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Online Text Sermon - Joy in Afflictions, 1 Thessalonians ch.1 vv.6-10

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleJoy in Afflictions
Text1 Thessalonians ch.1 vv.6-10
Sermon ID279

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"And ye became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye 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, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1, 6-10).

The intention is not to deal with exquisite minuteness into every word and every detail; that would take us so long that we would need some years to do justice to a book of Scripture. We are rather taking lengthier sections and endeavouring to be edified by what these sections of Scripture teach.

Let me introduce these words. Christianity is the wisdom of God and it is exactly the opposite of the wisdom of man. If you and I want to know what Christianity is then we must go back to the original Christianity of the New Testament. The proper method in Christianity is to go back to the beginning. It is as we go right back to the Bible itself that we are sure we have the real Word of God. Because what happens to all religious churches and leaders is that as time goes on, the truth becomes changed, churches decline, Christianity becomes infected with ideas which have nothing really, essentially, to do with it. I say this because this wisdom of God is exactly the opposite of the wisdom of man. Take for instance the invention of a motor car, which represents the wisdom of man. The early motor car was a very elementary, and very basic, and rather ugly looking machine. It had solid tyres; it did not yet have very efficient lamps or lights; it worked but only just, consuming large quantities of fuel. As time went on, the wisdom of many thousands of human brains began to improve on that primitive motor car until we have the finished product of the modern workshop, a very fast moving and efficient machine, beautiful to look at and efficient in every way. It took many, many years to accomplish that improvement. Motor cars and machines begin with a primitive form and through the wisdom of man they are gradually improved on by a process of evolution.

That is exactly the opposite of the Gospel. We do not go forward in order to know what true Christianity is, we must go backward. We go back to the way God gave the Gospel in the beginning. That's what we see here in these Thessalonian Christians. The Apostle Paul is praising them, he is encouraging them, and he is setting forth these Christians in Thessalonica as an example of what real Christians in all ages ought to be. This morning I have time to look with you at six features of real Christianity, six things which ought to be seen in every Christian, and ought to be seen in you and in me. Beginning then at verse 6, he says this: "Ye became followers of us, and of the Lord." Now that's the first thing that is said about a true Christian, one who has been genuinely converted. They become followers, first of all, of older Christians. That's what the apostle is saying. "When you were converted," he said, "you started to follow us." We, the apostles and their helpers like Timothy and Titus, and he mentions others like Silvanus and so forth, "We were the older Christians, you were the new converts. When you came to know the Lord and Saviour your instinct, by faith, was that you could copy us - our lives, our attitudes, our doctrines." My friends, this is the way faith works. When a man or woman is converted to faith in Christ, instinctively they love older Christians, and they love their good example. Nobody is pretending of course that older Christians are perfect, or that every older Christian is a model for every young Christian - that's not meant - but generally speaking, what happens is when you and I and others come to faith in Christ, we look up to older believers. I remember it myself in my own case, I used to think like this: 'If only I could pray like that older man, and if only my life was as godly as that older person.' I can still think of them in my mind's eye, and you can too. But when I first came to know the Lord as Saviour, we almost worshipped the ground they trod on. These were the 'excellent of the earth' to us, their spiritual lives, their fine examples, their excellent conversation. Let me add another thing, what I might call the power in the older Christian's life; the way in which there was order, and discipline, and the impression of the Bible stamped upon their whole character.

When we come to Christ, that's the first thing we do. We look up to older Christian men and women and we wish to be with them that we might become more like them. But that's not the whole of this verse 6, "Ye became followers of us, and of the Lord." It's not that we are followers of men in the last instance, it's that we are followers of Christ himself. We only follow older Christians in so far as they follow the Lord. We only admire them and emulate them in so far as we see Christ in them: the character of Christ, the mind of Christ, the knowledge of the Bible which older Christians have acquired over a long life time, the stability of their character, their reliability, their dependability - these are the things which are not given to them of themselves of course, they are given to them by Christ. Our Lord is the absolute, perfect model of the absolutely perfect life, but older Christians have some of that, more or less, depending upon who they are.

This now is the way the Christian ought to be, and of course it is so important therefore that ministers, and elders, and deacons, and those of some leadership or responsibilities among Christians, should have a truly spiritual character, because we always follow those who go before us, it's inevitable. Like pastor, like people - it's inevitable. Like priest, as they used to say in the Roman Catholic Church, like people - it's inevitable. We all become like those that lead us, hence when we are choosing men for the ministry, and for eldership, and deaconship, they must be the best, and that's why God chose men of the calibre of Paul who was an outstanding man of God. And oh! would God that you and I could be a little bit more like men of that calibre. That then is the first thing. When we are converted we become followers of those who have gone before us.

