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Respectful Hope

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2010-03-21 (am) 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 Respectful Hope

            Today we’re concluding our examination of 1 Thessalonians.  Though we are nearly 2000 years removed from the specific teaching that Paul gave to that church, his instructions are still relevant today.

          The difficulties that the Thessalonians faced are not unique to them.  They faced pressure from the Jews and Gentiles alike, to turn back to their old ways.  The Jews wanted them to observe all the Jewish rules and regulations.  The Gentiles wanted them to observe all the Gentile worship ways and practises. 

          One of the effective ways they tried to accomplish this was by attacking the Christian leadership.  They directly attacked Paul, suggesting that he didn’t really care about them.  That his sudden departure was because he was weak and self-centred.  They questioned his authority and his teaching.  But mostly, they accused him of not loving them.

          Earlier in the letter we learned that Paul clearly was concerned for the Thessalonians and that he loved them very, very much.  Now, however, he is encouraging them to remain faithful to his leadership.  He’s telling them to remain true to his teaching, and true to the teaching of those who lead them.  Timothy is serving as their pastor, and by now he’s probably appointed elders and deacons to assist him in the work of ministry.

          Paul knows that the attacks he faced will turn against Timothy and the others.  He knows that the Thessalonians will be tempted to listen and potentially be swayed by these evil influences.

          The situation the church faces today is not so different.  There are legalists who would rob every Christian of the joy of our freedom in Christ, trying to lay down specific ways and means of attaining salvation.  There are also outside influencers who suggest that being a Christian is being superstitious or silly, or futile.

          But worse than that is society’s attitude toward authority.  There is quite a lot of disrespect toward authority.  People don’t think twice about cheating on taxes.  People are always looking for ways to get out of responsibility, especially when they have committed crimes.  The individual rules.  People are very self-centred.  If this isn’t so, then you should join Facebook or Twitter.  Constant updates from individuals, telling the world: I just got back from getting groceries!  I dyed my hair!

          We live in a self-centred world, and it is not hard to see that attitude creeping into the church.  There are, perhaps not here, those who do not respect their leaders.  There is a resistance to respect those who admonish.  For one, no one wants or enjoys being admonished, but we are better for it, when it does happen.  Paul called the Thessalonians to hold those in authority in high regard because of their work, not because of who they were, but because they did work—the Lord’s work, among them.

          And Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit calls us to hold, in the highest regard, those who do the Lord’s work among us.  The context of this passage clearly indicates that Paul is talking about the church.

          But we would be wrong to limit it there.  We know that God has appointed governments to rule over us.  So we need to respect, even hold our government leaders, Edson, Yellowhead county, Alberta, and Canada, all our leaders in high respect, because they are doing God’s work.  We know we must honour and respect our parents, our seniors, anyone with years and wisdom over us.

          How do we do this?  We do it by maintaining peace.  What causes strife?  Putting ourselves ahead of others.  Peace breaks down when we look to our own needs and not the needs of others, first.  Selfishness, prevalent in Paul’s time, is no less prevalent now.  We would do well to heed this warning, to constantly consider our own selves.  Am I being realistic here?  Am I putting myself first here?  Am I seeking the needs of others, my spouse, my family, my friends, and my church first?

          Paul called on the Thessalonians to warn those who were idle.  He expands on this more in his second letter.  But there were, within the church in Thessalonica, those who were idle.  Though gifted and able to serve their brothers and sisters in the Lord, they refused.  They claimed to be waiting for the Lord’s return.  They were preparing themselves for that great day.  But they were leaving the bulk of the ministry work to others.  They were not pulling their own weight, and they had no excuse.

          We too need to be aware of this.  We can claim all kinds of reasons to avoid doing work.  The most used excuse?  I’m too busy.  We are a very busy society.  Do you remember the promises that were made about technology?  That computers and washing machines, and fast cars, and all these other conveniences were going to increase our leisure time?  All it has done is enabled us to do more in less time!

          We have less leisure time now than we did even a few years ago!  When I was growing up, not only was the weekend Saturday and Sunday, almost no one worked on either day!  Now, we are so busy, so overworked, that the only people who get weekends are teachers, and they, likely as not, are busy doing grading and lesson planning.

          Growing up, I remember having Saturday and Sunday to spend as a family.  Doing yard work and just playing on Saturdays and being together as a family on Sundays, going for bike rides between church services, playing, having fun.

          But now, society is pressuring everyone, inside and outside the church.  So that finding time to spend with family is getting harder and harder.  Are we caving into the pressures of the world?  Are we willingly creating crazy busy lives?  We’re doing all these things, so that we have less and less time to spend in God’s service.  Some are idle in the church because we’re so busy elsewhere.

