Thessalonian Lessons in Church Planting

Churchplanting

The Church of Thessalonica was established during Paul’s second missionary journey. It is chronicled in Acts 15:36-18:22. In this post I want to walk through this journey and then apply a few lessons that can be applied to church planting.

Paul’s journey began in Antioch, were Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement over John Mark, as to whether he should join them on their trip or not. Apparently John Mark had abandoned them on a previous trip and Paul did not think it was a good idea to depend upon him. Barnabas took John Mark and went to the island of Cyprus while Paul took Silas as his partner (Acts 15:36-41).

Meanwhile Paul and Silas headed to the region of Galatia to encourage the churches that Paul and Barnabas had established in the first missionary journey (Acts 15:36). The first stop mentioned was in Derbe and then on to Lystra. At Lystra Paul took Timothy with him on his journey (Acts 16:1-5).”

From Galatia Paul traveled with Silas and Timothy through the region called Phrygia, moving in a Northwest direction, avoiding Asia Minor (modern Turkey) because the Holy Spirit had forbidden that Paul should go there (Acts 16:6).

Paul then decided to go above Asia Minor into a Roman province called Bithynia, but Paul and his party were once again forbidden by the Spirit from going into this region (16:7). That meant that North and South were out of bounds to travel in. They could go back or they could press on toward Mysia along the northern border of Asia and Mysia until they reached Troas, which they did (Acts 16:8).

It was while in Troas that the Lord revealed to Paul his mission. He was given a vision of a Macedonian man who called out to him to come over and help him. Paul would have recognized this man as Macedonian from his traditional hat and clothing that had been a mark of the Macedonian people for centuries before and carries on even to today.

Although Macedon is not as well known to most of us today outside of the biblical references to it, it is important for us to know a little about its history.

The Macedonian kingdom was the “greatest empire ever known to human history.” [1] It was the empire of Alexander III also known as Alexander the Great.

Before he died at the age of 33, Alexander had succeeded in extending his kingdom from Egypt in the south to the Indus River in India to the east. His father, Philip II conquered the Greek city states and taught his son well many strategies that served him well as he sought to conquer the rest of the world. Alexander conquered Asia Minor, Phoenicia, Palestine, Egypt, Babylonia and India.

Alexander’s armies are pictured in Daniel 7:6 as a swift leopard with four wings. It says, “After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it.” The speed of the army was represented by the leopard’s speed amplified by four wings. The four heads refer to what happened after Alexander’s death. Since he died so young, possibly by poisoning, no plan of succession was in place.

After much turmoil, the kingdom was divided among his four generals into four kingdoms, with Antipater receiving the former Macedonian kingdom and Greece. At Antipater’s death, Cassander had the opportunity to take control and he solidified his position by marrying Alexander’s half-sister, the daughter of King Philip II. Her name? Thessaloniki.

In 316 BC Cassander founded a new city by consolidating 26 towns into the new city he called Thessalonica. This prestigious city would go through many more changes and wars by the time Paul would enter into it. When Paul came, it was a jewel to the Romans and had a population of about 200,000, which was quite large for a city in its day.

Let’s go back to Acts 16. Now we can see God’s purpose in not allowing Paul to go to Mysia or Asia or Bithynia! He wanted them to go to Macedon to bring the gospel message to the Gentiles!

Notice in verse 10 that it says “we” (cp. v.8 says “they”). What we find here is that in Troas Paul picked up another traveling companion—the author of Acts and the Gospel named for him—Luke! Paul went from Troas (in Mysia) across the island of Samothrace to the mainland of Macedonia and the city of Neapolis (16:11).

From Neapolis Paul and his friends went to the Roman colony of Philippi, named after Alexander the Great’s father King Philip II (16:12). In this city, Paul and his company met Lydia and led her to Christ. Later they were beaten with rods and thrown into jail after casting the demon out of a slave girl. (16:13-24) Welcome to Macedonia!

