Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents a three-part series of messages exploring the book of 1 Thessalonians.
1 Thessalonians, Part 3
This is the final part of 1 Thessalonians, a letter written to new Christians and it is full of wisdom this evening on how to go forward as a church and it finishes up with an absolute burst of confidence that we will go forward. It’s a little bit like your planning this week – say to go to Adelaide – and so you do a bit of planning, tickets, luggage and transport but then in the end you are going to be taken to Adelaide – you don’t have to deal with the long journey yourself. And in this section of 1 Thessalonians – this a lovely section here about doing your part and then how the Lord will do his part.
There is great need for progress among Christian people. A few weeks ago I was having lunch with Chase. I was sharing with him my plan for a PhD in People Types.
My PhD plan is to do a Doctorate in types of people there are:
- people who are like a CHERRY, i.e. soft on the outside and hard on the inside
- JAFFA people who are hard on the outside and soft on the inside
- GRAPE people who are soft on the outside and soft on the inside
- BALL BEARING people who are hard on the outside and hard on the inside
At the Men’s Dinner this particular Monday night, Chase was interviewed and he was asked a question on what it was like to work with me. And he completely “lost the plot” and ended up describing me – working with me is like working with a PINEAPPLE. His phrase I think was prickly on the outside but quite sweet on the inside!
Now I don’t know whether he was making a mistake, you know whether he had meant to say PEACH, or PLUM. He is American and it’s possible he doesn’t know all the fruits! But PINEAPPLE is completely inappropriate and I am feeling quite prickly about it actually and I am trying to think of a sweet way to see Chase off with CMS to a faraway country.
And I mention this because he perhaps more than others needs progress and all Christians need progress. All churches need progress and you and I mustn’t be surprised when we come to a church like this or a small group and we find ourselves mixing with people who are really quite sinful and quite weak. What we should be deeply thankful for is that Christ is incredibly patient – he is a wonderful doctor with sick people and he has made tremendous promises that he will see us through to the day where eventually if we belong to him are going to be like him – unbelievable.
Now twice in the Thessalonian letter at the half way mark and at the end which I think is very significant, the Apostle Paul says that he is looking forward to the Thessalonian believers being blameless and if you only remember one word from this evening’s sermon, I hope you will remember the word “BLAMELESS” because it is quite possible, as one Commentator says, that this is the key to the Letter.
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Not only that you would be forgiven through Christ and therefore ready to stand for him but that you would be in some way joyful before Him, making progress as you go towards him and I want us to think about this particular section with “blameless” in mind. What would you write to young Christians if you had run a Mission like Paul did, for only 3 weeks and left some believers behind? What would you write to them and how would you want them to go forward in Christ?
Probably you would write and say ‘read your Bible, say your prayers, read Christian books’ and these would be great secrets to personal faith and they would. When I pray for people at St. Thomas and I hear that Gavin and Chase and others are praying for the Congregation – and they are – and they see a name on the page and they think ‘thank you Lord that this person is going forward, how much they have grown in the past year’. Or perhaps they see the name and they think ‘O Lord please bring this person out of the rut where they are, please help them to go forward’. What could we add if we were writing to people beyond praying for them and telling them to read their Bible that would help them to go forward? Well I just want to think that 1 Thessalonians 5: 12-28 is doing that. I think the Apostle Paul is setting out in the early verses 3 areas for going forward and then 1 great confidence that we will go forward.
Verses 12-22 contain the 3 practical things that we can do to go forward as a church and then
Verses 23-28 is the one perfect work that God will do to make sure that we do go forward.
3 things in verses 12-22 that we can work on to go forward and 1 great thing that God is going to do to make sure that we do go forward.
So the 3 priorities I have called are “THREE SHIPS” – sailing ships.
The first one is LEADERSHIP – the first priority is LEADERSHIP. I remind you that the Mission was a very fast Mission – he says in verse 12 “Respect those who work hard among you”. Now we know from Acts 14 that the Apostle Paul’s priority was to set up leaders in every church that he planted. So even in this very young church of Thessalonica it seems that there were leaders, although you notice the Apostle Paul doesn’t refer to them as leaders or elders or bishops or overseers – there are no titles here – it’s a very young church. He just says “I want you to respect (literally know) those who work hard among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish or warn you” – verse 12.
