“Can God’s Word Speak to Your Heart?”
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
The question I am raising in this message is not a frivolous one. While it would be wonderful to assume that everyone in this auditorium approaches the Word of God in the same manner such an assumption wouldn’t be accurate. We all have certain opinions, mindsets, traditions, and perspectives that directly effect how we approach the ministry of Scripture to our hearts. And that is exactly the point to which I want to speak today. “Can God’s Word Speak to Your Heart?”
We begin with a glimpse into the heart of the church in Thessalonica. Thessalonica was a city of nearly 200,000 people established about 400 years before Paul’s day. Cassandra, one of the four most powerful generals who served under Alexander the Great during the Grecian Empire, built it. He named the city after his wife, Thessalonica. It was a very important city of trade both during the Grecian Empire and later during the Roman Empire.
Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was during his second missionary journey. He had experienced a remarkable deliverance in Philippi (Acts 16) and had then traveled with Silas and Timothy about 100 miles to Thessalonica following the established route that moved goods between the Orient and Rome. In Thessalonica he went to the Jewish Synagogue and preached there for three weeks in a row. But his ministry proved to be problematic for the city.
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. (Acts 17:1-9)
When Paul’s ministry proved to be the flash point of persecution for the believers in Thessalonica, especially for the household of Jason, he left there and traveled about 40 miles to the city of Berea. Although Paul always regretted not being able to spend more time in Thessalonica it was obvious that he held a deep love for those people in his heart. He was removed from the city but the Lord continued a wonderful work there establishing a church and raising up elders to faithfully lead the congregation.
When we come to this Epistle to the church in Thessalonica we quickly sense Paul’s deep love for them and concern. Although he had not been privileged to minister there long he had sent Timothy and Silas to work among them. Meanwhile he traveled to Athens and eventually on to Corinth. When Timothy and Silas reported back to Paul what was happening at Thessalonica he wrote this Epistle from a heart over flowing with praise. Listen to the powerful recounting of God’s work among those people.
We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For 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, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10)
There were several good reasons for Paul’s exuberant praise. He saw overwhelming evidence of God’s grace at work in their lives. In answer to his faithful prayers the young believers in Thessalonica demonstrated the graces that should define every true follower of Jesus Christ. Faith, hope, and love. Paul’s wording of these graces is intriguing.
He referenced their “work of faith.” This is consistent with James chapter two where faith and works are woven together. True faith always can be demonstrated in faithful works.
He commended them for their “labor of love.” True love is sacrificial. Jesus’s love for us cost him his life. When we show love it is a labor but a joyous one.
He distinguished their hope as being a “steadfast hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is not a hope that is more like a wish. This is a secure hope. A hope that has our Lord as its object.
The evidence of God’s work in their lives was so obvious that the Apostle gave praise for their evident election (v. 4 – “that he has chosen you.”). Isn’t it interesting that his comment was not controversial? For many Christians today you cannot mention the doctrine of election without facing a firestorm of controversy. The fact of election in Scripture is undeniable. But the explanation of election is missing from God’s Word. All that we need to know is that God is free to be God and however the process of election works or worked we can still believe that as God his ways are always just. But how are we to respond to this matter of election? The Apostle’s words are very helpful in this regard. Given the powerful evidence of salvation in the lives of the Thessalonians he said, “Your election is obvious.” That’s how we are to respond to this doctrine. It is not something that we use in our evangelistic efforts. That would only breed confusion since we cannot know who is elect and who is not. But when someone evidences grace in their lives it is legitimate to say, “Obviously, you are among the elect.” It is not a prideful thing but rather something that causes us to be grateful and humbled by the goodness and grace of God.
From this recitation of Christian graces Paul then drew attention to the heart of the matter. What had caused him to be so thrilled? What did he see as evidence of a direct answer to prayer? The answer comes to us through three references to the Word. The ministry of the Word had accomplished something that was humanly impossible. All of the Thessalonian’s previous faith systems had been dismantled and replaced by a faith that was centered on Jesus Christ and the testimony of the Word. That’s why the text says, “And how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” The ministry of God’s Word had transformed all their previous opinions, mindsets, traditions, and perspectives. Wow!
