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Mission Critical: The Call for New Testament Deacons PDF

Acts 6:1-7

It was an extraordinary time. Those who wrote down what happened would trace it back a little over 30 years earlier when a maverick prophet burst on the scene calling everyone to repent, declaring that the kingdom of God was coming, and that the King of that kingdom was about to appear. He preached in the wilderness in the area near the Jordan River, wore a camel skin garment, and ate off the land—locusts and wild honey. Even though he was eccentric in that way, people flooded to him from every walk of life—even Roman soldiers, prostitutes, tax collectors got right with God. He was such a phenomenon that Jewish leaders from Jerusalem came to check him out. What he was doing was a God-thing, but disruptive to religious business as usual.

When the King finally came, He looked to be more of a peasant prophet. But His teaching was with miraculous authority, and His words had power to give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing to lepers. He cast out demons. He raised the dead to life again. The crowds shifted from the forerunner John the Baptist and grew vast in number as they followed Jesus the Messiah. Less than a week after being wildly acclaimed as the King on His entry into Jerusalem riding a donkey, He was falsely accused, tried, beaten, and crucified. But death could not hold Him. Rising from the dead three days later He began 40 days of further ministry training His followers, then He ascended into heaven, but not before giving His followers a mission to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that He had commanded. Fifty days after his crucifixion, the promised Holy Spirit came, empowering His apostles to proclaim the Gospel, do miracles, even in the face of persecution. Thousands became converts to Christ, not just from Jerusalem but from all over the world. The city was exploding with life—friends and enemies of the gospel at a fever pitch. The newborn church was seemingly unstoppable. Soon the gospel would radiate throughout the Roman Empire. But internally there was a problem that threatened to derail everything and we read about it in Acts 6:1-7.

1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

 

Tonight we will be dedicating our deacons for the year. Some are deacons for the first time and will be ordained to this sacred duty. The office has been around so long that it would be easy to lose our grip on the significance of deacon ministry. Over the centuries it has sometimes drifted into what it was never designed to do. At other times it has been diminished to nothing really all that important. The text we’ve just read corrects both deviations and helps us appreciate just how important these men are to our church and its Christ-given mission.

 

Mission Critical: The Call for New Testament Deacons

  • Important to the Unity of the Church (Acts 6:1)
  • Necessary for the Care for the Needy (Acts 6:1, 3)
  • Supportive to Pastoral Preaching and Prayer (Acts 6:2, 4)
  • Reliant on the Holy Spirit’s Power (Acts 6:3, 5, 6)
  • Critical to the Great Commission of the Church (Acts 6:1, 7)

I. Important to the Unity of the Church

1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.

When needs aren’t met, people get hurt. When we are hurting, it is natural for us to find someone to blame. Even neglect has to have a cause behind it. As we look at the logical flow of the book of Acts it is obvious that the problem was clearly overload. Even apostles trained by Jesus Himself could not cover the needs. Widows were being neglected by the obvious overload. But notice that the people being overlooked saw the neglect as indicative of prejudice against those who had adopted a Greek (Hellenist) lifestyle. IT was the Hellenists who raised this complaint against the Hebrews. A church split was on the horizon and was coming fast all because there were needs that were unmet, not intentionally, but because of the overload.

According to Ephesians 4, unity among Christians is Spirit-given, and church members are to make every effort to protect it. Humility, gentleness, longsuffering (putting up with the irritations that people cause you), forbearance in love—all these are necessary to guarding the unity God has given His people. All these are part of walking worthy to the life-giving call that Jesus has given.

When needs go unmet, unity suffers. It was not only true of the first century church but also of the 21st century church. Deacons were key to restoring the unity of the church and seeing that those needs are met.

 

II. Necessary for the Care for the Needy

1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.

3 Therefore, brothers, pick from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.

There was an obvious need in the church. It is amazing for this to happen to a church where two chapters earlier, Luke the historian declares that among the thousands of believers that made up the church in Jerusalem, there was not one needy person among them. Why was that? People were loving on each other.

People sold belongings to meet the needs. They shared their stuff freely. Love flowed like a healing stream. Jesus had said, “They will know you are my disciples by the love you have one for the other.” And He was right. That love of God being displayed in practical ways was impressive. It astounded the pagans around them. Even today when people get to be a part of a church family where people actually love each other they are looking for time to spend with each other and serve each other. They want to find ways to show that they are family.

But now widows, among the neediest, were somehow being overlooked. There was even a daily distribution that was set up to meet their needs. Pure religion and undefiled is to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27). There is a practical love expression in any church that should be happening to meet needs.

This is a core problem. The very identity and testimony of the church is at stake. Taking care of people is part of the second great command, Love your neighbor as yourself. Nobody who neglects loving others actually loves God, according to 1 John. These needs are important. It is not a small deal and we don’t want to neglect any kind of need.

Anybody who has been part of a local church for any length of time, even those dedicated to seeing that everybody is well taken care of, know how easy it is to overlook someone and to do it regularly. It may be years later you learn about it, but the hurt it produces is real, and often deep enough to alienate that person from the body and certainly deep enough, as we see in this case, to split the church.

Deacons were the answer to making sure the needy in the church were not neglected.

 

 

III. Supportive to Pastoral Preaching and Prayer

2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.

4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

If you read that out of context you might think the apostles were high and mighty and not wanting to serve food to people. They already were doing this. The point is that now it had reached the place where serving food was competing for the same time they needed for prayer and for ministering the Word to people. This is not just talking about someone standing up on Sunday morning to deliver a message, but this refers to daily ministry. In the book of Acts they were ministering the Word in public and private, in large groups and with individuals. To do that without being in a time of prayer – how can you possibly succeed?  It was a terrible dilemma: should you take care of needy widows or continue praying and preaching the Word in large and small settings?

