Flourish in Following | 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Thessalonians 1:2–1:10
Christopher Rich – September 11, 2016
FLOURISH | Hope and Holiness amid Hostility
Wk2: Flourish in Following |1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
Introduction | Celebrate and Continue
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. Last week we looked 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. This week we see Paul, based on the report they received from Timothy, outline not only what the content of this letter will be about; but specifically how this church is an example in what it looks like for a Gospel Community to Flourish in Following. As some of these themes are developed further in later parts of the letter it is clear in Paul expressing his thankfulness for this church he intends to both celebrate what God has done in them and through them AND encourage them to continue in faithfulness; while growing in both the depth of their hope and pursuit of holiness.
Part I | 1 Thess 1:2-3 | Flourish in Faith, Love, and Hope
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.
Flouring followers lead to thankful leaders. Flourishing followers are remembered and prayed for by their leaders. We will look at this further next week when Paul lays out what it looks like to Flourish in Leadership. Paul begins with the depth of relationship the leadership team of Paul, Silas, and Timothy has with the church. “WE” The leadership team is incredibly thankful for all the people continually. Not some of the people who serve the most often, give the most, or are the most gifted and enjoyable. The church is made up of a diverse group of people that would be easy to segregate; but they are thankful for them as a collection of individuals forming one body. Why is he so thankful for them? While diverse and unique as a body, they share some similar characteristics and have formed a culture that distinct and memorable.
Flourish Followers embody faith, love, and hope. We are quick to recognize their faith, love, and hope. But we would be incomplete if we didn’t include what Paul does marrying up these three with work, labor, and steadfastness. Faith, love, and hope are all great things to put on a piece of pallet word and sell on etsy; but they are often just seen merely attitudes to aspire to rather than attributes to actively embody. These groupings are married but the nature of their union is very important if not understood properly they could lead to a misunderstanding of the Gospel entirely. Each of these are outward facing and impacting and keep us from continuing in our innate selfishness. The NIV translations is very helpful for us to grasps this:
your work produced by faith, Faith in the work of God is resting in the Gospel Truth who He is and what God has accomplished means we are free to work. Our faith in God is a resting faith in that we rest knowing we are not capable of producing anything on our own. However, faith is not limited to belief but is explicitly productive faith. I trust in what God has done so now I am free to go and do. Faith is fruitful.
your labor prompted by love, Where work produced by faith is directed towards God; labor prompted by love is directed towards others in the community. This is the culture of a Gospel Community; where a church is devoted to “love one another”. There is genuine affection and love absolutely stirs emotions. However, where love doesn’t lead to actions is it merely sentimental, lacks power, and is ultimately meaningless. The word labor is one of exceeding, even exhausting effort given. Labor promoted by love is outward focused, but we benefit. While there is great effort expended in active love of others, there is also great joy experienced. The Cross is a great labor prompted by love. Hebrews says it was “for the Joy sent before him endured the cross.” Love of other you see as valuable will be costly. Love does not coast it costs.
your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. This may be the most difficult. This should not be mistaken for a shallow optimism that our worldly circumstances will necessarily improve. If limited to optimism then when adversity doesn’t to transition to prosperity; but rather you experience tragedy, you will not endure you will tap out. The word steadfastness, patience, or endurance is the Long obedience in the same direction that marks what we call Gospel Living. I can endure in this world regardless of hostility and adversity because my hope is not ultimately in this world but in the return of our Lord and King Jesus.
John Calvin called these three together “a brief definition of true Christianity.” Faith trusts in the past work of Jesus, love functions in the present as followers of Jesus, and hope longs for the future return of Jesus. Flourishing Followers inFaith are oriented upward towards God, in Love are directed outward to others, and in Hope are encouraged onward towards a glorious future with Jesus. How does this happen?
Part II | 1 Thess 1:4-5 | Flourish in Identity
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.
Flourishing Followers are those who have first be pursued by God. God is not passively waiting for you to come to Him or to achieve faith, love, and hope demonstrating work, labor, and steadfastness. What we do does not define who we are; but who we are will determine what we do. Flourishing Followers are brothers and sisters loved by God. We need to be regularly reminded that the reason we have faith, love, and hope is because we are loved first by God. In showing his thankfulness for them, he is really praising God’s work in saving them. Flourishing Followers are chosen (elected) by God. Paul doesn’t throw this in for some sort of theological controversy about election verse free will. His use of this doctrine of God’s election of His people is always used in the vein of reminding them of God’s good character and His love FOR them. We see the love of God and election of God united together. So a Gospel Community is one that is formed by God, centered on God. God-centered theology does not lead to controversy but to comfort.
