“Gospel Growth in the World”
1 Thessalonians 1.2-10
This week and last we have been talking about Gospel Growth. As we move forward as a church, it is vital that we solidify our purposes being part of God’s mission in the world. We would all likely agree that the Gospel, or the good news of Jesus Christ is to be central for his church. Last week, we talked about the role of the gospel within the church – how the gospel changes lives and how we interact with one another. A crucial element of this is that we continue to grow in the knowledge of God and his plans. As we pursue a greater understanding of his attributes and how they affect us personally, our affections will grow toward him and toward one another. As a community project our collective faith, hope and love are increased as well. This pursuit fell primarily under our core value of “equipping.”
As a quick review, the first core value is that “We exalt the one true God.” As Squamish Baptist Church, we are committed to regularly gather to worship God together. And we are committed to glorify God individually in every action and all speech. As I mentioned, the second core value is “Equip Believers for Ministry.” We believe that all Christians are called to utilize their spiritual gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ. We strive together to develop these gifts within the context of community. And, third, we “Engage the World with the Gospel.” We take seriously our privilege and responsibility to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ as the Saviour to all the nations. We commit to maintain a lifestyle that is consistent with the message. And this will be our focus today. We will be dealing largely with the last core value – how we will engage the world with this gospel.
And we will do this by looking in the book of 1 Thessalonians. Please turn in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 1.2-10. It probably would also help us to recognize that these core values are inseparably bound to our Vision Statement. As you may or may not know, several years ago we set out articulate and communicate this statement. This would serve as a banner in declaration and also a touchpoint where we could ensure that we were being true to this vision. The statement reads that “Squamish Baptist Church is God-centred: living to glorify him under the direction of his Word.” We want to make sure that we maintain an emphasis of exalting God and not man. We want to ensure that he is the focus. And, as we know, this is done only as we recognize his Word as authoritative and sufficient for all that we seek to be and do. So as we pursue core values, all these are derived from the Bible. Let’s read God’s Word together in 1 Thessalonians. READ.
The first thing I want to draw our attention to in this passage is our first point, Gospel Power. We’ll find this in verses 4 and 5. But first, Paul (with Silas and Timothy) mention that they thank God because of their work of faith, labour of love, and steadfastness of hope. And we’ll get to those momentarily. But in verse 4, Paul gives another reason for his thanking God. He says, “we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” What he means by this is that God has sovereignly chosen those in the church for salvation. And then he will give some of the reasons why he knows this to be true. This is found in verse 5.
Verse 5 tells us that the Thessalonians were presented the Gospel. And when the message came, it came in power and with full conviction brought by the Holy Spirit. In Acts 17 we discover that Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica and spent three weeks declaring the gospel from the Scriptures in the synagogue. And it is recorded there that there were many who believed in Jesus and others who did not and actually began to persuade the city to persecute the new Christians.
This account summarizes the means by which people are brought to salvation. True salvation occurs when the gospel message is proclaimed. The Holy Spirit comes in power in order to convict the world of sin and show them the need for a Saviour. The Holy Spirit accompanies the declared Word of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 “1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” In 1 Peter 1.12, Peter indicates that it is such a miraculous phenomenon that intrigues the angels as well. He writes that it is “the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.” And Romans 1.16 speaks of the power of the gospel. Paul writes there, “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
And most of you already know something about this. Someone somewhere was obedient to their responsibility to share the message of Jesus Christ and the cross with you. And many of you can attest to falling under the conviction of the Holy Spirit because of your sin and you desperately called for Jesus.
The message to the Thessalonians was powerful. Time and again Paul had witnessed this power. He helped spread the gospel to the known world and had seen its dramatic results – including in Thessalonica. Look down at verse 9. Word was getting back to Paul that they had turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. This is biblical conversion in a nutshell. In this time, Greeks were saturated with idol worship. If we were to do a brief walk through the book of Acts, we encounter the people associating Barnabas and Paul as Zeus and Hermes in chapter 14. In chapter 17, Paul stood in Athens in the midst of the Areopagus and observed that they were a “religious” people because of the altar to “the unknown god.” And he used this as a transition to speak of the true and living God. And then in chapter 19, Paul got himself in trouble when he enters Ephesus and speaks against their goddess Artemis because there was good money in the making of these idols.
And so, when confronted with the gospel, these Thessalonians abandoned all they had known and turned to serve the living and true God. They did not merely adopt Jesus into their pantheon and become syncretistic. They had exercised what we refer to as repentance and faith. This is a turning from sin and idolatry and turning to Jesus Christ. They took the radical step of abandoning those gods that were part of the worship of their family and their community.
This verse really contains the bottom line with regard to the object of faith. There is only one God. He is the living and true God. Note also the definite article. He is not one of many. He is the God. John 17:3 “3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” I realize that this doesn’t jive with our world of diversity and tolerance. Oh well… And so the opposite is also true. Idols are dead and they are not God.
So as we consider our role for Gospel Growth in the World, this is our message. The gospel that contains this awesome power wrought by the Holy Spirit is the same today. Have you thought on this lately? The Bible says that the “gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” It is the power of God!! So let me ask the question, why do we cower in fear when we know there is a clear opportunity to present the gospel? THAT is a good question, isn’t it?
