Devotional Materials. Week Commencing Sunday 26th February 2023
Call to Worship
“Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully declare his praise? Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Let all the people say ‘Amen” (from Psalm 106)
“…since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28, 29)
“Now thank we all our God” MP 485 (Piano)
Father God we indeed worship and praise you. You are a ‘bounteous’, generous God who has blessed us with ‘countless gifts of love’ all our lives through. Thank you for all your provision, both material and spiritual. Thank you for that grace and mercy that lies behind the wonderful Salvation we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. There on the cross His was an atoning sacrifice that brings us forgiveness, freedom and deliverance from sin.
Even in this life you grant us peace and guide us when perplexed. By your Spirit you lead us into the truth of your word, and by the same Spirit we know your presence with us. We can be joyful in you because we know you are trustworthy, and are always working out your good purposes. You refine our lives, as a consuming fire you burn away those sins that would mar our spirits, and replace them with the fruit of peace, joy, longsuffering, endurance and faithfulness
Thank you that we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. Indeed, we are receiving the ‘heavenly Jerusalem. The city of the living God, with thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly. We come to the living God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect and to Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant.’
One day when we are taken to be with you, these will be seen realities. We will share in an eternal kingdom, raised from death, as you were raised.
Please lead us by your Holy Spirit. Amen
“Blessed be your name” MP 1036 (Guitar and violin)
Beth and Matt Redman
“Faithful One” MP 825 (Guitar and violin)
“Give Thanks” MP 170 (Piano)
It saddens our hearts to see the great suffering in the world.
We bring to mind all those in our locality who find themselves in a hard place. We especially pray for those who suffer physically with illness or mentally with depression or anxiety.
Lord, come breathe on these people by your Holy Spirit and bring great love, hope and joy through us your church.
Help us to minister to others in the strength of your Spirit and to work in unity together. May we shine your glorious light into the darkness and remain steadfast and true to you.
Lord, it disturbs us when we see world leaders embracing division instead unity, pursuing wealth instead justice and concealing lies instead of speaking out the truth.
We lift all those in significant leadership to you. Come guide their thoughts, cover their actions and renew their minds.
Protect them from the influence of the realms of darkness and sweep away any corruption.
We pray that you would lay out your paths of righteousness in troubled nations and lands.
We lift all those in poverty to you.
Come bring miracles of provision, healing and restoration.
Speak into our lives so that we might play our part in changing the world.
We ask all this in the wonderful name of Jesus. Amen.
Lord, thank you for every sign of your grace.
For every life transformed.
For every broken life healed.
Every lost person found.
Every one far off brought near.
Every sinner saved.
Lord it is all about you
We pray for greater love for the lost,
Help your Church rise up to seize the day
believing that there are no “no-go” areas for you Lord.
No people that cannot be reached.
No chains that cannot be broken.
So Lord, send us out longing for your presence and for your glory to fall anew.
Igniting us with an unquenchable flame.
Bringing light, hope and love wherever you send us.
In Jesus’ name
(Evangelical Alliance. Fred Drummond)
Reading. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28. Sylvia Churchill
“What a friend we have in Jesus” MP 746 (Piano)
Sermon. “Last But Not Least”
Paul’s final set of instructions, verses 12-28 are given so that the believers can continue to build one another up as he mentioned previously (11).
First Paul focuses on the relationship between leaders and those who are led (12, 13) Leaders take on great responsibility and Paul says these should be held in the highest regard. Leaders are chosen to teach sound doctrine, to help believers mature spiritually and to equip believers live for Jesus despite opposition. When leaders warn against forms of immorality for example- they should not be criticised, but honoured because they are faithful to God’s word and therefore all that is good and right.
Paul highlights responsibilities all believers have to care for one another (14). Laziness seems to have been a particular problem in the church at Thessalonica. The Greek word translated ‘lazy’ here was used for soldiers who would not stay in the ranks. These people had set themselves outside the prescribed pattern for the church- everyone else was working and serving, but they would not. Instead these idle people were stirring up trouble of other kinds. These needed to be warned to get back in line and use their God given gifts in service for the kingdom.
Paul also refers to the timid who need to be encouraged. Fearful people who lack confidence. Paul adds a tender care should be shown to those who are weak. This phrase ‘tender care- simply translated ‘help’ in the NIV- pictures the action of holding on to these people and wrapping ones arms around them.
And being patient with everyone is the glue that holds all the relationships within the church together. Patience is also translated as ‘long suffering’ which is the way God is with all of us (Ex.34:6, Ps.103:8).
Paul also warns against retaliation. In verse 15 he says ‘make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong’. This was especially poignant for a church under persecution, where someone might be tempted to betray another to the authorities over some personal grudge. Instead there should be forgiveness, as the Lord has forgiven us, and kindness.
The final verses from our letter, verses 16-28 describe public worship in the early church. And I want to spend more time on these this morning.
These instructions can be acted on by individuals, but taken together they give us a window into the nature of everything good that should characterise public worship. There are a number of clues that point to this idea; all the verbs are plural. The prophesying of verse 20 is described as a public activity. The “holy kiss” of verse 26 is obviously a public activity. And Paul says this letter should be read when all the brothers are present.
