2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
What does an exemplary church look like? That’s the question before us. We need good examples. Examples are powerful. Examples always, without fail, teach. They influence for good or bad, for better or worse. We must be ever mindful of that. It is as the poet wrote:
A Father’s Prayer
A careful man I ought to be,
A little fellow follows me.
I do not dare to go astray
For fear he’ll go the selfsame way.
I cannot once escape his eyes,
What e’re he sees me do he tries.
Like me he says he’s going to be—
The little chap that follows me.
He thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in every word of mine.
The base in me he must not see—
The little chap who follows me.
I must remember as I go,
Thru summer’s sun and winter’s snow
I’m building for the years to be—
That little chap who follows me.
Examples teach, and everyone is some kind of example. Likewise, every church is an example of some sort. The church at Thessalonica was a good example. It was exemplary. I won’t rehash everything we’ve seen to this point. It’s enough to say for our purpose today that this church was exemplary for three reasons. We’ve seen that it copied godliness. An exemplary church does that. It copies godliness. It follows godly example. Second, this church to whom Paul writes suffered for the gospel. Exemplary churches do that. They take as many hits as need be for receiving the Word. Third, this church was Spirit-led. Though it suffered for the gospel, it joyfully suffered. It received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit. So, let us mark it and mark it well. The exemplary church copies godliness, suffers for the gospel, and is Spirit-led. Today, we add one more mark of an exemplary church.
An Exemplary Church Trumpets the Truth
An exemplary church also trumpets the truth. Verse 8- “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you…” The apostle begins to explain why these believers, why this church had become an example for churches everywhere to emulate. This church, these saints, proclaimed and propagated the truth, the ‘word of the Lord.’ They made it their lot. They took it upon themselves to make the truth run swiftly. Together they spread the gospel of God. When one considers how this came to be, what means were used to accomplish this, one thing becomes clear. In a day when there were no trains, planes, or automobiles, no iPhones,, email, blogs, video, or Facebook, such a task was no small venture. This is not to exalt them and diminish us to any degree whatsoever. The point of contact between us and them is this: they used whatever means available to trumpet the gospel. In terms of location, Thessalonica was strategically beneficial for gospel advance. It was an economic powerhouse, a hub for all kinds of ‘people stuff,’ and it had a fantastic highway in and out of the city. It was no superhighway or freeway; at its widest it was a mere 20 feet. But the Via Egnatia was, if you like, the information highway of its day. And so the message, and its sounding forth, took place by word of mouth by the feet of those who bring good news.
This endeavor was a noisy endeavor. This church was a noisy church. An exemplary church is, in other words, anything but quiet and silent. It trumpets the truth! The flesh, the sinful nature, the devil and his minions, and the world do not like this! A quiet church minding its own business, letting others live as they wish to live, is what they like. ‘If the church is going to be,’ says the unbeliever, ‘it must not be loud.’ But it must be loud. It must speak, and speak dogmatically, with authority, and with conviction. It must use whatever resources it has. It must use whatever means available to sound forth the truth of Christ, the word of the Lord, the gospel of God. This is what this church did. This is what, in part, made this church an exemplary church. They were anything but quiet! I love this: an exemplary church is a loud church! It trumpets the truth of Christ.
Preaching on John 14.6, Robert Murray M’Cheyne speaks of this truth. He said –
No doubt there are many truths which [the] unconverted man does know. He may know the truths of mathematics and arithmetic – he may know many of the common every-day truths; but still it cannot be said that [the] unconverted man knows the truth, for Christ is the truth. Christ may be called the keystone of the arch of truth. Take away the keystone of an arch, and the whole becomes a heap of rubbish. The very same stones may be there, but they are all fallen, smothered, and confused, – without order, without end. Just so take Christ away, and the whole arch of truth becomes a heap of rubbish. The very same truths may be there; but they are all fallen – without coherence, without order, without end. Christ may be called the sun of the system of truth. Take away the sun out of our system, and every planet would rush into confusion. The very same planets would be there; but their conflicting forces would draw them hither and thither, orb dashing against orb in endless perplexity. Just so take Christ away, and the whole system of truth rushes into confusion. The same truths may be in the mind, but all conflicting and jarring in inextricable mazes; for ‘the path of the wicked is as darkness; they know not at what they stumble.’ But let Christ be revealed to an unconverted soul – let it not be merely a man speaking about Christ unto him, but let the Spirit of God reveal Him – and there is revealed, not a truth, but the truth. You put the keystone into his arch of truth; you restore the sun to the center of the system.”
