A Note of Encouragement

July 17, 2022 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: First Thessalonians

Topic: English Passage: 1 Thessalonians 1:1

The way I see things, we live in an age of diluted friendships and empty relationships. Along with words like “awesome” and “epic” and “literally,” the word “friend” is overused but undervalued. Facebook will give you a list of your friends. Instagram has, or at least had at one time, a list of “Close Friends.” But I think most of us recognize that real friendship is much more than sharing social media posts.

One of the reasons I think friendship suffers today is because we have a very self-centered, me-oriented society. Culture tells us that if we want to find deep satisfaction and true fulfilment, we need to look inside ourselves. They say we need to let our true selves out and put it on display for the world to admire and praise. And they say if someone isn’t willing to accept us and affirm us in every aspect of our lives, then he/she is unworthy of our friendship.

That’s a very selfish way to live. And that self-centeredness ruins meaningful friendships. That’s like a black hole for friendship because it’s just turned in on itself. There’s no external motivation or external objective.

It seems to me that the intimacy of a friendship, the strength of that connection, is going to be connected to the intention of that relationship. What’s the goal? What’s the purpose?

Superficial goals mean superficial friendships. But meaningful intention brings meaningful intimacy. Again, I think intimacy and intention go together. When you’re working together for something bigger than yourselves, that relationship will be strengthened. That’s why there’s a bond between policemen and fireman and soldiers who’ve worked together.

God did not create you to go through life all alone. I think you all know that. But knowing that and living in accordance with that are two different things. God’s ultimate design is not even that we would find our deepest significance in marriage or in the nuclear family. Our deepest connection is to be with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. And then, out of that connection we are also united to brothers and sisters in the faith. We are united in Christ for the glory of God and for the mission of Jesus Christ. That is an eternal and profound kind of unity, and it has been visible in Christ’s people from the beginning.

Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty of sin. On the third day, He rose again in victory. Forty days after that, He ascended back to the Father. After that, Acts 1:14 tells us—All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

Ten days later, the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost. And from that day forward, God has been using His disciples and His truth to gather His eternal family.

As soon as the message goes out, and as soon as the local church forms, what we find in the Bible is that this was a group marked by intention and by intimacy. They were passionate about honoring and proclaiming Jesus Christ. And they relied on one another.

They were united in prayer as they faced persecution, and the people were selling their property to provide for the poorer among them. Acts 4:32 says —Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

This was not some first-century form of communism; these were members of God’s family giving to one another of their own volition. Nobody was forced to give, but when needs became known, people gave, because they loved one another with the love of Jesus Christ.

Can you imagine what it would like to be in that kind of community? In your own life, have you had tastes and glimpses of that kind of tight community? I hope you have. But if you haven’t, I hope you experience more and more of that as you connect here at our church or, if you’re visiting, in whichever church you connect with. God designed His people to be a true community focused on the glory of Jesus Christ, and lovingly ministering to one another.

With that picture in mind, and with the goal of helping us move toward that, this morning we are beginning a new study in the book known as First Thessalonians. I’d like you to turn there in your Bibles. First Thessalonians. This is a shorter book in the New Testament. You’ll find it about 90% of the way through the Bible. It comes after the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, after Acts, and after the letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Ephesians, the Philippians, and the Colossians.

If you happen to hit Timothy or Hebrews or James, you need to go back a little bit. Look for First Thessalonians.

Look with me at the opening verse of 1 Thessalonians. Chapter 1, verse 1—Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

Generally, when you are going to study one of the letters in the New Testament, there are three main characteristics you should try to understand: The author, the audience, and the aim.

Let’s talk first about the author. This letter begins by telling us who it’s from. Three men are listed there: Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. Who were these men? The book of Acts, which chronicles the expansion of the Jesus’ message throughout the Roman Empire helps us understand some of the background.

Paul was a former Pharisee, a Jewish religious leader, who hated the name and the message of Jesus Christ. But in the grace of God, he was saved. He was transformed. And he went from killing Christians to risking his own life to proclaim the gospel. If you want to read more about his journey, you can read Acts chapters 7, 8 and 9. He was originally named Saul, but his name was later changed to Paul. His conversion took place around the year 32 A.D. which is two years after Jesus’ resurrection.

As a religious leader, Paul had a rigorous education in the Old Testament. And for most of those men, that education meant becoming arrogant and self-righteous. But with his conversion, that education meant Paul would become an effective teacher and preacher for the growing number of Christians.

In Acts chapter 11, we find that Paul was eventually sent to a city named Antioch where a new group of Christians had started to meet. That’s in modern-day Syria, north of Israel. From Antioch, Paul set out on three different missionary journeys which spanned about 9 or 10 years. Paul was sent out to preach the message of Jesus to people who had never heard it, and for those who believed, he stayed to strengthen them in their knowledge and faith. This was part of Christ’s Great Commission—baptize and teach. That’s what it means to make disciples.

Those of you who were here back in 2015 might remember that we studied Acts for about a year. You can go to our website and listen to some of those sermons, and you can also download an Acts study guide if you like.

