This morning, our church is starting to read in 1 Thessalonians as part of our daily reading in the Bible. Paul has been in the Macedonian areas and has since moved on from there to Athens and now in Corinth where Timothy and Silas come to join him there from Macedonia.
Paul starts his letter to the Thessalonians by commending their work as a result of their faith and their perseverance based on the hope that they have in Christ. But then he says that their faith has become known everywhere. Here is what he says specifically:
The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell 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 rescues us from the coming wrath.1 Thessalonians 1:8-10
Why all of the notoriety?
Why would it be that their faith has become known everywhere? Here are at least a few of the reasons:
First, as Paul says, they have turned from idols. In that time, the people worshiped and served the Greek gods such as Apollo, Dionysus, Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis, and many others, sacrificing to idols of man-made “gods”. But the Thessalonians in this church leave behind these idols to serve the one true, living God. They move against the overwhelming grain of their culture, thus they become noticed and spoken about in that area.
Second, they have also rejected the one other monotheistic alternative to this idol-worshiping culture that we are aware of: Judaism. Instead, there are some Jews that are joining with the former idol worshipers together to serve Jesus. Previously, they were separate in different religions, but now they are worshiping God together in Jesus.
Third, as Paul indicates prior to verse 8, the Holy Spirit is amongst them. This message is not simply being spoken with words, but it is being demonstrated in power through the work of the Holy Spirit. People are being healed and amazing things are happening around them. The work of God is happening amongst them.
And finally, they are imitating Paul, Timothy, and Silas by speaking about what is happening. Even though it is dangerous for them because they have left their former idol worshiping ways, they are telling of what God has done through Jesus on the earth, offering forgiveness for their sins and and way to truly know him. It is something to speak about and tell others!
What should we learn?
So what does this mean for us? We should learn from this scripture, but what? Again, a couple of thoughts:
First, even if we don’t have little god statues placed around our house…or even if we don’t go to temples to offer sacrifices to these gods as the Thessalonians did, there are idols all around us today. The idols of our day are those things that we worship, that we bow down to in our time, our money, or our affections that come before truly giving ourselves to God. Each person has different “idols”, but we have them. What are your idols? What has God called you to do with them if you are truly to go against the grain of our culture as the Thessalonians did and serve God through knowing Jesus?
Second, in love, we must lock arms together with others who want to serve God together through Christ. Jesus brings together people from many different backgrounds and from many – those that are considered very diverse – we become one in Christ. Let’s fight for unity in Jesus, not continually look for minor or secondary points of difference that will separate us.
Third, let us call upon the Holy Spirit to be working in our midst. Let’s seek him out, looking for his work happening all around us. If we are sensitive enough to look for what he is doing, then we can join him in it, calling upon the Spirit to move and work, healing and working for his glory and our joy and good.
And finally, we should also imitate Paul, Timothy, and Silas. We should live in ways that will glorify God. We should speak with others daily of what Christ has done also for us, just as the Thessalonians did.
Imagine if these things… Imagine if we were to live as the Thessalonians did and as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. The message would ring out also from us! We would also see many come to know Christ and amazing things happen in our midst. As believers in Christ, this is our desire, that Jesus would be known throughout the entire region because of what he has done in our midst.