From the beginning of the early church, there is a concern for the impoverished and for effective alleviation of poverty. Right off the bat, early Christians are pooling their resources for the sake of the marginalized and impoverished. Early Christians sold their stuff so that they could share resources with the hurting (Acts 2:44–45). Self-sacrifice is a core part of the gospel.
We have to be willing to sacrifice our own comforts for the sake of the impoverished. I can’t look at the situation in Bihar, India—where millions of people are living in extreme poverty—and deny them clean water or economic opportunities. As a Christian, I should experience a conversion in those moments of witnessing poverty. I should be inspired to give of my time and resources to empower the poor. I should be willing to go so far as to sell my house and my belongings. That’s at least what Jesus told one man (Matthew 19:16–22).
That’s precisely what my wife and I did—we put all of our resources into empowering the impoverished and bringing the gospel to the unreached. We sold our house and our stuff, for the sake of the mission. I’m not saying this to boast, because I can tell you that there is no glory in it. I’m saying this to note that I’m not asking you to do something I haven’t done myself. I’m also not saying everyone’s journey will be so radically life altering, but I do ask, “Are you giving enough that it hurts?” That’s the model of the early church.
Jesus has a different economy in mind than the one on offer in our world. He believes in empowering the impoverished. Jesus’ economy is based on self-sacrifice. Jesus’ currency is love.
When the earliest Christians gave, it wasn’t about guilt (2 Corinthians 9:6–7). And likewise, their love wasn’t an empty love—one where I give of my resources without thought of relationship. I believe in intelligent love and I believe in love that calls people to a higher standard. I believe in this because the early church did. I also believe in love that respects the value of hard work (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–8). There is a time for charity, such as meeting a basic need like clean water, but people also need economic opportunities. They need jobs.
The early church built intelligence in their giving. We see this in the appointment of deacons—following an issue over distribution of charity to widows, one of the most impoverished groups of the day (Acts 6:1–7). Jesus would have us give in ways that multiply and to think about how we’re giving and to whom we’re giving.
This is why I believe in job creation efforts being a core part of the work of the church. We can meet a person’s need today or we can give them the ability to meet their own need tomorrow. But no matter what we do, showing Jesus’ love in word and deed should be our mission. We should live on mission and empower missions, so that all can know Jesus.
The early church sent missionaries out, but their goal was to train and empower local leadership. Much of 1 Timothy and Titus is about this—the appointment of local elders and deacons. We also see Paul in 1–2 Thessalonians and 1–2 Corinthians working to instruct local leaders on how to lead their own church. Paul’s model was always about raising up indigenous leaders.
Today, we can do the same. We need to empower local leadership around the world. What we need is to sponsor indigenous church planting movements and to empower them with quality, Bible-focused training. And we need to empower them with strong project management, resources for community development, and let them sit at the center of an effort to renew a community.
Churches around the world should partner together, for the sake of both bringing the gospel to unreached people groups and to meet basic needs. And where there are needs to be met, we should meet them. Near the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman church, he requests that they join him and other churches in bringing together an aid package for the impoverished in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26–29).
As Christians, we need to have a holistic approach to life transformation. We need to be about creating jobs, planting churches, and meeting basic needs—one community at a time.
Imagine what could be if the church functioned this way—if we looked at the biblical model of self-sacrifice and lived with the principles of the early church in mind. Imagine how different our world be. Imagine what would happen if we had a truly Jesus economy in mind at all times.
“I’ll go first” is perhaps the most powerful statement a Christian make. It is the people who go first that I most admire: the innovators, the risk-takers, the pioneers.
It is the people who have made incredible sacrifices for Jesus—who join our Lord, not just in his glory but also in his suffering—that inspire me.
One of these people is Biju Thomas, a pioneering community developer in Northeast India. Biju left “God’s own country”—the nickname of Kerala, the state he is from in Bihar—and moved to Bihar, which is known as the most backward of the backward states in India. This is a reference used in India to states that are no longer supported by the Indian government from an infrastructure standpoint.
