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“Living Life in Light of Jesus’ Return: A Turn to God from

Idols”

1 Thessalonians 1:7-10

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 7 to 10
today but I want to pick up reading in verse 6 so that we're not
picking up in the middle of a sentence. And I also want us to connect
this passage with the passage we studied last Lord's Day. We
looked at verses 4 to 6 in which Paul is giving thanks to God and
he's giving encouragement to the Thessalonians for what he sees
God doing in their midst. And he's continuing that thought today. In
fact, he's specifying one of the things that he is thankful for.

You will remember last week when we talked about verse 6 we
noted that Paul thanked God and commended the Thessalonians
that they had imitated him, that they had imitated their Lord,
especially in receiving the Word even through suffering, and they’d
done it with joy. Well, he picks up on that thought of their imitation
and verses 7 and 8 he shows us, he describes to us, the change that
the Gospel had worked in them and it's a change that had led them
to having a reputation amongst the other Christians and even the
larger community in Macedonia and Achaia and some of the other
places where Paul was going to preach. And he's thanking God for
that. They had a reputation that had preceded them and it was a
good reputation. And Paul would start to tell people about it and the
people would say, “We've already heard about it.” And Paul,
especially in verses 7 and 8 and a little bit in verse 9, will describe

This isn't just Paul writing two thousand years ago. especially in the final clause there in verse 9.that reputation. but I hope you’ll allow me to go back and pull just a couple of things out of verse 6 just for the flow of Paul's thought. for you received the word in much affliction. And then finally he describes how they are living. We live not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. this description of conversion. He gives a sentence that's one of the best descriptions of conversion that you’ll find in all of the New Testament. What happens when conversion happens in a person's life? Well he describes it in verse 9. O God. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Let's pray before we read God's Word. Then also in verse 9 he will describe conversion. it's Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit writing the Word of God to us. this is Your Word. we’ll focus on verses 7 and 10. Open our eyes by the Spirit to understand it and to believe and to embrace it. So as we read through this passage. so help us to receive it that way. This is the Word of God beginning in verse 6: “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord. we’ll read from verses 6 all the way to 10. You’ll see that in verse 10. help us. We’ll look at that. So be on the lookout for that. the very Word of God. But be on the lookout for this description of the change that God has worked in them. . Lord. so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. amen. not to receive this Word as merely the words of men but for what it is. and then this description of how they are living. with the joy of the Holy Spirit. So like the Thessalonians of old. the change that God had worked in them by the Holy Spirit that people had heard about.

She became pregnant out of wedlock with the man who became her husband. a group of about eight thousand pastors and church leaders met in Louisville.” Amen. whom He raised from the dead. they were having a drug party at their house with their infant child present.” and one of our concerns was to make sure that even those who preach the Gospel don't fall into the trap of underestimating its power. and to wait for His Son from heaven. . A couple of months ago. One of the ones that struck me most was a young pastor's wife who.For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia. were about to take up the charge in a small church in Indiana. Together for the Gospel. She grew up in Arkansas and she lived a life of promiscuity and alcohol and drug abuse. and inerrant Word. and thus ends this reading of God's holy. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts. The theme was “The Underestimated Gospel. many of the sessions were opened with testimonies of Christians who had been dramatically converted and their lives had been dramatically changed by the power of the Gospel. but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere. Kentucky at a gathering called. To illustrate that. And now they’re a Baptist pastor and Baptist pastor's wife. Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. along with her husband. so that we need not say anything. The Gospel has the power to change lives. That's the kind of life they were living. They were involved in the distribution of drugs and in fact on one occasion. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you. inspired. And a Christian woman shared the Gospel with her and got her to church and she came to faith in Christ and he came to faith in Christ and their lives were dramatically changed. and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.