I think two things are happening. I’ll speak for myself. First, I am more concerned with what a person thinks about me than my God. Right? Second, in this moment, I have ceased to believe the truth of God’s Word. We think things like “I know this guy. This one is beyond believing the gospel. He’s been dealing drugs for years. He’s been cheating on his wife.” Whatever… The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation! The Holy Spirit will break down anyone he so chooses and can do it in dramatic fashion! I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. Some of you have too!
We cannot cower in fear because of Jesus Christ! I’ve been listening to Jeremy Camp’s new worship album. The second song is called “Not Ashamed.” I want my life to reflect these lyrics: “Even though few may stand and proclaim Your great name. It’s the life I want to live Cuz I’m convinced there is none like You - Not ashamed of the gospel. Not ashamed of Jesus Christ. I will stand and boldly say that this is my life.” The Enemy laughs when we cower. Let’s believe together that this is the Word of God and he has promised that the gospel will break down barriers and lead people to Jesus Christ.
What we are calling people to is to turn from their idols and trust in the one true and living God. You say “what idols?” They’re everywhere. Look for them. In Squamish, people worship nature, environmentalism, recreation, drugs and alcohol, and sex. Some of these are not inherently evil – just the obsession of them.
Also, you will readily notice that some people have no problem adding Jesus to their belief system – along with Hinduism, New Age, morality. You know what I am talking about, right? You will find that many may not want to put all their eggs in one basket. God calls us to put all the eggs in one basket. Turn from idols (completely) and turn to the living and true God (completely).
The second point is Exemplary Faith. What I hope to show you is that true conversion will lead to a radical life change. I mentioned this last week as well. And this will also “speak” of our faith in Jesus. I hope also that we will see that it is not an either/or proposition. All of Scripture will reinforce that we speak the gospel and live a life that reinforces the message.
Let’s look back at verse 3. Paul gives thanks to God because of their work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Here we see faith, hope and love again. However, they are also associated with words that communicate action – work, labor and even steadfastness is best understood as a courageous and successful determination.
When we think of this work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope, we may miss something of significance in the English text. All of these phrases are in the singular. The pronoun “your” is plural. In our English language both the singular and plural take the same form. So we need to determine which it is from context. Well, if you’re from the Southern states you might say “y’all” to communicate the plural. Or if in New York you could say “youz”. In the Greek language the singular and plural take different forms. The part that I find interesting is that he doesn’t say your works of faith, or labors of love, etc. Apparently they were unified in their task at hand. They were laboring together as the Body of Christ.
There is a close connection between our unity in a task and gospel growth in the world. To reinforce what we discussed last week and transfer this into our community project for evangelism, I found this illustration helpful for us.
An article by Mike Wilkins reads, “I was at a conference a few years ago where they told the story of a church that looked as though they were really thriving: they had about 500 people attending, and had many outreach ministries reaching their community, and many people were coming to Christ and to church through their ministry.
The problem was that the church was not growing in numbers – people were leaving as quickly as they were coming in. They began to do some research on the people who were leaving and they found that the majority who left were not attending another church, they just stopped going to church all together. They realized that although the church was great at evangelism, because of their inability to hold people, they were actually de-evangelizing their neighborhood. Those who were leaving were almost impossible to bring back into any community of faith.
The senior pastor realized that something had to be done, so he called up that last 12 people to be baptized and invited them to supper at his house. These were all new Christians and very excited to be invited to the Pastor’s house. After supper he sat them down and asked if they wanted to know the future. They all said “yes!” So he said, ‘statistically speaking in the next 2-3 years… two of your marriages will have broken up and the shame will cause you to leave the church, three of you will have a conflict with someone in the church and you will leave the church, one will have a tragedy and lose faith and leave, two will have a moral failing and leave, and two will lose interest and drift away. In two to three years, out of this group only two of you will be attending church, and only one of you at this church.’ There was dead silence in the room. All these wide eyed Christians were about to say “surely not I, Lord.” When one of them spoke up and said “What can we do to change the statistics?” The pastor said, you can get together and as a group decide that you are not going to let anyone go.
That is exactly what they did – these strangers formed a small group and supported each other through the tragedies, divorces, conflicts and failings and in four years, only one had left the church never to come back. The church went from losing 10 out of every 12 converts to losing only one.
So this ties our two messages together. We have an obligation to one another – to make sure we lose none. Also, as we continue to share the gospel and see lives converted, we need to make sure that this is not the end of story. But we continue to pour into them and get them grounded in God’s Word and integrated into the local church.
So this is where discipleship comes in. And this is what we find in verse 6. Here Paul indicates that these new Christians became imitators of the missionaries and of the Lord. We know from 1 Corinthians 11 and elsewhere that Paul has said to be “imitators of me as I am of Christ.” Insofar as Paul has matured spiritual and become Christlike, so should the churches he has planted. Where Paul and the others do not imitate Christ, there is to be no imitating.
