Ready?

Bible Book: 1 Thessalonians  1 : 1-3
Subject: Christian Living; Rapture; Coming Again of Jesus
Series: Ready to Live - Ready to Leave
Introduction

Someone is always predicting that the world is going to end immediately, and they've been forcasting the soon return of Christ for decades. That happened in a strange way back in 1988 and again at the turn of the new millennium as the world approached the year 2000. We hear the predictions all the time - maybe this year will be the year Christ returns - or perhaps it will be 2020, or 2025. We don't know the times and season that God has in store for us, but we do know that He is coming again. It doesn't matter when it is to take place, we are to be ready at all times - ready to serve if He tarries and ready to leave when He comes.

I am reminded of a story about a ship that was wrecked at sea, and the crew made their escape in the lifeboats. As the small boats sailed toward safety, two sailors suddenly huddled together in terse conversation. Without delay, they both suddenly sprang overboard and swam back to the sinking ship. They reappeared a moment later, one of them carrying a small object in his hands. At great risk, they had jumped back into the sea for the sinking ship and swam back to the lifeboats, which by this time had sailed a considerable distance away from the capsized vessel. The other rescued crew members wondered what could have compelled their crew mates to make such a treacherous journey. When their companions finally made it back to the lifeboats, the object which prompted their trip was revealed: the compass - they retrieved it so they could have directions while in the lifeboats.

Our world today seems to have lost its compass. The only true compass which can guide us into the new era we face, and the possible return of Jesus at any moment, is God’s Word. In the first century AD, the Lord had thrust out into the pagan world a few believers and told them to take the Gospel, share it and watch it turn the world around. This they did. Paul was one such servant of our Savior. I want us to see some principles applied in the first century that are good in any century. Just as true north still pulls the compass needle, so God’s truth has not changed in twenty centuries; nor will God’s truth change at any time! we need God’s Word and God’s Way to direct us.

In many ways, life in the 21st Century is so much easier than life for those in the 1st Century AD. The creature comforts we now enjoy, the advancements in medicine, the democratic form of government, the electronic innovations, and so many other things, make life today so much more convenient than the lives lived by those who came before us. Yet, we must face some problems which have not changed. Death, taxes, the frustrations of life, pain, sorrow, financial worries, sickness, evil, crime, dishonesty, prejudice, and of course, death, are problems that have not gone away. And, of course, the sin problem is at the foundation of all our problems. I want us to look at 1 Thessalonians and the church established there around 50 AD, just a mere 15 years after Christ had died and ascended back into heaven, and learn from them some unchanging principles.

To begin we need to look at the Book of Acts, chapter 17. It is believed by many scholars that Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians are among his very first letters (epistles). Paul traveled to Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. He had with him Silas, Timothy and a medical doctor named Luke. Paul preached in the synagogue at Thessalonica for three straight Saturdays seeking to reveal to his listeners that Jesus Christ is indeed the Christ. A Jewish mob turned on Paul and created havoc in the city. The mob accused Paul and his co-workers of turning the world upside down. What a compliment. The world was already upside down because of sin, thus Paul and his companions had turned the world upside down and by doing so had actually turned it right side up! Paul left Thessalonica and departed, but only after a church had been started because of those that had been saved. Paul went to Corinth and was there for at least 18 months. We know from a extra-biblical historical record that Gallio was proconsul in Achaia in 51 A.D. This means that Paul wrote back to Thessalonica sometime around 50 to 55 A.D. This means that Paul’s letters to Thessalonica preceded the writing down of the Gospel accounts. This means that Paul’s writing to Thessalonica took place within 15 years of the time our Lord died on the cross and rose from the dead. So, when we read this letters, we are reading the infancy of Christianity and the infancy of the New Testament Church. How exciting! How thrilling! To be able to read the very embryonic state of the church is important and a great blessing.

Paul heard word from the people at Thessalonica concerning service they were rendering and the questions they had. So, Paul wrote back to them to encourage them and to answer their questions.

Look now at 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 and the sermon entitled: Ready! Paul opens the letter with a standard salutation, stating who he is. He speaks of grace and peace. Grace and Peace must always appear in that order. You cannot have divine peace without divine grace. Grace is the unmerited love of God in Christ. When a person is saved, that salvation is brought about by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). Once you have grace, peace is yours along with it.

Paul commends to the believers at Thessalonica three great attributes. These three virtues made the church in this pagan city a great lighthouse of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need these three ingredients in our lives, in our homes and in our church right here, right now! In a world that has for the most part forsaken true Christian doctrine and action, we need to know how to change our world the way it was done in the very beginning.

I. The Work Engendered By Faith

Paul commends the people of Thessalonica for the work which came about because of their faith. Works cannot save, but faith without works is dead. Look at John 6:27-29. In Galatians 5:6 Faith expressing itself through love - the word expressing found in the NIV text is from the Greek word which means to work. The only thing that counts is faith that works, and does so in love for the One in whom you believe.

