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“Living Life in Light of Jesus’ Return: A Word at Work in You”

1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to 1
Thessalonians chapter 2. We’re going to be looking at verses 13 to
16 today as we continue our way through this, perhaps, the first
letter of the apostle Paul to the churches, and by the inspiration of
the Holy Spirit to you and to me. As we read this passage together
today I'd like you to be on the lookout for two things. First of all, in
verse 13, Paul recounts two specific reasons why he is grateful for
what God is doing by His Spirit in the hearts of the Thessalonians.
And I'd like you to zero-in on that as we read it and ask yourself,
“What are the things that Paul is grateful for? What does he list here
in 1 Thessalonians 2:13?”

Then, as we get to verse 14, especially the first section, Paul
announces that the Thessalonians have become imitators of the
Christian churches, the churches that worship the Lord Jesus Christ,
in Judea, specifically in experiencing persecution and continuing to
believe the Lord and trust the Lord while they’re experiencing that
affliction and opposition and persecution. And in the midst of drawing
attention to that and actually praising and encouraging the
Thessalonians for the fact that they've received the Word of God and
it's gotten them persecution and they've believed it anyway and
therefore they are like their brethren back in Judea who received the
Word of God and they got persecuted for it and they believed it
anyway. In the context of encouraging them for following in the good
example of the Christians in Judea, he pronounces a denouncement
upon the people of Israel, upon his own kin, the Jewish people. It's

We ask these things in Jesus' name. you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is. And they will thus accuse Paul of being anti-Semitic and accuse Christianity and the New Testament of being anti-Semitic. This is God's Word. to receive it for what it is — the very Word of God.what Paul's grateful about. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews. this is Your Word. And they will use that as a way of dismissing the New Testament and Christianity saying. who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets. Hear it. brothers. We need to know the answer to that as we share the Gospel and as we engage in a culture that highly values tolerance but does not highly value truth.perhaps the strongest denouncement of Israel found in any of Paul's writings. But the two things I want you to be on the lookout for: verse 13 . became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. that when you received the Word of God. For you. “The New Testament and Christianity is sub-moral. And let me say that many people will come to this passage and say that this is anti-Semitism pure and simple.” It's a way that people will reject Christianity. which is at work in you believers. Before we read. and drove us . it's immoral in this area and therefore it does not need to be listened to authoritatively. beginning in 1 Thessalonians 2 verse 13: “And we also thank God constantly for this. let's pray. the Word of God. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it. which you heard from us. And so we’ll give some attention to that. verse 14 — what Paul commends the Thessalonians for. Heavenly Father. amen.

the roofs that He puts over our heads. I'm talking about a different kind of spiritual gratitude — a gratitude that is regularly looking around. Do you find yourself. But wrath has come upon them at last!” Amen. great as they are and things that we ought to be grateful for. I'm especially thinking of spiritual gratitude and I'm speaking of a special kind of spiritual gratitude. in Christ”? Do you find yourself thinking that way from time to time? Do you find yourself being blessed when you see God's Word at work in somebody else's life who is a fellow member with you? Well Paul is giving us an example of that in this passage. inspired. that brother. especially at our own congregation. I don't just mean gratitude for the blessings that God gives us in the resources that He puts into our hands. the food that He puts into our mouths. those kinds of earthly blessings. Right now I can think of numerous men and women over the course of my life who have poured their lives into mine and have blessed me by showing me what it means to live the Christian life. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts. and thus ends this reading of God's holy. I wonder what role gratitude plays in your Christian life and I mean a specific kind of gratitude. . do you find yourself looking around regularly saying. and thanking God for what He is doing in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved — so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. the clothes that He puts on our backs. “Lord. I'm not even talking about that kind of gratitude. I want to thank You for how You are at work in the life of that sister.out. whether it's in this congregation or another. and inerrant Word. in whatever circle of Christian friends your membership is.

