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Faith, Love and Hope

Date: Apr. 24, 2022

Author: Michael Mark

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Key Verse: 1 Thessalonians 1:3

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thank God for blessing our Easter Conference last week, where we thought about how we should live “After the Cross.”  I was encouraged how every life testimony and reflection was filled with the word of God, among many other good memories and experiences.  The fellowship, coworking and love is a beautiful picture of the church.  We thought about how the cross changes our lives, and how we should live in light of what happened, and part of that is reflected in the life of the church.  The church was established “After the Cross” and we are all a part of it.  Have you ever thought, “What is the church?  What does the life of the church look like?  Why am I here in church?”   Hopefully some of these questions, as well as how to live “After the Cross,” will be answered, as we begin our journey through a new book, which is a letter Paul wrote to a young church, called 1 Thessalonians.

1 Thessalonians was written in 51 AD, and it is the second oldest book in the New Testament.  The oldest, or first book in the New Testament is the letter to the Galatians, written in 48 AD.  For those of you calculating, this is around 18 years after Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, or around 15 years after Paul was converted.  The church at Thessalonica was founded in 51 AD, after Paul and his companions left Philippi.  The city was located around 100 miles southwest from Philippi, and at the time it was the capital of the province of Macedonia.  It was located along the Egnatian Way, which was a 700-mile Roman built road that stretched from modern day Durres in Albania, along a river and through some mountains to Thessalonica, all the way to modern day Istanbul.  The road was Rome’s way to have direct access to the East, and this road led directly to Rome.  Thessalonica was kind of a central point, and it was a thriving and wealthy city.  The population was around 200,000, with an estimated 20,000 Jews.  Though Paul reasoned in the synagogues, only some of the Jews were persuaded, but a large number of God fearing Greeks believed in the message.  Other Jews became jealous, and they formed a mob and started a riot in the city.  When it was night, Paul and Silas went away to Berea, around 40 miles away.  Though he only reasoned for 3 Sabbaths, he mentions in the book of Philippians that he received more than one offering from them in Thessalonica, so it is possible that he was there for maybe 3 or 4 months.  He was banned from the synagogues after 3 weeks, but the mob may have been formed a little bit later.

Still, there was much work to be done to establish the church, and he seems to have had to leave before he could get everything done.  In Berea, the same Jews from Thessalonica who had given him trouble followed him, so he had to be escorted out.  He was brought to Athens, about 300 miles away to the south, but he left Silas and Timothy in Berea, with instructions to join him as soon as possible.  From Athens he went to Corinth, another 40 miles away, and after a few months, Silas and Timothy rejoined him.  All the while, Paul was concerned about this young church.  Would they fall under persecution and the mob?  Would they hold up without their founder with unfinished work?  To Paul’s great relief, Timothy brought back a very encouraging report.  Timothy reported that the church in Thessalonica is still going strong, which prompted Paul to write this letter from Corinth shortly after, to encourage them to keep on pressing on, and flourish in the faith.  This letter is about persevering in faith and continuing to grow, which is why we named this series “Flourishing in Faith.”  To flourish means to grow and develop in a healthy and vigorous way, which we see this church currently doing, and hopefully we can learn some lessons from them.  In this letter Paul wants to give them hope so that they can endure, and a good portion of the letter is devoted to details on the second coming of Christ.  For today, we will look at the introduction of this epistle.

Look at v.1, “Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.”  This is a standard greeting used by Paul in most of his letters, and helps to confirm, along with other sources, that the author of this work is the apostle Paul himself.  In most of his other letters, Paul adds a title to his name, such as an apostle, or a servant of Christ Jesus, but here you don’t see a title.  It may be because the Thessalonians may have recognized and accepted this fact.  He continues in v.2, “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.”  He gives thanks to God for them – and rightly so, because they were able to continue to grow despite being in a harsh environment.  Only God could cause such a growth.  I think of the Rwanda ministry pioneered by Msn. Daniel and Deborah Yang.  It is truly amazing that dozens upon dozens of Rwandan students are maintaining the ministry, and even running their own conferences, and I wonder sometimes, what’s their secret?  But we know, they continue to water them with the word daily, and pray for them continually.  God caused the growth, and may they continue to grow.  Theirs is not the only story – our very own ministry, the University Bible Fellowship, started with prayers by Dr. Samuel Lee and Mother Barry, and has grown to a worldwide missionary sending organization with thousands of members and churches in 96 countries.

Now let’s look at the evidence of their growth and life, and where the source of that comes from.  Can we all please read v.3, the key verse: “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Here we see 3 Christian graces – 3 gifts given by God.  These are not physical gifts, but spiritual gifts deposited into your soul.  And these graces are not just updated character stats or ineffective virtues.  These graces are powers that will enable you to serve God and do his work.  They give you the power to exert force in doing good.  For you physics scholars, you may have learned that work = force x distance.  These graces give you force and enable you to go the distance. 

