Let me invite you to take up a copy of God’s Word as we read from 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 and the first ten verses. For those of you who will be using the pew Bibles, you’ll find our text on page 986; 986. First Thessalonians chapter 1, verses 1 through 10; we’ll read.
For most of you, you will remember that we are in the middle of a series exploring the Scriptures’ teaching concerning the triad of Christian virtue – that of faith, hope and love. And of course you would have already seen in a number of the passages that we have explored over the past three weeks, that Paul specifically, he may change the order of those virtues depending on the congregation that he’s writing to and of course the need that he needs to minister to most directly. And so in Corinthians you’ll notice that he uses faith, hope and love, in that order. But the passage that’s before us this evening, it’s faith, love and hope. There’s a slight change there and we’ll read that shortly.
Well as you’re turning there in the text, let me tell you the story of Dr. Leslie. Dr. William Leslie was a medical missionary who in 1912 decided to leave his country of origin, that of Canada, and head off to the DRC, the Democratic Republic of Congo, right in the heart of Africa. His plan was to settle in a place called Vanga and to minister to the Yansi people who, up until that point, had never heard the Gospel message. They’d never heard of the name of Jesus Christ. And after seventeen years of ministry, Dr. Leslie returned to the United States an incredibly discouraged man. He really truly believed that he had done no impact, there had been no impact for the Gospel and the furtherance of the message of Christ.
Now all would have been forgotten if it weren’t for the research that was done by a man called Eric Ramsey. He finished his research on the forgotten missionaries of Central Africa in 2010, and having completed that research, he actually gathered a team together and headed back to the Democratic Republic of Congo to find out if there was any evidence of Gospel witness and truth. And it’s said that when they arrived there they were all shocked and thrilled at the same time. When they arrived in Vanga, they found – and I quote – “a network of vibrant, reproducing churches throughout the jungle, hidden like glittering diamonds in the dense jungle.” In fact, there were eight churches over a thirty-five mile radius and the 1,000 seater mother church attributes its origins directly to the ministry of Dr. Leslie in the early 1900s. You see, Dr. Leslie’s simple goal was to preach and to teach the Bible and to set Jesus Christ before the people in action and of course in Word. In other words, to live out faith, hope and love – that which we’re exploring in this series. And even though he left the mission field discouraged, incredibly discouraged, the legacy that he left in Africa is huge, and those are the testimonies that we will one day hear when we are walking the streets of gold in glory one day.
Now why do I start off this way. I start off this way with this story because what we’re going to see in this passage here in 1 Thessalonians is a reminder to us that as Christians this side of glory, we all need encouragement. We all need encouragement this side of glory. Encouragement is said to be the adrenaline to the soul that fuels us to press on as the church militant. It’s the adrenaline to the soul that fuels us to press on as the church militant. And I think that that’s part of the reason that Paul is actually writing this first letter to the church in Thessalonica. So before we continue, let’s read the passage and then we will take some time to pray and ask God to bless this time that we have together.
1 Thessalonians chapter 1. Reading from verse 1. This is the Word of God:
“Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
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, 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.”
May the Lord add His blessing to the reading and the preaching of His Word. Let’s pray, shall we?
Our gracious and loving heavenly Father, we give You thanks that we may be gathered together as Your people in this place. We thank You for Your Word. It’s a revelation, a perfect revelation of Yourself. And Father, we pray that as Your Word is preached and proclaimed this evening, that Lord You would take the mere words from a mouth and Lord, that You would use it to impact the hearts and the minds and the lives of each one seated here. Do it for Christ’s sake and for His glory we pray, amen.