Paul. I want you to see the life that converted believers in the church live in light of the Gospel. Secondly. ‘Let me tell you the Gospel has power. I want you to see three things in this passage. you understand. we've heard!” And Paul is thanking God for that and he's commending and encouraging the Thessalonians with that and in the course of doing that. even when I'm in other places. And Paul's talking about that kind of power here. “I thank God that I've seen the power of the Gospel at work in your lives. Let me give you an illustration.’” So before he can even get the words out of his mouth people are already saying. Paul is saying to the Thessalonians. ‘Oh no. And then third. we've already heard about that. And we said there's the power of the Gospel at work in the lives of people whose lives were a mess — dramatically changed and transformed. Paul says in Romans 10. But go ahead and dip back into verse 6 because what Paul is going to say here — this is a little sentence but it's big with truth — what Paul is going to say here in verses 7 and 8 is that the church makes the Gospel visible. We've heard about how the Gospel has changed their lives.” The Gospel has to be . And it's not just me. when I'm in Achaia. I’ll get ready to tell people.ministering to a congregation of Bible-believing Christians in Indiana. word has gotten out! When I'm in Macedonia. The Gospel is made visible in the church. There's this church in Thessalonica’ and people will say. “Faith comes by hearing. Now the Gospel we stressed last week comes by hearing. “Oh. I want you to see how the Gospel is made visible in the church. THE CHURCH MAKES THE GOSPEL VISIBLE So the first thing I want you to see you’ll see especially in verses 7 and 8. We've heard about what's happening among those people. I want you to see what conversion entails. First of all.

That's one of the great encouragements of life to be around people who so manifest the reality of the Gospel that it motivates us to be more Christ-like. we don't do the Gospel.shared with words. That's why you have to use words to share the Gospel. And he says five or six things. You became imitators of us.” he says in verse 6. in how it transforms us and how it changes us. the power of the Gospel in what it does. “First of all. you say. the glorious reality created by the Holy Spirit in the Gospel is manifested to the watching world. When I grow up I want to be a Christian like him. And in that sense. I want to be a Christian like that. In the church.a dramatic change results from what the Gospel says and brings. “When I grow up. “here's one way that the Gospel was manifested. you can't do it.” he said. It's about what God does and so you have to speak it. Have you ever been around a Christian and you say. what they’re talking about has validity and reality. You can't share the Gospel wordlessly because the Gospel is an announcement. After Paul and his church . And Paul catalogues how that happened amongst the Thessalonians. It has an impact . maybe you don't even say it out loud but you do say it to yourself. In the congregation.” Have you ever been around a Christian like that? I hope you have. I want to be a Christian like her. is made visible to others. and that way they know these people aren't just talking. Look back at verse 6. It's not something that we do. But the Gospel does not merely come in words. We didn't do the Gospel. the church makes the Gospel visible. You became imitators of us. And Paul says that's exactly what happened with the Thessalonians. God did the Gospel and we have to tell other people about what God did. it comes in power and it results in transformed lives. And so in the church we are to see the glorious effect of the Gospel at work in people's lives.

I want to be like them. Or. The Gospel is about what Jesus has done for us that we could not do and would not do for ourselves. yet He became poor for your sakes that You might become rich in Him. but not only that. “Though He was rich. throughout the New Testament. so often Paul and the other writers of the New Testament encourage us to follow Jesus’ example. Look at verse 6. I want my life to look like their lives look. Thessalonians. of the Lord. So for instance he will say to the Philippians in Philippians chapter 2 verse 5.” They became imitators of Paul. Paul. And Paul's saying. You not only imitated us. “Jesus has set a good example — be good.” If that's the Gospel we're all in trouble. what He's done for us on the cross. Paul will tell the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians chapter 8 verse 9.planting team came in — they were only there for three weeks — suddenly people who had been pagans are saying. The Gospel is not.” And he’ll say that in order to encourage the Corinthians to be generous in their giving the way that Jesus had been generous in giving Himself. “I want to live like that. “You did that.” . But having declared the glorious truth of Jesus and His person and work.” You know. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. is constantly calling on Christians to follow after Jesus’ example. “You became imitators of us and of the Lord. you sought to imitate Jesus.” So in that passage he's encouraging the Philippians not to be selfish and prideful but to be humble and giving like Jesus. So over and over in the New Testament you will see Paul and other writers pointing to Jesus and encouraging believers to follow specific aspects of His behavior as their example. Now Jesus is not just an example to us.