In Bihar, I shadowed Biju in one of the least reached regions of the world. Over 101 Million people in Bihar have never heard the name of Jesus. Without Biju, I was an outsider and unwelcome; but with him, everything was different.
When people met me and observed the color of my skin, they would generally dislike me. This is because of the history of colonialism in Bihar—there is a cultural memory that says that white people are bad because they represent oppressive colonialism. But once people found out I was with Biju, they would embrace me. And this is because of one simple reason—the love of Jesus.
Biju and his team are empowering women through business; they are providing clean water; they are offering literacy training; and they are sharing the freedom of Jesus with people who have never heard his name before. And as these people experience Jesus—in a culture where the religious systems have dictated that their life is only worth little—their entire world is changed. Jesus offers freedom and liberty.
Biju is the type of person who goes first. He has made incredible sacrifices for the cause of renewing Bihar, India. And that’s why I followed him and am now going first among another group of people. I’m trying to ignite a movement of people who are willing to live self-sacrificially for the sake of bringing the gospel to the last of the unreached and for the sake of alleviating extreme poverty in effective and sustainable ways.
To fund it, I put my money in first. I sold my house. I sold my stuff. That’s what my wife and I did together. Because I could not look at these problems—and continue to sit in my comfortable well paying job—I had to step up and follow God with everything I had. And I knew that I wouldn’t really know faith, or be able to truly call people to it, until I had taken that journey.
This was the method of Saint Paul. In his letter to the church at Thessalonica, he says:
“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7–8 ESV).
Paul was bi-vocational—meaning he worked and did ministry. He worked so that he could do ministry. He put his money where his mouth was. He led by example. Paul explains this further in 1 Thessalonians:
“Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 NIV).
Paul’s mission was to spread the gospel and to leave no one with excuse. They believed because they saw how much he sacrificed for it and knew that there could be no other reason for doing so than God himself. Paul joined Jesus not just in his glory but in his suffering. He went first and did so without regret.
God is building a grand vision for our world and we can be part of it. God is calling us to make sacrifices necessary to renew entire communities—physically and spiritually.
The opportunity and resources are there and now we need to do the work. God is calling us to something extraordinary. We could bring the gospel, in its full form—of loving a person in both word and deed—to the ends of the earth in our lifetimes. Imagine if that happened.
Our strategy will take time. It will involve sacrifice. It will involve leading by example. It will involve making decisions for Jesus that are so drastic that people question them. It will involve finding a better way forward to create jobs and churches for the hurting and unreached. But it will be worth it.
When we approach 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11, the passage often used to justify the "rapture" view, we do so based on our cultural context. In doing so, are we missing the point of the passage entirely? In this sermon, I address this very important question. I delivered this sermon at The Table, a missional church plant in Bellingham, Washington.
If you’re struggling in life, pastel colors and chocolate bunnies won’t make you feel better. Deep down, it all feels a little trivial. What we need is Resurrection Day—in its full meaning. Here are four ways Easter is authentic hope for every day of the year.
For many of us, Easter is an emotional day—full of disappointment, grief, and depression. As we officially move into Spring, we think of all that isn’t and all that could be. And we’re sad. We reflect and don’t feel hope but despair. But for the earliest Christians—who likewise experienced intense pain and disappointment—Jesus’ resurrection changed their entire state of mind.
I think of Paul the apostle, who went through unbelievable difficulties including shipwrecks and beatings (2 Corinthians 11:16–33). And yet despite this, he declares:
“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:8–10 NIV).
For Paul and other early Christians, resurrection was a state of mind. The resurrected Lord Jesus gave them hope, despite incredible obstacles. Such a hope can change the way we look at each and everyday. It can give us what we need to overcome our feelings of despair, depression, and grief. It can give us what we need to move forward.
The pain of losing a loved one is absolutely searing. The grief knows no bounds. But even when facing this grief, Paul the apostle could have hope. He declares:
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–16 NIV).
