1 Thessalonians 1 v 6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord.
In 1 Thessalonians 1 v 5 to 10 Paul the Apostle is relating to his readers certain facts about
The Gospel – God’s Vital Message to the World!
The Gospel is the Good Message, the good tidings of the Kingdom of God and of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. 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.
Paul outlines 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 – verse 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 – Past, Present and Future – verse 10.
Last Lord’s Day we considered the first of those headings and marvelled at the way that the Gospel came in power through the preaching of the message from the missionaries.
However it is one thing to have the message of Christ Crucified preached in a town – and quite another to know that people are listening and receiving the message. How can it be shown that the message is getting through? How can anyone know that the power of God is at work?
In Thessalonica there were things happening that turned the community upside down. And in verse 6 Paul now makes reference to those things –
2. The DEFINITE evidence of grace that followed in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians –
6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
At first and simply this 6th verse is about the Thessalonian believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who
1. Received the Word 2. Followed the Lord 3. Suffered persecution 4. Were nevertheless full of Joy
This is not the exact order of the thoughts of Paul in the verse – but to put them this way makes sense.
And having received the word ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
This is the order that we will think about this verse this morning.
1. Those in Thessalonica RECEIVED the word.
It was not all of the 200.000 people who lived in Thessalonica who received the word but those firstly that we read about earlier in Acts 17. There were those in the synagogue – Dr Luke tells us who they were v 4
And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.
A crowd of Proselyte Greek people and a lesser number of leading women too. Who were these leading women? Dr Gill suggests that they were the wives of some of the principal men in the city of Thessalonica, who attended as proselytes at the Synagogue. There must have been some Jews as well – we are not told how many but Paul tells us that SOME OF THEM BELIEVED.
We do know the names of some of the converts – Jason – Acts 17 v 5 – Gaius and Aristarchus, mentioned in Acts 19 v 29. The occasion was when Paul was in Ephesus. Two of the men from Macedonia here are thought to be from Thessalonica –
29 And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.
Then one more name – Secundus from Acts 20 v 4
And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.
But the rest of the names, though unknown to us, are known to the King of kings and their names are written in heaven!
The phrase in verse 6 “having received the word” is written in the original language in such a way to communicate to us that the Gospel message was RECEIVED in a particular way.
The Greek word here is DECHOMAI and can be translated ‘accepted’ as well as ‘received’. It means to receive by deliberate and ready reception of what has been offered.
Several pictures come to mind when we think of deliberate and eager reception of something offered.
A man who has been lost in the hot desert for a day or two with very little water will be glad to be approached by a rescuer who has a good supply of water. When he is offered the water bottle he receives gladly, probably grabbing it with both hands.
Recently we have seen adults and children in Iraq, who have been starved for years approaching army trucks laden with food parcels for distribution – clamouring to receive what has been offered to them.
There are some New Testament examples of reception or acceptance of something offered.
There was a man in Jerusalem who was approached in the temple by a man and woman – the woman was carrying a baby and she offered him to the man. The man accepted the child into his arms. The man’s name was Simeon and the baby was the infant Lord Jesus Christ. Luke uses this same word to describe this scene in Luke 2 v 28 –
Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: 30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Paul describes our acceptance of the helmet of salvation, one of those components of the spiritual armour, as TAKE UP the helmet – receive it, accept it – Ephesians 6 v 17.
The word DECHOMAI can also be used in the sense of receiving a person or persons.
We are still used to the term that has its origin in more polite days, of a RECEPTION ROOM. In a house, particularly a large one, one room was set aside for the reception of visitors.
And the same idea remains in the case of wedding celebrations – the event fallowing the betrothal is properly called a RECEPTION because the guests who have been invited are received by the host and hostess as they enter the meal or whatever form the reception takes. People are being received deliberately and respectfully.
In the New Testament we find the word used in many places in this sense
In John 4 there is reference to the people of Galilee receiving Jesus
45 Then when he was come into Galilee, the Galilaeans received him, having seen all the things that he did at Jerusalem at the feast: for they also went unto the feast.
In Acts 3 we read of Peter preaching about the Lord Jesus Christ –
20 And God shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: 21 Whom the heaven must receiveuntil the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
In Matthew 10 the Lord Jesus Christ Himself uses the word several times – He was sending His disciples on a preaching mission. People were supposed to receive them into their houses for hospitality.
Matthew 10 v 13 And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
v 40 He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.
DECHOMAI in 1 Thessalonians 1 v 6 describes how willing and eager the elect believers received the word of the Gospel message. In Chapter 2 another verb is added referring to the same attitude of reception –
1 Thessalonians 2 v 13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
The English translation has used the same English word received for two different Greek words.
