Flourish in Planting | 1 Thess 1:1
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Thessalonians 1:1–1:1
Introduction | Series Kick-off
Good Morning! Today we are beginning a new series that should take us through the fall to advent. It’s on the New Testament book of 1 Thessalonians. The series is titled Flourish: Hope and Holiness amid Hostility. Where do you find hope? How do you handle hostility? What does the word “holiness” mean and do we pursue it? How are hope and holiness related? Can you more than simply survive or endure hostility, but can you actually flourish in the midst of it? This letter is from Paul a pastor/church planter, to one of the churches he was involved in planting. Before we look at what Paul is telling and teaching this church, we’re going to look at who they are, how they were planted, some of their church history and how that specific history and context of their unique church applies to our church 2,000 years later and half a world away.
Part I | Acts 16:6-9 | Flourish in Calling
Acts 16:6-9 | 6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Paul is the leader of a missionary team including Silas and Timothy and they’ve been attempting to determine where they should go next. We see the Holy Spirit directly involved in directing their steps. I am guessing there was a culture of prayer and seeking God’s will for the mission they were on, over and above their personal preferences. In fact they desired to go some places to reach some people and God through His Spirit said no. When it comes to God’s mission, a “no” is not to mission in general but to a direction specifically. One night Paul gets a vision and a “man of Macedonia” was there pleading with him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” This wasn’t because there was a flood or hurricane but there was a spiritual disaster, desert, emergency to be addressed. Paul clearly processed this vision with the team and there was unanimity that they have been called to the region of Macedonia. Direction sought, given, received, and acted upon. They are called by God to plant churches in this region. We’re going to see how well being called by God works out from a worldly prospective. Later in Acts 16 you can read about how things went in their first stop Philippi, it included being attacked, beaten, and imprisoned. And yet while in jail as they prayed, sang, and worshipped God, their jailer and his family became Christians. Paul and Silas were kicked out of town but not before a church was planted. Now it’s on to the next town.
PART II | Acts 17:1-4 | Flourish in Preaching
Acts 17:1-9 | Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, 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.” 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.
Leaving Philippi they would have travelled down the “Via Egnatia” a famous highway that connected the region from Greece to modern day Istanbul. It was a main highway not unlike I-5. After passing a few smaller towns they come to Thessalonica. It’s a city that had between 60-150k. It had a military outpost there. Connected to the water and to land routes. It’s former Greek city founded a few hundred years before. While still significant it had seen better days. It was incredibly pluralistic with as many as 20 different gods worshipped at various temples in the city. While Greek in heritage they are firmly under Roman rule and were enjoying even some self-governance as long as they continued to support Rome.
It was in this city Paul began to preach, first to God’s chosen people in their synagogue. What did he preach? Paul had divine revelation right? He was met by Jesus on the Damascus Road more recently he’s received a vision he is to come to the region. But that is not what he leads with! What does he lead with? He leads with God’s word! He reasons with them from the scriptures. He did a three week sermon series on Finding Jesus in the Old Testament. I don’t know what he preached but maybe he hit Gen 3 about the fall of man in sin and God’s promise that one would come who the serpent would bruise his heal but he would crush his head. Maybe he hit Gen 12 about Abraham having a son who would bless all the nations of the world. Maybe he preached out of Psalm 22 about one forsaken by God, or Isaiah 9 on the prince of peace or Is 53 on the suffering servant who was pierced for our sin and by his wounds we are healed.
The BIG idea to of all of his bible preaching was to show people the Gospel Truth JESUS IS NECESSARY! Jesus had to suffer because sin leads to suffering. So Jesus suffers in our place. Jesus had to die because the wages of sin are death and if he was going to pay for the sins of His people he would have to take their just punishment. And in order for God’s people to have hope and be able to pursue holiness it was necessary that he also rose from the dead showing he is able to save his people from both sin and death. The living resurrected Jesus shows God’s power to cause his people to flourish amid even the greatest of hostility. Worshipping Jesus, pledging allegiance, following Jesus is NECESSARY for human flourishing. He is THE Christ meaning the savior of and King over His people. Paul has been called to this city to preach the truth of who Jesus is and how all people are to respond. After being clearly called to plant by God; Paul’s very first step is to point people to the necessity of Jesus as their savior and king. You’re planting a church it better be about Jesus! That’s the big strategy, not mailers, or soccer camps, or coffee shops. Jesus.
