Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Binary Choice
To bring us back to speed on Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians: Paul was on his second missionary journey and got sent to Macedonia (present day Greece) because the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let him go anywhere else! In Thessalonica, he shared the gospel in the synagogues for three Sabbaths. His main message was that the Messiah was to suffer, die, and be raised from the dead and that the identity of this Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.
The response was mixed: some Jews, some God-fearers (Gentiles converted to Judaism) and some leading women of the city accepted the gospel. This young church got off to a rocky start because when the other Jews saw the success of the gospel they got jealous, started a riot, and then tried to stamp out the church by having it condemned by the local Roman authorities.
That didn’t exactly work, but Paul, Silas and Timothy needed to get out of Dodge. They headed to Berea where the gospel was embraced by more open minds. Worried about what might happen in Thessalonica, Paul sent Timothy back to find out how things were going. You know, it’s often right at the beginning of faith that the enemy swoops in and tries to stamp out your reception of the gospel. It’s no wonder Paul was concerned.
Timothy returned and probably while Paul was in Corinth reported that the church was alive and well but was dealing with some concerns and theological questions. They seem to involve what happens when a person receives the gospel—how is their life changed—and then some concerns about when the Lord is coming back and how all of that works.
Paul begins by extoling the Thessalonians in three different aspects: faith, hope and love. They put their trust in God to work by working hard at showing agape love and by enduring in the hope of God’s rescue, while undergoing much persecution. They received the gospel with joy because of the Holy Spirit’s power in the gospel.
This caused a change in them—an imitation of what they saw in Paul. This had an impact far beyond their city—and that’s where we pick up the letter.
In verse 6 Paul describes the Thessalonians as “imitators”. This word means: “a follower.” But now he says that the result of their joyful acceptance of the gospel despite opposition has become an “example”. This Greek word means a “die” or “stamp.” Many products are manufactured by first making a form from one material that another is poured into—like a clay mold or a plastic mold. So, Paul is saying their character and response to the gospel is something others can emulate and imitate.
The two places where this example spread were Macedonia and Achaia. Macedonia is in the north and Achaia in the south—and make up much of modern Greece. The strategy of the Apostle worked—share the gospel with some and watch it spread into the surrounding areas.
This is what happens with us as well. As your life changes because of hearing and embracing the gospel, many others will take notice.
How did the Thessalonians become an example? We see this at the end of verse 8, which I’ll get to. But notice what Paul says: that “the Lord’s message rang out”. The word “rang” there is from a Greek word where we get our English “echo”. The actions the Thessalonians took in response to the gospel were noticed far and wide. It was like a video that had gone viral. Not only did that echo go into Greece, but “every place that your faith in God has gone out.”
In fact, many men from Thessalonica became part of spreading the gospel through Europe. These included Aristarcus and Secundus (Acts 20:4), Jason (Acts 17:6-9, Acts 18:1) and others.
Part of this was built into the DNA of the Thessalonians. This area had a proud history dating back to Alexander the Great. The city was situated on a major Roman road (The Via Egnatia) and had a good port. It was a free city so they enjoyed many economic and political benefits. They were not just concerned about their own city but faced outward to the world. Their city was an influencer so they became influencers for the gospel. That’s a good word to us as well. After getting saved are we only concerned with our own affairs, or do we look outward to what areas we can influence as well?
Paul had no need to explain the Thessalonian conversion because of two things. The first we find here in verse 9:
- Turning from a dead past
The Thessalonians knew they were making a binary choice. Their past lives had been serving the many idols of the Gentile world. In those days, the idols had names and a physical representation but they are alive and well today—known as greed, lust, fame, and fortune. They counted on what brought them security. They’d been taught that that security came from worshipping these idols. But when presented with the gospel they realized that their temporal security came at a price—an eternal insecurity: a debt owed to God for their sin. We’ll get to that in a moment.
