A Commendation Of Faithfulness  --  Gil Rugh

A Commendation Of Faithfulness


Gil Rugh

Copyright © Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, Nebraska

GR1116  -  1st Thessalonians 1:6-10


The following text is taken from sermons preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff and may contain some material from adjacent sermons in the series.

Review 1 Thess 1:1-5

In our last study, we examined the first five verses of 1 Thessalonians, chapter 1. In verse 1, Paul greeted the Thessalonians as a church that belongs to the "God and the Lord Jesus Christ" reminding them that they are recipients of the "peace" of the Lord in the midst of persecution and opposition.

In verses two and three, Paul expressed his thanks to God on behalf of the Thessalonians. He said, "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers" (vs 2). Paul upheld them in prayer, and he was faithful in remembering them before the Lord on a regular basis.

Paul thanked God for the "work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness" of the Thessalonians. How were they, being new believers, able to remain so strong? Paul identified the "hope" of the coming of Jesus Christ as the motivating factor for all believers, new or old.

Paul was also encouraged to pray for the Thessalonians because of their election. He said in verse 4, "knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you." As one will recall, the Doctrine of Election states that God, in His sovereign plan and purpose, chose some to become believers in the person and work of Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world. He "predestined" those of us who are believers to be saved.

How could Paul know that the Thessalonians had been elected? In verse five he said, "for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." When Paul had been in Thessalonica with Silas and Timothy, they knew that God was working there in a supernatural way, drawing many of them to salvation in Christ. It was not just words they were saying, it was "power and in the Holy Spirit." As evidence of the power of the gospel, Paul invited them to take a look at his own life, to see the truth that the Holy Spirit produces a changed character in those who receive salvation.

Introduction: 1 Thess 1:6-10

You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Acedia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Acedia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, (that is) Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.

1 Thess 1:6,7

As a result of the ministry that has taken place, Paul says, "You also become imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit" (vs. 6). Paul is literally saying, "mimic us." He wants the Thessalonians to pattern their lives after Timothy's, Silas' and his own life. We see this word used in chapter two as well. Paul says, "For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judge..." (vs. 14).

In like manner, Paul also encouraged the Corinthians to imitate him in 1 Corinthians 4:16. So often we, as believers, have the attitude "Do as I say, not as I do." We tell them to look at the cross, not at us. But Paul says "Look at me, because I am mimicking the Lord Jesus Christ." He was fully committed to becoming like Christ and following Him. This is the way our lives should be as well. Paul was not ashamed to tell people to pattern their lives after his. We know that there are things in our lives that we don't want people to mimic. This is what keeps us from having a ministry which is as effective as Paul's ministry.

(See also Ephesians 5:1, Hebrews 6:12)

Notice that Paul says the Thessalonians are to be "imitators of us and of the Lord." It is almost shocking that Paul places himself first. But in actuality, it would follow the natural pattern because Paul was the human instrument, the contact point, that God used to reach the Thessalonians. They looked up to Paul and began to pattern their life after him, and the Lord.

Paul continues, saying the Thessalonians "received the word in much tribulation..." This is a phrase that means "severe pressure," like grapes being squeezed until the juice comes out. Remember, these Thessalonians were faced with incredible persecution and opposition. They lost their families and friends, even their jobs for the sake of the gospel.

But Paul reminds them that tribulation brings "...the joy of the Holy Spirit." Isn't it amazing what the Lord can do? Paul says, in the midst of tribulation, the Holy Spirit produces great joy in the life of a believer. Paul often remarked on the privilege we have as believers to experience tribulation for the name of the Lord. In Philippians 1:29 he said, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake." When we suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit produces joy in our lives. This is a result of the Spirit producing fruit in the life of a believer (Galatians 5:22).

Because of the joy displayed by the Thessalonians, they "became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia" (vs. 7). They became a pattern or "type" for all the believers in Greece to follow. They were a perfect example of the power of God at work. They had patterned themselves after Paul and the Lord Jesus Christ, and now other churches were patterning their lives after the church at Thessalonica. It is the same type of thing that happens within a family. The oldest child patterns his life after his parents, and the younger brothers and sisters pattern their lives after the older brother. This is what happened to the Thessalonians.