constantly mentioned you in our prayers. he tells you a couple of reasons why he thanks God for them. “Another thing I thank God for is even though you have been afflicted. their love. Notice verse 5 — “Our gospel came to you not only in word. you still believe and in the midst of that affliction you showed joy. and in so doing. he speaks about their faith. and their hope. “I can see the way the Gospel has changed you by your faith and your love and your hope. And if you look specifically. “We give thanks to God always for all of you. but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. you will see that this passage is not the first time that Paul has expressed gratitude or thanksgiving. it came with power in the lives of the Thessalonians. one of the things he was thanking God for was that the Gospel didn't just come with words. but he doesn't stop. in Philippi. who along with his missionary team. he says. Paul gives thanks for what God . It changed their lives. In 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 2 he says. endured the cross and despised its shame.” So Paul begins this letter by speaking of his gratitude for the Thessalonians and for what God is doing in the Thessalonians.” So Paul's saying. If you look at verse 6. having been beaten. who for the joy set before Him. “You became imitators of us and of the Lord for you received the Word in much affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit. And so in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-6.” So that's one thing that he thanks God for. He says. In fact in this passage. you followed the example of the Lord Jesus and you followed the example of the apostles.” In other words. was singing hymns of praise to God in the middle of the night and the Thessalonians are acting the same way in affliction. in prison.” Paul.If you’ll look back to 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 2.” “Jesus. even though you have been opposed and oppressed and persecuted because you trust in Christ.

and do you notice how that mirrors what he's doing here in chapter 2 verses 13 to 16? The same themes pop up again. we have theological reasons why we reject anti-Semitism. And it is a very.” Now anti-Semitism means suspicion of the Jewish people. Many people look at this passage and they say. opposing all mankind. We have theological reasons why we hold anti-Semitism to be a very grave sin. we emphatically reject anti-Semitism.” Look at verses 14 and following. you sound like an anti-Semite. and hindering the spread of the Gospel. Now I'm going to take the second of those two things first because there's a problem there that I want us to face up with. or discrimination for the Jewish people simply because of their ethnicity and their heritage. You. and you have said that God's wrath has come down on them at last. It's not just because of political correctness that First Presbyterian Church rejects anti-Semitism. hatred for the Jewish people. Paul. driving out the apostles. are an anti-Semite. very serious charge. what the Word of God was doing in the Thessalonians and then in verses 14 to 16 how they had become imitators of the churches in Judea in enduring affliction and still believing. it is also quite obvious that Paul was not anti-Semitic and I want to suggest to you — and I could give you so many that we wouldn't have time to do it today — but let me .was doing in the lives of the Thessalonians and for the way that they were enduring affliction. In verse 13. And let me say. You sound like someone who is anti-Semitic. displeasing God. first. “You know. But specially two things Paul draws to our attention. before I say anything else. PAUL WAS NOT AN ANTI-SEMITE But I want to say very quickly. “You have blamed the Jews for killing Jesus and the prophets. Paul.

” And did Saul participate in the persecution of the prophets? Oh yes he did! He held the cloaks while the men who stoned Stephen to death did the deed. and they don't love the Lord Jesus. let me say this about Paul. He could say. Paul will tell you that he finds himself praying to God that God would eternally damn him if He would only save his kinsmen according to the flesh. He said. Secondly. “Saul. If you will look in your Bibles in Romans 9 to 11. Paul had that kind of love for Jewish people.suggest five reasons to you that definitively show that Paul was not anti-Semitic. Saul. One. This is not a man who hates Jewish people. “Lord. this is a man who loves Jewish people tenaciously. And here's the first one. it would be okay if You sent me to hell. with very breath in his being he worked to hinder the spread of the Gospel! . they don't believe the Gospel. I don't find myself praying that way. if You would just save all of the Jewish people. Paul has a deep and evident love for the Jewish people. that's not what He said. I love so-and-so so much. bring them to faith in Christ. I love them so much that I could pray right now that You would damn me eternally if You would only bring them to Christ”? I've got to say. I want you to realize this is the man who's saying these things.” That's how much he loved the Jewish people. Paul was a Jew! Paul was Jewish himself! And let me tell you two things about Paul. Saul. why are you persecuting them”? No. why are you persecuting Me. And did he hinder the apostles in the spread of the Gospel? Yes. Do you realize everything that he denounces Israel for doing in verses 14 to 16 he has done himself? They persecuted the Lord Jesus Christ. they don't trust Christ. “Lord. What did Jesus say to Paul on the road to Damascus? “Saul. And I want to pause right now and ask you — Have you ever prayed like that for somebody? Have you ever said.