We think of faith as that conviction within the heart concerning that which God has done for us, which God has said to us in His Word, and confidence in who He is. Faith, from a divine perspective, is conviction and confidence but it is accompanied by commitment to believe and do what God is calling us to do. If your faith lacks the latter of the two ingredients, James tells us that your faith is useless, hopeless, helpless - in a word - DEAD! Just think of it, demons tremble in their knowledge of who God is and what He has done, but nothing can prompt them to obey Him and follow His leadership.

Abraham is the Father of the Faith. What justified Abraham? Faith - but not faith without works. Abraham believed God, therefore he took his son to Mount Moriah and offered him up. There God honored his faith and spared his son by providing a substitute in the person of a ram caught in a thicket. Abraham is our example. He did not have a faith rooted in knowledge, but a faith rooted in action. The Thessalonian believers were just like that, and so should we be just like them. Their faith prompted them to action! They believed and, therefore, behaved accordingly.

James does not just tell us that Abraham was justified by faith, but that Rahab was as well. Rahab was a prostitute, but she was saved the same way that Abraham was saved. She had faith in God’s word, but in her case just as in the case of Abraham, her faith resulted in works. She hid the spies who came to Jericho. She acted on her faith. Faith engenders works of obedience and devotion to God in true believers.

Works cannot save, but anyone saved will work! Granted, no one is perfect. Our works, even after we are saved, are not gold without mixture of clay. Sometimes we may feel like we have failed so miserably that God has designs to give up on us. When astronaut John Glenn returned to his home in February of 1962 after commanding Friendship 7, the United States' first manned orbital space flight, he found a living room absolutely filled with letters - letters from adults but especially letters from children. A letter from a young Indiana boy said: "I am in the forth grade and I watched your flight through space. I wish I was with you and some times my mother wishes I was too." Well, you can be sure that boy’s mother did not want to get rid of him, nor does God want to give up on you. What Paul is talking about here is a faith in God that keeps you going, keeps you serving, keeps you working even when you do fail and even when you see others fail.

Our works do nothing to earn us a relationship with God and even our faith is not through our own works. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. In other words, God puts faith in us when we hear and receive His Word! So, do not misunderstand this passage. Paul is not bragging on their works as if they had done something in and of themselves to create a relationship with God. No, their works were a result of faith given to them by God.

My opportunity to work for God is made possible by God giving me His word, producing faith, which in turns makes me capable of working for Christ! Then, this can be reversed. James put it in reverse wording. He said, Faith without works is dead. James would have been proud of these Thessalonians, because they worked as a result of faith! They worked willingly for Christ because of the faith given to them by the Lord and the salvation that had resulted from it.

Sometimes people look at us in the church and wonder what is wrong with us. Look at us. We come week after week, sometimes three times or more a week to worship and work for Christ. We give our gifts, bringing hard earned money and giving it away freely and lovingly to Him and His church. We go on mission trips, teach classes, sing in choirs, keep the preschool children during worship, work with youth, serve on committees, go visiting, etc., etc., etc. We must be doing this to get to heaven, right? Absolutely not! We are doing this to get to heaven but rather we serve God because WE ARE GOING TO HEAVEN. Our works do not produce faith, our works are a result of our faith. If we have no works, it is a sign that we have no faith; if we have no faith, it is a sign that we are not saved! The philosopher once said, "I think, therefore I am." We could well say that the Christian would phrase it, "I am saved, therefore I work for the Lord."

The psychologist Dr. Alfred Adler holds an interesting theory of individual psychology. When dealing with people, he says, "Trust only in movement, life happens at the level of action." In fact, Adler goes on to say, "We are not what we say but we are what we do." What we do, he says, is the real key to our intentions. Trust only in movement. He has discovered what the Word of God teaches. He has discovered what James is saying here. He has observed in human behavior, from the viewpoint of psychology, that the only real revelation of a person is through that person's behavior. So, our faith will produce more than words, it will produce work - faithful work for Christ!

II. The Weariness Endured Through Love

The word labor in this passage speaks of being cut or bearing a load that brings pain. It is believed that the word became associated with endurance because it was connected with cutting or chopping at one’s breast when in distress. In other words, it speaks of bearing up under weariness, sorrow, hardship, and doing so with dignity. There is something which causes a believer to endure when the load is heavy and the way is hard. What is that? It is love. Paul tells us in Corinthians that love bears all things.

The Bible tells us that Jacob loved Rachel and worked seven years for her hand in marriage, yet to him it was as if it were a few days because of his love for her. In fact, he worked another seven years, making fourteen altogether, just to win her hand in marriage. That is what love will do. It will endure the weariness of hardship for that which is loved.

In the Song of Solomon 8:7 we read that the offer of great wealth would be scorned if it required that love be abandoned to receive it. Love is that powerful. Listen to me, love will take you forward in God's service with victory. Love for Christ. Love for your family. Love for your church. Love for your Bible. Love for right. Love will cause you to endure every kind of hardship!

