1 Thessalonians 1 v 9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you
In the reading of God’s word a few minutes ago we read how the apostle Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles, had been arrested and almost beaten to death in Jerusalem. His crime was this – that he had preached to people, with the authority of Almighty God, that he should open people’s spiritual eyes, turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God in order that they might receive from God forgiveness of sins and a guaranteed future inheritance in heaven for ever. This was Paul’s commission, received on the road to Damascus – and which Paul faithfully carried out over many years in Asia and Europe. Paul told King Agrippa that he had not been disobedient to the heavenly commission to preach and to evangelise. He had started in Damascus where he had been converted; then he preached in Judea and eventually proclaimed the message of the gospel far and wide venturing into Greece – with the same message – repent and turn to God and prove it by living a transformed life – doing works suitable to show that repentance had occurred.
Does this sound like a crime to you my friends? What laws are being broken by Paul’s activities? Why should some people want this sincere and forthright man DEAD?
The answers to those questions lie with satanically inspired religionists amongst the Jewish leaders. They were opposed to the Lord Jesus Christ their Messiah and to the gospel message that He had brought. And now they were opposed to anyone who sought to preach His wonderful Name. They were terrified that unless men like Paul were silenced – by death if necessary – then others would hear and their power base would be destroyed as men and women embraced the faith of Jesus of Nazareth. In the providence of God Paul was protected by the laws of the very people that the Jews also hated – the Romans! But there was to be no silencing of the Gospel. The missionaries would preach, and all kinds of people would hear – and people would be saved – those chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world. These would hear the message of redemption from missionaries and by the grace of God recognise the voice of their saviour! This is precisely what happened in Thessalonica. A remarkable moving of the spirit of the Lord God had awakened the souls of God’s sheep, who had been idol worshippers all their lives in Thessalonica.
It was such a remarkable movement that the word got around – people talked in the city. Let us listen in to a man talking to his friend in the market place in Thessalonica. “Did you hear… did you know what has been going on… a new religion is sweeping the city… people are dynamically changed when they come to believe in a man called Jesus. Have you spoken to anyone about it? The man that I know is so different. I could not believe it was the same person. His face was the same – his voice was the same voice – but his conduct, speech and whole demeanour are utterly different. And he told me about it – about His saviour – a Jew who after a short life, died on a cross in Jerusalem – and he claimed that this death means that he, my friend, is now free from the guilt and penalty of his sins. Moreover this same person was God – the God who he says made the world and is the ONLY God! It sounds incredible – but this is what they believe. But one thing is sure – my friend has changed – and he has changed for the better! And I for one am going to find out more!”
This conversation is typical of thousands of similar conversations that probably took place in the days of the mission to Thessalonica by Paul, Silas and Timothy, servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. I say thousands because this news spread like wildfire, not only across the city – but also far and wide from the port and on the roads that led out of the city. Everyone was talking about it. It was the principle topic of conversation and we can confirm this by what we are reading in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.
In 1 Thessalonians 1 v 5 to 10 Paul speaks of certain facts about
The Gospel – God’s Vital Message to the World!
Paul outlines FIVE things about the Gospel and how it came to the people in Thessalonica. We have already thought about three of the five – namely
1. The DEMONSTRATION of the Power of God in this Gospel – verse 5 –
Our Gospel came to you. The Gospel came in power through the preaching of the message from the missionaries. Then we thought about
2. The DEFINITE evidence of grace that followed in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians – verse 6 – you
1. Received the Word; 2. Followed the Lord; 3. Suffered persecution; 4. Were nevertheless full of Joy.
These dear believers at Thessalonica had given unmistakable evidence of being imitators, first of the missionaries and then of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. They had proved themselves to be God’s elect.
The third thing about the Gospel and how it came to the people of Thessalonica was this – we observe
3. The DECLARED examples and sincere effective witness of the new converts – verse 7 – 8 –
God’s message rang out from you, says Paul – you passed on the Gospel. The imitators became EXAMPLES! They moved on from imitation to demonstration and proclamation.
