Description / Transcription
Let’s pray as we come to God’s Word.
Your Word, oh, Lord, is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. We open our mouths and pant because we long for your commandments. Speak to us, gracious God, and give us ears to hear. We can be so hard of hearing. Turn to us and be gracious to us. Make your face shine upon your servants and teach us your statutes. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Our text this morning comes from 1 Thessalonians Chapter 1. I invite you to turn there in your Bibles. You have a Bible in front of you if you didn’t bring one, and in those pew Bibles it can be found on page 986. 1 Thessalonians chapter 1, reading beginning at verse 2 through the end of the chapter.
As you’re turning there, let me tell you a little bit about this letter. Paul wrote this letter from Corinth to the city of Thessalonica, which in the middle of the first century was a prosperous, cosmopolitan city under direct control of the Roman Senate. It gives you some sense for its strategic importance in the Roman Empire. The city was well-positioned, it was a harbor on the Aegean Sea, it was an important stop along a major east-west road that traversed the empire. And even today, modern-day Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece.
We read about the founding of this church in Thessalonica in Acts Chapter 17. The church we see there was established through the evangelistic efforts of Paul, Silas, or sometimes called Silvanus, and Timothy.
It was written, this letter, by the Apostle Paul and most scholars figure sometime around A.D. 50, which means it is one of the earliest, some people think perhaps the earliest, of the New Testament writings. Maybe James or Galatians might be earlier, but it is certainly one of the oldest preserved writings from the Christian church, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.
And I will read beginning in verse 2. “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake, 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, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia, 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, 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, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
We have a tradition that we’ve developed in our family that when we have a birthday, and we have birthdays all the time, that when we have a birthday, we sit around the dinner table and we try to find two moments of sanity and we have everyone go around and they have to share something that they’re thankful for, something they appreciate about the birthday boy and girl, and we do this whether it is the youngest or it’s mom and dad. And over the many times of doing this little tradition, some comments are rather uninspired: “Why are you thankful?” “He’s nice, sometimes.” Or “she’s my sister,” sort of perfunctory.
Other comments do end up sweet: “He’s funny,” “he helps me with my homework,” “he is good at soccer,” “she’s good with the baby.” And then there are often the backhanded compliments: “I’m thankful ’cause he’s almost as smart as me,” or “he usually apologizes after all the times he’s mean,” those sort of compliments.
But we persist with this little ritual. It’s our feeble attempt to try to install in our children and in one another and cultivate some sense of gratitude. We want to know what they’re thankful for, and we want them to have eyes to be paying attention and to stop and think, “why am I grateful for brother or sister or mom and dad?” And just as important, we want to see what they see in each other.
I’ve entitles this five-week series, which we begin today, “A Church to be Grateful For.” Now I know it should be “A Church for Which We are Grateful,” but that just sounded really pretentious, so yes, I know it’s ending with a preposition, English teachers can forgive me.
A Church to be Grateful For. Why should we be grateful for the Church? Well, what we see here in 1 and 2 Thessalonians are a number of expressions of gratitude. There are some six or seven prayers from Paul, either prayers that he offers or mentioning his prayers, or asking people to pray, and on most of these occasions the prayers have some expression of gratitude. We’re going to look at five of these over the next five weeks. And in all but the last of them, Paul expresses gratitude for the Thessalonians. In fact, you may know that in most of Paul’s letter’s, he begins with a customary greeting, as verse 1 does, and then expresses some kind of thanksgiving for the church. That’s why it’s so noteworthy in Galatians that he launches right in because he is concerned that they have completely lost the plot.
But here, not only does he give a sentence or two, but he gives the whole first chapter in thanksgiving to the Thessalonians, and in fact you could argue that the first three chapters really are given over to praise for this young church for all the ways that they have become examples to the Body of Christ.
There’s a lot of things we could do with these first 10 verses, and really with all of these prayers. We could use them to talk about prayer, and we will talk a little about prayer, but that’s not our main focus.
