John Wesley said, “the Bible must have been written either by God, or good men, or bad men, or angels, or devils. Bad men or devils would not have written the Bible because of the condemnation of sin and pronouncement of fearful judgement on the sinner. Good men or angels would not deceive men by lying as to its authority and claiming that God was the writer. Therefore the Bible must have been written, as it claims to have been written, BY GOD, who by His Holy spirit, inspired men to record His words, using human instruments to communicate it to men.”
This morning we are led by the passage in 1 Thessalonians 2 v 13 to think about the Bible, God’s word.
The Bible is called GOD’S WORD because it is just that GOD’S WORD!
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 phrase the “word of God” is repeated in this verse and set in contrast to the “word of man.” Paul the writer of the letter has a purpose – to encourage his readers to hold fast to their new Christian faith even though they are facing very stiff opposition. He uses his own words, the words of a man writing a letter, to encourage them.
In chapter 1, perhaps it was on the first page of the letter, he had tried to encourage them by congratulating them on their progress in spiritual things. Next he goes on to defend himself and his fellow missionaries by refuting the slanderous things that had been said about them in Jewish circles. In the first 12 verses of Chapter 2, (was it page 2?) he recalled his manner of preaching and their conduct while they had been in Thessalonica. If the Thessalonians took time to reflect on what they had seen as well as heard from the missionaries they would be convinced that Paul, Silas and Timothy were entirely trustworthy.
And if that were not sufficient to encourage them, then Paul next produces a reminder of the way that they had originally embraced the message of the Gospel. They had received it with joy in spite of the suffering that came to them. They had warmly welcomed the message of Salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ – and it is this and the origin of the message that the Apostle addresses next in verses 13 – 16. There is a final compelling reason for these new converts to remain true to the Faith – and that reason is this – the Gospel of God had been received by them from God Himself – through His revealed Word. This is the subject of the next few verses – The Word Of God. But first Paul reintroduces a fresh note of Thanksgiving.
1. A Word of Thanks.
13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing
Back in April, when thinking of the 2nd verse of 1 Thessalonians 1 we noticed that thankfulness is a Christian grace, thankfulness was a characteristic of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that it is God’s will that we are thankful. Paul indicates that it is possible and right that we are thankful more than just once, or twice or three times – but “without ceasing”.
The word order in the Greek allows for this sense –
“When you received from us the word of hearing that is the word which you heard, which was nothing less than God’s own word – you accepted it as such as the word of God and not as the word of men.”
Why was Paul so thankful? It was because not only had he and the other missionaries been given utterance and liberty to speak the truth of the Gospel, but also the people of Thessalonica had heard, and the word had born fruit.
There is an interesting parallel with what we considered last week considering the external and the internal call of God. You will remember that Gospel preaching of the truth of God and salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ comes EXTERNALLY and is received INTERNALLY by the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit.
So Paul draws this comparison. You Thessalonians RECEIVED – (external reception) the message of the cross and a saviour who died for sinners – then you ACCEPTED – (an inward welcoming) as THE word of God – the message of salvation – and you were changed.
Paul probably preached in places where there was little or no response. We here know what that feels like as we go into the Open Air in Barnstaple and preach the same message, covered by the same prayer support, speaking of the same saviour, calling men and women to repent just the same as Paul. But there is preaching and speaking in the sense of the external reception – because many people hear us – but there is little or no inward welcoming in the hearts and souls of unbelievers. Oh that Barnstaple would be like Thessalonica or Philippi! Oh that this place would be Rome, Athens or Colossae where people were eager to hear and respond to the Gospel message! Oh that North Devon was like Tanzania or Zambia, where people are willing to speak of Christ and listen to preaching, glad to hear of the Lord Jesus – and where thousands are being saved by the grace of God! What is there for US to be thankful for?
There is something – and that is that we at present have the freedom to preach this wonderful message in public in our land – let us, the people of God, therefore not waste such opportunities – for we may not always have them. For this freedom we can be truly thankful. We can also be thankful that we have not as believers been driven into underground churches oppressed by a regime that persecutes true believers. It was not long ago that Eastern Europe was dominated by such policies. It is still the case in North Korea and China – and in some extreme Moslem states too. We must pray for our persecuted fellow believers and be truly thankful for our freedom.
2. The Word that you heard – it was the Gospel.
because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us
Paul, Silas and Timothy claimed to have brought Good News to the people of Thessalonica. They had told them about the living and true God. Ch 1 v 9 is the report of what had happened succinctly put –
ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
Why had they turned? Because they had told them of God’s Son the Lord Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life – the only man ever to have done so in history – who died a death that was a sacrifice for sinners – that whosoever believed that this death was for them personally and repented of their trust in idols or other ways of getting right with God, could be saved and were promised eternal life in heaven.
It was a Divine Message – such as the message preached at Athens – we have this message recorded for us in Acts 17 v 22 – 31.
