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Faith, Hope, Love (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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June 11, 2024 4:00 am

Faith, Hope, Love (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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June 11, 2024 4:00 am

How would others describe your church? What key characteristics stand out even to casual observers? Examine three identifying marks of the Thessalonian church that endeared them to the apostle Paul. That’s our focus on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at tfl.org thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!





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How would someone describe your church?

What are the key characteristics that would stand out to people in your community? Today on Truth for Life, we'll hear about three identifying marks of the Thessalonian Church, marks that endeared them to the Apostle Paul. Alistair Begg is teaching from the opening verses in 1 Thessalonians.

My purpose this evening is to establish something of a background to the book, to look at it only in its opening couple of verses. Now, having opened your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians, I'd ask you to turn back into the Acts of the Apostles and to chapter 16, so that we might put this in historical context. And what we discover when we turn back into Acts chapter 16 is this quite incredible and wonderful truth—that the existence of the church in Thessalonica was directly related to Paul's obedience to a vision which Luke records for us in Acts chapter 6 and in verses 9 and 10. And there we're told that the Holy Spirit, having kept Paul and his companions from going forward into Asia, simultaneously, during the night—verse 9 of Acts 16—during the night, Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, Come over to Macedonia and help us.

After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God has called us to preach the gospel to them. Now, why have I got you to Corinth? Through the process, as Paul has gone in obedience to God and has now found himself in Corinth, with all the daunting prospect of it all, with the bruises and the beatings on his body as a result of his commitment to Christ, with the apparent disinterest that had marked his visit to Athens, and now facing all the daunting challenge of this, what did he need? He needed a wee word of encouragement. He needed some good news.

He needed to know that something somewhere had gone well. And the Holy Spirit, recognizing this need in his life, dispatches at just the right moment his buddies Timothy and Silas, and they come into town, and they say, Hey, listen, Paul, I know it's been tough. I know it's rough.

I know the prospects are difficult. But let me tell you what's going on in Thessalonica. Oh, he says, Tell me. And then they told him, They have pleasant memories of us, Paul. They said they longed to see you. Therefore, in all our distress and persecution, we were encouraged about you because of your faith. Now, it is, you see, this resultant relief and exaltation, which is experienced by Paul in the framework of Corinth, that gives rise to this letter. They come, and they tell him this about Thessalonica, and he says, I'm gonna write these guys a letter.

I'm gonna write them and tell them how much I love them. Now, having said all of that, we've now reached the first word of the first verse. Paul. Paul. The name Paul is not the same as the name Saul. It's a different name completely.

Paul means little. It's interesting, actually, because—it's interesting to me—because the name Begh means little. It's a Gallic name, B-e-a-g-h. It means small. The English translation of Begh is small. So I was just interested in that, and I thought I'd mention it to you.

I wish I hadn't now, but there we have it. As a result of the fact that he was given the name Small, people throughout the ages have made much of that. Chrysostom referred to him as the man three cubits tall. And he has always been regarded in biblical folklore, if you like, as a small individual.

Now, I don't think there's any particular significance in this, but I wanted to mention it just in passing, because it's of interest to some. The Acts of Paul and Thecla, which was a writing around that time, describe Paul as bald-headed, bow-legged, strongly built, a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, with a rather large nose, full of grace, for at times he looked like a man, and at times he had the face of an angel. I don't know about you, but that has a kind of authentic ring to it. If you were making up a description of somebody, that's a wee bit far-fetched, is it not?

And so it has a sort of authentic dimension to it. And it may well be characteristic of how the apostle Paul looked. Others have pointed out that, irrespective of his physical stature, Paul, Saul of Tarsus, was destined, by God's grace, to regard himself as small, to regard himself as very little, to regard himself as insignificant, to regard himself, as he says to the Ephesians in 3.8, the lease of all the saints. The apostle Paul was then, if you like, a small man with a big heart. He was small in his estimation of himself and large in his understanding of God and his purposes. He was, if you like, perhaps by stature and by calling and by spiritual entity, the very epitome of the man to whom God will look—he who is humble and contrite in spirit and who trembles at his word. After all, why would you have this little three-cubic, bow-legged, high-brow, medium, funny, big-nosed little character with a baldy head and bow legs? Not exactly what you would call the average high school quarterback, huh?

Unless you went to a very small school. And yet he's God's man. What about his colleagues? Well, there's Silas. So Venus is his Roman and his proper name.

Incidentally, Silvanus was the name of the god of the woods, hence our English word sylvan, the adjective sylvan, hence our English state Pennsylvania, the woods of William Penn. And such was his name. He was known as Silas. We read of him in Acts 15 with frequency. He was there taking part in the singing. Fifty percent of the duet in the jail in Philippi. Timothy, of whom we read in Acts 16, picked up as Paul's assistant and taken along on the journeys, was a timid man, constantly being encouraged to stand up for things and to be bold and be strong.

