The Centrality of God's Word
Topic: English Passage: 1 Thessalonians 2:13
As we continue our study of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, we come today to a passage in which Paul is pointing back to his initial ministry in the city. Because of that, I’d like us to begin by looking at that for ourselves.
So, please turn with me to Acts chapter 17. Acts chapter 17. It's not a long story, and we don’t get as many details as we would like. But there’s enough to give us an idea of what was going on.
Just to fill in some background, Paul and Silas are on their second missionary journey. And before arriving in Thessalonica, they were in the city of Philippi. After freeing a slave girl from a demon and removing her master’s opportunity to make money off her, Paul and Silas were falsely accused. They were, then, unlawfully beaten and imprisoned.
God freed Paul and Silas and used them to convert the jailer. Upon realizing that the men were Roman citizens, the city officials gave them an apology and asked them to leave the city, which they did. This brings us now to Acts 17, and we pick up the story in verse 1.
1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. 10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.
Throughout the book of Acts, we see that Paul’s strategy as a missionary was generally consistent. He would begin by preaching in the Jewish synagogue. And he taught from the Scriptures, which for us would be the Old Testament.
As he taught, the people were going to be divided into two groups. There were those who heard and believed the message and those who rejected and opposed it.
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he could look back on his time with them, and he was grateful to God that they had responded correctly.
Go ahead and jump over to the letter with me. Look at First Thessalonians chapter 2, verse 13. As we’ve been seeing, Paul has a very fond memory of this church. He loves them, and he is glad to know they are doing well despite the opposition they’re facing. And like we’ve seen before in chapter 1, Paul’s joy translates into thanksgiving. We see that again now in chapter 2, verse 13.
Here's what Paul writes—
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
In expressing his gratitude to God, Paul focuses on one specific gift from God. And that’s going to be the focus of our time today. God had made known His power, and His protection, and His provision in Paul’s life, but the specific channel through which God’s power came was God’s word.
Paul understood that his ministry didn’t ultimately depend on him. It depended on God’s power coming through His word. Before Christ came, and after He left, the primary instrument of God’s power in the world was and is His word. It wasn’t miracles; it wasn’t angels. It was God’s word which was and is His primary vehicle of activity.
We might understand that theologically, but the struggle is to live that out practically, because this world and our sin tell us that we can find joy or success or satisfaction or power in other things. And we are told that those other things are the best ways to invest our money and our time. This world is bent against the word of God, and so is our sinful heart.
Here in verse 13 we see three categories concerning God’s word, and that’s how we’re going to structure our study today. We see the transmission of God’s word. We see the acceptance of God’s word. And we see the power of God’s word. For Paul, these were occasions for joy and thanksgiving, and they should be for us as well. But they should also be helpful reminders and encouragements about how we focus and structure our lives.
Let’s start by talking about the transmission of God’s word. The transmission of God’s word. Near the beginning of verse 13, Paul says to the Thessalonians, “You received the word of God, which you heard from us.”
That’s a reminder that Paul’s ministry wasn’t built around his personality or some clever or flashy business strategy. His life and ministry were structured around the word of God. He was primarily a preacher, a herald speaking on behalf of God.
As we saw in Acts 17, Paul went into the synagogue, and he preached from the Scriptures. Paul would have also included in his messages the additional revelation He received from Christ. But whether it was old or new, Paul preached the word of God. That was his focus.
To be clear, it wasn’t that Paul could say whatever he wanted, and then declare that to be the word of God. There are preachers who do that today, and it’s a shame and a tragedy. Paul preached what he had been given. Nothing originated with him. He preached a message that had been transmitted to him.
And in that sense, he saw himself as a steward. That’s what he says in First Corinthians 4. He says, “One should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”
He was responsible to transmit the message faithfully, without adding or subtracting or adjusting. Paul was one link in the chain of God’s word. He wasn’t inventing things. He was taking what he had been taught, and he was passing it down to others. So, when people heard Paul preach, they were hearing the word given to him by God.
Here in verse 13, there’s a distinct word Paul uses when he says they received his word. The Greek word is paralambáno, which carries the idea of receiving something that has been transmitted. It’s something that has been passed down to you. That’s what Paul had done. Nothing originated with him, and Paul made sure the churches understood that.
In First Corinthians 11, speaking of the Lord’s Supper, Paul says, “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” It was a transmitted message.
Later in chapter 15, he writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
So, when Paul preaches to the people, it’s not new material he’s coming up with. He is taking what he received from God, and he passes it along so that others can receive it as well. That’s the transmission of God’s word.
The gospel is so precious and vital that Paul could even say to the Galatians, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” And then he goes on to say, “for I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
That’s from Galatians chapter 1, verses 8-12. The purity and the preservation of God’s word was a non-negotiable component of Paul’s ministry. And that’s the same attitude that Paul urged his churches to have. In First and Second Timothy, Paul says to his younger coworker, “Guard the deposit entrusted to you.”
Paul’s not talking about money there. He’s talking about the treasure of the word of God. That needs to be protected, and it needs to be transmitted faithfully.
