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TEXT: I Thessalonians 1:2-10
SUBJECT: Thessalonians #2: The Thanksgiving
Today, with God's blessing, we'll move on in our study of the Thessalonian Epistles. An Epistle, you know, is another word for letter. And that's what we have here-two letters written from Paul to the church he started in Macedonia a few years before. The letters bear all the marks of a personal correspondence. They're not books pretending to be letters, but real letters, expressing the thoughts and love of an older Christian to believers younger in the faith.
But even though the letters are really Paul's, they are-at the same time-the Word of God. Paul is an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and therefore, his inspired books are not his opinions (as wise as they might be), but just what the Lord wanted him to say to the Thessalonians-and to us.
We must come to the Word, therefore, with open hearts-eager, not merely to understand what it says, but to receive it.
Verse one gets the preliminaries out of the way. The Letters were sent by Paul, Silas, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The men hoped their friends were growing in the grace and peace they already had.
Now, in vv.2-10, we have The Thanksgiving. Before Paul tells them to do something-or to stop doing something-he takes a moment to give thanks for them. In fact, it's more than a moment, he takes, for this is one of the longest paragraphs in the Letter.
This throws light on Paul's character and style of ministry. He's a positive man. The Thessalonians are far from perfect-and he'll correct them at the right time. But the right time is after he thanks God for them!
This is not a mere tactic. Paul is not buttering them up so that he can cook them for dinner. He really means it. Before he's concerned about them or mad at them, he's thankful for them.
Are you this way? Are you thankful for your church-warts and all? Are you thankful for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Even the ones who get on your nerves? Or have you given in to frustration and disappointment--or just given up on us? If you have, you need to repent.
To help you repent, please remember the Golden Rule-Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Is there nothing in you to aggravate others? Or to leave them wishing you were a better person-or maybe, a different person? We all live on grace-not only the grace of God, the grace of other people. If you live on it yourself, you ought to give it to others too.
Paul is thankful for his friends-as they are.
Paul is also publicly thankful for them. He doesn't keep his appreciation for his friends a secret between himself and God. No, he tells them how thankful he is for them. And it's not a passing word or hedged about with all manner of qualifications or buried deep in the footnotes!
He wants them to know he's thankful for them, and that he spends a good deal of time every day saying so to God.
Paul knows the danger of flattery, but he also knows the danger of discouragement. We can praise people too often and too highly. But we can also praise them too seldom and too lowly!
And, setting aside praise for now, one thing is sure: We can never, ever be too thankful for our brothers and sisters in Christ!
This is the topic of today's sermon, now let's get into some of the details.
Who is Paul thanking? He is thanking God. What's he thankful for? For the believers in Thessalonica. How many of them is he thankful for? All of them!
If the church was perfect, you'd understand Paul's attitude. Of course, he'd be thankful for a gathering of Super Saints. Every head is stuffed with theology, every heart is overflowing with love, every hand is hard at work, every body is clean and kept for the Master's use.
But the Thessalonian church wasn't like this at all! It was like any other church-made up of saints far less than super. Some of them were lazy moochers. Others were wrong-and way too excited-about the Second Coming. Some struggled with lust-and didn't always win over it.
Yet Paul gives thanks to God.for [them] all.
He has not gone soft on sin, but on sinners. He rebukes them sharply a bit later, but his rebuke is not a rejection or a threat. He is fond of these dear people and really thankful for them.
His warm feelings are not an emotion. Emotions are a physical thing-like muscles. They cannot be kept at a fever pitch all the time. If your gratitude is based on your feelings, it will come and go-and mostly go. But Paul sees thankfulness as a duty, and that's why he can give thanks always for [them] all-and not just when he's in the mood.
There's a discipline to giving thanks for each other. We need to exercise it more than we do, especially when we don't feel like it.
