I must have read I Thessalonians chapter 1 and 2 over a hundred times in my life. I’m not exagerrating. Not only have I read it annually in my years of daily (yearly) reading plans, but it was part of this passage that became the core values of my previous church, Hope Fellowship in Port Lavaca. Therefore, every January I would preach on being Grounded by Faith, Fueled by Hope, and Inspired by Love (taken from 1:3) and present to the church God’s vision for us as we remembered the church in Thessalonica. This has been a good “staple” passage for me as I press on to pray for my church, my former church, local churches and the global church. It has been used to pray through heart-gripping injustices like slavery, prejudice, sex-trafficking, and abuse. I know this text. I love this text.
However today, that moment that we pray for when we commit ourselves to the discipline of daily scripture reading happened. I read a portion of this chapter (again as it fell in place with my annual reading plan) and I learned something new. Actually, I didn’t learn something new but felt something new, as if I had just learned it for the first time. And I should say, that what I re-noticed made me tremble, and it then moved me closer to His heart for His Bride.
Paul writes in v.4, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,” — now, this made me think. What amazing variety of emotions one should feel when this could be said to them. Paul is affirming them that he has no doubt that they are (1) loved by God and (2) that God has chosen them. Think about the weight of these words as it landed on these people, these first generation believers! All the turmoil, suffering, hardships, loss of “stuff”. Think about the possible anxiety they might have felt wondering if they were “doing it right”. I mean, there were no church conferences. No Passion Network. No Acts 29, DGM, 9Marks, emergent communities. No Chris Tomlin or KLove. Not even a John MacArthur, John Piper, or RC Sproul back then (I think). No bloggers or leadership conferences. No strategic plans or church growth models. In fact, Paul later tells them that THEY are the model! So again, imagine the reassurance this little flock must have felt to hear Paul say, “we know…”. Translation: We can see it, taste it, and have no doubt that YOU are born again and YOU are loved and CHOSEN by the majestic God of both Jews and Greek! Wow… what encouragement!
And today, as I was reading this text I wondered how Paul could have had this much confidence to assure them this way. I mean, I have wanted to say this to so many people but found myself truly wondering if I would only be enabling a false dependence on feelings of assurance that they should not have. How can Paul confidently provide this counsel to these believers?
v.5 provides part of the answer: “…because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” Another part of the answer comes later in vs 9-10: “…how you turned to God from idols to serve the living 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.”
Look at the latter passage first:
- they turned TO GOD
- they turned to God FROM IDOLS
- they turned to God from idols TO SERVE the living true God
- they turned to God from idols to serve the living true God, and WAIT FOR HIS SON FROM HEAVEN
These people had shown significant life change. They turned from idols to long for Jesus and Heaven. Paul writes this in such a way as to communicate that this is unusual. This is supernatural. This is Spiritual, born of God. It is evident that they are HIS. But again, this is only part of the reason why Paul can give them this assurance.
The former passage (in v.5) speaks to that first time of repentance. The latter speaks to the fruit and the testimony of life change. But it’s this first part that hit me unusually this morning. He writes, I know this “because our gospel came not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” And as I re-read that (for what is like the 101st time) I paused, then wondered, when was the last time I remember experiencing that? Being in a place where EVERYONE could say, “those are not just words from a man, but the very power of God is squeezing me to let everything go”.
I paused, thought, trembled and then prayed.
I have heard MANY sermons. I have preached many sermons. I have seen my friends in ministry come and go. I have watched people “surrender” to ministry and leave it. I have watched others surrender to ministry and stay in it even though their hearts have left it. I have read book after book about this church, that church, this movement, that movement, these leaders, those leaders. But few are the places where I’ve been that I can say with great confidence that God’s power showed up there.
I have tasted this several times and there is nothing like true awakening and spiritual birth coming over a congregation. Paul is reminding the Thessalonians that you are proof to the world that God is alive and He is love and He is changing things.
May the gospel come to us, not only in word but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. Leading us to turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from Heaven. When this happens, we won’t be needing to evaluate or guess or try to build various training, strategy sessions. In fact, I bet those would just serve as lids. I believe what would happen would be an unleashing of crazy love that translates to service, freedom, and contagious spreading of the gospel.
More than anything, I want this! Pray for your church and your city. Pray with expectation and hope.
If nothing else, perhaps when you read this you will find encouragement to keep reading Scripture even though you are familiar with it. God promises to bring His words to life when we submit ourselves to Him and His precepts. His promises are new every day. And today, this was my reality. Keep reading and watch Him work in your mind and heart.