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“Living Life in Light of Jesus’ Return: A Gospel with Power”

1 Thessalonians 1:4-6

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to 1
Thessalonians chapter 1. We’re going to be looking at verses 4 to 6
together this morning as we continue our way through this wonderful
letter of the apostle Paul - the first letter that he wrote; a letter that he
wrote to a congregation that he had planted in the course of just a
matter of weeks. And last week, even as we were looking at the
introduction, we were commenting on one of the themes of this little
letter is what a high view of the Word of God this congregation has.
Paul's going to congratulate them for that in 1 Thessalonians chapter
2 verse 13. He's going to say, “When we came preaching the Word
of God to you, we thank God that you received it for what it is. You
didn't just accept it as the words of men; you understood that we
were preaching the Word of God to you. This wasn't a message we
made up. It was a message that God put in our mouths to give to
you and you accepted it for what it is.”

And even there, I want to pause on this Mother's Day to say
something about that. Last month in Louisville, Kentucky, eight
thousand or so pastors and church leaders gathered at a conference
and during that conference one of the panel sessions was a panel
on Biblical inerrancy. And Dr. Al Mohler led that session and John
Piper, the pastor of BethlehemBaptistChurch in Minneapolis, St.
Paul, was one of the people on the panel. Now you may know Dr.
Piper is a very famous preacher but he's also a New Testament
scholar. He's studied New Testament at the University of Tubingen
in Europe, he taught Biblical Studies at college and has taught at the

“I want to ask each member on the panel why it is that you believe in Biblical inerrancy. And I just want to say to you.” He said. Piper.” You know in 2 Timothy chapter 1 Paul says to Timothy. that is something to be profoundly thankful for. And Paul is saying. “Because my mama told me to. they laughed a little bit.” And he said. “I want to start with you. “First of all.” And on this day we want to rise up and call blessed the mothers in Israel in this congregation that have given us that kind of spiritual legacy. over and over men who are now renowned for their preaching of the Gospel and their teaching of the Word of God here and around the world gave testimony to how their mother's spiritual influence had been formative in their conviction of these Gospel things. Throughout those three days at that pastor's conference last month.” And so we were.” Now that crowd of eight thousand pastors and church leaders did just what you did when he said that. Piper he said. “No. but when he got to Dr. “Dr. Dr.” Paul is pointing Timothy back to his grandmother and to his mother and to the spiritual legacy that had been bequeathed to Timothy from them.graduate level as well. And at this panel. “Timothy. that's a Biblical argument. And he said. I don't know what we were expecting him to say. Piper. mothers in Israel here at First Presbyterian Church. he's a powerful scholar. Mohler began by saying. from your grandmother and mother. you are the most influential people in the world and there is no telling how many millions of people have heard the Gospel . Dr. I'm totally serious. He had learned about the Gospel of salvation. “You know from whom you have learned the faith. why do you believe in Biblical inerrancy?” And he said. On his grandmother and mother's knees he had learned the truth of Scripture.

not only then but really throughout all her life. very critical of Christianity. And she was his major theological conversation partner. his book. Well Machen went to Europe as well to study and he went into the circles of German theological liberalism in the early 1900's and even was taught by the famous German liberal. Gresham Machen. He was from southern Presbyterian roots.because of the mothers that ministered to those men who were leading in that conference last month. When I was at the University of Edinburgh starting out as a doctoral student. When he wrote his famous defense of the doctrine of the virgin birth. I can give testimony to that myself. And he went through a wrestling with the Word of God and during that time he was in correspondence with his godly mother who continued to exhort him to hold fast to the view of the Scriptures that he had been taught since he was a little boy. he later founded Westminster Theological Seminary. But in God's kindness to me while I was reading that material I was reading the biography of J. Gresham Machen was one of the great Presbyterian stalwarts of the early 20th century. It was part of a project that I had to do while I was there and I've got to tell you. He was a professor at Princeton. he dedicated it to his mother. The Virgin Birth of Christ. Georgia. And I had that same experience because my mother was my conversation partner during those times and I would have feared for my life had I reverted from the sound doctrine of the Word of God that she had taught me from the time that I was a child. Herrmann. I was reading the works of a man who did not believe in the Scriptures and was very. His family was out of First Presbyterian Church in Macon. though he had grown up in Baltimore and went to Johns HopkinsUniversity. it was about the six months of like drinking poison. Now J. And it was a soul-killing time. So I want to .