Anyway, after Paul’s first missionary journey, he went to Jerusalem for a special council. You can read about that in Acts 15, and Paul mentions it himself in Galatians chapter 2. The meeting was called to address the issue of circumcision and the law of Moses. The main question there was: Should Gentiles, non-Jews, be mandated to follow the Old Testament law of Moses? Is that a requirement for salvation?

And the clear answer from the group, based on the Old Testament and on Christ’s teaching and on God’s revelation to the Apostles was, “No!” Salvation is not by works; it is by faith in Jesus Christ. Gentiles are welcome into God’s family, not through the Law, but through Jesus Christ.

When the meting was over, Paul returned to Antioch, and the church in Jerusalem sent with him a faithful leader named Silas. Silas is a shortened form of the name Silvanus, which is the second man mentioned here in verse 1 of the letter. Silas, or Silvanus, became a travelling companion of Paul in his second missionary journey.

In Paul’s second journey, he revisited a city named Lystra, which is in modern-day Turkey. According to Acts 16, Paul met a younger man there who had a Jewish mother and a Greek father. This man’s name was Timothy, and he was respected by the Christians in the city. Timothy joined Paul and Silvanus, and the three of them continued the journey, preaching and teaching.

So, that’s who these men are listed at the beginning of the letter. They’re the authors. Based on what the letter says, we can tell that Paul is the primary author, but Silas and Timothy would have probably given their input. Including their names here is also a way of affirming their partnership with Paul. These men worked with and represented Paul.

Now that we’ve said a little bit about the author, let’s look at the audience. Verse 1 says this letter is written to the church of the Thessalonians. What does that mean?

If someone is from Canada, we call them Canadian. If they’re from Mexico, we call them Mexican. If someone is from Los Angeles, you might hear them referred to as Angelinos.

Well, in ancient Greece there was a city called Thessalonica. The city still exists today; it’s called Thessaloniki. And if you were from that city you were known as a Thessalonian.

What kind of history did these men have the church in Thessalonica? Well, Acts helps us answer that question.

Acts chapter 17 tells us after Timothy joined the group, one of their stops was Thessalonica. There were some Jews there, but none of them had ever heard the message of Jesus Christ. For three weeks in a row, Paul preached to them. He taught them from the Scriptures telling them that the Messiah had to die and rise again, and that the Messiah was Jesus.

In the grace of God, some of the Jews came to faith. And there were also a larger number of Greeks that came to faith. After that, it seems Paul and his crew spent a few more weeks teaching them. Their stay in Thessalonica, however, didn’t las as long as they were hoping.

Eventually, those Jews who rejected the message became jealous of the attention this new teaching was receiving. They incited a riot, and because of the risk, the Christians sent the men away one night under cover of darkness.

They eventually make it to Athens, which is further south, and Paul sends Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out how this new, baby church is doing. Paul and Silas, then, continue to Corinth where Timothy catches up with them and gives Paul the update. That update is what prompted this letter.

So, we talked about the author and the audience. Lastly, let’s talk about the aim. What’s the main motivation for this letter? I would say Paul’s main goal is to encourage them. He wants this relatively young church to stay faithful to Jesus Christ. As you read it, you see that Paul’s heart is like a parent wanting to see his child grow.

The church has got some doctrinal issues that need to be clarified. And they’ve got some practical or moral issues they need to be reminded about.

We’re going to find out more as we study the letter in the weeks and months to come. But for the rest of our time today, I want to give you a broad overview of the letter.

And as we go through that, I want to use this letter to remind us about some important characteristics for a Christian community. In the Bible, Christians connecting to one another is not an option. It’s not extra credit. It’s the default position. God wants His church to demonstrate the unity they have in Christ. So, as we do a very quick overview of the letter, let me share with you some important practices for developing and maintaining the kind of community God wants in His people.

Number 1, if you want to experience community as God intended, you need to pray thankfully. Pray thankfully.

Our church’s membership covenant includes prayer because that’s a vital part of a Christian’s life. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that Paul prays for the church.

But there’s a distinct kind of prayer we see in his letter to the Thessalonians, and that is thanksgiving. Sometimes, we pray for someone when they have a medical issue or a financial issue. But that isn’t the extent of the kind of prayers we should make. It’s easy to forget to stop and thank God for one another.

As a husband, it’s easier many times to focus on what bothers me about my wife than it is to stop and thank God for her. It’s very easy to take others for granted.

But Paul doesn’t do that. If you look at the end of verse 1, he says that the church exists, not because He started it, but because they are in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

He recognizes the unity they have because of the common source of their salvation, and he remembers that the church is a gift to him from God and from Christ.

And immediately after that, look at what he says in verse 2—We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.

As an expression of His love and unity with the church, Paul prays thankfully. And then, for the rest of chapter 1, Paul lists the reasons why he’s thankful for them. Skip down to chapter 2, verse 13, and you see it again. Paul says, “And we also thank God constantly for this,” and he goes on to describe the church.

Skip down to chapter 3 for a moment, verse 9. You can see Paul’s thanksgiving another time. He says—For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God.

The church isn’t perfect. The church has room to grow, but still Paul is thankful for them. And he expresses that in prayer.

