When i first moved to Bulawayo, the city in which i now live, I stayed at a house that had a bit of space at the back, enough to plant a garden. Being a student, I didn’t have a lot of money, so i figured it would be a great idea to grow my own food. So i dug up a bed, threw in some seed potatoes and waited.
But i soon realized that i was not born to be a farmer. I had placed the bed right underneath a tree that had a lot of pods that would regularly explode and scatter seeds all over the place. So after days of watering, dozens of seedlings started sprouting happily all over the place, and i could not for the life of me, tell which one was a potato and which one was a tree.
So for several weeks, i did not weed my garden at all, daring to do so only when i could see the potatoes growing from the real plants, not the useless weeds. It is the same with anything, you expect to see lemons on a lemon tree, and apples on an apple tree. And that’s how you can tell if a plant is really what is says or you think it is – when it bears fruit.
With this being a Presbyterian church, I have no doubt that you have had a healthy dose of preaching and teaching on election. I am certain you know that your salvation was not a random accident but the result of God’s planning before this world was made, because God “ knew you before the world was created…” (Eph. 1:4).
I know you know that those who are truly saved can never lose their salvation, because Jesus himself has given you “eternal life, and you will never perish. And no one can snatch you from his saving hand” (John 10:28). And Romans 8:39 settles the matter declaring that, for those whom God has chosen, “nothing can separate you from the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus our Lord”.
But here is a question. So what? What do you have to show for your election? Is there anything in your life that proves your “chosen-ness”? Is there any evidence that you indeed are one of God’s own elect, or are you just a weed pretending to be a potato plant.
Election, and therefore salvation, demands a changed life, it must produce fruit “worthy of the calling which you have received” (Ephesians 4:1).
Which brings us to the Thessalonians. The church in Thessalonica was somewhat of a miracle. In Acts 17 we read of how Paul had been preaching the gospel there for only 3 weeks before he and Silas were unceremoniously booted out of the city by the opponents of Jesus Christ.
Yet, in spite of all that, a number of people believed and came to faith in Jesus. But it was a very young church, and so naturally, the apostles were worried and anxious to know if indeed their preaching had produced true faith in these believers.
They were desperate to find out if these Thessalonians were among God’s chosen people, his elect. And so they sent Timothy to see if the fire that God had started in their hearts was still burning brightly. And it is Timothy’s response that prompted Paul to write 1 Thessalonians and we read in verses 1 – 10
1 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
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.
(1Th 1:1-10 ESV)
Note how he says in verse 4 that he knew God had chosen them because the gospel was preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, causing them to believe, and, in verse 6, they therefore became imitators of the apostles and of Jesus.
We see the ways in which they imitated Christ and became an example to others in verse 3, which will be our primary focus for the rest of this sermon. For Paul, the fact these Christians had been chosen was proven by three fruits of salvation. And God’s encouragement to you this morning is for you to also bear the same, the first of which is
Faith in God
When the Thessalonians received the gospel, it was in the midst of very real and present danger. Acts 17 tells of how those who believed in Jesus were beaten, abused and even lost their property. By turning from idols to serve the one true and living God, they would have been shunned by their neighbours, their families and their friends, because they no longer “fitted in” with the rest of society.
Despite this, they did not let go of their belief in God. Rather than retreating into their shells, their flames of faith burned even brighter, so much that the testimony of their faith in God – ow they had received the gospel, believed in Jesus, and had been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit – was heard everywhere.
But theirs wasn’t just a passive faith. It was not a case of simply having personal belief in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Paul doesn’t just call it “faith in God”, in verse 3 he calls it their “work of faith”. And in verse 8, he says the word of God was “sounding forth” from them. They were actively preaching the Christ in whom they believed.
And note, these were not “professional” Christians. They had only been in the “business” for a few months. They were young. They were fragile. They were weak. They were not perfect, fully sanctified angels. But preach the gospel they did. The talked about Christ. The lived out their lives in His name. Because they were chosen. They were elect. They knew they belonged to God and and their faith showed it.
As i’ve observed the events going on in America over the past few years, it seems like more and more people are turning away from God to their own present day idols. It is Romans 1:18-32 all over again.
Although they know God, they are neither honoring or giving thanks to him. They have become foolish in their thinking, their minds have become darkened and confused. Claiming to be wise, they have instead have become utter fools. They are trading the truth of God for unbelievable lies.
Not only that, but they are forcing and persuading many to join them. If you do not bow down to their dictates, they will shut down your business. They will pull their advertising. They will fire you from your job, they will boycott you, they will harass you on Twitter and Facebook.
From my outsider perspective, it seems like it is becoming harder and harder to be a Christian. The wrong word can land you in big trouble. And the natural reaction is to withdraw into your shell, and keep your faith to yourself. It is to make your faith private and personal, and to speak about Christ to no one.
But your election demands that your faith be visible. Your “chosen-ness” demands your soul, your life, your all. And therefore, count the cost of your election and tell of Jesus and his wondrous works. Speak of his majesty and glory. Tell your friends, your neighbours, your family and the stranger on the street of Christ, and him crucified.
Tell them of their desperation, their total depravity, their absolute sinfulness, their complete wretchedness, and then hold up Christ as the only means by which they can be saved and receive life eternal.
