Sermon for Sunday, February 5th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Pro 1:1-7 ESV] 1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: 2 To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, 3 to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; 4 to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth– 5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, 6 to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. 7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
New Testament reading:
[1Th 1:2-10 ESV] 2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For 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. 9 For 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, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
[Jhn 13:12-20 ESV] 12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
No doubt you are familiar with the idea of a “vicious cycle.” One bad event leads to another bad event and so on and so on. It is a downward spiral of disaster. A great example of a vicious cycle is a certain kind of rash which spreads when you itch it. Its itchy, you itch it, it spreads, its itchy, you itch, it spreads, again and again. We are all familiar with these types of scenarios. Poverty, drug and alcohol addition, stress, poor health, etc. all may form vicious cycles.
But just as negative things can reinforce and promote more negativity in a vicious cycle, so can POSITIVE things reinforce and promote positivity in a VIRTUOUS cycle.
If a student does well on a test and earns a scholarship then he’s better able to focus on his college courses, get good grades, find a good job, raise a healthy family, etc. Catching one small “break” in life may lead to many good results.
Virtuous cycles don’t need to be tangible, physical, or financial. Often times they are created by and sustained by good mental attitudes.
You know how it is that certain pleasant people make you happier. They might even make you more pleasant to be around, and you then make others happier. A virtuous cycle.
Another virtuous cycle is found in our text from 1 Thessalonians. There we find a virtuous cycle of faith.
The faith of Paul, Silas, and Timothy by the work of the Holy Spirit sparks the faith of the Thessalonians. And the faith of the Thessalonians encourages Paul, Silas, and Timothy. They write a letter to the Church at Thessaloniki praising them for their faith which certainly would have the positive effect of encouragement in their faith.
Well, I want to work backwards in the chronology of the text as we look at three points.
I. The Thessalonians’ Faith and Example
II. The Evangelists’ Faith and Example
III. The Lord’s Example
I. The Thessalonians’ Faith and Example
This is how the ESV titles the entire passage. The Thessalonians’ Faith and Example. The passage is indeed that, but it is more than that as well.
The evangelists (Paul, Silas, and Timothy) are thankful for Thessalonians’ work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope Lord Jesus Christ. This encourages the evangelists. But the positive impact of the Thessalonians goes even further. They “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” Indeed, with some hyperbole it is said that they example “has gone forth everywhere.” Certainly this means “everywhere” that the evangelists go.
And the text explains the reason why it is that the Thessalonians’ faith that is so well-spoken of. It is because they have come so far. They turned from worshipping dead idols to serving the living and true God. The change in them was profound and total, inspiring others. This “turning from idols” tells us that probably the majority of the people were Gentiles, Greeks who worshipped many gods. But they have repented, they have changed their minds, now believing in the true living God.
II. The Evangelists’ Faith and Example
The faith of the Thessalonians didn’t begin with them. It was patterned on the faith of the evangelists who first brought the word of God to them.
The evangelists say “you became imitators of us and of the Lord.”
And what great joy that brings to Paul, Silas, and Timothy knowing that the Thessalonians received the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
The evangelists take great joy in seeing that others know that same joy that they know.
The faith of the Thessalonians encourages the evangelists. It encourages them to continue their work in a virtuous cycle, bringing the Gospel to others.
Paul’s faith (and that of Timothy and Silas to the extent we know of them) was lived out day to day. Paul trusted in the Lord through all of the troubles, trials, and persecutions he met from place to place. When you read the Acts of the Apostles, with each episode, with each place Paul goes to, you might think “I wonder how long he will be allowed to stay.” Sometimes he stays for some months or years, but often it is very short, just a few weeks or days. He doesn’t have long to present the Gospel before he is chased out of town. But his faith is so bright and active that he manages in each places to do exactly that; to preach the Gospel. That is his main job in life. HIs main mission.
We see both with the evangelists and with the Thessalonians that Christians, though sinful, can be good examples to others in their faith.
But, as our text shows, the ultimate example is Christ. The Thessalonians have become imitators of the evangelists, but the evangelists and Thessalonians alike are imitators of Christ.
[1Co 11:1 ESV] 1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
III. The Lord’s Example
A pastor tells a story of a father whose five-year old son drew a near-perfect horse on a piece of paper. So amazed was the father that he asked his son “How did you do that.” And the son said “Oh, it was easy.” And the father said “please show me how.” And the son took out a book which had a picture of a horse and he put a piece of blank paper over top of it and traced the horse. That is how we are as well. We are not excellent artists, not excellent in our ways. But if we copy to the Lord, great results follow. We are unable to find our own way, so we must imitate Christ.
Christ indeed in an example.
There is an error in saying Christ is ONLY an example. The truth is that He is more than an example, but is yet indeed an example. He wasn’t just an example for us on the cross; his death was substitutionary; it was effective for our sins. Sometimes, those who emphasize the example of Christ will deny his power on the cross. We certainly don’t make that mistake.
And yet, because the Scriptures say so, we affirm that Christ was an example.
An example of patience.
[1Ti 1:16 ESV] 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
An example of servanthood.
[Jhn 13:13-15 ESV] 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
An example of selflessness.
[Eph 5:1-2 ESV] 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
An example of forgiving-ness.
[Col 3:13 ESV] 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
So we have the example of Christ and of the Apostles. Indeed, Paul tells us in Ephesians that the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.
So what are we to do? How are we to contribute to a virtuous cycle rather than a vicious one.
Let us be kind and loving.
Let us be in prayer.
And let us proclaim the word.
Your kindness, prayer, and proclamation of the Gospel are each encouraging to others.
Be kind and loving. Your friendliness today may set someone down a blessed path.
Let us be in prayer. Your prayers may bring about great blessings to many. See the example of the evangelists who say they are “constantly mentioning you in our prayers.”
Let us proclaim the word. You may not have the ability or the opportunity to give a lengthy discourse on your faith, but you can invite people to church. That is within your power. And your invitation of someone to church may change their life and the lives of their descendants for generations through the message of the gospel.
Ultimately we always need to point back to that Gospel and to Jesus Christ. We alone are not good enough examples, and it is not our good-living that is to inspire others. Rather, we are to point to Christ, honoring him in all that we do because He has so loved us.
And that message of Christ’s love is the most powerful message of all.
Christ came into our world with its vicious cycle of sin and he broke that cycle.
That is so hard for us to do. When we are wronged, we want revenge. When Christ is wronged, he wants reconciliation. He provides the example for us, and he provides the solution for us; forgiving our sins and charting out for us a path of righteousness to walk in ever-more virtuous ways, thanking the Lord and being a blessing to all we come in contact with.
So let us seek the Lord.
And finally, note the example of the Thessalonians. They “received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”
These two things are not mutually contradictory. The Thessalonians have both “much affliction” AND “the joy of the Holy Spirit.” They are joyful through their circumstances. What a great example for us all, for none of us lives in the lap of luxury, as a bastion of good health, at the height of popularity, and surrounding by earthly joy. No, we all have much affliction. But the joy of the Holy Spirit is more powerful, leading us onward and upward day by day.
The Lord was an example to the Evangelists.
The Lord and the Evangelists were an example to the Church.
The Lord and the Evangelists and the Church are an example to us.
Let us be an example to others, looking to God in faith through the Holy Spirit who gives us joy. Let us pray.