There is hope for the living and the dead in Christ. There is a final resurrection day coming. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, those who believe experience resurrected life (compare Colossians 1:18; John 3:16–17; 11:25). This is hope for every day—no matter what loss may come our way. We can look to the future of what God will do and declare it good.
Jesus did not die merely for our salvation, although he certainly died for that (see Isaiah 53:10–12). He also died so that we can have freedom from sin and its ramifications. Jesus’ resurrection gave us the ability to be freed from sin’s power over our life. Resurrection gives us liberating hope. Paul put it this way:
“We were therefore buried with [Jesus] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:4–7 NIV).
Perhaps today you are feeling bound by the sin in your life. Jesus has hope for you. Jesus’ resurrection can reign in your life and release you from the bondage of sin. Jesus can give you new life. Jesus wants you to be free. Jesus wants to offer everyone in our world the liberty of resurrected life.
Throughout our world, there is unbelievable pain. There are famines, extreme poverty, and those who have never known the freedom of Jesus. There are people in desperate situations who desperately need help. The call of the gospel—the call of Jesus—is that we would have new life in him and that we would offer new life to others (Matthew 18:5; 25:40–45; John 14:6; James 1:27).
Jesus’ resurrection and ascension offers us the very power of God in our lives (John 14–16). It gives us a chance to have the transformational power of God as Holy Spirit working in us. It gives us the chance to be God’s representatives here and now. With resurrected life on our side—in us and working through us—we can do anything God calls us to do (Philippians 4:16). Resurrection is real and tangible hope, right now.
Imagine the great and incredible power of offering new life to the broken and hurting of our planet. Imagine equality and the freedom of Jesus reaching every ear. Imagine the hope that we could have this day and everyday if we were truly about Jesus’ love.
Resurrection is what we need. Resurrection is what our world needs. Resurrection is hope for every day, in every situation.
A deep-rooted Christian friendship is valuable beyond measure. It is for this reason that Paul closes his letter to the Thessalonians by emphasizing friendship.
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:19–28. Reflect on 1 Thessalonians 5:25–28:
“Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (ESV).
Paul asks the Christians at Thessalonica to keep him and his coauthors—Timothy and Silvanus (also called Silas)—in their prayers. Paul in no way viewed himself as beyond the need for prayer. He saw the prayers of others as powerful and much needed. The friendship of the church at Thessalonica was vital to Paul’s future work and ministry.
Today, prayer has generally become an excuse for inaction. We tell others that we will pray for them so we do not personally have to intervene. In juxtaposition, Paul and his colleagues took prayer very seriously. They viewed it as essential to ministry and life. Friendship rooted in prayer has the power to change everything.
But Paul does not just emphasize prayer; he is a man of action in both prayer from afar and in-person. He wants the Christians at Thessalonica to remember to be kind to one another. For this reason, Paul emphasizes the need for the common Graeco-Roman greeting of a kiss. We show a similar kindness through a hug. Paul also emphasizes that his letter must be read before the entire church, not just among a certain group. The kindness of his letter, including its tough love, must be shared with all.
Paul then closes his letter in a typical fashion, emphasizing the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. In making this claim, Paul emphasizes that Jesus—the anointed one (the Christ) and the Lord of all—is first and foremost about grace.
Close friendships—based in the grace and kindness of Christ—can completely transform our lives. Let’s always remember their power. But above all, let’s remember the power of the grace of Jesus Christ the Lord among us.
What Christian friendships should you be investing more time into, through prayer and in-person? Who do you know that needs to be shown the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ today—and how can you show it to them?
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God faithfully draws us closer to him, if we’re willing to listen. The power of this act can renew our very lives—giving us a new hope and outlook. This is why Paul emphasized this point at the close of his letter to the Thessalonian Christians.
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:19–28. Reflect on 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24:
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (ESV).
Paul has just finished saying that the Christians at Thessalonica should be careful to not quench the Spirit—meaning that they should let the Holy Spirit work among them (1 Thessalonians 5:19–22). He now emphasizes an important matter in this process: they must live as people who truly follow Jesus. In order for the Spirit’s work to be truly pure among them, they themselves must live pure lives.
