Summary: Paul and his team authentically modeled the message, focusing on the praise of God, not men. We must do the same and be as gentle as a mother and as firm as a father with those we are hoping to influence.
Marks of a Healthy Church
After the sermon last week, someone came up to me and asked me a question: “If First Thessalonians is one of the shortest and easiest books to understand, why are you taking 14 weeks to preach through it?” I told him that he should be glad I’m not preaching through the Book of Romans!
The reason we’re going through the books of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians so carefully is because these letters have a lot to teach us. Last week we looked at some basic vocabulary words to help us keep our faith alive. This morning, we’re going to finish chapter one as we focus on the “Marks of a Healthy Church.”
Paul, Silas and Timothy introduced us to the Thessalonian church in verse 1. They were thankful for these believers in verse 3 because their faith was fruitful, they labored out of love, and they had hope that hung in there. As we come to our passage today, we’re going to do a “church check-up” by looking at how we line up with the congregation in Thessalonica. There are at least three “vital signs” that should be evident in our congregation in order for us to be considered a healthy church.
Vital Signs of a Healthy Church
1. The first mark of a healthy church is that it’s filled with chosen people (4). Look at verse 4: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” In theological terms, this is the doctrine of election in capsule form, which simply means that God chooses those who will be saved. Salvation begins with God’s choice of us—not with our choosing God. Jesus put it this way in John 15:16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” Ephesians 1:4 says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” The Bible teaches that every person who comes to know Jesus Christ has been personally chosen by God.
Although we sometimes stumble at this truth, it should give us more comfort than questions. The Bible teaches that election flows from the love of God. That’s why Paul calls these new believers “brothers loved by God.” Election is not a device for sending people to hell, but for rescuing them from hell.
I do not claim to understand all the mysteries of this doctrine but it reminds us of two things:
Salvation is a work of God, not man.
Because of that, all true believers are eternally secure.
No wonder the Church of England refers to election as “full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort.”
2. A healthy church is filled with changed people (5). Look at verse 5: “Because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” Paul was sure of the Thessalonians’ election because of their response to the gospel message. If you’ve come to know Jesus Christ, then that itself is sure proof that God has elected you. Your conversion demonstrates that you’ve been chosen.
In God’s sovereignty and love, He has decided to use the preaching of the gospel to make His election effective. I don’t have time this morning to get into a detailed explanation of how God’s choosing of us and our responsibility to respond all work out, but I will say that both are taught in Scripture. We must affirm that God is God. He does what He wills, showing mercy on whom He shows mercy. At the same time, humans have the freedom to respond. I like how Gary Demarest puts it: “The invitation to the ekklesia is trumpeted to all. Christ died for all people without distinction. Indeed, whoever will may come” (Demarest, “Mastering the New Testament,” page 41).
Charles Spurgeon was once asked, “How do you reconcile God’s election with our responsibility to respond?” I love his answer. This is what he said (I’m paraphrasing), “Reconcile? Reconciliation is for enemies. God’s election and human responsibility are friends. They’re both taught in Scripture.”
In the Thessalonians’ case, it was their changed lives that gave evidence that they had been chosen. When the gospel came to them, they responded and their lives were radically redirected.
The gospel was preached verbally. Acts 17:2 tells us that Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” Paul and his team used words to communicate the truth but they recognized that it wasn’t their eloquence that would bring people to faith.
The gospel came with power. Friends, never forget that the Word of God is filled with explosive power to change lives! Romans 1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” When the Bible is faithfully proclaimed, it is the most powerful force in the world.