The Kind Of Church God Uses

Bible Book: 1 Thessalonians 
Subject: Church; Christian Living
Introduction

This evening we are going to begin a study of Paul's first letter to the church of Thessalonica. Tonight we're going to paint with a broad brush and get an overview of this marvelous epistle. One of the things that we will find in Paul's letter to this church is the kind of church that God really blesses.

Now, in Thessalonica we have the example of a church that was basically everything God wanted the church to be. All of the basic ingredients that God wanted in a church were in the Thessalonican congregation. I Thessalonians just lays out the pattern of the church that Christ really built. Now to begin with, let me hasten to say that there is no reference to numbers in this particular epistle. It doesn't tell us how big the church was or any of their numerical objectives or goals. None of that is described. It tells us absolutely nothing about their programming. It doesn't tell us anything about the kind of sermons that were being preached, the kind of music that was done. It doesn't tell us how big their parking lot was. It doesn't tell us about their Sunday School or their worship services or their youth ministry. It doesn't tell us about any of those things.

But after Paul had preached the gospel to the church in Thessalonica, he sent Timothy back to find out what was going on. He had a great desire to find out what was going on in the congregation that he had left. Timothy came back and had this fantastic report. Look in I Thessalonians, chapter 3, verses 6 and 7 (read).

In other words, Paul said, "When I got the word about you from Timothy, boy was I comforted, did I ever get good news." What Timothy told him prompted him to write this first letter to the Thessalonians. Now, as we look at this letter and this church I pray that God will help us to know what He would have us to be as a people and as a church.

I. Thessalonica was a Saved Church

You say, "Well, that doesn't seem to be too abnormal." Well, it is in our age. There are many churches today that do not know the beginning of the meaning of salvation. I heard Billy Graham say years ago that he doubted that 50 percent of the members of our churches have actually been born again. The old spiritual perhaps says it best: "Everybody talkin' 'bout heaven ain't going there."

I was in a revival meeting several years ago where more than 60 of the members of the church got saved. Well, uniquely, in Thessalonica we have a saved church, a church truly born again. Now, that is illustrated to us in the first four verses by the very terms that Paul uses. Look in verses 1-4 (read).

In those four verses, Paul says, "It is obvious that you are a regenerated group. It is obvious that the tares have not infiltrated the wheat. It is apparent by the kind of life you live that you really do know the Lord Jesus Christ." In fact, notice in verse 1 it says that they were "in God the Father." Then it says that they were "in the Lord Jesus Christ." Verse 3 says "in our Lord Jesus Christ." Verse 5 says "in the Holy Spirit." Paul uses the term "in Christ" 132 times in the New Testament, because that term defines the believer's relationship with the living God. We do not just follow the precepts of Jesus, we do not just follow the teachings of Jesus, and we are in Christ -- a tremendous concept. In I Corinthians 6:17 Paul said, "he that is joined to the Lord is (what?) one spirit." Paul even went so far as to say "nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in (where?) me."

The Christian experience is not simply following the moral precepts of a man. It is not simply believing in a historical figure. It is experienced union with the living God through Jesus Christ. True believers are "in Christ." Do you want to know the results of being in Christ? Listen to this: "If any   man be in Christ he is a new creation." That's the thing that happens. When you come into union with Christ first.

Do you know why you become a new creation? Because the old one dies and you are made new. Paul says in Romans 6, "you walk in (what kind of life?) newness of life." Why? You are a new creation -- an exciting reality. So what is Paul saying here as he writes to the Thessalonians? Do you know why I "thank God always for all of you?" Because all of you are "in Christ." All of you are "in God." All of you are "in the Holy Spirit." By those terms he means that they are all in union with common life in the Trinity. Now, get a hold of it, folks, because being a Christian is a pretty exciting reality. You know, all you have to do is find yourself thinking about that and pretty soon when the impact of that hits you, you'll be shouting "hallelujah" --realizing that the very life of God is yours. Peter said it this way, "You have become partakers of (what?) the divine nature."

Incredible! Look in verse 3 -- and this is a beautiful reality. He says, "Do you know how I know you are all for real? Because I remember without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope." Do you see there the triad of Christian virtues -- faith, hope, and love? All of these belong only to the redeemed, beloved. He says, "By virtue of what I see in your life, I know you are redeemed." Then he says in verse 4, "By virtue of all this, I know you are the elect." I know that God has truly redeemed you. I know that there are no phonies in Thessalonica. That's a pure congregation. And, beloved, this is where everything begins in terms of serving God. The church has to be a pure church. The church has to be a saved church.

