A Fruitful Ministry
1 Thessalonians 2:13-20
Stephen Caswell ©1996
A Fruitful Ministry
The Value Of One
When Harvey Penick died at the age of ninety, the world of golf lost one of its greatest teachers. Although his books have sold millions of copies, he was remembered most for his direct impact on people. An associated press story stated, " Penick refused to teach methods or group lessons, instead applying his wisdom to the talents of individual players. " Tom Kite, the leading money winner in PGA Tour history, was 13 when he began working with Penick. Ben Crenshaw began learning the game from Penick at the age of 6. Penick, who could have spent his life speaking to crowds, chose to invest himself in people - many of them children - one at a time. The apostle Paul also invested himself in individuals. He reproduced his ministry through the lives of believers.
Today I would like to continue on from where I left off in 1 Thessalonians Chapter 2. We saw that Paul listed out his characteristics as a servant of God. We saw that he had a ministry which was blameless. In the first 12 verses of 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 we saw that his ministry had 3 distinctive qualities. It was
1. Resilient. (He bounced back after persecution)
2. Recommended. (He was approved by God)
3. Righteous. (He sincerely cared for the church like a caring father & nursing mother)
Now 1 Thessalonians 2:13 describes how the They responded:
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
Now Paul recalls the results of his ministry. Paul says " he gives thanks to God constantly for the way the Thessalonians responded to the word of God." Paul gives thanks to God because:
1. They received the word.
2. They reproduced the word.
The apostle Paul had a 1. Received Ministry
They Appreciated the Word
Paul uses two words in verse 13 to describe this. Firstly he says that they received the word. The word received means to " accept from another. " This relates to hearing with the ears. This does not guarantee salvation to anyone. This is simply becoming aware of the message by listening. This is necessary and we should desire to hear God's word taught. We should have this as a high priority in our lives, but we must go further than just hearing the word.
They Appropriated the Word
The second word is welcomed and this means " to take the message in. " This relates to hearing with your heart. This says a lot about the Thessalonians faith. Not only did they listen to the message that Paul preached to them, they also took it into their hearts. This message was very important to them and they cherished it. They made it a part of their lives. But why did they respond this way? Why did they take the message so seriously? In verse 13 we read " you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, " The Thessalonian believers saw beyond the human messengers to the divine origin of the message. They recognised that the message was the very word of God and consequently treated it with great respect. Because of this they listened to the message and welcomed it into their lives. They meditated on it and related it to their lives. They appropriated it.
Judging a Masterpiece
I once read of a conversation in the Louvre Museum in Paris. One of the curators of the museum, a man with great appreciation for art, overheard two men discussing a masterpiece. One man said to the other, " I don't think much of that painting. " The curator, feeling obliged to reply to the man's statement, said to him, " Dear sir, if I may interrupt, that painting is not on trial; you are. The quality of the painting has already been established. Your disapproval simply demonstrates the frailty of your measuring capability.
Critics of the Bible
Similarly their are many critics of the Bible. So called learned men who say that the Bible is irrelevant and full of mistakes. These men sit in judgement upon the word of God. They claim they are unbiased and can present an accurate appraisal of the Bible. But without any solid evidence they ask us to believe their own opinions because they have some degree or title after their name. They can not disprove the historical facts of the Bible, yet rule it out because it challenges their lifestyle and makes them accountable to a sovereign God. Well the fact of the matter is that the Bible is not on trial they are. The Bible has already been established as God's Word. But after hearing God's word and recognising its value to us we must go a step further.
They Applied the Word
The result of all of this is that the word worked effectively in their lives through faith.. Verse 13 says " in you who believe." This verb is in the present tense showing the continuing nature of their faith. It also shows that the way to salvation is by faith. In James 1:25 we are told to be doers of the word and not forgetful hearers. The Thessalonians were not forgetful hearers, they worked out their faith in everyday life.
How do you treat God's word ? With respect or do you doubt its authenticity? Do you believe it is inerrant? Or have you come to doubt some of its content because of the world's critics? Do you appreciate God's word ? Are you listening to it? Do you appropriate it and take it to heart? Are you applying God's word in your life?