Men, unconverted men, living close by or far away, know much truth. But they don’t know the truth. They don’t know Christ. The exemplary church, in view of such, is not quiet. It speaks up. It speaks up and speaks of this Jesus who does what? Paul tells us in the 10th verse. This Jesus ‘delivers…from the wrath to come.’
This Jesus must be seen as a great rescuer. He rescues believers from the wrath that will come. This is part of what is sounded forth. We can’t trumpet Christ apart from what Christ does. He delivers us from the wrath to come. We have a Person (Christ) together with His work (He delivers and rescues from wrath, from God’s wrath, a wrath yet to come). This is the essence of what must sound, and what indeed does sound, from the exemplary church.
What is wrath? What is the wrath to come? First, it is truth. Second, it will be historical; it will happen in time. As sure as you rose from your slumber today, it will occur. Third, it will be the final and fixed act of God against all exposed to His wrath, i.e. those who are not united to Christ by faith. Fourth, it will be no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter what one has done or not done; if he be outside of Christ, he will know this wrath. Fifth, it will be and is the righteous judgment of a good and righteous judge who always judges righteously. Current event: Graham James, the pedophile, got two years in prison for abusing Theo Fleury and Todd Holt. Two years! Is that just? I haven’t heard anyone say so. And perhaps you’ve heard of Tori’s Law. In the wake of 8-year old Tori Stafford, killed by some sinner, the Prime Minister’s office is being bombarded by calls to reinstate the death penalty. People in this country are outraged. People want justice. And people will get justice because God is a righteous judge who will sentence men justly. The punishment will fit the crime in the court of the last day (unlike the court of Graham James).
Isaiah 2 tells what that day will be like:
“…the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning against everyone who is proud and lofty, and against everyone who is lifted up, that he may be abased…And the pride of man will be humbled, and the loftiness of men will be abased, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. But the idols will completely vanish. And men will go into caves of the rocks, and into holes of the ground before the terror of the Lord, and before the splendor of His majesty, when He arises to make the earth tremble. In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, in order to go into the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs, before the terror of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty, when He arises to make the earth tremble” (Is. 2:11c-12, 17-21. NASB).
So great and terrible and fearful will be the Lord’s splendor that men will not run to it, but hide themselves from it. Christ will so glorify and exalt Himself that most will run to the hills. Nine-Eleven (9-11) was a mere ‘bad day at the office’ compared to this. We must slow down here and drink this in. Can you imagine men, not running from the twin towers, but crying to them, that they fall on them? “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,” they’ll cry, “for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand” (Rev. 6:16-17)? We must believe this. We must see this and even feel it as we feel the beat of our own hearts. This is what’s in store for every unconverted soul alive when Christ returns. Those who died outside of Christ are no safer. They will not escape the wrath to come. They will not escape the glory and splendor and exaltation of Christ when He comes in glory and in power to judge the entire earth. Makes no difference who they are: mother, father, brother, sister, husband, wife, friend, cousin, stranger, neighbor. They will wish for the rocks to fall on them and hide them from the majesty, the penetrating, fearful majesty of Christ in the unveiled fullness of His incomprehensible, penetrating, fiery splendor. This will happen. Jesus is coming back. But his return won’t be quiet. It won’t be as a helpless babe away in some manger. He will come with a gavel in his hand.