first of all. Now that's a sentence that maybe you have never thought of all those parts going together. . It's not just words. he's going to point Timothy to the remembrance of where he heard the Word of God from first. and we ought to thank God as well. Your servants listen. Now why is Paul saying this? He's saying this. it comes with power. Paul draws attention to how the Gospel is powerful. In verse 4 I want you to see how Paul shows us that the doctrine of election is vital to helping us understand the love of God. In verse 5. Now as we look at this passage today and as we read verses 4 to 6. This whole section is a portion of the letter in which he's thanking God for the Thessalonians but he's thanking God for these things also as an encouragement to them and the reality of their faith and to prepare them for an exhortation that he's about to give them. So let's pray before we read God's Word. Heavenly Father. I want you to be on the lookout for three things. And he explains how in verse 5. what the Holy Spirit does in you as you receive the Gospel. amen. Lord. to thank God. this is Your Word. And then in verse 6 he talks about the evidences of God's grace in you. So speak. We ask it in Jesus' name.pause and I want us to thank God for godly mothers and grandmothers who are mothers in Israel who have taught us to respect the Word of God and to hear the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The doctrine of election is vital for us understanding and experiencing the love of God. You’ll see that in verse 4. We need every word of it because all Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable for reproof and correction and training in righteousness that the man and women of God might be equipped for every good work. Paul's going to congratulate the Thessalonians for that kind of attitude to the Word of God.

he pauses to thank God for things that he has seen God doing in the lives of the Thessalonians. as he addresses them.” Paul draws their attention to the truth that God has chosen them. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts. is “Brothers loved by God. And he does this precisely to prepare them for the exhortation that he is going to give them. He encourages them and then challenges them. brothers loved by God. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. we know that He has chosen you. And before he exhorts them. In this book he puts those two things together — encouragement and exhortation. with the joy of the Holy Spirit…” Amen. THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION HELPS US UNDERSTAND THE LOVE OF GOD And in this passage I want to draw your attention to three of them. to the fact that God . that He has chosen you. to the exhortations. because our Gospel came to you not only in word. but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. before he calls them to live light in light of Jesus’ return. before he calls them to faithfulness. is to point them to the very obvious and objective encouragements that God has done through the ministry of the Word in their midst. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord. and thus ends this reading of God's holy. The first thing that he says. for you received the word in much affliction.This is God's Word. The way he is preparing the Thessalonians to hear and to respond affirmatively to the challenges. before he challenges them. Paul loves this congregation and he wants to encourage them and challenge them. and inerrant Word. Hear it: “For we know. inspired.

a lot of people reject. He predestined us to the adoption as sons. in verse 4. therefore we love Him. There are people who are really confused by and struggle with the doctrine of election. It's very similar to John. a lot of people are confused by — even in a Presbyterian church.” There's Paul saying God's choosing. predestining love happened before the foundation of the world and it was designed to bring us into His family. before the foundation of this world. Paul is making it clear that our experience of the love of God is rooted in an understanding that His love is an electing love. One of the ways that the Bible tells us our experience of God's love for us is rooted and grounded is in understanding election. our love for God.has chosen them. Remember what John says? “We love because He first loved us. . even in a conservative Presbyterian church where we like The Westminster Confession of Faith. It's very simple. God's love is from eternity and we noted last week how often Paul pulls together two ideas — God's love and God's choosing — the doctrine of the love of God and the doctrine of election. but understand this. He links those ideas together constantly. Now I understand that that is a doctrine that a lot of people struggle with. flows from — what? His prior love. So our being a part of His family is the result of His predestining love. And He set His love on us before we existed. It is not that God loves us because we first loved Him. Paul is saying here to the Thessalonians the reason they love God is because God set His love on them from before the foundation of the world. He does it in Ephesians 1 verses 4 and 5. it is that we love because He first loved us. He loved us first. He roots their understanding of their relationship to God in what we call the doctrine of election.” That is. doesn't it? “In love. our love for one another.

godly Christians. It's a thanksgiving to God and it's an encouragement to them that God's electing love had been set on them from before the foundation of the world and that's meant to be a comfort. And one of the divine truths of Scripture is how much time God gives attention to this issue of His people knowing how much He loves them. because of what I've done there's just no way He could love me. THE GOSPEL COMES IN THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT And then Paul says something else in verse 5. “I just want you to know. Even though I trust Him. It's meant to strengthen them. Sometimes you may .” Now the Gospel has to come in words you understand. Sometimes we hear people talk about sharing the Gospel wordlessly. that you are loved by God and you are loved by God in a way that began before you existed. for a whole variety of reasons struggle with believing the doctrine of God's love. many wonderful Christians that I meet. even though I believe the Gospel. “Our Gospel came to you not only in word. It can't be done because the Gospel is an announcement about something that God has done. Before the foundation of this world you were chosen by God. You just think. It's not about something that we do. Look at what he says in those words. but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.Many Christians that I meet. “There is no way that God could love me because of what I did.” It may be that human relationships have deeply impacted your ability to feel and to receive love. before he even gets out of the block in his exhortation to the Thessalonians. he's pausing to say. brothers. to know that you are loved. an encouragement. It may be it may be that there is some sin in the past or in the present which has undermined your confidence and your assurance of His love. And here Paul is.” And so there's the first thing that Paul points them to.

