Mar 11 - It Starts With Conviction

It Starts With Conviction

March 11, 2018

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10



Impacting My World For Good And For God – Part 1

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

March 11, 2018


A little boy was afraid of the dark.  One evening his mother told him to go out on the back porch and bring in the broom.  The little boy said, “Mama, I don’t want to go out there.  It’s dark.” 

The mother smiled reassuringly at her son.  “You don’t have to be afraid of the dark.  Jesus is out there.” 

The little boy looked at her and asked, “Are you sure he’s out there?

She said, “Yes, I’m sure.  He is everywhere, and he will help you when you need him.” 

The little boy went to the back door and cracked it a little.  Peering out into the darkness, he called, “Jesus!  If you’re there, would you please hand me the broom.”


Today I’m starting on a series on Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, and the topic is conviction - the first thing that’s necessary when it comes to impacting the world for God and for good.


1 Thessalonians is probably the first of all of Paul’s surviving letters, written around 50 AD, about 20 years after Jesus’ death, likely from Greece (Athens or Corinth). 


Paul and Silas had been commissioned in Antioch of Syria as evangelists and church planters.  This was Paul’s second missionary journey.  As they went through Asia Minor (what today is Turkey),[1] they met a young Christian man named Timothy in Lystra, whose faith impressed Paul. After having him circumcised, Timothy joined the two men in traveling on. 


Something prevented them from moving west into the Roman province of Asia[2] as originally planned, so they travelled first north before turning west and traveling to the port city of Troas.[3] 


From there they took a boat to a port town in Macedonia,[4] stayed there overnight and the next day travelled on to the city of Philippi, the capital city of the region.  If you’ve ever heard of Alexander the Great (c. 356-323 BC), he was a Macedonian, born and raised in Philippi, a city named after his father, King Philip II (reigned c. 359-336 BC). 


While in Philippi, Paul met and converted Lydia, a prominent woman in the city. 


But when Paul healed a demon possessed slave girl who was able to predict events, her owners got really upset because a lucrative source of income was taken from them. 


They had Paul and Silas arrested, brought them before the city magistrates, who had them beaten severely with rods and then thrown into prison for the night.  While this led to the conversion of the jailer (Acts 16:11-40), they were forced to leave town after being released from jail in the morning.


They travelled southwest to the port city of Thessalonica, where Paul spoke in the synagogue, arguing that the OT Scriptures foretold a suffering Messiah, and that this Messiah had come in the person of Jesus (Acts 17:1-3).  It is very obvious from his letter that Paul must have also spoken quite a bit about just how close it was to Jesus’ return. 


It was right around this time[5] that the Roman emperor Claudius[6] expelled the Jews from Rome because of unrest that had broken out.  According to the Roman historian, Suetonius,[7] at issue was a certain “Chrestus,[8] which very likely meant that the Jews were rioting in Rome against those who taught that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, which is exactly the same message that Paul was proclaiming in Thessalonica.


Paul started the church in Thessalonica with converts both from the Jewish synagogue, particularly a large group of devout Gentiles attached to the synagogue, including some leading women from the city (Acts 17:4).  To that group were added a large number of Gentile pagans who Paul met and spoke to in the streets.


In response to the number of people converting to Christianity, some prominent men of the city hired a mob to riot in the city, possibly because they heard what had happened in Rome.  They wanted the mob to apprehend Paul and Silas, drag them before the city authorities and falsely accuse them of fomenting a revolt against the emperor Claudius by proclaiming that is king.[9]


This was exactly the charge for which Jesus had been crucified, so the design was to have Paul, Silas and Timothy executed.  


The violent mob came to the house of Jason, where Paul, Silas and Timothy were staying.  Not finding Paul or Silas there, they dragged Jason and some other of the new believers before the city authorities.  It was a good thing that the city authorities seem to have been relatively level headed.  They asked for a large sum of money as security, in order to ensure that Paul and Silas wouldn’t cause any more problems. 


