God's Grace for Us

August 27, 2023 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: First Thessalonians

Topic: English Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28

We have finally come to the end of this letter from the Apostle Paul to the church of the Thessalonians. And though I’m the one preaching, like you, I generally live week to week. I don’t always have a sense of how much time has passed or how long ago some things were.

So, I had to look at my records to find out how long this book took us to study. In doing that, I decided to look back even further to remind myself what it is that we have covered.

Beginning in 2020, we mainly studied the letter of First Peter, and that took us to almost the end of 2021. After that, we studied the book of Daniel as well as some specific issues that were important to understand as we confront the culture.

Our study in 1 Thessalonians began immediately after we finished Daniel in July of 2022. By my count, after today, we’ll have a total of 38 sermons in the book. Since we started, we’ve also had sermons by guest preachers, a study on sexual purity, a couple holiday messages, and an extra sermon on eschatology or the end times.

So, it’s been just over a year since we started studying the letter, and I trust it has not been for nothing. God has promised that He will work through the proclamation of His word. For unbelievers that work can be to bring conviction of sin or to harden them in their unbelief. For God’s children, though, the work of the Bible is to sanctify us. It is to make us look more and more like our Lord Jesus Christ.

God doesn’t simply want external conformity. He’s not just looking to change the way we behave. By His Spirit, He is working on our hearts so that we love and desire Christ more and more rather than the things of this world.

Now, in taking us from one degree of glory to another, we are not just growing closer to Christ, we are also growing closer to one another. We are eternally united to Christ and to one another, but we can always be growing in how we express and celebrate the unity we have. We have eternal, spiritual unity, but we can also be growing in practical unity and love. This again, is part of God’s work in our lives.

If you go back and read this letter, you find that this letter is filled with references to love. The Christians in Thessalonica loved God, and they loved one another. Paul also prayed for them to grow in love, and he gave them specific instructions for that as well.

But behind the love that this church expressed and would grow in, was the grace of God. Paul understood that, and we need to understand that as well. Everything that we have, or that we are, or that we enjoy—in a general sense and in a Christian sense—is because of God’s grace. It's not something we deserve or that we’ve earned for ourselves. It is a gift of God.

It is by God’s grace that we are here. And it’s by God’s grace that we have been reconciled to Him through the sacrifice and Resurrection of Christ, and it’s by God’s grace that we are growing spiritually.

I’d like you to go back with me to the beginning of this letter, and look at the very first verse. First Thessalonians, chapter 1, verse 1. Here’s what it says—Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Paul had Silvanus and Timothy with him as he wrote. They had worked together to preach the gospel and begin this church. But in writing to them a short time later, they don’t credit themselves. This is not the church of Paul. This is the church of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is in that name that Paul writes the letter.

And at the end of the verse, Paul says—Grace to you and peace.

That is a customary greeting by the Apostle Paul but it’s an important acknowledgement of our dependence on the grace of God.

Psalm 127, written by Solomon, says this—Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

We should say the same about the church, both around the world, and here in Pico Rivera. Unless God does the work, our work will accomplish nothing.

With that heart of dependency, then, it shouldn’t surprise us to see that Paul ends the letter in almost the very same way. Go ahead and go back to the end of the letter. First Thessalonians chapter 5, verse 28. These are Paul’s final words in the letter. He says—The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Everything Paul did depended on the sovereign grace of God. Everything we do depends on God’s grace too.

Now, by now, I hope you understand that depending on God’s grace doesn’t mean we get to sit back on our spiritual sofas waiting for God to do something. God has called us to work. And in God’s marvelous plan, and in the mystery of His sovereignty, it is our personal effort that the Spirit will predominantly use to work in us.

As we finish our study in this letter, we’re not going to do a detailed theology lesson. I simply want to give you three final reminders and encouragements concerning the grace of God. The grace of spiritual growth comes from God ultimately, but we have a part to play in it, both in our own lives and in the lives of others. And in the closing verses, Paul gives us 3 ways that happens.

We have the grace of prayer, the grace of fellowship, and the grace of Scripture. The grace of prayer, the grace of fellowship, and the grace of Scripture. Let’s look at them one at a time.

The first comes to us in verse 25. Paul simply says—Brothers, pray for us. Pray for us.

Paul is not asking for prayer in a greedy sense, the way a con man asks people for money. He is recognizing his own dependency on the strength that comes by God’s grace, and he is recognizing the efficacy of prayer. Prayer works. That’s why Paul told the church, Pray without ceasing.

