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Do you have people in your life that you are thankful for? People that God uses to encourage you and who are all about spreading the gospel? As we kick off a new series, studying the book of 1 Thessalonians, Todd Wagner walks us through chapter one.
Missing Each Other Without Missing the Mark
Leaders That Create Churches Others Are Thankful For
A Letter of Thanks to a Church to Be Thankful For
As you think about your spiritual journey—your sanctification in Christ—who are you thankful for? Who has God used to encourage and grow you? Reach out to someone who comes to mind and tell them as much!
Do you have people in your life that you are thankful for? People that God uses to encourage you and who are all about spreading the gospel? As we kick off a new series, studying the book of 1 Thessalonians, Todd Wagner walks us through chapter one.
Suggested Scripture study: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Acts 15:22,32; Acts 16:37; 2 Timothy 2:2; Mark 3:13-14; Romans 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:13-14,19; Ephesians 2:8-10; Isaiah 55:11
* Real Truth Real Quick: How Can I Find a Mentor?
* Sermon: A Call to Shepherd One Another
* Sermon: Leadership Matters…and Other Seminal Truths
Hello, Watermark. How are we doing? We are about to start studying my favorite book of the Bible. It's amazing. If you were here when we studied Philippians, I need to ask your forgiveness. I said that was my favorite book of the Bible, as I did when we studied Proverbs. You got the joke or you wouldn't have laughed earlier. I told you when we started Philippians if there was a letter I would write to you all it would be Philippians. Nope. This would be the letter.
Thank you for the privilege of getting to spend time with the Word of God in a unique way that you create for me, that I might open it with you and be reminded of why God preserved it. This is not an idle word God has given us; it is to be put to work, and it is a living, breathing, active, powerful source of the infinite God of the universe to speak into our hearts and to reveal. It's a revelation. God is pulling back the curtain and showing us something, and we would do well to pay attention to it.
So these next couple of months, we are going to study 1 Thessalonians, and it's going to be amazing. I've already been blessed. Let me set it up by telling you a couple of historical facts. I don't want to do much of this. I don't want to waste your time giving you a lot of information that you can spend two minutes in front of any study Bible and find out for yourself, but let's just set a little context here, if I can.
I want to show you that this is a book that was born during Paul's second missionary journey and was written during his second missionary journey. It was a book that was written very close to the time that Paul had already spent with some folks. So, this is the second missionary journey of Paul. If you remember when we taught through Acts, which for a long time was my favorite book, when we went through it together…
You might want to go back sometime in these next number of weeks and listen specifically to the message I did on Acts 17, because that talks about his time in Thessalonica. What's amazing is Paul was only there for three weeks. I'm going to give you an application before we even start. Simply this: don't ever discount what God can do in three weeks…or three days.
I was just in El Salvador for three days with about 600 pastors, and I've been getting text messages back from them. We translated Come and See into Spanish. Some friends were down there recently, and there was a pastor in the pulpit holding up a Spanish translation of Come and See and talking about the Scripture in that book that has come alive to him.
Don't ever discount what God can do in three weeks or three days or, I would just tell you, in three hours when you're with somebody, that you can impart to them a source of strength and life when you get together as a community. And don't discount what God can do in three minutes. It's all it takes to share the gospel with somebody.
There are people all around this city who don't understand what I'm about to teach you tonight. Don't discount the privilege you have in engaging with a waiter, a waitress, somebody whose car you're in, what God can do in that little glimpse of time. This is a book that was born out of three Sabbaths of preaching, and God preserved it.
There's a reason Paul went to Thessalonica, but there's a reason God sends you into every conversation you're in. This is true of what was going on in Thessalonica in that second missionary journey. You can see a map here behind me. Paul left the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 where they were basically validating Paul's ministry to non-Jews, because the early church was made up of all Jews.
I want to remind you: Christianity is not a new religion. It is the finality of the one revelation God has given men. It's why when I talk to Jewish friends, I don't ever try to make them not Jewish. I tell them, "The most Jewish thing you can do is believe in the Messiah." I just explain to them that I am living in the benefit of what God promised the nation of Israel.
Anyway, out of Acts 15, there was a group of guys…Paul, and another guy who was with him was a guy called Silas. Silvanus is another way to refer to him. You'll see him show up in just a second. They made their way back up, as you can see, to Antioch, the church that sent Paul out, and then Paul went back through a lot of the region he spent on his first missionary journey. Paul took the gospel where it had never been before, that Galatian region right there.
Then they made their way over, which is modern-day Turkey. That's all you're looking at, because the Bible is a historical book and it dares to allow you to see God working in the context of human history. It's not just a writing of philosophy or ideas; it is God working in history, and you can test it and verify it. I've been to a bunch of these cities…Ephesus and Troas. They're still there. Thessalonica is still there today.