it's something that God did. Or we want to show them and prepare them to hear the Word of God by the way that we love them.” In other words. has given His only Son. “I thank God. “When the Gospel came to you. You were saved out of darkness and into God's marvelous light. it came with power and the Holy Spirit and with your full conviction or assurance of its truth. Thessalonians.the announcement that God. Jesus is the Gospel. Now it is of course true that we want to practice what we preach.” Paul is pointing to the fact that the Word of God is powerful and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and it's not unlike what he will later write in the first chapter of the book of Romans. He said. that we're not saying one thing and living another way. I want to thank God” .hear Christian leaders say things like. Those are all good things but you can't share the Gospel wordlessly. While we were yet in our sin and ungodliness. to die in the place of sinners. Thessalonians. It is of course true that we want to demonstrate the results and the effects of the Gospel in our lives so that people understand that we're not hypocrites. in His love.that's what he's doing here. You’re not the Gospel. And so the only way that that Gospel can be conveyed is with words because we're having to tell about what God has done. Remember what he says there? “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” . enemies. God is the Gospel. But here's Paul emphasis in this passage. in order that the dominion of sin might be . The Gospel is not something we do.” You can't be the Gospel. Paul is saying. saving power. that when the Word of God came it came with converting. he's thanking God — “I want to thank you that it didn't just come in words. in order that we might be forgiven. The work of Christ on the cross is the Gospel. the Lord Jesus Christ. “Be the Gospel.

Acts . It changed lives. into His family. Christ died for the ungodly.broken in our lives. This life makes sense. that announcement came with power to the Thessalonians so that Thessalonians who were struggling with guilt realized that in the Gospel the struggle of their guilt was answered. that from creation to fall to redemption to consummation God is working His purpose out and He's building a people for Himself — men and women and boys and girls from every tribe. tongue. And when they heard the Gospel preached.” And those Thessalonians who were struggling with meaning found an answer in the Gospel. there's a meaning in this life. “Since by man came death.” And the Gospel came with power. And there's a purpose. In fact. by man came also the resurrection of the dead. And then there's this interesting phrase. Turn back with me in your Bibles to Luke. They were fully on board with what Paul was preaching. in order that we might be accepted back into His family and dwell with Him forever. I want to take you to Luke. the Holy Spirit opened their eyes and the Gospel came with power. They understood that this world makes sense. And those Thessalonians that were struggling with a sense of the love of God heard in the Gospel the truth that “God demonstrates His love in that while we were yet sinners. That's not conviction of sin. they had full conviction.” “The Gospel came to you in the Holy Spirit. people. And Thessalonians that were struggling with the fear of death realized that in the Gospel their fear of death was answered because. and nation He's bringing into His body.” Let's pause to think about that for just a second because it's so glorious and important. “and in the Holy Spirit. People believed it and they were transformed. that's full assurance of the truth and authority and power of God's Word.

everyone of you. and look at verse 8. We just finished three years in Luke and I know some of you are thinking. just real quick. In Luke 24 verse 49. Acts chapter 1. Luke is picking right up where he left off in the Gospel and telling you about the conversation that Jesus had with His disciples before they ascend and He says in Acts chapter 1 verse 8. the first question you’re asking is. right before Jesus ascends into heaven. turn forward with me to the sequel. for the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are afar off.” Now just hold that thought — “the promise of My Father. Now this is the same scene.” “I will send the promise of My .1. everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself. the “men of Israel” he calls them in Acts 2. they cry out. or the people that are gathered there. After Peter has preached at Pentecost and the people of God have cried out. “I am going to send the promise of My Father…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” So just hold those two thoughts together.’” Did you hear that phrase? “You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for the promise is for you. in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Now turn forward one page to Acts chapter 2. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. not back there again. “Peter said to them. “What is that? What is the promise of your Father?” Okay.” If you’re like me. and Galatians 3. it's just one sentence I want you to see. It's the very last chapter of the gospel of Luke. Turn to Luke 24:49. please!” But no. “Okay Peter. Acts 2. What should we do?” What does Peter say? Look at verse 38. ‘Repent and be baptized. He says this to His disciples: “I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. “Oh no. understand. we believe everything you say! We are guilty of our sin but we don't know what to do.