We could use them to look at Paul’s priorities, what were his main things in ministry. We could look at sort of the back story of Paul and Thessalonica and go back to Acts and see how he ministered. We could look at sort of a blueprint for pastoral ministry, how he conducted himself.
But what I want us to focus on this morning, and in the next few weeks, is on Paul’s gratitude. And in particular I want us to look at that gratitude from a specific angle that will help to tell us a lot about the church and I think tell us a lot about the sort of church that we want to be.
So the focus is not necessarily on thanksgiving per se, but on what Paul sees that causes him to give thanks. In other words, when we see what moves Paul to gratitude in his prayers, we will get a chance to see what made this church in Thessalonica so special. What was the church like? Which prompts us to related questions. What is this church like, Christ Covenant? What is our reputation? What are we known for? What do we hope to be known for? What sort of place, and what sort of people, do we want to be? If you were to meet someone in your workplace or school or running around town and you got in a conversation and they heard you’re at Christ Covenant, what is the sort of think you hope immediately springs to their mind?
Churches can be known for all sorts of things. Some churches you immediately think, “Ah, that’s a demographic.” “Oh, that church,” and you maybe even think of certain church as, “that church is great for older people,” “that church is great for families,” “that church is great for millennials,” “that church is great if you like a fog machine.”
Some churches are known for their worship style. You think of a church, you think, “oh, that’s traditional,” “that’s contemporary,” “that’s blended,” “that’s hipster,” “that’s whatever.” Other times people think, “oh, that church” and immediately start talking about their building: Is it big? Is it small? How many acres? How many people does it seat?
Or maybe you immediately want to talk about programs: Are they fun? Are they entertaining? What did they have for the kids?
And we can’t stop all of that. Churches will always be known for some general markers. People will talk about, well, it’s on this street, or it has this pastor, or the building looks like this, and this is how many people are there. But hopefully, right? Hopefully, those aren’t the most important things that someone would say about a church or about our church. What do we want to be known for?
Now you can’t always control your reputation. There are many people who thought Jesus was a drunkard, and other people thought he was no fun at all. There’s all sorts of ways in which Christians and churches can get bad reputations through no fault of their own. Sometimes that’s the price of faithfulness.
But to the degree that we can shape people’s perceptions, what do we want people to think of when they think “oh, you go to Christ Covenant”? Or to put it more biblically, as people inside the church, all of you, people outside the church, pray for Christ Covenant, what sort of things do we hope come to their mind as they give thanks for this church? And I know there are hundreds and thousands of things already to give thanks for, so this sermon has nothing to do with any deficiencies in the past or the present.
But as we look to the future and think together, we want to ask these sort of questions: Who are we? Where are we going? How should we pray? What do we want to be known for?
Let me answer those questions with three points. It is amazing how often there really are three points in the text. It is amazing. John Stott said he had a golden hammer and you just kept hammering away until three points came out of it. So we have three points; they don’t all start with the same letter. But they are manifestly biblical.
Look at your text and we are going to focus in particular on verse 3. Verse 2, Paul says “we give thanks to God always for all of you constantly” so you get the feeling this is a really special church. Paul is praying this all the time, constantly, for all of them, “remembering you in our prayers.” And what does he remember? He remembers before our God and Father three things: 1: Your work of faith. 2: Labor of love. 3: Steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Those are our three points: Work of Faith, Labor of Love, Steadfastness of Hope.
There are all sorts of Bible verses that could point us into the future. Also, any verse could be used to give us a blueprint for one another and for ministry, but I want us to look at this one for this first historic morning. At least, in my history it’s important.
Work of Faith. Number 1. Now notice these words “work,” “labor,” “steadfastness” are not maybe the words you expect. In fact, they almost seem to be grating against the other word in the pair. You might think, “work of faith,” well, wait a second. We’re Reformation people, works are apart from faith, faith is apart from works. Why are we putting together? I’m getting a little nervous. “Work of Faith.” But Paul puts them together.