God judges mistreating widows, even by neglect. But neglect of the Word and prayer would kill the church. It could not be an either-or solution. It had to be both-and. What were they to do?

They said it is “Not right (pleasing—to God) that we should give up the word of God.” We will devote ourselves (hold tightly to) prayer and to the diakonia (deaconing) of the word.”

The apostles (serving as pastor/elder/overseers) were serving, too, but in their proper place.

Through prayer—because only God can do what needs to be done.

Through time in the Word—because it is the means by which the Holy Spirit creates life in people through faith in Jesus Christ—faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

The deacons were making it possible for men like Peter and John to carry out the mission Christ had given to them.

Two-way function of deacons:

  • Protect the pastors from neglecting their God-given duty of prayer and the word
  • Insure that neglected material needs are met

This is very practical but it has huge spiritual ramifications. There was a call for New Testament deacons because the pastors and the people would not survive without them.

 

IV. Reliant on the Holy Spirit’s Power

We see that these men had to be reliant on the Holy Spirit’s power. This was extraordinary. If you think about the book of Acts you think about the work of the Spirit, about the Day of Pentecost, about the extraordinary things people did under the influence and power of the Spirit. Understand that the deacons and the role they were to carry out had to rely on the Holy Spirit to do this.

3 Therefore, brothers, pick from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.

5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.

6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

These men had a good reputation. They have known godliness among those that had time to observe them. They were full of wisdom, they demonstrated skillful living and had common sense. They know how to get things done in the way the writer of Proverbs would approve.

They are men full of faith, boldly reliant on Christ and His gospel. If you want to know to what level these men are committed to the faith, just look at Stephen, the first martyr who gave his testimony in blood. His message to those who were going to slay him is recorded in the Word of God, a powerful sermon. Then there is Philip who goes into Samaria and evangelizes there under the power of the Spirit. Who would go into the desert on a Gospel mission? Then you see the Spirit move him from city to city later as an evangelist.

These traits mark these men as full of the Spirit. The church could see the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, and could see His power etched in their ways. When the apostles lay their hands on them it was official recognition that the Spirit had equipped them and by church vote selected them for this critical task.

Deacons critical to the mission are men reliant on the Spirit of God to direct them and empower them. God has blessed us with men like that. Bold in their faith. Practical in their wisdom. God has hold of them—and everyone knows it.

 

V. Critical to the Great Commission of the Church

1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number,

7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

There was an incredible number of people coming to Christ. The priests had been tasked to make sure needs like this were met. They knew what it was to take the offerings of God’s people and not only maintain the worship of God but also maintain the needs of those who had needs. This is critical to the Great Commission.

There is a connection of Stephen’s martyrdom and Saul’s conversion. Paul was there when Stephen was stoned to death for his testimony. Stephen’s life as a deacon moving among the people of God, the Hellenists, was the very group that Paul was a part of. Likely the synagogue where Stephen was defending the Gospel was the one Paul was attending. Paul never forgot what it was like to see a man (a deacon) dying for Jesus. Luke writes that Stephen’s face was like the face of an angel. He writes as one who was an eyewitness, but he was not there. Paul was and Luke traveled with Paul through his missionary journeys. You can be sure he heard the account many times. Often Paul would bring up in his later life the sorrow he felt for being a persecutor of the church and the gratitude he felt toward God for rescuing him when he had done such harm to God’s people. You not only have the Word of God continuing to increase, but also a connection to the ministry of the apostle Paul, whose story takes up most of the rest of the 33-year history Acts records.

The book of Acts is all about the prediction Christ makes in Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

The expansion of the gospel to all the world is the mission of the church. It still is the “Big Why.” But local church needs, the neglect of needy widows, throws a monkey wrench in the works for a while. When a church can’t take care of its own effectively, why should God bring new believers with all their baggage in and further overload whatever’s in place to care for people?

The deacons were the answer to removing this obstacle to community and world evangelism. They are critical to the Big Why.

Since the gospel is the main story not just of the Bible but of human history, stretching from eternity past to eternity future, deacons are a critical part of the main story. Redemption history. And since the chief Hero of the gospel is Jesus Christ, a deacon’s task connects to His glory in the earth. Wow. There could not be anything more important than that!

 

Mission Critical: The Call for NT Deacons

  • Important to the Unity of the Church (Acts 6:1)
  • Necessary for the Care for the Needy (Acts 6:1, 3)
  • Supportive to Pastoral Preaching and Prayer (Acts 6:2, 4)
  • Reliant on the Holy Spirit’s Power (Acts 6:3, 5, 6)
  • Critical to the Great Commission of the Church (Acts 6:1, 7)

Pastor Drew Conley

Hampton Park Baptist Church

Greenville, SC

January 11, 2015

 
Healthy Church Life: 2015 Goals PDF

 

Ephesians 4:1-16; 1 Peter 1:22-25;

John 15:3-5

Each year we set goals for this body of believers. They are specific targets we want to pursue. As we kick off this year, I want us to realize that these specific, limited goals are actually part of a pursuit that is much bigger than a local church and that stretches throughout human history: a healthy church life. Since a church is made up of individual believers, this also has to do with healthy Christians. As we consider the Word of God and make application with these goals this morning, realize that we are talking about healthy church life, healthy Christians walking with God according to His Word, demonstrating His power, loving each other and loving the world according to the mission God has given us.

