1 Thessalonians 1 v 5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power.
Verses 1 – 4 of 1 Thessalonians 1 have sent greetings to the Christians at Thessalonica from Paul, Silas and Timothy. Then the three missionaries thank God for their faith, love and patience which are evident signs that the professing believers in this capital city of Macedonia are truly the chosen of God – elect and precious Christians.
These believers have been justified by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, that is they have been DECLARED RIGHTEOUS and had their sins forgiven. But more than this they were DEMONSTRATING RIGHTEOUSNESS in their works of faith – evidences of changed lives through faith the Lord Jesus Christ was obvious and well known. This should always be the case with true believers – God’s electing love which leads to faith should never be a secret – but observable by all around.
Verse 5 introduces us to the next section in the letter writers’ thoughts. The subject of the next 6 verses, from 5 to 10, is this –
The Gospel – God’s Vital Message to the World!
What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the Good Message, the good tidings of the Kingdom of God and of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel states that this salvation is to be received by faith on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ for sinners, as an atoning sacrifice; His burial in a tomb for three days, His rising again from the dead and His ascension into heaven. This is how the Apostle Paul states what the Gospel is in 1 Corinthians 15 v 1 – 6.
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
Someone has said that “the Gospel message is for those who have done their best – and failed.” In the Gospel message we are reminded of the fact that each one of us has a personal and inescapable destiny in eternity and that where we spend eternity depends on our reception, or not, of the Gospel message. Paul Rees the evangelist said that “the Gospel is neither a discussion nor a debate – it is an announcement!”
The Gospel is the most important message that any human being can hear. All of us need to hear the Gospel. All of us need to hear how our sins can be forgiven and how we can get right with God through repentance and faith. And the Gospel came to Thessalonica. Paul the Apostle, a messenger of the Gospel, is now going to state FIVE things about the Gospel and how it came to the people in Thessalonica.
1. The DEMONSTRATION of the Power of God in this Gospel – verse 5 – our Gospel came to you.
2. The DEFINITE evidence of grace that followed in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians – verse 6 – you welcomed the message – you received it.
3. The DECLARED examples and sincere effective witness of the new converts – verses 7 & 8 – God’s message rang out from you – you passed on the Gospel.
4. The DEDICATION made in true repentance – verse 9 – they turned to God from idols.
5. The DELIVERANCE accomplished – verse 10 – past, Present and Future.
This is the direction for us as we think about these verses over the next few Sunday mornings. There is no message so important as the Gospel message – and we have here in this passage the way that the message was brought, their reception of it and the results of their new faith in the saviour – marks of a genuine Gospel work.
Let us think about verse 5 this morning.
1. The DEMONSTRATION of the Power of God in this Gospel – v 5
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
Paul was absolutely sure that the Christians in the newly formed church at Thessalonica were elected by God – they were chosen and precious children of the Lord God by grace. He said that their flourishing spiritual life bore adequate testimony to it – as we thought last week.
But Paul was also convinced of the reality of their faith and the genuineness of their profession because of the way that the Gospel had come to them. He was not boasting about his expertise or ability as a preacher; nor was he saying that as a team he, Silas and Timothy had got a cast iron formula for missionary work that rested in their human abilities. Notice that Paul did not say, “We came with the Gospel,” nor “our persuasive preaching brought you life in your souls.”
Rather Paul claims that, “our Gospel came to you.” This is a passive verb – it came itself to you – the message of the Gospel gets prior notice – the bearers of the message are not as important.
A few weeks ago we looked at Acts 17 and thought about the introduction of the Christian Gospel to the city of Thessalonica. Paul and his companions went to the synagogue of the Jews and first preached there.
But after three Sabbath days the unbelieving Jews attacked the integrity of the missionaries and not only rejected their message but rejected them too. They were obliged to leave the city and move on. It would appear that after they had left, these vitriolic Jews had said that the missionaries would never return to their deluded converts because Paul, Silas and Timothy were nothing but wandering teachers who scratched a living by preying on the incredulous with their philosophies. In reality these Jews were seeking to offset the effects of the message that they hated by trying to discredit the messengers.
In response to this accusation Paul reminds the believers about the way that the Gospel news had come to them. First he states it negatively in verse 5
For our gospel came not unto you in word only
– which is another way of saying
1. The Gospel did come in WORD.
Again we go back to that initial thrust of the Gospel in Thessalonica. Paul and the others went to the Synagogue where the regular means of communicating a message from the Word of God was by PREACHING. It was “word proclamation.” It was a man appointed to address the assembly with words that followed a reading from the Torah. Luke in Acts 17 uses very descriptive language to tell us how the Gospel was communicated –
And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, 3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.
REASONED – dialegomai – to preach using arguments or disputes. And Luke makes sure that we notice that Paul reasoned OUT OF THE SCRIPTURES. The proofs about the Lord Jesus Christ being the Messiah must come from the mouth of God alone as recorded in His word. Any preaching must be based on the scriptures for in them the authority of the Lord God is displayed.
OPENING – dianoigo – means to open the mind of someone causing them to understand.
