Date: 15 January 2023
Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan
Sermon Text: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Blessed Sunday to all. For those who were not here last week, Hermon is going through a mini-sermon series entitled Trellis and the Vine. What we are trying to remind ourselves is that the Trellis must support the important work of growing the Vine.
And Vine growth means Gospel growth. It means living out Hermon’s mission statement of being and making disciples of Christ Jesus.
We are into the Chinese New Year festivities. Why do we ensure that our kitchen facilities are working, that there are sufficient ingredients in our fridges? It’s all because we care for the people who will be coming.
It’s the people who are the most important. No point having the best kitchen equipment and the freshest ingredients if it does not bless the people in our homes.
So because people are God’s focus, we want to be moving people to the right. If the person in front of us is yet a believer, we want to engage and evangelise so that they can be transferred into God’s Kingdom.
If the person next to us is a believer, then we want to journey together in establishing and equipping so that together, we will be transforming to become more and more like Jesus our Saviour.
And there are 4 Ps that makes it possible to move people to the right – Proclamation, Prayer, People and Perseverance. Today we touch on the 2nd P, that of Prayer. Prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit.
Let me begin with a story of a medical missionary Dr Willian Leslie.
In 1912, Dr. Leslie decided to leave Canada and head off to the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Africa. He reached out to the Yansi people at the town of Vanga. They have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ before.
He taught the Bible, the tribal children how to read and write, and told Bible stories.
After labouring for seventeen years of ministry, Dr. Leslie returned to the United States an incredibly discouraged man. He believed that he had made no impact for the Gospel and no furtherance for the message of Christ.
In 2010, Eric Ramsey was doing research on the forgotten missionaries of Central Africa and Dr Leslie was on the list. After completing the research, he gathered a team together and headed back to the Republic of Congo to find out if there was any evidence of Gospel witness and truth.
What they found in Vanga was beyond their imagination. It was said that they observed “a network of vibrant, reproducing churches throughout the jungle, hidden like glittering diamonds in the dense jungle.”
There were eight churches over a thirty-five mile radius and the 1,000 seater mother church that attributed her origins directly to the ministry of Dr. Leslie.
According to one pastor “Dr. Leslie’s simple goal was to preach and to teach the Bible and to set Jesus Christ before the people in action and of course in Word. In other words, to live out faith, hope and love. Even though he left the mission field incredibly discouraged, the legacy that he left in Africa is huge, and those are the testimonies that we will one day hear when we are walking the streets of gold in glory one day.”
Dr. Leslie was affiliated with the American Baptist Missionary Union. The American Baptist Missionary Union was founded in 1814 by Adoniram Judson, who led a pioneering work in Burma.
I’ve been blessed to meet with Myanmese believers who are still use the translation of the bible based on work done by Rev Judson.
Remember what Ps Luwin said last week - the Proclamation of the Word creates the church. And God formed the church in Congo through His Word given by His messenger, Dr Leslie.
May I submit for our consideration this morning that Dr Leslie was just following the example of the church in Thessalonica which Paul was giving thanks to God for in his prayer.
Why we can be united in prayer (v1-4)
Dr Leslie laboured for 17 years, but did not see any Gospel-fruit. Was it because of his lack of the local language, the fact that he was a foreigner or that maybe he was just not well trained enough to convey the truth of Scripture?
So we are asking the question - how does the words from the Bible produce Gospel-faith?
How can we here in Singapore believe and be part of the same family as Dr Leslie in Canada, the Yansi in Congo, the believers in Myanmar?
The biblical answer to how the fruit of the Gospel can germinate in a person’s life is the 3rd Person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit.
As messengers, we must do our best to be credible and competent in sharing the Good News of Christ.
But thanks be to God, conversion is only by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Since we know that the proclamation of God’s Word creates the church, it prompts a prior question - how is the Bible, God’s Word to man?
2 Peter 1:20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Apostle Peter tells us that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. It was inspired by the Holy Spirit. The divine author is God the Holy Spirit.
Not only that, Jesus says, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. And in Jn 16, Jesus teaches that the Holy Spirit will not speak on his own authority, He will declare to us the things that are to come and will glorify Jesus.
