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The Will of God (1 Thessalonians 5:12-28)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

I’m a conversative type of guy. I like it when things feel safe and familiar. One of the ways this shows itself is when it comes to how I watch movies. I’m the sort of person that likes watching familiar movies over and over again because I know I’ll enjoy it, as opposed to trying to watch new movies which I have no idea whether I’ll enjoy. Why take the risk?! Anybody else here who’s like me when it comes to movies?

One movie I enjoy watching repeatedly is the show ‘Bruce Almighty’. It’s about a man named Bruce, who has a number of bad things happen to him at the beginning of the movie. At first, he complains to God about all the bad things that have happened to him, saying that he could do a better job than God Himself.

But in one scene, he decides to give God a chance, so he tries to pray to God while he’s driving. Bruce prays: “What should I do? Give me a signal”. He then sees and drives past a mobile roadside electronic warning sign saying “Caution ahead, caution ahead”. Bruce gets frustrated and then prays: “I need your guidance, Lord, PLEASE send me a sign”. A truck then drives in front of Bruce, and there are road signs that the truck is carrying that face Bruce saying: “Stop”, “Wrong Way”, “Dead End”. Bruce ignores all the ‘signs’, he doesn’t stop, and the next thing that happens is that he crashes his car into a lamppost.

I wonder sometimes whether you might find yourself in a similar situation to Bruce. You might have a difficult decision to make, and you’re not sure whether to take option A or option B, and you just want a sign from God because you want to know: “What’s God’s will for my life?” “How do I know what God’s will is for my life?” How do you get your answer? Is it from a mobile roadside electronic warning sign? Or something else? What’s God’s will for your life? Our passage today in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 will help us to answer that question, and in particular, it’ll help us answer the question of what’s God’s will for me in how I treat others. Let’s pray and ask God now to help us listen carefully to His Word in 1 Thessalonians 5.

Let me give you a quick background to our passage this morning. Paul, an apostle of Jesus, had shared the gospel in Thessalonica, which is in modern-day Greece. He was only there for a short while, but many Thessalonians had become strong followers of Jesus. Paul had to leave because of persecution, and he became worried about the Thessalonians’ faith because of the persecution they were facing.

And so Paul writes this letter to the Thessalonians to encourage them to stand firm in their faith. He encourages them to stand firm in their faith especially because Jesus is coming again. The second coming of Jesus is a big theme in 1 Thessalonians, and it’s mentioned in every chapter in the letter. We’ve seen this especially in the last 2 weeks at church, where Paul says that Jesus’ second coming must change how we live. And as we come to the last part of the letter, Paul’s saying to the Thessalonians and to us, that Jesus’ second coming must change how we treat one another.

And so we come to our first point today: Respect our church leaders. Respect our church leaders. We see this in verses 12-13.

12Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.

Paul starts by urging the Thessalonians to acknowledge certain people. Who are they? They’re the ones who’re working hard among them, who care for them and admonish them under Jesus’ authority. They were the Thessalonian church leaders or elders who loved their church members, who cared deeply for them, who loved them deeply that they were willing to admonish or warn them if they were living in a way that was opposite to how Jesus wanted them to live. It’s these church leaders that the Thessalonians were to acknowledge, to respect, to recognise, to cherish. They were to hold them in the highest regard, in love.

And notice in verse 13 why they were to hold them in the highest regard. It’s because of their work. It’s because of their work of sharing the gospel and caring for the Thessalonian church. They’re not to be respected because of any qualifications they have, or how charismatic they are, or how smooth their speech is. No, it’s because of their gospel work which they’re working hard to do.

It’s a bit like how we might think of our teachers. I think many of us may have had a favourite teacher or two when we were in primary or high school. For me, it was my year 1 teacher in Malaysia who also became my year 6 Science teacher. Think about your favourite teacher for a moment. Did you like and respect them because they had a teaching degree from a prestigious university? Or because they dressed well? No, it’s probably because they genuinely cared for you, and worked hard to teach you well, not because of other things.

And it’s the same for us today too. We’re to respect our church pastors & leaders, youth group leaders, discipleship group leaders, not because of any qualifications we may have or how great our personality is, or our achievements, or abilities and skills, but because of the gospel work that they’re doing. Our church pastors work hard in and for the gospel. And do you know why it’s hard work? Because their gospel work involves caring for each one of us here today, and there are a lot of us! And it also involves warning us from the gospel. It’d be so easy for our church pastors to just support us in whatever we’re doing and tell us to carry on doing whatever we’re doing. It takes a lot more effort, care, and love from them, to warn us, to pull us aside and say ‘Hey Aaron, the way that you’re living is not consistent with the gospel’.

And I think there can be 2 ways we can treat our church leaders wrongly. The first way is when we revere church leaders too much and for the wrong reasons. We build them up too much and we respect them not because of the gospel work they’re engaged in, but because of their charismatic personality. The second way, which happens more often here in Australia, is to be consistently knocking and grumbling and complaining against church leadership, to be always dissatisfied with our church pastors.

Please be careful of the great danger of being grumblers and complainers of church leadership. Instead, pray for them. Pray for our church pastors regularly and the work that they do. Respect them. Here’s one way of doing that: one of the main things they do is to teach us the gospel, to teach us God’s Word. We respect them when we actually listen and obey God’s Word.

And as we respect our church leaders, it would help us to obey the second half of verse 13, which is to ‘live in peace with each other’. Rather than church infighting over the church leadership, which is horrible and sad to see, there is to be peace between church members and leadership. And so that’s our first point today: respect our church leaders.

And we have a responsibility not just to act in a particular way towards our church leaders. We’re to act in a certain way towards one another too. We’re to care for one another. Care for one another. We see this in verses 14-15.