ALLEGING – paratithemi – to set before someone a teaching that he is invited to receive. The same word is used for setting a meal on a table in front of someone and inviting him to eat.
Then Luke actually quotes a phrase from Paul’s preaching –
and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.
Here is Paul’s application of the authoritative word of God. He had spent time proving the Messiah should come, and the circumstances of his coming, life death and resurrection – now Paul says – The Messiah has come – and I am here to tell you about him! He is the Christ!
Preaching is vital in Gospel proclamation – the Gospel comes in WORD – with words – by words. People cannot hear and believe the Gospel without the preaching of words. Notice what Paul says in two familiar texts about preaching. Romans 10 v 13 – 15
13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
And Verse 17
Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.
Preaching is speaking words. The next text is 1 Corinthians 1 v 17 – 24.
17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: 23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; 24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Words matter. They are the bricks of sentences used for building up messages. Drama, gimmicks, sketches and simple sound bites will never ever replace the spoken words of preaching. There is a fad today of making the Gospel message acceptable to people. There is the false belief that people cannot listen to oratory of any kind. There are those who say that young and old have been desensitised by the TV with its short messages of few words. There is some truth in this – but if there is a message important enough – people will listen.
Instead of this, some preachers take a rationalistic view and say that since people don’t want to hear long sermons and addresses with hundreds of words, then we must change our method and do something else to get our message across.
The problem with this view is twofold – First it pleases God that through the foolishness of preaching people will come to believe.
Secondly such a rationalistic approach denies the Power of God the Holy Spirit first of all to arrest people’s attention and then to use the words that they hear in preaching to bring them to faith. The work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration causes people to hear the Gospel. It is God’s work to make men and women to hear the words of preaching.
But there are some evangelists who believe that people “make decisions for Christ”, according to the efficiency of the outreach methods that have been employed. They believe that there is a rational rather than a spiritual explanation as to why people receive the message. Trying to close gaps between God and society is not the honest way to preach the Gospel. Neither is it right to discover where a particular group or class of people are likely to be vulnerable to religious influence.
May we be delivered from adopting this strategy. Our Gospel work here must be centred on preaching, wholesome preaching and nothing but preaching. This was Paul’s and all the other Apostles’ method. This is the Gospel coming to a community by THE WORD!
We were very impressed to receive a leaflet entitled a “New Church for Cardiff Bay.” After explaining what is happening in Grangetown and Butetown districts of Cardiff the writer says this – “ We have the conviction that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all that is needed in evangelism and church planting. We have no special technique and no secret weapon. Our method is THE FOOLISHNESS OF PREACHING in dependence upon the power of the Holy Spirit. Our message is simply Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” There is plainly a conviction that preaching the word is the need of the day – in Cardiff, or in Barnstaple or anywhere in the world – just as it was in Thessalonica.
2. The Gospel came in POWER.
5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only – but also in power,
There is no doubt that the preaching of the Gospel at Thessalonica had a special force about it that made it effective in the minds and hearts of the Thessalonian believers who heard and believed. The words were spoken in human weakness. No, it was not that Paul was not a good speaker, or that he did not know his message. Yet he spoke in weakness, just like he did at Corinth, from where he was writing this letter. You may recall what he said about his gifts of preaching in 1 Corinthians 2 v 1 – 5.
1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Paul spoke with power, but not His own power – God’s power! And this power was not with miracles. We know that in this case because the word power here is DUNAMEI, which is singular. If miraculous power had been meant the word would have been plural – powers.
We have noted before that the word power gives us our English word DYNAMITE. William Hendriksen remarks that, “accompanying Paul’s preaching was enough dynamite to blow up and demolish the idol gods of the Thessalonians.” It is only with God’s power that the Word of God can penetrate the heart of a sinner. Superb oratory and public speaking can be learned and practised and polished until perfect. People will listen and be spellbound, riveted to their seats under the influential delivery of a message. But where the Gospel is concerned, unless there is a supernatural power at work, opening hearts and minds to receive the truth as preached – then the most brilliant communication will fall on deaf hearts.
This power here is a preacher’s consciousness that he has divine help in his preaching. And his hearers not only hear the sound of his words, but they come to submit to the power of his words. He is not merely tickling the ears of the congregation, or amusing their minds, or entertaining their emotions – but his words affect the hearer’s hearts – touching their consciences.
Let me ask you this morning my friend. Have you heard the gospel before? Yes I am sure you have. You have heard about God’s only begotten Son coming into the world to live a perfect and righteous life. You have heard that His life was utterly different to ours because He never once sinned in his whole life. You have heard that He died on a cross as a substitute for sinners and that His death atoned for the sins of His people. Yes you have heard that He rose again the third day after he died and is alive today. And you have heard that, one day He will judge the whole world including you and me – and that there are only 2 places where our souls will end up – heaven with Christ or hell without Him.
So – you have heard the Gospel. But HOW have you heard it? Is it in your mind or in your heart? Has this Gospel come to you with power? With dynamite that blows to bits your own righteousness and your own ideas that somehow you can be right with God without personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ? Or that you can give lip service to the Gospel and say that you believe it, but all the time you are continuing to live a life of selfishness and self determination, grabbing all you can from life but with no reference to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Are you living a life still as a sinner without the forgiveness that Christ has brought? It will take power to bring that realization to you.