Let me show you why this was so strategic. This is what's called the Ignatian Way. The Ignatian Way was a major trade route from western Europe all the way over to Persia. There were north/south trade routes, the Silk Road and the King's Highway, but the Ignatian Way started from the Appian Way, which is right there in Rome. Rome had built this amazing highway, and it ran right through Thessalonica from what we know as Europe into Asia and into the eastern part of that region of the world.
Paul was dropping in. It would be like walking into the harbors of New York or walking into the harbors of Houston. It was a major metropolitan area, and it was made up of folks from all over…Romans and Greeks and some Jews. They didn't know anything about Jesus, just like so many folks you're going to meet this week. I want you to be just as intentional.
Now, let me read to you what we're going to study tonight, and then I want to go back and deconstruct it for you and give you some real encouragement, because it has been really encouraging to me. First Thessalonians, chapter 1. I wanted to teach chapter 1, verse 1, and just stay there the whole time. I'm not going to. We're going to get through chapter 1 tonight. Watch this. "Paul and Silvanus [also called Silas] and Timothy…" We'll come back to these guys.
"To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.
For they themselves [people from the furthest northern regions to the southern regions] report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come."
Father, would you just let us learn what you want us to learn tonight in the precious minutes we have together? I thank you for my friends here that I could write these 10 verses to again and again and again. I thank you for the body of Christ at Watermark that is so similar to the church in Thessalonica in their beginning, and this is not just a couple of months after my visit.
For 20 years, I have watched their work of faith and their labor of love and their steadfastness of hope, and it has caused me, as you know, Father, to have endless rejoicing and thanksgiving for my brothers and sisters who are here. I know there are other folks in our little Thessalonian gathering today who don't know what we know yet and don't know our Lord Jesus whom you raised from the dead and who rescues people from the wrath to come.
So I pray this weekend you would add other people who would have a work of faith, a labor of love, and steadfastness of hope. Lord, we thank you that you decided to preserve this book for your church for ages to come. Here we are, studying it, and I pray that it would not return void, it would be full of life for us and would refresh us and would make us excel still more, that we might be a church that causes thanksgiving to come to you. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.
Okay. Goodness gracious. Let me just say this. What's so great about this book… Pastors spend a lot of time having to correct and teach, and what's really unique about this church Paul wrote to… Now listen. It's early. It's really early. When Paul went to Thessalonica and he got there… You can see all this in Acts 17. I don't know if I'll actually read in Acts 17 or not tonight, but when he went to this one city, he was there for three Sabbaths, and there was an uproar. So much so that people were being threatened.
The believers, the folks who had come to understand what Paul had preached, pleaded with him and begged him, maybe even cut a deal with authorities and said, "If we get him out of here, will you back off a little bit?" and they smuggled him out of there at night. He went to another town, a town called Berea, which you can see on that little map, and then from there he left Timothy and Silas (Silvanus) in that area of Berea. He went on down to Athens. He had this amazing message he gave in Athens.
Then Timothy and Silas came and joined him there or in Corinth. Paul was so nervous about what was going on back up there in Thessalonica, because they had to leave abruptly in the middle of the night, that he said, "Timothy, you have to go up there to Thessalonica and find out how they're doing." So Timothy went back up there, and now Paul went to Corinth, and when Paul was in Corinth, Timothy returned and gave Paul a report, and then he wrote this letter.
Think about this. He was with these people under a month, and he caused all kinds of trouble for them. He got kind of whisked out in a way that he wasn't wild about, and he was desperate to see how people he had shared the story of Jesus with were doing. He sends Timothy back. Timothy gives him a report. It's a great report, and he writes this letter.
There's not a lot of rebuke in this letter. There's one clarification about how they should handle themselves a little bit differently morally now that they have their arms around Jesus, and we'll get to that in chapter 4, but by and large, this is a letter of incredible encouragement. I just want to show you. Sometimes when you study the Bible, this is really, really helpful to look at. Let me show you a number of different ways that Paul starts letters.
You're not going to be able to turn there fast enough with me, but in a chronological way, from Romans through most of the Pastoral Epistles, I'm going to give you a little quiz. This is just how to train you in the art of observation. I'm going to read to you all of these other different salutations, or "hellos," and then I want to read to you the salutation to the Thessalonians, and I want to see if you can tell if there's something different. Okay? Are you ready for a little Bible study?
Romans 1:1: "Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…" Now watch this, when he wrote to the Corinthians: "Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother…" Second Corinthians: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia…"
Galatians: "Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead)…" Ephesians: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus…" Colossians: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother…" Now 1 Thessalonians: "Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace."