14And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

Paul now urges the Thessalonians, and us, to do certain things which all involve caring for one another. The first is that we’re to warn those who’re idle and disruptive. It’s likely that some of the Thessalonian Christians were taking advantage of the generosity of their own Christian brothers and sisters and choosing not to work. Instead of working to support themselves, they were choosing to purposely depend on others. They end up being disruptive, undisciplined, out of order. The original Greek word for idle and disruptive has the imagery of a solder breaking ranks. Imagine during the coronation of King Charles last year; where there were all the British soldiers marching in perfect order; now imagine a few soldiers deciding to march in a different direction and start doing their own thing; that would be very disorderly, wouldn’t it?

Well, Paul says that if there’re anyone among us who’re idle and disruptive, we’re to warn them. It’s actually our community’s role to warn them and tell them to change their ways, to get back to work.

Secondly, we’re to encourage the disheartened. There were people among the Thessalonians, and among us here seated today, who feel timid, fainthearted, worried, discouraged, fearful, inadequate, lacking in confidence, sad. If you know someone here today who’s feeling like this, encourage them! Remind them that God loves and cares for them, and that their brothers & sisters in Christ loves and cares for them too.

Thirdly, we’re to help those who’re weak. These could be people among us who might be facing significant moral temptation, or those who have a weaker faith. Most, if not every one of us, no matter how strong or mature we are spiritually, are likely to face times in our lives when we experience grief, doubt or even despair and hopelessness. Paul urges us to help those who’re weak.

Fourthly, we’re to be patient with everyone. To be patient means to be slow to anger, slow to punish others, bearing with the offences of people for a time. I always thought I was a patient person until I had kids, and then I realised that I can be so quick to get angry and give out punishment. The reality is that we’re a gathering here today of imperfect sinners, saved only because of the grace and kindness of God in Jesus. As imperfect sinners, we can and will hurt each other time to time. In those moments, remember God’s kindness and love to you by sending Jesus to die for you to take away your sins, and show that same kindness, love and patience, to that brother or sister who has wronged you. We’re to be patient with everyone, not just those who’re easy to be patient with, but to be patient with those who misunderstand us, who have an irritating habit.

As it says in verse 15, we’re to make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always, always, always strive to do what’s good for each other and for everyone else. We’re to do good not just to our fellow Christian brothers and sisters, but to those who’re not as well.

I really hope you can see from even these few verses, that church is not just the ministry of the pastors to the church members, but it’s also the ministry of church members to each other. You see, we mustn’t be surprised when we see a brother or sister living in a way that’s not consistent with our faith. The temptation is to quickly find fault in each other. But God urges each one of us here today, to be in the ministry of caring and loving one another.

I remember when I was a student pastor here in 2012. I came to our church services with the mindset: “Ok, I need to make sure I talk to and care for as many people as I can this morning or this evening”. But what Paul is saying here, is that when we come to church, when we meet with other brothers and sisters, it’s not just the pastors’ role to care for everyone, but every single one of us here caring for each other. Every single one of us being almost like a ‘mini pastor’, loving & caring deeply for others. Sunday morning here is not a place where we come anonymously and leave. It involves us getting to know each other deeply, so that we can truly, deeply care for each other. That’s our second point: care for one another.

And finally, Paul tells us not just how to act towards our church leaders and one another, but also towards God. And this the final point: do God’s will for you. Do God’s will for you. We see this in verses 16-18.

16Rejoice always, 17pray continually, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Paul makes it so clear to us what God’s will is for us in Jesus. We don’t have to guess or figure it out ourselves. We don’t have to look for it in strange places like in the movie Bruce Almighty. No, we have it clearly written for us here in these 3 verses. It’s a question of whether we’ll pay attention to it and obey it.

Paul tells us 3 things which are God’s will for us. The first is that we’re to rejoice always. To rejoice always doesn’t mean that we’re to be happy all the time. Joy is not happiness. It’s not about being happy or acting like things don’t matter when sad and difficult things happen in your life. No, to rejoice means we can be conscious and glad for God’s kindness and sovereignty. It means that we know that God is in control, that He’s working out his purposes, and that I’m in His will even in the middle of a difficult time. It means we can be 100% sure of God’s future salvation.

I know of a Christian couple who recently lost their child. Their child was only a few years older than my son. They’ve been sharing openly about their grief, about how they’re coping day by day. The grief and the pain are deep and real. I can feel it in their words and it made me teary at times. But I can see as well their trust in God through their grief, trusting in his sovereignty. I can also see the Christian community around them supporting them so well throughout this time. It’s been encouraging to me and I’m sure to them as well to see this support.

The second thing that Paul says is God’s will for us is to pray continually. It doesn’t mean to pray at every single moment without stopping, but it means having that mental attitude of prayerfulness. We’re to pray in different moments throughout our day, and in all circumstances in our lives. I find this really hard! As I was preparing for this sermon in the last few weeks, I keep telling myself: “Ok, let’s pray continually Aaron”. But I failed. I think this is something we need God to help us grow us in, to grow in prayerfulness. It’s possible! I’m particularly encouraged by Pastor Mark. Whenever he’s near us when we’re practising as a music team, he’s always quick to pray for us and with us. Pray continually.

And the last thing is related to praying continually, which is to give thanks in all circumstances. We’re not to be people who complain about everything. When we see that everything’s going wrong, we fail to see how good God has been to us. In every circumstance in life, there’s something to always give thanks to God about. When we say thanks to God, it reminds us of his goodness and takes away from us our anxieties, our cares and disappointments. So everyone, rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances. Do God’s will for you.

To finish up: how does God want us to live? He wants us to respect our church leaders. He wants us to care for one another. And he wants us to do His will. Will you do God’s will today?