The first received – “ye received the word of God” is PARALAMBANO – you took from us the words – with your ears – you heard the word from us men.
But the second is DECHOMAI “ye received it as it is in the truth, the word of God,” – you welcomed it – you accepted it and you appropriated it for yourselves – into your hearts!
And this leads us to our first point of application this morning.
How, my friends, do you receive the word of God? How do you take the offered Gospel message from the lips of a preacher? Is it just with your EARS – those two very special organs on either side of your head that receive sound waves bringing news about a Saviour of sinners from hell and judgement? For many this is all that happens. They come to worship with God’s people and they hear about the Lord Jesus Christ. The message is presented and they hear it. But it is only half of the task to hear with the ears. This is PARALAMBANO – the receiving of information, of preached truth form God’s word through His servants the preachers. Is this as far as this gets with you my friend? Sadly I know this to be true with some of you – and the way I know is this. When God’s word is properly received, accepted and welcomed into the heart and soul of a man or woman, boy or girl – then a change happens that leaves them never the same again! When the heart receives – DECHOMAI – the Gospel message, then a dynamic effect is evident – a conversion experience. Can you honestly say that this is what has happened to you my friend?
If you have not yet repented of your sins and confessed your wickedness to God yet, then you may have heard, but you haven’t received.
If you do not have complete trust in the perfect and finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ the son of God who died on a cross as a substitute for sinners, then you may have heard and heard in your mind, but you have not received.
You are in grave danger if you have heard but not received. There is a possible reason why you have not received – 1 Corinthians 2 v 14 explains it –
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
You may well be hearing but your nature prevents you from receiving – and you need to plead with the Lord God to change you and to give you a new nature. Otherwise 2 Thessalonians 2 v 10 may describe you – deceived – by the devil
With all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
May God in His mercy save those who are only hearers and not receivers of His truth today!
Receiving the Word is receiving the Logos. Only here, at this point in the scripture, Paul does not mean the Lord Jesus Christ the living Logos – the living word.
Neither does Paul mean a reception of the Written Word – the Logos – because the New Testament had by this time not yet been written.
No – the word here means the message – the Gospel.
The Gospel is the word of God, the message from God. It is not man’s message. We do not have to put up with those who suggest that our religion is something contrived by men and maintain that God and the Lord Jesus Christ are figments of our imagination. The Gospel is a supernatural message, supernaturally received from a supernatural Holy and mighty God who knows how to communicate His message to His creatures. There is power in the message – that God commendeth His love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ, His only Son died for us. What a message this is!
We must press on to look at the three effects of this message and its reception by the Thessalonians. Remember our overall theme is the definite evidence of grace that followed the preaching of the Gospel in the power of God.
2. The people who received the Word became followers.
And having received the word ye became followers of us, and of the Lord,
They became sincere followers of the missionaries and of the missionaries’ saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. They were converted. The message changed their lives and they began to imitate the missionaries and very soon they found themselves imitating the missionaries’ Lord for themselves. Such was the radical change in their lives that it quickly became obvious to all around that something revolutionary had taken place.
These people stopped going to the local shrine and stopped offering animal meat to the idols.
These people began to speak enthusiastically about a man called Jesus who they claimed had come into their lives.
These people became better people – they were kinder, easier to know, became utterly honest in their business dealings. Those who had been living together got married and lived exclusively for one another. These people refused to attend the immoral pagan festivals with all of those feasts’ sexual immorality and sin.
These people ceased from the innuendo and sleazy talk so common amongst their former friends.
These people began to worship Jesus Christ with a devotion of love for Him.
What a change this was! How can we explain such a change?
It was simple and yet profound. These new believers had come into contact with Jesus Christ through the copies of Christ, Paul and his companions. The Lord Jesus Christ had changed the missionaries so that they were extraordinary men. They were attracted by the difference that they saw in them.
I had that experience a few weeks before I came to the Lord Jesus Christ. I met a man whose life I began to admire. He was selfless, generous, and he loved people. He was concerned for all kinds of people and he spent his life in the service of others. The quality of his life was not only different to my puny selfish existence, but he stood out among other people too. He loved the Lord Jesus Christ with all of his heart and showed it in the way he lived. And in my immature way of thinking at that time, I wanted so much to be like this man. In my decisions in life I used to ask, “What would my friend do in this situation?” And I would think it through and act accordingly. Five weeks after my conversion I had to leave this friend behind to work in another country. But the fragrance of his life stayed with me for a long while; until I realised that his life was an imitation of the life of a much greater man – the man Christ Jesus.