As I was preparing for this evening I came across a comment from a, I would say a rather cynical theologian. He’s not Presbyterian, he’s not Reformed, and I’m not going to tell you who it is! But he wrote this. He said, “The church is like Noah’s ark.” And I think up until that point we would all say, “Yep, he’s spot on there.” “The church is like Noah’s ark.” And then he continues. “If it weren’t for the storm outside, we couldn’t stand the stink inside.” I don’t think that Paul, the apostle, would have been able to agree with this theologian’s perspective on the church at Thessalonica. There was no stink here at Thessalonica. In fact, there was just a sweet aroma of Gospel grace that was wafting and emanating from this congregation and was having an impact across Macedonia, across Acacia, and everywhere that the name of Jesus Christ was heard from the people that had entered the town of Thessalonica.
So what were the origins of this fledgling congregation? Thessalonica was a prominent city in the region of Macedonia – obviously in the Roman Empire; the Roman Empire that was expanding. And it was situated on the Aegean Sea. It was just in a little nook north of the Mediterranean Sea. And it was situated on a major trade route between the north and the south in the Roman Empire called the Via Egnatia. In other words, it was a multicultural city. It was probably very pluralistic in terms of its religions that were available. And we’re told in Acts 16 and 17 that Paul, on his second missionary journey – this is roughly AD 50 or thereabouts – he’s forced to leave the city of Philippi because he had been preaching the Gospel and this was seen as a disturbance of the peace. You know the details. He preaches the Gospel, there are multiple conversions, this is a disturbance, he lands up in prison, they are singing hymns, the gates flee open, the Philippian jailor wants to kill himself, and it’s a beautiful Gospel opportunity where the Philippian jailor hears the good news and he and his family are converted. But even as a result of that, Paul still needs to flee the city of Philippi. And so what he does, he flees and he walks the hundred miles to Thessalonica.
Upon his arrival in Thessalonica, he immediately finds out where the synagogue is because he wants to have the opportunity daily to speak to the Jews about the Gospel and about Jesus Christ and to anyone else who will actually be willing to listen. And again we’re told that for three weeks – I’m going to emphasize that – for three weeks he reasoned with them and we’re told that many believed. For three weeks he reasoned with them and many believed. And again, there’s something akin to a mini-revival that began to break out in terms of the numbers as the brothers and sisters were captured by the good news of Jesus and they were gathered together. And this was seen again as a disturbance of the peace by the Roman authorities and of course the Jewish religious leaders. And Paul is forced once again to leave a city, this time from Thessalonica, and he sets out toward Athens. But he doesn’t forget them.
Brothers and sisters, we need to remember that this is a pastor. The people that he had been ministering to for just a mere three weeks were heavy on his heart as he has to take each step away from the city and towards the city that he’s going to. And so at some point on that journey, he sends Timothy back to go and find out, “How are the saints doing back in Thessalonica? Have they succumbed to the pressure to apostatize that was so evident? Were they being able to stand their ground and be able to defend their faith because of their love for Jesus Christ?” And this letter that we have before us, 1 Thessalonians – and it’s only five chapters; I’d encourage you to go read this as you leave from here – this letter, together with the second letter, is based on all that Timothy reports back to Paul. And Paul uses that information that he receives from Timothy, as we see in verse 2, to give thanks to God. But indirectly, he’s giving encouragement to the believers who are located in Thessalonica, and yet he’s also using it as an opportunity to shepherd their souls in doctrine and Christian living. And you’ll see that in chapters 3, 4, and 5 if you go and read that on your way out.
Friends, that’s exactly – very similar, actually – to what the elders and the pastors do here at First Presbyterian Church. They are present here with us, but from the pulpit, from Sunday School, discipleship ministries, Bible studies, they are encouraging us to keep pressing on. They’re telling us what it means to dig down deep into the doctrines of the Christian faith and how that actually works out in our Christian lives. They’re encouraging and shepherding us. Now as I said earlier on, we all need encouragement this side of glory. And so Paul begins his letter in thanks to God. That’s his focus. It’s thanksgiving to God for the way that God is the One who is being exalted and praised in the people that are in the church at Thessalonica. And indirectly he’s actually encouraging the saints, “Remember what God has done and what He continues to do in your midst.”