Okay. What was it? What's missing there? What's Paul not throwing in their faces? He doesn't tell them what his authority is. He doesn't drop on them, "Hey, listen, dude. I'm your apostolic presence." He doesn't say, "I'm coming to you. I am sent from God to…" Then there's not a lot of correction here. There's not a lot of strong teaching here that is corrective.
Now listen. There was later going to be some teaching he had to give them, but this is a really unique relationship. It's tender. It's probably just a couple of months after the first month that he met them, and he's not rebuking them. He's just celebrating what he sees. He's coming to them, and he doesn't need to remind them, "I'm an apostle."
I was speaking at a pastors' conference down at Oak Cliff Bible with Tony Evans, and we did a Q&A. Tony and I were onstage. As you know, within certain expressions of Jesus' church, people like to take the name bishop or apostle in front of their title. A lot of guys who were sitting out there… It was a predominately African-American crowd that was down there at Oak Cliff Bible.
One of the questions that was submitted to Dr. Evans and me was this: "Hey, is it appropriate for a pastor to call himself bishop?" We know some guys in this town who go by that. Or apostle. You know, the Apostle Todd, and often his wife Alex, the "apostlette." A lot of times in churches like that you have those kinds of titles given.
So I start. Again, I'm a guest of Tony. These are hundreds of pastors from all across the country who are there really because of their love and respect for him. I go, "Well, let me just say this. The word bishop (I'll start with that) is really just an English transliteration of the Greek word episkopos, which is a word that's kind of interchangeable at times with shepherd and pastor.
So if what you mean by that is pastor and you want to call yourself bishop, I guess that's fine. The problem is it's really related to a form of ecclesiology which is hierarchical and denominational, which I don't see in my New Testament. So I guess you could use bishop if you know what it means, but it's a pretty loaded term, and I'm not sure I would use it.
An apostle… Well, let's just say, in the Bible, specifically, literally, the word means one sent forth, and the typical definition of apostle you can find in 1 Corinthians 9 is somebody who has seen the literal resurrected Lord and who does attesting miracles and is typically part of the foundation of the church. It's a unique role in the New Testament order, so I would be really careful with apostle." That's kind of what I said.
I added to that. I go, "I'll just say this. A lot of times, people use those titles because they want to intimidate you and impress you. If they're an apostle, you'd better pay extra special attention. So I think a lot of times, beware of folks who take those titles and ascribe them to themselves, because they might be on a bit of a power trip and may be putting themselves in a position Jesus himself doesn't want to be."
I kind of turned to look at Tony, and Tony just went, "No!" and handed the mic back to me. I like Tony's answer better than mine. I'm not going to walk around here and say I'm "Bishop Todd" or I'm an apostle, because biblically, an apostle is somebody who has seen the literal resurrected Lord who God sent on a very specific mission.
What you need to understand about this church is Paul is so in love with this group of people. It's why I say this is a letter I would write to you guys. I'll say this in a little bit when I show you in verse 2 when Paul talks about how he's constantly giving thanks. I pray a lot for you. I just got away with a couple of the other guys who serve in senior leadership of this church.
Every now and then, they put up senior pastor as my title here. That's an unbiblical term. I know what they mean and I know why we use it, but I'm just a pastor. I'm one of the pastors here. If you will, there is a senior leadership team here. This is not a church run by me. This is a church run by us, as God tells us in the New Testament it should be. So there's a group of us. It's an unfortunate term. One of the words that's used for leaders of the church is elders.
In our language, when we think of elders, we think of age, we think of elderly people. It's important that we don't lay our hands on leaders too soon, not just chronologically but certainly in their spiritual chronological development, because it's easy to get lost in pride and have a vanity of position and become abusive in power. So he says, "Here are some ways you can test who the spiritual leader should be and make sure you get the right kind of spiritual leadership."
Can I just say this to you, especially to my gals, my friends who are single? Be very slow in putting yourself under the authority of anybody. The Bible does not say, "Women, submit to men." The Bible does say, "Wives, submit to your husband." The Bible does say, "You younger men, be subject to your elders, and all of you clothe yourselves in humility with one another." All of us are to be subject to God-given authority in the local context, but you get to choose what your church family is.
One of the very first things you should do when you're here is to vet the kinds of people who are leading you. Are they marked by the things God says should mark you as a leader? The Bible says they should be above reproach, and then it unpacks seven to nine different things that would help you know they're above reproach: if they're not addicted to wine and not lovers of money and they lead their own individual houses well, and there are many other things. If they can do that, then potentially they can lead the house of God.