There were people that did not appreciate what it was that they were now believing. despising the shame. “You believed anyway. You remember the picture of Paul and Silas in the Philippians jail? They've been beaten to a pulp and they’re awaiting arraignment and what are they doing at midnight? They are singing hymns! Is that not a picture of trusting God through affliction with joy? And who's that like? It's like Jesus. It's very interesting. We’re still in verse 6. because they believed the Gospel they had a lot of trouble for it. “You received the Word even through affliction but you did it with joy. the very first verses? That “our Lord Jesus Christ endured the cross. and you’re imitating your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in that way too. What does the author of Hebrews say in Hebrews 12. And Paul said. These are pagans. You didn't believe the Gospel because it meant Easy Street for you.” which is so like Paul and it's so like Jesus. These are polytheistic idolaters and the Romans had no problem with you adding another god to your personal pantheon. In other words.” And Paul's saying.” . And they had a lot of affliction. that even in your trials. for the joy set before Him. look what else he says.” But he says something else as well. “They received the Word even through affliction. But when you started to say that all the other gods were false and only this God that you’re now worshiping is true. He says. You believed the Gospel even though affliction.And then third. And that's what happened to these Thessalonians.” Even though becoming Christians cost them dearly — they were persecuted and afflicted because they received the Word. This is the fourth thing he says. having received that from the apostle Paul. you got in trouble. “You all are imitating us. even in your afflictions there is joy.

“We want to be like him. Paul. he's saying that. So they’re sitting on the edge of their seat when I'm preaching the Gospel because they know the Word that I'm preaching has resulted in a dramatic transformation in you.” And then. “We want to be like him.’” And what Paul is saying is that it's opened the door for fruitful Gospel witness because now.And then he goes on to say.” So here's what I want to ask you. Look at verse 7 — “So that you became an example.” And then other Christians see them and they say. look at what Paul says. They know that the Gospel comes with power. “We want to be like them!” Isn't that interesting? They see Paul and they say. So other Christians now are saying. “When I go out. There are lots of people who know how you've been changed by the Gospel. First Presbyterian Church — I wonder what they would say out there about what's going on in here. and here's the fifth thing.” They went from being imitators to being examples. sixth. people know that the Gospel comes with power.” Paul's not saying that he doesn't need to preach the Gospel anymore because they've been changed.” So they imitated Paul and Jesus and word got out about that . How is the Gospel dramatically changing us? Paul's commending and encouraging the Thessalonians and he's thanking God for the change that has been manifested. verse 8 — “For not only has the Word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia. “We want to imitate them. Your reputation has gone forth.and guess what happened? Other Christians started saying. “I can hardly go anywhere in this region and tell your story without someone interrupting me and saying. “We want to be like them. ‘I've already heard about that. How's the Gospel changing us? . but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere so that we need not say anything.” They hear about Jesus and they say.

C. You've got four or five thousand people in your town. This man pastors — I say a small church. who's the pastor at the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington. Mark Dever. but here's what I want you to understand. And so Mark asked that guy. How's that showing for us? A few years ago. And in the course of the conversation the man said to Mark. “I don't know what you’re talking about. when he says. “We've had two hundred baptisms at the church in this last year. In the church.Paul's describing here how the church makes the Gospel visible.” Now understand this is a Baptist church..” he says. “Boy. it's probably the largest church in his community but he pastors in a small town — four or five thousand people. the Lord's doing something in that church! People's lives are being changed!” Well look. was talking with the pastor of a small church here in the south. “We've had four hundred baptisms.” And Mark says. We could go all sorts of directions with that. our friend. “Wait a second. That's supposed to mean that people's lives have been changed and their coming to faith in Jesus Christ and that there's a transformation there. “You must have set your town on it's ear!” And the brother says back to him. Presbyterians believe in conversion too and we believe in lives being changed. D. it means adult baptisms by profession of faith. Mark was expecting that if those two hundred baptisms represented conversions to Christ in a town of four or five thousand. the power of the Gospel is manifested in the transformation that it brings about in people's lives. You’re telling me that two hundred people have been converted to the Lord and not everybody is talking about it?” It was a very interesting conversation. so I wonder . It doesn't mean baptisms like this. there are going to be a few people who hear about that and they’re going to be saying.