the Jewish Campus Ministry at Washington University in St. Louis — there was a large Jewish community in St. That leads me to the second thing.” So Paul did all the things that he's denouncing Israel for. In fact Paul tells us. they don't hate the Jewish people for their ethnicity and heritage! They love the Jewish people. Louis and a large Jewish community at Washington . Understand what's going on here. what do you find them doing all the time? Denouncing Israel for unbelief. Paul is doing exactly here what the Old Testament prophets do. They are him and he is them.And did he displease God while he was doing it? Yes. If you read your Old Testament prophets and especially the later prophets and the minor prophets. So this is not hatred for a race. He's not talking about this in some sort of theoretical. are they being anti- Semitic? No. I want to tell you it was enormous privilege to study Hebrew and Old Testament under him. While I was studying under him. detached sort of way. It is not an expression of hatred against a particular ethnic group. He went to Hebrew school as a little boy. He was converted to Christ in university and he became a professor of Old Testament. He understands this up close and personal. “I thought I was pleasing God. distance. for an ethnicity. but in fact I was displeasing God. and there were stories from youth. they love them so much they’re willing to denounce them for their unbelief. He had a Jewish sense of humor and if you know a Jewish sense of humor there is nothing quite like it in the world and he brought that into his teaching. this is not a hatred for the Jewish people because of their heritage. This is a condemnation of unbelief. Now when those Old Testament Jewish prophets are denouncing the Jewish people for unbelief. My Hebrew professor in seminary grew up in a Jewish home. he did.

Jesus. Third. like this language. this is a denouncement against not believing God's Word. but sure. And was Jesus anti-Semitic? He was a Jew who came to lay down His life for His people. if you look at His words to His disciples spoken in the Olivet Discourse. And it set the stage for him to be able to explain the language. “And no greater love has anyone but that He lays down His life for His friends. So Paul is just reflecting Jesus’ own denouncement of Israel. His people. “Well that's a little strange. and He laid down His life for them and for the world. that will be fine. “Is the New Testament Anti-Semitic?” He said. that the New Testament uses.” Jesus loved the Jewish people. This isn't ethnic hatred. Paul is just picking up the denouncement of Jesus here.” And they said. for instance in Matthew. . So His love for the Jewish people is evident. “Is the Old Testament Anti-Semitic?” And what he did was he went through the language of the Old Testament and he showed that the prophets of the Old Testament use stronger language denouncing Israel than any of the apostles used in the New Testament in speaking out the Jewish people. “I would be honored and delighted to as long as you allow me to give two lectures and you’ll let me choose the topic of the first lecture. you will find Jesus saying the same kinds of things about Israel as Paul says here and speaking of the wrath that God was going to bring upon Jerusalem for their sins.” He chose for the topic of his first lecture. You can come speak to us twice and you can choose the topic of the first lecture.University — came to him and asked him if he would come and deliver a lecture to the Jewish Student Union at Washington University on the subject. So Paul is just picking up the language of the prophetic denouncement of the Old Testament prophets of Israel for Israel's unbelief.

. His point is very obvious. his point here is that they've suffered as much from Gentiles as the Jewish Christians in Judea have suffered from the Jews. he's saying. in the context of a majority culture and used them as an excuse to oppress the Jewish people? Sadly.” Listen to that line again. remember that as Paul is speaking these words. No. yes. his point is not to get the Thessalonians to hate the Jewish people. Paul is speaking out of his own personal experience and frustration here. including Christians. “Both Gentiles and Jews have persecuted God's people — predominantly Gentile churches. there is no truth that sin cannot twist. In fact. but this passage is not anti-Semitic. It is a tiny. “You suffered the same things from your own countrymen that they did from the Jews. And that's certainly happened in this case. That's what's going on here. But my friends. for you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews. Paul is just baldly stating the facts here. tiny minority. gone to passages like this. In other words.Fourth.” Paul's point here is not to get the Thessalonians to hate the Jews. it is an oppressed minority. it is being oppressed and persecuted by the Jewish people. predominantly Jewish churches. And let me say one last thing. And in this passage. Now have people. Christianity is not an oppressing majority. “You brothers became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. in later ages. Look at verse 14 again. any truth can be wretched from its original contexts and put to uses that God Himself would condemn. He has taken the Gospel to the Jewish people and seen it rejected and he has seen the Jewish people not only reject the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles. There is no truth that sin cannot twist but that does not mean that the truth is untrue or that Christianity is inherently anti- Semitic. but hinder their ministry and persecute Christians.