Can I just say this to some young gals? Listen. You want to be really careful who you yoke yourself with. Don't put yourself underneath a guy who isn't going to lead you the way Jesus leads and love you the way Jesus loves. He gives his life for the church. It's the Gentiles, which is to say the pagans, who use their position, their power, their physical prowess to be abusive, but Jesus says, "I didn't come to be served but to serve and to give my life away for you."
Marry a guy who does that. By the way, not just because he's courting you, because when he's courting you he has the sale on and he doesn't want to just put a ring on your finger. If you're wise and pure, he wants to do more than put a ring on your finger, and you make him wait. Don't listen to a guy who says, "Well, if you loved me, you would…" No, no, no. You tell him, "If you loved me, you would honor me and cherish me right now. You wouldn't try to get your tongue in my mouth or any other appendage into your hand."
Let him wait. Let him show you he's a servant leader. Let him seek hard after God. Watch the way he treats those who can do nothing for him, and then maybe you might want to consider spending some time with him alone. I'll just tell you, I was with our leadership here the last couple of days. We got away Thursday and Friday, and we spent a lot of time praying for you, but so many of our prayers were just rooted in thanksgiving.
Can I just say this about the leadership of the church? I'm teaching you right here out of Thessalonians. We always say Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians. Paul didn't write 1 Thessalonians. Paul and Silvanus (same word as Silas) and Timothy are who wrote this book. Paul just picked up Timothy in Acts 16. Timothy probably didn't have a whole lot to add to the letter, but he got a cowrite. It's the Holy Spirit who really brought this forward.
There's no question, I would say, Paul was the managing editor, but this is really, really important: great men are always a part of great teams. It's why, Christian, we want you to not be isolated. We want you to work together. Better together is not just a cute little phrase; it is a biblical fact. If you're here and you're not a part of a community of young Timothys and warrior Silases, then you're not going to be the Paul God wants you to be.
If you are in a community, Watermark members, and there are people around you who are not on mission, who are not looking for the next Thessalonica, where the business of the world is passing through to show up and get beat up as you speak up for the glory of God, then tell us, and we will rush in and make sure around you are other missional people, because God wants you to be on mission together.
Let me show you who Paul was on this second missionary journey with. This is in Acts, chapter 15, verse 22. This is at the Council of Jerusalem where they're sending out word from the leadership of the church about whether or not Paul should be up to what he's up to and whether or not Jew and Gentile should come together under Jesus. The answer was a resounding yes.
At the very end of this council that had happened, this is what they say: "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the [other leaders of the church] , with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch…" Do you remember the map I showed you? They started in Jerusalem. They went up to Damascus, and then all the way up to Antioch.
It says they sent them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, who were on the first missionary journey. They sent a guy named Judas, also called Barsabbas, and Silas. It's the same guy who shows up in Thessalonica. "…leading men among the brethren…" Now watch this. This is what's true of him. Acts 15:32: "Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves…" Men whom God had affirmed were appropriately bringing forth the word of God.
You have to remember there is no New Testament. What's happening is that God is working in men to bring forth perfect truth from the throne of God that is going to be preserved so the church can be built, and Silas is one of them. In Acts, chapter 16, verse 37, it says… Philippi was one of their very first stops, and they got beat up.
Silas wasn't just along to watch Paul do the work; Silas was there with Paul getting beaten. Paul says to them, "They have beaten us in public without trial…" That us is him and Silas and young Timothy. So Silas is a proven warrior, a prophet of God, who could teach the word of God and is a faithful brother.
There's something here for you. One of the things I get asked a lot is, "Hey, I want a mentor." There's a Real Truth. Real Quick. on that. Sometimes what guys mean is, "Hey, can I have a cup of coffee with you every week, and you coach me up, and I can tell people you're my mentor, and maybe you'll even create opportunities for me in business and some other things?"
Listen. Mentor is not a word I'm wild about. Discipleship is. Timothy is being dragged along by the apostle Paul. Silvanus is like the apostle Paul, and they always had somebody with them. If you are here and you've never been discipled, if you don't have somebody you can walk through life with, I want to take away that excuse here. We are a disciple-making church.
On that little perforated section of the Watermark News, if you're a member, you can say, "I have never been discipled. I don't know what to do. I want to learn more about how to affect the Thessalonians. This Ignatian Way, the currency of the world, is moving through my city, and I don't know how to reach people in it. I don't know how to suffer for the gospel. I don't know what a work of faith is. I don't know how to labor in love. I don't know what steadfastness of hope means. Will you help me?"
Yes. Today is your day. Take that perforated section and say, "I'm faithful," because I or men at this church or women at this church can't spend time with you unless this is true. This is 2 Timothy 2:2: "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men [and women] who will be able to teach others also."