It was not easy for the Jews of Thessalonica to come to Christ. They often gave up family, job, prestige, money, and friendships in order to serve Christ. But love for Jesus caused them to do it! It was not easy for the Greeks who converted to Christ. The cost to them was enormous. But they loved Christ and they loved their fellow believers. They often paid with their lives, but love will do that.

It is not a burdensome thing to love. Love at 1 John 5:3, "This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome."

To love God is to serve Him and to endure hardship for that love. Sometimes this requires of us a new understanding of who we are in Him. We need to know just what He has done for us. We need to be reminded of the cross, of our home waiting in heaven, of His presence with us now and of His power in the Spirit who indwells in us. These reminders ought to stir up our love.

During the worst part of the Great Depression, an elderly lady walked slowly into a life insurance office. She wanted to know if she could stop paying the premiums on her husband's life insurance policy." He's been dead sometime now," she said, "and I don't believe I can afford making the payments any more." The clerk behind the desk looked up her husband's policy and discovered it was worth thousands of dollars. This poor lady was wealthy, but she had no idea. She didn't understand the benefits of what she possessed.

When we know who we are in Him, what He has done and is doing for us, and when we think of what He will do in eternity, it will cause us to love Him and endure certain hardships for Him!

Sometimes you will get weary. You will feel that you are not making a difference. You will see others more appreciated than you are and feel like quitting. Let me remind you that it does not take a ugly, big sin to sidetrack a saint. Just a little self-pity, a little folding of the hands in idleness and you can be shipwrecked.

When an ocean liner sank along the Irish coast many years ago, the maritime world was bewildered, but because the ship's captain was an excellent seaman, no one could figure out what caused the accident. Divers were sent down and one of the items they brought up to examine was the ship's compass. As they opened the compass box, they found the point of a knife blade inside. Apparently, while cleaning the compass, an unthoughtful sailor had broken off the tip of his knife, which had become lodged inside the device. It was just a tiny piece of metal, but it was enough to cause the compass to give a bad reading. As a result, the ship took the wrong course and crashed into the rocky coast.

As Christians, we too can be shipwrecked if we begin to think that little things - little sins - are not harmful. That's why our words, our deeds, and our attitudes must always be kept free of any sin that can disrupt our testimony and damage our relationship with God.

III. The Waiting Enlivened By Hope

There are those in the world who would say that hope is a silly thing, an unrealistic entity. The 19th-century U.S. lawyer Robert Ingersoll called hope the only universal liar, a liar which nonetheless unfortunately seems never to lose its reputation. The Sanskrit religion classifies hope as one of the world's evils. English poet Lord Byron wrote that hope is nothing but the paint [or the makeup] on the face of Existence; the least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of. Yet Scripture makes it clear that hope is one of the cornerstones of living the Christian life.

The word translated patience means to remain under or to bear up under a load. The word endurance is a word which speaks of patient cheerful constancy. It is a enlivened waiting. How can we wait for God to do something for us when life seems to be caving in all around us? Hope! Hope! Hope is from the Greek word "elpsis," which means 'to anticipate with patience and confidence.'

What were the Thessalonian Christians waiting for with hope? Look at verse 10 of chapter 1. Here we see the past mentioned in our faith. We had faith in Christ, were saved and went to work for Him. We love Him, therefore we presently bear whatever burden is necessary to obey and serve Him. Then, we have hope in the future, so we wait with enlivened assurance for what Christ will do! Past, present and future are fulfilled in Him!

Conclusion:

In the 1954 Cotton Bowl between the football teams of Rice University and the University of Alabama, Alabama player Tommy Lewis found himself in an awkward position, to say the least. In the first half, he watched from the sidelines as Rice fullback Dick Meagle carried the ball down the field for a sure touchdown. As Meagle ran right in front of the Alabama bench, Tommy Lewis, overcome with excitement, dashed out onto the field and made the surprise tackle - and then ran to find a place to hide! The next week, Ed Sullivan interviewed this young football player, and asked him, "Tommy, why did you do it?" He replied, "Well, Ed, I guess I just got so full of Alabama that I couldn’t help myself."

Dear people, we need to be so filled with God's presence, power and purpose that we can't help ourselves. We just go out there and do what we must to carry out God's work in this world. In so doing, we will show that we are READY. We are ready, if Jesus tarries. We are ready, when Jesus comes. We are READY. Are you?

Extra Illustration:

Two gas company servicemen, a senior training supervisor and a young trainee were out checking meters in a suburban neighborhood. They parked their truck at the end of the alley and worked their way to the other end. At the last house a woman looking out her kitchen window watched the two men as they checked her gas meter. Finishing the meter check, the senior supervisor challenged his younger co-worker to a foot race down the alley back to the truck to prove that an older guy could outrun a younger one. As they came running up to the truck, they realized the lady from that last house was huffing and puffing right behind them. They stopped immediately and asked her what was wrong. Gasping for breath, she replied, "When I see two gas men running as hard as you two were, I figured I'd better run too, cause something was about to explode!" If you and I run for Jesus, we will find others joining us!