It's Luke's way of showing you that Jesus’ words are being fulfilled over and over and over again. notice how. And Paul's saying to the Thessalonians. what does Luke tell us? The Holy Spirit comes.” What promise? “The promise of My Father that I will send the Holy Spirit.” Now three things are all together in verse 14 — the promise.” Now just quickly. It's just beautiful to see. the Holy Spirit comes. and God's blessing to Abraham. In Galatians 3:13 Paul says this — “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written. we become recipients — all of us. Over and over that happens throughout the book of Acts. wherever the Gospel goes. “I will send the promise of My Father. ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ . the Spirit.Father” — Luke 24:49. Ah-ha! “The promise of My Father is the sending of the Holy Spirit. throughout the book of Acts.so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles. Where the Gospel goes and it is accepted. Acts 2:38 — “You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for the promise is for you. Turn with me to Galatians 3:13. “You will receive the Holy Spirit” — Acts 1:8. He comes to convert and He comes to sanctify and He manifests Himself. Now one more component.” What is that promise? It is the Holy Spirit. so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” And what is the sending of the Holy Spirit? It is the fulfillment of God's blessing to Abraham in the covenant of grace all the way back in Genesis 12and 15 and 17! And Luke is telling us that when the Gospel comes and the Holy Spirit changes our hearts and we receive it. “I saw that happen when I preached . Jews and Gentiles — of what? The blessing that God promised to give to Abraham thousands of years ago.

” You know there are some people that teach that — “If you just become a Christian. and if you have affliction it's because you don't have enough faith. JOY IN AFFLICTION: AN EVIDENCE OF GRACE And how was that manifested? Well. Paul said. the second half of verse 6. In much outward tribulation and opposition and even persecution. The Holy Spirit opened your eyes to see that the Gospel was true. You believed and you received the promise that God had made to Abraham thousands of years ago — the promised Holy Spirit. it was like a neon sign flashing. when the Holy Spirit comes with power it does not mean no affliction. “Here's the thing I saw the Holy Spirit most dramatically do in you . there was joy in the Holy Spirit in you and it said to me.” In other words.” At the very outset. there is joy!” Wouldn't that be a great motto for life? Look at verse 6. the big thing that he wants to draw attention to is this — “You received the Word in much affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit. I saw it happen. Were you expecting roses?” Christ was crowned with thorns. that's our third point. . “No. “If you become a Christian no more affliction. “Christ was crowned with thorns.” In other words. Were you expecting roses? You see. Paul says. ‘The Holy Spirit has changed these people!’ because even though they’re experiencing affliction. no more affliction. you live the way we live. “You started to live our lives like we live — you believe the things we believe.in much affliction. you have the same priorities we have. Paul does not say. at the very outset of the Christian ministry. What it means is — affliction with joy!” Martin Luther once said.the Word of God.” But isn't it interesting. you had joy. Paul is saying. 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 6 — “You became imitators of us and of the Lord. “In much affliction — joy!” Isn't it interesting. Look at verse 6.

but joy because of the Holy Spirit even in those afflictions. Everybody in this life has afflictions. I had just received from him fifteen minutes of more encouragement than I can ever remember. Notice what he calls it — “the joy of the Holy Spirit. not everybody has joy. And I just said to him. He looked into the hearts and lives of the Thessalonians . “Friend. the brother of one of our ruling elders was diagnosed with an aggressive. because in your afflictions you continued to display an evident.” Paul will use that provocative language elsewhere — “We were filling up that which was lacking in Christ's afflictions” and so are you. I know there are a lot of afflictions here today of all manner of variety.” And what he had done is. And that's what Paul is saying. I want you to remember every word you just said to me because I'm calling you up. inoperable cancer. but the way that we testify to the power of the Gospel is our joy in those afflictions . when I get that diagnosis one day. “This made it so evident to me that you had really been converted. that God had really come in power with the Gospel.in the midst of all their afflictions. he had articulated for me joy in the Holy Spirit.not because of those afflictions — we're not masochists. And this is a specific kind of joy. we followed Jesus Christ in that we have our own afflictions. “That's . And I called up our elder just to check on him and fifteen minutes after he picked up the phone. there was an inextinguishable joy that only the Holy Spirit could have put there.” This is the kind of joy that only the Holy Spirit can give you. And Paul says. Afflictions ought to be the last thing that surprises us. He's a young man and he's only going to be with us for weeks. “We apostles. in the midst of losing a brother he loves. manifest joy that could only have come from the Holy Ghost.Paul's saying.” Just a few days ago. Paul said.

even if our world has been turned inside out and upside down.” All of these things Paul is giving thanks to God for. in Jesus' name. Well let's sing and let's take our bulletins in hand and sing of the power of the cross. It's a Gospel joy and we can only have it if we trust in Jesus Christ. inexpressible and full of glory and it comes from the Holy Spirit. .one of the reasons Thessalonians that I can say unshakably that you are chosen of God. Amen. Lord. It's a Holy Spirit joy. By Your Spirit. Let's pray. all of these things he is giving encouragement with in order that he could exhort the Thessalonians and you and me to live life in light of Jesus’ return. thank You. Heavenly Father. because even in your afflictions you have joy. thank You. Receive His blessing. Our God supplies all our needs. It's applied by the work of the Spirit in us. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all both now and forevermore. give us this joy. so we ask. give us this joy.