I Thessalonians 1;1-10: To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. 2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 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. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters[b] loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 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. 6 You became 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. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang 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, 9 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, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
The Thessalonian church members lived to serve the Lord. That decision was the result of them recognizing two things: 1. They had been chosen by God (vs. 4). 2. They had been changed by God (vs. 6-7).
Chosen and changed! What a way to live! When you live with the reality that you have been chosen by God and you understand what that means, you are eager to align your heart, priorities and resources with that reality and you live with a sense of purpose to make sure other people can know Him as you do.
Listen, Believer. God wanted you here for this moment now. God wanted you here for this calendar year so that your faith and your love and that your hope could help point people during this era to Him. That is why your birthday was chosen to be the date it was and is. That is why you exist right now. How special should that make you feel? God had a plan to use you in this cultural context before we were ever born. This is your “dash” for however long it lasts. This is the time in history that has been assigned to you. You were chosen by God for this moment. What are you doing with it?
It is time for the church to wake up and realize that we have been inserted into time for this time and the way people are to encounter the grace of God and the way they are to know Him and the way they are to make it through the craziness and confusion is through God’s church in action. People won’t come to know God by watching us go to church; they will come to know Him by us being the church.
In I Thessalonians 1:8 Paul said, The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. They had gotten it. They had embraced it. They were living it. They were living chosen.
Second, Paul pointed out that they were living changed. In verse 5, Paul spotlighted that they were living with deep conviction. When the Holy Spirit fell on them, they didn’t resist the transforming power of the Spirit. They became people of deep conviction. That deep conviction led them away from patterns of life that weren’t compatible with being chosen. Being chosen means being willing to be changed. Paul said of them in verse 6 that they became imitators of the other disciples and of the Lord.
They were lining their lives up with their chosen status. They were being responsive to the Spirit’s direction. Verse six says that happened because they welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
Notice when the Word was working in the Thessalonians…Paul said it was in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. What? Severe suffering and joy at the same time? They were positively transformed during severe suffering by the Word of God and the result was deep joy? Come on? How is that possible?
Let me tell you about my friend, Kelly Kraft, and the supernatural way he is living with ALS. He can no longer speak. He is down to 135 pounds. Everything that you and I do to care for ourselves, he has to have done for him. I visited him this week and was astounded again to hear him say, through his computer that he types on by focusing his eyes on a key, that he would rather have ALS and know God the way he has come to know God, than to back things up and to live in a healed body. That is transformation that is real! That is a testimony that can be seen! None of us would want to trade places with Kelly. All of us would be devastated to have the same diagnosis. But each of us could have the same experience if we welcomed the Word of God into our suffering the way Kelly has.
Kelly is so limited in what he can do, but there is one thing he can still do, and it is life-giving to him. He memorizes Scripture. He has been in the Word more since his diagnosis than any prior time in his life. He has come to know God and His resurrection power so intimately that he wouldn’t trade that for anything this world can offer. He sees ALS as a gift that has transformed life in a positive way. He sees Jesus clearer than ever. I said this week on Facebook that Kelly is living in two realities all of the time. He is living here on earth, AND he is living in the reality where Jesus resides. I believe it 100 percent. He is here, but he is also there.
He has been so transformed that he is able to experience what Jesus experiences in Heaven. He has welcomed the message of God in the midst of intense suffering, and as a result he is experiencing incredible joy; joy beyond anything that had come through an earthly experience to this point. A negative experience has become the most positive thing he has yet enjoyed to date. Kelly has truly been changed.
You have been chosen, but are you truly being changed? Changed to the point where even in suffering you have great joy and can give praise to God? Paul tells us it’s possible. Kelly shows us it is.
The Thessalonians not only changed as they imitated the disciples and the Lord in and through welcoming God’s Word in times of suffering, but Paul also said in verse 7 that they became a model to all the believers. They were transformed to the point that other believers could use them as a template or pattern to follow. If other people were to follow you around this past week, as they followed in your footsteps would they be following in Jesus’ footsteps?
How were they a model? Verse 3 tells us. Paul said he observed their work produced by faith, their labor prompted by love, and their endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Is your faith, love, and the hope of Christ on display?
You see, the Thessalonians realized they had been chosen. There was a job to do, and they had been hand-picked by God to make Him known in their region. They owned it. He had transformed them through the Word and the power of the Spirit because they had been willing to receive God on the inside.
I want to live the chosen and changed life. How about you? What started it all for the Thessalonians? I know they received the Word. I know they were responsive to the Spirit, but what was the defining moment for the Thessalonians? I believe the answer is in verse 9. We read there: You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. We’re all happy for God to do something in us, for us or through us, but this verse tells us that there has to be a moment in time, there has to be a conscious and decisive decision we make when we decide to turn away from the idols in our lives in order to turn to love and serve the living and true God with our whole hearts. Until we do, we will never live with the sense of destiny that comes from embracing that we are chosen. God has chosen us, but we must choose Him. Until we turn from the idols in our lives, we will never have full access to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to make us what we can become by His power.
From what do you need to turn today in order to let God have his way? How can you live to demonstrate that you have been chosen and are being changed to become like Jesus?