Flourishing Followers have assurance. The Thessalonians were minding their own business when the Gospel came to them. If you are a Christian at some point you were living your own life and God intervened to change your direction to His direction. The assurance they, and we, have is not in our faithfulness to God but in His faithfulness to us. These verses are teaching us that the mark of the Christian life is absolutely one that is empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is where we see there assurance is how they were impacted by the Gospel. When it says “not only in word” it means it did come in word clear specific Gospel Truth was proclaimed but preaching the Gospel is not effective and powerful because of the preacher but because of the Holy Spirit. God is the ultimate hero of all of the praise and thanksgiving in this section. To encourage the church and to receive all the good report of them is to bring Glory to God. God loves you, God has chosen you, not because of anything specifically great about you but because of His love for you. When you hear the good news: God created the world good, sin entered the world through man’s rebellion separating people from God, each other and themselves, a just God punishes sin and pursues His people, the apex of this pursuit is displayed in God entering human history in Jesus; who lived the perfect sinless life we could not, died the death we deserve for our sin on the Cross, reconciling us back to God, rose again empowering us to live new lives for Him and who will return to restore all things, it doesn’t matter how eloquent, engaging or passionate the message is delivered. It will not have a saving impact if it is based on the convincing power of the preacher. Gospel Truth saves because of the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. Flourishing Followers are not saved by powerful preachers, but by the powerful God they preach.
Part III | 1 Thess 1:6-7 | Flourish in Imitation
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.
Flourish Followers are first imitators.Faith that saves is also faith that follows.This means there are examples of what it means to be a flourishing follower available. We are all imitators of something we will all consciously or unconsciously find people and examples to imitate. Paul isn’t saying this so that more and more people will look like him or even follow him. Back in verse 5 he says you know what type of men we proved to me among you “for your sake.” He is comfortable he is a follower of Christ in such a way as others can (and even should) follow him. In (1 Cor 4:16) He says Imitate me as I imitate Christ. This is what it means to be disciples who make disciples. Jesus has called His followers to go and make Disciples teaching them to observe all he commanded. That observing is in actually doing what Jesus commanded. Most people can lean a bit by hearing, but learn much more in watching and doing. What I love about this is they are imitators of the leaders AND of the Lord. So Flourishing Followers can absolutely lean and grow from other imperfect people following a perfect God. Every Leader I have “imitated” and those who I have learned a great deal from have been flawed people. But I have followed them regardless because it was evident they were Followers of Jesus First before they were leaders. Followers become followed.
Flourishing Followers are imitate-able. It is MORE THAN ok to desire to be an aspirational church, one that other churches look to as an example, a mold of character to other Christian Churches in the region. What specific things are they lauded for as examples to the other churches around them? Was it their great music? Relevant preaching? Clean marketing? Even good works in the community? No, it wasn’t any of these; they great examples of “receiving the word of God, not when everything was going well but actually in great affliction and they were able to with Joy! Your non-Christian friends and family don’t understand you, the city around you is explicitly hostile to your beliefs and that you are even part of a church, your social and economic lives are disrupted because so much of civic life was tied to various cults, the government thinks you.re unpatriotic and the other religions actually think you’re atheists because you don’t worship a multitude of gods they do, and you have JOY!! How is that possible? Again it’s a work of the Holy Spirit! Even in their positive example they can celebrate but not claim credit because the joy the received in affliction was a gift of God through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Part III | 1 Thess 1:8 | Flourish in Sending and Serving
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.
