You are on page 1of 16

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE ESSENCE OF CONVERSION IS TURNING FROM IDOLATRY TO TRUE WORSHIP Here's the second thing I want you to see.” There’re all these summaries and pictures of what conversion involves. In fact. 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.” Now the New Testament has all sorts of ways that it summarizes what conversion is. I love how Paul describes conversion here. Think about Ephesians 1. So the question I'm asking you is not ultimately about public relations or marketing. You’ll see this especially in verse 9. we need to ask why not. Do we see the Gospel being manifested in changed lives. and if we don't.” Isn't that a glorious description of conversion? . Well here's one of them — “You turned from idolatry to serve the living and true God. “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. 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 get the same kind of language when Jesus is talking to Nicodemus in John chapter 3.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. It can talk about our going from death to life. “Those people are a bunch of nuts!” I'm sure we would have found those. 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.

But these pagan Gentile Thessalonians were. the culture around them in Jackson. as it were. Idolatry is a universal and perennial sin. this phrase probably indicates that most of this congregation was Gentile.Now in this context. It is a fundamental sin. And I wonder if this could be said of us. 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. none of those twelve were mine so maybe I don't have a problem with idolatry. Mississippi. you know. “Something's going on at First Presbyterian Church because they've turned from their idols to serve the living and the true God. and by the way. They’re not just following like lemmings over the cliff. But I figured if I did that. these people really were pagan idolaters. It's a foundational sin that all of us fight against. And they turned from those idols to the living and the true God. you know. You wouldn't have said this about a Jewish congregation. going after the things that everybody else is going after. of course. They were idol worshipers. even if I listed twelve.” 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 here are my three questions. “Whew. But idol worship is not restricted to people who are pagan polytheists. 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've turned from those idols to serve the living and the true God. They weren't idol worshipers in Paul's day.” Would they say that about us? Now I thought about listing some of those idols. . 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. you might come away from that saying. All of us struggle with idolatry.

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

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

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

are not going to face that wrath because Jesus has died for them. it's changed their behaviors. our colleagues at work. our neighbors. Heavenly Father. Lord. we're learning something that ought to be our aspiration. 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. God is doing something there. 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.” Let's pray. . amen. it's changed their worship. We ask. 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. We ask this in Jesus' name. 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. So even as Paul encourages the Thessalonians and thanks God for them. it's changed their desires. our friends. to know that the Gospel has changed us so that they’re saying. 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. our loved ones. It's changed their ambitions. we thank You for the Gospel. 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. “Something's going on over there among the saints at First Presbyterian Church. O Lord. It is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

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