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Live lives worthy of God (1 Thessalonians 2:1-16)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au
  1. Make the days count

Muhammad Ali was quoted as once saying, “Don’t count the days, make the days count”. It’s not bad advice but of course it all hangs on what it means to make your days count.

For some making their days count will involve trying to be the greatest at what they do. In this respect Ali made his days count. He became the greatest boxer in the world, and he wasn’t shy in telling everyone that he was.

For others making your days count will mean achieving something that they’ve always wanted to achieve whether it be doing well in business or sport or feeling like they been a success in some other area of life.

For others it will be the time they have spent with family and perhaps what they have done for their children – the education and opportunities that they gave them that they didn’t have themselves. Then for some others it will just be making the most of their days and filling their lives with as many good things as they can stuff into them.

But what do days that count look like? I don’t think any of us want to look back on our lives and think that our days didn’t count, that they didn’t make a difference, that they were lived in vain. But how do we make our days count?

  1. Making your days count

Paul, in the passage that we are looking at today talks about his time that he spent in Thessalonica. In verse 1 of chapter 2, he wrote that the Thessalonians knew that his visit among them hadn’t been without “results”. The ESV translators translated this verse “that our coming to you was not in vain”. In verses 1 to 16 of this chapter Paul explains what he meant by his time with them not being in vain.

The Greek word (kenos) that stands behind these English translations was one that in the first instance literally meant “empty”. Used in the literal sense, it could be used to describe a bucket that had nothing in it or a house that had no furnishings. It meant empty. But it was also used more figuratively. For instance, someone might be said to be speaking “empty words” or someone might be said to live an empty life. Such a life is one that doesn’t produce what it ought to produce. It isn’t fruitful. It’s one that ends up being empty even though you might have tried to fill it with lots of things. Having a full life doesn’t always mean that it has been a fruitful one.

Today we want to look at what Paul said about his time in Thessalonica to think about how we might ensure that we aren’t just counting the days but making the days count. Paul in verse 12 reminded them how he had encouraged and urged the Thessalonians to live a life worthy of the God who was calling them into his kingdom and glory. To live such a life is to make your days count. It’s to live a fruitful life – one that you are called to live as those who belong to the kingdom of God. I think Paul has reminded the Thessalonians of how he lived among them because he wanted them to follow his example so that they too might make their days count. Paul mentions at three things that we should be imitating.

2.1 Have the courage to speak the gospel

Firstly, Paul made the days he spent at Thessalonica count because with God’s help, he had the courage to speak the gospel even in the face of stiff opposition.

1 Thessalonians 2:2-4

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.

In Philippi, even though it was a Roman colony, and Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they had been stripped, beaten with rods, severely flogged and thrown into prison with their feet fastened in the stock, with all this being done to them without even a trial (see Acts 16:22-24).  Paul said that they had suffered and be treat outrageously by the Philippian authorities. But even though they had just been through all that suffering and hardship they moved on to Thessalonica and started preaching the gospel there even in face of opposition.

This is the sort of courage that we need if we are going to live and make our days count. We need to be people who are not afraid to be telling others the gospel – to be ready with an answer for the hope that we have as the apostle Peter wrote to the believers in Asia Minor. He said…

2 Peter 3:14-15

“14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” z 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”[1]

Paul’s visit to Thessalonica had not been in vain because in God he found the courage to keep on speaking the gospel even in the face of stiff opposition. But note he did with help of God. We need God’s help to have that courage and not let our fear silence us. Paul understood this and he prayed for that help and wasn’t embarrassed to also asked others to pray for him that he might have the courage that he needed.

Ephesians 6:19-20

19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

We need the courage to keep on speaking the gospel because it is God’s Word through which he does his work in this world. He uses to save and transform his people. In verses 13 to 16 which we haven’t got time to look at in detail today, Paul again thanked God for the way that the Thessalonian had received the Word of God.

1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. 14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

Paul visit had not been in vain because God uses the proclamation of the gospel to do his work in this world. As Paul said in chapter 1 the gospel came to the Thessalonians not simply with words but also with power and with the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote to the Romans, the gospel is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Verse 16 makes it clear that despite the opposition Paul wanted to speak it to the Gentiles so that they might be saved. This is why we need the courage to dare to speak it even in the face of opposition for it is God’s Word that saves and works in us. We get to be part of the great work that God is doing when we speak his Word to others..

2.2 Don’t try to please people, please God

The other reason why Paul’s visit to Thessalonica had not been in vain was because while there he wasn’t trying to please people, but he was there to please God. He knew that ultimately he answerable to God for it is he who tests our hearts.

1 Thessalonians 2:4b-6a

We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else…

The temptation is to tell people what they want to hear. But Paul said they never used flattery and they never strayed from the truth into error. People are tempted to tell people what they want to hear so that others respond to us the way that we want them to respond. People pleasers manipulate and change what they have to say so that they might win their hearer’s approval or avoid their disapproval or be rewarded by them – financially or just to be honoured. But Paul wanted to please God so he didn’t try to trick people with false claims or manipulate people by flattering them, but he faithfully proclaimed the Word of God (see 1 Cor. 2:1-5).

Paul sought to please God and that shaped everything that he did. He didn’t seek to please himself. He didn’t just seek to please the people around him.  First and foremost, he lived to please God, and this is how he instructed the Thessalonians to live.

