1 Thessalonians: Discipleship

. 7 min read

July 2017, Christ Mountain Top
to Worship, Psalm 99
Matthew 22.15-22
1 Thessalonians 1
Lombardi: Let’s get back to basics … This is a football.
and his team spent only four weeks with the folks in Thessalonica before the
riot forced them out of town.  And
they’ve fallen in love with them, with their authenticity, with the way they
are real.  We talk about spirituality
here at Christ Church in terms of being “giving, faithful, and real”.  It was the realness of these folks and their
response to God that captured Paul’s heart. 
      Two towns and one riot later, Paul is in
Athens.  Timothy and Silas had stayed
behind after the riot in Berea to give Paul’s last minute instructions to the
new church there.  It appears that, after
finalizing details in Berea, Timothy went back to Thessalonica to handle
details there and pass on Paul’s greeting and prayers.
      Paul’s obviously gotten some good news
from those folks and writes this letter with much tangible pleasure in the
stories he’s heard.

1. Redirection
Thessalonians 1:9-10
 For the people of
those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how
you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,  10 and to wait for his Son from
heaven, whom he raised from the dead– Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath
that is coming.
serves something
      Perhaps a traditional idol
      Perhaps another projection of who we are
and what we want
            Security – financial, employment,
            Love life or sexual pleasure – based
on fantasy not reality
            Children – their success (by our
definition) or their love
      Empire (Caesar) or God
we serve a living and true God? A God who really hears prayer, because this God
made our mouths and ears. A God who offers the pleasure of knowing as we are
known. A God who offers not security in stuff or other people but in
relationship with Godself.
2. Imitation
Thessalonians 1:4-8
 For we know, brothers
and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you,  5 because our message of the
gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit
and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be
among you for your sake.  6
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you
received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,  7 so that you became an example to
all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 
8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not
only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become
known, so that we have no need to speak about it.
kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake
      Clear who we were
      Clear that we were not about us, but
serving you
imitated us and the Lord
became an example (that others imitate)
message came to you … not in word only but power/Spirit
word has sounded forth from you in every place … so that we have no need to
speak about it
      Not that our witness is entirely without
      Our witness is in power and the Spirit
when it is with our LIFE
Francis (attribution): Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use
      BE the Gospel!
      Prayer group
      Music, contextualized
      Curiosity, zest (biking, birding,
3. Transformation
Thessalonians 1:2-3
 We always give thanks
to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly  3 remembering before our God and
Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our
Lord Jesus Christ.
      The 3 cardinal virtues in ACTION, not
simply our work.
of faith
biblical language, faith is the way to acceptance before God and to
self-acceptance.  The opposite road is
the road of guilt, a road too often traveled in the name of good religion.  We have an understanding of how guilt can
prompt action, and can taint good things. 
When the flowers and candles are on the table, one question becomes the
subtext in a relationship riddled with guilt: “What have you done this time?”
      So, what is the “work of faith”?  The work of faith is audacious, all-out,
unreasonable risk.  If our own soul is
never truly at risk, because we have been accepted or “justified” by God, then
we have nothing to lose and everything to gain in following Jesus.  Why hold anything back? 
      Annie Dillard, An American Childhood, man chasing her in the snow
      That’s the work of faith, what Kierkegaard
first called a “leap of faith” – to totally abandon yourself to the arms of
God, to dare things that are beyond our grasp, to put ourselves on the line . .
. because, in the end, we are accepted. 
What a difference between such abandon and guilt-ridden, apologetic
so-called discipleship: I’m going to church because I screwed up, I’m giving
because I feel guilty, I’m serving but secretly doing it to work off my
penance.  “There is no condemnation for those
who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
of love
Christian theology, love is the path to holiness – to participation in the
mystery of God and to the integration of the self in a disintegrated,
disjointed world.  The opposite road is
the road of law or rule, the sense of obligation or requirement (“Do I have
to?”) accompanied by the grim determination of our will:
      If you can force your heart and nerve and
      to serve your turn long after you are gone
      and so hold on when there is nothing in
      except the Will which says to them, “Hold
            Kipling, “If”
is easy to talk about holiness in terms of rules and standards.  Surely, those are good things.  But they are not adequate to transform
      A former pastor of mine had his conversion
experience at a traditional raise-your-hand-and-walk-down-the-aisle revival
service.  His older brother heard the
distressing news the next day and woke him up: “What were you thinking?  Now you won’t be able to have any fun!”  That’s what you get if holiness is about
rules and grim determination.  But the
Thessalonians knew better than that. 
Following Jesus is more fun that we imagine, and it flows from love.
of hope
faith is the way to acceptance and love is the path to holiness, hope is the soul’s
anchor in the promise and future of God (Hebrews 6:18-19).  And its opposite is despair’s memory.  Despair’s memory (as opposed to blessing’s
memory) is the memory that repeats every negative thing that we’ve heard said
about us.  It is the memory that
rehearses every past failure.  It is the
memory that insists that we will never be better people, never be better off.
      Hope, on the other hand, takes the
promises of God seriously and exclaims, “The best is yet to come!”  When the boat of our lives is stuck in the
shallows, hope is the anchor we cast out and use to pull ourselves into a
better future.  When we need a moment of
rest and peace, we tie our lines to a buoy anchored in the promises of God.
      The perseverance of hope, the mental
toughness, the focus.  In a distance
race, you pace yourself for one thing in the future, the finish line.  It pulls you forward.  If you began the race and the finish line was
constantly shifting – the way some parents, teachers and bosses change
expectations mid-course – we’d tend toward despair.  No matter what we do, we’re not good enough,
we will not “finish”.  But Christian hope
is anchored in the promise and future of God. No one can keep it from us. Nothing
can deprive us of it!
      Already in the short time since Paul had
been at Thessalonica, the disciples there were facing persecution.  It only began with the riot.  But they were impervious to despair because
their souls were anchored in God’s promise and future.  Paul is encouraged to hear this news.
book of The Revelation begins with short notes to seven different
churches.  To the church in Ephesus, Jesus
says, “I know your work, your labor, and your perseverance . . . but I have
something against you.  You have
forgotten your first love” (Revelation 2:1-4). 
Our work is nothing if it is not the work of faith; our labor is nothing
if it is not the labor of love; our perseverance is nothing if it is not the
perseverance of hope.  If your
spirituality has become one of guilt-ridden effort, standard-driven labor, and
despair-dominated perseverance, today’s the day to turn the corner, to remember
our first love, to reclaim that authentic spirituality that is the birthright
of every child of God.