Ephesians 4

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles (sent-ones), the prophets (those who hear from God and speak to man), the evangelists (those who give forth the gospel with power), the shepherds and teachers (pastors), 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

1 Peter 1:22-25

22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable(divine seed), through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers,and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

The same theme is stated more simply by the Lord Jesus on the night He was betrayed.

John 15:3-5

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

What was true then is true now: A truly healthy church is a fruitful people rooted in the truth of God’s Word whose loving character and deeds are empowered by their close relationship with God Himself. If God is not empowering us, there will be no fruitfulness that looks like love.

In our church logo we have tried to capture this theme. Our logo depicts a tree rooted in the Word of God. When we say we strive to “Live Life by the Book,” we are not just saying “follow the rules.” We are saying much more than that.

On our logo you see a depiction of the open Word of God. The trunk of the tree above indicates the roots, the empowering by God, and then a live tree representing being fruitful in love. That’s what our church life should be:

  • Rooted in the Word—roots
  • Empowered by God—trunk (connection)
  • Fruitful in Love—foliage à fruit

We see this pattern throughout the New Testament. The Scriptures we have read are just examples.

Each time a person attends our class for new members we give them a copy of What is a Healthy Church by Thabiti Anyabwile. The preface of this book captures very well what we are striving for as believers.

“The local church is far important to the Christian life than many Christians today perhaps realize. A book called What is a Healthy Church Member might just as well be called What is a Healthy Christian.  We…believe that a healthy Christian is a healthy church member.

“Second, local churches grow in life and vitality as they organize their lives around God’s Word. God speaks. Churches should listen and follow. It’s that simple. When a church listens and follows, it begins to look like the One it is following. It reflects his love and holiness. It displays his glory. A church will look like him as it listens to him.”

I. Rooted in the Word

First consider with me that if we are going to be healthy as believers and as a church family, we must be rooted in God’s Word. The first of the calendar year is a time when many people renew their commitment to spend time in the Word of God.

Psalm 1 tells us that the blessed (happy) man delights in God’s law and meditates in it day and night. The happy man not only reads the Word of God, he thinks about it during the day and night, contemplates it and lets it become part of Him.

This same thought is expressed in the New Testament. We find it throughout church history. Wherever we see a revival, an awakening, or a church that is empowered by God, we see a church that is rooting itself in the Word and we see a people rooting themselves in the Word. Jesus said it in John 15:3: “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” Without the cleansing power of the Word, without rooting ourselves in the truth of the gospel, there is no power to change us. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation unto everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). It is the dynamite; it is the miraculous power that changes people in ways that are impossible otherwise. We all know people – family members, friends, or co-workers – who have yet to come to the place that they are clean through the Word, who have actually submitted their hearts and lives to the Word of God and had God take possession of them.

We see this in the 1 Peter passage as well.

You are born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grassand all its glory like the flower of grass….The grass withers,and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” As the flower falls, we all pass away. A hundred years from now no one will even know our names except God and perhaps a handful of people. We just “fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day” as the hymn writer said. (Our God, Our Help in Ages Past, Isaac Watts)

Yet the Word of the Lord lives forever. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” He does not mean that it will just exist somewhere in some book or scroll, but that the Word will fulfill what it has been given. It will do what God promised. This Word is the good news that was preached to you. Good news is news that brings joy. It is a report not of what we have to do to win favor with God but what God has done to reconcile us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is proclaimed to you.

In Ephesians we see exactly the same thing.

Ephesians 4:11, 14-15a

11 And he gave the apostles (sent ones, authorized to pass God’s Word on to others), the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love.

Why do we need the Word? We need the Word to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. We need the Word so that there is unity of the faith. There is disunity when people deviate from the Word. We need the Word so that we are protected from the winds of false doctrine. When the storm’s waves that threaten to undo us and drown us in disappointment and sorrow come crashing into our lives, we have the Word to anchor us and keep us steady and afloat. The Word becomes part of us. When the Word is part of us, it flows out in love. If you have to sum up all the law and the prophets, it would be this: love God with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Being rooted in the Word is essential. There is no Christian healthy without being rooted in the Word.

Our goal #1 for this year is actually related to this.

  • Goal 1: We as a church body will engage prayerfully, thoughtfully, and humbly in the process of revising our church Bylaws.

The rule of faith and practice is no set of human documents. Church Bylaws are important, but they are not the rule of faith and practice. In Christianity, the rule of faith and practice is the Word of God. Our intent is and has always been to have our Bylaws as close to the Word of God as we can.  

In updating our policy manual with deacon approval as a regular practice, we discovered some areas that needed updating that were rooted in our Bylaws. We try to distinguish between policy, operating procedure and Bylaw level principles, and sometimes we find that there needs to be refinement of existing policies and updates.

We also want to be clear and transparent in the Biblical intentionality of our documents and systems. Rather than just giving Scripture references, we want to explain and apply what Scripture passages say about qualifications and roles of pastors (lead and feed through the Word and prayer) and deacons (assist and support, ministering to needs that could distract from pastoral duties); about the importance of membership with a distinction between entry requirements (joined to Christ by the Spirit) and expectations for growth/sanctification (a members’ covenant which is now in progress). If you belong to Jesus Christ, and He is your Savior, we want to welcome you to our body. Yes, we will want to see growth together.

When the deacons have approved Bylaw updates, the document will come to you for approval. We will talk through each change and tell why we believe the changes need to be made to realign with Scripture. You will have time to review proposed changes and have an opportunity to ask questions.

This is just a small part of being rooted in the Word of God. This is also related to our third goal:  

  • Goal 3: We as a church body will participate in purposeful, systematic learning through our Sunday school program.