This morning we come to the fourth dimension of the Gospel coming to the people at Thessalonica – found in verse 9 of chapter 1 – we read verse 8 to get the sense –
8 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. 9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
4. The DEDICATION made in true repentance – verse 9 –
They turned to God from idols.
Looking very carefully at these words we need to see Paul’s point in writing these words.
He is NOT FLATTERING the Thessalonian Christians by saying what good witnesses they were – he is merely stating the case that the task of evangelism was made so much easier because they had a reputation that built up rapidly. After Thessalonica, wherever Paul and the other two went, people had already heard about Jesus and the change that he brings. Paul is saying, “We have evidence everywhere of your very effective testimony. We speak to people about their souls and they already know about the Saviour – not savingly – but they know about who He is.”
So there was a report circulating from mouth to mouth – a new thing happening at Thessalonica! And this phrase at the beginning of verse 9
For they themselves shew of us
communicates the zest to conversation among men and women in many, many places in Greece and further afield.
But there was a reason for Paul to phrase his words in this way. We have noted already that it was not flattery – but it was a note of DEFENCE. Paul, Silas and Timothy were under attack having been accused of several untrue things. They were charged with being persuasive agitators; bringing new and fanciful teachings and that some of the Thessalonian people had fallen for it. The Jews had ejected the missionaries from several towns because of these charges of introducing new things.
This of course was not confined to the first century AD. We could identify in our own history of the last 50 years how fads and fashions, beliefs and trends, sweep at first through a community – and everyone wants to be involved – the lottery; going to Disney land; clothes styles; restaurant chains – you name it – if it is new and interesting, you want to be able to say to your friends – yes I have tasted it! I am generalising with regard to the wider community in our country. I would not be surprised if the Christian congregation here have little to do with these things – because generally speaking it is material and worldly things that are the obsessions of our land. The new things of life are generally short-lived and of little consequence.
There have not been many new things of a religious nature in Britain for about 90 years that could be spoken about in the same way as the movement of the Gospel say in times of Revival. Then, in those days people did speak of a new thing happening with the credit being given to God and not man. Paul and the others felt the need to defend their actions – not for themselves, but on God’s behalf. They phrase it using the word US because they are the messengers.
9 For they themselves shew of us.
The proof of our ministry is in the people themselves! They are living testimonies that it was not us who persuaded them to change themselves. But there is another, mightier power that has effected their transformation. And the proof is in 2 areas
1. The Manner in which the gospel came to Thessalonica. The missionaries’ method and style of evangelism.
2. The Manifestation of the change that the Gospel brought about in the new believers.
We think about the first of those two proofs –
1. The Manner in which the gospel came to Thessalonica. The missionaries’ method and style of evangelism.
For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you,
The quality of the approach of the missionaries to the Thessalonians was as befits the work of a perfect God by His sovereign Holy Spirit. Paul and the others were completely in God’s hands as they preached the gospel first in the synagogue and then amongst the Gentile population of Thessalonica. The entering in was honest, clear and open for everyone to hear and see. It was not, as had been suggested, secret subversion of vulnerable citizens by crafty persuasive arguments, turning the Thessalonians from their state religion of idol worship. Paul declares that it was a matter of public knowledge that we went to the synagogue – and people left the synagogue of their own accord, and joined us. Paul goes on to defend his position and method of approach in Chapter 2 v 1 –12 which we will be looking at over the next few weeks – so we will just read those verses and then move on.
1 Thessalonians 2 v 1 For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: 2 But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. 3 For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: 4 But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. 5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: 6 Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: 8 So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. 9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. 10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: 11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, 12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
These people dedicated their lives to GOD and not to us! And the evidence is in the next point -
2. The Manifestation of the change that the Gospel brought about in the new believers.
We live near to 2 estuaries where every 10 hours or so the tide changes the direction of the flow of water. I remember watching some small boats at Appledore just at the turn of the tide. One moment these little vessels at anchor were floating in one direction tugging on their mooring ropes. But within a minute or so they had turned around by 180 degrees and were tugging in the opposite direction.