It’s one of the great keys, says Paul, to your progress. Now this is a very shrewd key to progress and friends we need instruction about our leaders.
I mean I have a local Bishop – do I like him? Does that matter?
I have an Archbishop – do I like him? Does that matter?
How am I going to relate to people who are over me in the Lord? How will you relate to people? We need instruction as Christians on how to treat spiritual leaders. If we take our que from the world we will look at the leader and we will like them or we will despise them on whether they are doing things that we want.
You notice that Barak Obama is getting great applause from our Media at the moment because he is saying what people want him to say – Climate Change, Disadvantaged People, Human Rights and all the areas that are popular. If we take our que in treating spiritual leaders from self, then we will do it on the basis of taste or looks or personality.
You know he is old – so we respect him.
You know he is young – so we like him.
You know he is funny – so we love him.
That kind of taste will be a recipe for no progress. Now dealing with spiritual leaders is crucial for Christian progress. When the Apostle Paul speaks to leaders, like 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus the letters in the New Testament, he gives them a very very high charge or a very high calling. He says –
- your character is to be beyond criticism
- you are to be very disciplined
- you are to be committed to the Word of God and to prayer
- you are to be ready to be patient with everybody
- you are to drive error out if there is error
- you are to warn the ungodly
- you are not to be lazy
- you are not to be addicted to drink
- you are not to be addicted to money
all those sort of things, it’s a very very great challenge to the leaders but there is talking to the members of the church because if the members reject good leaders then there is going to be no going forward.
Now if you are a leader here today, you know what it is like if you have a Sunday School class and you have just got one member of the class who is impossible and they occupy all your nervous energy and your prayers and in some way they can make or break the class. Or think of a family member, you know it’s possible in a family to have a family member who is bringing such grief or such challenge to the family, that in the end they are almost making or breaking the family.
So it is with church that members can actually enable to undermine leaders. They can make the leader’s job much more pleasant and effective or much more difficult and ineffective. And this is the clue, says the Apostle Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 1: 12 “don’t put the leader on a pedestal, don’t despise or reject them but know how you should respect them”, says he in verse 12 “because of their work”. In other words, they have been given a task and they are beginning to do the task. They work hard; literally the word is “they get weary”.
The second thing in verse 12 is that they are over you and the word in the original language is “they stand before you”. What does it mean when a leader stands before you? Well it could be that he is standing before you as I am now in a way to point the way or it could be that I am standing for you to represent you – even to intercede for you and to pray for you and then in verse 12 “as they admonish or warn you”.
Now if you want to get your head around what a leader or a pastor does, just imagine you know so that you don’t think that the pastoral staff of the local church between Monday and Saturday just sit around. I mean I have no idea what unbelievers think about pastors do. Occasional as Christmas comes somebody will say “It’s coming up to Christmas; I guess you are starting to get busy”. I think Christmas is coming and everything is about to stop and wind down. People don’t understand pastoral ministry.
So think of yourself as being given 100 people to look after – your family, your church family of 100. Your job is to care for them.
You have to ask the question:
- How are their souls with God?
- Are they right with God?
- Do I know that?
- Are they being taught?
- Are they being discipled?
- Are they being trained?
- What’s going on in their lives?
- Are they sick at the moment?
- Are they sad?
- Are they sliding around?
- Are they being silly?
How can you help them to maturity – GO – you have 100 names and you begin to realise that it’s quite messy, it’s complicated and to have 100 people who say ‘well we understand the position and we are going to be helpful and co-operative’ makes the job so much more straight forward.
Spiritual leadership is a massive privilege but it’s also a massive responsibility. And those who serve Christ and those who serve you need your help to be effective and make the job as easy as possible for them. It may be that they hold an office and they have got the letters “Rev “ in front of their name – well that’s interesting but actually you should, says the Apostle Paul be noticing those who work hard among you and stand before you or stand for you and even admonish you or warn you because they are obviously committed to seeing you on the track with Christ. So take your que not from the world or your own taste, but take your que from God’s word.