Paul underscores this truth in Philippians 3:17; "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us." Paul is saying, "I am a pattern to be followed, and then follow after those who followed me." He lived his life in order to be a model for those who would follow. He says in 1 Timothy 4:12, "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe." This should characterize our service as well. We need to be mature believers in the Word, patterning our lives after other strong believers and the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we, all functioning together in the local church, will be a pattern for others.

1 Thess 1:8

Not only is the election of the Thessalonians evident in the power of the Holy Spirit that was demonstrated there, but now it is also seen in the testimony that the Thessalonians have before others. Paul says, "For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything." The pattern is easy to follow. The gospel was presented to the Thessalonians, they believed it, they patterned their lives after Paul and the Lord Jesus Christ, and now they are an example for others to follow. This pattern will then be duplicated by those who follow the Thessalonians.

Paul says "the word of the Lord sounded forth from you." It is the word of God that is being proclaimed by the Thessalonians. The "word" of God is the same word used in the book of Acts as a synonym for the gospel. So, their message was about God, but it was also from God. This fact gives their message power and life because God uses it to bring about salvation and transformation in the lives of those who believe it.

The Thessalonians "sounded" the Word of God like a trumpet, whose sound keeps reverberating on and on. The context here denotes something that happened in the past and continues into the present (perfect tense).

Where is this proclamation of the Word being heard? Paul says, "...not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place...." The impact of the gospel reverberating from the Thessalonians has gone on even beyond the regions of Greece and moved into other places throughout the world. Did that mean that the Thessalonians were going out all over the world, sharing the gospel? No, but Thessalonica was a major seaport and there was much commerce, and traffic flowing through the city. The people traveling through the city were being impacted by the changed lives of the Thessalonian Christians. After the travelers left the city, they would return to their homeland and tell other people about what they had seen and heard.

From this example, it is easy to see how important it is to live our lives in such a way that it brings honor and glory to Christ. If we simply say, "I believe the gospel, but don't look at my life," that is an indication that our life isn't truly transformed. The lives of the Thessalonians had a definite impact on the people they came into contact with. They stood apart from everyone else. This should be true in our lives as well.

1 Thess 1:9

Paul continues in verse 9. He says, "For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.'' Paul says that these travelers had come through Thessalonica, and upon going back to their homeland, they told their people how Paul had preached the gospel in Thessalonica, and about these Thessalonians whose lives were literally transformed. This was a testimony that the message was real and had power. It proved that the Thessalonians had turned from false gods to worship the "true and living God."

It is imperative that we understand the importance of the transformation that takes place in the life of a believer. Acts 3:19 says, "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away... ." The word "return" is the same word for "turn" used in 1 Thessalonians 1:9. It is an act of repentance. The author is saying, "turn away from your sin." In like manner, Acts 9:35 says that the communities of Lydia and Sharon "turned" to the Lord. Again, we see that these people "turned" from their former practices and came to faith in the Lord.

Perhaps the most similar passage to 1 Thessalonians 1:9 is Acts 14:15. Paul says, "...Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God... ." The context in this verse is that the people wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas. But Paul says they preach the gospel "in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God." This is the process of conversion. A person believes in the person and work of Jesus Christ and there is a turning of his life. He turns away from the empty things he had previously trusted in, and turns to trust in Jesus Christ. Then, there is a transformation that takes place. That transformed life is evidence of a true conversion, because our life is no longer what it used to be. It is, as we are told in Acts 26:18, turning from "darkness to light."

Second Corinthians 3:16 refers to the veil that is placed over the heart of the unbeliever. The unbeliever cannot see and understand the truth of the gospel of Christ. But "Whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." Again, the truth is clear: when someone becomes a believer, he turns away from what he has entrusted before, and turns to the Lord, which results in a transformed life. The Scripture is clear on this. If someone professes to be a believer, but does not have a transformed life, that person is not a believer. This does not mean believers never sin, but it does mean that they will turn away from the empty, vile things they trusted before, and become imitators of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Leon Morris summed it up by saying, "Becoming a Christian involves a very definite break with non Christian habits. Whatever our previous background has been there must be a turning from our idols. The act of conversion involves a change of the direction of the will. There is a decisive happening, a reorientation of the whole of life." This is the reason the lives of the Christians at Thessalonica had such a huge impact on those with whom they came in contact.

(See also Acts 28:27)

Two things were accomplished when the Thessalonians "turned to God." First, they have come to "serve a living and true God." The word "serve" means "to be a slave." When we turn to God, we are to be completely submissive to Him. We turn from our previous life to become a "slave" to the living God. This term is written in the present tense, indicating that our complete submission to Him as our Lord is to be ongoing.