Jn 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
So the Holy Spirit is the divine author of the Bible, who is the Truth, and who will glorify Jesus. That means when we read the Bible in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will see Jesus.
And so this truth is captured by Apostle Paul in 1 Cor 12:3
1 Cor 12:3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
None of us can receive the words of Scripture as the Word of God and believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour from its pages, unless the Holy Spirit works His grace in our lives.
Unless the Holy Spirit opens our eyes, we will not acknowledge that we are a slave to sin and accept the bible’s solution that salvation is by the blood of Jesus at Calvary.
This means that prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit is absolutely vital. We have got to depend 100% on the Holy Spirit, if not the proclamation of the Gospel falls on deaf ears.
It is therefore the work of the Holy Spirit that enabled what Dr Leslie proclaimed, to be believed in the lives of the people in Congo.
And this truth should help encourage many missionaries like Dr Leslie. Faithfulness in proclaiming is the key. Fruitfulness in ministry is in the hands of the Holy Spirit.
So because of the Holy Spirit, then v1 & 4 happens:
1 Thess 1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace …. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you
The Holy Spirit opens their eyes to the Good News of Jesus Christ and so Paul, Silvanus and Timothy can call the Thessalonian believers, brothers loved by God.
That they are all children of God the Father and under the same authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We say blood is thicker than water. We say that in marriage, we are one flesh with our spouse. All these have the sense of the most intimate of bonds and the strongest of ties that should withstand interference.
Scripture says, that by the Holy Spirit opening the eyes of each believer, the Holy Spirit points us to a stronger bond that unites us.
The divine creator of the universe, has loved us and Paul says elsewhere, God has chosen us before the foundation of the world.
Each believer is precious. Each believer is known to God. Each believer is chosen and loved by God.
Only by the Holy Spirit can we sing – Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.
Why can Paul pray this prayer of thanksgiving for the Thessalonians? It is only because the Holy Spirit has opened their eyes.
Why can we be like Paul today and be praying for each other? it is also only because the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes.
And this unity that we share is the most intimate and the strongest of any bond. This unity was decided before the foundation of the world. And it will continue on for eternity.
Imagine, God has made us brothers and sisters in Christ, long before our earthly families. And we will continue to be children of our Heavenly Father, forever and ever.
May this unity in the Holy Spirit help us to live out what Paul did for the Thessalonians – he was always thanking God for them, constantly mentioning them in his prayers and remembering before God, their lives of faith.
What we should be praying for each other (v4-6)
Since we desire to be prayerfully dependent on the Holy Spirit, what should we be praying for each other?
The first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is the thanksgiving prayer that all under-shepherds of God want to pray.
It’s the very path we want our congregation to be on. It’s the positive example of the relational discipleship journey that Mt Hermon aims to be on.
In Paul’s prayer, he is describing what is already happening in the Thessalonian church and by doing so, he is prayerfully encouraging them to continue in the same direction.
1 Thess 1:3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit … 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
V3 tells us, Paul remembered in his prayer their work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope in Jesus Christ.
By recalling what they are already doing, Paul’s prayers are for the Holy Spirit to help them persevere in it.
Firstly, he mentioned about their work of faith. Paul knows that faith without works is dead. The book of James says, we display our faith by our works.
Paul goes on to give some examples. He says in v6 that they became imitators of Paul and thus of the Lord.
And what did Paul do? V5 says Paul brought the Gospel to them in word, under the power of the Holy Spirit and with full or deep conviction.
If they imitated Paul, it meant that their faith resulted in them receiving the Gospel and then working to proclaim like Paul, with deep conviction, Jesus and Him crucified.
In v9 Pauls says they turned to God from idols. That’s the start of the conversion journey. When you put your faith in Jesus, you have to work out how you can turn your backs on all the idols in your life.
And if we are honest, we know how easy it is to fall back into idol worship even as believers. So, let’s pray for each other, for our work of faith in the area of idolatry.