We see even in a pluralistic, pagan, religiously hostile place and people God’s word does not and will not return void. There is a response. While universal dismissal would have been more than possible but likely expected, some in the synagogue were persuaded and put their faith and hope in Jesus. Many of the devout Greeks become Christians. These Greeks, they have an affinity for and even some knowledge of the God of the Bible but they are not full converts to worship him, until the gospel truth of Jesus is proclaimed. Then it says “not a few of the leading women” were also converted. This is encouraging, yes Jesus and the church are consistently preaching to and reaching the poor and the marginalized, but God’s grace is not reserved for socioeconomic status either for the poor or the rich. Leaders in the city, wealthy, influential people also became Christians. AND THAT IS OK!! I praise God there are Christian mayors, and business leaders, and NFL QB’s. Not every Christian is marginalized in society. More People following Jesus is more people following Jesus, period. God provides for His church and builds His church in a myriad of ways, including bringing in people who are well resourced and connected. Bottom line, a new church is planted and they are a diverse church. Ethnically, you have some Jews a many Greeks. We know as well there were many likely even a majority of the church converted from being pagans worshiping other gods and the emperor to worshiping Jesus. Paul and the team likely spent more than simply 3 weeks there as we’ll see later in the letter the depth of the relationship and affection they have for these specific people.
PART III | Acts 17:5-9 | Flourish in Opposition
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.”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.
So the new church plant is growing, and the leaders of the synagogue were jealous. Not just because ethnic and religious Jews were becoming Christians, but so are the Greeks that help give them greater access to the mainstream society and the “leading women” who help give them resources and connections in the city. When men anywhere see the kingdom of God expanding and look at their kingdoms contracting when they do not repent to join God in His kingdom they rebel an actively oppose the work of God. These men are no different. They get “wicked men of the rabble” i.e. a “rent a mob” these are guys who would hang out in the town square, not productive at all, who aren’t FOR anything, but can easily be whipped up to be against something! They’re a mixture of curmudgeons and criminals and they get right to work. So as offensive and world changing as the Gospel is; who is actually the ones stirring up the city? “Headline: Radicalized Christians throw city into uproar as they selflessly love and care for one another and even love their enemies.” No, it’s the rented mob of those opposed to the Gospel that see the name and fame of Jesus growing realize it means that if Jesus is necessary, if Jesus is king, they are not.
They target the leaders of the new plant, only they can’t find Paul and Silas. Apparently even as courageous missionary leaders they are also smart enough to know this is not the day for them to become martyrs. The mob keeps searching and they all go to Jason’s house. Clearly a prominent guy in the city everyone knew where he lived, knew he became a Christian, and he was actively supporting the church. They grab him and some other church members and drag them before the city council with a serious charge. They are disturbing the peace, they are upsetting the established order of the city, just as they have done in Philippi and Lystra and Iconium. They are turning the world upside down. They don’t recognize the laws of Caesar even going as far as claiming there is another king, namely Jesus. If we don’t do something about this it could grow into a full rebellion and Rome will come in by force.
There is some irony here. Thessalonica was a “free city” meaning as long as they didn’t rebel against Rome and stayed in line with their politics they would be left to determine much of their own path. They were very independent people who desired to remain self-determinate. So they couldn’t stand the idea of anything that might upset their ability to govern themselves. They claimed their greatest value was freedom but they were still subservient to Rome. They think this current world order they are experiencing is “right side” up, only because it is all they have ever known. They haven’t considered the possibility things as they are currently are not things as they are intended to be. The reality is because of sin, because of man claiming to be independent of God wanting to form their own “free city” they whole world had been turned upside down as God created everything and called it “good” now there is sin brokenness and death. People are not closer to God and each other but they are more separated. Flourishing doesn’t reign; decay does. The desire for freedom and flourishing is a good desire. Preaching the necessary Gospel of Jesus “begins to set things right” as true order begins to be restored as people recognize their dependence on God for all things. It is in this dependence of and reliance on God for all life and joy that we begin to understand HE is the cause of all flourishing because He is the source of all life!
