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. Model church (Thessalonica)

MODEL CHURCH (THESSALONICA)

 

Introduction

We did a whole series on the 7 churches of Asia. We asked the question: “What will Jesus say about our church?” One, of the key factors for all these churches was the relevance of Christ to these churches as revealed in Revelation 1. We saw that Christ knows exactly what is going on in His churches. For some he has commendations, for others He has condemnations. Sometimes it is a mix of the two. All of them are called to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Key demands on some of the churches, is repentance and endurance on some level. The great theme of all the churches is that there is a reward for endurance, and the reward is not temporal, but it is eternal. It is not the promises of man that could fail, but it is the promises of God that never fails.

 

In the New Testament there are more churches than these 7. And there are letters written to the churches. These letters are inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by the Apostles who alongside the prophets are the foundation of the church. 2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) says: 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”

 

That means that we need to take as much note of these churches, what they are condemned for and what they are commended for as we take note of the 7 churches of Asia. So, for the next sermon and few devotions we will turn to one of these churches and learn from them.

 

We will look at the church of Thessalonica.

 

1. Background to this letter.

During the life of Paul Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia. It was so since 168BC. It was located quite close to Berea and Philippi. Paul came to Thessalonica from Philippi. The population was around 200 000. During Paul’s second missionary journey Paul left Philippi and visited this city located on the edge of the Aegean Sea. There he ministered in the Synagogue and led various people, both Jews and Gentiles to the Lord Jesus Christ. So effective was his ministry there that he and his team got kicked out of Thessalonica.

 

He then left Thessalonica and left Timothy and Silas behind. They eventually re-joined with him in 51 AD and it was then that he wrote his first letter to Thessalonica. Paul’s reason for writing to them is articulated in 1 Thessalonians 3:10 (ESV) 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?” His desire was to see them, but in the meantime, he wrote to them.

 

Since that letter the church in Thessalonica was working through numerous trials and a few months later he writes them a second letter, to bolster them in their faith and to comfort this persecuted church, and to correct false teaching that was being taught to them. This he does in 2 Thessalonians chapter 3.

 

Sometimes I feel like Paul. I wish I could be with everybody all the time, but in the meantime, I thank God for the benefits of our website which is there to share our teaching, to provide you with material that is not mine, but very good material. I also praise God for the benefits of Whatsapp through which I can encourage you. I trust that you use these and read the messages, and that it is of some help to you. Our website has shot through the 900 000 mark of article hits since it’s inception in 2012.

 

Now, Paul has some commendations to the church and some challenges. I will highlight these and allow Scripture to speak to us under various categories.

 

2. Commendations.

When compared with the 7 churches of Asia, the letter to Thessalonica sounds like the letters to the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia.

 

2.1 They were a committed church.


1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 (ESV) 2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is a church to learn from. They were commended for their work, faith, labour of love, and steadfastness of faith.

 

Church family. We need to realise that we are created for good works. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
“10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Faith leads to good works; good works does not produce faith.

 

Labour of love is one step deeper than works. It means to put you shoulder to the wheel for the sake of your love for Christ and for the saints and to labour. They say that success is 99% perspiration. I do not labour because of love for myself. So, my labour is not egocentric, but Christos-centric and church-centric.

 

In all of this we remain steadfast as we have an eternal hope in Christ. So, we keep on labouring and we keep on working, not because of a temporary reward but eternal hope.

 

2.2 They followed their leaders.

Somebody once said that the favourite game cannibals play at their parties is “swallow the leader”. Well this should not be happening in Christianity. We must follow our leaders, rather than devouring them.

 

We read regarding the church of Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 (ESV) 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,”

 

Too often you will hear us as pastors say: “don’t follow me, follow Christ, because if you follow me you will stumble.” This is such an indictment on us as pastors. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV) “1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” That is exactly what the church of Thessalonica did. They were imitators of their leaders and therefore automatically imitators of the Lord. That does not mean that their leaders were perfect, but they could learn from them in their walk, their stewardship, their commitment to worship, their faithfulness, their love for the Word, the way they handle trials and difficulties etc.

