Many people view the church in this way: nice but unimportant, good but disconnected from life. But the truth is, church life is about living in Christ, and Jesus should, in fact, be connected to every aspect of our lives. Like Paul, who lives his life in such a way that he is always conscious of Jesus and reflecting Jesus. In today’s passage, he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and governed by his union with Christ, which has shaped his entire ministry. Paul shared his life story as a testimony and told his readers what God has done for him and what honours God.
Paul was living in a way that he could point to his life and say, “I imitated Jesus. Jesus was working in me and through me when I came to Thessalonica, and my ministry was the ministry of Jesus to you.”
1) Spreading the Gospel for Christ, rather than for personal gain
He wrote his First Letter to the Thessalonians after his first visit in the region that was recorded in Acts 17:1-9. After Paul and his friend Silas suffered, being beaten and put in prison at Philippi, they brought the Gospel to Thessalonica, there was some conversion of Jews, and many Greeks came to know Christ. Even there was oppression from the Jewish leaders. Still, Paul was convicted that Jesus with God’s enabling power, the Thessalonian church was established as the result in the glory of God through the spreading of the Gospel. Those who are approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel please God who tests our hearts rather than pleasing people. They had no hidden agenda. And so do we as genuine followers of Christ, our every thought, action, plan and intention are lay bare in front of the Lord who examines our hearts. So let us be like Paul, Silas and Timothy who does not have impure motives. When we bring the Gospel to people around us, we do not use flattery, saying nice things upon a person in order to obtain personal gains – like personal advancement, admiration, or favours. Paul never deployed such deceit or put on a mask to cover up greed, preaching for financial benefit. We do not look for praise from people, but our focus is on pleasing God. Paul and his friends believed in God’s existence, his judgment, his rewards, his presence, his empowerment, his attentiveness, his love. Apostle Paul and all of us who follow Christ have a similar goal when it comes to life’s message and methods – honour one person only, our king and saviour Jesus Christ.
A faithful theologian Charles Spurgeon once said, “You and I cannot be useful if we want to be sweet as honey in the mouths of men. God will never bless us if we wish to please men, that they may think well of us. Are you willing to tell them what will break your own heart in the telling and break theirs in the hearing? If not, you are not fit to serve the Lord. You must be willing to go and speak for God, though you will be rejected.”
Even our Lord Jesus Christ was rejected by men, and they crucified Him on the Cross. How much more will they hate you because of Christ and his Gospel? Remember, our aim in this life to bring the gospel message to the world is to please God, not looking for praises from men.
2) Serving as examples of righteous living and dedication to God
Also, Paul wrote in verses 7b-8, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well. “
Like maternal love and care of a mother to her child, we need gentleness toward those who were difficult – stubborn children, unmanageable student. Whatever difficulties the Thessalonians may have presented, Paul and Silas recognized that these new Christians were not yet grown up. So they chose to be patient like a nursing mother. Paul’s experience is a great lesson for the church today because we have not always been patient with new or young believers. Sometimes we have cut a mould and demanded that they fit it now. Instead, we need to see each person’s need for help and encouragement as he or she struggles to conform to the image of Christ. This is the meaning of biblical love – agape.
The new or young believers are our “ἀγαπητόι” in Greek, which means “dear”, or “beloved”. Love is about doing, not just a feeling. The commitment of acting in the best interest of another opens the way for feelings, Paul wrote that “we loved you so much that we were delighted to share our lives with you”, like Paul, when were nurture people at church, we do not only give the message of the Gospel but the example of it as well. Paul had spent time with the Thessalonians. He shared joys and headaches in life. As parents and teachers, coaches and mentors, pastors and leaders in the church, we know what it means to give part of our heart away to others. Biblical love is not a job. It is a way of life. Paul gave his life and love to the Thessalonians, in balance with the Gospel of Christ that he shared with them. Both preaching the Gospel and meeting people’s physical needs in the love of Christ are important aspects of the church. Both are essential in our Christian walk in life. Paul and Silas worked day and night with toil and hardship without payment, modelling sacrificial love and giving for the sake of the church.