But the believers knew this wouldn’t be the end of it, so they helped the three men flee at night in order to escape arrest (Acts 17:5-10a).  From Thessalonica they travelled south to Berea where they would plant another church. 


I think Paul must have been frustrated at having to leave this and other fledgling congregation in Philippi after such a short time.  He knew that the believers there would continue to face opposition, and he was likely worried that they would abandon their faith as a result, or possibly that they would embrace some heresy. 


His fears were not unfounded.  The Christians who were left behind in Thessalonica did in fact have to endure opposition and persecution, which Paul refers to in this letter as “afflictions” (1 Thess 3:3-4,  “many tribulations” (1 Thess 1:6) and “suffering”  due to the actions of “their own countrymen” (1 Thess 2:14). 


From Berea the men travelled south to Athens.  Paul was so worried about what could have happened to the Christians they had to leave behind in Macedonia.  So Paul sent Timothy back in order to find out if they were holding up, and in order to encourage them (1 Thess 3:1-3).  This Timothy did - which would have taken him about 2 weeks.  The distance he had to walk was just over 500 km.  It would be like walking from here to Port Hardy - over 100 hours of walking.  We don’t know how long he stayed in Thessalonica, possibly a month or longer.  He then returned to Greece in order to update Paul (1 Thess 3:6). 


By and large, Timothy’s report was very positive.  The church was relatively stable despite the persecution.  The converts lived out their faith as they demonstrated kindness among themselves and to Christians who were coming through town. 


However, Timothy reported back that some of the converts did not grasp the ethical implications of the good news, so some were still getting drunk (1 Thess 5:6-8), others continued to have extra-martial sex (1 Thess 4:3-8),[10] while others had stopped working with the expectation that other Christians should look after them (1 Thess 5:14; cf. 4:11-12).[11] 


Paul’s letter then was in response to Timothy’s report. 


The three most common themes in the letter deal with:

  1. consistent love for others

  2. holy living

  3. the return of Christ


So let’s read the beginning of the letter.


Paul, Silvanus (= Silas) and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.  1 Thessalonians 1:1


This is the introductory section of the letter. Following the letter writing convention of his day, Paul first mentions himself, who is writing the letter, and then the two men who are with him and who the believers in Thessalonica know personally.  This is followed by the recipients and then by a blessing:  Grace to you and peace. 


In almost all of his letters, Paul follows the introduction with a thanksgiving section. 


We continually give thanks to God for all of you as we mention you in our prayers.  In the presence of our God and Father we unceasingly call to mind your work of faith, your labour of love, and your patient endurance based on your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.                                                                  1 Thessalonians 1:2-3


In particular, Paul points out what he is thankful about - the work and labour and endurance of the Christians in Thessalonica based on their faith, love and hope.  They hadn’t crumbled under the opposition they face.


As we do, we know (the genuine nature of) your calling [or: election], brothers so beloved by God, because our good news did not come to you in word only but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a


Paul comments on the fact that he is convinced that the Thessalonians were a part of God’s chosen people, in other words, that their faith was genuine, based on their ongoing conviction of the truth of Paul’s message.  This was a deep inward conviction that they held. 


Paul writes that part of the reason was that the message they received first of all connected with them on a human level – they heard “the word.”  They heard the logic behind Paul’s arguments.  What he said made sense to them. 


But they not only received the words as a human message.  They also received the gospel, the good news “in power and in the Holy Spirit”.  In other words, there was a supernatural component to their conviction.  It wasn’t just logical deduction, but the Holy Spirit spoke to their hearts as well


Some people think that Paul was referring to miracles that he might have performed in their midst when he was in Thessalonica.  But the account of his stay in Thessalonica, in Acts 17, does not record any miracles, although that does not discount that Paul may have been able to physically heal some of them. 


The account in Acts does record how Paul’s message was accepted in a miraculous way.  You would think that a message about salvation through a crucified saviour in the context of either the Jewish synagogue or Greek philosophy, would more likely have aroused derision than admiration. 


