The universe was formed by God’s Word. The Bible is God’s Word. It will transform you, but what is it? #ChangeLives #1Thessalonians #DareToVenture
God’s Plan For You To Change Lives!
1 Thessalonians 2:13
As we work our way through the first three chapters of Thessalonians we are learning all about God’s plan to change lives. God’s plan to lead people into the experience of eternal life. To truly be born again and bask in it! Our study is obviously to help equip us “To Engage Those Far From God With The Gospel Of Jesus Christ To Know and Follow Him” but it's also intended for us to examine how much we are fitting ourselves into God’s plan to change our life!
So today we come to the meat of the sandwich. The key ingredient to the entire plan that if left out leaves you with nothing. it is the linchpin in that if it is not central in the process of your life being changed, then your life actually isn’t being changed by God. You are not getting eternal life, but rather some counterfeit that has no divine power and is totally in vain.
So what is this linchpin? To no surprise, it is God’s word, the Bible! Listen to what Paul says to the church in Thessalonica,
13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (2:13)
So, to set up our conversation, I want you to know that God’s Word is a constant focus of the attack of the enemy. That is Satan does not want you to sit under it because to do so is to sit under God.
It's why the founders fought so hard for people to understand a doctrine called “Sola Scriptura,”.
“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.” —Westminster Confession of Faith
This has been tested throughout the history of the church, but none more than the Reformation. Where there was a major distinction drawn between the teaching of the Reformers that placed God’s Word as the supreme authority, and the Catholic Church that placed the Pope and the Bishops as the supreme authority.
Ironically, this same concept came roaring back with liberalism in the 19th century. There was no effort by liberal theologians to give authority back to the papacy. This would have been an abhorrent idea to them. But ironically, they wanted to become the authority themselves. The supreme effort by liberals is to establish their scholarship and as such ultimately every individual as the supreme authority on God, salvation, faith, etc. This is not to suggest that we are not to individually study God’s Word and determine what it is saying. But rather liberalism suggests that we don’t individually sit under God’s Word to be instructed by it. Rather we have authority over the Bible to determine which parts of it are God’s Word. Thus we decide which parts of the Bible we will sit under and what parts we will not. What parts have authority over us and what parts do not. This is based on what parts we think are from God and what parts are not. Ironically this is exactly what the Catholic church does, the very church that so many liberals vehemently despise because of the human authority they exercise!
With that, we are not here to let church history tell us about God’s word. Nor are we here to do a full overview of what all the Scriptures themselves declare about themselves. Rather we are here today to dig down into the next verse in our study of 1 Thessalonians. Which is 1 Thessalonians 2:13. As we dig down into it we are going to learn 3 very important characteristics about God’s Word that help us understand God’s plan to change lives!
1 Thessalonians 2:13 gives us three characteristics about God’s Word that help us understand God’s plan to change lives.
The 1st characteristic about God’s Word that helps us understand God’s plan to change lives is that,
God’s Word must be delivered to be heard. (2:13a)
God doesn’t extend his word to the nations through mysterious methods, it must be delivered. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, (2:13a)
The emphasis on “received” is not the action of the Thessalonians but the action of Paul, Timothy and Silas delivering. They delivered God’s word!
God has always used the preacher, the prophet, the evangelists, the witness, and even the written letter. But in all of it there was a person that God used to deliver His word. It must be taught, spoken, written and shared. But words are only powerful and effective if they are shared. They are information, and information is worthless if it is not communicated. It's why Paul write this,
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" Romans 10:14-15
Clearly the most effective method of communication is when it is spoken. Whether it be in preaching to an audience sitting to listen, or taught to an audience sitting around a teacher who is interacting with them. There is no doubt that from Genesis to Revelation the primary way of communicating God’s word was oral. Literacy was very low and the availability of tablets or scrolls was extremely rare. Jesus himself wrote nothing down but rather verbally communicated to the masses on down to individuals that he met with. When he sent the disciples out he did not send them with written words to hand out to people, but rather for them to go speak God’s word. The Word He had spoken to them!
This is not at all to suggest the written word is not powerful. Because the Bible is God’s written word. It is written so that it is consistent and thus not lost in the repetition of oral delivery. Side note: in an oral culture there was a commitment to excellence in repeating things correctly. So much so that failure to do so was shameful. But, God’s Word is written so that thousands of years later we still have the same words. However, we cannot miss the emphasis of the verbal communication of God’s word massively dominating how God changed lives in the Scripture! For instance the Ethiopian eunuch had acquired a copy of Isaiah, but still needed Philip to tell him what it meant. Thus why God sent Philip. Furthermore the command of the great commission is not to simply hand out written copies of God’s word, which I have no problem with, but rather to go make disciples and literally teach them all that Christ commanded.
Remember discipleship is what we are called to do and called to submit ourselves to. And discipleship is necessarily a human to human communication venture. There’s no limit to how that communication is done, but the context is clearly a person communicating to another person, Not simply handing them a copy of something that is written for them to go figure it out in complete isolation. This again is not intended to take away from the awesome privilege and joy of studying God’s word in isolation. As a matter fact any true follower of Christ should long for the intimate time of being alone with him and his word. However, it is very clear in all 66 books of the Bible that God’s word is intended to be understood in the community. There is always the role of a communicator within the community helping hearts and minds understand process and submit to God’s word. That is to truly receive it! Even Paul’s letters written to the churches were not delivered for people to run home and read by themselves, but rather they would gather and listen to a pastor read those words and then they would spend time listening to these pastors/teachers/elders process those words with them!
