Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
You Are Chosen By God - October 19, 2014 - Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24) - Text: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
This morning we continue to listen to, be instructed by and to be encouraged by Paul. I would suggest that Paul was the first and best Lutheran theologian recorded in Holy Scripture. I say this because as we discerningly read through Paul’s letter we get a clearer understanding of the message of salvation. Paul constantly encourages us to know that we get it right when God is doing the doing and we are being done to and this morning’s words are no exception, as this morning he is especially writing words of encouragement, and even these words of encouragement focus our attention on God’s doing the doing and our being do to.
This morning we move to listen to a part of Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Thessalonica. He begins, “1Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.” (v. 1). This is the only letter we have from Paul which is written strictly for Christian edification. There are really no spiritual problems at the Thessalonian church so Paul uses this letter to encourage them in their Christian faith and life. Paul is also writing to us here at St. Matthew Lutheran church this morning so that we might be strengthened in our faith. Paul uses two familiar words in which he packs a “ton” of Christian teaching. He says, “Grace and peace to you.”
When Paul says grace he is thinking of the grace of God, the undeserved mercy God has for us. And notice, contrary to how some people would define grace in our world today, such as suggesting that grace is God giving us the power to do something, Paul takes us completely out of the equation and points only to God. Grace is God’s doing, God’s giving, and our being done to and given to. The grace God has for us is that He loves us so much that He sent His one and only son Jesus to live the perfect life for us, take our sins upon Himself, suffer and die on the cross for those sins, and rise again so that through faith in Him we might have the gift of eternal life in heaven. It is grace which brings peace to us. And as we talked about last week, this is a peace which is not like any peace we have here on earth. Sure we may have some peace and quiet from time to time, but Paul is talking about the kind of peace which only God can give. The kind of peace which comes from Him. The peace which He gives us through faith in Jesus. The kind of peace which comes from the forgiveness of sins. Without forgiveness we remain in our sin and our guilt haunts us, but with forgiveness the sin is gone and the guilt is removed and we do have peace. This peace then is the peace of heart, mind, soul, and body which come from faith in Jesus, being forgiven and the promise of eternal life.
Paul goes on to tell the Thessalonians that he prays for them. This is not something that is unusual because in almost all of his letters Paul reminds his readers that he prays for them. In his letter to the Christians at Rome he says, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world,” (Rom. 1:8). In his letter to the Philippians he says, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,” (Phil. 1:3-5). And here in our text Paul is praying for the people because of their response of faith. He says, “2We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (v. 2). I want to talk about their response of faith as compared to our response of faith, but first I want to skip to verse four where Paul talks about their faith.
Paul knows that the Thessalonians and we are God’s elect. Paul says, “4For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” (v. 4,5). As we talk about verse four and five, I want to remind you again, that as Paul is writing to the Christians at Thessalonica, he is writing to us also. So whenever I say that Paul is writing or speaking to the Thessalonians, know that he is speaking and writing to us. Paul says, “He, that is God, has chosen you.” I am sure that you have heard people say, “on such and such a date I chose Jesus as my personal Savior,” or “I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior.” I hope that what they mean by this is that through the Gospel, that is God’s Word, through the message of Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection, that by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God they have been brought to faith, literally been given faith in Jesus. We know that as sinful human beings we cannot come to Jesus, we cannot chose Him, as sinful human beings we can only reject Him. Noone can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. Notice again, Paul says, that God has chosen you.
And Paul goes on to say that this Gospel, God’s Word, has power. God’s Word is not a stagnant word, but is alive coming to us through our reading the Bible, through someone telling us of Jesus, and from our hearing the Word preached to us. God’s Word has power, power to show us our sins, and power to show us forgiveness and our Savior. Power to do what it says and to give the gifts God has to give.
Add to the power of the Word the fact that the Holy Spirit is working through that Word. Through the power of the Word the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts. That is why the Word is called a Means of Grace, because through the Word and the Sacraments as a means the Holy Spirit gives us faith and keeps us in that faith. The Word and the Sacraments are a means whereby we are given faith, are kept in faith and through which we are given God’s grace.
Paul adds to this string the words, “and with full conviction.” The Holy Spirit working through the power of the Gospel convinces us that we are a part of God’s kingdom. We are certain, we are convinced of Christ’s work for us. Some people think that we cannot know if we are saved or not, but Paul tells us that we can know. We can know for certain that we are saved because that is what God’s Word tells us. Thus we can say, “on such and such a date,” and for most of us that is our baptism date, “God chose me.” Actually we can all say “before He began creation, God chose me.”
Going back to verse three Paul says that he is thankful for the response of the Thessalonians and for our response. Paul says, “3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v. 3). Paul’s three fold response here might remind you of the ending verse of 1 Corinthians 13, what we call the love chapter. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Here in his letter to the Thessalonians he says that he is thankful for their threefold response of faith, love, and hope. Now, how does their response of faith compare to our response?
Paul says that he is thankful for their response of work which was produced by faith. He says, “6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (v. 6-10). Their faith stirred in them the desire to work, spreading the Good News of Jesus. This was truly a good work coming through faith and through Jesus working that good work in them. We respond to the faith worked in us by bearing witness of our faith to others, either verbally, or non-verbally. As we “wear” the name Christian, others look at us, hear our words and see our actions and judge Christianity according to our example. As the Lord grants us opportunity and the courage to speak of our faith and our church to others we are responding with a work produced by faith. Our natural response to faith is worked in us through the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do and which are pleasing in God’s eyes and give glory to His Name. We show our faith through our good works of using our time, our talents, and our treasure to God’s glory. We give of our time and talents working on committees and boards, attending Bible studies and Adult Bible class. We give of our treasure by returning to Him a portion of His many gifts to us.
Paul goes on to say that he is thankful for their labor prompted by love. The type of love Paul is talking about here is the Greek love agape. Agape is better translated as “a selfless concern for another person.” The Thessalonians responded to their faith by putting off thoughts of themselves and thought only of others in order to spread the Good News of Jesus. We respond to our faith by our acts of selfless concern for others. Through our giving of ourselves to help others in need we show our labor prompted by love.
Finally, Paul says that he is thankful for their endurance which is inspired by hope. Paul is here specifically speaking of their endurance through persecution which is something we might not experience, at least not to the extent of the Thessalonians. But we do suffer persecution to some extent in our day and age. Our persecution may be that some of our fellow workers laugh at us behind our backs because we spend our Sunday morning in worship and Bible class. But we endure through our persecution because of our hope in Jesus.
If Paul were writing to us here at St. Matthew today his introduction might read something like this: To the church at Westfield in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith of spreading the Gospel through the witness of your members, tracts, your Mother’s Day Out Program, your Vacation Bible School, your Bible study classes, the preaching of the Word and administering of the sacraments. We remember before our God and Father your labor inspired by love, your labor of visiting the sick, the shut-in, and those in the nursing homes, your labor of preparing food for bereaved families, and your labor of making people feel welcome in your midst. We remember before our God and Father your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Your endurance through good times and bad and your willingness to support your church through all times.
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because the Gospel came to you not simply with words preached from the pulpit, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament to bring each of you to a deep conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of His name. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.