The power of the message, the gospel, was in its ability to penetrate the heart of individuals and be received with joy.  And then, once accepted, it had the power to transform, to free those who believe and make them into new men and women.  To renew them in their attitude and actions.


In this context, Paul first mentions the Holy Spirit, because with the infilling of the Spirit, the miraculous begins. 


The Christians were fully convinced that what Paul told them was the truth because of the healing and transforming “power” that had been displayed.  But there was another reason.


On the other hand, you know what kind of men we were among you for your sakes.  6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, when you accepted the word amid much tribulation, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.                                                              1 Thessalonians 1:5b-6


Paul’s message was also believed because of how Paul, Silas and Timothy conducted themselves while in Thessalonica.  We know that they worked to support themselves.  They were themselves utterly convicted of the truth of what they were proclaiming.  They lived out the ethic of sacrificial love toward each other.   


This was an example to the Thessalonians and they tried to emulate the three men … and they tried to emulate what they had been told about Jesus … and apparently were quite successful in doing so.[12] 


And so the Thessalonians believed in Paul’s message, despite the persecution they faced, likely including opposition from their own families.  And this brought them joy, happiness if you will, even though life had become harder rather than easier.   


So you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  From you the word (i.e. message about) of the Lord has sounded out, not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith toward God has become known everywhere, so that we have no need to say anything.      1 Thessalonians 1:7-8


Timothy could report back to Paul that the converts in Thessalonica were enthusiastic about their new-found faith and not shy about telling others what they had found, witnessing about Jesus despite the opposition.  


When Paul was waiting for Timothy’s return, he must have heard reports from other Christians who had travelled through Thessalonica on their way to Greece.  They had told him just how the Christians in Thessalonica treated each other and continued to share Paul’s message.  They were so exemplary, that news of them was spreading among the other churches in Macedonia and Greece (Achaia).    


They (= those who heard of the faith of the Thessalonians) themselves report about us:  What kind of reception we received among you, and how you turned to God from your idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven - the One whom He raised from the dead - Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath.                         1 Thessalonians 1:9-10


Paul then outlines what the reports about them included.  The pagans among them had turned from the gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman pantheon, and embraced belief in the one true God, for whom they now lived.  And they were waiting with anticipation for the return of Jesus, as the one who would save them from the judgment day. 


Note that Paul prays to God the Father who deeply loves those who have faith in Him and who have turned to serve Him. 

Jesus, the Son, is “the Lord” (a title for God in the OT), the deliverer, raised by the Father from the dead, the object of the Christian message and the believers’ hope, the One whose return they await. 

The Holy Spirit is the One who changes and empowers the messenger and the converts so they are filled with joy.  


Over time, Paul’s relationship to the Macedonian churches, particularly the church in Philippi and Thessalonica, continued to be happy and warm – unlike his relationship with some of the churches he had planted in Asia Minor (Galatia). 


We know from both his letters to the churches in Corinth and Rome, that believers in Macedonia, despite their poverty, were consistently generous in their giving to himself and the Jerusalem relief fund.  Apparently the believers in Thessalonica and Philippi were the only ones who continued to support him financially. 


I have a Lexicon at home.  It contains entries of many, many individuals – usually people of consequence, people of influence, those who had accomplished something of note or something despicable, those who had influenced history both in a positive or negative way, as well as those who were simply public figures because of their jobs (actors, sports figures).


There are people who were famously rich, or influential politicians, philosophers, scientists, athletes, explorers, authors, artists and composers.   Let me show you a couple of slides and see if you recognize the people who are on them.