It is important to make sure church members can gain a foothold on all the basics of Christian living in a systematic way. We might cover the doctrines of the church in a preaching series, but this teaching needs to be ongoing for the benefit of newcomers. We asked, “How we can get long-time members caught up, and what if they miss the service it was covered in the regular Sunday preaching services?”

Rather than taking people away from their own Sunday school classes where they’ve made significant connections, we want to have teachers (regular or guest) cover core topics in their own classes.

In the studies of 1 and 2 Timothy in the evening services we have seen the importance of fighting against drift for the sake of the truth and of health, and the two go together.

 

II. Empowered by God

In John 15:4 Jesus says:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. for apart from me you can do nothing,

Think about the people that Jesus was ministering to in his day. Some were very religious people. In John 5:39-40, Jesus said to them, “You search the Scriptures. In them you think you have eternal life….” The implication is that they don’t. The Scripture is not just a book of laws, of codes, or history. It is a book that focuses on the big story, the gospel, and Jesus is the main Hero. If you are not connected to Him, there is no good news. The gospel without Jesus is no gospel. Jesus is the answer to our need.

There are some Christians who never talk about Jesus. Sermons are preached that never mention Jesus. Colossians 2 talks about worldly religion according to human tradition philosophy, asceticism, angel worship, and regulations like touch not, taste not, handle not. These have the appearance of wisdom but are ultimately a self-made religion with severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping indulgence to the flesh. They have no power to change people. The power is in Jesus. The Bible was given to us so that we can know Jesus and be rescued by Him.

As we think about goals for a church, it is not so much about the goals but about the person of Jesus Christ and being empowered by Him. We see this in the Scripture:

1 Peter 1:22a, 23a

22 Having purified your souls

23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable,

Ephesians 4:13

13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ

None of these goals in our effort toward a healthy church life are even possible (or important at all) apart from the power of God. If you had to look at Christianity in general throughout the ages in our own community or elsewhere, it seems that it is more common to find the structure and systems and ways of doing things than it is to find the power of God.

If you know the Lord and you read your Bible to see what church life and your personal life should look like, you hunger to see the power of God in your own life and in your church family, to see God do things that man can’t do. That power is not something you sign up for. That power is in a person, Jesus Christ. You have to walk with Him. That is what brings the unity.

Goal 1, updating our Bylaws is a prayerful process. You can’t go into this process with just your English hat on or just your theologian hat on but rather go prayerfully on your knees asking, “God, what do you want?”

Our goal 4 involves how we want to get out the gospel. We don’t start this mission without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1). Trying to fulfill the Great Commission without the power of the Holy Spirit would be like beating our heads against the wall. Deliver us from form without power as individuals and as a church!

What is your relationship with Jesus Christ today? How close do you feel to Him? What parts of your daily life reflect that you know and are walking with Jesus? That type of life transforms how we see others.

Having the power of God results in being fruitful in love.

III. Fruitful in Love

Those rooted in the Word and empowered by God live a certain way.

John 15:5

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.

v. 9 Abide in my love

v. 12 Love one another as I have loved you.

Those who are empowered by God and are fruitful in love will live a certain way. They will reflect the fruit of the Spirit. Love is the over-arching characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit. Other fruits are joy, peace, gentleness, longsuffering, faith, meekness, and self-control. These things are what the Spirit produces – the life of God in us. Evangelism is not just a duty, it is done out of love for others. It is what reproduces disciples. Living the obedient life is rooted in this. If am doing what I do for God just so that I won’t get zapped, I am living as a slave instead of a son. We should do what we do for God because we love God.

Peter talks about this --  

1 Peter 1:22b

by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.

Paul speaks of this –

Ephesians 4:12, 15-16

12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:2 tells what this looks like.

Our first goal, proper care for the church of God in terms of systems and structures, can reflect this in the patterns of church life. We really need humble love for one another. It is an absolute necessity. Love binds us together.

As we grow as a church body, it sometimes is difficult to know that everyone’s needs are being met. This brings our second goal.

  • Goal 2: We as a church body will provide more effective care for one another through an updated membership management system.

We are hoping to introduce a tool soon that we hope will be a means of helping us better care for the church body and better connect you with your church family. It is a church management software program that will give you mobile access to your church directory, to your church to find out information, to sign-up or volunteer, and to share prayer requests. How glad we are that tools of today’s technology can be harnessed for the sake of the gospel.

Goal four is also related to love.

  • Goal 4: We as a church body will evangelize through community events in addition to existing efforts.

If you are sharing the gospel, keep doing what you are doing. This year we are targeting one way to increase our interaction with the community as a church body seeking to show we love others and to build relationships with individuals with whom we might otherwise not have contact.

The answer to the “Big Why” is to proclaim and display the good news. To do this we have to be connected with others. So who are your friends that need Jesus? What are you doing to spend time with them? How do you generate contacts with someone who needs Jesus?

Can we grow healthier as a church in 2015? Can you grow healthier as a believer in 2015? If we do it is because we are

  • Rooted in the Word
  • Empowered by God)
  • Fruitful in Love

 LifeGroup Questions

Teaching

"A healthy church is made up of healthy Christians who are rooted in the Word, empowered by God, and fruitful in love." What do each of the three passages above contribute to our understanding of this kind of healthy Christian life?

What do these three passages contribute to our understanding of God?

What do these three passages contribute to our understanding of man?

What do these three passages contribute to our understanding of sanctification?

Where do these three passages fit into the gospel story?

Reproof

What are some other passages that detail the fruits of being filled with/rooted in/indwelt by the Word of God? List some of those fruits below. As you contemplate the list before you and compare it to your own life, what are your conclusions?