And so he puts the spotlight on God, but ultimately he’s reminding the church that it is God who is sustaining you. Don’t think you are doing this in your own strength. Paul understands very well that in the midst of persecution, in the midst of suffering, in the midst of trials, when there is pressure weighing down from every angle in society, when you’re in the midst of the trenches, it’s a very real struggle to see beyond the immediacy of the moment. How many of you have been in a situation where you’re going through a crisis, a real trial in your life, and it’s taken a brother or it’s taken a sister to be able to point out the grace of God in bearing you up, in strengthening you, and enabling you to actually be a witness in the midst of that which is a traumatic situation in life? If often takes someone from outside of ourselves. That’s the importance of the body, the unity of the body, as we journey together towards the place that has been prepared for us.
Evidence of Saving Grace
So what I want us to look at this evening is three things from the passage; three things. Three things that Paul gives thanks for. The first one is the evidence of saving grace. The evidence of saving grace. The second is the bedrock of grace. And thirdly it’s the impact of grace. E-B-I – it means nothing but there you go! Evidence, bedrock, and impact of grace. And we’re going to spend about 98% of our time on point number one, but I’m going to mention point number two and three because I want you to see that there is an origin for the evidence and of course there’s an impact on the evidence as well so it works all the way through.
Work of Faith
So firstly, let’s consider how Paul gives thanks to God for the evidence of saving grace. The evidence of saving grace. It’s the marks of grace and he mentions three. And it’s the three virtues that we’ve been looking at over the last few weeks. We see it in verse 3. Firstly, we notice how Paul gives thanks to God for their “work of faith.” Their “work of faith.” Now it’s been mentioned before in this series but I think it’s worth mentioning again – clearly Paul is not commending them for their works that lead to faith. That would be in direct contradiction to what he has said throughout a number of his other letters as well as what James the apostle writes. And so we have in Ephesians chapter 2, verses 8 and 9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Nothing we do can earn our salvation. There is nothing innate, in terms of your personality, your character, there’s nothing in terms of your gift set and your various abilities that actually shows yourself to be worthy of the eternal gift of salvation. We are dead sinners until God revives and brings life to our hearts. And we need to hear this regularly.
You know as I was just reflecting on this evening, we live in a very performance based culture. Don’t we? We are told from when we are young, before we are even in school, “Work hard. You’ll do well. Work hard. You’ll do well.” And you get to your thirties and forties and fifties and realize that there’s not a direct correlation between those two always. But it’s ingrained in us from when we are young that if you work hard, you’ll do well; however we want to define doing well. But as soon as we bring that into the equation regarding God, it is deadly. It has eternal consequences as we think that we can bring ourselves and prove ourselves worthy before His throne. “Nothing in my hand I bring, but simply to Thy cross I cling. Helpless I come to Thee for grace.” You see, God alone, by His electing grace, by His Word and through the power of the Spirit, God alone is the one who brings the human heart from a place of spiritual death, from a place of spiritual darkness, into a place of spiritual light and life.
It’s interesting because in my notes I have the example of Lazarus, and unfortunately David stole that example this morning! But that’s exactly what it is. I’ll say what David said this morning. Lazarus is dead, dead, dead! And it’s the voice from the Word of life calling out, “Lazarus, come forth!” That’s what brings him from death to life. Brothers and sisters, I don’t know where many of you are here this evening, but I can say that if you’re not resting and trusting in Jesus Christ, you need to come forward. You need to respond to the call of the Gospel. You need to cry out for mercy and grace to God as you repent and turn from your sin and from your idolatry so that you may rest and receive Him as Lord and Savior.