To be a Christian leader at church, we have to follow Paul’s example in verses 10-12, being holy, righteous and blameless among those who believed. You cannot hide much when you live day in and day out with the same people who you meet everyday. So our actions have to match what we say as role models of true Christians. There are three areas that Paul mentioned in this passage:
- Be holy – Holiness has to do with being devout, separate from selfishness and sin.
- Be righteous – Righteousness is moral correctness; doing what God defines as just and good.
- And be blameless – Blameless does not mean perfection but a life characterized by godly habits; it is being up-to-date on confession before God and apologies with others.
Godly and mature Christians, especially church leaders, must behave in a certain way as role models to the young and new believers.
Paul declared in verse 11 and 12, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom of glory.”
Not only Paul expressed the nurturing tenderness of a nursing mother, but he also demonstrated the strength of a father’s love by (1) encouraging, (2) comforting, and (3) urging these people toward godly living. But what do these three things mean?
- Encouraging is the strong support and trust that imparts courage to others. Paul wrote it in the present tense in Greek, implying that it was continual in his leadership style. People need to be infused with courage, again and again, to make confident in what they know is right as a matter of practice.
- Comforting is a gentle empathy that comes and stays alongside someone as they experience failures and distresses in life.
- Urging comes from a solemn and earnest view of a situation, asking someone to do or be something for the highest good. Urging has a clear view of what is right, leading a person through the maze of emotions and conflicts which can confuse an issue.
And why did Paul live among them as a father figure and encourage them, comfort them, and urging them? It is to be done so that the Christians in Thessalonica might live worthy of God, who calls us into his kingdom and glory.
And do you understand what it means to live worthy of God? To better understand this issue, we must view God and ourselves accurately: God determined to create for himself a holy people who bear his character and nature. To be a Christian is to be more like Jesus. It is God’s intention for us even before He created Adam in the beginning. Despite Satan’s dark rebellion and his subversion that penetrated all the created order and brought up the human rebellion against their Creator, God has continuously pursued mankind, revealing his personhood, justice, love, and mercy. God involved himself with his world to demonstrate his glory and, after man’s rebellion, to bring back to himself what was rightfully his. When God came into this world, born of a virgin as a human being, Jesus Christ, God himself planted his feet on earth in the face of the world full of injustice, misunderstanding, weariness, and hatred. But for us who are called to be followers of Jesus, are we living lives worthy of him? We don’t come to church and join church activities for fun, or because our parents put us here. God Himself has put this call upon our lives – to make us like Christ. We are the presence of Christ in this age – here and now, in this time, at this place. Are we living in a way that matches the worthiness of that call?
God has promised us his kingdom and glory. Those who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ will be welcomed by him into heaven. But in the meantime, before that glory is realized, we are to be like him, to bear character and nature. Jesus gives us his Holy Spirit, enabling us to live as he did. But the choice is always ours to respond to his calling. Are we living lives worthy of his plan, his promise, and his provision?
3) Accept God’s Word in our hearts and minds, and live it out.
Paul continues in verse 13, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”
Paul gave thanks to God because of the Thessalonians’ spiritual development. These young believers were proving to be genuine followers of Jesus Christ. They received the word preached to them as the Word of God, and the proof was in their changed lives, which is at work in you. God’s power is released through faith in his Word; it becomes an active, spiritual energy, cutting like a sword to the depths of the soul. As Hebrews 4:12 states, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”. God’s words are not just weekly sermons or documents, but a real source of transforming power. This Bible you have in your hands is full of real and living power. God created the entire Creation with his words. And you are having the Word of God written down in your hands. God’s words are transforming lives all over the world every day. Like the Thessalonians whose lives have been changed by God’s words, we need to read it every day and encourage fellow believers to read it. Encourage non-Christian friends to read it. All who do so, truly seeking to learn will be touched by the power of God. They will never be the same.