There is also some merit to the claims of the crowd against the Christians. The Gospel is recognized as absolutely political “You are declaring another King but Caesar namely Jesus!” The claim against the church seems to be you’re not patriotic Roman enough. You don’t pledge ultimate allegiance to Caesar, in fact you rightly recognize that one day Caesar will be dead, but Jesus is alive! To be clear there is nothing that says the Thessalonian church (or our church) was having a negative impact on the city they were in. We can and should enjoy, care about, and have an affection for the place on the planet God has placed us. We should desire the flourishing of our cities and country. But we cannot believe that somehow flourishing is solely dependent on the political environment the church finds its self in. As much as Jesus is necessary so is our surrender from believing our freedom comes from our self-determination. Finally a pledge is paid by Jason basically saying we won’t cause any more conflict (exceedingly gracious since they didn’t cause the conflict in the first place.) and Paul, Silas depart the city. This is how the church there was planted, you have former jews, greeks, pagans who have been taught little, have suffered much, and now are maligned in their community as unpatriotic. This the environment this church will either flourish in or perish at.
PART IV | Flourish in Growth | 1 Thessalonians 1:1
1 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
Unified ministry team. Paul is writing the letter is in his unique voice but he is representing a team of leaders who helped plant the church have been involved in leading the church who care for the people. The have great sense of responsiblity and concern for these people, they know these people, they have served these people. They’ve preached to these people, taught these people, watched them get baptized, and then faced city wide opposition together. But ultimately they had to leave. Timothy was sent back, Paul and Silas had to move on, yet they had great love for these people. They have received what we will see is an overwhelmingly positive report from Timothy so they are very thankful for them. This is a church that has, by God’s grace, done some very good things. Appears to be doing very well considering the circumstances they are in AND there are areas that need to be established further and where they need to be encouraged towards greater works and faithfulness. The planting team, pastoral team over seeing this church is unified in their assessment, in their affection, and their admonishment.
This written to a church! This cannot be stressed enough. The greeting doesn’t say “to the collection of individual Christians” to the lone rangers who have a unique and private connect to the God of the universe. He doesn’t say to the upper middle class church full of professionals and young families. He doesn’t say to the church with only white hairs who haven’t changed in 40 years. Or to the young church plant who thinks that 30 is old. Or to the church of the gentiles and not the Jews. He says “to the church of the Thessalonians” You have been called to a unique time, place, and people. This church looks like the city it s planted in. It has some leading people for sure and it has some ethnic Jews but it has “a great many of the devout Greeks.” Former pagans but they are not addressed any longer by their different groups and previous identifiers but as an ekklesia a gathering of God’s people as one body as one church.
The church is defined by Jesus. It is defined geographically for sure but it is more than that. You are of the Thessalonians but you are IN God the Father why? Because of the Lord Jesus Christ!! You were part of all these other groups now you are a people so when this team writes to them they can address them as one body. One people. One church. You may be ‘of’ a place geographically but Paul reminds the church if their primary identity. They are IN God the Father because of the work of Jesus Christ. They are a Gospel Community formed by the necessary work of Jesus on the cross and the Spirit’s resurrection power that brings God’s people back to God. The separation that occurs because of our sin has ended as Jesus reconciles (brings us back) to right relationship with God our Father. No longer is he God the judge he is God the Father. No longer are we ‘lord’ Jesus is our Lord because he is our ‘Christ’ our savior. This means we will find hope in the past work of Jesus on the Cross the future return of Jesus when he ushers in a truly “free city” it means because we dwell in the world but identity is IN God the Father who is holy perfect clean we can, should, and will pursue holiness (set apartness, cleanness) in our live empowered by the Holy Spirit not so we will be saved but because we have been saved. Finally what is the purpose of the letter?
Grace to you and peace. His hope is they would continue to experience grace from God (getting good things they did not and cannot earn.) We flourish because of God’s grace to us. Life, joyful and abundant is a gracious gift from God we receive unearned from God through faith in Jesus as our savior and king. We experience peace, more than the absence of conflict, it isn’t even finding inner contentment, bliss, or happiness but THE peace Paul is taking about is being reconciled to God. The conflict that waged, the sin that separated, is over and gone and relationship with God is restored meaning we are now truly free to flourish. For this church in Thessalonica (and our church in Snohomish County) to flourish means they will have to find hope, pursue holiness, even amid hostility. Flourishing begins with and continues as we Trust Jesus.