The Thessalonians had to part with Paul, Silas and Timothy, whose lives they began to follow. But as someone has said, “If they had not been attracted by the missionaries they could not have known the chief attraction – Christ Himself.”
So we learn that it is the reflection of Christ in us today that induces others to become like the Lord Jesus.
Paul declares this in other parts of the New Testament.
Writing to the Christians at Corinth Paul says something that at first sight is very arrogant –
1 Corinthians 4 v 16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
But before we judge him let us notice a clarification of what he says further on in 1 Corinthians – in chapter 11 v 1
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
Paul now tells us what he is – he is a follower of Christ by the sovereign grace of God. Therefore he is merely inviting people to do the same as he – together they should follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Follow here is an interesting word MIMETAI. We get our English word mimic and imitation from this Greek root.
I was always taught that, “Imitation is the sincerest form of a compliment.” Paul is seeking to point from himself to the Lord Jesus Christ. He does it by including US first then proceeds to “and of the Lord.” The missionaries had been watched! Their earnestness, devotion, enthusiasm and willingness to suffer for the saviour had been plain to the converts. And the missionaries spoke about, and pointed to, the Lord as the great one that they knew, loved and served. And people saw the Lord in them.
Are we any different since the Lord saved us, since we were first converted? Does it show in our lives that we love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ? Or are we just like anyone else? It is a very sad thing when a person who professes the Lord is not known for his or her faith in Christ by his neighbours or work colleagues. How often have I met those who have expressed surprise at someone’s life style when they learn that he or she is a believer? They had not known before! Oh my friends it should show! The children in Wednesday Club rightly sing this little prayer –
“May I grow to be like thee, May my friends see Christ in me, In Jesus name, Amen.”
A changed life is still the best evidence that we have become Christians. Many rely heavily upon their inward feelings and moods, or on their past spiritual experiences for assurance that they have eternal life. Feelings and frames of mind can change, and experiences can be deceptive. A radically new lifestyle is much safer ground upon which to rest our hopes!
May this be true of every true believer – that others notice the difference!
This is the first effect of receiving the Word of the Gospel – the second is this
3. The people who received the Word were PERSECUTED.
And having received the word ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, in much affliction
This was an EXTERNAL effect of the blessing of becoming a follower of Christ. Paul had left the Thessalonians in no doubt that the road to eternal life was not easy. All who become imitators of the Lord are called to share in the rejection which the Lord Himself met from an unbelieving world. Paul gave some very wise advice later in his letter –
1 Thessalonians 3 v 3 That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. 4 For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.
The Lord Jesus had already given the same advice in His familiar words of John 16 v 33
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
It is plain that the early Christians EXPECTED persecution when they trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as their saviour. Do we expect to be persecuted? Persecution is the inevitable consequence of genuine discipleship. Paul and Silas could tell the Thessalonians a few things about suffering. Indeed their route to Thessalonica had been via Philippi – we know what a trial had gone on there – a beating and imprisonment – unjustly and unfairly – in the inner jail with backs bleeding and feet in the stocks. This was affliction – this was tribulation. And the other prisoners and the jailer himself were amazed to hear these two men at midnight SINGING PRAISES in the Psalms to God. Perhaps they were aware of the truth that Peter came to believe and wrote about in 1 Peter 3 v 13
And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? 14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
The Thessalonian believers met with persecution from Day One of their new life with Christ. Acts 17 described it earlier – but God was at work in these new converts – and rather than be put off the Gospel the 4th effect was seen – which was INTERNAL –
4. The people who received the Word were JOYFUL.
And having received the word ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
Those who had welcomed the word had given unmistakeable evidence that they were imitators of the missionaries and of the Lord Jesus Christ with Holy Spirit inspired joy. They had proved themselves to be elect.
And the same Holy Spirit who had given power to those who preached the Gospel in Thessalonica, gave joy to those who received it. He was working in the preachers and hearers alike. After all joy is a fruit of the Spirit!
As we close then, having thought about how the definite evidence of a unique and powerful work went on in Thessalonica, let us ask ourselves a question – How can we prove that we belong to the Lord? What evidence is there to establish without doubt that we are His children?
Well my friends – we must bring out the evidence!
The evidence is in a changed life. The old life has gone and its remnants are going more and more every day as we seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ more closely.
We will suffer persecution in one form or another as a consequence of living the Christian life. All of us who truly love Christ will be able to tell of afflictions and troubles from others who do not believe, that were never a problem before we believed!
But in it all true believers have a genuine joy through God the Holy the Spirit despite all the trials. These are the evidences.
Are we like the Thessalonians guilty of being Christians? Let us not be ashamed of this kind of guilt – it is a worthy thing to be counted amongst the true disciples, followers of Jesus Christ!