Not your natural, not necessarily the kind of person that you would think immediately would be included with somebody like Paul. And yet these two individuals were God's men for this moment. They were writing to an express group of people to the church of the Thessalonians. Now, the word here for church is the word ecclesia. It was a word which was used at that time of the popular assembly of people—for example, in the city of Athens, all those who were registered to vote and could come out in the public thoroughfare as free citizens were regarded as the ecclesia. When the Old Testament was translated into the Greek, the word ecclesia was used to refer to the company of Israel. And when you read the New Testament, you discover that ecclesia is used as a reference to those whom God has called out of darkness and into his marvelous light. 1 Peter chapter 2 and verse 9. It is, in passing, a word to us about the nature of the church—that when we speak in terms of the church of the Thessalonians, we're not just talking about a group of people who went into a building, for there was no building into which to go.

We're not talking about people who were vaguely religious and who liked to sing interesting songs. We're talking about an express group of people, if you let your eye go down to verse 4, whom God had chosen—we won't come to this till next time, for sure—because the gospel had come to them not simply with words but with power and with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. And as a result of that, they had been incorporated into God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. These two phrases put together here are expressive of the coordinate activities of these two members of the Trinity—the Father and the Son.

And when you add to that, in verse 5, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, you have this wonderful picture of God, the triune God, at work in putting together his church. And so, to these people comes this greeting. Grace, he says, and peace to you. Now, this is the customary way to begin a letter at this time, as I think we all realize. Unlike today, when we would start, Dear Susan, and then finish off yours sincerely or yours faithfully, at that time they would identify themselves, they would identify those to whom they were writing, and then they would begin with a short inscription by way of greeting.

And the greeting here is a wonderful greeting. Grace and peace. An expression of God's favor towards those who were his own. His kindness delivering from guilt and from sin. The love of God for the undeserving. The unmerited favor of God in operation in the hearts of his children.

And as he uses this word, he understood it for himself. Because you will remember that you only need to go back to the ninth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, and you find there this man Saul of Tarsus, whose whole life is bent on the extermination of Christianity. His whole committed passion is to see those who name the name of Jesus flogged and imprisoned and closed down. And how could it be, then, that in such a relatively short period of time, he should himself be on the receiving end of the beatings?

He should be the one who is imprisoned. It is as a result of God's grace. And if grace is that, what then of the peace which comes as a result of it? Peace is simply the consciousness of having been reconciled with God through Jesus. One of the commentators says, helpfully, grace is the fountain, and peace is the stream which issues from it. It's the peace of which Jesus spoke when he said, My peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you, not as the world gives give I unto you. Let not your hearts be troubled.

John chapter 14. It's a peace about which the world does not know tonight. It's the kind of peace for whom people long.

A deep-seated anxiety and fretfulness in their hearts, a sense of alienation, of bondage. It's the kind of peace that the materialist longs for as he goes another rung up the ladder, only to find that the ladder is propped against the wrong wall. It's the peace that the junkie longs for as he shoots up, as she shoots up once again, hoping that maybe this time there will be the ultimate high.

It is a peace that is found only in the love and grace and kindness of God. Now, Paul tells them that he's thankful. He says, I want you to know, you church there of the Thessalonians, you who are experiencing God's grace and his peace, I want you to know that along with Silas and Timothy, we're thankful for you. And we're also prayerful for you. And we have three things in particular about which we're thankful.

And will you just notice them, and we'll draw this to a close. We always thank God for all of you. We mention you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father, first of all, the work which springs from faith. Your work produced by faith. You know, Paul is very, very clear—he's emphatic always—that salvation is a matter of faith and not of works.

He makes that clear time and time again. But when that issue is not at stake, Paul frequently speaks of the good works which should characterize the life of faith. And he says here, as we think of you, we remember your warm, living faith that issues inaction. We're thankful for your work which springs from faith. Secondly, we're thankful for your labor that is prompted by love. We tend to think of a labor of love as a little thing.

You know, oh, I cut the grass for the lady next door. Oh, it's nothing at all. It was just a labor of love.

I bring my wife a cup of tea in the morning, says the husband. It's nothing, really. It's just a labor of love. And it's a kind of funny little phrase.

It's not insignificant, but it doesn't mean much. The word here for labor, the word kopos, means an arduous, wearying toil involving sweat and fatigue. That's the word. He says, when we think about the church in Thessalonica, we think sweat. We think fatigue.

We think weary people. We think of you burned out for the cause of Jesus Christ. And as we find ourselves in all the challenges of Corinth, this is a tremendous encouragement to us—that here there are people whom we've had the privilege of touching their lives, and when we think of them, we remember their kopos. The cost of their love is what is in focus—not the result of their love but the cost of it. And their love here is the agape love of God, which was a love that cost God his Son. It was a love that was active in the cross of his Son, and it was and remains a love which demands a decision. You cannot stand and just look at this love and remain the same. Love so amazing, so divine, demands something. And when we look at the love of God to us in the cross of Jesus Christ, we cannot simply shrug our shoulders and walk out the door and say, Well, it doesn't really matter one way or another.