So, again, rather than do a Bible study on prayer, let me just press you on this issue. And this is a question we all need to ask. How are you doing in praying for your brothers and sisters?

Those of you who are members of this church have made a commitment to prayer. It’s part of our membership covenant which says, “I will pray regularly for the ministry here at church, for my brothers and sisters in Christ, for the leadership and direction of the church, and for the lost who need the Savior.”

Are you being faithful to that commitment? Is that something you’re excelling at?

I can’t say that I am, I confess that to you. It’s difficult to be faithful in prayer. Near the beginning of the year, I started using an app for prayer that a pastor-friend told me about. It’s is basically a version of digital flashcard.

I have flashcards for personal issues in my life, flashcards for the members of my family, flashcard for unbelievers I’d like to see come to Christ, for other pastors, and for specific Scriptures. I also have a stack of flashcards for our members. It’s one flashcard for every household. Right now, it’s at 77 flashcards for the church members.

Well, every time I pray, the app gives my 5 from that list. At that pace, I should be praying for every household in the church about every couple weeks. But it takes me longer than that. Why? Because an app can help organize prayers, but it doesn’t pray for you, right?

It’s like having an app that counts calories or tracks your spending. If you don’t use the program, it’s not going to be any help.

Whether you use an app or a list on a sheet of paper or photos on your refrigerator—whatever it is—find ways to pray for one another more and more frequently. That’s part of how God’s grace is going to be working in our lives individually and collectively.

Pray for the elders. Right now, we’re working on drafting a new budget for next year. And we’re working on how to best minister to our members in difficult situations that we know about. We’ve also got a list of non-attending members, which you’ll see tonight when we pass out the new members list. We need God’s wisdom and God’s strength to move forward in these areas. We need your prayers.

And every other brother and sister needs those prayers too. When you connect with someone over coffee, it’s good to catch up on how life is going. And in addition to that, ask them, “How can I pray for you?” It’s a simple question, but it’s so easy to forget. I know I forget.

If you want another practical way to pray better for others, come to our prayer meeting next Sunday night. We are here for one hour, asking God to work in us and through us. Prayer is the invitation of God’s grace into our lives, and God delights to respond.

A second expression of God’s grace is fellowship. We experience and express God’s grace in fellowship. Look at verse 26—Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

There might be Christians out there take this as a literal or direct command, meaning we’re supposed to be kissing one another when we greet. Others might treat it like the command to wash feet, meaning that kissing was the cultural expression of that time period and not definitively binding on us today.

Even if you fall into the second group, you need to ask yourself what is behind Paul’s instruction and then ask, “How do I do that today?”

Behind Christ’s command to wash feet was the instruction to humbly love others. So, even if we don’t wash someone’s feet, we can wash their car or clean a toilet or serve them a meal. Humility and love was the bigger idea behind washing feet.

What’s the bigger idea behind a kiss? It is familial affection. Familial affection.

This command to greet one another with a kiss is given 5 times in the New Testament. Paul says it to the Romans, twice to the Corinthians, and once here to the Thessalonians. And Peter says it at the end of his first epistle.

A kiss was and is an expression of affection. I kiss my mom and my grandma and my aunts when I greet them and when I say goodbye. I kiss them on the cheek. With my uncles and grandfather, I shake their hand or give them a hug. I was taught to do that from a very young age.

We’d go to the Christmas celebration at my grandma’s house, and the whole family was there. If, at midnight, my parents said it was time to go, we wouldn’t actually be in the car until 12:30 because, for one, we had to pack up all the gifts, and number two, my siblings and I were going through the house making sure we said goodbye and gave our hugs and kisses to our aunts and uncles and grandma and grandpa. That’s part of what it looks like to be part of my family.

Well, what does it look like to be part of God’s family? What does it look like to be a member of the church? It means you’ve got people praying for one another, and it means you’ve got visible affection.

We are brothers and sisters in the Lord. And our connection should be visible when we gather. It’s not a romantic thing. That would be a different kind of kiss. What Paul calls for is a holy kiss. A kiss between a brother and a sister.

Listen, I’m not saying you should all go around kissing everyone, including people you don’t know. But what I do feel comfortable telling you in the Lord, is that your affection for others should be visible in the gathering of the church.

We have many people in our church who came out of the Roman Catholic Church. And most of them will testify to you that attending a Roman Catholic mass is not a family reunion. Mostly everyone keeps to themselves, and when the service ends, they got to lunch or they go home. There is no meaningful connection to the people around them.