Flourishing Followers are used by God to make famous churches. This is a form of saying your church is so well known by how it’s been used God “it needs no introduction”. Everyone in the region, next region over, and beyond knows about this church in a positive way. I think there are two reasons he mentions this one, to encourage them in what God has done though them AND to encourage them to continue in what they’re doing. Thessalonica was a key city that was always impacting their region so it makes sense they would have a lot of influence. We are NOT in an influential city yet we are known as a church and as such the example we continue to set will be known by many others positively or negatively. Damascus Road, do you have any idea the known impact this church has had in the proclamation and practice of the Gospel in this county, country and world? I think in being a smaller church we can sometimes believe a lie that God hasn’t and doesn’t use small churches to have big impacts on their community and world. If someone was giving the report of the tangible impact of Damascus Road Church over the last decade it would include:
Supporting Church Plants in our Region: Trinitas Presbyterian (Mill Creek) Mission Church (Walla Walla, WA) Taproot Church (Twin Falls ID) All of Life Church (Post Falls, ID) Legacy Church (Bellingham, WA)
5 years ago we sent out 40 people and a leader to plant Communion Church (Mt Vernon) now has 200. 3 Years ago we sent out over 200 and staff to plant Restoration Road (Snohomish) and now they have nearly 400. We “replanted” nearly 3 years ago with 125 and now have 250 who call this their home.
In just the last 3 years we have also sent out Flourishing Followers who are blessing other churches and impacting their communities for the Gospel. Aaron and Linda Tombrella (Dallas/Fort Worth) Josh and Lauren Moore (South Carolina) James and Khalia Sullen (Bremerton and Norfolk, VA) Garret and Rachel LaMay (Alaska) Jason and Meredith Rettinger (Omaha, NE) Molly and David Maldonado (Kettle Falls, WA) Dan and Sandra Hansen (Wenatchee, WA) Steve and Tracy Minyard (El Paso, TX) Chad and Jamie Dimon (Congo) Mike and Genesis Wheeler (Snohomish and Chili) and we know there are aspiring planters and foreign missionaries in our church right now and others will be called away to be redeployed.
Flourishing Followers faith leads them into action. Damascus Road has been used by God to ring the gospel through word AND deed. Children have been fostered and adopted. There are dozens of homeless families and individuals in who have experienced our faith in action through staying in our space during the emergency cold weather shelter over the past 3 winters. There are 500+ students at Liberty Elementary who have received backpacks filled with school supplies over the past 6 years. Thousands of Diapers and Dollars donated to the Pregnancy Resource Center of Snohomish County the past 4 years. Dozens of orphans are supported around the world through Compassion Int. Three families in Honduras and Mexico know about our church because we sent teams to build them homes. There is much to celebrate, to continue, and to grow. If there was an area I want to see our church grow in it is the following:
Part V | 1 Thess 1:9-10 | Flourish in Evangelism
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.
Flourishing Followers are an evangelistic force in their community. THE #1 way to love the community, serve the county, impact the world is to preach the Gospel of Jesus. I believe Paul saves the greatest report for last. Many people in the city became Christians including a majority of the church who had no previous connection to the God of the Bible (Not Jewish, not God fearing Greeks, hard core pagans.) The Gospel was planted from synagogue with people who knew the God of the Bible, but it was not contained there.
The initial core of people, even in the hostile environment, was faithful to keep telling other people about Jesus. They have heard the Gospel, believed the Gospel, embodied the Gospel, and they are active in spreading the Gospel. The work isn’t done. Jesus hasn’t come back yet so we keep desiring to see people saved from the just wrath of God for sin and embrace abundant life that come from following him. This desire should compel us actively, verbally, clearly, proclaim the Gospel that life is only found when:
Flouring Followers turn from idols You cannot flourish if you are following an idol something dead, lifeless and powerless. We are so easily intoxicated and enslaved by a myriad of “god substitutes” we pledge allegiance and give our devotion to. Following Jesus is not an additional or extracurricular aspect to your current life where you merely add Him in to the margins of your life while everything else commands your primary attention and identity. The call to follow is first a call to repent from what you are following now.
Flourishing Followers serve the living God The call to follow Jesus is more than merely no longer following that which is false but is a call to begin serving the Living God. Abandoning idols will only lead to emptiness if it is not replaced with something truly great and live giving. He created you for a purpose, He has prepared ‘good works’ for you that you should walk in them. We will serve something, serve God.
Flourishing Followers wait for the return of the resurrected Jesus. Not a passive waiting but purposeful life lived in the reality of Jesus resurrection empowering us to live a new life now AND the reality of His every closer return where everything will be restored, sin and death will be no more and we will be perfectly, Flourishing followers, who will have everlasting joy as we eternally Trust Jesus.