you’re not looking.” By the way. His point is to commend the Thessalonians for enduring their afflictions just like the Jewish Christians in Judea were enduring their afflictions from their own countrymen. do you have that experience? Can you look around and see people experiencing affliction because of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and give thanks to God for them? If you don't. His point is to say.” And my friends. you’re not looking. it's so real in their lives that they’re willing to bleed for it. our missionaries face this constantly. Paul looks at these Thessalonians experiencing persecution for the sake of the Gospel and he says. Paul is not anti- Semitic. what doe Paul argue in Romans 1. and if we're not looking at that and not just praying for them but deriving a reason to give God praise and thanks and gratitude.2 . It is happening all the time and it will more and more in our own culture. “For all have fallen short of the glory of God. you've been persecuted by the Gentiles. thank You that the Gospel is real. both Jew and Gentile. constantly. “Lord. “I am watching Christians be willing to suffer for Christ and still believe Him and still believe the Gospel. stand condemned by God and under His just judgment and wrath because of our sins. They were persecuted by the Jews. and 3? That the whole world.” both Jew and Gentile. If you don't. His point is not to get them to hate the Jewish people or to blame the Jewish people for every sin ever committed. But my friends. No. “Hey guess what? Your experience is just like the experiences of the churches in Judea. PAUL WAS CONSTANTLY GRATEFUL FOR .” And he gives thanks to God. Paul is pausing and saying. we're missing the point.You've experienced the same thing. It reads like an elaboration on 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.

“In preaching.I.” The first thing that he wants to thank God for is that they accepted the Word of God as the Word of God. but he gives thanks to God for two other reasons. you understood that this was not something that had come out of our brains. the Word of God delivers through the preacher a message from God to His people about God and godliness. which is at work in you believers. Now let me just think about those two things with you for a moment.” Notice what Packer doesn't say. First of all he's saying. “You accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is. He doesn't say that a preacher delivers a . It was the very Word of God. Look at what he says. Packer says that. “We also thank God constantly for this. “I thank God that when we preached the Gospel to you.” J. He wants to point to their receiving of the Word and thank God for it. Secondly. And it's Paul is constantly grateful for two other reasons. which you heard from us. that you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is. you see this in the last words of verse 13. the Word of God. And I wish that I could have spent the whole time on verse 13 and you’ll see why.THE RECEPTION AND THE ACTIVITY OF THE WORD OF GOD Now here's the second thing. Not only is he grateful that the Thessalonians are enduring suffering and persecution and still believing and thus becoming imitators of the churches in Judea who have enduring suffering and are still believing. that when you received the Word of God. but here's the second thing.” So he's thankful for their receiving of the Word of God and for the activity of the Word of God in them. This message was not a message that human beings had made up. the Word of God delivers through the preacher a message from God to His people about God and godliness. the Word of God.” Isn't that a wonderful definition of preaching? “In preaching.