And then “Labor of Love”? Some people in our culture are thinking when you love somebody, it’s just oozing out, it’s just flowing out, it’s not a labor. And all the parents said “yeah, right.” We don’t think labor of love and steadfastness of hope. No, hope is just some kind of squishy, effervescent feeling that I’m just always positive and excited about the future. Why do I have to be steadfast in hope? We’re not sure that these words go with their pairs.
The second word is what inspires or prompts the first word in these pairs. So we are justified by faith alone, but faith results in work. Love leads to labor. “Why am I working so hard? Because I love you.” Hope produces steadfastness. So even though the words may seem, the pairs may seem grating at first, it’s very important to keep them together because the second word is what inspires and yields the first.
Verse 5, look at verse 5, tells us where their faith came from: “Our gospel came to you not only in word but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” We’ll see more about this week and how they received God’s Word. Their faith came from the regenerating power of the Word of God, and we have here incidentally I think a wonderful picture of gospel preaching. You want to pray for your pastor? So many of you have already told me that you are and I deeply appreciate it and deeply need it. There are few things better you can say to a minister than “Pastor, I am praying for you.” Pray that the preaching from this pulpit would come with great power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction. That was Paul’s preaching among them.
And we read in verse 5 that they received it, which doesn’t simply mean they mentally assented to it and folded their arms and said “um hmm, I think that’s true, okay, all right, I can buy that.” It was more than that. They said “Yes, we believe it. Yes, we embrace it. Yes, we treasure it. That’s not just the word from any man, that is the Word of God and we love it.”
This phrase, “work of faith,” could refer generally to any sort of good work produced by faith, kind of like Paul says in Galatians, faith working itself out in love. So it has that general meaning, but I think Paul has something more specific in mind. In particular, he’s thinking of the work of faith that shares their faith. Now what do I say that? I say that because of verse 8. Now look at verse 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.”
Believe it or not, if you go looking in the New Testament for explicit verses about personal evangelism, they’re actually harder to find than you might think. We have the Great Commission but somebody might say “well, that was for the apostles,” or “that’s kind of for the whole church.” You have Peter saying always be prepared to give an answer for anyone who asks you for the hope that you have, but that’s sort of responsive. There actually aren’t that many verses that speak of churches and individuals personally sharing their faith. But we ought to do that. And this is one of those key verses that sometimes people gloss over and don’t remember. But if somebody had said to you this morning “give me a verse from the New Testament that shows that churches and Individuals should be sharing our faith and you can’t go the Great Commission,” where would you go? Some of us would be stumped.
But you should go to this verse. Because do you see what it says about the Thessalonians? “The Word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia.” That’s the region. That’s like saying, you know, you were in Charlotte and it sounded forth in the Carolinas. “Gone forth.” The word there in verse 8, sounded forth, can be translated “to ring,” “to peal,” to boom.” The Word of the Lord, meaning the word that comes from the Lord and the word that has for its content the Lord Himself. It’s gone forth everywhere. And don’t you love this statement that Paul makes at the end of verse 8: “So that we need not say anything.” You have the Apostle Paul together with Silas and Timothy talking about this church, and they say, you know, here they are, they’re apostles, they’re evangelists, and they say, you know, we don’t even need to do anything in Thessalonica because you’ve done it. It has gone over. Everybody has heard about this. How could you not? They’ve heard about their faith.
Do you know it’s okay to gossip good news? Gossip’s bad, yes, it’s a sin. But are you in the habit of gossiping good news? “Did you see what the Lord has done in her life?” rather than talking about “did you see her hair?” “Did you hear what happened to him. Hmm. Bless his heart. Let’s pray, but first let’s talk about how rotten he is.” No. Do you gossip good news? “Have you noticed what the Lord’s been doing to transform their marriage?” “Have you heard how their grandson came to the Lord in the most wonderful way?” Their gossiping this good news. Everyone’s heard what’s happened in Thessalonica. And everyone is hearing their faith. You can’t mistake it. Like when you get in the afternoon and one of those loud cracks of thunder and everyone stops. You hear it, you know it, you can’t avoid it. Their faith is ringing out.