God is always at work in our world and in our lives—even when we fail to acknowledge his presence. He is working to draw us closer to him, but we often resist. God desires for us to live his original vision for our lives.
Living a sinless life is not merely about a series of commands; instead, it’s about living in the presence of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we let the Holy Spirit work among us, resisting evil becomes less about commands; it becomes a lifestyle. When you’re constantly in contact with God himself, through prayer, sin and evil has no power over you. This is the point Paul emphasized in 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18. When we become busy rejoicing and being thankful, we can’t be busy sinning.
God is faithful to carry out his work in our world and in our lives. We must trust him to complete that which he began in us—to make us pure before him. In surrendering to the work of God in our lives, we will experience the greatest power we can ever know. We will experience the Holy Spirit inhabiting our lives. This is the only way to prepare for Jesus’ return.
In what ways are you not surrendering to God’s work in your life? What part of your life needs to be renewed by the Holy Spirit’s work today?
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The Holy Spirit is at work in the world. But if we fail to listen to the Spirit’s prompting, we will miss the opportunity to be part of God’s work. It is for this reason that Paul the apostle said, “Do not quench the Spirit.”
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:19–28. Reflect on 1 Thessalonians 5:19–22:
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (ESV).
In this age of rationalism—where “what you see is what you get”—it’s easy for us to excuse the spiritual. We veto the power of the spiritual in favor of what we can see, feel, and touch. Likewise, in the time of the early church—where mystery cults emphasized spiritual experiences—Paul saw this as an issue.
At the church at Thessalonica, it seems that certain members were deemphasizing the power of the spiritual. This is likely because the spiritual experiences in Graeco-Roman religions were often performances; they were used for control and power. If a person has a special anointing over their life, or is part of an elite priesthood, it is difficult for anyone else to argue against them. Abuse of power becomes easy for the deceptive, hyper-spiritual individual.
For these reasons, churches often deemphasize the role of the Holy Spirit. We can’t see the Spirit or control its actions, so we neglect the Spirit’s importance. We also bring up the many examples of people using the name of the Holy Spirit to excuse mind games and performances—for the sake of wealth and power.
But this abuse of power does not represent the Holy Spirit. Instead, it represents an act of evil. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, represents all that God—according to the Bible—stands for. The Holy Spirit works to heal and love; to move a community toward the goodness and holiness that is in God’s essence.
Similarly, prophecy, when used appropriately (when pure) represents a word from God himself. This word will never be for the gain of an individual or elite group. Prophecy that is of God will align with the proclamations of the Bible; it can be tested. We can see if it is truly good or evil by how it aligns or misaligns with God’s values as proclaimed by Scripture.
To “not quench the Spirit” means to allow for the Holy Spirit to do its work among the church. We desperately need the very hand of God upon our communities. We desperately need the Holy Spirit’s comforting and loving actions among us. We must not quench the Spirit among us, but instead seek the good it offers.
In what ways have you quenched the Holy Spirit’s work in your life? How is your church properly (or improperly) utilizing spiritual matters, such as prophecy?
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Our world is full of pain and turmoil. It is a struggle to face the daily news and still be hopeful. Paul the apostle had a solution for facing a hurting world.
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12–18. Reflect on 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (ESV).
No matter how difficult today may be, no matter what news may reach us, there is always a reason to rejoice. Jesus has made a great sacrifice for us on the cross—offering us relationship with God eternal—and that is always worth celebrating. Furthermore, despite the pain and turmoil, God is on the move in our world. His Spirit is here and present among his Church—that is also worth rejoicing in.
But the pain is still here, isn’t it? We must pray about the pain. We must pray without ceasing. We as Christians are to be in constant communication with God. There should not be beginning or end to our conversation with Jesus.
Our times of prayer—when we reflect upon the Almighty and his grace to us—should lead us to give thanks. Despite what circumstances may come our way, we can always be grateful for God—that he has given us this world to live in and relationship with him.