Well here's one of them — “You turned from idolatry to serve the living and true God. In fact. we need to ask why not.what they’d say about us out there? What's the Lord up to in that congregation? How's the Gospel being made visible in that congregation? Now I understand that ultimately we can't project or perception or our reputation to the community. “Those people are a bunch of nuts!” I'm sure we would have found those. So there is images like “from darkness to light” from “death to life” from “being dead to being born anew” or “from above” or “born again. You’ll see this especially in verse 9. Do we see the Gospel being manifested in changed lives. So the question I'm asking you is not ultimately about public relations or marketing. I love how Paul describes conversion here.” Isn't that a glorious description of conversion? . I'm sure that if we went to Thessalonica we would have met some people in Thessalonica who would have looked over at that group of Thessalonians Christians and said. THE ESSENCE OF CONVERSION IS TURNING FROM IDOLATRY TO TRUE WORSHIP Here's the second thing I want you to see.” Now the New Testament has all sorts of ways that it summarizes what conversion is.” There’re all these summaries and pictures of what conversion involves. and if we don't. It can talk about our going from death to life. Think about Ephesians 1. “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.” You get the same kind of language when Jesus is talking to Nicodemus in John chapter 3. It's about the perception of the reality of what's going on here. “You were dead in your trespasses and sins but God made you alive together in Christ.

this phrase probably indicates that most of this congregation was Gentile. even if I listed twelve. And I wonder if this could be said of us. you might come away from that saying.” Would they say that about us? Now I thought about listing some of those idols. list six of them or nine of them or twelve of them that we might be going after without even realizing that we're going after. They’re not just following like lemmings over the cliff. “Something's going on at First Presbyterian Church because they've turned from their idols to serve the living and the true God. . But idol worship is not restricted to people who are pagan polytheists. They've turned from those idols to serve the living and the true God. as it were. They were idol worshipers. none of those twelve were mine so maybe I don't have a problem with idolatry. But I figured if I did that. It's a foundational sin that all of us fight against. the culture around them in Jackson. going after the things that everybody else is going after. The first one is this: What do you think about? Derek used to ask this question to us in this way: What do you think about when you’re not thinking about anything else? And what I mean by that is. It is a fundamental sin. these people really were pagan idolaters. that we have turned from our idols to serve the living and true God? Would that be one thing that people could say about us? You know. Mississippi. They weren't idol worshipers in Paul's day. you know.” So I think what I'm going to do instead is ask you three questions you can ask yourself to identify what your idols are because we all have them. And they turned from those idols to the living and the true God. Idolatry is a universal and perennial sin. You wouldn't have said this about a Jewish congregation. But these pagan Gentile Thessalonians were. of course. And here are my three questions. “Whew.Now in this context. you know. All of us struggle with idolatry. and by the way.

it gives you satisfaction. but time and resources and energy. And so if you’ll ask that question you’ll probably be able to identify some of your . about some desire. and I thought that was crazy. Here's a second question: How do you spend your time. You know. you’re wishing. It gives you pleasure. no matter how much we have. you’re going to see the things that you really care about. and your energy? How do you spend your time. your resources. You know twenty years ago I can remember sociologists saying that a day is going to come when people value time. What do you think about in those moments? It might be right before you fall asleep at night. your resources. And how you use those things indicates what you really value because typically you spend your time and your resources and your energy on the things that you care about the most. Maybe it's because I'm older. and your energy? Because when you look at those three things and you ask that question. what is that thing that you think about that gives you hope and delight? When you begin to identify that thing or those things. What do you think about? What are the things in those quiet moments when you’re away from the press of the immediate demand and the fight of the day. their time. you’re trying to escape from the problems of the day and in your mind you’re dreaming. about someone.in those moments when you are frustrated and disappointed by something and you seek escape in your thoughts. more than they value money. typically what you’re thinking about is designed to give you relief from whatever your frustration and your disappointment is. you’re fantasying about something. maybe it's because of the rush of the culture that we're in. We have a finite amount of those. those are precious things. it gives you security. And I'm really understanding that more and more now. you’re coming close to identifying your idols.