In part, this is probably reference to the workers that are formally sent from the church. You can read in Acts 20 verse 4, these two men, Aristarchus and Secundus, they accompanied Paul on his missionary journey, and they came from Thessalonica. Or Jason, you may remember the story in Acts 17. Remember Jason is this, you know, he’s hosting some people in his home and he gets run out and attacked and has to leave and then we read later at the end of Romans 16 that he’s called a fellow worker, so he’s probably gone on to Corinth to be with Paul there. So there are these people who are now formal associates with Paul. So that’s part of their faith ringing out, the people they’ve sent out. Just like part of our faith going out is raising up pastors, you’re sending out men and women to be evangelists and missionaries all around the world.
But it’s more than that. It seems clear they also were engaging in personal witness. It seems they could not keep their faith under wraps. They could not help but share it. I have thought for a long time, in my life and in the life of God’s people, that the way forward in evangelism is not first of all going to be “do it more,” because we’ve heard that and most of us, like me, we all feel bad at it and you get discouraged. When you hear that the next sermon series is on evangelism, you’re like “ohhh, could we do something less discouraging, like tithing?” Evangelism.
But I’m convinced we are all natural evangelists for the things and the people that we love most. How hard is it for you to talk about your kids and your grandkids? It just happens. How excited are you when you find a new restaurant, some new food, a new way to avoid traffic in Charlotte? It was nice of them to close the intersection right by our house and cut us off from the rest of civilization once we got here.
You know what it’s like when you want to talk about your sports team. You want to talk about your vacation. You want to talk about the fish that you caught, this big. You want to talk about your hobbies. You want to talk about your…. You’re excited and it just comes out. The first time I ate a Krispy Kreme doughnut, and I can’t eat them anymore, it’s a very tragic sad thing with all the gluten, but I love, if I could I would live in gluten. I love doughnuts. And the very first time they came out, I thought “This is amazing.” There was a time in seminary when my friends, we were up in Boston, and we said “what do we want to eat tonight?” and we said “let’s try to find a doughnut.” And we looked on, this is before they were everywhere, we saw the closest one was in New York City. We said, “well, let’s do it.” So we got in the car, piled in and road tripped, drove from Boston to New York City to get doughnuts. And we came back, and drove and got back in the middle of the night, and we just, you know, tanked on, you know, a dozen doughnuts each and told everyone about it, and now 15 years later I’m still telling you about it, because doughnuts are good.
And you talk about the food that you love. You talk about the things that you love.
These Thessalonians knew God, this Christ that they had met who had saved them from the wrath to come. How could they not talk about Him?
Work of Faith. If we are going to grow in the work of faith that shares our faith, it won’t come first of all from just willpower. Now you need some of that, or strategy, though some of that is good, or training, though we need that. It comes first of all from a deeper, higher, richer passion and love for the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course we would want to talk about Him. How could we not? It’s what we’re talking about all through our day, all through our week. The work of faith for the Thessalonians was to share their faith, and Paul gave thanks for it.
Here’s the second point: He says I give thanks not only for that, but constantly in my prayers I am thanking God for your labor of love. We see that Paul loved them. He called them brothers, verse 4. That’s a common term often. God’s people are called brothers or some would translate it brothers and sisters. But I think there is a special feeling here in this passage. Look down at Chapter 2 verse 17: “Since we were torn away from you brothers for a short time (in person, not in heart), we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face-to-face.” They were run out of Thessalonica, torn away from them. They wanted to be there with them, wanted to control their ministry among them, and he says we are separated, but not in our hearts. You get the feeling Paul has a great affection for this people. He was just recently there, torn away from them, didn’t want to leave, persecution forced them to scatter. So this isn’t just some correspondence course, this isn’t just a virtual church he knows at a distance. He knows their names. He can see their faces. His heart is open wide to their hearts, and he says brothers, I love you.
Not only are they loved by Paul, you see, they are loved by God. Loved by God and chosen. They showed that they were chosen by God, not in being really grumpy all the time, but in receiving the Word with joy and thanksgiving. They were chosen by God to belong to God and to belong to one another. We are elected unto love, not unto laziness, and that’s what we see here.