Here's what I want to say to the rest of us who maybe go, "Yeah, I've been discipled, and I have become a person who can bring forth the word of God." Not like new revelation. I mean, if God wants to do that today, he still can. Just make sure it's new revelation and not just some weak horoscope that could vaguely fit any person and call it the prophecy of God. What a mockery. When you see prophecy in the New Testament, sometimes it's what's called forth-telling and sometimes it's foretelling.
Foretelling is like, "Thus says the Lord: this is what's going to go down." The Bible's standard for that is perfection. You don't miss it or you're a false prophet. Forth-telling is what most of the New Testament ministry of prophecy is. Not probably in Acts 15 with Silvanus. I think he was doing some laying down gospel, if you will, or laying down truth for the church. But most of us are prophetic in that we bring forth the clarion teaching of God's Word. I am teaching prophetically tonight. I'm saying some things to you.
Here's something I'm saying to you: "Hey, guys, if you're mature; hey, ladies, if you're mature, Titus 2 tells you to be a discipler." Here's the thing. My word to you is: don't add another meeting to your day. You're all way too busy. Don't add another meeting to your day, but add another man or add another woman, women, to your day's meetings. This is how you disciple. Just bring them along.
It's not like you meet for them in some private, one-on-one, special mentoring relationship. Just bring them with you. Just stand by me after a service. Watch the way I listen to people, pray for people, respond to theological questions with people, get confronted and don't get elevated. I'd love to share with you, but I'm going to say, "Let's go; come along," and I expect you to teach and disciple others as well.
So, do you have this? This is no small point. Paul is not this superhero isolated out there, changing the world. Paul understands better together is not a cute little phrase; it's a biblical idea, and we ought to be about doing that together. Great men and great women are always a part of great teams. Are you alone, Christian? Then you are not acting Christianly.
Mark 3:13. Let me just say this to you as I wrap up the whole mentoring idea. Jesus spends all night praying about who the guys are he should hang out with. He went up to the mountain and prayed, and then he summoned to himself the ones he wanted, and they came to him. In verse 14 it goes on and says, "He appointed the Twelve, that they would go out and be with him."
Jesus didn't say, "Come listen to me; I'm your rabbi." He didn't say, "Come learn from me; I'm your mentor." He said, "Come live with me, and I'll teach you God's ways." Christianity is much more caught than taught. By the way, do you know why we're so hard on this idea of being a biblical community? Because folks will come to Bible studies all day long.
They'll bring their little folders. They'll work through Nav 2:7 or Equipped Disciple material all day long. They go say a word, fill in the blank, look up a verse, write it down. But when you say, "Now go have a faith that works and a love that labors and that endures in the midst of persecutions," they're like, "Whoa, whoa! You want me to love people? I'm here to learn, man. I'm here to listen, but you want me to live this out? That's crazy!"
Can I get an amen? Community, living with other Christians, traveling with Silvanus and Timothy is hard. I purposefully didn't say, "Marriage is hard," because we can't say "Amen" too loudly without getting the holy elbow from our spouse. Everybody is normal until you get to know them. Everybody. People are hard.
God just says, "Hey, learn to love each other. Be diligent to preserve the unity in the bond of peace." I'm trying to tell you Paul was not some individualistic, isolated individual. God grew him. Martin Luther said, "I learned more about grace and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in marriage than I did in the monastery." That doesn't surprise me a bit.
It's why I don't want you to just come and have a cup of coffee with me and say I'm your mentor. No. Come walk with me. Come to a meeting. Come listen. By the way, when I show up and I'm not alone, don't say, "Hey, Todd, this is really important." This is a working hospital. If you go down to UT Southwestern and you see a doctor, the doctor when he walks in is not going to be alone. There are going to be a couple of fellows and residents with him.
You're going to go, "Hey, Doc, the hospital gown is not exactly the most modest piece of clothing I have. You want me to roll over, and there are two people there, and one of them looks like the opposite sex? They are! Get them out of here." The doc is going to go, "Hey, this is a working hospital. We're all going to learn how to deal with the back of that hospital gown. Roll over." If you don't like that, then you can walk out holding the back of your hospital gown and go find out what you want.
Listen, guys. That's what we are here: we're a working hospital, and we're going to have people with us. Come be one of them. Now listen. It's not just some joker they've pulled off the street; it's somebody who has shown themselves faithful who has done the learning they should do in the maturity they should, so when they walk in that room it's not crazy.
Do you see what's right here? I didn't blow through this. Why is the word apostle not there? Because this is a letter of love. I want to tell you, if all of the letters you write are letters of rebuke, you're not writing all of the letters God wants you to write. When I pray for you, I'm thankful for you. I love this place. I love you, friends.