If we come across a kind of Christianity which doesn't follow the older, but which rather criticises them, tears them to pieces, finds fault with all that the older ones stand for, is dismissive of the older ones, is contemptuous of what they stand for, you know that they are not really converted at all. Here is the mark of conversion: that we love those who are in Christ before us. We don't regard them as perfect but we know that they are Christ's people, and we are very careful about their reputations; very, very guarded in what we say ever by way of criticism of them. If we say anything critically, it is with the utmost sadness and regret because we are followers.

The second of the six things I have to say concerning a true Christian is to be found at the end of verse 6: "having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." The second thing then that Paul tells us about the truly converted person is, the way in which they receive the Word of God. By the Word of God of course he means the preaching of the Gospel, the exposition of the Word of Christ in the truth. It is this way whereby men are made Christians: by the Word. It is by the Word that people become Christians. We don't make them Christians by cups of tea and coffee and sales of work; we don't make men into Christians by masses and confession boxes and slogans and campaigns of any kind, it's by the Word, by the Word of God - Christ preached in all the fullness of His office as a Prophet, Priest and King. That is verified by turning sometimes to the Acts 17, the first few verses, where we have an account of the apostle's labour amongst these people in Thessalonica. He went there and preached the Word of God. Some of course dismissed it, and some scoffed at it, and some opposed it, but these believed it. And that's what he is saying, "You received the Word of God."

Christians, when they are converted, receive the Word of God because it is divine, because it is infallible, because it comes from God. "My sheep", says Christ, "hear my voice and they follow me." The goats don't follow, but the sheep do because they recognise the Shepherd's voice. They know when they hear the Gospel, it is from God. Let me give you another text to look at with me in 1 Thessalonians 2. "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received [there it is - when ye received] the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it [there it is again] not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe" 1 Thessalonians 2, 13. There's the reason why men and women receive the Word of God when they hear it! It's because they feel the power of it. The Word of God has a power all of its own, and that power has a saving effect upon their lives. It subdues their minds to obedience to God; it subdues their corruptions; it sanctifies them. The power of the Word of God is transforming.

He then tells us of two things that accompany this receiving of the Word of God, and it is as true today as it was of course in Paul's day - nothing has changed. Real genuine Christianity never changes. When Christianity changes, it's always for the worse. If we get back to biblical religion you'll notice that these two things are the same today as they were in Paul's day. When people receive the Word of God, notice what happens. First (this is verse 6 at the end), "You received the word in much affliction, [second] with joy of the Holy Ghost." When we believe the Word of God there will be trouble, always - the devil will see to that. If you want a mark of being a real believer, here it is: when you receive the Word of God there will be trouble, and trial, and affliction of many kinds. I am tempted to look at that passage I referred to in Acts 17, but I need not do so - you will do so doubtless later on - but I assure you this is what it says, that the Jews who were the pretended religious leaders of the day, stirred up trouble immediately for these young believers in Thessalonica in northern Greece. No sooner had they believed and received the Word of God than trouble came. We must expect that; it is the sign that we are right. When the Word of God comes into our lives and brings with it comfort and assurance, there will be trouble as well, outward trouble.

Notice the second accompaniment of receiving the Word of God - joy; joy of a spiritual kind; joy of the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit if you prefer; joy of salvation; joy of knowing our sins are forgiven and that we are right with God. My beloved friends, isn't it true, isn't that what we have experienced, those of us who are true Christians? There is nothing new about this. I am not pretending for a moment that this is original, or that you have never heard this before. But this, I stress, is real Christianity. When we receive the Word of God, the message of life by Christ, the effect is twofold. In our hearts, we know that peace of God that passes all understanding - what John Wesley so beautifully put in his own experience, "My heart was strangely warmed," he said. That's it, joy in the Holy Ghost! In our outward life, however, trouble, tribulation and the hatred of men. They start to talk against us; they treat us as fools and mad; and they do everything they can to put us off. That's to be expected. That is a sign that we are receiving the Word of God as we ought to do.

The third thing and what we discover next is that when people are truly converted, their lives become an example to others, verse 7, "Ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia." You notice the old word in verse 7 is 'ensamples'. There is not the slightest difference between this word and our modern word 'example'. I once came across a Christian and a Plymouth Brethren, and he was trying to reason with me that this word ensample is different from example. It was perfect nonsense and pious tomfoolery. It's the same word, exactly the same word. We use the word example today. "Well," says Paul, "when a person believes in Christ they become examples." That means to say, you can't be a Christian without your life being changed. For people to come into the membership of the church and their life unchanged is a nonsense. What happens is, when people believe in Christ in a saving way their lifestyle changes. Away goes the drunkenness; away goes the folly; away goes the love of this world; away go the drugs. Other things come into their place. Because, says Paul, we become models to one another; we become examples to one another - not of course in an absolute sense but comparatively speaking. We are helpers to one another's faith. It must follow then from this, that we have a duty clearly set before us to be the best examples we can. That is why we can't live unto ourselves. We must be the best examples possible to one another in this life, endeavouring to help one another. We are to put out of our lives those things whereby we shall stumble the faith of others who are Christians.

