Hope in God's Favor (Words of Hope 2 Th - Part 1)

July 4, 2014 Preacher: Micah Mercer Series: Words of Hope from 2 Thessalonians

Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 1:1–5

Words of Hope- Series Part 1 Hope in God’s Favor (2 Thessalonians 1:1-4)

1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 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.” 4 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. 5 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. 6 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, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

What gives you hope? Where do you get your hope from? And what is the evidence that your hope is actually real?

Many people in the world today place their hope in religion. They believe fasting and good deeds will secure their place in paradise. Others place a lot of hope in their nationality. They believe their nation’s constitution and laws will protect them. Many, many people place their hope in wealth, believing that with enough money anything is possible. But what happens when these sources of hope are stripped away?

What do you hope in when the evidence of your hope begins to fade? When your works don’t seem to make any difference to god? Your nation no longer protects you or you realize you could lose that protection by disagreeing with the majority? What do you hope in when markets crash, exchange rates plummet, or your hard earned wealth is stolen from you?

Even as a Christian whose ultimate hope is in God, it can be tough when these other things are stripped away. When we are facing persecution or resistance from the world around us, we can feel like God is far off. In those times, we need to know that He is still with us and at work in our lives. But what is the evidence of God’s work that bolsters our hope in difficult time?

There was once a group of people in Thessalonica that faced this situation. When the gospel came to them, all the things they had previously hoped in began to dissolve. Their previous religion with its support structures was gone once they “turned from idols to serve the living and true God.” Their nationality no longer protected them when their own countrymen began to persecuted them. Even their money was no help. The authorities took their money for security, but then failed to protect them!

The situation was hard. They had to give up hope in a lot of things. However, they found a far greater hope than any of those things could ever offer them. They found hope in God despite all the trouble.

Today we are beginning a series on what hope in God is really about and what it looks like. We will do this from the point of view of Paul writing to this young church who faced strong persecution for their faith. They needed encouragement that God still favored them, so Paul wrote a letter full of words of hope.

In Acts 17:1-9, which we just read, there is a short account of Paul’s visit to Thessalonica. In that text we saw the birth of the Thessalonian church in just four weeks. By the end of that time, there was already an angry mob trying to hurt the first believers, and Paul and Silas were basically driven out of town.

Soon afterward, Paul sent Timothy to them to find out how they were and to disciple any believers who remained. No doubt he was worried that there may not be any left. Much to his joy, Timothy returned with a good report. The fledgling church was facing persecution, but their faith was growing strong in the midst of it.

In the fire of persecution, the Thessalonians lost many of the things that we often put our hope in. Instead, they had hope in God with real evidence of that hope, because God’s favor was being clearly displayed among them.

Let’s read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5

1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering--

Verse 5 adds a mountain of force to our topic today, though I personally think that the ESV rendering of this verse does not capture the power of it. You see, the last phrase in verse 5 is in a tense and voice in the original language that tells us that Paul was talking about a completed action that was done to them. With that in mind, I think the verse should read “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you have been counted worthy of the Kingdom of God.”

In other words, God’s righteous judgment is to count you worthy of His Kingdom. Now, that is a huge statement for Paul to make. He has just proclaimed their eternal security. A statement like that needs backup. What is the evidence he was talking about?

For that we go back to verses 3 and 4 where Paul said that among the Thessalonian believers, faith was growing, love for each other was increasing, and persecution was ongoing alongside cheerful endurance.

Now, at this point we need to be careful to make the proper distinction between cause and effect. These things (faith, love, persecution, and endurance) were the evidence of God’s favor, not the cause of it. God counted them worthy of His Kingdom, they did not earn it. This is exactly the point where Christianity departs from every other religion in the world.

This past week I went to the Grand Mosque with a friend for iftar. It was an amazing sight. We estimated that there must have been 13000 people there who each received half a chicken with biryani, dates, and laban. It was quite a generous meal. Our reason for going was not really for the food, but to have a chance to pray for and talk to people. If the opportunity arises, we ask, “Is God pleased by your fasting?”

You see, the whole point of this fast is, through obedience, to earn god’s favor. And the whole point of the huge program of feeding 13000 people per day at the breaking of the fast is, through charity, to earn merit towards paradise. The basic idea is that you do something for God in order to get something. The bible tells us the exact opposite.

The bible teaches us that we cannot please God or earn anything from Him. He is too perfect, too holy, too glorious for us to even imagine buying his favor with our deeds. Especially when every good thing we do is tainted by our sinful desires. The only way this thing can work is if God freely gives his favor and you receive this gift in order to do the good works that he has prepared for you.

How is one counted worthy of the Kingdom of God? How does one please God? It is not by fasting, reading scripture, praying, going to church, giving to the poor or any other good deeds. You can only be counted worthy of God’s Kingdom through God’s unmerited favor that is received by faith in Christ.

Once you receive the great gift that Jesus holds out to you through his death and resurrection, that is when your life starts bearing the marks, the evidence, of God’s favor. So, the question for us today is this: Do we bear evidence of God’s favor in our lives? What are the marks that prove God has counted us worthy of His Kingdom?

In our passage today, there were four evidences that God’s favor was being displayed among the Thessalonian believers. The first two of these are in verse 3:

3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.

When Paul saw that the faith of the Thessalonians was growing abundantly, he saw evidence of God’s favor.

1. Growing faith

There are some plants on my balcony that need sunlight and water to grow and thrive. Around here, sunlight is already taken care of, so all I have to do is water them. Now, how long do you think I would get away with not watering these plants while saying that I had? Not long, because they would begin to wilt, dry up, and die. You could say then, that the evidence that I am watering the plants is the fact that they are growing and thriving.