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 God speaks of the source and value of the Bible.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The Bible is credible because God is credible. The Bible speaks with authority because it is God breathed and speaks with His authority. If these things are true then we should uphold the Bible with respect and sit under its teaching and never presume to judge it. We should follow the Thessalonians example by receiving it and welcome it into our hearts. They treasured it and listened to it. They obeyed it and applied it in their lives. Do you ?
The Story of Richard Hadlee
A few years ago the New Zealand cricket team had quite a formidable bowling attack. There was a medium pace bowler Euwen Chatfield who could tie down an end for a long time with tight bowling. And then there was a fast bowler named Richard Hadlee. Hadlee had great bowling skill and caused the ball to move off the seam both ways. He was once interviewed and asked how he had improved his game so much. He said that he modelled his bowling style after another great bowler Dennis Lillee. He watched Lillee bowl and even studied videos of his bowling. He learnt well and captured some 400 plus wickets in a long and successful career.
Well Paul had a 2. Reproduced Ministry.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 we read:
And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.
a. Through Service
Paul had previously mentioned that they had imitated the Lord and His ministers by proclaiming the word and living godly lives. The word had sounded out from them to all Achaia. Paul spoke of their work of faith, labor of love and steadfast hope. But they also imitated Paul's ministry another way.
Persecuted For Preaching Christ
Savonarola has been called " the Burning Beacon of the Reformation." His sermons denouncing the sin and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church of his day helped pave the way for the Protestant Reformation. Many who heard his powerful sermons went away half dazed, bewildered, and speechless. Often sobs of repentance resounded throughout the entire congregation as the Spirit of God moved in listeners' hearts. However, some who heard him couldn't tolerate the truth and eventually had him executed.
In this passage Paul goes on to say how they imitated the Churches of God in Judea.
For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, 1 Thessalonians 2:13b-14
b. Through Suffering
Now he goes on to say that they also were imitating the churches in Judea by suffering for their faith. Paul encourages them that they are following the example of the early church in Judea. He did this to assure them that they were on the right path. Satan tries to discourage people through afflicting them. He tells believers that they are out of God's will since they are suffering. But Paul assures the Thessaloninas that this is not true and reminds them that the Judean church suffered this way long before they did. Then Paul goes on to sight other examples of how the prophets, the Lord Jesus and the apostles had suffered for their faith. Paul wanted them to know that they were not the only ones going through this trial. He encouraged them by letting them know that others were persevering through persecution and suffering. The apostle Peter referred to this same thing: 1 Peter 4:12-13
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
The Thessalonians had imitated Paul through service and suffering. They had reproduced his ministry in the region of Achaia. They were co-workers extending Christ's kingdom. This was a tremendous legacy to leave the next generation. This is different to the health, wealth and prosperity doctrine taught by some today.
Are we reproducing our faith in the lives of others? Are you making disciples from amongst your friends and neighbours? Are you prepared to suffer for the gospel? Are you praying for the lost?
While Paul reminded the Thessalonians of their response to the gospel he pointed out the opposition he had encountered.
Paul had a 3. Resisted Ministry Vs 14-18 speak of the resistance directed against Paul.
For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost. But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured more eagerly to see your face with great desire. Therefore we wanted to come to you -- even I, Paul, time and again -- but Satan hindered us.
This Resistance came from 2 areas. From sinful men and Satan.
Resistance from Sinful Men
They rejected the message and resisted the messenger. Ultimately all resistance to the gospel comes from Satan. And although men may persecute God's servants, Satan is really the one behind it. This is often the result of rejecting God's word. The Jews did not accept the message of the prophets as being from God. So since they couldn't stop them preaching they killed the prophets and also the Lord Jesus God's own Son. And they continued to reject the message and persecuted the Judean church and apostles. Paul was constantly being driven out of towns and suffered much from his own countrymen. These Jews are described as not pleasing God, and being contrary or hostile to all men. They persecuted the apostles in Judea, and forbid them from speaking the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul warns them that opposition is an inevitable consequence of preaching the gospel. But that they should not be discouraged as others have gone through this.
Then Paul goes on to say that they fill up the measure of their sins, but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost. By forbidding the apostles and ministers of Christ from preaching to the Gentiles they incur God's wrath. This wrath now rests upon them although it's full effect won't probably be felt until the tribulation and eternity in hell. But the point is clear that those who oppose the gospel will receive God's wrath upon them. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians by showing that God will punish those who are persecuting them.