The 2nd characteristic about God’s Word that helps us understand God’s plan to change lives, is that for God’s word to be effective,
God’s Word must be fully accepted for what it is – His Word! (2:13b)
All the preaching and teaching of God’s word is worthless unless the hearer is willing to accept it as God’s word! This is why Paul was so excited about the Thessalonians. Listen to what he writes,
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, (2:13)
While accepted is almost synonymous with received from the previous clause, the verb commonly places more emphasis on personal appropriation. In other words, they solemnly received the sacred message and appropriated it for themselves. (G.L. Green)
To accept something means you acknowledge it as true and as such submit to it to influence you as opposed to demanding to influence it. It's why Calvin wrote,
“By these expressions the apostle means that the Word had been received by them reverently and with the obedience it deserved. For as soon as this persuasion has gained a foothold, it is impossible not to have a spirit of obedience take possession of our minds.” (John Calvin)
So that’s from the perspective of the hearer, but from the perspective of the deliverer it means this,
What can we conclude from this verse? When the Word of God is preached, it is as if God is speaking to the people. God speaks through his Word. I realize this is a strong statement, and it is open to abuse. By describing preaching in this way, I am standing in a tradition that stretches back to the Reformation and the early church. Here is what John Calvin said: “When a preacher who is duly called and appointed by God speaks, it is as if God himself were speaking through him. The Word of God is not distinguished from the word of the prophet. God wishes to be heard through the voice of his ministers.” Calvin states it more strongly than I did. When the minister speaks while preaching the Word properly, it is as if Christ speaks. We might be tempted to think that John Calvin thought this up on his own, but it goes beyond Calvin. An early Reformed confession called the Second Helvetic Confession says, “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” The reason the Reformed tradition says this about preaching is because of a passage like 1 Thessalonians 2:13. The Thessalonian believers accepted Paul’s preaching not as the word of men, but as it really was, the word of God.” (J. H. Grant Jr.)
So both for the preacher and the listener, the teacher and the student. When we are teaching the Bible we need to remember what it is we are teaching. What it is we are listening to,
We are communicating God’s Word.
Imagine how you would carry a snotty tissue that you blew your nose in versus carrying a Kings Crown that you were going to lay on His head! Carrying something of Glory and prominence and value versus carrying something that needs to be tossed in the trash! Therefore when we are delivering God’s Word we should,
have confidence in its power to do what we can not do!
Therefore we should have joy in knowing what we are delivering is worth delivering and worth listening to. You are not wasting people’s time!
Therefore we should have a healthy burden of wanting to be sure we are correctly delivering His words and not ours so as not to suggest our Words are of the same value!
Therefore we should be not be hypocrites. That we have taken the time to truly ponder and be changed by what we claim is the most worthy of words to ponder and be changed!
Therefore we should be careful that our words are truly highlighting, explaining, and applying His words and not twisting His Word around to support our words!
We are listening to God's words!
Therefore I need to submit to it!
Therefore I need to cling to them and meditate on them. (story of Kenyan woman I got to preach to who spent all night memorizing the Bible verses we gave her because she knew her Muslim husband would take them from her.)
Therefore I need to cherish them as the very words of life. What could I possibly cherish more than that! I have in my bookbag letters written to me by wife and kids. I have in possession letters I received from my parents and grandparents. I pick them up from time to time and read them to reflect on how blessed I am by each. I keep a few things that they have given me to hold on to and reflect again on how much I value them. So if I do that with human words and possessions how much more should I do that with God’s word!
The 3rd characteristic about God’s Word that helps us understand God’s plan to change lives is that,
Once accepted God’s Word doesn’t quit working! (2:13c)
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (2:13)
The Thessalonians felt in themselves the divine energy that proceeds from faith. They could rest assured that what they had heard was not a mere sound of the human voice vanishing into air, but the living and efficacious teaching of God. (John Calvin)
“Is” – present tense!
“at work” – Transforming them without Paul there! Paul and His team taught them the Word. They received it, then he and His team left. But God’s Word didn’t leave! God’s word that caused light to come into existence is the same word that He left with the believers in Thessalonica. And it was doing the same powerful work it did when by God’s word the Universe itself was brought into existence!
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see fruit in lives now. You just keep planting it. Keep sharing it! Illustration of sharing the Gospel with teammates that I didn’t think were listening or cared to hear me say what I was saying. Teammates that I didn’t really feel like I was important to. But then 20 years later thanked me for sharing those things with them. Some of who have since gave their lives to Christ! I didn’t lead them to Christ, but I got to plant some of the seeds that all added up to it! God’s Word doesn’t stop working! it's why Isaiah wrote,
10 "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Isaiah uses a powerful image regarding the way God’s Word works by drawing on rain and growth. God’s Word has the power to accomplish God’s purpose. This is similar to Paul’s message to the Thessalonians. Paul uses the word energeo, from which we get the word energize. God’s Word energizes people and produces faith and repentance and obedience. (J. H. Grant Jr.)
Challenge: Are you using God’s Word to justify your own opinions and desires or are you submitting to God’s Word so you can be transformed by it?
“Therefore, when the Word of God is regarded by many with contempt, when it is scarcely held in any estimation and many are not at all actuated by fear of God, it is because they do not consider they have anything to do with God or must answer to him.” (John Calvin)
A classic example is Deuteronomy 7:3-4 which people use to suggest interracial marriage is a sin. They also use 1 Corinthians and say interracial marriage is being unequally yoked. However, if you take a few seconds and read the context you’ll find out it has nothing to do with race or ethnicity but rather not marrying those who do not fear God. All throughout the Old Testament God ordained interracial marriages and cross ethnic marriages but, in every instance, it was to someone who truly feared the Lord i.e. Moses’s wife and Rahab. The other side were men like Solomon who married wives that did not worship God. He ended up in his old age building high places for offerings to be made to false gods and even himself worshiping false gods! The point being that for two centuries in American churches pastors have ignored the fact they were totally taking Scripture out of context. And they did so to justify the racism in their own hearts!