I've told you this story before, but it bears repeating. Several years ago, I got a bad attitude toward a couple of people in the church. What caused it, I cannot say, but believe me, I felt it. If you had forced me to tell you what I disliked about them at the time, I could have only said, Their existence! I knew this was wrong, but how do you change your feelings? What I did is to force myself to thank God for them, twice a day, for a month. Within a few days, my attitude was completely changed. I did not lie to God, giving thanks for their personalities (which bugged me to no end), but for His grace in their lives and what they did with it.
In giving thanks I did not feel, I began to feel thankful.
If you're feeling now, the way I did then, Go and do likewise. If you have to, pretend to be thankful until you are thankful.
In summary: Paul is thankful for the Thessalonians, for all of them, all the time.
THE VISIBLE GROUNDSWe know Who he is thankful to and who he is thankful for, but, in vv.3ff, we find out what makes him so thankful. Three things, in particular: Their
Work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father.
A work of faith is the work faith produces. A phony faith has no real effect on you. Your beliefs are not the same as they used to be, but your life is. James says this kind of faith is dead, being alone, is no better than the devils' faith, and will not save you.
This is not the kind of faith his friends had! It was real and it changed their lives. But note carefully, it did not make them perfect (or nearly perfect). Yet it set them to work for Christ-at home, on the job, in the church. Everywhere they went, they were servants of the Lord-unprofitable servants, maybe, but servants nonetheless. This is the first thing Paul is thankful for-their work of faith.
The second is their labor of love. Good writers don't use the same word over and over again; it's tedious. And so Paul changes his word, from work to labor. A quick reading might not notice it, but a careful one will. In English, there's a big difference between a man's work and his labor. His work may be hard, but it's also enjoyable; he finds meaning in it. But labor? That's something else. That stands for toil and hardship, for pain, long hours, and weariness.
If I say, Donna went into work this morning, I mean one thing. If I say She went into labor, I mean something else! The same is true here. The word for labor implies grunt work that never ends.
What kind of labor are they doing? The hardest kind in the world: the labor of love! Affection is easy because it makes few demands on you. Romance is even easier because it's carried on gossamer wings. But love? That's hard! Love means being kind when you're cranky, patient when you're busy, and polite when somebody butts into your conversation. It means listening to boring people and helping people who don't say thanks.
No wonder it's called labor of love! Paul is deeply thankful to see his friends working hard at it.
The other thing he thanks God for is their patience of hope. In short, this means not giving up. The Thessalonians had the same hardships we do. Some of them came from the outside-life would be so much easier if only they'd conform to the world. They don't have to be super-wicked; lukewarm is good enough! Some of the discouragements come from within. We get so tired of messing up at home, we want to run away from our families, or maybe stay at home but withdraw for the sake of a little peace and quiet.
The Thessalonians did not give in to despair. They kept at it, imperfectly, to be sure, and with many backslidings, but they kept at it. Like the tortoise in Aesop's fable, they didn't run fast, but kept going. The Christian life is something like your work: Showing up is half the job.
Patient hope is not flashy and it won't win you any praise. Except from God. He who endures to the end shall be saved.
Paul is thanking God for his friends in Thessalonica. They're not doing anything big or splashy, but that's all right with him, for It is required in a steward that he be found.faithful.
THE INVISIBLE GROUNDS
If faith, hope, and love are the visible reasons for Paul's thanksgiving, there is also a reason he can't see, but he knows it is there.
Knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.
The Thessalonians were living godly lives because God chose them for it. In Ephesians 1, he says God Chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him. We are not elected because we're holy, but we are holy because we are elected. Election is the tree, holiness is the fruit.
How did Paul know they were chosen by God? He was an Apostle, of course, and had access to mysteries we don't. But whom God chose for salvation is not one the things on which he had insider information. Paul did not know who the Elect were-he didn't care, and he didn't speculate.
Neither should you. Election is not part of the Gospel. It does not answer the sinner's question, Can I be saved? What it does, is answer the believer's question, Why me?