What sort of power is this that accompanies the preaching of the Gospel?
3. The Gospel came in THE HOLY GHOST.
5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only – but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost,
So we go back again to Thessalonica and the powerful preaching of the Gospel and find that the power was the Divine power of God the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. He was the source of a special convicting influence in the lives of some of the hearers in Thessalonica. Paul did not have to rely on his own ability with words to create effect – the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated HIS ABILITY to savingly apply the preached words, delivered by Paul, to individual’s hearts. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit has a unique prerogative to make the Gospel meaningful.
1 Corinthians 12 v 3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
The Bible so often links God the Holy Spirit with power.
Romans 1 v 4 Jesus Christ declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
Romans 15 v 13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
2Tim 1 v 7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 8 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God;
The reason why there was so much power in Paul’s message was this – that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself was speaking.
There are particular times in the history of the world when the Lord Jesus Christ in His mercy and through His Holy Spirit has sent special seasons of power to preachers. Read about the revivals that happened in various places in the world – wherever revival came, true revival that is, there was a sense of power that accompanied the preaching by ordinary ministers of the gospel. The Great Awakening during the time of Jonathan Edwards and the visit of George Whitfield to America was characterised by the power of the Holy Spirit on the preaching. The Lord Himself spoke to men and women through the preaching. Oh that we had such things today in our churches – but we do not. In times of revival there is a hunger and a thirst for what God has to say. J Edwards complained in 1733 that the young people especially were very careless and were not interested in listening to what God had to say through their parents or through the ministers of the Gospel. But when the Holy Spirit came in revival “The young people declared themselves convinced by what they heard from the pulpit and were willing of themselves to comply with the counsel that had been given; and it was immediately complied with.”
Someone commenting on the 18th Century awakening in Wales said this – “Howell Harris and John Wesley had keen organizing ability; William Williams and Charles Wesley had unsurpassed genius to write hymns, Whitfield’s compassionate heart and breadth of vision well nigh encircled the globe, and Daniel Rowland’s communion seasons were heavenly. However each felt deeply the absolute priority and unique authority of preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit. Under such preaching few people are able to leave the sermon unmoved. Miners in Bristol were seen with great streaks of white down their faces where the tears had flowed down coal-blackened cheeks when they heard the Gospel preached with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Oh that this was happening today in our land! It cannot be worked up. It cannot be contrived. But it must be waited for and prayed for. God will come – but He will come in His time. In the meantime we pray that He will bring convicting influences on people who hear the Word of God preached with power!
Certainly this power was in Paul’s preaching – which is why he was able to say what came next in verse 5 –
4. The Gospel came in MUCH ASSURANCE.
5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only – but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance;
The assurance spoken of here is not assurance in the hearts of the Thessalonians – but in the hearts of the missionaries. The context of the verses preceding and following verse 5 bear this out. The three missionaries were convinced about the certainty of their message – were given boldness to proclaim it and confidence that it would be effective.
They had a testimony in their own hearts that something more than speaking was going on in Thessalonica. Much assurance means deep conviction of the certainty of the message – boldness to proclaim it and confidence that it would be effective. The Greek word is PLEROPHORIA, which literally means, “a full or complete carrying.” The three truly experienced this. They were sure of what was going on. Paul had seen it before. He saw men affected profoundly by the preaching as he himself had been affected when the Lord Jesus Christ met him on the road to Damascus. Such assurance is the liberty of mind that comes about when a person has an understanding of spiritual things in Christ. And this understanding was so evident in the missionaries that, under the sovereign power of the Holy Spirit, others came to this assurance too – in Thessalonica and the regions around.
This was the manner of men – ordinary, but transformed men, that Paul Silas and Timothy were. And my Christian friends, this is the kind of people that we should be too. Do we have a full assurance, a deep conviction of the truth of the gospel in our minds and hearts?
Are we sure of our saviour or is our profession based only on the group activity of church and the things that we find comfortable to believe in? If this is the case, then it is no wonder that others are not being drawn in to the Kingdom through our testimony. People outside can see through a nominal faith; but they can tell where there is genuine Christianity – full assurance of faith – a complete and utter commitment to Christ and His Gospel.
Are we serious my friends about Jesus Christ and His Kingdom?
Do we avail ourselves of every opportunity to be here for the teaching and preaching of God’s word? Your friends and neighbours notice how serious you are by your attendance!
Are we so concerned for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ that we will spare no effort to tell others about Him?
Are we ready to spend and be spent for the cause of the Master whatever it costs us?
Are we ready to suffer if necessary for a wonderful Saviour should we be called to do so?
These are the kinds of questions that challenge our faith and questions whether we have “full assurance – much assurance” of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Oh may we each come up with God honouring answers to these questions – may we all be fully persuaded of the truth as it is in Jesus – and witness Holy Spirit power in the preaching of the Glorious Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.