Ludwig von Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Rembrandt (van Rijn);

Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci


Winston Churchill, Abe Lincoln, Adolf Hitler;

Mao Tse Tung, Vladimir Putin, Nelson Mandela, Napoleon Bonaparte


Dalai Lama, Sun Myung Moon, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa,

Rabbi Israel Yitzhak Yosef (chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel),[13] Mahatma Ghandi, Ayatollah Khomeini,


Charles Darwin, Marie and her husband Pierre Currie, Albert Einstein;

Stephen Hawking, Benjamin Franklin, Sigmund Freud


Emmanuel Kant, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche;

Karl Marx, Bertrand Russel, Renes Decartes



These were individuals who are almost universally known, those who were a driving force, or who changed the course of history, or who impacted others in a significant way. 


And I ask myself, what makes these people different from others not found in the Lexicon?  Maybe it could have been extraordinary intelligence, creativity, talent, looks, ruthlessness, or inquisitiveness.  But I also believe that these people were driven.  And so they were determined.  They were relentless.  They simply had to do what they did.


The same is true of other Christians who stood out in history.


In the 18th century, there is Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf (d. 1760), who supported the Moravian movement and reformed the Lutheran church.

John Wesley (d. 1791), founded the Methodist Church.


In the 19th century William Carey (d. 1834), was a pioneer missionary to India.  General William Booth (d. 1912), founded the Salvation Army.


These men made a huge difference in their own time and beyond.  They weren’t particularly good looking or wealthy or intelligent.  But they did have an inner driving force, an inner conviction that propelled them, compelled them, to do what they did.      


In our passage this morning, we read that people all over the region and beyond had heard about the faith and conduct of the Thessalonian believers (in every place your faith toward God has gone forth).  Even though they were relatively new to their faith in God, they were living out their faith and were speaking about it.   The believers at Thessalonica were having an impact.  And the reason was that they too were convinced of and convicted that Paul’s message was true.


As I thought about our passage, I asked myself, how do I become a person who is able to impact those around me in a positive way for God and for good?  And at the very foundation, it begins with what I believe to be true and therefore of most relevance


Some people don’t believe because they do not feel a need to be saved.  The message of Jesus is just not relevant to them.  They are convinced that they lead a relatively good life and are good people.  From what do they need to be saved?  And to what end should they be saved?


But I think if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we sometimes need saving from ourselves, from our inability to do what we know is right, from our greed and pride and selfishness, from our bad habits and attitudes, from our emotions.  We have a need to deal with the garbage of our past and present.  We have to deal with the inevitable end to our lives. 


We need to ability or the drive or the motivation to become better spouses, better parents, better grandparents, better employers and employees, ultimately better human beings.


And that’s not a bad place to start when it comes to the relevance of God in our lives.  But the converts in Thessalonica also had a deep need to connect with the true and living God.  And the message about Jesus, about this Son of God, who came and died to pay the penalty of all the wrongs they had committed so that we can have a fresh start with God – it hit home – for them it was indeed “good news.”


To impact the world for good and for God …


The reality is that if we are not convinced about the truth of the message – the good news that God has acted for his people’s salvation in Christ -  we won’t be, we can’t be, like the Thessalonians.  So we need to have the message about Jesus touch both our minds and our hearts.


That does NOT mean that we won’t have doubts.  A few weeks ago I spoke about the very real possibility that doubts will arise from time to time and that ultimately our faith is a reasonable, but still a leap of faith.


I don’t think there is anything wrong with telling God about the doubts and questions we have and to pray for the Holy Spirit’s continuing work in our heart to help us to find and believe in truth and to reject falsehood.


When I read about the atrocities committed in the name of Christ, the inquisition or the crusades, or the corruption of religious leaders, or the hypocrisy or self-righteousness in the church, or the difficulties in the Bible, or whatever may turn people from Christianity – all I have to do is weigh those against the miraculous changes for good I see in those who genuinely come to God, the peace people receive, the purpose in life, the inner healing, the ability to deal with pain and sorrow and even death, the beauty and truth and wisdom in the Bible, and all the good things that have come as a result of genuine faith – the abolition of slavery, the schooling of children, the feeding of the hungry and the building of hospitals. 