I received this. thank You that's Your Spirit working in that brothers’ life. This is a message that's being preached through me. And we've already mentioned that He's pointed out some of the . It is a glorious way of explaining what happens in preaching. as a tool. This is a message that was given to me. And Paul is looking at these Thessalonians and he's saying. It's a Word at work in you. “And it's Your Word at work in you who believe.” So it's not a dead Word. “Lord. It is impossible for you to have too high a view of the Word of God. I thank You that they get that! I thank You that they understand that the Word of God is not the words of men. it's a living Word. He says that the Word of God delivers through a preacher a message from God which is about God and godliness. “They understood that when I stood up and preached the Gospel this was not something that was coming from my heart and my mind. the light has just gone on for them and they understand now that this isn't just the words of men. “Lord God. And Paul is saying the Thessalonians got that. It's impossible.” Do you understand that every time we gather under God's Word on the Lord's Day you are here to experience a Word-mediated encounter between your soul and the living God? God Himself is using the preacher as an instrument. do you ever look around and you see that going on in the congregation and you see somebody who. this is the very Word of God speaking to me? And have you ever just paused and said. to mediate an encounter with you by the Word of God so that He can speak into your life.message about God. it is the very Word of God! It's You speaking to them by Your Word! They get that!” Do you ever. I'd not invented this. that's Your Spirit working in that sisters’ life for them to receive the Word of God for what it is — Your own Word!” And then Paul says.

“If we fail to notice evidence of God's grace in our church. therefore you are persevering and enduring because of the hope that the Word of God implanted in you. Listen to what C.” Now do you do that? Do you look around at First Presbyterian Church or in your own congregation and pause from time to time to thank God for those spiritual. love. He said.J. And if you are not. “It's at work in you because it's enabling you to believe even in the midst of persecution. we will gradually become grumblers rather than grateful. Mahaney says. And to have hope. It's God's Word at work in you causing you to have faith and therefore you are working out your faith. C.J. The Word of God is transforming their lives. we will gradually become grumblers rather than grateful. from time to time. Gospel things that He is doing in the lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ? If you don't. “Lord. you’ll get grumpy. we are bunch of sinners living in close proximity with a bunch of sinners in a local church and there are things that we will do to make one another grumpy. you will be grumpy.” If we fail to notice evidence of God's grace in our church. All through this passage he's piling up things that the Word of God is doing in these people. And Paul here is pausing to express gratitude to . And to have love. because look.” But back in verses 3 and following he mentions faith.ways that it's at work in verses 14 to 16. deliberately looking around and expressing gratitude to God for the Gospel work that He's doing by the Word of God in the hearts of your brothers and sisters. Mahaney says. therefore you are laboring from your love. I want to stop right now and I want to thank You because I see the Word of God at work in them. and hope as evidence that God's Word is at work in you. The Word of God is changing them and Paul's looking at that and he's saying.

God will use some of these young people right here this summer. Are we paying close enough attention that we pause and we give gratitude to God? We have people in our student ministry. I've got a longer list than you do! And they’d be legitimate.God for the real work that He's doing in the lives of people in the Thessalonian congregation. pouring their lives into the lives of young people and young people are being converted and they’re being changed and transformed. There will be young people converted. Do we pause and do that? If we don't. there will be plenty of legitimate reasons to grump. You may have things to grumble about me. There will be people who have a sense of call to the ministry or to the mission field and it will happen. Are we paying close enough attention to that that we can give praise to God? Are our eyes open for opportunities to give gratitude to God for the evidences of grace as He works by His Word in the hearts and . Now are you going to pay close enough attention to that to give praise to God for that? All year long we have teachers and administrators at our Day School pouring their lives into the lives of young people and amazing things happen in that context. That means our eyes have to be open all the time asking. There are all sorts of legitimate things that you could become bitter and grumble about if you do not actively cultivate gratitude to God for the evidences of grace that He is at work in the hearts of people in this congregation. And look. in our college ministry year round. we will grump. There will be young people who have such a tremendous advance by the work of the Spirit in their lives that they feel like they’re converted. “What's the Lord doing?” So here sit dozens of young people who are going to spend their summer pouring their lives into hundreds of young people.

as we sing about the Gospel. thank You for Your Word. so let's sing from 499. “Rock of Ages” is a song about the Gospel. May God enable us to cultivate that kind of Gospel gratitude in our own lives. Thank You that Your Word is at work in us. Now we sang from 599 earlier. from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. . mercy. heavenly Father even now. and peace to you. Heavenly Father. Amen. We ask it in Jesus’ name. that our eyes would be more opened to viewing and appreciating Gospel truth in this congregation.lives of our brothers and sisters here at First Presbyterian Church? That's what Paul is pausing to do here and he's giving us a good example. Grace. Let's pray. Let's sing it to God's praise. And we pray. amen.