I heard Dr. Grey Allison who is the president of Mid-America Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee, say, "If I were back in the pastorate I'd inquire of every church member and see if they were saved." Any church that is going to be effective has to be redeemed. I want all of the people in this church to be wheat, to belong to Jesus Christ. I think in Revelations on, chapter 2, where John speaks so strongly against intermarriage with the world, against a mixed congregation, he is writing to Pergamos, and he says, "I have a few things against you because you tolerate people there with false doctrines." Do you remember what doctrine that was? It was the doctrine of Balaam. The doctrine of Balaam is to marry the world, to compromise, to seduce the daughters of Israel, to intermarry with the pagans.

And he says, "If you keep doing that, I'll come against you and fight against you with the sword of my mouth." Jesus says, "I'll fight my own church if my own church compromises with the world and begins to allow intermarriage with the system." God wants a pure church, and the key to the success of the Thessalonians was that they were pure.

Now, if you read Acts you'll find that in the early church it starts out on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2:41 says that 3000 believed and were baptized. And the next verse says, "and they continued steadfastly." How many continued? 3000. That is a regenerated church. Do you know what they did? They turned the city of Jerusalem inside out, didn't they? The religious leaders of the day were tearing their hair out and soon, in the book of Acts, they were saying, "but you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine." I hope to tell you, when you have a totally regenerated assembly of people moving through town with the miracle of the Holy Spirit going along with them, it's bound to turn the town inside out, and it did. God wants a saved church.

II. Thessalonica was a Surrendered Church

Now, I want you to look in I Thessalonians 1:6. It says, "And ye became followers of us." The genuine character of the salvation of the church of Thessalonica becomes apparent in this statement. The word "followers" is a beautiful word in the Greek. It is the word "mimitai" from which we get the English word "mimic." You mimicked us -- I like that. The Thessalonican Christians weren't just talkers, they were imitators. They didn't just talk about their Christian experience; they actually set their lives to follow someone else. Now, this is a theme with Paul, and he repeats it constantly. But in I Corinthians 4:16 he says, "I beseech you to be followers of me." But he doesn't have to say that to the Thessalonicans. They did it. But to the Corinthians he says, "Please be followers of me." You say, "That's pretty audacious -- to say 'pattern your life after me.'" Not really, because of what he says in I Corinthians 11:1. He says, "Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ." In Ephesians 5:1 Paul said, "Be ye therefore followers of God." What a rich concept. Paul said, "be ye followers of me, be ye followers of Christ, be ye followers of God." If I, as a pastor, and if our staff and our deacons and our leadership follow Jesus Christ, then you can follow us. If we are right and you are following us, you'll also be following God.

Now, that is precisely what was happening in the church in Thessalonica. This church was surrendered to one thing -- Christlikeness. They were abandoned to be like Jesus. What a tremendous thing! Now, collectively it is true that we are the body of Christ. But individually, beloved, we are to be like Him. Let me give you a verse, I John 2:6 (read). If I say, "I am in Christ," then I should be like Christ. What is the pursuit of a Christian? To be like Christ! That is the key to the life of the church. Did you know that if we were all like Christ we'd have no problem getting along with each other? Do you know why people in some churches have problems getting along with each other? Because they just get out of tune.

Dr. Tozer said, "If you have 100 pianos and you want to tune 100 pianos, and you just start tuning one to the other, wow, what a mess. But if you have one tuning fork and you tune all the pianos to that tuning fork, then they will all automatically be tuned to each other. Right?" You know how simple it is in the church? It isn't running around adjusting to everybody else. It's everybody becoming like Jesus Christ. Then we don't have a problem with everybody else - Christlikeness. The Thessalonian church was surrendered to Christlikeness.