What are some other passages that detail the necessity to live lives empowered by God? What happens when we do not?

What are some passages that detail the importance of living lives fruitful in love? What obstacles do you find the most difficult to overcome when attempting to love others?

Correction

How do we apply the gospel to our failures in the areas just discussed in the reproof section?

After considering the gospel, what are some practical ways to begin to apply the truths of this passage?

Training in righteousness

How must our thinking be renewed if we are to be transformed by this text?

What must be put off from and put onto our lives if we are to be transformed by this text?

Prayer

For what from this text can we rejoice?

For what from this text can we repent?

 

Dr. Drew Conley

Hampton Park Baptist Church

Greenville, SC

January 11, 2015

 

 
The God Worth Seeking PDF

The God Worth Seeking

Isaiah 55:6-13

Here we are on Sunday, January 4 – the first Sunday of 2015. God established days, weeks, months, seasons, and years from the beginning. He made seasons, not just in terms of summer, winter, spring, and fall, but seasons of opportunity, limited times for decision, for action, and for change. The end of a year and the beginning of the next is a season for reflection, evaluation, renewal, recalibration of priorities. It is a time to make significant needed changes, a time to renew our commitment to what actually matters most. The speed with which our life breath passes calls us to make the big things big and let the small things be small.

So how should we start this New Year? Let’s dig down to the foundation. The lead words of the Bible point us the right way: “In the beginning God.” Before we can effectively work through any of our problems or plans, we must come to grips with the status of our relationship to our Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer. We have to get back to the foundational relationship for which we were created. We were made in God’s image to glorify Him and to enjoy Him forever. Sin destroyed that relationship, and sin destroyed us. All the pain, brutality, ugliness, illness, and death we face spring from this common poison source: the sin that broke our connection with God. The Bible’s main message is how sinners like us can be restored to fellowship with God and freed from the disastrous effects of our sin.

My prayer for you, for myself and all of us is that we could live out a God-centered focus in 2015. As basic as this sounds, it is profoundly uncommon for God to have the place in our lives that He deserves even among believers who gather to worship.

The prophet Isaiah taps into that core message of the Bible as he writes in chapter 55.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.12 “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Let’s start the New Year with renewed commitment to the God Worth Seeking. Let’s not just talk about it, let’s make it the core of our lives and the passion of our heart.

I. Pursue God (6-7a):

  • Seek!
  • Call!
  • Forsake!
  • Return!

II. Here’s Why:

  • God’s Abundant Grace (7b)
  • God’s Infinite Transcendence (8-9)
  • God’s Powerful Word (10-11)
  • Your Joy and Peace (12-13a)
  • God’s Eternal Glory (13b)

I. Pursue God (Isaiah 55:6-7a)

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord,

Seek!

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;

“Seek” means to search out with care; to includes inquiring after knowledge, advice, or  insight. If you had pain, you would seek out a doctor to help you. If you needed some other advice, you would go to an expert in that area. We are to seek the Lord. Idolaters seek their gods for these things; Isaiah calls us to seek Yahweh, the covenant God who has made Himself known to us.

What are you looking to get out of life? Are you seeking out God? What evidence? Where is your heart’s desire focused? Let’s ratchet that down to what you are looking to get out of life this year or even this coming week. What are you looking for in life? People have all kinds of want lists of things they believe would make them happy – achievement, knowledge, things, and other individuals. On your list, where does God rank? God says, “Have no other gods beside me.” He ought to be at the top of the list. Are you seeking God?

What does seeking God look like? Over the past few days how did it look in your life. What evidence do you have that you are seeking God, or is it just cheap talk that Christians do?

Call!

Call upon him while he is near;

The call of faith is making petition to God to do what only God can do. Otherwise we are limited to the boundaries of what only man can do. What are you asking of God? Near means not just in terms of closeness in space, but closeness in relationship. It is used in contexts of a kinsman redeemer (Leviticus 25:25), the next of kin who is capable of redeeming you for his own (such as Boaz and Ruth).

God promised His disciples that He would be with them all the days even unto the consummation of the days. This is “Immanuel – God with us!” He is the God that is near. Would you describe your life as a life lived with the consciousness of the nearness of God? When you wake in the morning, go to bed at night, or as you walk through the day, where is God in your thoughts? There is an urgency to this call because Isaiah said to seek the Lord while He may be found, to call upon Him while He is near. There are so many unpredictable variables to life even beyond the ever present reality that death can come at any minute and all opportunities end. There are fluctuations of our desire and awareness and beyond that the moving of the Spirit of God whenever and where He wants to. God says, “My spirit will not always strive with men.” Seek the Lord while He is near. Call upon Him.

How can we be seeking a God that we don’t even talk to? People who are seeking God talk to Him and listen to Him. Churches that are seeking God talk to Him. Prayer meeting is not a 19th century invention. Wherever you hold it – as a family, in a LifeGroup, or in church, praying to God is not a ritual. It is a relationship. There is no such thing as a relationship when people don’t talk to each other.

Finite man can find the infinite God only when God chooses to make Himself known; sensitive seasons of awakening, revival, light not only in the life of an individual, but in the history of churches, nations, and whole regions of the earth. God says in Amos, “Seek the Lord and live,” and He makes this prediction in Amos 8:11-12: ““Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when  I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.” Recognize that this is a season when the Word of God is available in Greenville, South Carolina. It is only a season. It is only a season that God wrestles with your heart with His Word. You may live for decades after God has quit talking to you. There are regions of the world where for centuries they have not heard the voice of God. There are times in human history when, even as an English speaker, you would have had a hard time finding someone who knew the gospel or someone who had a copy of the Word of God. Yet we have it in abundance. Seek the Lord while He may be found.