And so Paul is not speaking about works that lead to faith, but he is delighting, he is rejoicing in the Thessalonians’ exercise of faith. You see, faith is a working grace; that which has brought life to us, that gift which was given is meant to result in good works. Ephesians 2, the next verse that Paul writes, verse 10 – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Pauls’ heart was full as a result of their growing desire and the joy that they had in God – the joy of the Holy Spirit that is mentioned in verse 6. That was over against the idols that they once clung to. They once clung to that. Friends, faith is to rest and it’s to receive Jesus Christ and it’s to rest upon Him. That alone will quiet the longings of your soul. Whatever the circumstance and situation of life may be at this very moment, whether it’s causing you fear, whether it’s causing you anxiety, whether it’s causing you deep trouble as to what tomorrow may bring, it is resting upon Jesus Christ. That is what will quiet the longings of our soul. We must turn back to Him. We need to turn back to Him. He alone is the one that can be our strength.
And guess what? It’s a lifelong process. It’s a lifelong process. I think Calvin was right in saying that the human heart is an idol-making factory. You’ve heard that expression many times. Just when you think that you’ve been able to put one idol to rest, another one rears its ugly head. And it’s a constant reminder to be humble and contrite before the Lord – day in, day out, completely reliant upon Him for mercy and grace to get you through and to strengthen you with each new day. One commentator, with regards to this phrase “work of faith” in verse 3, he says that “We should not truncate and we should not minimize its scope.” And I think what he’s trying to get at is that we mustn’t think that a work of faith is only delineated towards a certain area, towards one area.
So a work of faith would include, firstly, personal repentance from sin and the constant turning away from idols. That’s what we see in verse 9, isn’t it? “You turn to God from idols.” And that brings joy to the heart of the apostle Paul. Isn’t it a joy when you hear from a brother or sister who’s been wrestling and struggling with an area of sin or something that has caused them to be attached to the things of this world, that all of a sudden they seem to have found a freedom, a renewed freedom in putting that behind them as they rest in the Lord Jesus. We all have idols. If I gave you two seconds and asked you, “What is the most important thing at this very juncture of your life?” what would it be? What’s the first thing that comes to mind? It may be an idol. And that could be your spouse. It could be your children. All those things are very good and they’re blessings from the Lord. But as soon as it takes the place of Jesus, we really need to ask the Lord to help us put it back in perspective.
But the work of faith isn’t just personal repentance from sin and turning from idolatry. A work of faith is to grow in your knowledge and your reliance of your covenant God; to recognize that this covenant making and covenant keeping God is the one who justifies you, who declares you to be righteous, who declares that you are adopted and that He has made you His own. It’s to grow in an understanding and to delight in the height and the depth and the breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus; to not be satisfied with the degree of knowledge that we have at this moment, but to dig down deep into the Scriptures so that we may know God as He has revealed Himself in the Word and to grow in that knowledge. When we are continuously growing in our understanding of who this triune God is and all that He has done for us in Christ, the things of the world literally do flitter away as being unimportant, of secondary importance, because our focus is upon the One who is all in all.
A work of faith also includes acts of mercy. It’s the ministry to the poor and to the widows and to the orphans; those things which we’re commanded to do in Scripture. That’s a work of faith. In other words, it’s ministering to those who are providentially facing struggles, physical struggles in their life, whether that be health, whether it be family, whether that be economic. It’s identifying that someone is in need and being able to, where you possibly can, minister into the heart of that situation.
And then of course a work of faith is telling people about the wonder of Jesus. It’s about the mercy and the faithfulness and the goodness of God, not just towards you, but towards the whole of humanity. Paul refers to this in verse 8 in regards to the Thessalonians, and we’ll come back to that in just a short while. Kevin DeYoung – some of you would have received this message that he sent out on social media this past week, but I found it quite convicting. I quote, “We are all natural evangelists for the things that we love most. And when we love the Lord Jesus, we talk about Him. We talk about Him.” Part of our work of faith is when we get together as brothers and sisters, we encourage each other in what we are discovering in the Scriptures with regards to who God is and what Christ has done and what He continues to do. But it’s also about telling those who have not yet heard of the good news of the Gospel. It’s using all of the opportunities that are afforded to us.