Some time ago there were four ministers who were discussing the merits of various translations of the Bible. One said that he liked the King James Version best because of its simple, beautiful English. Another indicated that he liked the New American Standard version because it's more literal and comes nearer to the original Hebrew and Greek. The third indicated that he liked the Amplified version because it was more descriptive, and it gave a definition of every major word. The fourth minister was silent, and then asked to express his opinion. He said, "I like my mother's translation best." The other three ministers expressed surprise. They wondered what he was driving at. Then he said, "Yes, my mother translated the Bible into everyday life and it was the most convincing translation I ever saw." You are the only Bible that some people will ever read. D.L. Moody said, "The Christian is the world's Bible, and in many cases a revision is necessary." I don't know about you, but I want my life to be an accurate portrayal of biblical Christianity. I want my life to be Christlike in every way. Someone has said, "The devil is willing for a person to confess Christianity as long as he does not practice it." But I want to appeal to you; I want to appeal to the staff, to the deacons, to all of us. Let us be surrendered to Christlikeness.

Now, we've talked about a saved church and a surrendered church. In the third place, I want to say that:

III. Thessalonica was a Suffering Church

In verse 6 the apostle Paul acknowledges the fact that the Thessalonians "received the word in much affliction." Now, you see that. The Thessalonian church had not had it easy. I don't really believe that any church that is really saved and surrendered to Christ is going to have it very easy. Now, let me just remind you of what happened in this church when they got saved. They hadn't even begun. They had just got off the pad, and immediately in Acts 17:5 we find what happened. I want you to get the picture. Paul and Silas had just come to Thessalonica. Paul went to the synagogue in Thessalonica and for three Sabbath days he reasoned with them out of the scriptures, declaring the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Notice what it says in verse 5 and verse 6 (read). What a reputation! They said, "These people are turning the world upside down, and now they are here." Persecution began immediately. You see, the church that is saved and surrendered to being like Jesus Christ is going to antagonize the world and there is going to come some suffering. Jesus put it this way: "If the world hates me, you can expect them (to do what?) to hate you- especially if you're like me." I love what Paul says in Colossians 1:24. I want to read this out of the Living Bible because I think it conveys the meaning in a way that you understand. Paul says, "But part of my work is to suffer for you; and I am glad, for I am helping to finish up the remainder of Christ's sufferings for his body, the church." What is he saying? What he means is this. The world can't hit Jesus anymore, so they hit those who are like Him. The world is not through persecuting Christ, but since they cannot get at Him, they get at me. I'm kind of glad about that, because I am willing to suffer for the One who suffered for me. If He can take the blows on the cross that should have been mine, then I can take a few blows that were meant for Him. Don't you think it would be nice to be persecuted for being Christlike? I mean, at least you'd have that recognition. I don't know that I've ever been mistaken for Jesus Christ. If I have, nobody ever told me. Wouldn't it be nice to have somebody persecute you because you turned the world upside down? That would be kind of exciting.

I'd kind of like for everybody to get irritated with Eastside Baptist Church, not because we are offensive, but because we teach and preach the gospel that exposes sin. The church that is going to confront the world is going to suffer. In Hebrews 11 the writer talks about those who suffered for God. Some were stoned, some were sawn asunder, some were slain with the sword. And it says that some "wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins." Now, that was cruel and unusual persecution. They would take the green unshrinking skins of the animals, and they would sew those skins around the bodies of these ancient biblical heroes, and they were banished off into the desert wastes under the sun. And the skins would become dehydrated, and they would shrink more and more until the life of the encased victims was slowly crushed to death.

Through the years, the devil's most demented minds have devised ways of persecuting the saints of God. Eleven of the 12 apostles, as far as we know, were martyred.

Did you know that the only church of the seven churches of Revelation, the only church that has no sin mentioned about it, was the church of Smyrna? And that was the church that was under total persecution. Now, that goes both ways. They were a pure church and they got persecuted. And that kept them pure, because it kept anybody out who didn't really mean business for the Lord Jesus Christ and was not willing to get persecuted. The church must be the conscience of the community. I'm not saying I want our church to be obnoxious. I'm not saying we want to have a bad reputation. I'm not saying we want to be unkind to people who don't know Christ. I'm not saying that at all. In fact, the opposite of that is true. I'm saying this. Where the world is sinful, we want to expose that sin. Where the world needs a clear picture of Jesus Christ, we want them to see that picture. If Satan and his system react, then we'll be ready for that too.

But let's be something in this world that is not the world. Let's stick out, let's be different. Let's be the conscience of the system. Let's make people face the reality of Christ and God and sin and death and immortality.