Forsake!

let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts;

“Wicked” is one who is loose and unregulated, and won’t conform to the standard of God. He rages against God. He doesn’t want God interfering with God. He is to forsake his way. “Way” is your lifestyle – the paths you regularly travel and the things you do and say that characterize who you are.

As we start a new year we need to ask ourselves, “What practices/patterns don’t belong in a godly life?” If I am seeking God, what patterns, deeds and words don’t belong in our lives. Whatever they are, abandon them, turn your back on them, trash them.

The word translated as “Unrighteous” is used in some contexts to refer to trouble that is the outcome of sin. In contexts of idolatry, it refers to the deceptive emptiness of sin.

“Thoughts” are planning, devising, making judgments, meditating, inventing, accounting and engaging in mental activity. Psalm 1 says, “Happy the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked; rather his delight is in the instruction of the LORD.”

“Forsake” means to abandon the patterns of life you know don’t match God’s regulations; throw off the self-deceived thinking that leaves Him out.

Perhaps you have been to the mountains of North Carolina or Tennessee to a gym mind and done a little panning for gold. They give you a bucket of sand which may have a few valuable gems mixed in. You let the water wash through the sand and wash all the dirt and sand away, leaving only the possible gems in the pan. Let’s sift through our thoughts that way. Let the water of the Word wash away the dirt and leave the gold or stones that are of value. Which thoughts and plans in your life are out of line with God’s Word? Throw them away. Keep the gold.

It is interesting that Isaiah worded it to include not just thoughts from corrupt outside influences. “His thoughts” are thoughts that spring from who we are: my thoughts versus God’s thoughts. God’s thoughts are higher. They must displace my thoughts. God’s ways are higher. They must displace my ways. The secret to life is not about getting my way, my thoughts or my perspective. Those are like mud compared to gold. God, let your thoughts dominate my thoughts.

Return!

let him return to the Lord,

“Return” is the reversal of direction. It is a key Old Testament term for repentance. The New Testament stresses that this turning is all the way down into ones thoughts, the change of one’s very mind, not just outward reformation.

If you don’t change what should change, you rot. Life means change. The gospel brings change, transformation, and growth. The change happens when I say, “God, what are your thoughts and ways?” and allow him to wash away my thoughts and ways. You must continually seek the Lord and conform your life to Him because we have all sorts of influences and circumstances.

So why go to the trouble of all this?

II. Here’s Why

God’s Abundant Grace (7b)

that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Have you ever wondered or doubted that God could really care for you after all the wrong you’ve done and the messed-up sinner you are? This tells how God feels toward you. Compassion is a term used to describe the tender concern of a mother for her child in the womb. It is sometimes translated tender mercies. It is the subjective side of salvation. It is God weeping over the lost and dying for sinners. This is how God feels towards us.

Amazing truth! The perfect, holy God has compassion for wicked people totally at odds with God’s law, for unrighteous people whose very thinking is a hopeless tangle of lies. If they will turn, He will abundantly pardon. That is the objective side of salvation — the actual forgiveness of our sins. Literally it reads, He will multiply pardons — no limit!  Only God can pardon; only God can forgive. This is what only God can do for us. A man may escape justice on earth—but there is no escape from God. People can forgive a man or refuse to do so. But eternal bliss or torment hangs on what God will do with him.

It is possible to care about someone who is guilty, but not be able to rescue them from the jaws of justice without cheating. But God has made a way to be righteous in declaring sinners to be righteous.

How is this even possible?

Isaiah has already explained it in chapters 53 and 54: the suffering Servant of the LORD, the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, will be pierced for our transgressions and be crushed from our iniquities. He will make intercession for the transgressors. That’s the only basis on which God gives the invitation of life at all to sinners under the sentence of death.

It is worth it to pursue God because He welcomes those who forsake their sin and turn to Him. Stop running from God. Run to Him. Do not fear He will reject you. Pursue God because of His abundant grace towards sinners like you and me.

God’s Infinite Transcendence (8-9)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts
.

The gulf between God and man is infinite. His thoughts and His ways beyond our even grasping. When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up in the temple, he cried out (Isaiah 6): “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips and dwell among a people of unclean lips.” If the gap is to be bridged, God must do it. And the only bridge we can walk is the one He has built. We don’t have to understand it completely. We just have step out onto it and walk across it to Him. We have to be willing to stop pretending that we know as much as God and to stop living as if it has to be “our way” for it to work. That doesn’t even make sense when we consider our humanity.

This will be an awesome year for us if we can make God’s way our way, God’s thoughts our thoughts.

God’s Powerful Word (10-11)

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Just as the skies are the source of rain and snow that causes grain to grow providing seed for future harvests and bread to eat, so heaven is the source of the Word that produces repentance and blessings of salvation. Al this is according to the purpose of the LORD for His Word. His Words carry the power of fulfillment.

What God promises will happen. What God declares is, is. Fasten your faith, allegiance, and hope there. When you do you open your life up to the joy and peace that God promises.

Your Joy and Peace (12-13a)

God’s Certain Promises

12 “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing,and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

The words “go out” are the language of exodus from bondage and exile with slaves freed and prisoners released.

Joy is what happens inside of those who taste such freedom from God. Isaiah 54 makes it clear that not just the nation of Israel is in view, but all nations. So it refers to us as well. You will be led forth by the Lord Himself (better than Moses leading them out of Egypt). You will be led forth in peace. Peace is the restored relationship with the Lord and all who are reconciled to Him.