God’s word is like a sharp sword; it can cut through a person’s soul and transforms the person. I have met someone in my old church who came to know Christ in prison. He had trafficked drugs, and he was caught and charged at a young age. But in his 20s, he received the Gospel through a chaplain in the Long Bay Gaol, in his cell he cried and repented from his sins, and accepted Jesus in his life. Then in the next few years, he spent his time reading the Bible that the Chaplin has given and praying in his cell, and later when he was released from prison, he has become a new person. Jesus has worked in him, cutting off his old self and gave him a new heart who loves God and his Word. The person that I met at church is completely different from the person who went into gaol.
As the Word of God is transforming our lives as it did to the Thessalonians, they become imitators of God’s churches in Judea and in Jesus Christ. And because they follow Jesus, the world hates them. The Thessalonians identified with Christ and the Judean church through their suffering.
No one sets out to suffer, but when suffering comes, it reveals those with whom we identify. As the Thessalonians began feeling the anger and suspicions of their countrymen, they stood firm in their faith. The sided with all others who remain faithful, just like the Christians had done in Judea. When we side with Jesus and the Bible, the world will against us and persecute us, because we do not belong to their world, and their secular thoughts and agendas. But when the persecutors suppress the truth of God’s Word by trying to prevent the spread of God’s saving grace and its gospel message, these people become enemies of God and heap up their sins to the limit, and their guilt fills up the cup of God’s wrath and God’s just vengeance. This is the nature of God’s judgment. Anyone who rejects the grace of God and his gospel message will suffer his righteous punishment in the Judgment Day. But the good news is that it does not have to be that way. Those who rely upon Christ’s death and resurrection to remove their sin are transformed from enemies of God to children of God. Our guilt and shame are removed by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus has washed our sins away with his blood. The charges against us in God’s judgment are already nailed to the Cross and cancelled.
As Paul wrote in Colossians 2:13-14, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the Cross.”
When we trust God’s Word, we accept it into the depths of our hearts and minds. This gives us the desire and power to live it out. Do you trust the Bible as the authority of God’s words? Will you obey God’s commands and be changed by it? If you let God’s Word change your life, you will be a new person and be more like an image of God as you live by it.
4) People are the priority of our lives and efforts
Christianity is not only personal between God and us; it is also relational with people we live with as a community of Christ. People are the priority of our lives and efforts. Paul loved his brothers and sisters in Christ at Thessalonica, and he longed to see them, making every effort to see them, but Satan blocked him and his friends. In spiritual warfare, we are called to walk in Christ day by day. We give thanks to God for all that is good, but we can also see obstacles that Satan throws at us, and it allows us to have greater faith and reliance upon Jesus Christ.
To Paul, people are his priority; He wrote in verse 19 that the Thessalonians are his hope, joy, and crown. He knew that people were the treasure and glory for which God worked and suffered. Paul’s vision of life centred upon people because he knows that all of God’s revelation: from creation through the prophets to Christ himself – was intended to redeem His people. If we set our hearts in God’s will, we will also see what Paul sees – that the fellow believers are glory and joy.
God is interested in people. And it is the same attitude that we should have as a community of Christ. The church is not about the building; it is not about the programs and activities; it is not about roles and hierarchy of the system; it is about our fellowship and love for one another, care for one another, encouraging one another in our daily walk with Christ, keeping our relationship with God as we reflect our relationship with one another. Then our fellow believers will become our glory and joy when Christ returns. God loves people. The heavens are his, the mountains are the work of his hand, the oceans re his handiwork – but his people are his pride and treasure. Like Apostle Paul, we should express our love to others, treasuring the moments when people come to faith in Christ.
Shepherding is not just a job; it is a commitment to serving God, which envelopes our entire lifestyle. In the church community, the emphasis of the Christian life is on relationships more than roles. Have you build up relationships with fellow believers to encourage them and help them to be more like Jesus? This is the take home message of today:
- Christian leaders should put what God thinks ahead of other’s opinions.
- Purity and holiness are not just things to be talked about. We should show them in our actions.
- Obedient submission to the God’s Word is the mark of a follower of Christ.
- God will judge all sins.
- We should love the people we serve by doing and saying what is best for them, no matter how we feel.
- Expect some opposition and persecution from the world when you are faithful to the Lord.