1 Thessalonians 2: 13 - 16
Our Baptist heritage lies with those who believe the Bible. We still believe the Bible. Through all the incredible changes of the 20th and 21st century this congregation has never wavered for one second from the most important truth that brought us into existence. Whatever else you can say about us, we are a Bible-believing church.
With that as background, and using the words of the apostle Paul as our guide, I want to answer one very important question: What does it mean to believe the Bible? Our text suggests 3 answers to that question.
1. Believing the Bible Means Accepting Its Authority in Every Area of Life v. 13
Paul uses 2 words in v. 13 to explain what he means:
A. You received the word of God. That’s the hearing of the ear. It’s objective. It’s like signing a receipt at the post office so you can accept a package. Paul means that the Thessalonians listened intently to the message he preached because they knew it came from God.
B. You accepted it as the word of God. This word means to welcome a visitor into your home. This is the hearing of the heart. It’s subjective. There is a difference because it’s very possible to listen to preaching and not be changed by it. It’s something else to welcome God’s message into your heart and let it transform your life.
The focus here is crucial. You heard the message from man but you recognized that it came from God. You heard from us (the human side) God’s message (the divine side). So you responded not as if it were the opinion of man, but as God’s word.
That’s why the debate over the nature of the Bible is so crucial. If it is only the word of man, then it is changeable, fickle and unreliable. But if the Bible is the word of God, then it is utterly and completely authoritative. If God has spoken in the Bible, then what he says has final claim on my life.
We Don’t “Correct” God’s Word
Let me summarize this point with 2 simple statements:
If the Bible comes from man, we are entitled to sit in judgment on it.
If the Bible comes from God, we must bow in submission to it.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a crucial question: What do you believe about the Bible? Does it come from man or from God? Is it on the level with the daily newspaper or does it speak with divine authority?
If you say it is the word of God, then you must also say that it is not simply one message among many. It is not like the ANC or the DA position that comes about through debate and consensus. If the Bible is the word of God, it is utterly exclusive in its claims. It does not beg for our approval. The Word of God is not like the first draft of a thesis where the writer submits it and says, “What do you think?” Not so with the Bible. God never asks us to correct the New Testament. He never asks us to review Isaiah and make a few changes. He won’t tolerate those who add to or take from the Book of Revelation.
God’s Energetic Word
Last phrase of v. 13, “which is at work in you who believe.” Paul ties the power of the word of God to the response of a believing heart. Underline 4 words —“Which is at work.” The Word works. There is power in the word of God when its divine authority is accepted in a believing heart. That word “works” is our word “energy.” The word is energized within us as we believe it. It is like farmland that bears a rich harvest. It is a like a gold mine that delivers great riches. It is like an investment that pays a huge dividend.
That’s good news. When we hear the message outwardly, and welcome it inwardly, when we allow God’s word to rule over every area of our lives - it energizes us and produces a wonderful harvest.
So what does it mean to believe the Bible? Our first answer is very clear. Believing the Bible means accepting its authority in every area of your life.
2. Believing the Bible means accepting the opposition it brings v. 14
Here we have a piece of bad news. If you believe the Bible, you’re going to have some strong enemies. When Paul uses the word “countrymen” he uses a word that is absolutely unique. It means the people closest to you. If you decide to believe the Bible is the word of God, many people who are close to you will not share your faith at all.
No One Likes to Be Unpopular
I am encouraged by well-meaning Christians who say we should not speak out so boldly about sin in our community because in doing so we risk turning away the very people we are trying to reach. Deep in my heart, I understand their concern and I share it. No one likes to be unpopular. I know full well there are people who don’t like the Baptist Church. Maybe some of you have been embarrassed when friends say, “Oh, you go that that church?” and they don’t mean it as a compliment.
That’s no fun. It would be better if everyone in Wilro Park loved us. But they don’t. If they despise us for telling the truth about homosexuality and other sinful lifestyles, then so be it. If they think we are narrow-minded and bigoted, then so be it.
The truth is much different, of course. This church is filled with people who love God and love people. Let us say it and say it clearly: We don’t hate anyone. We welcome everyone in Wilro Park—regardless of their lifestyle—to attend our services. Our doors are open to all people without exception. We don’t run background checks on those attend our services—and we’re not going to start.
But our deepest commitment is to the word of God. We will preach it and teach it and proclaim because it is the only hope for a dying world. Here, then, is the sober truth. Believing the Bible means accepting the opposition it brings.