What if your focus and direction and hope were rooted and characterized by joy and peace? According to the New Testament, this is the fruit of the Spirit. This is what happens in a person who is alive with God. Unhappiness ultimately is rooted in godlessness. I can be a professing Christian and live in a godless way. When I do, I will be unhappy. Fruitlessness indicates a disconnection from the Vine. You can’t be connected to Jesus and stay the same. You can’t be drawing sustenance from the Vine and not be bearing spiritual fruit.

The blessings don’t stop there. All creation gets to participate in the blessings of God’s salvation. Mountains and hills sing for joy; trees applaud; the curse is reversed as thorns and briers (result of the curse—Genesis 3) give way to evergreen trees, which is symbolic of eternal life that never withers or fades.

Romans 8:21

“The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

The universe groans, as we do, with the troubles of life that mar its beauty.

Why ultimately will God accomplish all this?

God’s Eternal Glory (13b)

and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

This universal transformation from death to life displays the very character of Yahweh for all the universe to see. Sinners transformed to saints, a broken and brutalized creation transformed to a paradise – these are miracles with a message that will last throughout all eternity forever, never to end. Shining and shouting forever “This is the kind of God we have!”

Paul talks about it in Ephesians 2:7.

“So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Our very reason for existence is the glory of God! The way God is glorified in us is God’s changing us to where we think like He thinks and we walk a path like He walks. God is glorified when we make God’s glory our driving passion.  Let’s make 2015 that kind of year.

Of all the priorities for 2015 we may have, surely seeking God ranks first and foremost. He is the God worth seeking.

LifeGroup Questions

Teaching

What does this passage contribute to our understanding of God?

What does this passage contribute to our understanding of man? How does a person "seek" God?

Where does this passage fit into the overall gospel story?

How does God's abundant grace (55:7b) motivate us to seek and call upon God, forsaking sin and returning to Him?

How does God's infinite transcendence (55:8-9) motivate us to seek and call upon God, forsaking sin and returning to Him?

How does God's powerful Word (55:10-11) motivate us to seek and call upon God, forsaking sin and returning to Him?

How does our own joy and peace (55:12-13a) motivate us to seek and call upon God, forsaking sin and returning to Him?

How does God's eternal glory (55:13b) motivate us to seek and call upon God, forsaking sin and returning to Him?

Read John's letter to the Church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7). What was the church's great sin? What importance does the Lord place upon this sin? How does the Lord instruct the church to respond to this sin?

Reproof

Notice that truly pursuing God is both "forsaking" our ways and "seeking" after God and His ways. What other Scripture passages teach the same exact principle?

What happens when we just forsake our old ways without seeking God and His ways? Are there ways this is true in your life?

What happens when we try to seek God and His ways without forsaking our old ways? Are there ways this is true in your life?

Correction

How do we apply the gospel to our failures in the areas just discussed in the reproof section?

After considering the gospel, what are some practical ways to begin to apply the truths of this passage?

Training in righteousness

How must our thinking be renewed if we are to be transformed by this text?

What must be put off from and put onto our lives if we are to be transformed by this text?

Prayer

For what from this text can we rejoice?

For what from this text can we repent?

For what from this text can we request, both for ourselves and others?

 

Pastor Drew Conley

Hampton Park Baptist Church

Greenville, SC

January 4, 2015 

 
Clearly God's People PDF

1 Thessalonians 1:2-5a

 

About 100 miles from Philippi, where Paul went first in Macedonia, Thessalonica is named after the half-sister of Alexander the Great, son of Philip of Macedonia. When Rome conquered the region in 168 B.C., they made the city the capital of the province. There was about a 200,000 population in Paul’s day. The population is 300,000 today. It played a role in WWI and WWII.

Real place. Real people. From them reverberated a testimony to the gospel which was powerful and clear, so much so that that missionaries like Paul needed no further argument to prove the gospel’s power.

Let’s read together 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5a:

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

 

Clearly God’s People

I. Thankful Prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2, 4)

II. Spirit-Empowered Evangelism (1 Thessalonians 1:5a)

III. Transformed Lives (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

 

I. Thankful Prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2, 4)

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,

Paul refers to prayer or models it eleven times in this brief letter. Paul and his missionary companions are praying people, and the believers at Thessalonica are always on their minds and in their prayers. Why is that?

Consider that Paul is emphasizing the truth that who the Thessalonian believers have come to be is entirely due to the mighty work of God. They are clearly God’s people. No one can do that in someone’s life but God—“born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1).

By definition, prayer is directed toward God. Since God is the One who has done this mighty work, it stands to reason that Paul would continue praying to God for continued grace in their lives. It makes sense that he would be constantly pouring out thanks to God for the transformation God is working in them.

God loves them.

Brothers loved by God,

Brothers—born again into the family; family dna

Loved by God

The human heart naturally yearns to be loved with steadfast love; a loyal friend, a faithful spouse, a handful of people who will stick by you and love you when life is down and dirty. These are what keep the human soul alive. But we know all too well that the best of friends and family can fail us, intentionally or not, that even those we think would give their right arm for us in the battle are feeble as we are and can desert us when we feel we need them most. These experiences stab and wound us sometimes for a lifetime. But there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. There is a God that never fails, never stops loving us ever. Nothing can break the bond.

When you intercede for other believers, you make your petitions to the God who loves them enough to die for them, the Lover of their souls that will never let them go no matter the attacks of demons or the ravages of life or death.

Meditate on this, believer. The God of heaven and earth, holy, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, ever faithful, the One who knows you better than anyone else in the universe, Who Himself created you and sustains you to this moment—LOVES you personally, eternally, sacrificially, joyfully. And let that assurance compel you to seek His face and find complete security in His embrace.