The second of the SHIPS is FELLOWSHIP (verses 14-18). This is especially how you deal with others in the church. You come along on Sunday, maybe a couple of 100 people or you turn up on a Wednesday night and maybe there are 12 people – how are you going to conduct yourself with the other believers? That’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about and this again is a tremendous way for progress and it’s a very shrewd thing that Paul says. Because, he says, we are not meant to meet aimlessly – what will happen? We are not mean to come aimlessly. We are meant to come very purposefully.
When Kathy and I go into a lot of situations and at the moment it maybe that we are getting older but we realise that some of the dinners we go to are difficult. Some of the family occasions are complicated and I mean the wider family – not my family of 5 or 6. Some of the ministries that we go to together – they are really uncertain and we feel very needy as we go to these occasions and we ask God to help us because it’s a bit of a battle ground. Would the Lord use us as an instrument to say and not say and be and to have good influence? And so we are praying that the Lord would help us to be useful.
Now that’s really what the Apostle Paul is saying – you are meant to be useful when you come to gather with God’s people. Don’t come like a leech with a bunch of leeches hoping that you can sort of get blood from other people. There are times when we come we are very needy – we still need to ask the Lord to help us to be very faithful. Don’t come as if you want some new fans for your ‘fan club’. You know – how am I looking? That’s not going to be helpful to the Fellowship. We have to say “Lord, use me to be a help to others” and even if we come and we are feeling very flat and very empty and very needy, it’s as we (by the grace of God) cross the room to be faithful and loving to another person and we pour out what feels like the last drop of energy – so often the Lord re-fills the cup and uses us.
I know what it is like to come on a Sunday morning or evening and just feel completely at the end of myself as if the easiest thing would be to just come in and then escape. But there needs to be that attitude and prayer which says “Lord give grace for usefulness” because it maybe that something will be said or done which under your good hand will really be effective.
And that’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about here in chapter 5 verse 14 he says “you also have got a job to warn the idle”. He said in chapter 5 verse 12 “this is what the leader will do but you also are to do it” – it’s a pleural command. Warn the person literally; says Paul, who is out of line, i.e. in the army of the Lord this person is out of rank. You have to try to work out how to steer them back into line with Christ. Would you rather you came to church and everybody just pleased you or would you be grateful occasionally for someone to stir you? Well I hope the answer is to the second request. I hope we just don’t want to be patted all the time on the back.
And then he says in verse 14 ‘encourage the timid’ literally the small souled person, the person with a small soul i.e. the person who is frail – Paul says ‘speak close to them and draw tenderly towards them’. And then ‘help the weak’ verse 14 – be devoted to the person who you know has failed because you know what it’s like to fail. Let them know that you are with them and that there is more mercy from Christ. And then he says verse 14 ‘be patient with everyone’ – be longsuffering.
Now friends notice what this means – is that when you come and everybody is in need of progress, you have to try by the grace of God to be appropriate to the person you are speaking to because the person will need to be warned, sometimes the person will need to be given much patience, sometimes the person will need to be given much listening. We have no idea really what people who come into a gathering like this have come from.
Just imagine if people came in, a whole lot of people came in with prayer before they came into the building asking God for grace and wisdom to have a constructive effective on other people, the little church here would start to grow. The Thessalonian church would start to grow and the reason we need to be like this because we are unfinished people. I think I have told you before that when Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth Graham, was driving home from a meeting once she went past a building site which had just been complete and the building had been finished and there was a big sign outside which said “RECONSTRUCTION NOW COMPLETED – THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE”. This was the message to the motorist – RECONSTRUCTION NOW COMPLETED – THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE. And she decided that she would have this on her gravestone. And it is now on her grave stone – RECONSTRUCTION NOW COMPLETED – THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.
Well until you get to the end, you are under reconstruction. And we need one another to help the process. That’s why Paul says in verse 15 ‘therefore don’t pay back (churches can be very painful places and other Christians can be very hurtful).
I wish someone had told me when I began the Christian life how much suffering would come from those inside the fellowship – sometimes we are the victims of those people inside the fellowship – and sometimes we are the perpetrators. The Apostle Paul says if you are tempted to exercise some revenge, put the revenge ideas away.