Verse 16 tells us “Be joyful always”. This seems odd because we naturally tend to think of joy in relation to our circumstances. We are joyful at the prospect of meeting up with a loved one we have not seen for some time. An Arsenal fan would be joyful if his team were to win the Premiership. Whereas a Manchester City or Brighton fan would have a distinct lack of joy at such a prospect! But Paul is speaking of a joy in God that can strengthen and sustain us even within difficult circumstances. The apostles prayed and sang hymns to God even though they had been thrown into prison unjustly. And even in facing sorrows associated with rejection and material poverty, Paul could still write: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10).
He felt emotional/social/physical pain as we all do, but with Paul it didn’t stop there. He had an inner joy that came from rejoicing in God and a wider perspective of faith that he brought to bear on his difficulties. An example of his outlook of faith is found in the book of Philippians; instead of sinking into despair when he was thrown in prison Paul saw it as God’s appointment for him to reach the prison guards and members of the royal household with the Gospel. This learning to rejoice in God keeps us on a level path. It keeps us from being victims of mood swings. It has been said difficulty make us either bitter or better. As we rejoice in God and learn to see with the eyes of faith we grow better; stronger and more useful to God and others.
And joy should characterise our public worship. We should quickly give our burdens to the Lord rather than be mentally preoccupied/weighed down with them. We should set our spirits to worship and adore Him from the heart. Psalm 95:1 says “Come let us sing for joy to the Lord”. We know He loves us, accepts us, and we want to express our love and adoration of Him. We praise Him whatever our feelings. Services should not be gloomy. Yes, we worship with awe and reverence but there is also joyful celebration. There is life. Vibrancy. There is a creative variety in joyful worship- praising God with Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs!
“Be joyful always and pray continually” says Paul.
This phrase- to pray continually- teaches us to have a constant awareness of God and prayerful dependence on Him. It encourages us to turn the needs we see around us into prayer. And prayer is effective:
“Billy Graham said, “Noah prayed and God handed him the blue print of the ark of deliverance. Moses prayed and God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Gideon prayed, and the host of a formidable army fled in fear before his valiant, prayerful three hundred. Daniel prayed, and the mouths of the lions were closed. The disciples prayed, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit so that 3,000 were added to the church in one day. Paul prayed and hundreds of churches were born in Asia Minor and Europe. God does answer prayer.
Rejoicing in God- praise and adoration of Him- is important to public worship but so is prayer. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told us to pray “Our Father”. Such a prayer can only be prayed with others. Each congregation should engage in serious intercession together. Here at ABC there is opportunity for public prayer in our Sunday services, our house groups, our monthly missionary prayer meeting and our weekly Wednesday afternoon prayer meeting (2.00-3.00).
Next Paul says in verses 18 “give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”
Corrie ten Boom was an inspiration and challenge to thousands of people after World War 2. Hearts were stirred and lives changed as she told with moving simplicity about God's sufficiency to meet her needs, even as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Not only was the camp filthy, but there were fleas everywhere. Corrie’s sister Betsie, who was imprisoned with her, insisted that 1 Thessalonians 5:18 was God’s will for them: “In everything give thanks” But giving thanks in a flea infested place seemed unrealistic to Corrie- until she realised why the guards didn’t come into their barracks to make them stop singing hymns and praying! They wanted to avoid the fleas!! So the prisoners were free to worship and study the Bible. The fleas, yes even the fleas were agents of God’s grace and something to be thankful for.
What are some of the “fleas” in our lives together? They aren’t the big difficulties, but the petty annoyances. The little trials that we can’t escape from. But these are the ways the Lord teaches us lessons. Through these He causes us to rely on and draw strength from Him. Through these He teaches us to keep seeing with the eyes of faith; that He will still work through us even though we cannot see exactly what that looks like yet. And through these He teaches us to mature in character and increase our endurance.
Perhaps you feel like you are serving the Lord and your efforts don’t seem to bear much fruit at the moment. You can’t see much hope. Don’t despair. Don’t give up. Stay thankful! Perhaps you feel resentful about other believers who have let you down. Still give thanks in all circumstances. God is using you for His glory, though at this time just how He is doing this may remain unseen by you. Keep persevering, which in itself is pleasing to God, and you will reap a harvest if you don’t give up. “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ” Paul says.
In verses 19-22 Paul says we should not “put out the Spirit’s fire”. He gives an example of what that means when he adds “do not treat prophesies with contempt”. Prophesies are spontaneous, Spirit-inspired messages that are usually spoken out to the congregation for the building up and encouragement of the Body of Christ.