It is the will of God that we learn to have a thankful heart. Thankfulness has the power to change our entire lives. It has the power to transform every conversation and circumstance into an opportunity.
We pray and God answers—for that we can be thankful. We rejoice and we draw closer to God—for that we can be thankful. We have an opportunity to know God himself—for that we can be thankful.
What are three things you can be thankful for today? What are you praying about now, and how can you continue your conversation with God throughout your day today?
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The current American generation is generally content to go to work and then live behind a screen. Idleness is slowly destroying our communities and our lives; it’s enslaving us. While the church at Thessalonica struggled with idleness for different reasons, Paul’s words to them are directly applicable to us.
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12–18. Reflect on 1 Thessalonians 5:14–15:
“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (ESV).
We have professionalized the role of the Christian with the title “Pastor.” And this has led many people to believe that there is little need for them to work for Jesus. Instead, they attend Sunday services and pay for the work of the church by dropping cash in the offering bucket.
We must combat this mentality. All of us as Christians have a primary calling—to serve Jesus with everything we have.
At Thessalonica, it seems that many Christians had stopped working altogether. This could be because they viewed the return of Jesus as so imminent that there was no need to work. It may have also been that people were abusing the sacrifice of wealthier Christians—living off their charity. Either way, instead of working, a whole group of Christians were idle.
For those who are struggling or weak, Paul desires for the services of the church to help them. And Paul realized that patience is required when helping the impoverished, marginalized, and hurting. Nonetheless, people who can work should step up—both to the work of the church and to earn a living.
The primary mode of ministry is bi-vocational. We work to live. And we turn our work into ministry. But we primarily work for Christ, so that we may continue his work of love to a hurting and broken world.
Christianity is based in love and self-sacrifice. People will inevitably abuse this. When they do, we should not seek recompense; nor should we expect those in need to be able to repay us.
We must seek the good of everyone, despite the difficulties that emerge from offering people self-sacrificial love. And we must each seek to do our part for Jesus and his ministry among us.
In what ways are you living idly—and how can you change that? In what ways can your church community offer self-sacrificial lov,e while asking others to do their part when receiving it?
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We all need accountability. And we all need leadership. Any person who believes that they do not need to be accountable—or is beyond the need to be led by others—has seriously missed a basic point of being human: we’re flawed and prone to fail. Near the close of his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul emphasized this point.
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12–18. Reflect on 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13:
“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (ESV).
Paul writes these words right after he reminds the Thessalonian Christians of the great hope of Christ and the need for them to live pure lives (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3–6; 5:5–6). It is only after this reminder that Paul turns to the issue of respecting church leaders.
Paul’s transition can seem a little sudden and unexpected but it actually makes perfect sense. Paul understood that without accountability and strong leadership that the church at Thessalonica would fail. He also understood that he and others had made great personal sacrifices to establish the church (compare 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12). Paul requests that the Christians at Thessalonica respect this sacrifice and thus listen to their leaders.
For Paul the issue of respecting leaders was directly tied to the peace of the church. It’s difficult for us to respect church leaders today, because of how many leaders have failed us. And this is why there is so little peace in our church communities. We’re prone to suspicion and individuality; we thus place our interests above Christian community.
I’m not suggesting blind trust here. I’m also not suggesting that you follow a leader while quietly “respectfully disagreeing.” Both responses are a type of passive-aggressive behavior that doesn’t do anyone any good. We should hold our leaders accountable and to a high standard. But leaders who self-sacrificially love Jesus—who are accountable to others—should be emulated. We should listen to their vision and the suggestions they make for our own lives. We should walk hand-in-hand with our leaders in transforming our churches and communities.
We all need accountability in our lives. We need people who will ask us if we are closely following Jesus. We need people who will admonish us to confess our sins and repent. Leadership and accountability can transform our lives and our communities.
Who are you accountable to—do you need more accountability in your life? Who are the church leaders you follow and how can you show them more love and respect?
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