Earl had far too much money. He did not need to work. He took all kinds of drugs, including heroin. At the age of thirty he ended up in hospital.
Someone came to visit him in hospital and gave him a New Testament. He was thrilled. The paper was very thin and was ideal for rolling joints. He rolled his way through Matthew, Mark and Luke. When he came to John’s Gospel, he started reading. As a result of reading the words of John’s Gospel, he encountered Jesus. He was filled with joy.
The psychologist in charge of his case was a very beautiful young woman, who had been a model. One day she said to Earl, ‘Look, I have it all – success, beauty and endless qualifications – yet I am not fulfilled. Your life is a mess yet you seem to have something – a peace and a joy. What is it?’
Then he led her to faith in Jesus Christ. Later they were married. Earl and his wife, Thommy, were great friends of ours at theological college in Oxford. His life had been radically changed by the words of God in the Bible.
Words of blessingPsalm 119:1-8
If you want a ‘blessed’ life – one without any regrets – then you need God’s words. This, the longest of all the psalms, is all about the blessings of aligning your conduct and conversation with God’s words.
‘You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You’re blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him’ (vv.1–2, MSG).
God loves you and wants to bless you. Through God’s words in Scripture, discover the blessings of life in relationship with God. Seek him with all your heart (v.2), walk in his ways (v.3), learn his words (v.7) and you will never be put to shame (v.6).
Lord, thank you that your words bring such blessing to my life. Help me to ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ them.
Words of power1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:16
No church is perfect. If you find the perfect church, don’t join it. The moment you or I join the church it will become imperfect! Nevertheless, there is such a thing as a model church – a church that is a good example and an inspiration to others. People will travel from all over the world to learn from this kind of church.
The church in Thessalonica was a model church (1:7): ‘Believers look up to you... all over the place’ (vv.7–8, MSG). It was a church full of faith, love and, especially, hope: ‘They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of… Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom’ (v.10, MSG). The church was loved by God (v.4). It was a suffering church (v.6), boldly proclaiming the words of God. The Lord’s message rang out from them, not only in Macedonia and Achaia but everywhere (v.8).
This should be our aim and our prayer – to be a church worthy of imitation, where the gospel rings out not only in our own local area, but everywhere. The aim is not empire building, but gospel spreading. Paul does not commend the Thessalonians for the size of their church (we do not know how big it was). Instead, he commends them, ‘you’re the message!’ (v.8, MSG).
The message came ‘not simply with words but also in power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction’ (v.5):
There is a time to speak. It is not enough simply to live out the Christian life. Tell people about Jesus and what he has done.
Words in themselves are not enough; you also need power. The power of God speaks through you; the Holy Spirit bringing deep conviction to the heart of the hearer.
Paul goes on, ‘You know how we lived among you for your sake’ (v.5). Even powerful words will not have a lasting effect unless your life is consistent with the message. It is not life or lips, but life and lips.
You, like the apostle Paul, have been ‘entrusted with the gospel’ (2:4). It is an immense privilege. Proclaim faithfully the words of God, ‘not after crowd approval – only God approval’ (v.4, MSG). Don’t misuse words: ‘We never used words to butter you up… And God knows we never used words as a smoke screen to take advantage of you’ (vv.4–5, MSG).
The task of proclaiming the gospel is a wonderful privilege as well as a great responsibility. God has entrusted the work to us. Ultimately you are accountable to him and to him alone. Don’t be concerned primarily with whether the preaching of the gospel pleases other people – in all probability it will not – but be concerned that it pleases God (v.6).
Paul did not simply throw words at the Thessalonians. He was ‘never patronizing, never condescending’ (v.7, MSG). He loved them like a parent – caring for them and sharing his whole life with them (vv.7–8), and setting them an example and encouraging them to live for God (v.12): ‘Like a father with his child, holding your hand, whispering encouragement, showing you step by step how to live well before God’ (v.12, MSG).
Speaking the words of God is not always easy. Paul writes, ‘Surely you will 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’ (v.9).
Preaching the gospel involves hard work; ‘working our fingers to the bone’ (v.9, MSG). Some of the work may appear tedious. I think of our amazing ‘A’ team on Alpha, who work from 5pm until 11pm – cooking, cleaning, serving and scrubbing saucepans.
The ‘revival’ came at a cost. There was insult, strong opposition, suffering (v.2) and hostility (v.15). But in spite of this there was great joy, ‘You welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit’ (1:6). Suffering and joy go hand in hand in the New Testament. Do not expect one without the other. Many around the world are suffering great hardship for their preaching of the gospel.
- ‘Working day and night’
Not only is there an intensity about the work, there is also a huge amount to do. In Paul’s case, like most Christians today, he was not a full-time evangelist. He was doing two jobs at once. He was preaching during the day and earning a living at night.
The Thessalonians recognised that the words of the gospel spoken by Paul were not just human words, but the very words of God (2:13). They had a life-changing impact – so that the Thessalonians were willing to pass the message on, in spite of all the suffering and hostility they faced.
Lord, thank you for the life-changing power of the gospel. Give me the strength, energy and enthusiasm to keep on telling people the good news about Jesus.
Words of fireJeremiah 18:1-20:18
The insults, opposition, hostility and ridicule that we in the West experience in the media, online, and even in personal attacks, are minor in comparison with the persecution of Paul, the Thessalonians, Jeremiah and many around the world today.
Jeremiah was a true prophet. He listened to the word of God: ‘This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord’ (18:1), ‘The word of the Lord came to me’ (v.5). God spoke to Jeremiah through the visual aid of a potter and his pots. This powerful image was picked up and used by Paul (Romans 9:21). You are spiritual clay in the hands of God who is shaping you for the purpose he has for your life.
Having heard the Lord’s word, Jeremiah spoke it out: ‘This is what the Lord says’ (Jeremiah 19:1). He proclaimed the words that God had told him. He said, ‘Hear the word of the Lord… this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: Listen!’ (vv.3,15a).
However, they would not listen (v.15b). Jeremiah was beaten and put in stocks (20:2). He was ridiculed and mocked (v.7). It was not easy for him. Sometimes it is tempting to give up speaking the words of God because it is so painful. However, Jeremiah concludes:
‘The words are fire in my belly,
a burning in my bones.
I’m worn out trying to hold it in.
I can’t do it any longer!’ (v.7, MSG)
The fire of God’s word burned so powerfully within him that he had to go on speaking it. As you follow Jeremiah’s courageous example, you can say like him, ‘But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior’ (v.11a).
Lord, help me to listen carefully to you and not to be put off by opposition, insults, hostility or ridicule. Thank you that your word in my heart is like a fire, which I cannot hold in. Help me to speak the message with your love and power.
1 Thessalonians 2:12
If we are parents, we need to be ‘encouraging, comforting and urging’ our children on. In the same way, church is family and we need to be doing the same with one another.
Who can I encourage today to ‘live a life worthy of God’?
Verse of the Day
‘The Lord is with [you] like a mighty warrior’ (Jeremiah 20:11).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.