And friends, this work of faith, it’s a spiritual work and it’s a daily task. It’s a daily task. It is the Spirit weaning us from the attractions and the comforts of this world so that we would delight more and more in the One who is all in all. And so the work of faith is the first thing in the evidences that Paul gives thanks to God for, and he encourages the church in Thessalonica.
Labor of Love
Secondly, Paul gives thanks to God for their “labor of love.” He gives thanks to God for their “labor of love.” This is further evidence. And I think there’s a sense in which Paul uses a different word between “work of faith,” that work, and labor, because he is intentionally escalating the implied degree of personal commitment involved from the Christian. In other words, a work of faith can be done out of obedience, even obligation, because we know that that’s what God desires of us. But a labor of love implies my whole being, being personally committed and involved in the ministry towards another. It’s the sacrificial giving of one’s self in order to serve others in some way or another. You could say that a labor of love is the difference between repentance, which is a work of faith, absolutely critical to the Christian’s life, but it’s the difference between repentance and pleading with God to show us the depths of our sin and then to give us the grace to be able to slay and crucify the flesh. It’s a labor of love simply because we love God so much we don’t want, we want to grow in our hatred towards the things He hates.
You could also say that a labor of love is the difference between giving to a homeless shelter over against sitting with the homeless at the shelter. The one sees the task that needs to be fixed, in some sense – and we do it out of obedience and we meet that need. The other is actually investing time and energy, getting into the muck of people’s lives sometimes. It’s a labor of love. A labor of love. Here’s the thing. When Christ possesses us, He not only fills us but He actually equips us to do this. It’s not our own strength; it’s us crying out to Him to work in and through us. And so Paul gives thanks to God for the way in which the Thessalonians were resting in Christ as they toil to love those around them.
And that would have included some people in the church. I know that that’s not true of First Presbyterian Church. There’s no disagreements that happen in the body of believers here! Maybe periodically! And sometimes it’s a labor just to love one another because we’re from such a variety of backgrounds. The Lord has had us on so many different journeys and it takes a lot for us to be able to grasp and understand that and to just love them as image bearers. But it’s not just about those inside the church. It’s also about those who are outside the church. It’s a labor of love to love those who want nothing to do with Christ. And what about loving even your own persecutors? Loving the religious Jewish leaders who were actually trying to shut down the church, causing them and wanting them to apostatize and renounce the faith. It’s a labor of love to set Jesus before them continuously.
Let me ask you a question. Are you a person who labors in love for others? Can that be said of us as a congregation? Friends, what hinders us from laboring in love for others? It is time? And there may be a validity to that, but that sometimes can also be an excuse. Are we laboring in love so that the radiance of Jesus and the aroma of Christ is put on display to a watching world?
Steadfastness of Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ
Thirdly, Paul gives thanks to God under the evidences of grace for their “steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Their “steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.” We live in a world where life – it’s stability, it’s tranquility, it’s routines – it can change in a flash. This past week, many of you remembered the events of eighteen years ago – 9/11. If I had to ask many of you here this evening, “Where were you on 9/11?” you would be able to tell me. For myself, I was in South Africa. I had the afternoon off, and so I was at home with Matthew. He was six months old at the time. And I remember Petula coming in the door having heard some information on the radio. We turned on the TV and we started to see these events unfold – a horrific and evil act.
What Paul is doing here is he’s thanking God that they are not being shaken by earthly events, that they are not being shaken by earthly events. Christ had shaken their world to such an extent, had turned their world right upside-down, that they realized that nothing this world has to offer can come close to the treasure that they found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, in verse 6, he speaks about the fact that there was joy indescribable in the Holy Spirit. But do you see, their newfound allegiance to Christ also came with open hostility to their faith in Christ. First of all, their pastor was forced to leave town, and on top of that, there was increasing pressure – socially, family, legally – from various quadrants for them to renounce Christ, for them to apostatize; to turn back from that very treasure that becomes so precious to them.