Again, we can understand this principle intellectually, but we need to apply it in our lives. One way to live out the importance of the transmission of God’s word is to be in and help others find a biblical church. There are many, many doctrines that churches will disagree on, but I would say more important than a specific denominational distinctive, you need a church that preaches the true gospel, and that focuses on teaching the word of God.
Some of our college students have gone, and they are going to be looking to join with another church. Every year, we have members who leave us and have to find another church. They need to find a church that preaches God’s word.
That may sound easy enough, but you’d be surprised how many churches aren’t doing that. They use the Bible, but they aren’t preaching or teaching the Bible. They are using verses taken out of context to support the preacher’s message. That’s not preaching the Bible. That’s not faithful preaching. You can use the biblical text to say almost anything you want. And history has plenty of evidence of that.
When I preach a message to you, whether we are in a specific passage or a certain topic, I want you to leave saying, “I get it. I understand what the Bible says. I’ve seen it for myself.” I don’t want you leaving only saying, “I agree with Luis. Whatever he says, I’m good with.”
You might remember that after Paul left Thessalonica, he ended up in Berea, and Acts 17 tells us that the Jews in Berea were more noble than the Jews in Thessalonica. It says, “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
That’s an example for us to follow. I want you to read your Bibles. I want you to verify what I’m saying. That’s why I’m so encouraged when you’ve got your Bible with you. What’s why you regularly hear me say “Look at this verse.” I really do want you to look at it for yourself.
When a church is focused on God’s truth, they are going to be united in the message and person of Jesus Christ. I think it’s so sad that a lot of churches find their identity in something else. “We’re the church for young people; no old people allowed.” Or “We’re the church for artists; don’t come if you’re not artistic.” A church may not come right out and say that, but that can be an implied message many times. That’s not healthy; it’s dangerous.
For us, we want to make sure that being a bilingual church is an expression of being part of this community, but it’s not the defining characteristic of who we are. We are not eternally united around our love for coffee or for pan dulce or for some sports team. We’re not even eternally united in what language we speak or don’t speak. We are united in Christ and in His word. And we want to faithfully transmit the message of Jesus Christ.
That applies to us as a gathered people, and it applies to you, particularly if you’re a member of this church. Whatever day of the week it is, you are charged to be a faithful messenger of Jesus Christ. That means you need to know it, and you need to proclaim it. You can’t proclaim a message faithfully if you don’t know it. And having the right message won’t matter if you don’t proclaim it. So, be a student of God’s word, and be a proclaimer of God’s word.
Paul said to Timothy that the church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth.” We hold up God’s eternal truth for the world to see. That should be the case on Sunday mornings, and it should be the case throughout the week.
We build one another up in truth, and we proclaim that truth to the world. We want to faithfully transmit the word of God. That’s our unique task as the people of God.
And that’s why Paul asked the Roman Christians, “How then will [people] call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
God has you in this world to transmit His truth. Somebody gave it to you, and you are supposed to give it to someone else. That’s why we’re here—for the transmission of God’s word.
Now, as we transmit God’s word, we recognize that not everyone is going to believe it. But some will. That’s what Paul saw in the Thessalonian church. There were enemies who opposed the message, and there were believers who accepted it.
This brings us to our second category for today. Look back at verse 13. Let’s move from the transmission of God’s word to the acceptance of God’s word.
Verse 13—And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God.
One of the defining characteristics of genuine faith is an acceptance of God’s word. That doesn’t mean you like everything that’s said or completely understand it, but, by the grace of God, you recognize that it is the truth.
Paul makes a very clear contrast in this verse about his message was accepted. And really, we could say that these are the only possibilities for any message we hear. We either take something as the word of men, or as the word of God.
Can men give accurate messages or messages that we agree with? Sure. Paul isn’t saying that the word of men is always wrong. The contrast he’s making has more to do with authority and trustworthiness.
The word of men comes with the possibility of being wrong or deceptive. And it is not going to be eternally binding on us. But the word of God is at a completely different level. It comes with the authority of God. It is absolutely binding on our lives, whether we like the message or not.
If you go back and read Acts 17, you find that Paul ends up in the city of Athens. And it tells us there that the people “who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.”
That is such an accurate description of our culture. Doesn’t that sound like us today? People spend their time wanting to hear and tell something new. That’s why when a new TV or movie show is coming out, it makes the news. “Something new is coming out! Get ready!” And you get the teaser trailer. Then you get the real trailer. And then, once it comes out, it makes all the headlines again. And we’re all expected to go watch the show. Look at what is new. Our culture is glued to this stuff as if this is what makes the world run.
And unfortunately, people take that same kind of attitude toward church. They think, “Ok, we’ll visit your church. And let’s see what kind of vibe we get from that.” So, they come expecting to hear something along the same level as everything else in the world. But that’s not what church is about, right? At least, it shouldn’t be.
When a church gathers, we’re not here to experience something on a human level. We gather in our classrooms and in our services, to hear the word of God. That’s what this is. That’s what every true believer understands. The Spirit of God within them says, “Amen,” when the word of God is taught.
Like the Apostle Peter, we say, “Lord, where else can we go? You have the words of eternal life!”