And then in verses 16-18 there are 3 reminders that your attitude is also helpful in the fellowship. You can have a huge impact on people by (verse 16) being joyful always, (verse 17) praying continually and (verse 18) giving thanks in all circumstances.
What does it mean to be joyful always? It doesn’t mean that you are going to be happy all the time because joy is linked to what you know. Joy is where you know whose you are, where you stand, how secure you are and where you are going. Joy is not a circumstantial thing. Joy is Noah in the Ark saying ‘this may not be great, it’s stormy outside and it’s smelly inside but I am travelling from one shore to the next and therefore I rejoice’. And the Christian says ‘I am in Christ – I am travelling from one shore to the next’.
Verse 17 ‘pray continually’ doesn’t mean pray all the time – that would be ridiculous – it means pray any time. You are going to walk with Christ, you are going to walk in fellowship with Christ and you can lift up your voice in prayer at any time with a thank you or a request or a confession.
And the third thing he says is ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (verse 18). He doesn’t say give thanks for all circumstances – that would be stupid. He says in the middle of circumstances we can be thankful because everything is on the backdrop of God’s good purposes. Now it’s wonderful that the Apostle Paul can say this, isn’t it? If anybody deserved to say ‘rejoice occasionally or pray occasionally or give thanks occasionally’ it’s the Apostle Paul. But he says rejoice always, pray continually and be thankful always.
So respect the leadership – that will help the progress of the church, constructive fellowship – that will help the progress of the church and now the third of the SHIPS is what I am going to call WORSHIP. And I hesitate to use the word worship because it’s a very misleading word. Actually our worship as you know is the whole of our lives. We come in a sense to worship here but we also at the end of the service – go home to worship because worship is the whole of our lives.
I think you will understand if I say in these verses from 19 and following that Paul is interested in what we do when we gather. And he says ‘don’t put out or quench the Spirit’s fire – don’t treat prophecies with contempt – test everything – hold the good – chuck out the bad’. So as we come together, we have to make sure that we are not despising the work of the Spirit but we are being discerning so that we don’t get led down a road that is erroneous or unhelpful.
So this is the big picture – see if you can take in this big picture. The Apostle Paul says ‘beware of the anti-supernaturalist’. The anti-supernaturalist exists in some evangelical reformed circles. Of course they would never say that they are anti-supernaturalist – it’s just that’s the way they live.
This is where Christianity has become like an ugly business run by very dry businessmen where God is absent and unnecessary because it’s all about our business. And the big emphasis is all on how we plan and then maybe for 5 seconds pray. That Christianity is ugly and deadly.
On the other hand, we need to beware of the random supernaturalism. This again is easy for churches to fall into. This is where God becomes a gene who lives inside the bottle of your head. It’s the sort of inner god who you control and he does whatever you want. This Christianity becomes usually very selfish and insane.
So here is this young Thessalonian church and we know that people in the church of Thessalonica are already saying things that were false, like if you die you miss out on Christ. And here the Apostle Paul says “I don’t want you to fall into the trap of the absent God and I don’t want you to fall into the trap of the inner god” so he says don’t attack God’s work among you. Don’t try to make the church your business that you control – it’s not your business and you don’t control it.
And don’t despise timely words – my definition of prophesy – timely words. When he talks about prophecies, the Apostle Paul doesn’t mean like Old Testament prophets because their words were added to Scripture. He doesn’t mean the same as Apostles because their words were added to Scripture. The timely words are words which are in line with the Word of God and in the 1st Century were often used by God before the Bible was put together and God may use timely words in the 21st Century to guide the church.
But the Apostle Paul says ‘test everything’. Tested by Scripture and tested over time and keep the good. Somebody may come up with an idea which will really bless the fellowship. Well, is it fitting in with the Scripture? Watch and see whether it is effective over time. Someone may come up with an idea which is really going to divide the fellowship – well Paul says ‘chuck it out’.
So those are 3 “SHIPS” for progress. Leadership, Fellowship and Worship.