Just in the past couple of weeks, I’m sure that many of you have heard about some prominent Christians who had publicly de-confessed their profession – if there’s such a phrase; I’m not sure. Sadly, those who had been all in with the Gospel of Jesus Christ have no publicly renounced their faith in Jesus. That’s not what happened here at Thessalonica. They were not wavering. They were steadfast. Why? That’s the question we need to be asking. Why were they steadfast? And in some sense it comes back to the three weeks, the brief ministry that the apostle Paul had in Thessalonica where he taught them the full scope of Gospel truth, the full scope of God’s redemptive plan in Christ – that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, took on flesh, He lived among us, He died on the cross of Calvary paying the price for sin. He was the atoning sacrifice, the penal substitutionary atonement, that He died, He was placed in the grace, He rose again, He ascended and He is now seated at the right-hand side of God the Father. And in verses 9 and 10 as we’re told in the text, there is a day when He’s coming again. There’s a time when He’s coming again and He will spare us, He will deliver us from the wrath to come – all those who are in Christ Jesus. In that three week period, Paul had taught them sufficiently to understand the full scope of God’s redemptive plan that they were able to be steadfast in the hope that they had found and He who had captured their hearts.
There is nothing else that compares when you have found that treasure. Nothing. And for many of you here, you can testify to that time and time again. Friends, the return of Christ, the return of Christ is the foundation of Christian hope. It’s the sweet breeze in our sails assuring us that everything will be okay in Christ. Charles Spurgeon – he’s got some very good quips at times. He said this, “Our hope is ever anchored in the truth that through the fire God is walking with us.” Through the fire God is walking with us. Hope is not the absence of hardship, but in actual fact hope is God’s grace in the midst of hardship. It’s God’s grace in the midst of hardship because our focus is on that inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, as Peter writes in his first letter. It’s to keep our eyes fixed on that which really counts, and waiting for His return on the clouds of glory. It’s kind of like saying what they do in verse 10 where Paul says that they are actually waiting for His Son from heaven. You can almost imagine that they are exclaiming periodically, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus. Come!” In the midst of the trials, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come back and take us to be with yourself.”
Now it’s interesting because in an uncertain world, these three words – work, labor and steadfastness – they actually feed each other. They feed each other. As we do the work of faith – repenting of sin, acts of mercy, telling others about Jesus, growing in our understanding of the Lord – our confidence in Christ actually grows, it deepens, it becomes more solidified and we become increasingly steadfast because He becomes the focus, the single focus of our vision. And so being anchored and also being steadfast in hope – in other words, the beginning and the end taken care of – it actually emboldens us and bolsters us to actually labor in love in the middle. Because the beginning is secure and the end is secure, that which happens in between ought to be done as a labor of love for God and for our neighbors.
Friends – and I’ll close with this in a little while – but one of the things that we need to be asking the Lord is, “Are these three cardinal virtues – the work and the labor and the steadfastness of hope – is that the aroma that is true of us at First Pres? Is that true of us at First Pres, as a congregation but also as individuals?”
Bedrock of Grace
Now secondly this evening – you will remember that I did mention we are going to spend 98% of our time on that first point, and I’m going to keep to that as far as I possibly can! But the second point that I want us just to touch on and I want you to see, is that Paul gives thanks to God for the bedrock of grace. The bedrock of grace. In other words, the reason that there are evidences of grace, this faith, hope and love, is because God, in His mysterious workings, has been doing things beneath the surface that ultimately has remained hidden until His appointed time. And so you’ll notice three things, three nuggets that are a part of this bedrock. Verse 4 – you are loved by God. You did not know that you were loved by God until He opened your eyes. Then you understood that He set His love upon you. Secondly, in verse 4, he says He has chosen you. You did not know that God chose you. You thought that you chose God until you begin to unfold and read the Scriptures and you wonder and marvel at God’s grace to you. Some of you might be asking, “Why did God choose you?” The only answer to that question is, “Because He did.” You didn’t deserve it. None of us deserved it. But He chose you. That comes with a responsibility.