          Then there are those who are timid.  Those who don’t have confidence, either in themselves or in Christ.  So, we encourage them, to try.  Say yes.  Do something.  Volunteer if you are not already doing so.  Try something new, you will likely be surprised because Christ will equip you with the ability to do the work he’s called you, and created you to do.

          We must help those who struggle in the faith, those who are weak, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually weak.  There’s such a bombardment going on, we are in a battle.  We don’t always see it as such, but we are.  The world hated Christ; it will hate us also.  So we must spend much energy encouraging and helping one another.  We must devote ourselves to one another.  Be committed to the church family, so that we can be of encouragement, through prayer, through singing songs, through a greeting, through an encouraging word spoken.

          Because we’re not yet perfect, because we do not always do or say the right thing, we will be hurt.  We must therefore be very careful how we respond to our hurts.  We must not fall into the temptations to pay back wrong with wrong but rather, to be kind always, even to those who have hurt us.  This is by no means easy to do, and we must depend all the more on the Lord to help us with it.

          Be joyful always, says Paul.  This is a guy who faced a lot of pressure.  This is a guy who struggled, who was prevented from visiting the Thessalonians by Satan himself.  And he says, be joyful always.  Indeed he was joyful when he heard of the Thessalonians’ faith.

          Let your joy come from God.  Go to God for your joy.  Don’t rely on your circumstances to derive your joy.  That joy is fleeting.  But the Joy of the Lord is eternal.  It is found deep within.  It comes from God himself. 

          Pray, pray, and pray more.  Make prayer as much a part of your life as breathing.  Pray where you are.  Pray when you wake up, may God be the first thought of your day.  While you’re brushing your teeth, pray, while in the shower, pray, while sipping your coffee pray, while driving, pray. 

          Give thanks in all circumstances.  Our circumstances don’t dictate our life.  God does.  God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  Pray that God will give you the eyes to see it.  Give thanks because your greatest need—forgiveness and salvation is already met. 

          Know that the circumstances you face is no coincidence.  It is no accident you are facing what you are facing.  It is no accident that you are doing whatever you are doing.  It is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  God doesn’t promise that you’ll understand what is going on.  But trust in God.  Put your faith in God.  Demonstrate your faith in God by having this attitude: it is God’s will for you in Christ.  Whether it is hard or easy, it is God’s will, so put up.

          Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.  Certainly, there was a great temptation to do so in Thessalonica.  The Spirit gave life, and transformed those people to follow God.  But the temptation was to go back, or go to something new.  The temptation was to give up.  To take it easy, to turn aside from the challenge before them.

          But Paul says, don’t even entertain going down that road.  It will potentially put out the Spirit’s fire.  Did you know that?  You can thwart the work of God in your life.  You can turn aside opportunities to be challenged, to grow, to do something you’ve not done before, or even do something that you think you’re too old or too tired to do.

          Is there an age when we can stop serving God?  Are not the senior members called upon to be examples to the young?  Are not the young called upon to respect and learn from the seniors?  Those who are more experienced ought to teach the young, to lead them by example.  The young ought to have humility and respect, remembering that these older ones have experience and knowledge that is worth listening to.

          Test everything.  Don’t dismiss something out of hand, but examine it.  Find out if this fresh wind of change is actually good.  Find out if it is in keeping with the scriptures.  Find out if it is from God or not.  Cling to what is good.  Some tradition is good, well worth keeping.  Some is not, and is necessary to get rid of it.  It takes true wisdom to know the difference and it takes courage to act on it.  Avoid evil.  In a day and age when evil is so readily accepted, we must resist all the more.  This is hard, this takes the Spirit’s constant work!

          Finally, depend on God.  The God of peace, who justifies you, makes you eternally right with him in Christ, continue the process of sanctifying you in this life.  Sanctification is the process of moving from sinful living to righteous living.  God’s will for us is to live righteous lives.  God will make it happen in us.  God has given his Holy Spirit for this purpose.

          Ever wonder what made Moses lead the people out of national slavery?  Ever wonder what caused Mary to say, may it be to me as you’ve said.  It was God in them, the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

          God is at work in you.  No, not lead a nation out of national slavery, but to lead people out of slavery to sin.  No, not to bear God’s only Son, but to raise sons and daughters of God.

          God is faithful, he will do it.  The one who calls you to the faith, equips you to be faithful in your service to him.  Don’t doubt God.  Even if you doubt yourself, don’t doubt God.

          But we depend on God.  We rest in his grace, his mercy, his complete knowledge of ourselves.  We know that God is smart.  He is using all of us, our good, and even our bad, for his purposes.  Just as he turned Jonah, bending him to his will, he will turn us.  How much easier it is for us, if we choose to go willingly!

          Pray for us.  Demonstrate being at peace with each other by talking to each other.  Greet all the brothers with a holy handshake.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  Amen.

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