This influence, says Paul, goes far and wide. Notice how extensive it is: "Ye were examples to all that believe" in these two places. I have said before that Macedonia meant northern Greece - and it's still there, it's still got the same name - Macedonia is still there. Achaia is the name for southern Greece. If you want to put this into parallel with the British Isles then you could say Scotland in the north, England and Wales in the south. If that helps, well take it that way. This was saying something staggering. This is amazing. He was saying that when you people there in that town were converted you became an example to Christians all over the country. There was no Christian but that heard of your conversion and of the wonderful transformation in your lives. That's what is being said here: when we are converted to Christ, we become an example to one another.

The fourth thing that is said here is that when a person is truly converted, they wish to promote the cause of Christ; they want to serve Christ by making His Word known, in one way or another, as far and wide as they can. Christianity opens people's mouths. We are all shy, and we are all nervous, but there is something the Gospel does to us. It gives us a boldness to open our mouth for God, to do something for Christ in this world. How do I know? Well it's right here, you notice, in verse 8, "For [giving the explanation - for, or because] from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad." That's another way of saying that when a person is brought to trust in Christ, the most important thing in life is Christ's cause. There's something we can bring to measure ourselves with. Is that true of us? Is Christ's cause more important to us than everything else in the world? Than our own private lives? Than our own private affairs? Than our own private interests? Well that's how it was with these Christians. And, says Paul, they were exemplary in this regard: This is how the Christian ought to be, exemplary in this regard. Not simply by what they say, of course, but by their very transformation in character. A Christian promotes the cause of God by his lips, but more still by his life. They were known to be the salt of the earth, and happy are those towns and those communities who have Christians who are the salt of their communities, and who promote the Word of God by their very characters, and whose names are synonymous with obedience to the Word of God. Here, I say, is the way in which the true converts in ancient times, in the early Christian days, here's the way they were. They were the public consciences of their communities. Men and women looked to them and they discovered the power of the Gospel.

Why is it, my friend, that your life is different from the lives of Christians? I am speaking now to those of you who are not Christians. You are very conscious of the fact that you cannot profess Christ as your Saviour and Lord, perhaps. What is the difference between your life and the Christian's life? You know very well there is a difference, don't you? You look at this Christian man or woman and you say: "They are different; they are not like the rest. The other people in my set, they don't mind using an occasional swear word. They are not very strict about keeping the Lord's Day. They can tell a smutty story and smile or laugh. But that young man doesn't; he always turns away. That young man won't smile; he walks in the opposite direction." And you say: "What makes the difference in their life?" Well I say: It is Christ in them. You see what has happened to them? The power of Christ had made their lives holy. That's what it is to be a Christian, to be someone who is holy, godly and God-fearing. You have it right here in this passage: "You were examples," he says. "The word of God sounded out from you." Men - when they heard the very name of these Thessalonian Christians - were reminded of the power of the Gospel to change, to transform, to beautify the lives of men and women. I have to say to those of you who are not Christians this morning: Christ can do it for you; He can make you just such a person. What must you do? Obviously, you must believe in Him. You must receive His Word as these Thessalonians did. You must trust in the Word of God, and believe it, and take it to yourself. As you do so, by the grace of God, you also will be changed, you also will be transformed by the grace and power of God.

We have looked at four things so far. Let me revise them with you. First of all we become followers of older Christians, and followers of Christ thereby. Second, when we are converted we receive the Word of God in a certain way. It's a terrible thing, you know, when you go through theological colleges and universities, and professors and lecturers in Divinity and Biblical Studies, when they tear aside the Word of God, and tear it apart, and when they scoff at it as they do, it is a terrible sign. People who do that are not Christians. That is why we must be so careful which theological training college we send our ministers to. I was talking in Liverpool, just last week, to a friend of mine who had been trained in Wales, in a Presbyterian college years ago, and he said he was a Christian when he became a student for the ministry. Many weren't, but he was. He said their lecturers - those that taught them Divinity in the college in Wales where he went - he said they scoffed at the Bible and would hardly read it. They scoffed at Christ and would hardly believe Him. They scoffed at the blood of Christ and thought it was nonsense. They hated any reference to Christ's blood. You see, that is a proof they were not Christians at all! Oh, they may have been clever men able to read a bit of Latin, or a bit of Greek, and a bit of this and that, they'd read a few books... but they were not Christians! The sign of a Christian is the way he receives the Word of God, with all meekness, and all humility. The third evidence is this, that when we become Christians we become examples to all. The fourth that I mentioned was: when we become Christians we seek to promote Christ's cause.