Resistance from Satan
The liberation of Paris
Towards the end of World War 2 the Allies landed at Normandy and began pushing the German armies back to Germany. As the Allies approached Paris the German army set up blockades around the city. They did this so as to hamper the allies advance. They even made holes in the roads and rolled the bitumen surface up to prevent the allies tanks rolling down the roads. I am sure they knew they could not stop the advance of the Allies. But they did it anyway to hamper their progress and drag out the liberation of Paris.
Paul Is Hindered
In the same way Paul knew that Satan had hindered him from coming to the Thessalonians. The word hindered literally means to break up the road and put up obstacles. Paul relates how he had been forced out of town after only a short time with the Thessalonian believers. And how he greatly desired to see them again. He made plans to visit them on a couple of occasions, but Satan had hindered him. Paul was not ignorant of the schemes of his unseen adversary. Whether it was through poor health or pressing demands elsewhere Paul was kept from doing what he wanted to. He knew that his battle was primarily a spiritual one. So he tells the Thessalonians of his desire to see them and put to rest the rumours that he didn't care about them. But even though he was absent in body his heart was there with them. Paul loved them and encouraged them by revealing the real reason for his inability to visit. Satan had hindered him and seeks to do the same to us today. Paul was hindered for a time but probably visited them on his third journey when he travelled through Macedonia.
When things go wrong and there seems to be no explanation for it. When people turn against us for no apparent reason. It could be that our adversary is stirring up trouble. So don't throw your hands in the air and wonder what to do. Go into battle against him through prayer. God has not left us defenceless against him. He may be able to delay God's work for a time but he cannot frustrate God's plans in the long run. And by praying we secure God's help and can know victory in these battles. Paul didn't quit and he always accomplished God's will for his life. When our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering we can encourage them. We can pray for them. We can stand with them through it and prayer is often the only way we can do something. But it means so much to those suffering. Do you pray harder when opposition arises? Do you believe that God can turn persecution into victory? Or do you join the poor me club? Do you pray for the pastor and leaders of the church? Satan attacks them more severely, so they need our prayers. * Remember Paul and Silas and the Philippian Jailer.
Paul revealed his eternal perspective on life in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20.
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.
Paul had a 4. Rewarded Ministry
Paul shows his genuine concern and love for these Thessalonian saints. To Paul these believers were his treasure and brought him great fulfilment. He calls them his glory and joy. He longed to be with them. He missed them a great deal. They were his spiritual children that he had fathered. Paul had been living with eternity in mind, and we are here today because people like him have left a spiritual heritage. But Paul was convinced that one day he would never be separated from the Thessalonians again. That when Christ came back he would rejoice before Him in the presence of these dear saints.
To Paul these saints were his glory and joy. He knew that they would spend eternity with him. He was so happy at the way they had persevered through trials and testing. Paul knew that he would be rewarded for his faithful service for Christ. The crown of rejoicing spoken of here comes from the word stephanos and means victors crown. This is what many refer to as the soul winners crown. When Christ comes back crowns will be given for righteous living, those looking for Christ's return, for those who die for their faith, faithful elders, and for those who show self control. Paul would one day receive a crown for winning souls .But to him the Thessalonians were his joy and glory.
Will there be people standing before the throne because you led them to the Lord? Will there be those in heaven who were touched by something you said ? Or even people in other lands who have come to know Christ because you prayed ? Are you living for time or eternity ? Treasure for the apostle Paul was lives won into Christ's kingdom. What is your treasure? What will you have to show for your time on earth? Will you receive a crown from the Lord on that day? The Bible says lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven. Have you?
The Thessalonians respected God's word and took it to heart. Do you esteem the Bible highly? Do you take it to heart think about it's meaning? Do you put it into practice? Are you following the example of the early church and suffering for your faith when it is required? Do you pray for Christians in China, Nigeria and other places where they suffer for Christ? When opposition comes against you don't be discouraged but pray harder. Where is your treasure on earth or in heaven? Are you living for time or eternity? The only thing that will last for eternity is service for Christ. I trust you will serve Christ, for then like Paul you will be able to rejoice and glory in the lives of those touched for eternity. Let us pray.
Benediction 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. Amen