In the same way, the evidence of God’s favor, or grace, in people’s lives is that they are growing in faith. Note the word ‘growing.’ It is important because it reminds us that the Thessalonian church was not a mature church. They still had a lot of growing to do, but the important thing was that they were growing and that proved that God’s favor was upon them.

No one starts out as a mature Christian. We all begin with little knowledge and little faith. Over time, through experience, study of God’s Word, and the work of His Spirit within us we slowly grow in faith. We slowly bring more and more areas of life under submission to God and we trust more and more deeply. If we can see this process taking place in our lives, we have evidence that God’s favor is upon us.

The second evidence that their hope in God was real was their increasing love for one another.

2. Love for each other

I just finished a series on the first letter of John in the Sunday evening service. I mention that because in that letter, John draws a straight line from being born of God to loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. One of the places he makes this point is in 1 John 5:1

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.

The inescapable truth here is that as a child of God, it is not even possible for you to hate, or even dislike, or do anything less than love your brothers and sisters in Christ. I should mention that this love is not just nice feelings, but active love that seeks to meet the needs, care for, and encourage each other.

Whereas John started from the truth and moved to its application, I think Paul saw the application and traced it back to the truth. He heard from Timothy that the Thessalonian believers’ love for each other was increasing and proclaimed that this was a sure sign that God was working among them.

In the same way for us today, if we can see our love for each other increasing, we have another piece of evidence that God has counted us worthy of His Kingdom and set us firmly in His favor.

The next two evidences of God’s favor are found in verse 4:

4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

The third mark of God’s favor in on the Thessalonian believers was that they were experiencing persecution.

3. Experiencing Persecution

We do not often think of persecution as a sign of God’s favor. Yet in today’s scripture we find persecution held up as evidence that God counted the Thessalonian believers worthy of His Kingdom.

Jesus promised that his people would be persecuted. Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” The truth of the matter is that world system with its values and philosophy is in direct enmity against God’s values and reign. Since that is the case, if you are being transformed by God to match His ways, you will increasingly find yourself at enmity with the world’s ways.

I would go so far as to say that if you are not experiencing any enmity with, or resistance from, the world, there is a problem. The problem is that it means you are indistinguishable from the world, which should not be possible if you no longer share its values.

Paul heard that this was happening to the Thessalonians and he rejoiced among the other churches because, even though it was hard, it was evidence that God had counted them worthy of His Kingdom. Their hope was real. If we today are also experiencing resistance from the world and even outright persecution for our faith, it is another piece of evidence that gives us hope of being in God’s favor.

This brings us to the final point. Persecution puts an end to a lot of things, but it did not end the Thessalonian faith. The final evidence Paul pointed out of God’s favor among them was that their faith remained steadfast despite the persecution.

4. Steadfast Faith

To be steadfast means to be unmovable no matter how hard the struggle. In this case it is the steadfast faith of the Thessalonian believers in the midst of persecution. But that is not all that steadfast means here. The interesting thing about the original word is that it also means to cheerfully endure. In other words, what Paul had heard from Timothy about them was that their faith was not only unmovable despite the persecution, they were actually cheerful in the midst of it.

When I was at bible college, we would set apart an hour every week to get into groups and pray for the church in different places. I joined the persecuted church prayer group. In general, we would choose a nation where we had heard of Christians being persecuted and pray for them. My prayer was that God would bring justice to their situations and bring them relief.

Then one week, we actually got a letter from a church that was enduring heavy persecution. Among all their prayer requests, they never asked for us to pray for justice or an end to the persecution. Instead, they asked us to pray that they would have the strength to be a Christ-like example as they endured.

This is another point that can be difficult for us to understand, but it is very biblical. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”

A great example of rejoicing in persecution is found in Acts 5:40-41. Jesus’ apostles were arrested and commanded not to speak about Jesus anymore. They totally ignored that order and were arrested again.

v. 40-41

40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

The intention of the authorities was to smash the apostles’ faith. It was a logical move to lean on them a bit to let them know this behavior would not be tolerated. Instead of being intimidated though, the apostles rejoiced! Now they were receiving the same treatment Jesus received! That meant they were becoming more like him! They recognized that suffering for proclaiming Jesus was a mark of God’s favor.

In the same way, Paul saw the Thessalonians cheerful, unmovable faith while they were being persecuted and he knew that they had, by grace, been counted worthy of God’s kingdom.

This small, fledgling group of believers had to let go of many of the things that had previously given them hope because they had found greater hope in God’s favor when they believed the gospel. This hope was shown to be real by their flourishing faith, increasing love for each other, the persecution they faced, and the way they steadfastly and cheerfully endured. In all of this, Paul’s message to them was “keep it up!” “God has counted you worthy so keep your hope in God’s grace that is clearly being displayed among you.” You hope in God’s favor and that hope is real!

What gives you hope? And what is the evidence for it? There are so many things we try to take hope from that just can’t give us any real confidence and whose evidence fades over time. As Christians with our ultimate hope in God, the greatest evidence we have for our hope comes from observing the signs of God’s favor in our lives.

I want to challenge you this morning to look for those signs. When you look at your own life do you see your faith growing, maturing and abounding? Do you experience active love, not just nice feelings, for your brothers and sisters in Christ that is increasing? Are you receiving hate from the world as the rift between you and the world is widens? Do you cheerfully endure this with steadfast faith because you know it means you are drawing closer to Jesus?

If this is what you see in your life, that should give you great hope because it means that God has counted you worthy of His Kingdom, not because of anything you have done, but because of his generous favor to you through faith in Christ.