God chose them.

For we know . . . that he has chosen you

When we come across Biblical teaching we don’t fully understand, we often find ourselves in the middle of a war of competing explanations of the biblical data. Paul does not debate exactly how election works. He points out the effect God’s choice has in the lives of people. What follows is not why God chose them, but is proof that God chose them. We believe because God chose us. God did not choose us because we believe. That is clear from this passage.

We must be very careful when we come across doctrines we don’t fully understand and on which people disagree that we do not decide to deny the doctrine altogether. The Bible is full of God’s choosing people. He chose Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees. He chose Israel not on their merits. He chose David. He chose Solomon.

Jesus chose His disciples. They did not choose Him. All that God the Father has given the Son will come to Him (John 17). God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1). Paul’s letters, Peter’s letters, the Gospels, Acts—all are full of this doctrine.

These are just plain statements from Scripture. There’s no denying them without denying God’s Words. (Illustration: after reading Ephesians 1, members of a sister church pointed to the passage and asked the pastor whether he actually believed what was written there. He, of course, said yes. They replied, “Then we can’t remain members here!”

We can’t let hot debates and angry attitudes blind us to plain truth. How the will of God and the will of man interface is partly a mystery. There’s no debate that He chose some for salvation because only some get saved, not all. There’s no question that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. God’s election should never stop me from giving out the gospel. It should spur me to do so because it guarantees that some will believe even when it seems impossible that any sinner would turn.

Pete Steveson, 1 Thessalonians, 42: “Rather than arguing over the doctrine, believers should develop a grateful spirit that God has chosen them. Rather than complacency over the election of others, believers should take every opportunity to witness to the lost. Rather than allowing election to become a divisive teaching, Christians should accept it and set out to become faithful to the God Who has chosen them.”

God changed them.

This is what proved God’s choice of them.

Cross reference: 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10: For they themselves (inhabitants of northern and southern Greece) report concerning the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

The point is this. The conversion and ongoing sanctification of these believers is God’s Work in them. Paul gives God the glory for it, and Paul fervently prays to God to continue the mighty work He’s begun in them. We need that kind of praying. We want it to be clear who God’s people are, and we give praise when their lives display it.

 

II. Spirit-Empowered Evangelism (1 Thessalonians 1:5a)

because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

In Power

In the Holy Spirit

With full conviction

Notice this is describing the nature of the evangelism conducted by the missionaries. They had a great sense of God’s miraculous power (dunamis) as they conveyed gospel truth to the people of Thessalonica. They knew the Holy Spirit was at work. They were filled with Holy Spirit boldness that helped them convey the good news with great conviction, fully persuaded.

Remember that Paul had wanted to go into Asia to evangelize but the Spirit would not let him go there till later. At Troas God sent Paul a dream in which a man of Macedonia—the region of Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea—beckoned to him and cried out, “Come over and help us!”

So Paul evangelized this region at the direction of God Himself. And it was God that brought faith among those who believed:

At Thessalonica, in Acts 17, Paul reasoned with those attending the synagogue using question and answer interactive teaching. He laid out side by side the Scriptures regarding the Messiah and proved that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies when He suffered and rose from the dead. Some Jews were persuaded. Many Greeks were also and not a few leading women. The conversion of Gentiles angered the unbelieving Jews, who stirred up wicked men who started a riot and attacked the house where Paul and his companions were staying, falsely accusing them to the city authorities of sedition against Roman rule.

For the new believers to hold firm in the middle of this onslaught of persecution was a God thing.

1 Thessalonians 1:6: You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 2:13: And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

Rather than responding with anger and accusations to truth that confronted old ideas, they received with meekness the engrafted word. They were swift to hear and slow to speak. (James 1:19-21)

The Berean Jews were more noble than many in Thessalonica who would not listen. Instead they searched the Scriptures to verify that what Paul was preaching was so. They were noble not for resisting, but for listening and letting God’s Word say what it says.

If you make it a practice to share the gospel, there are times you sense very clearly that God is at work through your witness, that the Holy Spirit is powerfully using your testimony to the truth in the life of the person you are giving the gospel to. It’s a stirring, joyful thing to be part of that process, to know God is drawing a person to the Savior.

And it is added joy when their lives confirm that they have truly received Christ.

 

III. Transformed Lives (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul kept in his mind what he has seen and heard of the Thessalonian’s changed lives.

Work of faith—true faith produces work; saving faith is faith that works; it is really hard to serve Jesus if you’re not certain He’s reliable; life’s battles and trials test our faith and threaten our faith; God uses these difficulties to strengthen our faith, to make us hold onto Jesus tighter

Labor of love—agape love gives of oneself sacrificially to meet the needs of others—labor (word we get copious from) speaks of toiling to the point of exhaustion; love never quits

Steadfastness of hope -Our certainty regarding the future is what empowers our endurance, constancy, remaining under the load, bearing up under the pressure

In our Lord Jesus Christ—He is the One who guarantees our inheritance, that makes whatever we suffer worth it all. We press toward the upward call of Christ Jesus. We are not looking to gain all our reward here and now. We know the best is yet to come. So we “never give up, never give up.” (Churchill)

1 Corinthians 15:58: Steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know our labor is not in vain in the Lord. Why? The resurrection.

People that live this way show that they are clearly God’s people.

 

Clearly God’s People

I. Thankful Prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2, 4)

II. Spirit-Empowered Evangelism (1 Thessalonians 1:5a)

III. Transformed Lives (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

 

Pastor Drew Conley

Hampton Park Baptist Church

Greenville, SC

January 4, 2015

 

 
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