Now who do I love? I love the church, the church of Jesus Christ here who are in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ, who have been given grace…enjoy it…who have been given peace…live in it. Our peace is not in our circumstances; our peace is in our hope. We know why this world is broken. We know why there are trials and troubles among us. We know this world is not our home.
We are not trying to earn God's love. We are in a relationship with the God of the universe who is holy and will by no means let the guilty go unpunished, but he has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. We are in a place of forgiveness and grace and unity, and we boldly go before the throne of grace to God our Father. We are not trying out. If you are not in Christ, you are in trouble.
I am not trying to earn God's love. Until you know there's nothing you can do to make God love you more and nothing you can do to make God love you less, you don't understand grace. The grace of God has come to the church of God. It is a free gift. It wasn't without cost. No. It was at the highest of costs, and Paul preached that to the people in Thessalonica. He said, "This is what God has done for you."
He took the Old Testament. He walked them through it. He said, "Do you see this in Isaiah 53? It was fulfilled in Jesus. I met him. He was dead, but he's alive, because God has declared with power that he is the means through which you can be reconciled to him." Romans 5:1: "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God…" What are we worried about? This is just a wisp of a life.
So be anxious for nothing, but in everything, with thanksgiving and prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to the God who died for you, and the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds. Paul is telling the church in Thessalonica, "I don't know what has happened since I left, but when I was there, they were coming hard after you and they were beating me, but remember grace and the peace you have."
Verse 2: "We give thanks to God always for all of you…" I guess so. Here's why. Let me walk you through this. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul repeats this idea. He says, "I give thanks to God, because when you received the word of God, you accepted it not as the word of men." It wasn't just Paul's idea. It wasn't Paul's best-seller. It wasn't Paul's philosophy. "You took what I told you as something that just happened factually, and you embraced it as God revealing in history who he was. I thank God for that."
Verse 14: "I thank God that you became imitators of the churches of God, the ones that are suffering in Jerusalem, the ones that sent me out that are paying a high cost because they've said that Jesus is the Messiah. The Jews hate them, and the Romans aren't really wild about them because there's another king, and it's costing them professionally and physically, but they're giving money to me and to Silvanus, and Barnabas is somewhere else with John Mark, and the gospel is going out. You're just like them. I see you sacrificing for the gospel."
Verse 19 of chapter 2: "Because you're our hope, you're our joy, you're our crown of exultation." I have to tell you, my friends at Watermark, that's what you are to me. I just walk around, and I meet people who know you, and they like me because I'm one of you. I'm just like, "What a joy."
This is a true story. I want to be careful when I say these things, because this is all a work of God. Do you know that little crazy brand we have, that W with a wave through it, that little Watermark logo? This happened at a place not far from here. Somebody was walking around in there, and they just go, "Hey, can I just stop you for a second?"
"What's that thing on your arm?"
They kind of looked. They go, "What are you talking about?" They go, "That W. What's that W?" They go, "Oh. Well, it's a logo. We're a part of a…" The person goes, "A part of a what?" He said, "Well, we're part of a… It's a church. It's called Watermark." The person goes, "Unbelievable. Do you know that every single person who comes in here who has that thing on…? They make eye contact with me. They're kind to me. They just love me. Everybody who has a W is different, and I just wanted to know what the heck that was."
You're kind of like, "Really? That many people have been there, and they don't know what it is? That's a problem. They haven't invited them?" There was some other twist to that story about how, "No, they've all invited me to come, but remind me," and all this different stuff. I'll tell you, this is a true story. It was around Christmas. I was at Target. I was checking out, and the gal in front of me had three small kids.
We're sitting there, and she's trying to get her stuff together. I see the money that is going to be required to buy it. She has enough cash, and I can see her start to push some different things back. Her kids were doing what all kids do, which is putting other things up. They were doing some clear Christmas shopping but also some essential shopping. I saw this woman trying to sort it out, and it was taking some time.
I just said, "Hey, excuse me. I'm not doing this because I'm in a rush." I said to the lady, "Can you just put this all together?" and I started putting my stuff up there. I pushed hers down, and I took the stuff she had put back and a few things her kids had put up there and put it on there. She just looked up at me and says, "No. No." I said, "No, please. It's going to go quicker." I kind of made it about me. "Actually, I'm in a little bit of a rush. Let's just do it together. Just ring it up and put those in bags. I've got it. We're all together."