Many of you may also be familiar with these, if you are familiar with that famous passage on love, in 1 Cor 13 (written about 3 years later), where he concludes, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  Notice the order there.  He elevates love to the supreme position, and indeed, it is the greatest virtue.  But here, in v.3, it’s written in a different order: faith, love and hope.  This seems to be kind of a natural order – as faith is anchored in something that happened in the past, love is something we practice in the present, and hope looks forward to the future.  These three are not mutually exclusive, but they are very much intertwined.  Faith drives love, which drives hope, but hope can also encourage faith and strengthen love, and love bolsters faith and gives hope.  We need all three, and these three should make up the entire life of a Christian, past, present and future.  For the rest of this message we will go into more detail on each of these three drawing on principles from the remaining verses.  You may notice the verses won’t cut neatly into the faith, love and hope categories, as that is not how Paul structured his writing, and there is interdependency between them all – but I will emphasize the parts of the verses that relate to each virtue.

First we’ll look at the work produced by faith.  Look at v.4-5, “For we know, brothers and sisters, loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.  You know how we lived among you for your sake.”  We can say a lot about faith, and what to have faith in, we can probably do an entire series talking about the different aspects of faith (ironically it’s also in the main theme) – but just looking at the verses here we can say faith comes two things: the gospel and the Holy Spirit.  Rom 10:14 supports this, which says, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”  Faith only comes through one road, and that is the gospel, which is the word about Christ.  In Acts 17, which is the story of the founding of the church in Thessalonica, you can see that Paul explained and reasoned from the Scriptures that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead, and that this Jesus he proclaimed to them is the Messsiah.  Notice Paul had reasons here.  This faith is not an unreasonable, mindless faith.  But faith engages the mind, the intellect, and this faith is reasonable.  But the only message that is approved is the gospel.  The Holy Spirit will not give deep conviction about anything else except the gospel.  When you watch paid TV commercials from politicians, they will always add at the end “This message is approved by JB Pritzker,” or some other official, to let you know that it is what they want you to hear.  The only message approved by the Holy Spirit is the gospel.

The gospel is about Jesus, so to believe in the gospel is to believe in Jesus.  This is the work that produces faith that produces work.  Let me say that again: this is the work that produces faith that produces work: to believe in Jesus.  So Jesus taught in John 6:27, 29 “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval…The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  The whole purpose of John’s gospel was written for this purpose: that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah (or the Christ), the Son of God.  This is the germ or genesis of all of our good works – they start from here: to believe in Jesus.  And this is the hardest thing to do!  So often we want to do things our way, we think that Jesus can’t hear us, or we neglect or forget to cast our cares upon him.  We forget that we have a God that can provide, but also a God who we are accountable to.  When I get into a fight with my wife, or even my daughter, the last thing I want to do is pray, when it should be the first thing I should do.  There was one time my daughter had a bad stomach ache, and I refused to take her to the ER since it was late.  Mary asked, “What are you doing?” And I said, “She told me to go away!”  I forget, I forget often to come to the feet of Jesus, even though I have experienced countless times that Jesus is my help and shepherd.  You know every three weeks my heart sometimes sinks in helplessness because of the message I have to write, but somehow after prayer, God gives me the message.  Great sinner that I am!!!!  But oh what comfort!  What comfort to remind myself of the gospel, that though Jesus is God and Judge, he provided mercy for a wretch like me on the cross.  Oh what love springs forth from this!

So do this, every day, the work God requires.  With your mind, take your time to meditate, even pray this prayer: Jesus, you are the Son of God, and you were sent to suffer and die for me, to take away my sin.  Listen to it, and may the Holy Spirit give you deep conviction over its truth.  Jesus, you are God, may I obey what you say.  All good work starts with faith in Christ.

Look again at v.4-5 “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.  You know how we lived among you for your sake.”  Based on this, here are some convictions you may receive.  You may be convicted of the truth: that Christ came to die for your sins.  But why did he do that?  Because you were someone special?  Because you were such a great person?  No, Christ came to die for you because he loved you, while you were yet a sinner (Rom 5:8).  Romans 5:10 even goes as far as to say that while we were God’s enemies, he still reconciled us.  He loved you, not because you are good.  He loved you, because he chose to.  He chose to love you, despite your sins.  He chose to give up his riches in heaven, to become poorer than poor, and to dwell among us, he, our Lord, without a house or home, came to be with us in the lowest places on earth.  If that’s not love, what is??  God tells the Israelites in Deut 7:7-8 “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.  But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to you ancestors…[that he redeemed you].”  God loves you because he chose you, he chose you because he loves you.  He did this to show you the depths of his infinite love.  You may wrestle with this question, how do I know if I was chosen by God?  But I will go as far as to say, that most if not all of you sitting here today, came by some secret working of God in your life.  We all came in different circumstances and situations, but somehow, you are here, listening to the word of God, and listening to the gospel.  And if your heart is burning within you, if you have a deep conviction that the gospel is true, that yes, Jesus died for my sins, that is all I need to know, I mean a deep conviction of this, then brother or sister that is the operation of the Holy Spirit and you are chosen.