Yes, you ought to be wise as you witness Jesus, but you cannot shut your lips. Your salvation demands that you speak. Your faith demands that you work. Become a resounding bell for Jesus, ringing out the glorious wonders of his works to all who will hear, near and far. You cannot afford to be ashamed of Christ before men or he will deny you before his Father. Carry his cross humbly, yet boldly and joyfully.
When Paul heard of the Thessalonians’ faith, he rejoiced for that was the evidence, the assurance of their election. They had heard the gospel, they had believed in it and they preached it.
The second thing for which Paul thanked God in verse 3, was the Thessalonians’ love for all people, which is the second proof of election, namely love for one another.
Love for one another
The love which they displayed was not just mere emotion. Notice how Paul calls it the “labour of love”. The word “labour” implies suffering, hardship, and toil. They were imitating what they had seen in Paul, and therefore Christ.
They knew that faith without love emits the sound of a noisy gong, not the melodious song of salvation.
This is what Jesus said about love in John 15:12-13
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as i have loved you. There is no greater love than this, that someone should lay down his life for his friends”.
And that’s exactly what Jesus did, laying down his own life for our sake, rejecting all the comforts and joys that were rightly his in order to give us life.
So how much more should we do the same? To love is to care for the poor, for the elderly, for the orphan, the widow. True love is expressed in good works done for others for the sake of Christ. It is treating kindly those whom you would otherwise hate. It is forsaking your comforts for the benefit of someone else.
James 2:18 challenges you to “Show your faith by your works”. Ephesians 2:10 says you are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”. You are created for love’s good works.
Over the last few years, God has been turning the whole world upside down. He has scattered people from all over the world to places far and wide, including here. And he is doing it as part of his great and glorious plan. Therefore, love the stranger who lives down the street. Embrace the foreigner. And no, i’m not wading into the politics of immigration, borders and the sort. But whomever God brings to your doorstep, you must love.
Show the love of Christ by crossing the lines of race and class, love across neighbourhoods, care beyond your borders.
Love is hard. Love is uncomfortable. Love is painful. Love is messy. Love is lots of work. But that is what it means to follow Christ. That is what is means to be amongst God’s chosen, elect saints.
Yet, we must ask this all important question. Why should you exercise faith in God? Why should you get out of your comfort zone to love others when it is so difficult, and has seemingly so little benefit?
It is because as a Christian, you are called to live with your eyes set, not on what is here and present, but firmly fixed on the Christ who is to come. And that is the third, and for this morning, final demand of your election – hope that endures.
Hope in Jesus
Having been forced to abandon the church in Thessalonica when it was so young, Paul worried that all the suffering and persecution they were enduring had perhaps shipwrecked their faith. So he sent Timothy to see if their faith was still standing, and when he came back with the report of their steadfast hope, Paul was overjoyed.
And this is the third fruit that prompted his praise in verse 3 – their steady, unwavering hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was clear evidence of their election – they were willing to lose everything in this present life because they knew that Christ will reward faithfulness, and he will bless far beyond any sacrifice that they could ever make.
They had their eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, and it is for this reason that they could act so boldly in faith and so selflessly in love. It was their hope that was the anchor of both their faith and love.
We believe in Jesus because it He is worth it. We can love without reservation because it is absolute gain. We can suffer joyfully, embracing the ridicule and taunts of the world gladly, because we know that Jesus is coming back.
And when he does he will vindicate us. He will wipe away every tear shed for him, he will reward every good and faithful deed, he will praise every act of love, he will commend every word of testimony spoken about his name.
And so even when your own heart and mind questions your sanity, let it be your steadfast hope in Jesus Christ that drives you on.
So then, these three things – faith, love and hope – are the results of the changed life of one who has been chosen by God for salvation. They are the evidence of your election, the proof by which you can stand firmly in Christ, unwavering and undoubting.
If indeed you are God’s own, then this fruit will be visible in your life. And notice, i have been using the words “fruit” and “result”. Faith, hope and love are not things you add on to your life in order to be chosen by God. No, they are the natural outcomes of your salvation
And why is it important, you may ask, to be certain of your election?
There are few things worse than a Christian who does not have any assurance of salvation. Imagine living your life in constant fear and worry as to whether you are saved or not? The return of Christ would not be a cause of joy, but a source of nerve-wrecking terror. And if you have no guarantee of salvation, then why would you risk living your life for Christ if there is a chance that you might not receive his reward, because the demands of faith are great and its sacrifices are many?
If these fruits are evident in your life, they will cause your heart to be truly secure in Christ. This is what Peter meant when said “make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10)
Perhaps the only thing more miserable than a Christian who has no certainty in his or her election, is a person with a false assurance of salvation.
What could be more terrible than to hear Jesus say to you, when he comes back, “depart from me you, you evildoer. I never knew you!”?
If you honestly evaluate yourself, and you find there is absolutely no evidence of faith, love and hope in your life despite your confession, then i plead with you to stop and reflect. Can it be that you have actually not come to saving faith in Jesus?
If that is the case, then fall on your knees and repent, confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, and Christ himself assures you that you will be saved. He guarantees he will not turn away anyone who comes to him (John 6:37). And you will bear fruit – no man can encounter Christ and not be changed.
And if you are already bearing this fruit which confirms your election, in however small or large a measure, then do not stop there. Build on it. Add to it daily, until your Lord, Jesus, comes back.
Make your assurance of salvation all the more certain by growing in your faith in God, your suffering love for others and your steadfast hope in Jesus. Amen.