Thank God for You (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)
When I preached in Virginia, the elders bought a few turkeys and a couple hams, and on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the congregation would bring sides and we’d have a Thanksgiving feast together. Tammy would make my Mamaw’s dressing—it’s made with stale white bread instead of cornbread, and it is beyond delicious. Others would bring green bean casserole and corn pudding and pumpkin pie and pecan pie.
After we ate, one of our elders stood and asked each member of the congregation to name something for which he or she was thankful. You can likely guess the responses—family, Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, jobs, food, the congregation and the like.
If we were to ask that question of you this morning, how would you answer? Are you thankful that this crazy year is about to end? Are you thankful for your family? Are you thankful Jesus has forgiven you? Are you thankful that God hears your prayers? Are you thankful for your health? Are you thankful that we are able to worship in person again?
How thankful are you for your fellow believers this morning? How thankful are you for those who are sitting in the same row as you? How thankful are you for the godly elders who shepherd us? How thankful are you for those who teach the Scriptures here or those who lead singing or those who lead us in prayer? How thankful are you for this congregation?
Paul was extremely thankful for the congregation in Thessalonica, and he told the church how thankful he was for them. He also doesn’t simply say he thanks God for them, but he explains why he thanks God for them. This morning, we want to look at why Paul was thankful for the Thessalonians. Further, we want to be like the Thessalonians and to practice this principle: “Live so others thank God for you.” If you live as the Thessalonians did, many folks will thank God for you.
Scripture (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)
Paul regularly thanked God for the Thessalonians. He said he always thanks God for them. The Greek verb for “thanks” indicates repetitive action. The Greek term for “continually” means “without interruption”—the Greeks used the word to describe a cough which just wouldn’t stop. Paul simply wouldn’t stop when it came to giving God thanks for the Thessalonians.
God expects us to be a thankful people. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Col 3:15). “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:18). Paul, following his own Spirit-inspired advice, gave thanks to God for the Thessalonians.
Paul informed the Thessalonians why he never stopped giving thanks for them—their work produced by faith, their labor prompted by love, and their endurance inspired by hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Thessalonians performed work produced by faith.
The faith of the Thessalonians did not come easily. Paul preached in the Thessalonian synagogue for three Sabbath days; “some of the Jews were persuaded” and became Christians (Acts 17:4). When Paul is sent to Berea because of a riot, Luke says of the Bereans: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). When Paul first came to Thessalonica “a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women” (Acts 17:4) believed; however, the Jewish Christians believed in the face of opposition.
The Thessalonians performed labor prompted by love.
The Thessalonian believers were known for their love. After Timothy had visited the congregation, he went to Paul and “brought good news about [their] faith and love” (1 Thess 3:6). The Thessalonians needed no apostolic instruction on loving others: “Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia” (1 Thess 4:9-10).
The Thessalonians had endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Thessalonians needed hope, for they were facing persecution (1 Thess 3:3-4). The Thessalonians also needed hope to confront grief differently from the world (1 Thess 4:13).
The source of their hope is the “Lord Jesus Christ.” The Thessalonians anticipated the return of the Resurrected Jesus from heaven (1 Thes 1:10). The hope they had in the face of death came from the resurrection of Jesus Christ and God’s promise to bring the dead in Christ back to life (1 Thess 4:14).
“Live so others thank God for you.” The way the Thessalonians lived caused Paul to thank God for them in Scripture. Think about that—Their lives were so exemplary that we have a record of their faith, love, and hope in the Word of God! How can you live so that others thank God for you?
Work from faith.
We need to be full of good works: “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10). Those good works must come from faith: If I do not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, why would I spend my time working for his cause? If I do not believe that the church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth, why would I seek to work for her? If I do not believe people bear the image of God, why would I seek to serve them?
Out of my faith, I need to do good works. Timothy was to command the rich “to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Tim 6:18). “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet 2:12).
What good deeds can you do from faith? Can you show up at the prayer tent? Can you serve at the Wheelhouse? Can you volunteer to teach Bible class? Can you lend a listening ear to a wayward soul? Can you provide groceries to a struggling neighbor? Commit to finding a good work this week where you can serve through your faith.
Labor in love.
It’s not simply that we must work out of faith, but our labor needs to come from love. We Christians must love one another:
- “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:35).
- “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).
- “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22).
God even expects us to love—to seek the best for—our enemies: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:44-45).
How can you labor in love this week? What prayer can you pray for your enemies? What act of kindness can you perform from a heart full of love? Commit to laboring in love this week.
Endure through hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we must persevere: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58). Because Jesus rose from the dead, we can endure whatever life throws at us. We know that no matter how bad today might be, an eternal day of joy awaits us.
What are some ways you will endure through hope in Jesus? Will you continue to love your spouse—even when she’s grumpy or he leaves his underwear on the floor? Will you continue to give generously in the midst of an uncertain pandemic? Will you continue to pray when God doesn’t answer you the way you want? Will you continue to set an example at work when you’re mocked and maligned? How will you endure this week through hope in the Lord Jesus Christ?
Can you imagine a world where people sought to “Live so others [would] thank God for [them]?” We’d see folks gathering for worship like never before because they sought to work in faith. We’d see a decrease in murders here in Houston because people would choose love over hate. We’d see divorce rates drop like a lead balloon as folks chose to endure challenges in hope.
Are people giving thanks to God for you this morning? Do you need to come this morning and submit to God and live in Christ that you might be a blessing to others?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.