That’s hard. That’s a tough pill to truly swallow, even for many who profess the name of Christ and call themselves Christians. But it’s part and parcel of what the Thessalonians believed and thus sounded forth. We wonder why it is that we speak what we speak. I mean, I wonder myself why it is that I speak what I speak and tick people off, especially when the easier thing to do (maybe) is keep my mouth shut. Why is it that we speak even things that we know will not be easily embraced, especially at first, and especially when we’d rather have someone else speak for us? Ever been there? Why do we speak up? I’ll tell you why. Regardless of how tough the audience or situation is, we speak up and trumpet what we say because we believe what we say is true. We believe. Therefore, we speak. We’re convinced. We have deep-seated convictions. So, we speak up. It’s hard if not downright impossible not to speak up if you believe something to be true. Do we believe in ‘the wrath to come?’ Do we believe that apart from Christ, if everyone in our region and beyond are not in Christ, if they have not fled to Him for refuge, if they do not love Him, if they have not believed in Him, will know for eternity ‘the wrath to come?’ How long is eternity? Eternity is the amount of time it takes for an eagle’s wing to erode Mt. Everest to sea level. And then it’s breakfast time. How will it be that untold billions will know the fires of hell for this long? Unlike 9/11, there’ll be no jumping out windows to escape that fire. Do we truly believe this? If we do, we’ll speak of it. We’ll speak the truth in what? In love!
But we’ll also speak of this: ‘Jesus…delivers us [not everybody without exception, but those like Paul and his companions and the ones to whom he writes, those marked by a labor of love and work of faith and steadfastness of hope in Christ] Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come. There is hope, and its alone in Christ and His work. Christ DELIVERS. There is not one ounce of doubt in this word. He actually does this. He rescues. He delivers us, those who know Him and obey His gospel, from the wrath to come.
How does He do this? How does Christ deliver us from the wrath to come? We of course must speak of the cross. Christ delivers by the cross, by his own death. He who knew no sin, became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God. He bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. Christ gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age. We preach Christ and Him crucified, to some an offense, to others foolishness, but to the called the power and wisdom of God. It was on the cross that Jesus died. And for every believer, His wrath was satisfied. “For every sin on Him was laid. Here in the death of Christ I live.”
But it doesn’t end there. If that was it, if that was everything Christ does to deliver us that would be amazing. That would be no small or inconsequential thing. But that, I’m convinced, is only the start of it all. Christ delivers us not only by dying for us on the cross, but living in us by His Spirit. Paul’s gospel was a gospel that demanded him to say things like: “…it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” and “…because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts…” and “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Don’t let Pentecostal distortions rob you of the joy this brings. Don’t let western categories of thought push you into thinking this must be balanced by some other doctrine. Listen to me: If it’s true, it doesn’t need to be balanced. Christ indwells believers by His Spirit, and there He produces and causes our deliverance from sin and sins. How else is a church marked by the work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope? How else is it possible to strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord? Christ delivers us not only by dying for us on the cross, but living in us in His Spirit. It’s Christ! It’s all of Christ! Christ delivers. He will do it. He will bring it to pass. He will cause us to walk as we ought to walk, if we walk by Him, by His Spirit. Does this mean the Christian has no need for exhortation and instruction? Does this mean the Christian does not exercise his will at all? Of course not. But these things must be seen in their proper context. We must put the cart in its proper place in relation to the horse – the bigger, and driving, if not generating and governing reality.
Trumpeting the truth will mean getting doctrinal. We can’t avoid that, not if we want to sound forth the word of the Lord in all its glorious fullness.
An exemplary church: What does it look like? It copies godliness, suffers for the gospel, is Spirit-led, and trumpets truth, not a truth, the truth. Christ. His Person & Work. Would you pray that we be such a church? Would you pray week after week with me, that we be marked by these things? Pray that we, that you and I, trumpet the truth both near and far with every means at our disposal. And may our Christ and Lord be magnified. Amen.
Pastor Braye studied at Canadian Theological Seminary and the University of Alberta. Presently he labors for “Pastoral Leadership Development at Action International Ministries” In the past he served as pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church and Beckwith Baptist Church. He is From Edmonton, Alberta