You know. An idol is anything. but you are disappointed by it. Now we may not have statues in our homes or in our cars or in our purses to put away like pagan . anything in which we think we can get ultimate security and satisfaction apart from God. It may have to do with your children or your parents. And you are crushingly disappointed by it. There's going to be something that you think that you need to have or something that you desperately want to have that you don't have and you’re disappointed by it.idols. or from better than God. but it should mean. that we have turned from our idols to serve the living and true God. It doesn't mean that our battle with idolatry ends. when people around looked at the Thessalonian Christians they could tell. if you answer that question honestly of yourself you’re going to find an idol. you may well be able to identify your idols. It may have to do with your vocation. It may be a situation that you have in your life that you don't want. it should mean that people can tell that we are worshipers of God ultimately rather than worshipers of anything else. You really believe that God alone is to be worshiped and He is the source of your security and satisfaction. “You’re no longer idol worshipers. It may have to do with your family life. What do I spend my time on? What do I spend my money on? What do I spend my energy on? And then third. of every Christian. but every — it is true of every converted believer. It may be a situation that you do not have in your life that you do want. We are setting that up as our ultimate source of satisfaction and security and we all struggle with that idolatry. ask yourself the question: What disappoints me? What are my disappointments? What absolutely crushes me with disappointment? And chances are. Those are three ways to identify your idols. And if you’ll think about it for a while.

Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. Now see if you can remember the last verse that Josh read from Revelation 6. Listen to the language that he used. “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. yet they .” verse 10. those Christians at First Presbyterian Church Jackson.” Did you hear what he said? One of the ways that people saw that the Thessalonians’ lives had been changed by the Gospel is that they were now living life in light of Jesus’ return. and thus. “Yep. Paul makes it clear that the Thessalonians were living life in light of Jesus’ return. This does not mean that they were pie in the sky by and by. what is the world going to face? Revelation 6 says. And look at what it says that Jesus was going to do when He came. though they look for a day when God is going to come and set everything right and punish every sin and bring about a just judgment of all wickedness.idolaters but we've all got idols to put away. “and to wait for His Son from heaven whom He raised from the dead. It's very interesting. “They turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. What it means is that their life now was changed because of their confident expectation that Jesus is going to come again. they've turned from idols to serve the living and the true God”? LIVING LIFE IN LIGHT OF JESUS’ RETURN Third. “The wrath of the Lamb. So would people look and say. They were waiting expectantly for the return of the Lord. No peeking yet! And then listen to this phrase in 1 Thessalonians 1 verse 10.” Now what was the last verse that Josh read? When Jesus comes.” But these Thessalonians are confident that they will not face the wrath of the Lamb because Jesus has delivered them from the wrath of the Lamb. How? By bearing that wrath for them. in this passage.

amen. We ask this in Jesus' name. Heavenly Father. One of the great ways that we bear witness to the watching world that the Gospel is true is in the way that the Gospel transforms our lives and sets us free from idolatry to serve the living and true God. Lord. And they long for Jesus to return because they know that He will deliver them in that day and they live their lives in that light. It is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. God is doing something there. we want to be freed from idolatry to serve You because You’re the only living and true God and we want people around us. our colleagues at work. We ask.are not going to face that wrath because Jesus has died for them. So even as Paul encourages the Thessalonians and thanks God for them. it's changed their worship.” Let's pray. our neighbors. we thank You for the Gospel. we're learning something that ought to be our aspiration. to know that the Gospel has changed us so that they’re saying. O Lord. It hugely encourages me when I see people in the congregation for whom the Gospel has made an enormous difference in the way that you live. it's changed their desires. our friends. “Something's going on over there among the saints at First Presbyterian Church. . Would people say that about us? About you? About me? It would kill me if you did not think that the Gospel made a difference in the way that I lived. It's changed their ambitions. that You would be at work in us in such a way as to change us and that that would make the Gospel visible in our congregation in such a way that other Christians and even unbelievers would know that the Gospel is not merely words but it comes with power. our loved ones. it's changed their behaviors.

” Receive now the Lord's blessing. and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. number 558. Grace. Let's sing from our hymnals. .Psalm 1 is about a person whose life has been changed by God and who now loves the Word. It's a version of Psalm 1. “That Man is Blest Who Fearing God. mercy.