mentored by two wonderful Christian pastors. And while I didn’t copy Charlie or Tom in everything, I did learn not to lean against people’s cars! Seriously, I did learn a lot from them. (And eventually I replaced that valiant, rusted Honeybee with our first Honda!)
I’ve been mentored by many of you here at church, more than you will ever realize. I have watched you being diplomatic as you dealt with difficult situations, and I have learned from you. I have taken teaching tips from Sabbath school teachers, and have put them to use. I have listened to the way you express ideas, and sometimes I will express my ideas in the same way, sometimes without realizing it at first.
And that’s the way it’s supposed to work. We are supposed to think for ourselves, but we are designed to learn from other people. As long as those people are walking the path toward Jesus’ return, going in the same direction we are, we can be encouraged and mentored by each other.
In fact, we are nearing the end of the path those Thessalonian Christians were traveling. And there I can find one more thing we can learn, one more thing Paul was grateful for. Let’s start back at verse eight.
Verses 8 – 10: For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
So what else was Paul grateful for?
Not only were his Thessalonian Christian friends working the First Corinthians 13 “trio,” and opening their hearts to the Holy Spirit, and letting themselves be mentored so that they could become mentors, but these Christians’ faith in Jesus coming was strong.
These people believed that Jesus was returning soon. That’s been 2000 years ago, and still they firmly believed that Jesus was returning soon. And for them, He was. As they went to sleep in the dreamless sleep of death, their next conscious experience will be the thrilling sound of a trumpet, and a bright sky filled with angels, and a smiling Savior descending in the clouds. It will seem as though no time has passed.
They had that hope, which burned within their hearts – hope in the coming of the Lord. It was a fresh and earnest hope. And Paul was grateful that they had that hope, because he had it as well. And if Paul had written a letter to the Bellevue church, and I was reading it aloud to you this morning, he would be glad if he knew that we had this hope as well.
Because that’s what’s at the end of the path. That’s what we’re walking toward. And of course any gratitude Paul might have felt dwarfed and diminished by the joy which Jesus feels when He sees a group of people tracing His footsteps along the path, following Him, grateful for His salvation, and hoping to meet Him soon.
Is that you? Are you part of that group? Do you want to be in that group, and remain there? Would you lift your hand to the Lord who is watching with great interest in love?