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. 23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. 24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; 25 Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; 26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; 27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: 28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. 29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. 30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: 31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
God sent this message to the people of Athens just as He had sent a message to the Thessalonians.
It was a Plain Message – there was no ambiguity in it – nothing hard to understand – only much that was hard to receive – for it challenged men’s pride and removed trust from self and directed trust in Christ whom they could not see – that took faith.
It was a Direct Message – as it was defended by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 v 2
But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
It was a Powerful Message – because it came from the heart of the most powerful person in the universe – the omnipotent Lord God.
Romans 1 v 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
The Apostles preached the Word of God – it was God’s message to men. Someone has said that the Word of God is the fruit of heavenly doctrine celebrated by the prophets. The Old Testament Prophets were the bearers of the Word of God. They testified of this fact themselves.
There is a phrase often used by the Old Testament Prophets – “The word of the Lord came unto me.” It may surprise you to know that the phrase appears 255 times in the Old Testament. For instance –
Isaiah 38 v 4 Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying,
Jeremiah 1 v 4 Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Ezekiel 1 v 3 The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.
In almost every chapter of Ezekiel’s prophecy this phrase occurs.
Hosea 1 v 1 The word of the LORD that came unto Hosea,
Joel 1 v 1 The word of the LORD that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.
Jonah 1 v 1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai,
An even more frequently used phrase, “Thus saith the Lord” spoken by the prophets, occurs 413 times – a few examples –
Haggai 1 v 7 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
Amos 5 v 4 For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live:
Zechariah 1 v 3 Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the LORD of hosts.
Whenever the Gospel is preached we are to remember that it is the Word of God – it is God’s message. This means that none of us should dare to treat it lightly, should choose to ignore its commands or precepts or let it go in one ear and out of the other.
Proverbs 30 v 5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
Let us all listen well – and let those who hear not only hear with the ears but also with the heart – it is a glorious and powerful message.
The word of God that they heard was the Gospel But now Paul says
3. The Word of Men is unreliable.
ye received it not as the word of men,
Paul Silas and Timothy were not deluded visionaries and their message did not depend on their own eloquence. There are men today and throughout history who have depended on the power of their own oratory. John Calvin warns us like this “Teachers are to beware of bringing anything forward but the pure word of God. It was not allowed for Paul to bring his own words – so it is the same for anyone today.”
There are many, many eloquent speakers around who are ready to make themselves known to others. Their communications skills are excellent. They know how to put their foot into the door and keep you listening when trying to sell you something. Today there is a popular trend in telephone sales. Your telephone rings and someone asks you to confirm your name, because he or she has looked you up in the phone book. Then the person at the other launches into all the reasons why you should change your electricity/gas/phone company; or tells you about how much you need one of their mobile phones; or why you have been selected for your house to be a show home for their new double glazed conservatories. In every case the person at the other end doesn’t tell you everything – there always seems to be a hidden extra that is bound to cost you money – if you fall for it! Even though you are assured that you must have, or definitely need what they are offering, there is an element of unreliability in their words. That is the nature of selling.
However when it comes to the Gospel the Thessalonians did not accept the message as from men only. They were not impressed with Paul the wise and clever Jew; nor were they influenced by Silas the happy and loyal co-missionary; nor again were they beguiled by the youth and enthusiasm of the younger Timothy.
But they realised that the Lord God Almighty was speaking through them – these ordinary men. These men were channels. It pleases God to use the word rather than human wisdom to save men and women. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 v 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.
There is a danger of thinking more of the man than the message – more of the preacher than the preaching, more of the words of men than the wisdom of God. There are cult followings of famous and not so famous men in which people move heaven and earth to get to hear these men. There is an attraction in the personality of the man who can be seen rather than an attraction to the Mighty God who cannot be seen, but who nevertheless speaks through men. We must beware of these things – of eclipsing the person of Christ by the personality of a man, no matter how gifted a preacher he is. On the contrary there must be an emphasis on our next point –
4. The Word of God – dependable and sure.
but as it is in truth, the word of God,
The word of God and Truth are inseparable synonyms. The word of God is the Truth and it is true.
It Is Inspired By God – 2 Timothy 3 v 16
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
It is a faithful expression of the mind of Almighty God
1 Corinthians 2 v 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. Or “expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.”
Every word of the Bible is God breathed.
The Word Of God Is Inerrant.
Since God Himself is infallible then His word must be infallible. Jesus said, “the scripture cannot be broken” – John 10 v 35. And He also said “Thy word is truth,” speaking as a son to His heavenly Father. This means that Adam and Eve are real people in history; that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, and survived; that there are no contradictions in the Bible – any apparent discrepancies or difficulties do not point to mistakes, but our lack of understanding of the fact that the whole Bible is the word of God and is without error. God would be less than God if His word was in error.
The Word Of God Has Supreme Authority.
