“For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Today we’ll discuss this fragment from the apostle Paul’s letter to Christians in Thessaloniki. We we’ll reflect and meditate on this phrase which the apostle used and which we hear so often – ‘the word of God’.
We hear it every Divine service, we use it in our devotions and in our Christian conversations. In Christian circles we are so familiar with it, that we usually don’t even think about it… ‘the word of God’.
We don’t even reflect anymore why we use this phrase, and what gravity it carries. But how would we explain to those, who are not Christians why we use this phrase and what do we mean by it. ‘The word of God’.
Today, looking at this fragment from Paul’s letter to Thessalonians, we’ll try to answer these two questions. First, what does this phrase mean? What is its significance of us today?
There are these two sentences which especially apply to our today’s topic. Paul wrote ‘while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.’ And ‘when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
The Gospel of God, the word of God, which is at work in us. What did Paul mean by it? It’s actually very simple when we try to understand the meaning of this phrase historically, if you will, in the context of Jesus ministry among us.
First, let’s think about this question – can we know anything about God? He is the Creator of the Universe. Totally different than we. As the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to Roman Christians, yes, indeed we can know that there is God.
When we look how majestic creation around us is. Sunrises and sunsets, billions of stars in nightly sky, tiny human beings in mother’s womb, and so on. This knowledge that there is someone higher is almost built into us.
But can we know what is His attitude towards us? What does He thinks about us? Not on our own. There is only one way. If He Himself speaks to us. And this is exactly what has happen when Jesus Christ was among us.
Hundreds and thousands of eyewitness saw what He did, His mighty deeds and his resurrection, and testified that Jesus Christ was, indeed, the Son of God, God Himself.
He became one of us so that He could speak with us face-to-face and so that we could understand and receive His message clearly. How important this message should be, if God Himself took such an effort to deliver it to us.
Now we are getting to this matter of the word of God. Jesus Christ was the Son of God, true man and true God at the same time. This is a mystery, and no one can fully explain it.
But what He spoke to us – were words of God Himself. Of course, they were spoken in human language, even in one particular language, but they were at the same time the words of God Himself. This is why Jesus words are called the word of God.
What happened next? Once Jesus had revealed what God’s attitude to us is, what He wants us to know, He sent His disciples, the apostles to share this message with all nation of the world. What did they do?
Exactly what Jesus commanded. They went and shared what Jesus had commanded them. And they didn’t do it on their own. Wherever the word of God was proclaimed, the Holy Spirit accompanied them. Often with signs and miracles.
They spoke in the power and guided by the Holy Spirit. This is why the message delivered by the apostles were called the words of God. That is in this sense that the apostle Paul was able to say that what they shared with Thessalonians were the words of God Himself, and not the words of man.
The next thing that happened – towards the end of their lives, the apostles wrote down the message that they had received from Jesus. From there on it was quiet simple.
The apostles chose fitting man, taught them carefully the message of Jesus, the words of God, and gave them also their written testimonies about what Jesus said and did. These men, in their turn, delivered these words to the next generation and to the next… and so on.
You see, the same words of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has reached us today. And what we hear read and explained in the Church really are the same words of God Himself, His own message to each of you. This is why we call them ‘the word of God’.
Now, let’s think about the second question – what it means for us today. First I would like to focus on messengers, that is on pastors. Then we’ll see what it means for every Christian.
I have to admit, that for me all of this is quite scary. What I am called to deliver to you are the words of Almighty God Himself. The words of God. The most important message. We have it summarized in our Creeds.
The Creation, the Fall, God’s wrath, Jesus comes to save us from eternal death and destruction, He calls us into His holy community, His Church, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we can be transformed and inherit eternal life.
Rightly delivered these words will create true faith and trust to Triune God and save us from sin and eternal death and to bring us into God’s kingdom.
If the message is not clear, or if we spent more time adoring ourselves, than listening to God, about what He has done and what He will do… it may lead people into eternal death. That simple.
What a responsibility to messengers. This is what scares me. See, James, the brother of Jesus, warned us: “Do not become teachers for … those who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (Jam 3:1)
Similarly the apostle Paul warned that this is not going to be an easy task. He said that there will be men like wolves, who will speak twisted things and will try to draw away the disciples after them. (Act 20:28-30)
It means we are called to guard God’s own church from all who would try to deceive and to lead His people astray, that is, from deceitful ideologies both in our culture and in the Church.
This is a very real battle against powers of darkness and forces of evil. (Eph. 6:12) No man can’t battle this on his own, only with the help of the Holy Spirit.
I have shared this with many of you, that when I was called to study to become a pastor, I was really scared. Who am I to bear such a responsibility! What if I don’t get it right. People may not be saved.
This has been my motivation to study hard almost for 10 years, this is my motivation to continue studies of the word of God. And still, I admit that without the help of the Holy Spirit I can do nothing.
Now, what does the fact, that God Himself speaks to us means for us as Christians? Two things. First. Pay attention to what your pastors preach and teach. God has entrusted to them His words of eternal life.
Help them to proclaim and teach this message clearly. Ask, clarify, discuss. For this message from Jesus Christ is the most, the most important message, and you don’t want to miss it. You want to get it right.
This is like directions to God’s eternal Kingdom. If you have right directions, you’ll get to the destination. If directions are not clear, or are wrong, it doesn’t matter how long or how intensely you travel, you may not get there.
Second thing what it means for us all is actually quite scary as well. God the Creator, who came to us to reveal His loving heart, He wants to speak to us, to each of you. To each one of you.
He knows you, He knows you personally, better than anyone else, and He speaks to you. Now, stop and think about it… God, the Creator speaks to you, He has something very, very important to say to you.
Yes, He speaks using His messengers, but nevertheless, that’s Him speaking to you. And He wants you to listen and to receive His message. Your eternal future depends on it. How careful and attentive we need to be listening to Him.
And if you listen carefully, this is what you will hear. The message about God’s grace, about His unconditional acceptance of all people, about His love. This message sounds like God Himself was saying ‘I know you my child, I love you, I forgive you. Allow me to be your God and to bless you!’
He says it to each of you… M-m, you may doubt it. Not to me! You may think that you don’t deserve it. For you know what kind of person you are. Why would God say it to you? If you think so, you are right. You don’t deserve it. No one does.
But this is exactly where we can see God’s true nature, – He doesn’t chose good people among us, no, He invites everyone. Each of you. And then, whoever responds to His invitation, He transforms them by His Spirit.
You can put it this way. He doesn’t look for lovable people. He takes sinners, real sinners, and by His love recreates, reshapes them into His holy people. This is what you are, and nothing is going to change it.
The last thing. There was something else that the apostle Paul wrote. The Word of God “which is at work in you, believers.” The word which is at work in us. It’s true. The word of God is life giving and life changing word.
It is for our relationships with God like oxygen for our bodies. We take it in, and we don’t notice what it does. But if we don’t receive it, our faith dies. Literary. But if you receive it, read, listen, meditate upon, share this word, it is at work in you.
This is what is happening with you. The more you take it in, the more it changes you. And ‘you [begin] to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.’ You may not even notice it.
But God the Father does. The Holy Spirit does. Jesus Christ does. And when this word will have accomplished what it was sent to do, you will see the Author of God’s words face-to-face. You will be like Him and will see Him as He is. Just keep listening. The Word will do the rest.