I don’t know if you’ve seen this in our text but there are multiple levels of discipleship going on. Paul and the others imitated the Lord, the new believers followed their example, and we will see that they themselves became an example to many in their sphere of influence. The text indicates in verse 7 that this young church was an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. And beyond this, verse 8 says that the word of the Lord not only sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. Wow!
Here’s how I see this play out. There are a lot of connections here. As I mentioned, they embraced the message in the midst of much affliction. Even as Paul was sharing the Scriptures, the young believers faced opposition. But they were filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. This is common. When Paul and Barnabas were being persecuted, Acts 13.52 says the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. We know that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace… And such is the case here. What determined the attitude of these believers was not their circumstances but their experience of the Holy Spirit. And this would speak volumes. It is not normal to be filled with joy in affliction.
I want to restate something I said at the outset. It is both our message and our lifestyle that will make an impact for the Kingdom. We saw the gospel as it came to the Thessalonians with great power and the Holy Spirit and full conviction. It did what it set out to do. It showed the people their sin and need for a Saviour. This led to a radical life change so that they were unified in this threefold work of faith, hope and love. They had become imitators of those who brought the gospel and the Lord Jesus. They were a testimony through their joy in the midst of affliction.
And they continued to declare the message. Verse 8 says that the word of the Lord “sounded forth” from them. This is a picture of a call of a trumpet or a roll of thunder that continues to reverberate like an echo.
Paul includes this brief phrase at the end of the verse. He indicates that they have no need to say anything. This means that the church is doing exactly as it is intended to. What joy this must have brought to Paul and Silas and Timothy. They had done their job. They had equipped the church for the work of ministry.
So what is the application for us? How do we follow in the same footsteps for Gospel Growth in the World? The same. The Gospel needs to “sound forth” like a trumpet blast and the roar of thunder. We need to understand the depths of the gospel and be able to communicate it effectively and broadly.
They received the word in much affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we do not face the same form of affliction as the Thessalonians. But this is not to say we won’t find ourselves in similar situation. At the very least, we live in a climate that does not view Christianity in a positive light. And this will be increasingly the case as the mantra of diversity and tolerance increases. So we need to ask ourselves the questions, “do we want to be embraced by the world or by Jesus?” We have to settle that one at the outset. Jesus and Christians are a wedge that penetrates the world and forces it to make a choice. It is all for Jesus or nothing? Again, God calls us to put all our eggs in one basket!
Our beliefs will determine our actions. Follow this line of questioning with me to our conclusion. Do we as Christians believe the Bible? Does the Bible expect us to live differently if we trust in Jesus? Will this inevitably lead to a countercultural lifestyle? Will this be embraced by the world or shunned by it? Will we be persecuted if we look more like Jesus, or Paul, or Peter? Will our perseverance in this validate our faith claims? Will it cause those around us (believers and unbelievers) to conclude that we really believe this stuff? In this way will the world of the Lord sound forth and cause our faith in God to "go forth everywhere?" Absolutely! Do you understand how this works??
When based on biblical conviction, we abstain from premarital sex, maintain integrity in the workplace (and everywhere), love our neighbors more than ourselves, remain committed to our spouses and not divorce because of inconvenience or unhappiness, prioritize worship in the body over the many distractions and recreations of our climate... I could go on and on...
Can you envision this kind of Christianity? biblical Christianity? I do not have this all together. Perhaps you do. I don't know... But this is precisely the reason why we are pursuing vigorously Growth Group participation and one-on-one discipleship. It is to help establish us and encourage us to live courageously for Jesus.
And there will be joy in the HS!!! There is great joy in living in obedience to God's word with the enablement of the Holy Spirit. In so doing, we become examples to other Christians everywhere - starting in Squamish.
Look, I don't care if we are known as the biggest church, the one that grabs the newspaper headlines. I would rather the reputation that Paul speaks of here! Let's be imitators of the Lord and examples to the world. And let's be the conduit in which the word of the Lord sounds forth and our faith in God is evident to everyone, everywhere! That's the legacy we want! Isn't it??
I’m probably not telling you anything new by saying that we have an obligation to share our faith individually. Many of you are already impacting your coworkers and neighbors for the gospel. I love hearing these stories! I am going to encourage you to keep up this great work! We’ll even help one another with one of our Journey classes in the future.
But we also want to do a corporate work in this area. Churches have done a number of things historically to carry this out – revival meetings, outreaches, “come and see” sorts of things. We’ll likely have an event or two in the year ahead. But we also want to mobilize our Growth Groups. Let’s think of ways that we can offer a labor of love to those who don’t know Jesus. If we know of a single parent neighbor that needs help around the house or caring for a child, let’s take that on as a Growth Group. If we know someone that has been ill and needs a meal or a ride to the hospital, let your Growth Group know and meet those needs. I can only come up with so many ideas. But collectively, we can impact so many people in our community. Let’s get creative and allow our groups to serve with great joy. We need to speak and live out the Gospel in our lives so that the world will know that our God is mighty to save and to transform us.
In verse 2, Paul and the others thank God for the work that He had done. It was his choosing and the Holy Spirit’s power that saved his people. Let’s give all the glory to him for those who will come to know Jesus because of our efforts together. Let’s pray.