While in jail, God intervened and a jailer and his family were saved (16:25-40). From Lydia and the jailer’s family and any other’s saved on that trip to Philippi Paul established the first church in Europe. The letter we call Philippians was written to them.

Source: http://www.biblestudy.org/maps/apostle-paul-second-missionary-journey-map.html

Source: Biblestudy.org

Acts 17:1-9 tells us about the establishment of the Thessalonian church. Leaving Philippi, Paul passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, probably because they were so small (17:1) and moved to the city of Thessalonica, where a synagogue had been established by the Jewish population.”

In these 9 verses, I’d like to make three observations about the work that Paul did in planting this church and make some applications for our lives.

1. Paul “reasoned from the Scriptures with a Purpose (vv. 2-4).
Paul’s time in Thessalonica was short—he knew that. He was not on a vacation or sight seeing trip. He was literally on a mission. Because of that purpose, Paul’s time was focused, purposeful and methodical.
Verse 2 says he“reasoned”with the Jews. This word in Greek is dilegomai and it is where we get our word “dialogue.” Paul “dialogued” with them. He had deep, meaningful conversations with them about the Scriptures and their meaning. But it had a purpose and an aim. they didn’t argue about Jonah’s whale or who the Nephilim in Genesis 6 are. Paul made a bee-line to the cross and Jesus.”
Paul wanted to show them from the Old Testament that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah (v. 3). And Paul was seeking to change the hearts and minds of his listeners (v.4)! His mission had a purpose. Remember the way that Paul talked to King Agrippa? Acts 26:24-29. Paul preached for change!”
Studying the Bible and going to church is good. Listening to sermons and reading Christian books is good. But to what end do we do these things? Is it to seek holiness in our lives? It is to grow in Christ? Why do we share Christ? Is it to see people saved?”

2. Faithful gospel proclamation will also attract opposition from our enemy and those blinded by sin (vv. 5-9).

In a sense, these gospel preachers were turning the “world upside down” by preaching their message about King Jesus. We need to be honest. Most people like the status quo. We don’t like it when people rock the boat. And we love our sin. Listen to John 3:19-20. It says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

Paul was trying to build a lighthouse in the darkness of Thessalonica. But the darkness wasn’t about to just roll over and let that happen. It fought back. So, we must wage war!” We too need to fight like Paul—reasoning, preaching the gospel, and persuading with the truth.

Second Corinthians 10:3-6 says,“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. “

3. Finally, Jesus must be trusted to build his own church (Matt 16:18).

It is easy to give up and be discouraged by adversity and the roadblocks that we encounter. To see all the failures and not the victories. Afterall, Paul followed Jesus’ commands and went to Macedonia, just as he said. Yet in Philippi he was beaten then jailed. Next in Thessalonica a mob formed and attacked their friend Jason in his home. When Paul left Thessalonica, he was probably only there from 3-6 months, but they had to move on!”

But a church was planted in Thessalonica. And it grew and matured…even with the absence of Paul! God gave life to that seed of a church and although Paul left when it was a weak little seedling, God would cause it to grow.”

We certainly can learn from this. We need to work hard, and work smart, but we must learn as well to trust Jesus with the results. After all, it is HIS church.
 

[1] Green, Gene L. The Letters to the Thessalonians. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002; p. 9.

5 Words of Wisdom to Live By

Old Bible

The other day I came across the first Bible that I purchased after coming to Christ. It’s old and worn with a cover that is coming off the spine. It served me well. As I looked through it, I found some notes from a sermon that I had heard that I had written in the back. I wish I knew who had spoken these words of wisdom, but there were so many godly men speaking truth into my life during this time that I don’t know who it would have been. Whoever the teacher may have been, the truth of those words still rings true.