Everyone in the word can have the word transmitted to them, but only those who belong to Jesus Christ will accept it for what it is—the word of God.
Jesus emphasized that truth in John 8 when He was speaking to the Pharisees. He said, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word… Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me… Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
You need to let the weight of that statement hit you. “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” Apart from the grace of God, man will not accept God’s word.
First Corinthians 2:14—The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
So, what does this principle mean for you personally? To start, it means this is a good way to see whether or not you are truly converted. If the Bible to you is a self-help book. If it’s on par with whatever other author or influencer you follow, you aren’t born again. You don’t really accept this as God’s word.
If you read the Bible, or study it, or hear it taught, and you think, “Well, that’s what it says, but I don’t believe that; I don’t accept that,” that means you don’t accept this as the word of God. And turning to Jesus means repenting of your rebellion and your arrogance, and surrendering your life to Christ and His word. Unless you accept this as the word of God, you have not been born again, and only judgment awaits you.
So, at one level this principle helps us evaluate our salvation. At another level, this principle helps prepare us for ministry. You need to be ready to have people not accept the message. Be ready for that. You can do everything right, and someone will still reject. That doesn’t mean you did something wrong. It means that person who rejected is still a slave to sin. And you need to pray that God opens their eyes.
Lastly, this principle is a good encouragement for our daily walk with Christ. Do you really value and embrace this as God’s word? Are you actively trying to learn it and to live it? It’s okay to read other things. It’s okay to have other books on your shelf next to the Bible. But it can’t be next to other books in your heart.
Only this deserves your total allegiance and your total devotion. This is the word of God, and we need to accept it as that. When you open these words, when we open these words, we are hearing what God has spoken. And we need to listen, and we need to obey. That goes for me, as a teacher, and it goes for all of us. We need to accept this as the word of God.
We’ve talked about the transmission of God’s word. We talked about the acceptance of God’s word. Lastly, let’s move on to the power of God’s word. The power of God’s word.
Look back at verse 13 one more time
—And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
From an earthly perspective, the Thessalonian believers had heard the word of God, and they had accepted the word of God. But Paul reminds them, and us, what was behind all of that. It was God working through His word.
Like I said, the primary way God works in this world is through His word. This is how God has chosen to work. His word is the channel through His power comes. It is the means by which God operates. And God has designed that for His own glory.
Think about this: God could have decided to simply save people at some point in their life. He could instantly zap someone and give them knowledge of the message and faith in the message. But that’s not how God has chosen to operate. God works in the world through His word.
Like Paul said to the Romans, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” He also told them that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
It's not just that you need to hear the message to be saved. It’s that the proclamation of the message is how God works in someone’s heart to bring them to faith. God’s power is working through the truth. It is the word of God that produces salvation in the people of God.
We see that, for example, in Acts 16, when Paul is preaching in Philippi. Paul was preaching to a group of women by the river. And we’re told that a woman named Lydia was there listening. And it says “the Lord opened her heart.” The power of God’s word produces salvation.
We’re going to wrap up in a little bit. Jump over with me to the book of James, chapter 1, verse 17. We’ll see a verse that I think is familiar to a lot of you. But then there’s a specific application of that truth. James 1:17 says this—Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
The general principle there is that God is the One we credit for all our blessings, and His faithfulness is unchanging. But now look at verse 18. Paul gives a specific blessing. James 1:18—Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Spiritually speaking, how did God give us the new birth? He brought us forth by the word of truth. That’s the power of God’s word. God’s word is what brought us salvation. It is how the Spirit of God operates—through the truth which He inspired.
Jump over to the next book, First Peter, chapter 1. We looked more closely at this back in 2020 when we started preaching through this letter. First Peter chapter 1, verse 23. Here’s another reminder of the power of the word of God.
First Peter 1:23—You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
The word of God is the seed that gave us eternal life. We have eternal life because it has come to us through God’s eternal word. This is how God’s power came to us. God’s word produces salvation.
Some of you may have come to faith at a young age, and maybe you don’t remember it exactly, but that’s what happened. Through your parents or your teachers or someone else, the word of God brought you to salvation.
If you came to faith at a later age, you might remember it more vividly. It might have been during a message; it might have been sometime after. But one day, through the truth you had heard, the Spirit of God came and confronted you with your sin and ministered to you the grace of Jesus Christ. You confessed your sin. You repented of your sin. You begged God to forgive you. You trusted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And you surrendered your life to Him.
That wasn’t just some personal decision. That was the power of God working in your life through the word of God.
And that’s what we pray God does through our church ministry on Sunday mornings, and through our personal ministries throughout the week. We are planting seeds, praying that God will, by that seed, make His power known in people’s lives. The power of God’s word is made known in salvation.
But that’s not all. At the end of First Thessalonians 2:13, Paul doesn’t say the word worked in you, past tense. He says, “the word of God…is at work in you believers.” Paul uses the present tense, because God is still working.
The power of the word of God isn’t just seen in salvation. It’s also seen in sanctification. It’s seen in the daily lives of those who trust in Christ. God is still working in our hearts through His word.
We’ll talk more about that next time, and we’ll see how it happened in the Thessalonian church.