The lady at Target got a big smile. She started ringing it up, and I'm putting my stuff up there. That lady looked at me, and she kind of got her kids, and she said, "Man, thank you so much." I said, "You're welcome. That's what we do. We love each other." She says, "How can I thank you?" I go, "You don't need to thank me, but I'll tell you what I'd love you to do. I would love for you, if you want to know how I learned, when I have the chance, to do things like this…"
She just went, "Oh, don't do it." She goes, "Are you going to invite me to come to a church?" I said, "Yes." She goes, "I can't." I said, "That's okay. I didn't do this so you'd come to my church, but I want you to know why I did it. I want this small act of kindness to remind you of God's great love." She goes, "No, no. Let me tell you why: because somebody has been so kind to me where I work, and they keep inviting me to this place, and I told them if I was ever going to go to a church, it would be theirs."
I go, "What was the name of that church?" She goes, "It's called Watermark, and I promised her I would go." I go, "You know what? Go to her church. Go with them. That would be a great place to go and just be loved." I did kind of say to her, "And if you come…" It was for Christmas Eve. I said, "We'll probably see each other anyway." I just thought to myself, "Praise God." We don't worship a W here; we worship Jesus here.
Do you know what breaks my heart about that first story? It should be like, "What's that thing on your neck? What's that on your ear, that little vertical line with the horizontal line across it? Everybody who comes in here who wears that thing loves me differently. Every single person says they know this Jesus guy, and there's something different about them." It just breaks my heart that that's not the perception of the world.
I'll tell you what. We have a responsibility for that W, because it represents the cross. It's Jesus' church. I pray whatever the logo is of every other church in this area, other people would look at that logo and go, "Hey, who are those people? Because they love me differently, and they invite me, and it's clear about what they're inviting me to." Let's go, church. You guys bless me.
Look at verse 3. There are three things here. This is why we give thanks. "…constantly bearing in mind your work of faith…" Let me stop and talk about work of faith. The word there is ergon. You have office chairs that are ergonomically correct. It comes from the Greek word for work. It's the word that means done, like it's doing what it's supposed to do.
If you know Jesus, you're supposed to have a work. Now, we ain't doing a work that will earn God's love for us. Paul wrote to the Philippians, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." It doesn't say "Work for your salvation." Your work of faith, Watermark, your work of faith, church, is not to earn you admission to heaven. Why? Because we are in God the Father and in Jesus Christ because of grace.
Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God…" Even the faith you have. "…not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." But verse 10 is true. We are God's workmanship. He does something different in us that makes us different in checkout lines at Target, something different in our families, something different in our dating communities, something different in our persevering in our traveling with Paul and Silvanus and Timothy in community.
We love one another, and it has evidence. It's out there. We're his workmanship. We're created in Christ Jesus for those good works which God prepared beforehand for us that we should walk in them. It's how we live. Paul is saying, "I've heard from Timothy, who just went up there, that you guys are working out your salvation in fear and trembling. Keep it up."
Secondly, your labor of love. This is interesting. You might go, "Wait. Work and labor? Aren't they the same thing?" No, they're not the same thing at all. Work is what is done; labor is the effort expended while you're doing what needs to be done. Does that make sense? Labor is what it sounds like. "Man, this is some serious labor. It's hard."
Love is hard. Have you noticed that? Lust isn't hard. Infatuation isn't hard. Spring Break romances aren't hard. Love is hard. God's rescue of humanity is hard. Jesus labored for us, and he says, "Hey, the way I've loved you, love one another. It isn't easy. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me." That's your work. That's what you should do, and it isn't easy, but it's worth it. That labor of love God has us in. I see you guys excelling still more. I see that toil.
That's exactly what it says: your steadfastness of hope. That word for steadfastness is hypomone. Hypo means under. Super means above. Mone means to stand or remain. What he's saying is, "You remain under the pain and the difficulty of the tribulation of this world, and you're still who God wants you to be."
Is your marriage hard? You remain steadfastly committed, in Jesus' name, to the love you said you would give that bride or that groom or that adopted child or that neighbor in your Thessalonica, because you know what's going on here, but you serve Jesus. You know that he chose you. Verse 4: "…knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you…" He said, "I'm going to represent myself on earth through you, and you're going to represent me."
Church, you were chosen. The faith you have is a gift. If you're here and you go, "Well, how do I know if God is going to choose me?" Here's how: you acknowledge you're a sinner who deserves to go to hell and you are without God and without hope and there is no way you could ever be good enough long enough, that you are a wretch and you deserve the condemnation of God, and you respond to my declaring to you that Christ Jesus was crucified for you and that apart from him you have no hope.
You get on your knees tonight and say, "O God, that you would show me your people that I could know them, that the Word of God would be taught that I could respond to it, that the power of the gospel was declared to my ears that you gave me the ability to hear, and I hear it." That's how you know you're chosen. So come on. You're without excuse.