Let’s take a moment and reflect on what Paul testified regarding this wonderful ministry of the Word. In vv. 5, 6, and 8 Paul directly points to the Word as having had a transforming effect on the Thessalonian’s. In v. 5, the Word was the means of the preaching of the gospel. In v. 6, the emphasis was on the reception of the Word. And in v. 8, the Word mixed with their faith to proclaim a testimony of grace that was irrefutable. It is interesting to realize that in each case there is evidence of how the Word of God had worked in their hearts to provoke change. If they had been asked the question that forms the title of this message they would have immediately answered in the affirmative.
It is a beautiful and God-honoring thing when his Word has freedom to speak to our hearts. (v. 5)
The amplification given by the Apostle in v. 5 is very profound. Directly attached to the ministry of the Word was power. Not just any power but the power of the Holy Spirit. And this demonstration of power brought about conviction. That shows the potential of the Word of God!
There are times when the Word of God is handled with such crystal clarity that it is cold! The Word of God is supposed to be born along on the power of the Holy Spirit of God. This only makes sense. When we speak the words of Scripture we are speaking the words of the Holy Spirit. He was the one who superintended as holy men of God wrote the words of Scripture. The Holy Spirit tested and approved every word! It is his word and it is designed to bear his power.
And where does the testimony of the Apostle go immediately after testifying of the authority of the Word? Changed lives! He declared, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” All of this was a testimony of the power of God’s Word to change our hearts.
It is profitable when God’s Word changes our previous opinions, mindsets, traditions, and perspectives. (vv. 6-8)
Have you ever noticed that God often does things the hard way? The text declares that the Word went forward at a time of great affliction. We read earlier from Acts 17 of the persecution that occurred when the Apostle ministered the Word in the Jewish Synagogues. Great Word…great affliction. It seems that often that is the strange combination that God uses.
What followed, though, was even more profound. “Joy of the Holy Spirit.” Perhaps we would understand it better to read, “Joy in the Holy Spirit.” When the Word produces change in our lives it is consistent that there would be the accompanying joy of the Holy Spirit for honoring the Word is honoring to him. It would also be consistent that there would be joy in the Holy Spirit. One of the fruit of the Spirit is joy. He produces that joy in us as the Word of God transforms our hearts.
Experiencing this change would be like shedding a great weight. We often aren’t even aware of just how heavy is the burden of our personal framework but when that begins to be changed by the Word of God it is a joyful, liberating, transforming miracle. That’s what happened to the Thessalonians. That is what God delights to do for us as well.
Not only do we see the change but others see it in us, too. Look again at vv. 7-8 and see how God also delights to move us from transformation to multiplication. As God brings change to our lives we become the example and source of encouragement for others.
It is a dangerous and frightening thing when our mindset is so hardened that God’s Word is rendered ineffective in our lives.
Our text describes the wonderful transformation that God’s Word brought to the hearts and lives of the believers in Thessalonica. But that begs the question. “What happens when we resist God’s Word?” Perhaps you might wonder what resistance to God’s Word looks like. Ultimately, the following describe the downward trajectory of that one who is choosing to harden their heart to God and his Word.
Disobedience to God.
Grieving to the Holy Spirit.
Unloving toward Jesus Christ.
Stumbling stone toward young believers.
No true believer would purposefully set out to walk in such dangerous and destructive paths but the Scriptures are full of examples that these are the true consequences that follow a hardening to the Word of God. It should cause us to think soberly about our own responses.
The purpose of a message like this is not to simply produce guilt. Rather, it should cause us to take action. Here are some take away truths from today’s warning. We will take this conversation a step further next Sunday.
Be humble enough to be changed by God’s Word.
Submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit who has been sent to teach us God’s Word.
Set your affections on the Lord Jesus Christ by faithfully following his Holy Word.