Sermon begins at the 1:29 mark after the music
Lay Reader = 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16
13We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. 14For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, 15who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone 16by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.
We are continuing our series looking at Paul’s two letters to the church in Thessalonica. Last week we heard how they were good at imitating Christ with their labor of love, their work of faith, and their steadfastness of hope.
This week we are looking at how the people in the church chose to please God rather than other people. Just to remind you, Paul didn’t get to stay in Thessalonica very long. Shortly after he established the church, he was attacked and driven off by some people in the local Jewish community. The local church thrived after he departed, but they continued to face persecution and opposition from their community. Their faith was not pleasing to their community – in fact, it made other people angry! But listen to what Paul says about God’s opinion of their church.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others,
7though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. 9You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. 11As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, 12urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
Pleasing to God
Catherine Booth, the co-founder of The Salvation Army, once said, “Never mind who frowns, if God smiles.” That’s essentially what Paul said to the Thessalonians in this chapter. In our first reading today, we heard how Paul drew a parallel between what the Thessalonians experienced from their community and what the church in Jerusalem experienced from their surrounding community. Both the church in Jerusalem and the church in Thessalonica were despised by their communities. Both churches faced strong opposition – sometimes even threats of harm. Both churches lived in communities that wanted nothing to do with Jesus.
Jerusalem felt threatened by Jesus because he overturned the religious assumptions of the priests. Thessalonica felt threatened by Jesus because he challenged the value of several parts of their economy. The rulers also opposed the church in Thessalonica because their loyalty to Jesus surpassed their loyalty to the Roman emperor. That made them a threat to the Roman governors.
So that made their community frown. But did God smile? Well, Paul said in our text today, “we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.” He says he doesn’t speak out of flattery. He doesn’t speak to get something out of them. So when he finishes by saying “that you lead a life worthy of God,” he’s speaking the truth.
That phrase sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it? Leading a life “worthy of God?” Is that even possible? Well, that phrase essentially means honoring God with the dignity and respect he deserves.
To illustrate this, imagine that you have an opportunity to meet Conor McGregor. Do you know who he is? Conor McGregor is one of the most famous and infamous people in the Ultimate Fighter Championship. He is a brash Irishman who is known for his devastating punches, his creative trash talk, and his wildly erratic and impulsive behavior away from the octagon. Even if you have no idea who Conor McGregor is, just imagine a brash trash-talking fighter. How might you react if you met Conor McGregor? If Conor McGregor were coming over for dinner, what would you need to do to get your house ready? I’d recommend hiding anything breakable. And anything sharp, too.
Now imagine that, instead of meeting Conor McGregor, you have an opportunity to meet Bill Gates? Or since the British royals have been in the news lately, how about Queen Elizabeth II? If Bill Gates or the British Queen were coming over for dinner, what would you need to do to get your house ready? My guess is that your house is going to look differently for the Queen than it would for Conor McGregor. Am I right? The preparation you might do for the Queen’s visit would be a sign of respect, treating the situation with the dignity it deserves.
When Paul says “lead a life worthy of God,” he’s commending the preparation they have done in their lives to treat God with the dignity and respect he deserves.
How are you preparing for God’s visit?
If you have a regular practice of prayer, that’s treating God with the dignity and respect he deserves. Maybe that’s getting on your knees in the morning. Maybe that’s a walk on the trail while conversing with God. Maybe that’s practicing your thankfulness before you go to bed. When you arrange your time to converse with God in prayer, that’s “worthy of God.”
If you have a regular practice of reading and reflecting on the Bible, that’s treating God with the dignity and respect he deserves. Maybe that’s reading a chapter a day. Maybe that’s the Life Journal devotional. Maybe that’s an email devotional that comes to you in the morning. Maybe that’s listening to the sermon every day of the week – I recommend that one! When you arrange your time to listen to God through the Bible, that’s “worthy of God.”
If you have a regular practice of serving others, that’s treating God with the dignity and respect he deserves. Maybe that’s something through the church like the Community Dinner, or tutoring at Whiz Kids, or being on the Care Portal email list, or helping with children’s ministry or the youth group. Maybe instead that’s something you do out in the community. Maybe that’s just listening to the Holy Spirit when you have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. When you arrange your time to serve the other people God has made and redeemed, that’s “worthy of God.”
If you invest in relationships that matter, that’s treating God with the dignity and respect he deserves. Maybe that’s the women’s Shabby Sheep study, or one of the women’s Circle groups, or the men’s Monday evening or Monday morning Bible study, or the men’s breakfast every month. Maybe that’s a group you have in your neighborhood or just friends you’ve collected over the course of your life. When you have relationships that are deep enough that you know how to pray for other people specifically right now, and when they know how to pray for you, that’s “worthy of God.”
How “worthy” are you of God right now? How much of your life reflects the dignity and respect God deserves? And on the flip side, where might your life look closer to a visit from Conor McGregor instead of the Queen? Where could you live a little more “worthy of God?”
Frowning, Smiling, or Shrugging
I have inherited many of my father’s genetics, as you can tell if you’ve seen him when they visit us here in Colorado. One interesting quirk I inherited from him is my severely reduced sense of smell. It’s not zero, but it’s definitely not up to snuff, so to speak. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone standing next to me exclaim, “Oh my goodness, that’s gross! Can you smell that?” And I just shrug. Because I can faintly detect something, but it’s not that bad.
But on the other hand, I’ve also been standing next to someone and heard them say, “Oh my goodness, that’s so wonderful! Can you smell that?” And again, I have to just shrug. Because I can faintly detect something, but it’s not doing all that much for me.
The church in Thessalonica was under attack because their surrounding community was frowning at their faith. But I believe the main reaction we get from our surrounding community is like my reaction to a strong smell: a shrug. I believe our surrounding community often does not frown at us, and it often doesn’t smile at us, it just shrugs. We’re kind of beneath notice in many respects.
What should we do then?
When I lived in Austin, I played basketball every Saturday morning at a pretty rough park. Over the years, I got to know quite a few of the regulars. Some of them knew me from my time as a computer programmer, all through seminary, and all the way up to me leaving to become a pastor in Pennsylvania. They knew I was in seminary, learning to become a pastor. But do you know how many times they asked me anything about faith?
My last Saturday with them before moving, we went to our favorite post-game pizza place. One guy said that he thought most Christians were hypocrites, but I made him rethink that a little. And that was the green light for the other guys.
One conversation in years of knowing these guys. And you know what I was thinking the whole time? “Don’t blow this, don’t blow this, don’t blow this!”
Would you be ready for that one conversation? Would you be ready for that one question in years of knowing someone? What if your neighbor asked you a faith question or wanted to have some kind of spiritual conversation…tonight? For the first and only time – tonight. Would you be ready?
What if your coworker, who knows you go to church, was going through something and asked you a deep, meaningful question…tomorrow at lunch. Would you be ready for that one opportunity?
Roger Edwards and I are starting a class this week that helps you articulate your story with Jesus. If you miss this week, it’s OK to come next week. If you can’t come but really want to engage, email me and I’ll send you the materials. In a world that often shrugs in apathy at our faith, we have to be ready to have a meaningful spiritual conversations with our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, our family members. We have to be ready because you don’t know if today is the one day they actually want to know about your faith. Would you be ready?
Sisters and brothers, we are encouraged to live our lives “worthy of God.” We are encouraged to give God the respect and honor and time he deserves. And we are also encouraged to be ready to point to Jesus whenever someone is ready to have a spiritual conversation with us. It might be today. It might be tomorrow. What would they hear from you in that conversation? And what would they see in your everyday life that would make them want to ask you when they have a spiritual yearning? Amen.