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.
Paul begins this letter by addressing it to the Church of the Thessalonians. Today, could you allow these words to be contemporary? Could we read it as if it were addressed to the Church of the Scott Depotians? () Look again at verse 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. Could it be said of us that we live with such faith that great works are being done in and through us? Could it be said of us that we are laboring for Christ, and the reason we are laboring is because of a love that constrains us to make Christ known? Could it be said of us that we are persevering because of the hope we have in Jesus Christ?
Those behaviors, those practices, those patterns for which Paul commended the Thessalonians were 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.
Something I have been reflecting on is the idea that God knew what 2020 and 2021 would be like well in advance. He didn’t just predict how things would be. He knew. He knew about the tensions and the factions and the hardships. He knew all about how people would react under the pressures we have faced. He knew about rising gas prices and pandemic fallout. He knew how people would struggle emotionally and spiritually to make their way through. And when God thought about who would be best to insert into this period in history, He chose us to be born for this moment. Christian, you are here NOW in this moment, in this season because when God looked at the pandemic and political landscape and the subsequent pandemonium, He purposed that you were the kind of person He wanted to insert into this situation to make a difference.
Come on, Somebody. I’m telling you God wanted you here for this 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 us feel? God had a plan to use us 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?
We are like Queen Esther who was told by Mordecai that she had ascended to the throne “for such a time as this,” in Esther 4:14. She had a call to step up. She had a call to courage. She had a call to risk it all in order to save the Jewish nation. She had been chosen for that moment, in that time in history, to be used of God to thwart the plans of the enemy. It was an “If not you, then who?” moment for Esther. It was in that moment that Esther recognized she had been chosen by God for a special task and that life or death hung in the balance for many depending on her obedience.
I’m telling you this morning, in the power of the Spirit of God, 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.
We’ve got to live with the conviction that we are meant to be here. We are meant to do something great for God and that something involves the saving of many lives. This has been God’s plan from the beginning. Our birth date and life span isn’t random. Each person has been created by God on purpose for the specific time in which he or she lives. God told Abraham that He was chosen to be blessed by God in order to be a blessing to the rest of the world. The same is true for us.
Yesterday’s wellness event was inspired by this idea that we live in a time when people are fearful regarding their health. It is understandable. We are bombarded with scary and conflicting messages on a daily basis. The feeling of being out of control has caused so many people anxiety and depression. There has been a haze of dread and a sense of panic imposed on many. Folks are living overwhelmed. God knew this would be the response to the pandemic. He has chosen us to share the message of wellness, wholeness and healing, the message of hope and life with our community.
Listen, you need to live with an awareness of what is happening in the world not only because you need to be informed, but because you have been planted on this earth during this point in time to show people who God is. It is time you live like you’ve been chosen!
I love the series many of us have been watching that is called “The Chosen.” It highlights the way a life is left behind in order to pursue a new life, a new calling, a new purpose when we follow Jesus. The disciples who were chosen to follow Jesus were chosen during that specific time in history to be eye-witnesses to the historic resurrection of Jesus from the dead. They were chosen to travel and spread the Good News. They were chosen to plant churches through their missionary efforts. They left it all to follow Jesus and didn’t look back. What have we left behind that reflects that we know we have been chosen?
Have we put down the love of money? Have we put down our pursuit of personal power and prestige? Have we laid down our five-year plans? Have we submitted our calendars to the Lord, giving Him the opportunity to fill in where we need to be and what we need to be doing? Have we decided to be done with sin? Have we recognized that we are here for something more, something greater, something miraculous? We are not here merely to exist. We are not here just to take up space. We are not here simply to get a paycheck. We are not here to live for the weekends. Those realities are miniscule pieces to a bigger puzzle. We are here because we have been chosen by God to be here in this moment in order for God’s salvation to come to the world.
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. People knew in whom they had believed. People everywhere could see it. They could hear it as the Lord’s message rang out from their lips and lives. They were living to fulfill a God-ordained purpose. Let’s live chosen, church.
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. This is powerful instruction right here, friends. We are transformed not because we make up our minds to be nicer and to stop swearing and to put down the alcohol and to quit cutting corners at work. We are transformed because we welcome the message. We welcome the Word of God. We know it is life. We know it has power. We don’t treat these moments on Sunday and Wednesday as little pep talks or life lessons that are optional, but we understand that when we welcome the Word of God and desire to live by it, it will change us. The Word will work in us making our work to live as the chosen so much easier. God will do the transforming so that we can just keep following in faith.
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?
Many of you are aware of the supernatural way Kelly Kraft 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.
He 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.
I believe Kelly has been changed by God to the degree that the Apostle Paul was changed by God. Paul was so impacted, so changed by God’s goodness and power that he said in Philippians 3:10-11, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
That is crazy! To want to participate in suffering in order to become like Christ? Paul wanted to experience life like Jesus in every way. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t choose suffering. Kelly wouldn’t have chosen ALS. Kelly wouldn’t have chosen suffering, but because he has been transformed by the Word of God in his suffering and has the incredible joy that comes from knowing Jesus the way he now knows Him, he now wouldn’t choose anything else. Kelly prayed for healing. Even though that hasn’t happened, he got something better, something more exhilarating, something more precious. His life has been transformed into a dynamic and very close walk with Jesus.
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.
There must have been an element of risk, a boldness about which they lived because Paul says their faith could be seen. Their faith prompted their work. They were dangerous Christians. They were moving out in ways that wouldn’t be possible in their own power. They were operating in the supernatural. They weren’t setting their own agendas. They were living in the realm of faith. God was blessing it. What are you currently doing that requires faith in order to make it happen? Are you witnessing by faith? Are you planning for something in faith? Are you moving in a new direction by faith? It is clear that the Thessalonians were living beyond themselves and what they could do. They were trusting God to lead them.
Paul says their labor was prompted by love. The people of that church had received the love of God and had been transformed into lovers of people. Their reach wasn’t effortless, but it was fueled by love for people. They were motivated by love to meet needs. They were motivated by love to impact their community. They were motivated by love to share the message of the empty tomb. They welcomed people to the faith. They were generous with their time. They were givers of their resources. People didn’t have to qualify for their time. They worked because they loved. Love has a sacrificial component. People were convinced of their love because they saw their sacrifice. Do we love like that? Do people see us laboring in love for others?
Paul also said they modeled endurance. They didn’t quit when it was hard. They didn’t opt out when it was uncomfortable. They didn’t pass the buck onto someone else. They didn’t get discouraged when they didn’t see results. They didn’t stop proclaiming Christ just because it seemed people didn’t want to hear it. They didn’t retreat in fear of persecution or being labeled a religious freak. They didn’t wait for optimal circumstances. They didn’t grow weary in well-doing. They didn’t get lazy or complacent or get comfortable watching others work. With their sleeves rolled up, they kept pressing on. Do we have that kind of perseverance? Is the church of today that committed? Do we have that tenacity and grit? Are we in it to win it, meaning are we in it to win souls, or are we in it only when or if it is convenient, and do we get out of it when it is hard?
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?