But thirdly, he speaks of how God brought His love and His election to bear upon them through the Gospel. So He has loved you, He has chosen you, and then thirdly, He brought the Gospel to bear. “At His appointed time, He allowed the Gospel to come to you,” in verse 5. And then in verse 6, it didn’t just come to you, but in actual fact “you received the Word.” And then in verse 7, the Gospel didn’t just come to you and you didn’t just receive it, but “the Word of the Lord sounded forth from you.” You couldn’t keep it to yourself. That’s the beauty of what God does in the bedrock that becomes part of the evidence as He is at work in a changed life.
Friends, here’s the thing. If God out of His sovereign grace had not been pleased to set His love upon you, if God in His sovereign mercy had not chosen you from before the foundation of the world, and if He had not coordinated life in such a way that you may hear the Gospel and it may give you the gift of faith, and if the Spirit had not opened your sin-encased heart, if all of those things had not transpired, there would be no evidence of saving grace. There’s a lot to give thanks and praise to God for in the midst of the encouragement that Paul gives to the Thessalonians and to us as the church today. These aspects of eternal mercy ought to fuel our faith. It ought to ignite our love and it ought to fill our sails with hope to work, to labor, and to be steadfast. But we don’t do it in our own strength, naturally. We constantly are going back to the throne of mercy asking God to fill us and to prepare us.
Impact of Grace
And then thirdly, he gives thanks to God for the impact of grace. So you’ve got the bedrock of grace that brings forth the evidences of grace, and from there, there’s the impact of grace. 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, so that we need not say anything.” What an astonishing statement. Remember, it’s a pluralistic and multicultural city, Thessalonica. People coming in for trade reasons, seeing the witness of this little church being impacted by such an extend that they’ve heard the Gospel more than likely and at least they’ve seen the changed lives of those who have been captured by Christ. And as they go back to their cities of origin, the Gospel message and at least the message of Jesus is going forth with them.
Friends, it’s the aroma of God’s electing grace, it’s the aroma of His love for the church, it’s the aroma of the Gospel of His Son. Here’s the point, and I’m going to conclude on this. Every church has an aroma and it will be remembered for something. My challenge, or that which I want to ask of you this evening is two-fold. Will we continue to be a congregation that encourages us, each other, to persevere, to be steadfast in our hope, to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, to do the work of faith and to do it out of obedience, but ultimately also to labor in love, to demonstrate that love of God towards a watching world? But at the same time, as much as we encourage each other, may we also be praying and asking the Lord that that which emanates, which wafts out from First Presbyterian Church – both from a congregation but also from individual members who are situated across the Jackson area; Madison, Ridgeland, even beyond – that the aroma of Gospel grace is what goes ahead of us; that we are known to be followers of Jesus Christ above all else because He’s the one that not only captured our hearts, but that we’re growing in our love for Him and our desire to serve Him. And my prayer this evening is simply that God would work in us and He would continue to nurture us and go ahead of us.
Our Father in heaven, we give You thanks and praise for this prayer of Paul – a wonderful expression of thanksgiving to You and yet a glorious encouragement to the church. Father, we pray that You would pour out Your Spirit upon this congregation, Lord that You would awaken us, Lord that You would revive us, Lord that the attractions and comforts of this world will pale in comparison to the beauty of Your majesty and glory. Father, may we be caught up and enraptured by Jesus Christ – in what He has done and in what He continues to do in and through each and every one of us, but also in and through this congregation. Father, thank You for Your Word and the way that You minister and use it in our midst. Draw us closer to Yourself, now and always. Amen.
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