In the New Testament it seems that any believer could be used to exercise this gift; After Pentecost we have the promise “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy…” (Acts 2: 17) When we look at 1 Corinthians 12: various spiritual gifts are described there, including prophesy. When the believers worship together Paul says “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” and he describes how the Spirit gives them to each believer “as He determines”. In other words no believer owns a gift, but where a believer is receptive he or she can be used by the Spirit to exercise a gift within their worship together. In this way the whole body is built up. Prophesy understood like this is a common occurrence in the congregation. Indeed Paul says in 1 Corinthians Chapter 14: 5 “I would like everyone of you to speak in tongues but I would rather have you prophesy” and verse 31 “For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged”. People took it in turns to prophesy or give a revelation. This didn’t mean anyone could get up and say anything they wanted- what they said was weighed; “test everything” says Paul in verse 21 from our passage; “Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil”.
Prophesy understood in this New Testament sense is therefore very different from the infallible writings of the Apostles and Prophets that constitute our New Testament. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul refers to his and the other Apostles’ teaching as the foundation on which the Church is built- nobody has the right to tamper with, add to or subtract from that foundation. It has been laid once and for all. Similarly we have no Apostles or Prophets today who are organs of direct revelation as those responsible for writing Scripture.
So now we have the completed canon, the Bible, is there any need for the spontaneous expressions of prophesy described in verse 20 of our passage or in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14? Some say no. But it seems to me we have no warrant to say the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased. Some have tried to make a case for the cessation of the gifts by saying that when “perfection comes, the imperfect disappears” These words are from 1 Corinthians 13. They interpret spontaneous prophesy to be the imperfect and perfection as the Bible. Now we have the Bible they say, these prophesies have disappeared. But a straightforward exegesis of 1 Corinthians 13 clearly reveal that the perfection referred to is not the Bible, but heaven- when we shall see Christ “face to face”; then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known, and not before.
If we are truly evangelical we cannot cut out those parts of the Bible we are not used to, which are perhaps foreign to our experience. But instead we should be receptive to the Holy Spirit as He continues to distribute His gifts among us. If we are not receptive then we are in danger of doing the very thing Paul tells us not to do. He says “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire, do not treat prophesies with contempt.”
So we should make room for prophetic insights/gifts. God may give someone a great insight into Scripture and its meaning to benefit the congregation, perhaps an insight into its application to our society. He may give a member a word of warning to His people in order to challenge them about their priorities or to warn of danger. In his book “The Happiest People On Earth” Demos Shakirian describes how a member of their Christian community in Armenia had given a prophesy years before, which was to be read at a set time in the future. When the time came the prophesy was read. It warned the Armenian Christians to flee the country or be destroyed. Those who obeyed found a new life in America. Those who stayed were subsequently killed by the Turks. Prophesy can warn. 1 Corinthians 14:4 gives a good summary about the effect of genuine prophesy. It says “everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort”.
Practically speaking I would encourage you if you have something to give- a word of prophesy or a word of knowledge for example- to come and share that with me or whoever is leading the service and if we think it is of the Holy Spirit then we will encourage you to share that insight with the congregation. In some ways it would be easier to do that within our evening service and specifically during times of worship- this would help in terms of the gifts being exercised according to good order. Remember there is no compulsion in prophesying- Paul says “The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets”. There should be no disorder or sensationalism in the exercising of these gifts. All must be done in a “fitting way” and good order; gifts should be exercised sensitively and in a spirit of love for our brothers and sisters, since “God is not a God of disorder but peace”.
One final thought on this theme. As an Apostle, Paul made it clear that anything he wrote was authoritative over anything given as a prophetic gift. Anything purporting to be God’s will has to be measured by Scripture- the inspired word of God. Here in our passage we should notice while Paul expects any gift of prophesy to be tested, it is not the same with his letter, which is Scripture. In verse 27 he insists strongly that his letter- 1 Thessalonians- be read to everyone. They were to listen to everything the apostle wrote, to believe it and obey it. And that is true today- even where prophetic gifts are exercised, Scripture has supreme authority in the Church. It is God’s Word which the Church, for its own health and growth needs to hear read and expounded.
I would add that although I am called to be your Pastor and so have special responsibility for teaching the Scriptures, I would hasten to say that you test what I teach for yourself. You go home and look for yourself at the passages I have described. The main test of a Christian teacher is the plain truth of Scripture. Like the people living in Berea we are to “examine the Scriptures” to see if what any Christian teacher says is true.
Well, this morning I have given most time to thinking about Paul’s call to us to give thanks in all circumstances and exploring this question of prophesy.
Up to now we might feel a little discouraged, because although we know these instructions to be good for us and our collective worship, we might think that what Paul has been describing is beyond human capability. We are not naturally “always joyful”, “praying continually” or giving thanks in every situation. Neither is it easy for us to keep holding on to the good and abstaining from evil when it comes to discerning the will of God. It’s not easy to step out in obedience and use the gifts God has given us and so serve him and our brothers and sisters. But verses 23 and 24, directly following on from these instructions, remind us that Paul does not expect us to carry them out in our own strength. God Himself is at work in us, sanctifying us, bringing His purposes to fruition, helping us to do His will:
“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (23, 24)
“Praise my soul the King of heaven” MP 560 (Piano)
Henry Francis Lyte
May the Lord bless you and take care of you; may the Lord be kind and gracious to you; may the Lord look on you with favour and give you peace.
David Barnes 22/2/23