You are chosen. You are elected. That’s not a word that, you know, some reformed person made up sometime. That is right here from Paul. But what are you chosen for? You were chosen. God set his affections upon you. It wasn’t that God went out and looked out over all the Earth and He said, “well, that person’s really special, and she’s got a ton of potential, and that family, I really need them on my team.” I mean, we weren’t these diamonds in the rough. We were sinners. We were far from God. We were alienated from Him. But because of His great mercy, He said his affection upon us so that we of all people can be most loving because we have received a love most undeservedly. So they in turn, loved by Paul, loved by God, are to love one another.
And isn’t it wonderfully realistic that Paul uses the phrase a “labor of love” because love is a labor sometimes. We use that phrase sometimes to mean “I love this work, this is such a labor love, I’m so happy to be doing my job,” and other times we mean “it is a work to love you.”
You know our world preaches tolerance, but that’s not the Christian message. Not because tolerance is always a bad thing, though many bad things get smuggled in under that word nowadays. But you know why we’re not for tolerance per se? Because God calls us to so much more than tolerance. You think love is easier than tolerance? Tolerance is sort of a “I can’t stand any of you, but we’re stuck.” Yeah, there is a level at which we tolerate all sorts of different opinions in our country, but when we come to the Body of Christ, God calls us to something much richer than that. He is not just looking for a tolerant people, just folding their arms and sort of grinning and bearing. He says you gotta love, and that love for one another will sometimes be a labor.
The world thinks love is a laissez-faire kind of thing where you just let people do whatever they want, but not according to the Bible. According to the Bible, love isn’t just what falls out of you as some enlightened person. Love is the commitment we make as fallen people to treat other fallen people as we would want to be treated. That’s what you do. And it takes work, and it takes effort, and it takes all the ordinary things of life to really love one another. It doesn’t happen with just a special event or a special occasion, it happens all the weeks and months in which you wrote a note, prayed a prayer, showed up for the meeting, brought over some cookies, put a Band-Aid on the scraped knee, watched their kids, prayed for them in the hospital; all of those things. And I know that is happening in abundance in this church. It’s love. It’s a labor of love.
Paul says you have become imitators of me and imitators of the Lord Jesus and now, he says, you are someone for other to imitate. Follow me as I follow Christ. So you look at verse 7: “So you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” Did you know this is the only time that an entire church is cited as an example for other churches? You got believers are certainly an example, Paul says he is an example, the elders are supposed to be an example; but here he takes the entire church. And this is a young church. Remember Paul had just been there and he was torn away. This is, I don’t know, months, a year, but this is a young baby church, and yet Paul can already say about them, when he goes and travels some places, and somebody were to say, “well, how do we do church?” He can say, “well, come with me to Thessalonica.”
“Well, what do Christians look like in our world?” And he could say “let me introduce you to my friends, the Thessalonians.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Not for the sake of any of our names, but for God. People could say “let me show you a church, let me show you Christ Covenant. They’re imperfect people but let me show you how they love one another. Let me show you this people.
Paul says the Thessalonians have become imitators of me and of the Lord and now they are worthy to be imitated by others. There’s a blueprint. You can go in their midst and you won’t see perfect people. You’ll see people sinning, but they’ll repent. You’ll see people who are really following the Lord Jesus. So you want to know what it looks like to be a Christian? Go, just go mingle around them for a while.
And then the third point. Work of Faith, Labor of Love, and finally, he says I give thanks for your steadfastness of hope. You see, they were a persecuted people, afflicted. We see in Acts 17 the Jews incited a mob in Thessalonica. They attacked this man Jason, they ran Paul and his team out of the city. Now if you piece two and two together from Acts 17, you can see that there were a number of prominent people in the church. It says “not a few of the leading women.” So we have important people coming to faith in Christ.