The fifth thing of the six is this. When people become truly converted, we are told here, they turn to God from idols. We see this to be found written in verse 9: "For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." Notice that 'they turned to God from idols'. This is what conversion is. Conversion has a negative side, and a positive side. The negative side is this: we turn from all sin; that's called repentance. We turn from sin. But it doesn't simply remain as a negative; there is a positive side to it. We turn from sin to God, and that is what these people did in Thessalonica: they turned to God from their idols. Of course the Greek world was full of idols and superstition, and so is the modern world. The great idols of the modern world, of course, are easy to see: sport - they are always talking about it, nothing matters but sport; that's where the big money is - sport. Yet they don't realise you've only got to crack your ankle bone and you will never play again. It's idolatry. Then there is sensuality - romantic life, married life. Well of course married life is very important, but it must never be turned into an idol. That is why there is such a curse on married life in this country. People get married and then it comes to nothing - they are off with somebody else. Marriage was given to be a blessing; it was never given to be an idol. We must put God first before everything. Then there is something else here. One of the modern idols, we have to admit today, is music - corrupt music. They can't leave it aside for five minutes; you've got to have it strapped around your head, wherever you go - in shops and buses - they have got to have this terrible thumping music. As cars go by, and they open the window, you can hear it like a bomb inside the car - it's idolatry! We must get rid of our idols, and worship God in Spirit and in truth, with pure and godly lives - repentance - turning from our idols to God. Then notice: to 'serve' God. Not simply to have God on a Sunday, but to serve God. My friends, I want to make a point here: the cause of Christ today, at this hour. He is very much in need of men and women who are going to serve Him. We are desperately short of people who will serve God. The cause of Christ is languishing and dying for want of people who will help the cause and serve God. Surely we can do more, in all the places where there are Christians, to serve God and put our hand to the plough and do something to help the cause of God in this world. You don't have to be ordained to the ministry to be able to offer some service. Let's not be passengers in the kingdom of God, let's be servants, all of us, to do something. It is true that not all can serve as some can, but all can serve somehow.

Then we come to the sixth point. What else does he say about these Christians in Thessalonica? He said they came "to wait for [God's] Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath [or the anger] to come" (v.10). So here is the sixth element which is brought before us: waiting for Christ's return. The Christian knows that it is only a matter of time before Christ returns. We are living in a world under judgement. We know that, you and I. It's only a matter of time before the end is up, and the wicked have their terrible accounting to give to God. They will meet Him as an enemy - terrible thought. They will meet Almighty God as their worst enemy. God is the best of friends, but He is the worst of enemies, and they are going to meet Him in that coming day. Christ will return. He has delivered us from the wrath to come by His death and blood and agony. He has died for us and risen again. And, says Paul here, this is what the Christians of Thessalonica did: they were waiting for Christ to come back. He came the first time for our sins; He is coming the second time for our salvation. He is going to take His people clean out of this world to glory.

As we close, let us ask certain questions. My friends, where is there real Christianity any more? Where is this real Christianity? There are many professing Christians in Inverness. There are many professing Christians in Scotland and in England, but where is the suffering? Is anyone suffering any more? If we are not suffering, then are we real Christians at all? Because this is a sign, this is the mark: "In the world you will have tribulation". Is anyone suffering anything for God? Or are we all so pliable that we can afford to twist and turn this way and that way to wriggle out of the responsibilities of life? Well, thank God there are. There are Christians suffering - some of them are right here, and others elsewhere. There are real Christians suffering, but here is the evidence of it, that we are the real people of God. You can't be a Christian in this world without suffering. You received the Word of God with affliction. Don't be ashamed of it if you are suffering anything - loss of people's kindness, loss of people's esteem. Don't be surprised; it's the evidence, it's the mark of grace.

Then as I close. My friends, the call of the hour is for better examples. It's not simply better preaching we need - we need that too; and better ministers - we need those too; but we are needing better examples, examples of Christians like McCheyne, who so walked with God that throughout the nation and beyond, people will say, "Did you hear about those people who were converted recently in such a place in Scotland? Did you hear about them? Why they say they are like those early Christians, ready to suffer anything for Christ's sake." You see, the great curse of Christianity and of the Church, is in one word - I'll tell you what it is: respectability. It's respectability that always kills Christianity. The effect of it is, we just become like the world. Well thank God there are true converts sitting here, and sitting in other churches, no doubt, in Inverness and throughout the nation and throughout the world - true Christians. Your desire and mine is to be more and more like these faithful Thessalonians, ready to receive the Word of God, whatever the price and whatever the cost.

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