We have to realise that so much that has been done in the name of God or Jesus has little or nothing to do with either.  Those who truly follow the teaching of Jesus are those who forgive, those who care, those who love others. 


The truth is that nothing apart from a personal relationship with God can radically change hearts and minds to live in love, mutual acceptance and hope, rather than in selfishness and conflict.  Science can’t do it.  Political systems can’t do it.  Self-help books can’t do it.  Seances can’t do it.  Horoscopes can’t do it.  Seminars can’t do it.  But the Holy Spirit can.


It’s been said that if you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills, if you can be cheerful while ignoring aches and pains, if you can resist complaining or boring people with your troubles, If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it, If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time, If you can overlook when people take things out on you, when, through no fault of yours, something goes wrong, if you can take criticism and blame without resentment, If you can face the world without lies and deceit, If you can conquer tension without medical help, If you can relax without liquor, If you can sleep without the aid of drugs … then you are probably a dog (or an emotionally and spiritually mature believer).


In any case, a person who impacts his world for God and for good is one who is convinced that the message about Jesus is both relevant to life and true – assured by the truth of the message in his mind and the conviction of the Holy Spirit in his heart.


In order to be a person who impacts the world for good and for God …


Paul mentions two attitudes evident in the lives of these believers in Thessalonica.  The fist is found in v.3 – patient endurance or enduring patience (based on / inspired by) hope in Jesus Christ.  And the second one is found in v.6 – is speaks of it in the context of accepted the word despite difficulties:  The attitude of joy or happiness.


These are not two characteristics that most people develop naturally.  Being able to endure, to go on patiently, no matter what life may bring is the result having hope.  For the believer, the object of that hope is Jesus Christ.  Hope is a word that speaks


1. of something good that will happen in the future.  Verse 10 or our passage speaks of the hope of the Thessalonians have in the future.  It points to the return of Christ who would deliver them from the coming wrath. 


2. But I think that hope also speaks of the present.  We have hope in Jesus Christ for our present lives, not just for the future. 


And when we have this hope in help for today and eternal life for the future, then it allows us to look at things from an eternal perspective – even if we have a tendency to slip back into our human, all too human, perspective.


Don’t sweat the small stuff – and, do you realize that in light of eternity – almost all things are small stuff.  You know, it is the ability to realize that I have to get all bent out of shape because of something that, in the greater scheme of things, is not that important.


I’m not speaking about a lack of concern, but the ability to roll with the punches and not let circumstances or others upset us – because life is short and eternity forever.


And the second attitude that should grow in our lives is joy.  Joy is the ability to have a positive and joyful outlook on life, even if things aren’t the greatest.


Patient endurance and joy don’t just happen.  They come from having hope and from having the Holy Spirit in our lives.


That does not mean that good Christians don’t get angry, don’t feel anxious or depressed.  Some people think of feeling angry or sad as “negative” emotions – but at times they may be appropriate.  When our friend rips us off.  When our spouse leaves us.  When our house gets broken into and our stuff stolen.  When we lost our job.   There will be times when we feel angry or depressed. 


Those who play the “A good Christian never gets angry or depressed” tape long enough, usually end up stuffing their emotions, repressing or suppressing them.  Underneath, those feelings are still there, and if you stuff them long enough, usually the result is one of two things – either a very ugly explosion – usually at a bad time, or a person becomes emotionally sick and crippled


We need to be honest about what we feel, but also be honest enough to examine whether or not what we feel fits what has happened to us.


There are three warning signs that you may have a problem with a lack of patient endurance or joy.  They deal with the intensity of your feeling, the frequency of your feelings and the duration, or length of time we feel what we do.


You see, if you are often angry or sad.  If you blow up a lot or you’re depressed a lot. 

Or, if you feel angry or anxious or sad over a long period of time. 

Or, if your feelings are overwhelmingly intense – all of these may be signs that something isn’t quite right in your life, that there is either a problem with your brain chemistry, with your past, with your thinking process, or possibly, with your faith


Just like a smoke detector can warn us of a fire – allowing us to get out of the house, so our emotional state may be warning us that something isn’t quite right inside of us. 


