Model membership - 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

This is a sermon by Tom Hutton from the Riverside Church service on 25th March 2007.

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Introduction

I wonder if anyone here is a Simon and Garfunkel fan. Well if you are or not then you may still have heard of a song of theirs called ĎI am a rockí. Youíll be pleased to know that Iím not going to sing it to you. But some of the lyrics say this ĎI am a rock, I am an island. Iíve built walls, a fortress deep and mighty, that none may penetrate. I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain, its laughter and its loving I disdain. I am a rock, I am an island.í The words of this song reflect one of the most profound changes in western society over the past fifty years. And that is the growth of individualism. The belief that we are all right on our own, that we donít need anyone else. We are self-dependant, self reliant, self-fulfilling. It is a view that has spread through all areas of our culture. And even as Christians we are in danger of buying into this view. Itís possible in America to go to drive in churches. You pull up in your car, tune in to the sermon and then drive of again, no need for contact with another human being. Church becomes all about what I can get out of it.

Well in the section of 1 Thessalonians that we are looking at today, Paul instructs the Thessalonians on how to be model members of the church. His concern for the Thessalonian church is to supply what is lacking in their faith (Ch3 v10). That is why he has written these last two chapters to instruct them and help them to grow as Christians. And today we are going to look at four areas where he wants to see them grow.

1)      Grow in love for church leaders v12-13

The first thing that Paul instructs the church in Thessalonica to do is to grow in their love for church leaders. Look with me at v12 please

 12Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.

So Paul tells the Thessalonians to respect and love their leaders. But I guess it raises the question what does real leadership look like? Why are the Thessalonians Christians to hold this kind of leader in the Ďhighest regardí as Paul says? Real leadership works hard amongst you, it is over you in the Lord and it admonishes you. In other words real leaders care for those they lead and will therefore work hard for the sake of those they lead. Real leaders are Ďover you in the Lordí in the sense that they direct those they lead but also protect and care for them. And finally real leaders will not hold back from saying the hard things that need to be said. They will expose and confront the sins of those under their care and seek to correct them.

Therefore in the light of what our leaders do, Paul says as model members of the church weíre to respect our leaders. Weíre to recognize the work that they do. Not in a worldly sense of raising them up on pedestals and idolizing them. But helping them in their task. It means recognizing that their service to us is motivated by love and so in return we are to help them in their task by serving them in love.

So let me ask you then. What is your view of the leadership here at St Faithís/Riverside and St Johnís? How do you treat the church leaders? Because Paul says we are to treat them with respect because of their hard work amongst us.

2) Grow in love for one another v14-15

But there is another way in which Paul wants the Thessalonian Christians to grow in love. And that is to grow in love for one another. Look please at v14.

14And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

Remember that Paul was chased out of Thessalonica before he could teach the Thessalonians everything that he wanted to. And so he sent Timothy to bring back a report of this fledgling church. In this these few verses we see Paul addressing a number of problems that are beginning to appear in the Thessalonian church. Idleness, timidity and weakness. He has already been gone into some detail in chapter 4 about the nature of these problems. So in chapter 4 we heard about those who were weak and therefore gave in more easily to the culture around them. In Thessalonica there would have been a great deal of sexual immorality that people within the church were giving into. Others as we heard last week were uncertain about the return of Christ and were worried about those who had already died, whether they would miss out on the new creation. These are the timid that Paul refers to. And finally the idle. Again in chapter 4 v11 Paul instructs people to lead a quiet life and to work with their hands in order not to be dependant upon others. And in Paulís second letter to the Thessalonians we find out that many had given up work in order to wait for the second coming of Christ and where therefore being a burden to the other believers. So we have these three issues within the church that Paul has spoken about earlier in the letter. But now he is instructing the Christians to support one another facing these issues.

But notice the different ways in which they are to treat the different problems. They are to Ďwarn the idle, encourage the timid, and help the weak.í A different diagnosis needs a different prescription. It would be no good if you went to the doctor with a soar throat and the doctor prescribes a plaster for your arm or if you had a broken leg and you are prescribed a course of antibiotics. You see the wrong prescription would be no good. And so it is here with these spiritual ailments. Do you see how disastrous it would be to be hard on a fellow Christian who is anxious? Or to come down like a ton of bricks on a brother or sister struggling with sin?

Well how do we make sure that we get the right diagnosis and that apply the right prescription. V14 itís by being Ďpatient with everyone.í Itís by not paying back wrong for wrong but seeking to love one another.

Did you also notice whose responsibility this is? Itís not just the responsibility of the church leaders. ĎWe urge you, brothersí Paul says in verse 14. Remember that Paul isnít writing this letter to an individual but to a church. It is everybodyís responsibility to be warning, encouraging and helping. Now I think this is great. Because not only does it liberate the church leaders from carrying all this responsibility but it also allows the people of God to be the kind of community that God wants them to be. And it is completely counter-cultural to the world around us. It is always telling us we are individuals and our natural inclination is to be selfish. To look after number one. There are no passengers among Godís people. So let me ask you. If you are a regular member of St Faithís/Riverside and you would consider yourself a Christian do you realise the responsibility you have towards other Christians. Is your attitude towards church a turn up when I want to and have people look after me kind of attitude? Or do you come looking for way to encourage and spur on your brotherís and sisterís. And these instructions from Paul are addressed to all members of the church including those who are already stuck in. On the other hand maybe the danger is you already are stuck in. You already do serve in many ways. Well thatís fantastic and please keep serving where you can. But in doing so make sure you donít neglect this very important task of growing in love towards your brothers and sisters. Donít be so busy that you donít have time to warn, encourage and help them.

