Friday, July 29, 2011

Idols- A Closer Look at 1 Thessalonians 1:9

" how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God."1Thess 1:9b  ESV

We learned that the Thessalonians had turned TO God from idols in our last study. But what IS an IDOL? Perhaps you think of some African native bowing to a carved statue- you would be correct to identify such as a form of idolatry. What would have been an idol to the Thessalonians? Let's think about this. WHEN did Paul write this letter to the Thessalonians? It was in the First Century, approximately around 51 A.D. WHO did he write to? Yes, the Thessalonians, but WHAT empire was ruling at that time? The Roman Empire. Thessalonica was located in part of Greece. With the Roman and Greek gods being basically the same, the idols that would have been common to these people would have been the Greek/Roman gods of the time.  John Gill, in his exposition of this letter names the following:

" the great and chief gods of the Gentiles, were worshipped; as Jupiter and Bacchus, Ceres and Proserpina, Pluto and Mercury, Castor and Pollux, and Esculapius"

This tells us that many (most?) of the converts in Thessalonica were not Jewish, but Gentile. It would have been a big deal for them to STOP worshiping the popular idols of their day. And Paul certainly makes a big deal out of it in verse 9 of our current chapter, "you turned to God from idols." Jesus Christ began a major change in the lives of the Thessalonian believers!  So what? What does this do for us TODAY? Does this apply to us today?

Think about yourself. Have you ever worshiped an idol? Do we have idols today in 21st Century America? Maybe your first thought is  "NO! we don't have idols!" But would that be accurate? Does an idol have to be a statue? Can an idol be something more abstract like a boyfriend or a girlfriend or money or sex or sports? At first I was hesitant to think this way because I wanted to be sure of how the Bible defined idolatry. The Bible certainly includes worshiping statues, Greek gods, and those types of things in defining idolatry. But what about the abstract things I mentioned? Let's look at a couple of verses:

Eph 5:5-6 " For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." ESV

Col 3:5-6 "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming." ESV

In these verses, the Apostle Paul identifies some behaviors that are considered IDOLATRY. Those behaviors include: sexual immorality, covetousness, impurity, evil desire. You see, friends, IDOLATRY EXISTS TODAY IN 21st CENTURY AMERICA! These behaviors and attitudes are rampant today in society! So if you are following after these things instead of God you have to ask yourself, "Am I guilty of idol worship?" Please think very seriously about this. I must do the same. If I allow lustful thoughts, coveting more wealth, coveting a bigger house, or any other sinful thing to become more important than God, then I have committed the sin of idolatry! These may not be your struggles- but what ARE your struggles?

If you have not yet believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, but find yourself guilty of committing Idolatry, Paul tells you that you need to be concerned: "because of these things the wrath of God is coming." Yet you are not without hope! You can be like the Thessalonians and TURN AWAY from those idols. You can TURN TO THE LIVING GOD!! Those who have trusted in Christ for salvation and forgiveness of sins have done just that. We have turned away from those enslaving idols and turned to the One who deserves our worship-Jesus Christ. If you want more information, please CONTACT me!!
Remember, God is all sovereign...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

"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, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come."
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10

 Last time we saw that the reputation of the Thessalonians had spread to the region beyond Thessalonica itself.  They had become an example to all of the believers in Macedonia and Achaia (v.7-8). Now Paul adds more to the story of these believers  by telling what he had heard from others. The Thessalonians had given Paul and his fellow missionaries a warm reception and much more. In fact, it was evident to all who knew these believers that something had happened to them. There was a change in them.

But what exactly did they notice? There were three things in particular:  they had turned away from idols, they turned to God, and were now eagerly awaiting Christ's return. Is there anything that WE can learn from their example? Absolutely:
1)When Christ truly saves a person, others will notice a change. You can't stay in your sinful lifestyle. You won't want to. I'm not saying that Christians never stumble into sin that they never wrestle with temptation- we most certainly DO stumble and wrestle!!! But the overriding desire is to leave those things behind.
2)Not only do we begin to hate our sin, but we also begin to love God! Before we were saved, we did NOT love God. After He saved us, we find ourselves turning to Him more and more every day. We grow closer to Him through prayer and studying the Bible and spending time with other believers regularly.
3)As part of this turning away from sin and turning toward all things that please God, believers begin to long for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He said he would return and we believe Him. We can't wait to see Him face-to-face!

