Building the Body
1 Thessalonians 2:13-16
Paul and Silas enjoyed great success in Thessalonica, even though they were there for only a short time. In the first part of 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul expresses how affectionately they treated the Thessalonians, how hard they labored among the Thessalonians, and the appeal they made while in Thessalonica.
For Paul and Silas, their work in Thessalonica was a labor of love. The Apostle explains their labor in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12.
...as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (I Thessalonians 2:11-12 NKJV)
The Apostle and his companion, Silas, exhorted, comforted, and charged the people of Thessalonica. They did this because they loved the people of Thessalonica. Paul expresses this great affection in the words “as a father does his own children.”
From describing their labor and affection, the Apostle transitions to expressing gratitude for the fruit of their labor. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16, the Apostle Paul says, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing.” The reason they are thanking God is for the results of their work. These results are seen in the statement:
...because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. (I Thessalonians 2:13 NKJV)
The reason for their thanksgiving was the way the Thessalonians received the Word of God. In chapter one, the letter expresses the Apostle’s great gratitude for the evidence of the Thessalonians’ election by God. Next, in the first part of chapter two, Paul reminds the Thessalonians how the truth was communicated to them with great sincerity and affection. Now, as he continues, Paul gets down to the foundation of their faith. At this point, he speaks to the basis of faith rather than the content. He explains how the Thessalonians’ attitude toward the word of God and the Church became the foundation of a triumphant Church. He also speaks of how viciously the world opposed the work of the Lord and how courageously the Thessalonians stood against that persecution.
There is a direct connection between the foundation the Thessalonians built their faith upon and their ability to stand in the face of opposition. Today, we are considering the foundation that enabled them to stand. As our world opposes the Church more and more, we need to stand, and to stand, we need a firm foundation. We need what the Thessalonians had, and we have the same foundation if we hold onto it.
The first part of the foundation the Thessalonians built on was the word of God.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 says:
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. (I Thessalonians 2:13 NKJV)
The Thessalonians received the word of God, which they heard from Paul and Silas. There are several examples in the New Testament, where people received the word of God.
When Jesus walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the book of Luke tells us:
“And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. (Luke 24:27 NKJV)
Jesus, the Son of God, used the Scriptures to expound the things concerning Himself. Every word spoken by Jesus was the word of God, and yet He used references to Moses and the Prophets.
When Philip met the Ethiopian eunuch on the road in the wilderness, Acts tells us:
Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. (Acts 8:35 NKJV)
The Scripture referenced here is Isaiah 53, which is one of the most explicit passages in the Old Testament telling us about Jesus.
Jesus and the Apostles used the Old Testament Scriptures to teach and to preach. When Paul says they received the word of God as the word of God, He is referring to the Thessalonians receiving the message of Scripture. This is consistent with the way Paul and Silas presented the gospel.
Acts 17 tells us:
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures... (Acts 17:1-2 NKJV)
The people Paul and Silas went to were in the synagogue, and so they were familiar with the Scriptures and considered the Scriptures to be the word of God. Thus, it was natural that Paul and Silas reasoned with them from the Scriptures.
Acts 17:4 tells us that a great multitude of the Greeks who were in the synagogue were persuaded along with a good number of the leading women. However, the Jews who were not persuaded were the ones who stirred up trouble and forced Paul and Silas to leave Thessalonica. From Thessalonica, Paul and Silas traveled to Berea, where Acts tells us:
These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11 NKJV)
The teaching of the Apostles and even of Jesus was based on the Scriptures. Basing their teaching on the Scriptures gave those they taught an objective source that they could examine for themselves to check the truth of what they were being told. This is what the Bereans did. They searched the Scriptures to see if the things taught were so.
At the time of Moses, those who were at Mount Sinai had no question as to whether or not God was speaking because they could see the presence of God. Even so, some of them rebelled and died for it. So, when they received the Scriptures, they accepted them for being the word of God.