We also have this man Jason who was apparently well-off enough that he could, you know, offer hospitality, he seemed to be recognizable in the city. Was he some sort of official or well-to-do person? But he was someone of recognizable merit. Of course, there were poor people in Thessalonica, artisans, working class, and there is no reason to think they weren’t also in the church of the Thessalonians. But what we do know from Acts 17 is that in Thessalonica some of the leading people, that’s the language in Acts, some of the leading people had been converted. People of means, people of influence, accomplished people in the community. I might venture a guess and think that some people like some of you.
But note, for all that they had, it wasn’t enough to turn away the scandal of being a Christian. It doesn’t matter your position, or what you have, or what sort of neighborhood you live in, or what part of the country you are. If you mean to follow Christ with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, there will come a moment where the world will not love you for it.
And so here, these leading people, these prominent people among the Thessalonians, converted to Christ. And did they just get smooth sailing? “We’re so happy for you, yes, this is wonderful, welcome to the church.” They were persecuted. They were afflicted. And Paul says in the midst of this affliction, you received the Word and the joy of the Holy Spirit. You see at the end of verse 6: “The joy of the Holy Spirit.” So they have become an example in receiving the Word even though it cost them something. You want people to notice your faith? They will notice your faith not when your faith gets you all sorts of things. No, it’s even relatively easy at this point to come in and be a pastor and people are nice and give us gift cards and do all these things and we can go to, you know, Chick-fil-A for years and years and years… actually we can’t. We’ve, like, spent $500 there already. But you know, it’s nice. It hasn’t cost us something.
You know when people pay attention is when they see it costs you something in the workplace, it costs you something with your friends, it costs you something with students at your school, it costs you something in your pocketbook, it costs you something to be a Christian. These Thessalonians had a platform because they were persecuted. Their suffering was their megaphone. There are people in this church who have been given the platform that comes with suffering, and you didn’t ask for it, and you’d say “God, I wish I could have a different kind of platform,” but this is the platform God’s given you.
Why did they pay attention to these young Christians who were just new to the faith? They paid attention to them because they were persecuted and they were afflicted, and yet they rejoiced to receive the Word and the Holy Spirit. And how could the world not say, “well, there’s something going on there. I don’t even know if I like it, I don’t know if I agree with it, but that is other worldly.” And suffering will give you that platform.
So what are you going to do with it? The Thessalonians rejoiced and they shared their faith. How could they not rejoice? They had found real lasting hope. You see in verses 9 and 10 “they turned from idols.” Thessalonica, like any other major city in the Greco-Roman world, would have been filled with Jews, God-fearing Greeks (those were people who weren’t fully proselytes to Judaism but they were sympathetic to it and sort of attached themselves in a moral sympathetic way to Judaism), Jews, God-fearing Greeks, and then pagans, out-and-out idolaters. And that’s what many of the Thessalonians were. There were multiple deities in a city like Thessalonica. Some deities would be tied to the political regime, to Caesar. Other gods would have sexual overtones, you know, it would involve orgies or fertility cults. Others would have commercial value, this is what you join as a part of your guild. Or others would have some sort of familial heritage, this is the god or the goddess that we’ve always worshipped. And you think about it—politics, sex, commerce, family. Hmm, it’s not so different from the gods and the idols that we are tempted to worship. They don’t come to us in silver and gold and they don’t look like statues—it’s the same sort of gods, same sort of deities. And they turned from those to the living and the true God. By implication, those are not alive and they are false.
We have a three-fold description of conversion here. You see it in verse 9 and 10: “We turn to God to serve the living and true God and wait for His Son.” That’s conversion. Turning, serving, waiting. Turning, serving, waiting—that’s what you do.
Do you really know the Lord Jesus? Have you turned? Do you serve? Are you waiting? Or you could say the three steps are reject what the world offers, worship the One who made the world, and wait for His Son to return. To reject, to worship, and to wait. Or if you want to say it like Elmer Fudd, “weject, worship, and wait” and then it’ll all, now you’ll remember it. Three Ws. Reject the world, worship God, wait for His son.