Are these things true of you? If you have believed in the Lord Jesus, they should be. They should be true of ME. I won't pretend that I don't struggle with sin. Those who know me best would probably laugh at me if I tried. Yet, He still loves me. He will never reject me. I never want Him to. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, don't give up. You will struggle with temptation and sin for the rest of your lives. But He still loves you. He will never reject you. Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds us:

"Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content
with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never leave you nor
forsake you.' So we can confidently say,   'The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear; what can man do to me?' "

So Christ changes us from the inside out and draws us closer to Himself. Paul also emphasises that Jesus, God's son, was raised from the dead. This is part of the message that we believe. Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus is alive NOW. We await His return from heaven.

Paul highlights another important facet of Christ's work on our behalf: He rescues us from the wrath to come. What does that mean? Remember, all humans are born as "children of wrath"(Eph 2:3). We sin because we were born sinners. And once we are able to choose it,  we also sin because we want to. We deserve God's judgement, anger, and wrath. As we saw in an earlier post, He chose to save some of us and now we do not need to fear this wrath! What GOOD NEWS!!! Jesus, the One who rose from the dead rescues us from the wrath to come! And do not be deceived, God's wrath is coming. Christians hold many views regarding what will happen before Christ returns, but all agree that He is returning and that there will be a final judgment of both the righteous and the unrighteous- the righteous will enter eternal life and the unrighteous will enter eternal punishment.

To sum up: When a person  believes in the Gospel of God, that person is changed. Others notice this change. The believer desires to put away sinful living and desires to put on Godly living. The believer longs for the return of Christ, who rescues us from His coming wrath.

If you want more information on the work of Jesus and how He changes lives, please contact me!!
Remember, God is all Sovereign and stuff...

Friday, July 8, 2011

1 Thessalonians 1:4-8

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 withfull conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to
be 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. (ESV)

      I previously wrote about how the Thessalonian adelphoi were loved by God and a little about what it meant that they were chosen by God. Paul now tells them how they knew this.

                5 "because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and withfull conviction. You know what kind of men
we proved to be you for your sake."

    Paul's first point is that he knew the trustworthiness of the messengers of the Gospel. True believers had delivered the Gospel message. Their message came with power and conviction. This may be a reference to miracles or it may simply be a reference to the clear preaching of the Gospel. We should never underestimate the power of preaching the Gospel clearly! Paul wrote elsewhere:

           "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who
                                            believes..."   Romans 1:16ESV
     Paul continues in 1 Thessalonians,

"And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you recieved the word
in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an
example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 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."

    His second point has to do with the response of the Thessalonians to the Gospel message. In 6a, we see that they "became imitators" of the Apostles and of the Lord. This certainly implies a change in the way they were living. In 6b, they received the word "in much affliction" and they received it "with joy of the Holy Spirit." They received  the word under stressful circumstances and did not reject it! Not only did they accept it, but they joyfully accepted it! Accepting the Gospel in spite of fierce opposition is evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit. Think about the circumstances in which you heard, and received the Gospel. Was your life in danger? Mine was not. Yet, I did experience some hardship. NOTHING compared to what the Thessalonians experienced, I'm sure, but some family members and friends disapproved and clearly told me so. And if you live your life according to Gospel principles, you will eventually face hardship and affliction. We must "consider it all joy" (James 1:2) whenever this happens.
   In v. 7, Paul tells them that they became examples of faithful disciples to the larger region- to the churches in Macedonia and Achaia. And in v.8 they are told that their faith has become known even beyond their region! They cannont take credit for this. It was due to the Holy Spirit's transforming power in their lives.
  So how does this affect US (you and me)? Think about it. How do WE know that WE are loved by God and chosen for this salvation?  Was the message that we received the true Gospel contained in the Scriptures? Did you (and did I) believe the message? Did our lives change? (i.e. did we become "imitators of the Lord?")
     Now, not all believers will be known for their faith throughout their entire city or state, but people will notice a change in them. If you've received the Biblical message and been changed by it, KNOW that YOU TOO were chosen by God and are loved by Him! What precious truth to behold!
Remember, God is all Sovereign and stuff...