This is such a simple principle, but it’s convicting and embarrassing how little we put this into practice in our own life. Husbands and wives, are you thanking God for your spouse? Parents, do you thank God for your kids? Those of us who are members, how often are we thanking God for our brothers and sisters in the church?

If you want some help in doing that, just pick up a church directory or a members list, which we pass out every once in a while, at our members’ meetings.

You don’t need to know all about someone to say, “Heavenly Father, thank you for this person’s ministry. Thank you for the way they sharpen and strengthen our church.”

Again, it’s such a simple step, but it’ll go a long way in helping cultivate a community that showcases the love of Jesus Christ. We need to pray thankfully for one another.

Secondly, if we want to enhance our community, we should labor affectionately. Pray thankfully, and labor affectionately.

Labor speaks of hard work. God calls us to sacrifice for one another. God wants our love to be evident. But it shouldn’t just be a duty; it should be tied to genuine affection. It should come from the heart.

After describing the Thessalonian church in chapter 1, Paul reminds them about his own ministry when he was with them. That’s the majority of chapter 2.

Paul remind them how much he suffered before even getting to them, but he didn’t quit. He didn’t go home. He continued to boldly proclaim the truth of Christ because that’s what God called him to do. He labored for these people, and it wasn’t just out of a sense of duty. It was tied to his affection. He loved these people.

Look with me at chapter 2, verse 7. Look at what Paul says. Chapter 2, verses 7-11.

7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.

Paul never tries to hide the pain he endured ministering to others in Christ’s name. But he also doesn’t hide the love he had for others.

And in listing his affliction and his affection, he prods the church toward the same. They’re suffering too, and they need to persevere. They need to labor affectionately.

Skip down to verse 17, and we see the affection again. Chapter 2, verse 17—But 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, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

Again, this is a church Paul treasured. He loved them. And what an encouragement it is for us to love one another, not just in duty, but with affection.

In chapter 3, verse 6, Paul says: we long to see you.

Can you say the same thing about this church? Do you look forward to Sundays? Do you look forward to Family Life Groups during the week? do you look forward to seeing one another during the week at VBS or any other kind of event or activity?

If you don’t feel that way about your church, something is wrong—either with you or with your church or both. The church family is supposed to be a place of affection. It’s a place where we greet one another like family.

If you’re consistently late, and you come in here right as the sermon is about to start, that shows you don’t value gathering with God’s people. Get here early, encourage someone else. Join with others in between services. Pray with them. Ask about their life. And when service is over, don’t rush out of here every week. Talk to people. If you start pretending like you like the people, you might actually start liking them. Do what you can to foster affection in your heart toward your brothers and sisters in the church.

Let’s close with a final reminder we get from this short letter. We need to pray thankfully. We need to labor affectionately. And finally, we need to exhort hopefully. Exhort hopefully.

Once we come to chapters 4 and 5 of the letter, we get to some of the specific issues Paul directly addresses. And his tone is not a scolding tone, but it’s not flippant either. It’s an exhorting tone. It’s an encouraging tone.

In chapter 4, verses 1-8, Paul talks about sexual purity. In verses 9-12, he talks about brotherly love. And what’s interesting about this letter is that Paul’s main theological focus is the return of Jesus Christ.

We just finished Daniel, and that was a very eschatological book. It’s about the end times. Well, Paul was an end times guy. It affected the way he lived, and the way he taught.

Back in chapter 1, when he describes the transformation of the church, he says they turned from idols to serge the living and true God and to wait for Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

In chapter 2, when Paul talks about the enemies who are persecuting the Thessalonians, he basically says, “Don’t worry. God will deal with them. Wrath is coming upon them.”

When he thinks about his love for the church, he thinks about the joy he will have when they are made perfect in Christ’s presence.

When he exhorts the church to sexual purity, he reminds them that God will deal out vengeance on those who lead others into sin or take advantage of them. Again, this is a very end-times-oriented letter.

At the end chapter 4, Paul teaches about the Rapture of the church, and he says, “Encourage one another.” That’s chapter 4, verse 18.

Then in chapter 5, Paul writes about “the Day of the Lord” and exhorts the church to holiness. And notice how he finishes that section. Look at chapter 5 verses 9-11. Chapter 5, verse 9—For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Again, this is not Paul scolding people for being immature. There’s a patience in this letter, and there’s a heart to teach. He doesn’t just spit out commands for them to follow. He connects his exhortations to the coming of Jesus Christ.

And that too is a helpful reminder for us. If all we do is help people get their life in order, that’s not a church. a church is a group of people who follow Christ. Everything we do, or don’t do, should be connected to the truth of Jesus. We are supposed to live with hope. And that hope compels us to holiness.

First Thessalonians is a thankful letter. It’s an affectionate letter, and it’s a hopeful letter. And I pray God uses it to bring us closer together as a church. We give thanks to God in Jesus Christ for one another. We welcome one another with the love of Jesus Christ. And we encourage one another with the truth of Jesus Christ.

Our Lord is coming again, and until that day, we pray He helps us walk more closely with Him and with one another. And we hope that that love and unity will be used to bring many more to salvation.

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