Verse 5. Paul says, "…for our gospel…" Not my slick celebrity pastor way. I'm so sick of that. Not my funny hilarity, not my stories, not my winsomeness, but the gospel God gave me that I am a steward of and a servant of. That's what I brought you, Thessalonica. I don't care what kind of sneakers you have, what kind of haircut you have, what kind of stories you can tell. If you don't have the gospel, you are worthless and a distraction.
So young leaders, quit focusing on your sneakers and on your haircuts and your stories and preach the Word, because it's the power of God for salvation. If you want to wear cool sneakers when you do it, God bless you. "…for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power…" That's what the Word of God always does. Isaiah 55:10-11 says,
"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and [make the seed flourish and give] bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I [sent it out to do] ."
Can I just tell you something? You don't need to be "Johnny Eloquent." Do you have a Bible? Read it. I have to tell you how many times I'm not sharing with somebody the whole, "Hey, do you have a faith?" and this and that. "Has anybody ever told you…?" I just take my little Bible in my pocket, in my phone. I spin it around. I go, "Read it. It's my gospel. It's what has changed me. It's the good news. It can be your gospel. It's Jesus' gospel, and it alone has the power of salvation."
You don't have to be winsome. You have to be kind and loving and gentle and humble and know that you're not smarter than that person and that they've probably been really hurt and that emotionally, somebody who took the name of Jesus has been abusive to them. They called themselves an apostle or a bishop to exploit them. So be gentle and kind, be persevering, but just give it to them.
I love W.A. Criswell when he was pastor down at First Baptist. This is what W.A. said: "When a man goes to church, he often hears a preacher in the pulpit rehash everything that he has read in the editorials, the newspapers, and the magazines. On the TV commentaries, he hears that same stuff over again, yawns, and goes out and plays golf on Sunday.
When a man comes to church, actually what he is saying to you is this: 'Preacher, I know what the TV commentator has to say; I hear him every day. I know what the editorial writer has to say; I read it every day. I know what the magazines have to say; I read them every week. Preacher, what I want to know is, does God have anything to say? If God has anything to say, tell us what it is.'"
I'm telling you, what God has is good news. He loves you. Verse 6: "I thank you that you became imitators of those others here who know the Lord, and you've received the word in the midst of many tribulations." There it is again. Thessalonica is not a church satisfied because of circumstance but is a church that is serving through every circumstance. So are you. In sickness, in brokenheartedness, in difficulty, you're being the church.
"…so that you became an example to all the believers…" Macedonia is the northern region. Achaia is the southern region. He's saying, "From north to south, everybody is talking about what in the world is going on up there in Thessalonica." Can I just tell you, Watermark? I mean it. The whole world is paying attention to you. They really are. I get emails from all around the world. I got one this weekend from Korea asking if they can come and learn about what Jesus is doing here, because the renown of who you are has made its way across the globe. That is God.
Paul is not just saying that's the first six weeks. People thought, "There's no way Thessalonica. That's the Ignatian Way, bro. That's Vegas. Ain't no way the gospel is going to take root there." It had, and people were talking about it. The gospel has taken root right here in Dallas, Texas, and Fort Worth and Frisco and Plano. Let's go. South Dallas is coming. Rockwall is getting busy. Let's go. Here we go.
"For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only [north and south] , but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we…" There it is again. This isn't just Paul. "…have no need to say anything [about who you are] . For [everybody else is talking about] what kind of a reception [the gospel has] had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God…"
I wish I could preach this whole message right there. When you come to Christ, you turn from and turn to. You don't just flee immorality; you get after it. You embrace righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on God from a pure heart. If you don't have a work of faith, if you're not embracing righteousness, faith, love, and peace, I don't care…
We're not just slapping hands reaching for cookies or reaching for pornography. That's do-good-ism. That's moral therapeutic deism. That's not the gospel. We repent from that stuff, but we run after Jesus, not because he hates bad but because we've learned to love good. We turn from because we have turned toward life indeed. " [We] wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come."
Can you believe it? What a church. I love you. If you're here and you're not a part of Jesus' church, would you just say, "God, choose me. I don't know why you would. Do you know what I've done?" He knows what you've done, and he went to a cross for it. Come. Come and receive the grace of God. I did. It has changed my life.
Father, I thank you for this church. Would you be glorified in it? Would you make your renown go forward? Would you let our work of faith, our consistent, diligent labor of love, our steadfastness in this world cause others to give thanks to you? Not so that others would see our good works and glorify your church in Dallas, Fort Worth, Frisco, Plano, and other places, but so that they would see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven. Do that, Father, for Jesus' sake. This is his church. This is your glory, and we love you. In Jesus' name, amen.