Secondly, Paul prays that they will continue in their labor of love. Love is not a feeling but an action, and when Paul uses ‘labor’, it gives the impression that it is even more strenuous than work.
I’m sure many here would receive famous or good speakers into their midst. In Hermon we do love our external speakers by attempting to host them well.
But let’s see the reputation of Paul as he comes to the Thessalonians:
Acts 17:1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go… 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds.
If you were the Thessalonian believers, would you love God’s preacher enough to associate with him? Look what happened to Jason. The opposition even when to Berea to stir up trouble.
Paul says in v9 not only did they turn from idols, they eagerly received Paul and sought to serve the living and true God.
To serve God in such a context by receiving God’s preacher, surely must count as a labor of love.
Would this be our prayer for one another as well?
Thirdly and finally, Paul prays that they will be steadfast in hope, they will display endurance. They will be faithful and resilience in the faith.
Paul said in v6, they received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.
We have already appreciated the persecuted situation they were in. Joy and persecution are not usually coupled together right?
Thus, exhibiting joy, can only be sustained by the Holy Spirit, it’s not a natural thing.
I submit, joy comes because the Holy Spirit has enabled them to believe that they are beloved of God, chosen before the foundation of the world (v4).
It meant they knew, God does still love them even though they are facing affliction.
We can observe another reason why they were able to receive the word in affliction, with joy in the Holy Spirit. That is found in v10. They believed in the 2nd coming of Jesus.
Whatever is the injustice that is happening now to them, Jesus will set all things right.
And importantly, at the 2nd coming, those who belong to Jesus will receive the Crown of Life. But those who do not belong to Jesus will suffer His wrath.
Imagine, these were months-old believers. Babies, infants in the faith compared to many of us here this morning. We know so much more than them. We have the complete bible.
Yet, Paul commends them in his prayer to God, for their steadfastness in hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today, we too have the same Holy Spirit in us. Today, we too understand the glorious hope we have at the 2nd coming of Jesus.
Let us pray for one another then, to model after Paul and the Thessalonian church.
How does God use our prayer-soaked lives (v8-10)
When we are prayerfully dependent on the Holy Spirit, we become acceptable vessels for the Lord’s use.
Paul was saying to them, you are such great testimonies, and you know what, you are making me redundant. I’ve got no more job to do.
We see that in v8 - For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.
Oh, that would be such a great situation to see right! No more missionaries nor evangelists needed, for the witness of each local church covers every segment of society, every town and every city.
And we see that Word and Deed are complementing each other. The Thessalonian’s imitate Paul by proclaiming God’s Word, as well as, seeking to live out its implications in their lives.
And Paul says in v6, he is not the perfect model. He is imitating Jesus.
Hebrews says, Jesus is the founder and the perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame and is (now) seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
This year in 2023, as we soak ourselves in prayer, fully depending on the Holy Spirit, may the Lord will be pleased to use us as His ambassadors. That through our testimonies, we will point others to Christ.
We thank God that many brought friends to our Christmas Service. Every room available in Henderson was used. Your life must have impacted them sufficiently for them to accept your invitation. May I encourage you to continue to follow up with them.
God has placed us here in Henderson. May we prayerfully seek the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to be a credible witness in this estate.
God has given us mission partners in Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. May we prayerfully seek the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to sacrificially support the work of the Gospel there.
May the Lord grant that at each church anniversary, we are able to give thanks that the Holy Spirit has enabled us to be more like the Thessalonian church that Paul was praying for.
The mission of Mt Hermon, the vine work we are called to do is to glorify God by being and making disciples of Christ Jesus. Our encouragement is to model after the Thessalonian church.
And today’s text helps us understand the vital role of the Holy Spirit. Unless the Holy Spirit works in our lives, we will not be able to receive the bible as God’s Word.
Without the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, we will not be able to model after the Thessalonians.
Without the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, we can never be a shining testimony for God.
Prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit I know is not easy. We sometimes are not strong enough to pray. Sometimes we just can’t find the words to pray.
May God’s Word written through Paul be our encouragement:
Rom 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Prayer is our lifeline to the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us according to the will of God.
May prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit be a mark of Mt Hermon.