Saturday, January 24, 2015

Trusting the Word to Work (Ministry in Thessalonians, #11)

And we also thank God continually 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 actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. - 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

One of my consistent prayers when I teach or write is that my words will fall to the ground and God's words would remain. I know too well that I am human, imperfect, and have areas where I'm prone to imbalance. God wisely makes absolutely no promises about my words. His Word, however - well, that's a different story:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. (Psalm 119:89) 
When I first started walking with the Lord, I had no mentor, discipleship program, or even a regular church. What God used to draw me to Himself was His Word, which had been planted in me when I was a child required to be in church with my parents three times a week. While it didn't seem to "take" at the time, what I didn't realize was the principle of germination. Just as seeds in a garden germinate at different rates - the oldest mature seed to germinate actually dates to Jesus' era - so it is when God's Word is planted in the soil of a heart. Our part is to plant the seeds of God's Word and pray for it to fall on good soil; the rest, including the timing of germination, is in God's hands.

Paul's team rejoiced over the Thessalonians because when they heard God's Word from Paul and his team, they welcomed it "not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God." Paul knew full well that such a response was the work of God in their hearts, so he "continually" thanked God for this attitude toward the Word of God. The words used in this passage are instructive to any of us who communicate God's Word in any way to other people.
  • First, the word of God is "heard." This refers to physically hearing something. They had to literally hear the word of God from someone - the verse makes it clear they heard it from Paul's team. Paul lived out the words he later wrote to the church in Rome: How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Romans 10:14
  • Second, the word of God is "received." This word refers to "receiving something transmitted" and taking it to oneself. In the context of this verse it refers to receiving with the mind. When these believers heard the word of God, they did not immediately cast it aside. The words didn't fall to the ground; they received the words into their minds and gave them some consideration. 
  • Third, the word of God is "welcomed." Some translations say "accepted". The Greek word carries a much deeper meaning than our typical understanding of either word. Its first meaning is "to take with the hand" and it is a word associated with hospitality, used in Hebrews 11:31 of Rahab "welcoming" the spies. When referring to something heard it includes the idea of "to make one's own". It includes the idea of "take up", as its use in Ephesians 6:17 demonstrates.
  • Finally, once the word has been heard, received, and welcomed, it is "at work in you who believe." You don't have to know Greek at all to grasp the meaning behind "at work" when you see the word energeo! It contains the idea of working with POWER. It brings to mind Hebrews 4:12: For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
How was the word of God shown to be at work in the Thessalonian church? The "For you" in verse 14 connects the thoughts. Paul tells them God's word "is at work in you who believe. FOR YOU, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea..." How did they imitate these churches? The verse continues to describe how just as the churches in Judea suffered persecution from their own countrymen, so too did the church in Thessalonica. We know from Acts 17 that this persecution came alarmingly early in the life of the new believers. The seeds had barely germinated before persecution came, people were arrested, and Paul & his team were whisked away to Berea. They had to learn quickly to trust the word of God to be at work in the church.

Please know that none of this negates the importance of sound biblical teaching. God gave the "office" gifts to the church - apostle, evangelist, prophet, pastor, teacher - to build her up and bring us all to maturity. When God's word is at work in us, we will be drawn to sound teaching and want to be part of the church He loves.

What this passage teaches me, though, is that when I fully do my part - share the word of God and pray for the it to fall into good soil - I can rest knowing that whatever circumstances arise, the word of God will do its work. Like a new plant, it takes on a life of its own.

The ministry challenge for this is two-fold: First, it's always a good idea to examine our hearts anew to make sure we are welcoming the word of God and allowing it to powerfully work in us. Second, take any concerns that you have about people you've shared Scripture with to the Lord. Ask Him to give them a heart to receive and welcome the words as the words of God, not man. And pray for those words to accomplish the purpose God intends as He unleashes the power that is locked up in every seed, bringing it forth to produce fruit in His perfect timing.

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