1 Thessalonians 4:1

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.

We need to understand that our days are to be lived to please God who has called into his kingdom. That’s how you and I are to be consciously living and we are to be learning to do it more and more.

That’s what you are called to do tomorrow whether you are turning up for work or attending university or having the day off or running about doing the shopping or just lounging around at home. We don’t live to just fill our lives up with things so that our days aren’t empty.

We don’t live to just be busy or to feel that we have had another day where we have been successful at work. We don’t do things to have others praise us or notice us or reward us. We live to please God, and we are to learn to do this more and more.

How? It means that we must grow in wisdom and understanding and knowledge of God’s will so that are doing it in whatever you do. This is what Paul prays for the Colossians so that they might “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way” (Col. 1:10). That is what our days are to be all about. Learn to please him in every way and make your days count.

2.3 Love and care for God’s people

But pleasing the Lord doesn’t mean the people around us are unimportant. Pleasing the Lord means loving and caring for his people. Paul wrote in verse 7 that even though as apostles of Christ they could have asserted their authority, instead, they were “gentle among them”.

I personally think the better translation of this verse 7 is that they were “gentle among them”. This alternative is in the footnotes of the NIV and it’s what is in the main text of the CSB. The difference between the two Greek words for “children” and “gentle” is just one letter[2] with some Greek manuscripts having the Greek word for “gentle” rather than “child”.  I tend to favour the word “gentle” because when Paul wrote to Timothy about what the Lord’s servant must be like he said the “he must be gentle to everyone” (2 Timothy 2:14 CSB).  Here in 2 Thessalonians Paul has used two images to describe the way that they had dealt gently with the Thessalonians.

  • Like a nursing mother

Firstly, he said that he and his companion had cared for them like a nursing mother cares for her children.

1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

Like a loving mum who loves and cares for her children, so Paul and Silas loved and cared for the Thessalonians. Paul said that they had not only shared the gospel with them, but they had also shared their lives with them. He is talking about sacrifice.

Many mothers sacrifice so much for their children – their time, their sleep, their energy, their leisure. Like loving mothers Paul and his companions had given up much for the sake of the Thessalonians. He gave himself to serve them and he it had cost him much. In the letter to the Corinthians, the apostle told them he would gladly spend everything and expend himself as well (see 2 Cor. 12:14-15) for the believers in Corinth. He had toiled night and day not to be a burden to them. He had endured much hardship and suffering for their sakes. He wrote to the Corinthians of some of the things that he had been through as the apostle to the Gentiles…

2 Corinthians 11:27-28

27 I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

Living please God means loving and caring for his people despite what it might cost you. You don’t do this to please them, but to please the Lord.

  • Like a father.

The second image that Paul used for their dealings with the Thessalonians was that of father who gently deals with his own children instructing them on how they ought to live. In the Greco-Roman world as well as in Judaism it was expected that a father would provide instruction to his children[3]. That instruction was meant to come both by way of his words and the example he set for his children.

Paul wrote that the Thessalonians and God were witnesses of the how holy, righteous, and blameless that they had been among them (2:10). He reminded them of the life that he had lived among them because he was encouraging them to live a life worthy of God who had called them into his kingdom.

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12

11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Paul’s goal for the believers in Thessalonica was not to be people pleasers but to follow his example and to live a life worthy of God. It was to live a holy life, a righteous and blameless life. In these verses (verses 1 to 12) Paul has reminded them of how he lived because he was encouraging them to follow his example. He explained this in his second letter…

2 Thessalonians 3:7-9

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.

It wasn’t that they weren’t imitating him.  He mentioned that they were in chapter 1. But in these verses has reminded them of at least three things that they had witnessed while he had been among them that they were to imitate.

  1. Imitating the apostle

If we want our days to count and to not just being counting our days we need to be imitating the apostle too.

3.1 Have the courage to tell others the gospel

Firstly, we need the courage to keep on telling others the gospel even in the face of strong opposition. We might not feel we have that courage, and if you feel that way you are not wrong. It come naturally to the apostle for he wrote that it was with the help of God that Paul and his companion had dared to tell the Thessalonians the gospel. We to need God’s help, and we need to be regularly asking for it so that we might declare it fearlessly as we ought. For the gospel is the way that God does his work in the world – saving people and changing us so that we become not only imitators of Paul but imitators of the Lord.

3.2 Don’t try to please people but please God.

Secondly, we are not to be people pleasers, but we are to please God. We aren’t to let the fear of people stop us speaking the Word of God and we aren’t to fall into the temptation to just tell people what they want to hear because we want to please them the praise us or like us or accept us. We are to remember that it is God who tests our hearts and we have called to live a life worthy of him who has called us into his kingdom and glory. Learn to please him.

3.3 Love and care for his people

Lastly, pleasing God will mean loving and caring for his people. If you don’t love and care for his people you are not pleasing him. Don’t deceive yourself. We are called to love our brothers and sisters and that sharing our lives with them, doing what is best for them and not just what is best for ourselves. It will mean that you will be there to urging others on to live a life worthy of God who has called us into his kingdom.

 

 

[1] Unless otherwise indicate all Bible references are taken from The New International Version (2011). Zondervan.

[2] νηπιοι = children and ἡπιοι = gentle

[3] 1and 2 Thessalonians, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, p 171.