Tom and Fred are twin brothers and alike in every way-including their love for sin. One Sunday morning, trying to find the local hip-hop station, they accidentally tune in to J. Vernon McGee. Tom cusses at the mistake, but Fred says, 'Wait a minute'. They both listen to the old man, and while Tom laughs him off, Fred believes. At first, Fred thinks he is a little smarter than his brother or maybe more open to God. But, as he lives the Christian life, he finds out better. He's no smarter than his brother and back then, his mind was welded shut too. But, somehow it got opened to the Gospel, while Tom's didn't. He wonders why. Election tells him.
This is where Election belongs-not before faith or as part of faith, but after faith. This means, if you're wondering about your election, quit! The Bible never commands you to find out if you're elect or not! And, if it did, it doesn't tell you what to look for! You're looking for a polar bear at midnight in a snowstorm that isn't there! Stop looking, stop worrying, stop torturing yourself.
If you're an unbeliever, believe in Christ. If you're a believer, obey the Lord. These are your duties and they'll bring far more assurance than wringing your hands about election.
This is a bit off-topic, I know, but it needs saying.
THE LIFE OF THE ELECT (SHORT TERM)
How, then, did Paul know his friends were chosen by God? The Lord didn't whisper their names in his ear; he didn't see the Book of Life; he got no feeling in his heart or tingle down his spine.
He knew they were chosen by God by their response to the Gospel.
They weren't saved before they heard the Gospel-nobody is. They were chosen for salvation before the world was made, but until they heard the Gospel, they were as lost as the devil in hell!
When they heard the Gospel they responded to it. In the short term, they believed it,
For our Gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance.
The Thessalonians were Greeks and they enjoyed religious and philosophical lectures. But when they heard Paul and his friends 'lecture', they knew it was more than a lecture they had gone to hear. There was power in the Word; there was assurance; and there was the Holy Spirit.
Assurance does not mean they were assured of their salvation-not all believers are. It means they were sure the Gospel was true! In other words, they believed it.
What a tremendous thought-and also a horrifying one: in the Gospel, God communicates the Holy Spirit to those who believe. And those who don't believe are rejecting more than their salvation; they are rejecting the Holy Spirit Himself!
How does Paul know the Thessalonians are elect? In the short run, it's because they believed the Gospel. And, that's how you find out that you're elect-by believing in Christ.
THE LIFE OF THE ELECT (LONG TERM)
If this were all Paul knew about the Thessalonians, he would have been thankful. A few years before, they believed the Gospel and so, as far as he could tell, they were saved.
But salvation does not end with the sinner's prayer Conversion is only the start of your life in Christ. As Paul hears word about his friends, he is doubly thankful for them-and doubly sure that God did choose them. How did he know that?
In the first place, they started living like saints-and, to some degree-like Christ Himself. Even when times were hard, they were rejoicing in the life that the Holy Spirit had given them.
In the second place, they started witnessing-From you the Word of the Lord has sounded forth. If you get some bad news, you might keep it to yourself; but good news? That's for sharing! This is what they did: they started talking to their friends and neighbors about the Lord. But they didn't stop with their friends and neighbors; some of them were so eager for Christ that they left town to spread the Word all over Macedonia and Achaia.
Thirdly, they quit their old lives. Not only did they start following Christ, but they stopped following their idols (and all the things that went with idolatry).
Finally, they started waiting for the Second Coming of Christ. The Lord did not come in the First Century and He may not come in the Twenty-First. But whether He comes or not, it is right to live as though He will. Waiting for His Return does not mean date-setting, speculating, and going to Prophetic Conferences; it means living the Christian life, soberly and eagerly and sincerely.
There's a lot of theology in this passage, but mostly, it's an exhortation to thank God for your brothers and sisters in Christ. If you have a hard time doing that, remember that they, too, were chosen by God, and chosen to be with you forever. In heaven you'll be mighty thankful for them. But why wait till then? Start giving thanks for them now.
And the love of God be with you. Amen.
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