For Advent 2020, we have been reflecting on the Advent to come, Christ's second coming. You and I are eagerly anticipating His return, gifted from God an endless supply of hope, peace, and grace until then. And God is patient with us as we learn to rely on Him. This is what we have learned so far. But why? What are we supposed to do with those gift? This Sunday we will examine 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 to uncover the purpose for those other gifts to you and me from God.Greensburg Church of the Nazarene
*this is not a word for word transcript, but the sermon manuscript
TO YOU FROM GOD
PART THREE: DIRECTION, TO YOU FROM GOD
A stingy man was last minute Christmas shopping for his girlfriend, but he was too cheap for the prices he saw in the stores. That was until the man found a fifty dollars vase that was on sale for two dollars. The handle for the vase had broken off forcing the store to drastically cut the price. He bought it and arranged for it to be shipped to his girlfriend. His thinking was she would think he paid much more for it, but it got broken during shipping. Christmas day, he found the vase on his front porch with a note that read, “Thank you for the lovely vase,” the letter read. “It was nice of you to wrap each piece separately.” (from 1002 Humorous Illustrations For Public Speaking by Michael E. Hodgin)
This Advent, we have been studying that Christmas is about presents. Really, it is about one present given to you and me from God, Jesus Christ. Unlike the man in our story, God gives us good gifts, emptying out the storehouses of heaven in effort to draw our hearts towards him. We have been looking at different passages to find gifts from God to you and me through Jesus.
Today we are looking in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24:
16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil. 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
This is the Word of God, for the people of God, thanks be to God.
Through our study of the first coming of Jesus, we have been reminding ourselves of His second coming. The early church lived believing that Jesus would comeback in their lifetimes, giving them a strong sense of expectation and urgency as they lived their lives. You and I are called to live our lives in with the same expectation and urgency. God has supplied us with all we need to be ready for when that day arrives, and He is patient with us as we learn to live in the fullness of His supply.
As we look in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, trying to look for God’s gift to us, we need to remember that Paul is writing this letter to a church located in Thessalonica, a capital city in the Roman province of Macedonia. Paul is writing to encourage them through external and internal turmoil.
We are picking up towards the very end of this letter. Before signing off, Paul gives the Thessalonians three sets of instructions. It is in these instructions we will find the answer to our question.
First, Paul gives them a Christian to do list. Many believe the issue Paul addresses with this church is the opposite of what is happening with the Corinthians. The Corinthians had been given spiritual gifts and were using them as merit badges, judging the worthiness of others based on the gifts they had. Some of the Thessalonians seem to reject anything that challenged what they believed, even if it was a gift of the Spirit.
VERSE 16 Be joyful always... Paul tells the Thessalonians that they should be happy, no matter what was going on around them. As believers their happiness was not tied to things in the world, but in Jesus who has ascended to heaven. It was because of Jesus they had been forgiven and set free from the misery of sin. With hope in eternity, what happens here cannot squash that joy because it can never reach it to take it away.
VERSE 17 … pray continually... This is not a call for the Thessalonians to constantly be on their knees, or walking around babbling to themselves. Paul is telling them always remain in an attitude of prayer, constantly ready to share your needs, but equally important to hear the Spirit. Joyful hearts are always ready to freely communicate with God, knowing He loves them, hears them, and is moving in their lives.
VERSE 18 …give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Remember, Paul is reminding the Thessalonians to “be joyful always” because their hope based in Jesus, the eternal God. The supply for their hope is beyond any earthly circumstances, and that gives them as believers a reason to be grateful. No matter what happens, God will work it out for their good, which in the end leads to live everlasting with Jesus.
Those are three things that Paul tells the Thessalonians they should be doing. Be joyful, be prayerful, and be grateful. From those point, Paul shifts to the other side. As believers there are things the Thessalonians should not do and other things they should be careful about doing.
VERSE 19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire… Paul is not telling us the Holy Spirit is a force you and I can wield. He is not the force from Star Wars or an energy source for us to use as wizards. The Holy Spirit is God, who is an all-consuming fire that can never be extinguished. The dwelling place for the Holy Spirit is our hearts, where He is burning away all that is impure and contrary to God. However, God is not doing this without our permission. And we can choose to reject the Spirit, put out His fire in our lives by clinging to our contrary attitudes and actions. A person cannot be a Christian and keep willfully choosing sin, or portraying an attitude that is hostile towards God and others.
VERSES 20-22 … do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. Here Paul is addressing the issues that was mentioned above, the Thessalonians resistance to anything new to what they have already learned. Paul places an emphasis on God’s word. Whenever it was read or preached, the Thessalonians were to take it seriously. God’s Word does not change in a changing world, however the application or fulfillment of His Word will look different as the world shifts under the weight of sin. Paul is telling the Thessalonians to listen careful, and discern what is true from what is not. Cling to the good while tossing out the bad.
Paul has told the Thessalonians to be joyful, be prayerful, be grateful, and now be careful. This seems an impossible task for anyone person to be able to do on their own, especially in a broken messed up world and in fellowship full of believers recovering from that life. But Paul is going to share how the impossible is possible.
VERSES 23-24 May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. This is a prayer from the apostle over this church. Paul’s prayer is that God would sanctify them, or separate them so they would be found blameless at Jesus’ coming. Sin and the ways of sin are the normal patterns of this world, common. God’s will is that the Thessalonians be uncommon, set apart from sin and the ways of sin so that they could be joyful, prayerful, grateful, and careful. It is not something the Thessalonians could accomplish on their own, nor were they boxes to check off to achieve sainthood. Being holy, sanctified, is something that you are through the power of Jesus, allowing His Spirit to work in your heart and mind. According to Paul, being entirely sanctified is “an experience permitting and demanding, increasing development in holiness.” (words of theologian Sydney Martin) This experience, and ongoing experience produces joyfulness, prayerfulness, gratefulness, and carefulness.
What gift to you and me from God is found in this passage? We know that through God we have an endless supply of all that we need. Also, God is patient with us as we learn to live in the fullness of His supply. But in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 we discover the purpose for the endless supply, God gives us direction. And that direction is for us to be sanctified as we wait for His return.
Joyfulness, prayerfulness, gratefulness, and carefulness are to be the traits of our lives in glory to the One who gave it all for us. You and I cannot be sanctified, holy, or obtain Christian perfection (all terms meaning the same thing) without those. John Wesley wrote, “This is Christian perfection… Our Lord has purchased joy as well as righteousness for us. It is the very design of the gospel that, being saved from guilt, we should be happy in the love of Christ.” It sanctified living that leads to more sanctified living through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. God has given us this direction with the endless supply to make it possible.
Why is it important to live out following this direction? Because its through a life on fire that sparks a fire in the hearts of others. It is like this, you all have heard me talking about my Indiana Hoosiers football team this year. For decades, we have lost by 10, 20, 30, and even 60 points to powerhouse schools like Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. This year we beat all of them. What changed? The passion of the head coach, it was a passion for a game, players, and belief that they could win those games. A passion that became contagious. And this is what God can do through you, me, and this church if we yield our hearts to His control.
In a different letter, Paul writes, “For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) God did not begin a work in you to be a grumpy or Eeyore-like Christian. Nor did He call to be a critic of churches and pastors. God began a work in you that is holy with a desire to make you joyful, prayerful, grateful, and careful. The Spirit wants to sanctify you wholly to complete that work in your heart and renew your mind in the fruits of holy life.
Season 1 Episode 33, "Most important question." The text for the message is from Mark 8:27-30, part 1 of a series called The Son of Man. The question we are trying to answer is "What is the most important question?"