This is the point of "Lordship Salvation." It is my understanding that Jesus Christ must be LORD in order to be SAVIOR because the process of turning away from sin to serve the living God is involved in salvation, according to Scripture. Of course, the full outworking of our transformation is part of our maturing process in Christ, but the initial "turning" to serve God is proof that true salvation has occurred.

1 Thess 1:10

The second thing accomplished when the Thessalonians "turned to God" was the expectation and anticipation that Christ would return. Paul says, "and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come." This anticipation of Christ's coming is like the anticipation a parent feels when he is waiting up for a child to come home. Parents eagerly wait for that coming so they know the child will be safe. As the Thessalonians turned to worship the living God, they began to eagerly await the coming of our Lord.

Serving the Lord and waiting for Him to return go hand in hand. We are not to just sit back, kick up our feet, and wait until the rapture of the church takes place. On the other side, we are not to become so involved in serving that we forget about His return. The two must balance each other out. We are to be occupied in serving the Lord as we eagerly wait for His return. This is the plan of God.

Paul identifies Christ as "whom He raised from the dead." It is interesting that the resurrection of Christ is placed in the middle of verse 10. We are to wait for Christ to return from heaven, and He is the one who delivers us from our sin. But all of that is contingent upon the fact that He was raised from the dead. This is the key to our salvation, not because we are saved by Christ's resurrection, but because it proves that Christ's death on the cross accomplishes redemption. It proves that our hope in Christ's return is not just some myth. He was raised from the dead, therefore He will return for His own.

First Corinthians 15:17 illustrates this truth. Paul says, "and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins." You see, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, His death accomplished absolutely nothing. And if His death meant nothing, our faith in Him is worthless. But, in verse 20 Paul says, "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep." Christ has been raised, and His resurrection is our guarantee and assurance that we will experience resurrection as well. So it is very logical that Paul would say "we turned to God to wait for His Son from Heaven, 'whom He raised from the dead.'"

Paul doesn't stop there. He further identifies Christ, in verse 10, as "Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come." Christ "delivers", or "rescues" us from the wrath of the coming tribulation that occurs between the rapture of the church and the coming of Christ to set up His earthly kingdom. This tribulation, which is often referred to as "the 70th week of Daniel," is the time period where the fullness of God's wrath is revealed to those on earth.

Will every one experience this terrible wrath? 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says, "For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." We, as believers, are promised deliverance from the wrath of God, but those who are unsaved during this time will experience a level of judgment never before seen. Revelation 6:15-17 says, "And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?"

We eagerly await the return of Christ because He is the one who rescues us from the wrath of God during the tribulation. Now Christ also rescues us from the coming wrath of God in the final, great-white-throne judgment. But in the context of 1 Thessalonians, Paul is referring to the wrath exhibited by God during the tribulation.

Romans 1:18 addresses this truth. Paul declares, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." In like manner, Romans 2:5 says, "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God... ." Those who refuse to trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ for salvation are storing up for themselves the wrath of the living God. But because of His infinite mercy, those who have trusted Him as their Lord and Savior will be spared.

In the gospel of John we are told, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). There are only two alternatives: life in Christ, or the wrath of God. Jesus Christ is the one who saves us from wrath because He paid the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross in our place. This free gift of salvation is received when one recognizes his sinfulness, turns to the living God, turns from his sin, and places His faith in Christ alone for salvation. He is then assured that he will be delivered from "the wrath to come."

John says the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious; "...anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother" (1 John 3:10). This section of 1 Thessalonians is clear: those who have experienced true salvation will turn away from their idols to serve the living God, eagerly awaiting His return. When this turning away occurs, there will be a definite transformation in that person's life. This was the case with the Thessalonians. The change in their lives even made an impact on those who were traveling through the city.

This should be the pattern of our lives as well. Are you, as a believer, making an impact on your community? Has your life been transformed by the salvation of Jesus Christ? If it has, you can be assured that you will spend eternity with Him in heaven, delivered from the wrath of God. But if you have never experienced this salvation, you are one who is storing up the wrath of God for the day of judgment. There will be nowhere to hide. The only escape is to recognize your sinfulness, turn to God, turn away from your sin, and place your faith completely in the person and work of Jesus Christ for salvation. When you do that, you will be saved.

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.

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