This is a distinguishing mark of all Scripture. To be included in the Bible, one of the tests a book has to have passed is that it had to be accepted and recognized as the word of God from the moment it was written. For every book of the Bible, we have historical evidence of its acceptance as Scripture dating back to ancient times. The historical evidence for the reliability of the Scriptures is overwhelming. No other book in the world can make the historical claims that the Bible can make.
However, the historical evidence is not the only evidence the Thessalonians had. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 also says:
which also effectively works in you who believe.
The word of God changes lives. Reading “Moby Dick” or “Gone with the Wind” may be entertaining, but it will not change a person’s life like the word of God. Hebrews 4:12 tells us:
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV)
Other books claim to be life-changing. For example, the “Book of Mormon” and the “Koran” claim to be life-changing. And they may be life-changing. However, they do not have the historical backing of their veracity. Quite the opposite, they contradict recorded history. So, although they have subjective evidence, they lack objective evidence.
The Bible is the only book of its kind. No other books claiming to come from God are supported by evidence in the same way.
The Scriptures are the first foundation mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 2. 1 Thessalonians 2:14 gives the next foundation.
For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, (I Thessalonians 2:14 NKJV)
Saying that the foundation of the Church is the Church, but underlying the imitation of the churches of God is the principle of gathering together. The word used in the New Testament for “Church” means “the gathering.” The strength of the Church is found in this gathering together. We know that there is strength in numbers, but many who claim to be believers do not gather with other believers. Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us to gather together to strengthen each other. Then it tells us not to forsake the gathering as some do. Here is exactly what it says:
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NKJV)
Even in the earliest days of the Church, for whatever reason, some stopped gathering with other believers, and Scripture explicitly says DO NOT DO THIS!
Not every gathering is good. Even in the earliest days of the Church, the New Testament warned of those who preach the gospel for gain and those who seek to lead others astray for one reason or another.
Some gatherings do not preach the gospel and thus lead people astray. The way to distinguish which gatherings are good and which are bad, we need to be like the Bereans and search the Scriptures to make sure that the teaching is true.
There is only one Church, but there are many denominations. Generally speaking, the denomination does not determine if a gathering is good or bad. Denominations exist mainly because, as humans, we have differences.
For example, I like bacon. Now, I am not sure whether or not to believe it, but I have heard that people exist who do not like bacon. So naturally, I attend a church that does not forbid bacon.
All joking aside, it should be evident to us why a person who only speaks Spanish would find it difficult to attend this church every Sunday. Language and culture influence our choice of which gathering to attend. However, differences in language and culture do not have anything to do with whether a group is good or bad. A church, or gathering, is measured by its faithfulness to the word of God and the gospel.
Language and culture are not the only ways in which we differ. Some churches have a liturgy, and some do not. Some churches have loud celebrations on Sunday mornings, and others have quiet celebrations. Some of these differences are based on doctrinal issues. We may interpret Scriptures differently in places than our brothers and sisters. However, they are our brothers and sisters. As long as they preach the death, burial, resurrection, and return of our Lord Jesus, and salvation through Jesus alone, they are our brothers and sisters.
And we all share this in common, we gather.
When the Thessalonians believed, they gathered together. That is what we do. It happens all over the world. It happens in secret when governments forbid it. It has happened throughout history. It started with Jesus gathering His disciples and continued through Acts to this very day.
Some stop gathering because of bad experiences. If you are one who has stopped gathering with other believers, may I address you directly? Find a different place, but do not stop gathering. I am going to say something judgmental and harsh. I know it is judgmental and harsh. For two thousand years, believers have found a way to gather even under the severest persecution. So, if you cannot find a body with which to gather, you need to seriously examine where you are in your relationship with God.
The word of God and gathering together served as foundations for the Thessalonians and enabled them to stand despite persecution. The word of God and gathering together still serve as foundations that allow us to stand despite persecution.
We must hold on to both if we are to stand.