The Thessalonian church was saved, surrendered, and suffering, but that's not all.

IV. Thessalonica was a Soul-Winning Church

Look in verse 7 (read). First of all, they lived exemplary lives. The rest of the people around could look over at the Thessalonian church and say, "That's the way our church ought to be." They were yielded, they were surrendered to Christlikeness. Once they had done that, everything began to happen.

Listen, folks. It isn't the programs we have. It isn't the creativity that we have. It isn't the property, the budgets, the buildings that we have. It's the Christlikeness. You know, I'd like for our church to be an example of what it is to live the Christian life. This church in Thessalonica set an example for believers. In verse 8, Paul said, "your faith to God is so spread abroad that we didn't need to tell anybody about your faith." Paul didn't have to go around and tell about the conversion of the Thessalonians. Why? Because they were demonstrating their faith by their lifestyles. The word was everywhere. People were saying, "Have you heard what happened to Thessalonica? Do you know what happened up there? They turned to God from idols." And, you know, you first of all witness to the world by the change in your life.

The platform upon which we speak is a platform of a changed life. But I want you also to notice in verse 8 that there is the witness of the word that is based upon that changed life. In verse 8 he says, "from you sounded out the word of God." The Greek word for "sounded out" is the word from which we get our word "echo." Paul is saying, "from you echoed the word of the Lord." You know, one good thing about Christian testimony -- it should never be independent of the word of God. It should only be an echo. Right? When you proclaim something, it ought not to be your ideas. It should simply be an echo of God's truth. An echo always says the same thing. O, how we faithfully need to get out the word of God.

D. L. Moody tells the story of a man who dreamed that he died and went to heaven. He was walking upon the streets of gold, and he was so delighted to think that he had at last made heaven. Suddenly one of the angels came and said, "I want to show you something." He took him to the battlements and he said, "Look down yonder. What do you see?" The man said, "Well, I see a very dark world." The angel said, "Well, look and see if you know anyone there." The man looked, and he said, "Men are blindfolded down there. Many of them are going over a precipice." The angel said, "Well, will you stay here and enjoy heaven or will you go back to earth and spend a little time longer telling those men about heaven?" That man was a Christian worker. He had been discouraged, but when he awoke from his sleep, he said, "I've never wished myself dead since. I want to stay here and tell as many people about Jesus Christ as I possibly can."

There are people all around us who are blinded by Satan. Many of them are tottering toward the precipice that leads to destruction. God has strategically placed us in this growing, dynamic, pulsating-with-life section of this state to reach as many of these people as we possibly can. We need to be a soul-winning church.

Thessalonica was a saved church, a surrendered church, a suffering church, a soul-winning church, but then let me also say that:

V. Thessalonica was a Second Coming Church

This was a busy church. Look back in verse 3. They were working, they were laboring, but they were hoping. Now, look in verse 10. It says, "And to wait for his Son from heaven." Do you know that the ideal church is waiting for His return? Did you know that there are many churches that aren't waiting for His return? There are scoffers in the last days that say, "Where is the promise of His coming?" There are people today who claim to be Christians who never talk about the return of Christ. But I believe that every one of those Christians in the first century lived in the light of the return of Christ. What a motivator! You see, the church that doesn't believe in the return of Jesus Christ has no sense of urgency. It has no sense of direction. It has no genuine hope. The Lord wants us to remember His return, and the ideal church is a second coming church. We believe Jesus is coming. I look around and I can't help but believe He's coming soon. And if He is, I want to give everything I have until He comes. D. L. Moody said, "I have felt like working three times as hard since I came to the understanding that my Lord is coming again." Vance Havner said, "We preach more about bringing in the kingdom than we do bringing back the King." But, folks, I want you to know that I believe the King is coming. And with all of my heart I believe that He's coming soon.

Conclusion

I want our church to be everything God wants it to be. I'll reduce it to this. You, in that one little seat where you are sitting, do you know something? You are Eastside Baptist Church. Are you saved? Are you surrendered? Are you suffering - maybe just a little to be like Jesus Christ? Are you a soul winner -- leading people to Jesus Christ? Are you looking for the second coming? Are you serving Him with a whole heart so that you can say with John, "Even so, come Lord Jesus?" Because if you aren't, Eastside can't be.