3. Believing the Bible means accepting its judgment on society v. 15, 16
These are sobering words. Paul mentions 4 ways that the Jews opposed the early Christians: 1. They killed Jesus and the prophets 2. They drove the apostles out of Jerusalem 3. They are hostile to all men 4. They hinder the preaching of the gospel.
The last point is that one that grips Paul’s mind and heart. You see, it’s one thing to say, “not for me, but it’s okay for you.” It’s something to say, “Not for me, and not for you either.” If you prefer to stay in darkness, that’s your privilege. It is a terrible sin to put out the light so that others cannot see.
There is something fundamentally wrong with any religion that cuts off a man from his fellow man. Such a religion is not of God. Mark it down, please. The greatest sin is not in refusing salvation, but in trying to keep others from believing.
“Don’t Take Others With You!”
If you prefer to go to hell, that’s your business. But please don’t try to take others with you. There are those who will never attend a church service, but will do anything to stop others from attending. They will never pray in the public schools, and will threaten a lawsuit against anyone who does. They will not accept Christ but mock a co-worker who comes to faith. They will not lift a finger to save the unborn but they ridicule those who work in a crisis pregnancy center. They create an ungodly atmosphere at work and then attempt to intimidate Christians into compromise or silence.
Such people are all around us today. Not all unbelievers fit this pattern … but some do. They do all they can to actively oppose Christians who are actively seeking to win others to Christ.
v. 16 tells us 2 things about God’s judgment on such people:
A. They heap up their sins to the limit. The word means to “fill to the brim.” There is a limit, a line, and a point of no return for each person. No one knows when or where that point is. But that point of no return comes for nations, for families and for individuals.
B. Wrath has come upon them. The word is both present and future. Although our God is patient, his patience has its limits. Eventually the storm clouds rolls in and finally break over the heads of unbelievers. Though they be long delayed, the fires of hell will come at last to those who reject our Lord.
Please understand. This is God’s judgment on any society that rejects his revelation. No nation or individual can reject him with impunity. No nation can sin forever without reaping a divine punishment.
This is the final answer to the question: What does it mean to believe the Bible? If you believe the Bible, you must accept its judgment on society.
Two Concluding Thoughts
1. There are certain unchangeable facts which are true and which must be believed if we are to be truly Christian.
These truths are not like the shifting tides of human opinion. They do not change with the latest opinion poll. These truths make Christianity what it is and if they are neglected or denied, our faith loses its foundation. Our only basis of authority is the Bible. Like Martin Luther, we say, “Our conscience is bound by the Word of God. Here we stand. We can do no other.”
Our only basis of authority is the Bible.
Such a stand will not win us brownie points with the world …or with the local media. But be that as it may, we have been standing on the word of God for years and I see no reason to stop now.
Let me sharpen the point just a bit. Suppose someone were to ask why you are a Christian. It is not enough to say, “I believe in Jesus because he solves all my problems” or “I come to this church because I meet so many nice people here.” That’s beside the point. We must not claim to be Christians simply because of some advantage we receive. We must believe because the message is from God and is therefore true. No other answer will suffice.
2. God’s wrath is a terrible reality that comes upon every individual, institution and nation that turns away from Him.
We are a sinners by nature, by birth and by choice. If we deny this, or soften, or shy away from it, then we do not believe the Bible no matter what we say. This truth is badly needed today and we do not help people by hiding it from them.
Only when men see they are under the wrath of God are they ready to hear about God’s great love for them. Once a man or a woman acknowledges their personal need, then you can tell them about Jesus and how his death and resurrection provides the full payment for their sins. Once they know that, they are ready to enter into a personal relationship with God.
This means that every person faces a most solemn choice: To go their own way and face judgment and wrath … or to turn to God in Christ and receive salvation, forgiveness and a brand-new life.
When a man says in his heart, “I have decided to follow Jesus,” he has made the choice to step off the path of death and onto the path of life. He turned off that steep road that leads down to hell and set his feet on the path that leads to heaven.
Good News, Sad News, Bad News
*Good news that the Bible is true and when we believe it, God’s power is released in your life.
*Sad news that those closest to us will often oppose our Christian faith.
*Bad news that God’s wrath comes upon those who reject his Word.
There is no substitute for the Word of God. Our forefathers believed it and that’s why they started this church. We still believe it and with God’s help we will continue to believe it until Jesus comes again. Amen.