The gospel told them that to solve their eternal insecurity problem they needed to turn away from relying on “dead” idols and turn to a “living God”. They didn’t include Jesus in their pantheon of idols. They didn’t add Him to the menu of their spiritual restaurant. They turned “from” idols—away from serving them to serve a God who was both “living” and “true.”
Isaiah 44:9 (HCSB) 9 All who make idols are nothing, and what they treasure does not profit. Their witnesses do not see or know anything, so they will be put to shame.
In nearby Lystra, Acts 14 has an account of Paul preached for this very turning:
Acts 14:15-17 (HCSB) 15 “… we are proclaiming good news to you, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. 16 In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own way, 17 although He did not leave Himself without a witness, since He did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and satisfying your hearts with food and happiness.”
So, the Thessalonians as well discarded the “worthless things” and the false things and turned to trust in God.
- Waiting for a living future
The second part of their witness was that they actively waited for the return of King Jesus. There are four elements here that I want to focus on that are essential for everyone to understand when it comes to making this binary choice.
- Jesus is King and He’s coming back
There can only be one person in charge over your life. If it is you, then God help you. Jesus is the King in God’s kingdom.
Matthew 28:18 (HCSB) Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
He is right now an absent King. But that won’t be forever.
Matthew 24:27 (HCSB) For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Revelation 1:7 (HCSB) Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, including those who pierced Him. And all the families of the earth will mourn over Him. This is certain. Amen.
- Jesus is alive and must be reckoned with
“Whom He raised from the dead” should scare us. All the other religious leaders who have lived: Buddha, Mohammed, John Lennon, etc. all died and were buried. Only Jesus actually came back to life—resurrected into an indestructible life. It is proof that He was innocent and that His death paid the price for our sins because He bore them Himself. Because God raised Jesus means the price was paid and accepted. You must deal with this because not only is He alive but He’s coming back to hear our choice on who He is and where we stand with Him.
- Jesus has created a way of rescue that we must accept or reject
We “wait” for His “rescue.” Why do we need a rescue anyway? I read an interesting article the other day that now suggests the Titanic was doomed from before it set sail. Historians have analyzed photos of the “unsinkable” ship from before its ill-fated maiden voyage and have concluded that a coal fire inside the ship actually weakened the steel hull so much that it became brittle and the iceberg had no trouble at all slicing through the distressed steel, sending it and 1,500 passengers and crew to their deaths.
In the same way, this earth and all of us, have been weakened by the fire of sin that has been burning since the Garden of Eden. When Jesus returns it really won’t take that much to sink this world.
Luke 12:49-50 (HCSB) “I came to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already set ablaze! 50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how it consumes Me until it is finished!”
That “fire” Jesus talks about has two aspects: judgment and purification. That’s part of the binary choice we have. You will experience the fire of the Lord, either it will purify you or judge you.
- Jesus will oversee a reaction to everyone who rejects this rescue
The “wrath to come” is the result of Jesus returning as the King to retake possession of earth after we gave it away to Lucifer in the Garden of Eden.
John the Baptist described it this way as He was baptizing Jesus:
Matthew 3:11-12 (HCSB) “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove His sandals. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing shovel is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn. But the chaff He will burn up with fire that never goes out.”
Jesus described it this way:
Matthew 25:31-34 (HCSB) 31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.
32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left.
34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. … 41 Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!“
The wrath of God is simply the natural reaction when a sinful creature comes into the presence of sinless God. I don’t say this as a scare tactic. This world is going down and the only lifeboat out of here is to let Jesus bear the wrath for you. When Jesus died on the cross He said “It is finished”. That meant the debt was paid in full-your debt to God for the sin you committed is paid for.
So seriously consider the choice you have. And if you already have made that choice to trust and rely on Jesus then rejoice and relax. Rescue’s coming!
The encouragement here is that making that choice has an impact—and it’s not just personal to you. Don’t be afraid to be a Christian and to say with your life and your words that you no longer trust the old ways to bring you security—you have a new life in Jesus. That declaration, like in Thessalonica, can travel a long way!