This was the kind of change that was readily noticeable amongst the Thessalonians when the flood tide of the gospel blessing poured into the city. Conversion is a turning about! It is a change from sinfulness to holiness. It is a change from unbelief to faith.
how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
The Greek word for TURNED here is EPISTREPHO, which is the word that would be used to describe a boat or anything else that turned around. And so it graphically describes the process of CONVERSION marked by repentance – because repentance is a turning. It is sad that today the word conversion has been downgraded. When North Sea natural gas became available then those households using manufactured gas had to have their equipment converted – to natural gas! But it was only a minor change compared to conversion of a human soul from darkness to light! I used to teach on what were called CONVERSION COURSES for nurses who had a qualification that had taken them 2 years to train for – who wanted the more technical qualification that usually took 3 years. Some additional teaching and experience enabled them to “convert” from one level to the next. But again this was not a true conversion – it was more of the same!
It was nothing like turning from wickedness to trust in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ and live with that righteousness in the soul!
There are many scriptural examples of this total change, this true conversion. Luke uses it several times in Acts using the same word.
Peter uses it in his sermon on the day that the lame man was healed in Jerusalem -
Acts 3 v 19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
When Aeneas was healed at Lydda by Peter Luke reports in Acts 9 v 35
And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.
After the persecution that arose following Stephen’s stoning to death, many believers were scattered and went to other countries, like Cyprus and Syria. The result of their preaching and testimony is recorded in Acts 11 v 21
And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
When Paul and Barnabas had arrived in Lystra, and Paul healed a man the superstitious people considered the missionaries to be Gods and began to worship them. Paul pleaded with them using these words in Acts 14 v 15
And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:
One more – at the counsel of Jerusalem the Apostles and elders acknowledged that there had been notable conversions amongst non-Jews and James the spokesman said this –
Acts 15 v 19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
We must not ever underestimate the radical change that came over the Thessalonian idol worshippers. They turned their allegiance from the state religion of idol worship to utter commitment to the One true God the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a massive contrast! They turned from DEAD IDOLS to the LIVING GOD!
They turned from false gods to the True God.
They turned from many gods – to the only God and saviour Jesus Christ.
For generations the people at Thessalonica had slavishly worshipped and honoured their false gods. In Ephesians 4 Paul describes the state of soul of such people –
17b in the vanity of their mind, 18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: 19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
Perhaps we should remind ourselves of the nature of idolatry. Anything, whether real or imagined, that is invested with divine properties, is an idol. Although statues and icons, pictures or humans or animals can be idols, they are not the only things that can become an idol. Wealth, an idea, a project can become an idol. A pursuit such as sport; a hobby, which takes the majority of ones non-working time can become an idol. It becomes a god.
But an idol can be the True God conceived falsely. There are those called Pantheists who acknowledge the creation as the work of God’s hands – but worships the creation rather than the creator.
We are all idolaters at heart. Idolatry is a feature of our fallen natures. We tend to worship, become absorbed by, anything apart from God!
And idolatry is sin. It replaces God in our thoughts and affections. It offends Him the creator because it leaves Him out of His creatures’ attentions. We have been made to worship and honour our maker, but we raise up idols of our own choosing and by our obsessions with them – we worship them rather than Him.
This sinful condition was marked in the people of Greece. They were national idolaters, and sophisticated in their idolatry. Idolatry was often sensual in that eyes, ears and other senses were used to direct the heart to the objects of worship. Indeed in the Thessalonians’ case they could see Mount Olympus, which was only 50 miles south of them. This Mountain was believed to be the place where their Greek gods were supposed to live.
So when the flood tide of the Gospel came through Paul, Silas and Timothy, and the gracious promptings of the Holy Spirit, idolatry was challenged head on in all of its forms! And people were powerfully changed – they TURNED! From Idols – to GOD.
Turning always involves leaving one thing and embracing another. Repentance is a process by which the child of God turns from sin and wickedness to God and Righteousness.
But now notice what the text says – TO GOD FROM IDOLS. The order here is significant. The motive in this conversion was not that the Thessalonians were repelled by the grossness of their idols; but that they were attracted by the perfect character of God. They realised that God, the true and righteous God, could be known and they turned to Him.