For the shrug is the answer, and the answer is no, and our destiny is a lost eternity. And that is the exact word which is used here. He says, When I think of your love, I think of passion. I think of you loving with conviction.

And I want you to notice something here, folks. This passion is a prerequisite for working for God. Until we learn to love like this, we'll never labor like this. There'll be no blood, sweat, and tears for the kingdom until our hearts have been broken in love. And the reason that some of us are merely going through the routines, the reason that we're simply opening our Bibles, closing our Bibles, coming in and going out, is because there is no passionate conviction within our lives, stirring us to this kind of labor of love.

And the third and final thing. He says, And we remember your endurance, which is inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. The word here is not a quiet, passive resignation. It is an active constancy in the face of extreme difficulty.

An active constancy in the face of extreme difficulty. In other words, it's not all going well. There are many things that are deeply challenging. There is much that is disconcerting.

There are confusions here, and there are problems there, and there are issues all over the place. He says, But when we think of you, when we bring you to our minds, we remember endurance. Not that you somehow are hunkered down in the trenches, passively resigned to a dreadful fate, but that you are up, and you are active, and you are constant in the face of difficulty. Says Willie Barclay, the Scottish theologian, It is the spirit which can bear things not simply with a spirit of resignation but with blazing hope. And he then goes on to quote George Matheson, the musician, who was stricken in blindness, says Barclay, and disappointed in love. As a result of his blindness, his love was requited with frequency, and he lived in isolation.

But nevertheless, stricken in blindness and disappointed in love, he wrote a prayer in which he pleaded with God that he might accept God's will not with dumb resignation but with holy joy, not only with the absence of murmuring but rather with a song of praise. So, what's your life looking like tomorrow? Pretty challenging, huh? What are the prospects of the gospel here in Cleveland?

Little daunting. Do you ever feel like we've only one wheel left on the wagon? Do you ever feel that the whole tide of hell is unleashed against us, that somehow or another we can only hunker down and face it with grim resignation? Well, then, let the example of this lovely church of Thessalonica stir our hearts tonight. And nobody may say it of us that today, but perhaps in the goodness of God, they may in a coming day. They may think of you. They may think of your life and your ministry. And they may say, When I think of that place, I think of a faith that functions. I think of a love that labors.

And I think of a hope that hangs on. And in God, I know God has much to say to us through these five chapters. May God expand our capacity for study, our interest in the things of his Word, and may he produce in us that which is pleasing in his sight. You are listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg.

Alistair will be back in just a moment to close today's program. You know, if we want our children to persevere in faith and hope and love like the Thessalonians, not just to go through the motions of church routines, it's important that we instill in them a passionate conviction for the truth of God's Word. And today, we are recommending to you a book that is perfectly formatted to teach older elementary and middle school-aged children the basics of Christianity. The book is called Faith Builder Catechism.

It's a collection of one-page weekly readings, 52 in total, one for each week of the year. And the readings are brief, but they're comprehensive in terms of the information they provide. Your child will learn about God's nature, about his goodness, about his grace. Several readings teach the importance of obeying God and exploring the Ten Commandments in detail. There are other readings that explore each line of the Lord's Prayer. Over a single year, children will gain a solid understanding of biblical theology. They'll understand the power of the gospel and the importance and mission of the church.

Each reading only takes about ten minutes, but it will open the door to a lot of deeper conversation. Ask for your copy of the Faith Builder Catechism when you donate to Truth for Life today. You can do that using the Truth for Life mobile app, online at truthforlife.org slash donate, or call us at 888-588-7884. And by the way, the weekly format of the Faith Builder Catechism makes it perfect for a Sunday School class, so if you'd like to purchase additional copies, they're available at our cost of just $7 while supplies last.

Visit our online store at truthforlife.org slash store. Now here's Alistair with prayer. O Lord, we're rightly jealous of this church. We want to know this kind of working faith in increasing measure. We want, Lord, to be prepared to labor to the point of weariness, fatigue, and perspiration, because of your great love for us and your love for those who do not know you yet. And we want, Lord, not to face a Monday with grim resignation but with active constancy. We want to have this kind of endurance that is based on the solid certainty of the life and reality and power of the Lord Jesus.

We want to be passionate about the right things. We want to be able to say, as the psalmist said, and really mean it, as the deer pants for water, So my soul longs after thee. And then we ask humbly that you will do in us what we cannot do for ourselves and do through us what will commend your great name. Help us to want you more than we want stuff, more than we want success, more than we want notoriety. Help us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and to find that all these things will be added to us. For Jesus' sake we ask it. Amen. Tomorrow we will learn how to determine if a person is truly chosen by God. I hope you can join us. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-11 07:28:57 / 2024-06-11 07:37:47 / 9

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