It is more than just words, it is the Holy Spirit’s power – so we also have evidences of a changed life to confirm our confession.  The second virtue is a labor prompted by love.  This “labor” here, is different from “work,” and when I checked online for the original word, labor is defined like this: “voluntarily assuming or enduring trouble for the salvation of others.”  This is a love that is weighty, it is a love that is not self-seeking, but a love that looks out for the interest of others.  Maybe even the idea of “labor” when having a child comes to mind … you endure the pain to bring forth a life.  Love is more than a feeling, it is a giving of yourself for others.  Sometimes these thoughts come into my mind, what if I didn’t have to do a message every three weeks, or go to meetings every week.  I would have free Monday and Friday and Saturday nights.  The Bible Club leaders have met faithfully once a week for many years, giving up their time to prepare and to be with the students.  A parent gives up part of their life for their child.  A married couple give their lives to each other.  We don’t face much persecution now a days, but we have given up something in the world in order to serve God.  Paul said “You know how we lived among you for your sake.” Paul’s life was transparent.  He did not lord it over his churches, but often worked with his own hands for his own room and board.  He was persecuted, beaten, stoned and left for dead, fought wild animals, endured cold nights, was shipwrecked – yet he did not give up the ministry, but sometimes, even on the next day, he would pick himself up, and go back to town.

Look at v.6-8, “You become imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering, with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.  And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  The Lord’s message rand out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere.  Therefore we do not need to say anything about it.”  This is the labor prompted by love, and we have many examples.  They also received a supernatural joy.  When the apostles were flogged by the Sanhedrin for telling people about the new life in Christ, they rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer disgrace for Jesus.  This is not a natural joy, but it was given to them by the Holy Spirit.  We might not experience this as much, but there is a peace we receive when we are right in the sight of God.  It is joyful, however, when we love one another and serve one another in love – and that is what should characterize Christ’s church.  It is what I witness when we work together to serve one another.  Paul saw this in the Thessalonian church and said that he doesn’t even have to say anything – their actions spoke for themselves.  They became a model for other churches, and their faith in God (which resulted in love), was known everywhere.   Here’s a quote from Spurgeon: “Everybody asked, ‘Why, what has happened to these Thessalonians? These people have broken their idols: they worship the one God; they trust in Jesus. They are no longer drunken, dishonest, impure, contentious.’ Everybody talked of what had taken place among these converted people. Oh, for conversions, plentiful, clear, singular, and manifest; that so the word of God may sound out! Our converts are our best advertisements and arguments.”  The love of God prompts labor.

Finally, we have the endurance inspired by hope.  Look at v.9-10 “for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.  They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”  In his sermon, “Christ Is Our Hope,” Billy Graham said, “A person can live a lifetime without sex.  A person can possibly live 75 days without food…10 days without water, 6 minutes without oxygen, but almost impossible to live without hope.”  Hope in Jesus Christ is a joyful and confident expectation of salvation.  It enables us to endure the hard times, and to keep on loving, even when we may feel like quitting.  The Bible says this hope purifies, and I think in this way.  When we expect Christ to come at any moment, we stop slumbering in a sinful lifestyle and seek to serve God more.  When we have a hope of something good, we are constantly on the watch.  Have you ever ordered something online that was awesome, but not from Amazon?  Do you sometimes go to the internet and hit refresh on the webpage multiple times to see if the tracking has moved? 

We can have this joyful expectation, but even better, in Christ.  Paul writes that Jesus was raised from the dead.  When Jesus comes again, my brothers and sisters, your perishable body will be made imperishable, your mortal body will be clothed with immortality – and what is on the other side is an eternal glory, like Christ’s who was risen, that far outweighs any of your troubles here on earth.  What’s more, is that you will be rescued from the coming wrath.  While the wicked enjoy their riches now, while evil doers get away with their evil, they will not be laughing when Christ comes again.  You however, will be swept away into the safety of his arms, in heaven, in everlasting glory.  This hope causes the things of this world to grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace, and it enables us to continue to build each other up day by day, until the day he comes again.

Begin with this work: to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom God sent.  May the Holy Spirit convict you of his love, so that you may labor to love others, prompted by the love of God.  And may you keep an eye toward the heavens, and know that the God who loved you and chose you will return and rescue you from this earth.  Let these graces become the power of our Christian lives.  May your faith, love and hope produce good works to God.  May we love one another, bear with one another, serve together, build each other up, so that the world may see our faith in God and come to a knowledge of the truth.  May you flourish in faith, abound in love, and continue to hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Crowned with Everlasting Joy

Isaiah 35:1-10

Key Verse: 35:10

  And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
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