We are to listen and obey the word of God – because God is speaking. This is why here we are serious about the reading and preaching of the Word of God. It is not because we are conservative, traditional and too serious to be friendly or relaxed in our services. It is precisely because this book is the Word of the Creator. This book is His authoritative instructions for all men and women. When it is read and when it is preached and explained it is God’s voice that we hear. Should we therefore not give respect and honour to the Great God who is speaking – and take notice – and remember what He says and seek to obey him with all of our being?
The people of Thessalonica believed that the words which came from the mouths of Paul, Silas and Timothy, that related to their salvation by grace; the words which told them of the living God as it was written already in the first 39 books of the Old Testament, was God’s word to them! God had revealed Himself to these people through His messengers as they brought His word. Things that were previously hidden from them were now made plain – and by God’s supernatural work in their hearts, He made the Book live to them – so that they believed in Him with all of their hearts – and their lives changed.
Oh my friend – has this been your experience? Has God revealed Himself to you yet? Has the Word of God as we have it this morning – all 66 books and every word as written, come home to you as the very word of God to you from God Himself? It is no wonder that the Bible is a best seller! It is no wonder that the Bible has had such an impact on the lives of millions over 2000 years! It is no wonder that history has been affected by this book – it is GOD’S ACTUAL WORDS TO US!
But now let me ask you – if you are saying yes to these questions – if the Bible is God’s word to you – have you obeyed it? Have you repented as God’s word says that you should? God commands all men everywhere to repent. Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!
Have you believed in the only remedy for your sins – the Lord Jesus Christ and His work on the cross as a substitute for sinners?
Have you asked Him for forgiveness for all your sins?
Have you trusted Him with your soul for all eternity?
You will have done all these things if you truly believe that this is God’s word to you! Trust God’s word today my friend and believe in him and in His wonderful Son, the Lord Jesus Christ with all of your being!
5. The Word that works and goes on working.
which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
In the original Greek of this verse the word EFFECTUALLY is not there. The word ENERGEO means to be at work – but it means more than that – it means an energy that continually is working. The word of God in converting a person is but the first step in a new life – it is a powerful work that turns people from darkness to light and sin to obedience to God. You can imagine what took place at Thessalonica. People noticed that a number of their friends and neighbours had changed. There was no more attending the idol shrines.
There was no more sacrificing with expensive offerings to them. Something had changed them – what could it have been? This was a new thing to happen in Thessalonica.
God had come in power to their community and transmitted the message through His servants.
The word had worked!
But there is a continual ministry of the word of God in a person’s life as a believer. And like the Thessalonians we have accepted it gladly. It changed our lives! It came to us and we were convinced of our sins and the need to be forgiven and to have peace with God. The Thessalonians knew that this word was working in them from the first time that they heard it. Through their listening to the Christian preachers many became convinced that their idols were useless and they turned to serve God. An incredible turn around only explainable by a supernatural movement of the Holy Spirit of God in their souls.
This process of change continued as it does with us. Paul says in Philippians 1 v 6
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 2 v 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
Sanctification is an ongoing experience and process that takes place continually right through our Christian lives. The emptiness and error of our thinking is corrected by the Word of God empowered by the same Holy Spirit that quickened us in the first place. And as time goes by our lives begin to reflect more and more the character of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But we must sound a word of caution here. It would be wrong to suggest that whenever the Word is heard or read that it ALWAYS produces results. Most of us know only too well how easy it is to read the Bible or listen to preaching without being influenced at all.
Even teaching and preaching to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ must be made effective by God the Holy Spirit. What do you pray for before you come to worship and hear the Word of God, my friends?
You pray to be fed with the word of God. You pray for a blessing as you worship the Lord in His house.
But do you ask the Lord to speak to you in your heart through the gracious effective working of God the Holy Spirit when you come? Or when you open your Bible at home – do you ask the Lord to instruct you in holy living? We experience spiritual change and growth when we willingly submit ourselves to God’s sovereignty and listen for His word! First the Holy Spirit helps us to understand the Word – then He enables us to believe it – and finally He stirs us up to act upon it. If we treat our Bibles superficially we will remain superficial Christians and we will make no progress. But as the Word of God is pondered, welcomed and received it exercises life-transforming power within us.
Oh let us value God’s word my friends. Let us be aware of a changing process going on inside us.
Are we moving forward or are we standing still spiritually? Perhaps some are even going backwards – a very dangerous position! Ask the Lord to rekindle love for His word and may our appreciation of the Bible be refreshed. May we appreciate God’s word more and more and be led to obey all of its precepts and laws.
May we hear God’s Word speaking to us each day.
May we realise more and more that man’s word is unreliable – and that only God’s word is really worth hearing – because it is dependable and sure.
And may the word of God work powerfully within us every day to the Glory of the saviour the Lord Jesus – who Himself is the living word of God!