That is not God’s design for the church.

You shouldn’t have to go watch a football game at a bar to find close friends. Here, at First Bilingual Baptist, we who are the members are a family.

And our Lord said that by the love we show, the world sees that we belong to Jesus.

So, think about that for your own life, and for the ways you’re raising your children. Yes, your brothers and sisters need prayer. But they also need a hug. they need a hand placed on their shoulder. They need a visit in their home during the week or a phone call or a text message.

What can you do to grow in the ways that you express and enjoy the grace of God through fellowship and affection with your family in Christ? What can you do? How can you grow? How can you connect?

Let me just give you a few encouragements for connecting, and then we’ll move on to the final point.

My encouragement to connect with others is to come early and leave late. Come early and leave late. Now, ironically, I must admit that I have an obligation today right after our services, so I have to shoot out of here. And I understand that happens sometimes for you as well. But to the degree that you are able, come early and leave late when you can.

Come early on Sunday mornings—not just for a better parking spot, but to talk with others before we begin. Stay a little later or go with someone out to lunch. Over time, and with some intentionality, this creates affection.

Come early for the Lord’s Supper. Stay late for the dinner, so you can talk more with others. Is your life really so busy that you can’t spare a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon? Are you that busy? Or is it because you’ve managed your time so poorly during the rest of the week? Ask yourself that.

I encourage you as well to join an FLG for this next session. I understand when you can’t do that, but that’s another way to connect with the family of God. And again, come a little early. As early as the host will let you. And stay a little late. Don’t be the last one there and the first one gone. Let God cultivate in you a love and an affection for the people.

And then, watch how that affection becomes a channel of the grace of God in your own life and in the life of our church.

We have one final exhortation and then, we’ll be done. We have God’s grace through prayer, God’s grace through affection and fellowship. Lastly, in verse 27, we see God’s grace through the Scriptures.

Look at the verse—I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul instructed him to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture. That was part of what the church did. That’s what we do too at the start of our service.

But now, Paul charges, with an oath, the person who receives this letter to read it in front of the church. The Spirit of God was moving in Paul as he wrote, and he understood that he was not writing a personal opinion; he was writing with the authority of Christ.

His letter was to be equated with the rest of the Scriptures. The entire church needed to hear it and respond accordingly. Why? Because Paul was a man who commanded respect? No. Because Paul was writing on behalf of Christ. Paul was just the messenger. But he had been delegated authority as an Apostle, and he was confirmed by Peter and James and John as well.

Where the word of God goes, the Spirit of God goes as well. If Paul wanted the grace of God to be working in the Thessalonians, he knew they needed to be committed to reading and studying and teaching Scripture.

Just a few verses earlier, he had already told them—Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies.

The Greek word he used there for despising means to make of no account, to regard with contempt. It is to minimize the importance of something. It is the opposite of treating something with reverence and respect.

So, let ask you more personally: What role does the word of God play in your own life? And what role does it play in the way you interact with your brothers and sisters in Christ?

The word of God is the means by which His grace works in our lives, so what priority are we giving to it?

As friends and family in the Lord, I don’t think it’s wrong to talk about sports, or about how our kids are doing, or about how work is going, or about how society is going, or about politics. But if that’s the extent of the things we say to one another, how are we any different from the world?

We are called to speak the truth in love. And the greatest, most impactful truth we have is the truth of God’s word.

Along this idea of speaking the Scriptures, let me read to you a quote from Charles Spurgeon, an English Baptist preacher in the 1800s. And in this quote, he mentions John Bunyan who lived in the 1600s. Here’s what Spurgeon said:

Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it. So ought we to do with the Word of the Lord—not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts.

It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models, and, what is better still, your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord.

I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress—that sweetest of all prose poems—without continually making us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!”

Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved.

How inspiring! And how convicting, right? This is a challenge for all of us to speak the word of God more and more—not in a Pharisaical self-promoting way, but in a way that is the product of our own study and delight in the word of God. We should be speaking from the heart.

Jesus said the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The stuff we ingest on our phones or on the TV—that’s what comes out of us. The stuff we invest in is what shapes the things we talk about.

So if we want to see God’s grace in our lives, and if we want to see God’s grace in our church, let’s be students of the word of God, and then speak its truth to one another.

Paul wanted to see the grace of God working powerfully in this young church that he loved, and so he calls them to pray for one another, to demonstrate brotherly affection, and to devote themselves the word of God.

As you and I do the same, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us.

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