Now itís interesting that Paul has already commended the Thessalonians on their love for one another back in chapter 4 v9-10. So itís not that they donít love one another or are particularly bad at it. In fact by all accounts the Thessalonians were well known for their love towards one another. So Paul recognises that they still need to be growing in love for their leaders and for one another.

3)      Grow in Character v16-17

 

Thirdly then in order to be model members Paul wants the Thessalonians Christians to be growing in their character. So what is it then that should characterise the Thessalonians. Again we have three things that Paul instructs the Thessalonians to grow in, in regard to their character. Look with me please at v16.

16Be joyful always; 17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

As a church then, the Thessalonians are told to grow in joy, prayerfulness, and thankfulness. And did you spot the consistency with which they are to display these characteristics? They are to be Ďjoyful alwaysí, to Ďpray continuallyí and Ďgive thanks in all circumstancesí. So they are to be doing all these things, all the time.

Now if youíre anything like me you probably look at that and think, well thatís impossible. But is it? When Paul talks about joy here, heís not talking about being happy. Heís not saying that we should go around with a smile painted on our faces all the time like some clown. When Paul talks about joy he is talking about a contentment deep with in us, knowing that whatever we face in life we have much to be joyful about, even when we are sad and depressed we can still know this joy.

Well what about prayerfulness then? Surely Paul isnít suggesting we should be constantly on our knees, praying to God or mumbling away as we wander around the Supermarket. Not that there is anything wrong with praying while youíre doing your weekly trip around Tescoís but I donít think that is what Paul is saying. In chapter one Paul says that he himself is always giving thanks for the Thessalonians and continually remembering before the Father their faith. But we know that he was doing many other things besides praying. Paul isnít talking about the amount of time spent praying but a complete attitude devoted to prayer. So let me ask you, how high on your list of priorities is prayer? As a church, because remember Paul is writing to a church not individuals, how high is our priority to pray? Does it disturb you that we donít have a regular St Faithís/Riverside prayer meeting? [Pause]

And the final characteristic Paul encourages them to display is thankfulness. Giving thanks in all circumstances. Why? Because this is Godís will for us. Christians should be thankful people, because we have much to give thanks for. Do you see how these three things are all closely linked, being joyful, prayerful and thankful? For if we are joyful, we will realise that we have much to give thanks for and so we will be a prayerful and thankful people.

4)      Grow in discernment v19-22

Well the final thing that Paul urges the Thessalonians to be growing in is their discernment. That is they are to be growing in being able to spot what is true and what is false teaching. Let me read from v19.

19Do not put out the Spirit's fire; 20do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22Avoid every kind of evil.

So they are not to put out the Spiritís fire. And how do they do that. Well v20 tells us that the best way to put out the Spiritís fire is to treat prophecies with contempt. The Bible never separates the work of the Spirit from the work of the word. So when Godís word is taught the Spirit is at work in us, convicting us of our sin and helping us to obey. So by treating Godís word with contempt, by not taking it seriously, that is when the Spritís fire is put out. So one danger we may fall into as Christians is to treat Godís word with contempt. We can stop listening to it, stop applying to our lives. If we have grown cold in regard to hearing Godí word taught then we need to beware.

But there is another danger that we might fall into. And that is just accepting everything that we hear taught. Paul says we need to be discerning. Because not everything thatís taught in churches is true. So how are we to tell? Well, weíre to test everything we are taught in the light of Scripture. Is what we are hearing in our churches what the apostles taught? The church in Thessalonica was only a young church. Paul had only been able to be with them about a month. So they were vulnerable to attacks. And they were facing a great deal of pressure from outside. So Paul wants them to be discerning so that they are not led away by false teaching into all kinds of evil.

  Conclusion

It may seem a daunting task that we have ahead of us. So much that we may need to change. ĎHowever are we going to achieve this?í you may ask. Well the good news is that we are not alone. For Paul tells us in verse 23

23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In other words, God himself is the one at work within us, if we are Christians, sanctifying us. That is changing us to be more and more like him in his character. And notice how thoroughly we are to be transformed, Ďthrough and throughí, literally completely. And once again, as Paul has done several times in this letter, he draws our eyes forward to that future date when Jesus returns. That is to be the motivation that spurs us on to live as the people God wants us to be.

So as we finish looking at the book of 1 Thessalonians lets remember all the challenges and encouragements that we have seen this term. Letís be encouraged by the model set for us by these Thessalonian Christians. And as we close lets remember these encouraging words v24

24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Paul finishes his letter in the same way that he starts. By reminding us of Godís sovereignty and power. Remember in chapter 1 Paul told the Thessalonians that they had been chosen by God. And it is with this same assurance now that Paul encourages them. He reminds them that God is faithful to his promises. Those whom he has called he will sanctify and keep them blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus.

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