Painful feelings like anger, guilt or depression can alert us, make us aware, that something is wrong and hopefully motivate us to change and grow.  Because God does not want his people to suffer needlessly, he wants to use the bad things that happen to us for our growth and maturity. 


We have a tough time being a force for God or for good when we are consistently angry or depressed.  God wants us to develop the characteristics of patient endurance and joy in our lives.  


If I want to have an impact in this world for God and for good, I will be convinced that the message (good news) about Jesus Christ is relevant and true,

I will have the growing attitudes of patience and joy developing in my character, and …


There are a vast number of idols that we can serve.  We can serve the idol of money or success or self-fulfilment or pleasure or power.  Our idol could be a person, either ourselves or someone else, maybe someone we love or admire.  Our idol could be a sport or a possession.  There are so many things that we can worship in this life. 


The Thessalonians turned from serving their dead idols and turned to serving the living and true God.  They became imitators of Paul and of Christ.  They became examples to other believers.


There was a profound shift not only in their beliefs, but in their whole orientation to life.  And the practical result of this profound shift was two-fold.


  1. They were good, kind, caring, loving in how they treated others.  We read that their faith resulted in loving actions (v. 3). 


  2. They started to share the message about Jesus with others, wherever they went (v.8). 


    That’s what it means practically to be a believer – to share love in word and deed with others.  To care enough about others to help them – physically, emotionally or spiritually. 


    Let me leave you today with a couple of questions:




    Do you need to investigate the good news about Christ for yourself, and discuss it in a group setting?




    Is more patience and joy something you really desire in your life?  Are you sick of either stuffing your feelings of anger and frustration – denying them because you think they are bad – or sick of constant feelings of depression or anger or anxiety?  Are you ready to be honest about the way you feel and be honest about the reasons for those feelings? 


    Why don’t you begin by praying that God would show you the reasons for what is happening, commit yourself to finding help and speaking about it that will help others and yourself grow in joy and patience?




    Maybe you need to figure out if there are still idols in your life that keep you from serving, worshipping and fully turning to the living God. 


    I think we all need to pray on an ongoing basis that God’s Spirit would make us into, emotionally and spiritually mature and loving and caring individuals.





[1] Also known as Anatolia.

[2] Paul likely wanted to go to Ephesus, since that is where he shipped to from Greece on the way back to Antioch.  Acts 16:6-7 – While in Galatia, they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”  This is likely the southern part of the province.  Instead they went to the western province of Mysia (can also be considered the northern part of the province of Asia).  When they attempted to go north to the province of Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”  So they continued west in Mysia to the port of Troas.

[3] See Acts 16:6 - 18:5.  Originally, Paul and Silas had not intended to go to Macedonia and Greece.  Timothy had joined them at Lystra (Acts 16:1-2).  Paul continued on to Greece but was prevented from returning to Thessalonica as he had planned (see 1 Thess 2:18).

[4] Samothrace

[5] Between 49 and 51 AD.

[6] Reigned c. 41-54 AD.

[7] Suetonius lived c. 69-122 AD.

[8] Suetonius, Divus Claudius 25.4.  “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus he expelled them from Rome.”  This is also noted in Acts 18:2 - Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.  And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.

[9] The charge of sedition.

[10] fornication; sexual immorality

[11] Cf. 5:22 - Abstain from every evil.

[12] See 1 Cor 4:16 – I urge you to imitate me.  1 Cor 11:1 – Follow my example as I follow Christ’s (or: Imitate me just as I imitate Christ).  Phil 3:17 - Join one another in following my example, brothers, and carefully observe those who live according to the pattern we set for you.

[13] Ashkenazi Jews are from Germany and northern France.  Sephardic Jews are from Spain.  These European Jews are different from the African Jews (i.e., Ethiopian), and Asian Jews (i.e., Mizrahi).