  1. I must understand that God very much wants to communicate to me and control my life (Heb 1:1-2)
  2. I must approach the Bible knowing that God wants me to know truth and that he put it into writing (Ex. 24:14-16)
  3. I must have the conviction that although God used human authors that he also prevailed [upon] them, that what they wrote were the very words of God (1Cor 14:37)
  4. I must have the conviction that all of Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2Tim 3:16)
  5. I need to establish a daily pattern of reading & studying the Bible.
  6. I must read prayerful and with dependence on the Holy Spirit (1Jn 2:27)

How to Pray, pt. 5 (Matt 6:11)

As we’ve been learning how to pray over the last posts, we have looked at the God-centeredness of our prayers. We have seen that our prayers should be about God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will. But as I stated before, we are not to think that we cannot come to God with our needs. We just need to begin with the right priorities. If we begin our prayers with a God-centered attitude, we will more than likely be unable to continue in a selfish man-centered manner.

Image

In this post we are going to begin with the first of three petitions that address the needs that we have:

  • “Give us this day our daily bread”-Addressing our physical needs
  • “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”-Addressing our own soul’s need
  • “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”-Addressing our spiritual needs

As we consider the fourth petition, we will see two lessons concerning our prayers, so that we will ask for our physical needs with greater understanding as to how we should ask:

  1. “Give us”: All of our needs are supplied by God

We can’t forget the original audience that Jesus was speaking to: the Jews of Galilee. Every year, continuing even to this present day, the Jews remember an event that forever shaped them-the Exodus from Egypt. Immediately after the Jewish people left Egypt, they found themselves in the wilderness—a desert wasteland that would not supply for a million people food or water. They had to learn that God would supply all their needs.

Where do you find food for a million people in the desert? God had to supply it: Ex. 16:1-7. We live in such a different world, don’t we? Where does our food come from? The market. Costco. We have massive farms and huge distribution chains. It can become easy to forget that God is the one who supplies our needs.

The stock market crashed on Oct. 29, 1929. It was called Black Tuesday and the start of the Great Depression. The depression had devastating effects in virtually every country, rich or poor. International trade plunged by half to two-thirds; as did personal income, tax revenue, prices and profits. Farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by roughly 60 percent. Thirteen million people became unemployed. Industrial production fell by nearly 45% between the years 1929 and 1932. Homebuilding dropped by 80% between the years 1929 and 1932. From the years 1929 to 1932, about 5,000 banks went out of business. By 1933, 11,000 of the US’s 25,000 banks had failed. In 1933, 25% of all workers and 37% of all non-farm workers were unemployed. Between 1929 and 1932 the income of the average American family was reduced by 40%.

We are in fear of a return to such an economic disaster, but this scare can have one benefit: It can remind us of what wealthy nations often forget, our prosperity comes directly from the hand of God, and we are dependent upon Him for everything.

  1. This day our daily bread”-All our needs are satisfied daily to teach us to trust in God

Again, as the Jewish people were listening to Jesus teach about how to pray, they would have immediately thought about the manna given in the wilderness: Ex. 16:13-27. Notice a couple of things here:

  • God gave the manna daily, so they couldn’t stockpile it. Every day was taken on faith.
  • They had to gather and cook the manna. God gives to us our needs, but this doesn’t preclude effort on our part. In general, he won’t send you checks in the mail. You need to go to work. But this work is given to you as a gift from God.

This daily dependence upon God means that we aren’t to be anxious, because God will supply all your needs: Matt 7:7-11. He supplies your needs, but we need to understand the difference between a need and a want. He supplies your needs out of love. As a father loves his child, so our heavenly Father takes care of us, his adopted children.

With all of this, let me ask you a question. If at the end of the day, you have a full stomach and a warm place to sleep and clothes to wear, is that all that you need?

Look up John 6:25-40 in your Bible. The feeding of the 5,000 had just occurred. Jesus proved that He, the Son of God, was able to provide for their physical hunger. After leaving them, they sought him out to meet their continued physical needs, but Jesus wanted them to look beyond that. He wanted them to see their real hunger was deeper—a hungering for their souls’ desire to be satisfied. He said that He was the bread of life.

We continue to hunger after every meal. We hunger after every shopping spree. After every physical desire. We hunger for more.  Jesus satisfies what our soul longs after. He is the bread of life. Have you come to partake of Jesus, the bread of life?