Do you see in verse 10? “They hoped in God’s Son,” and then Paul gives four descriptions of the Son. He comes from heaven, number one; He’s raised from the dead, number two; His name is Jesus, number three; and He will deliver us from the wrath to come. That’s what we are looking for. That’s what we are waiting for. Some of us forget that to be a Christian means waiting. “Okay, I turned from those idols, yep. I worship God.” But now you wait. Because this life isn’t it. You haven’t received your reward. There is still sin, there’s still suffering, there’s still pain, there’s still hurting, and some of us get too comfortable. Some of us are expecting that Heaven on Earth will be our own little Earth and it’s not, and so we wait. Not just waiting for any old thing, waiting for God’s Son. It’s not some kind of wishful thinking—that’s not biblical.
Hope is not some positive attitude. It’s not pretending that suffering doesn’t hurt; it does. It’s not mindfulness, whatever that new buzzword means. Christian hope always has Christ for its object. That’s what make Christian hope Christian. Not just hoping for better days, I’m not hoping ultimately in a President or a governor or an economic turnaround; I am hoping in God’s Son coming from heaven, who was raised from the dead, Jesus who will deliver me from the wrath to come.
Work of Faith, Labor of Love, Steadfastness of Hope.
Let me just say in closing, it’s not every day you get a chance to preach your first sermon as a pastor at a church. It’s not something I’m hoping to do again. Now are these the nine most important verses in the Bible? No, they’re not the nine most famous verses, they’re not the nine, you know, loftiest musical scores written to these verses, not the most quoted. I started here because they remind us of what really matters.
Some of you have maybe read David Brooks in the “New York Times” or some of his books. He is not a Christian, though he seems to be maybe inching that way. And in one of his recent books, and there was an article before that, he makes this distinction between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Some of you have maybe heard this distinction. You’ve got resume virtues, the things you put on a resume, your degree, your GPA, or the things that you’ve done and the jobs that you’ve held, the titles, the certification, your job. And then you have eulogy virtues—what are people going to say about you at your funeral. Because you know what? They’re not going to talk about what your GPA is, and half of you went “yes” and half of you went “aww, man.” They’re not. And here’s David Brooks, who as I pointed out is not even a believer, but he’s inching toward this, this, at least some morality, and he’s saying, reminding us, what are you really live for? Are you living for your resume virtues or your eulogy virtues? Is your life about what you can put on there that’s going to look good when you gotta get a promotion? Or might you be living for the things that somebody might be able to say about you when you’re gone? Because they’re not often the same thing.
Calvin calls verse 3 a “brief definition of true Christianity,” and, indeed, it is. We see that Christian virtue is not invisible. It’s not exclusively internal. You can’t say “well, I’m a Christian, deep down I’m a Christian, it’s so far deep down you can’t even see it.” That’s not what he means.
We see here what it looks like to be a Christian. They could see something. There was a change, there was a difference. You see, what made the Thessalonians so special was really quite simple. You could put it this way: We love you Thessalonians. Why? Because the gospel came to you, you received it, and it rang out. That’s pretty good. If that’s all that you do in your life, and if that’s all that a church was known for, I’d say that’s pretty good. The gospel came to you, you received the gospel, and from your lips and from your life, it rang out. As long as the Lord gives me life and breath and the Holy Spirit enables me, you have my utmost commitment that I will do the first part of that sequence and the gospel will come to you from this pulpit as it has for decades past. Will you welcome it? Receive it? Maybe some for the first time, maybe some for the hundredth time receive it. And then will it ring out? In faith, hope, and love.
It’s not a bad blueprint for Christ Covenant. Preach Christ, receive Christ, share Christ. That in everything Christ might be preeminent.
Let’s pray. Our gracious and loving heavenly Father, we thank you for your Word which instructs us, which leads us, which guides us, which rebukes us, shapes us, heals us, transforms us. May Your Word move in a mighty way through this church. Do the things through Your Word that only Your Word can do. We want to be about the ministry that we are powerless to accomplish apart from the Word and prayer. And so give us faith, give us love, and give us hope, in the Lord Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.