If youre just reading through Acts and come across these few verses about Thessalonica, you might be left with the impression the mission there was something of a failure. Paul, Silas and Timothy were only in the city for a short period of time. Some people came to Christ, but it wasnt long before fierce persecution arose and the missionaries were forced to flee, leaving these new believers on their own. It would be natural to assume that when left alone without the apostles to guide them, and facing the fury of a hostile community, these new believers might have renounced their faith or, at least, stopped speaking openly about their faith.
Thats what you might assume if you just read this passage, but thats not all we know. Paul wrote two letters to them within probably a few months of his departure. He, too, was worried, so he sent Timothy back to check on them. And when Timothy returned and reported what he found (Ac 18:5; 1Thess 3:1-8), Paul was thrilled, and wrote the letter we call First Thessalonians, and shortly after that he heard the church was confused about the Lords return, so he wrote Second Thessalonians.
What we discover when we read these letters is not a church struggling to survive. Instead, we discover people that are thriving and spreading the gospel over the entire region. How is that possible? What on earth did these missionaries do to those people? What kind of seed did they plant in their hearts that would keep growing even without mature leadership and in the midst of persecution? Frankly, the result of the mission to Thessalonica is a miracle. Under normal circumstances that church shouldnt have survived. But it did, and it grew
and we need to discover why. Because whatever those apostles taught or did to those people that produced such lasting life-change, we need to teach and do for those we lead to Christ.
The mission in Thessalonica (Ac 17:1-10)
So, in a matter of a few weeks, or maybe a couple of months, the mission to Thessalonica was begun and ended. The church prayed for the missionaries, sent them out at night, and in the morning, when they woke up, they faced a city that hated them. Now, lets see what happened to them.
Pauls letter (ITh 1:1-3:8)
Paul tells them that he prays for them constantly, and thanks God that their faith in Jesus Christ has proven to be solid. He reminds them that when he preached the gospel to them the power of the Holy Spirit had been there. They didnt just listen to a message, they had believed and personally encountered God, and He had proved to them that He accepted them. Then Paul told them how proud he was of them for their courage. They hadnt let persecution silence them, but accepted it as part of their calling. Theyd become just as bold as Paul, Silas and Timothy were, and as a result the gospel was spreading out from that city into the whole region. Not only had they not gone into hiding, they were boldly carrying the gospel to all of north and central Greece. People clear down in Corinth were hearing reports about what was happening and were coming up to Paul and telling him about his mission there (1Thess 1:9).
Then Paul explained to them that this move of God took place because he and his team had the boldness to preach the real gospel, even when they knew it would get them in trouble. And, he said, the reason they were willing to do that was because they loved them like a mother loves her children. They werent motivated by money or trying to please people. In fact, Paul had worked a job (mending tents) in order to pay all his own bills. And he and his team had been very careful to be morally upright in the way they treated each believer, and had personally challenged them to treat each other the same way.
Paul told them that a miracle took place in Thessalonica because the people there received the gospel as a word from God, not just one more human philosophy. They believed it, and received it, and now it was performing its work in them. And finally, Paul gave that church the highest compliment when he said they reminded him of the believers in Israel who stayed faithful, even though they had been under constant attack from the very beginning. Like them, the Thessalonians were standing firm (3:8).
The real gospel
Paul says the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes
(Ro 1:16). Its not just religious teaching, it actually goes inside a person when its believed and changes them. In other words, when Paul, Silas and Timothy left Thessalonica, those believers werent being left alone. God stayed in Thessalonica. He was with them and they knew it. And when that revelation happens to people its very hard to stop them. Theyve finally found what theyve always longed for, and they wont give it up. So lets ask ourselves, what was this apostolic gospel that could plant a seed in someone so deep they would choose to walk with God for the rest of their lives? Because when we lead someone to Christ, thats the gospel we want to declare.
Leading someone to Christ
Here are truths, promises, warnings and demands that were always present when Paul led someone to Christ, so we need to do the same:
1) We need to proclaim the essential truths about Jesus: that He is Gods Son who became a man, that He was put to death on a cross, and then three days later, God raised Him from the dead; that He is alive at Gods right hand in heaven; and that He will come again to judge all humanity.
2) We need to explain that His death and resurrection was for each of us, and each of us must acknowledge that he or she is a sinner who needs Gods mercy, and each must choose to repent of our own sins, meaning not only admitting to the bad things we have done, but willfully turning away from the attitudes that are the root-cause of those sins: not wanting to submit to God, seeking to live without Him, pursuing my own glory and pleasure, and putting my own needs ahead of others.
3) We need to encourage people to believe that God loves them and wants to save them from the very real possibility that they could end up separated from Him and miserable forever.
4) We need to tell people that they must believe that God will forgive their sins if they put their trust in the death and resurrection of His Son, and then continue to trust Him for the rest of their lives.
5) We must tell people that when they repent and believe, God not only forgives them, but sends His Holy Spirit to live inside them; that their bodies are now a clean temple in which He wishes to dwell.
6) We must encourage them to genuinely receive this gift of the Holy Spirit. We should be able to lay hands on them and pray for this power, and not be satisfied until they know that the Spirit has come and His gifts are at work in them, particularly the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy (Ac 8:12-19; 10:44-47; 11:15-18; 19:1-7).
7) We must see that they are water baptized, so they can confess their faith openly to God, His people, and the world.
8) We need to assure them that they are now part of an eternal, spiritual family, and that its important for them to gather regularly with other believers to be edified and help care for others.
9) We need to warn them that following Jesus will bring persecution, whether it be open hostility, spiritual opposition, or even the struggle to put to death our own flesh with its desires and passions (Ga 5:24); that every one of us is called to live our lives surrendered to God, and to serve Him as much as we are able.
10) We need to give them Gods perspective on our lives here on earth. They need to know that this season of history is coming to an end, and that a new season is coming in which Jesus will be the King. And they need to know Jesus will be there to meet each one of us when we die.
11) And finally, we need to promise that we will pray for them daily, and then do it (1Th 1:2).
Jesus promise (Mk 16:18)
Theres a miraculous power in real Christianity that cant be stopped. Jesus promised us that. He said,
I will build My church, and the gates of Hades (death, demonic powers) will not overpower it (Mt 16:18).
And when we look at Thessalonica we see that promise mightily at work, and if we want to see that same kind of power at work in people today, then well preach the same gospel they preached and minister the same power of the Spirit, as faithfully as they did, each time we lead someone to Christ.
1) Who led you to Christ? What did they say to you?
2) Is there anything in the gospel presentation you heard today that is new to you? Does it seem true?
3) Have you ever led someone to Christ? Tell us about it. Did the person change? Are they still walking with God?