But my friends do you not see the miraculous in all this?
They did not see God as the better option and so decide to go with Him. They were actually bound and trapped and utterly obsessed with their idolatrous religion that no such decision could be made without a supernatural intervention. They of themselves could not see any point in leaving the sins of the mind; the sins of the body – immoral behaviour – depraved behaviour that everyone else was doing – pleasures and lusts focussed in self-gratification. Sin is attractive. Sin is not something that can easily be given up.
Quite frankly for anyone, Jew, Gentile, Greek, Roman or British person – for anyone to leave the idolatry of sin is startling in itself! We simply do not want to let our sins go! We are comfortable with them – we wish to keep them even though they can have unhappy consequences for us – we are prepared to take the risk. Indeed in some cultures there is fear of leaving devotion to idols behind – fear that the idols will bring terrible judgement down! You could make the gods angry! They will take vengeance on you if you leave them! Even today in some cultures animism holds sway. Spirits hold people in their grip by instilling a superstitious fear into them.
And our Western equivalents are no less powerful. Some people are eaten up with a selfish lust for money power or fame. Addictions to food, drink, hard drugs or immoral sex hold millions in their idolatrous grip. All of these things demand an allegiance which is due to the Lord God alone. Every sinner, who is an idolater, is a prisoner held in humiliating bondage.
Does this describe someone here this morning? What is keeping you from a relationship with the One true Lord God? Examine your life this morning my friend and identify idolatry in your life! And if you can’t find the words to ask the questions, then use the words of scripture –
Psalm 139 v 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me,
For the Thessalonians to abandon their idols was sure to provoke the recriminations of angry gods – and from terrified family and friends too. Yet these dear people had done just that! They had turned to God from their idols. Are you ready and willing to turn to God this morning?
The Final part of verse 9 shows us the second part of the Conversion experience. None of us are saved into a vacuum by repenting from sin – by leaving sin behind – without a new life beginning. Paul says
ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
Conversion is the exchange of one slavery for another – except for one thing – slavery to Christ is perfect freedom! Serve here is the Greek word DOULEU-OH – meaning to be a slave and serve. Conversion is a radical commitment to please God in everything. And when a man or woman, boy or girl changes like this then it becomes a powerful witness to the gospel. A change like this speaks far louder than words. But changes like this often provide opportunities for words. A few weeks ago we concluded that the most effective evangelism is connected with witness both in word and life. A missionary church is one that not only tells the Gospel but also shows it!
So are the unbelievers that you and I know challenged by the single-mindedness of our devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ and our determination to serve Him?
If not, perhaps some idols have crept back to be hidden under our beds! Perhaps we have gone back to something that was a feature of our preconversion experience. Perhaps Satan has tricked us into a subtle idolatry that was not a problem before we were converted – but is now as a Christian.
Is our business becoming an idol – in that it tends to come between us and the Lord and His service and worship?
Is our family more important to us than the worship and service of the Lord Jesus and His work?
The Thessalonians having turned to God SERVED HIM – because they were taken up with Him who is the LIVING AND TRUE GOD. Living and not dead like their idols. True and not false like their idols.
What a contrast there was in the testimony of these saints at Thessalonica. They were different – and it showed! The Lord Jesus Christ had transformed them by His Holy Spirit. He had come in His converting power and they had repented and turned to Him never to return to the idols. No wonder people talked about it! It was so remarkable. Nothing like this had ever happened before in their experience. Dedication to the service of God followed their true repentance.
And my friends, this is the kind of situation we find ourselves in today. We seem to think that people are not the least bit interested in us here at Whiddon Valley Evangelical Church. But they are watching – and listening – and observing – every detail that they can see of our lives. Are we going to show what a difference the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, by His spirit, in our souls has made to us? Or will we fade in the background, into comfy Christian culture that affects no one?
May we as a body of people so know without doubt the difference that the Lord makes to us so that it will show to others around – and they may begin to say, “Have you heard about Whiddon Valley? God has begun to do a work there – people are being saved and their lives are changed! They have turned to God in repentance and are now serving Christ with all their might! Perhaps we should find out about Jesus Christ too?”