Now my last point very briefly in the last few minutes is the key to progress which is verses 23-28. I got a friendly letter yesterday in my tray from a couple who obviously listen to talks from St. Thomas on the radio and the letter began by saying “your teaching has broad vision but is narrowed by John Calvin”. And the letter went on to say this – ‘I don’t believe that God controls things – I believe that God lets us do things and that our human responsibility means that in the end it is up to us’.
Now I am thankful that that’s only half the picture. When you read Scripture and Calvin I think agrees with Scripture, it teaches that God is sovereign and his plans are going to happen but we are responsible and they work together. And I think this is a wide view, not a narrow view.
So that’s why in the verses that we just looked at the Apostle Paul talks about human responsibility but in these last verses he is talking very much about God’s sovereignty. And you will see in verse 23 he offers a prayer, basically he calls to God and he says “may God sanctify you through and through”. In other words, may God get you to the end.
And the priority here is that you and I would be perfect in holiness. That’s what the Apostle Paul is praying – may God finish the job he began. If he has begun the job in you, he will finish it. If he has not begun the job in you, well he needs to begin the job in you. The Apostle Paul says may God finish the job he began and make you like Christ. Do you notice he calls God (verse 23) the God of peace, the God of shalom and the God whose influence is in to all relationships with God, with people and with yourself? And he says I am praying – this is his prayer at the end that God will work to make you like Christ through and through – literally he will make you completely and finally whole. And if you want to know how totally God is going to do this (verse 23) it’s going to be in your spirit, your soul and your body. Everything is going to be transformed. You name a part of you and it’s going to be transformed. He is not giving an anatomy lesson here, he is not even giving a psychology lesson – he’s giving a spiritual lesson. There is going to be complete transformation for the believer.
And that’s why CS Lewis said ‘if you could see the Christian today as they will be at the end when they have been made like Christ – you would be tempted to fall down and worship them because God for his own glory and by his own grace has planned to turn his people into the likeness of the character of Christ’. It’s got nothing really to do with our own ability – it’s certainly not something we deserve but it’s what God has promised to do.
So at the coming of Jesus (verse 23) and this is the 8th time in the letter that Paul has referred to the Coming of Jesus he says ‘you will be blameless’. Of course you will be forgiven but you will also be like him.
1 John 3: 2 says ‘when we see him we will be like him for we will see him as he is’.
And this lovely verse 24 which I think is the key to the letter “GOD WILL DO IT” – He is faithful. So you see what the Apostle is saying?
You take your part:
- DO help the leadership
- DO help the membership
- DO be discerning about the worship
But God will do his part and therefore be extremely joyful about that. His final words (verse 25) are “Pray for us”. Why does he say that? Because Paul himself is still under “reconstruction”. He is part of the need.
And then he says “Greet the people with a holy kiss”. I just want to say to you a little bit about holy kisses before we come to the end and I am going to read to you from Leon Morris who must be one of the most conservative personalities and commentators that has been around and he is now in glory. This is what he says about the ‘holy kiss’ –
“The kiss had ordinary usage in secular society. People would kiss the cheek, the shoulder, the foot or the hand. It was taken over for Christian significance, especially when the brethren came together. Originally it was between members of the same sects but in time men and women exchange kisses. (This is the part I love -) Understandably this led to undesirable scenes! And the early church councils passed a number of regulations governing the circumstances under which the kiss should be exchanged.”
What that means is – as the senior pastor – you must come to me and I will tell you who you can kiss and on which shoulder!
No – the translation for us to day is ‘greet one another with a holy kiss’ is in Australia – say hello to people and do it in a very kind way and do it in a very godly way. That’s what it means – Greet one another in a kind and godly way.
Verse 27 – Paul says read this to all the brothers – I want to make sure, says Paul, that everybody hears this. And in verse 28 “Grace to you” because grace is the key to the whole plan of God.
In the Ancient World, you finished a letter by saying “Be strong” – it’s come back again hasn’t it? It’s the way the pagan thinks – be strong. The Christian has something much more wonderful – Grace to you. The God of grace who has begun a good work in you through Christ, he will carry it through to the day of completion so you will be blameless before him. You have a contribution to play in the present:
- Help your leaders
- Be constructive to the members
- Be discerning about the worship
- But in the end He who called you is faithful and He will do it.