 

At the end of the day, it is Christ we want to imitate. Ephesians 5:1 (ESV) 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” But more than often our final imitation takes place when we follow role models who follow Christ.

 

2.3 They were a multiplying church.

 

And then we all must realise that we in turn become models. And here is a critical question. If everybody was like me, what would the church of Christ look like. We all know the great commission, which by the way is not the great church that we read about in Matthew 28:18-20. I have preached on this before and taught you that based on an understanding of the imperatives and participles in the text we could actually translate it that: “as you are going, make disciples,” or “wherever you go, make disciples.”


The church of Thessalonica understood this. 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8 (ESV) 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

 

This is such a great church. They did not only follow their leaders, or imitate their leaders, but they became worthy of imitation. They became an example to all the believers. We often say that the light that shines brightest at home, shines the furthest. The Word of God did not get stuck in Thessalonica, but it spread throughout Macedonia and Achaia.

 

Now notice something of value. They did not just spread the Word of God on an academic level. It was not about content, but it was about heart. They were not professional missionaries who enjoyed mission holidays in areas on the back of the expenses of others, but never shared their faith at home. Paul says the Word of the Lord sounded forth in one breath, and in the next breath he says that their faith has gone forth everywhere.

 

Our motto at Logos is: “to know God and to make Him known.” That is why on a Sunday we enter for worship, to get to know God, and we leave to proclaim, to tell others about God.

2.4 They were a truly repentant church.

True repentance requires a 180 degree turn around. It requires a lifestyle change. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

 

The church of Thessalonica understood this. 1 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV) 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,”.

 

We saw under our previous point that they were a multiplying church who shared their faith and the Word of God. The recipients of their testimony understood one thing of the church of Thessalonica. They understood that their lives have changed and that they turned from idols to sever the living and true God. They got it, because they were told it, they got it, because they saw a people whose lives have changed. That is infectious, and it assists in opening ears to listen to the Word of God as they see it impacting lives. If they were to interview our friends, our colleagues, our fellow sportsmen, our neighbours etc. would they claim that we are Christians or what would they say about us?

 

2.5 They were a serving church.


1 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV) 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,”

 

Back to our same verse under the previous point. It is not good enough to repent from old ways. Whatever life we had before, the momentous change is that we now serve the living and true God.

 

Church family, God is, God is alive, God is true, and He is worthy of our service. As the priests served God in the Old Testament, we serve God on another level in the New Testament. Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:5 (ESV)5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Our sacrifices are spiritual why, because: 31whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)).”

 

We are not here to serve ourselves and our own interests, but to serve God. Paul writes to the church of Colossians in Colossians 3:24 (ESV) “24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

 

Paul gives us a glorious promise filled with a challenge in 1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV) 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.”

This verse reminds us much of the challenge of Christ to the 7 churches to endure to the end. The following words highlight this challenge. He challenges them to be steadfast, immovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord. We are back to the central message to the 7 churches: “I know your works.”

 

I think by now, this is a message we need to take seriously. What do our works look like? Paul says that our labour in the Lord is not in vain.

 

2.6 They patiently awaited the return of Christ.


Whether Jesus returns in my generation or the next is no reason for my impatience, as no generation ever has waited longer for the return of Christ than the next. To demand His return in my life is extremely presumptuous. As proof of this, the church of Thessalonica already anticipated the coming of Christ and they precede us by 2000 years.

 

1 Thessalonians 1:10 (ESV) 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

They had the same promise as you and I in John 14:3 (ESV) 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

God’s history with the world is slightly bigger than His history with them, and it is bigger than His history with us, and we all fit into God’s plan and we know that with God 1000 years is like a day. God’s promises are true. Remember the angelic message in Acts 1:11 (ESV) 11Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

 

Why does the Lord delay? Peter gives us the answer in 2 Peter 3:8-9 (ESV)8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” He delays so that people will come to repentance. He came at the right time in History, and He will return at the right time in History.

 

Church family, we must live as second coming people. We must live every moment as if Jesus can return at that moment. The believers in Crete believed this. We read in Titus 2:13 (ESV) 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ,”.