Sunday, 29 November 2020

Word for the Week Vlog: Don't neglect the other side of the lake

Don't neglect the other side of the lake ...


A seven-minute Vlog on the side of a hill 

Let us know what you think in the comments ... but keep it tidy? Thanks!

Saturday, 28 November 2020

1 Thessalonians 1:9 - turn, turn, turn ...

1 Thessalonians 1:9 Authentication of faith: Turning to God from idols to serve the One True Living God


 So then … as we’ve been seeing since we set out on our journey through these first ten verses of 1 Thessalonians … Biblical assurance is based on election not presumption.

It is based on the Gospel coming to people not simply with words but with power, with the Holy Spirit and with DEEP CONVICTION.

And that results in a life of discipleship to Christ characterised by 

Work produced not by self-justification or virtue signalling but by faith

Toil prompted by love, and

Endurance INSPIRED by Hope in our Lord Jesus Christ … the Messiah, the Son of God: crucified, raised and returning.

It gives rise to spiritual fruit in these new believers' lives which the Apostolic team led by Paul then expands on in the remainder of the chapter …

That fruit shows itself in genuine conversion, discipleship and changed lives, and that also impacts the lives of others.

That discipleship is PERSONAL .

It is discipleship to CHRIST, the first Apostles learned it personally from Him, and we (not having his physical body here now) learn it personally from Him through the Holy spirit and also in-the-body from those we walk with as brothers and sisters here below …

And that is CRUCIALLY under pressure and must be safeguarded and preserved in times of pandemic, pestilence and prohibition on Christian assembly.

I’ve highlighted this and LABOURED it for this reason.

We HAVE to find ways to be setting this as a priority especially during times of COVID isolation.

And THAT is the real-deal, and that is what we pray for and THAT is what we strive for.

And, yes, as we have said in previous weeks, we do not rest content in our service in the Kingdom of God nor in our commitment to those we LONG to share salvation with until we too see the things the Apostle breathed their sigh of relief for over Thessalonica.

Now this week and next week we conclude this part of our 1 Thessalonians series by looking into the effect all we’ve been looking at up until now impacts and changes the lives of those early Thessalonian believers, and the rejoicing that these changes brought about.

The apostolic team have been writing about what gives them confidence that these Thessalonian believers ARE the real deal, and today they describe what a genuine faith God has given actually looks like in terms of a changed life.

“… your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell 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 rescues us from the coming wrath.”

So what they are saying is that all the churches have recognised true, Biblical faith in these Thessalonian believers because they realise that true, Biblical faith is characterised by these two things: 

Biblical repentance (and the apostles explain what that comprises) which we’re about to look into and 

Biblical patient faith in the coming Christ, raised from the dead, our rescuer from the coming judgement – which we’ll get to next week.

Turning to receive the Apostles

Firstly, today, notice the repentance that showed itself in the reception they gave the apostles.

v.9 “they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.”

Look … these guys Paul, Silas and Timothy are following a despised, rejected, suffering Saviour … to use some of the terms Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah portrayed the Lord Jesus.

The same Lord Jesus Who taught His disciples what to expect from people:

John 16:19-20

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”

What Jesus is saying here is that a worldly and hostile response to the Apostles should be expected, but if you see a positive, favourable response to those who bring the Word of God from a group of people … that is in itself very telling!

If a group of people gives faithful Bible preaching people a hostile response, that’s just a mirroring of their response to the Lord Jesus.

But if they give a warm reception to Christ’s ambassadors … same principle, but different story about those people altogether!

So after all the hostility and rejection at Philippi, when the Apostles rocked up at Thessalonica, what response did THESE Thessalonians make?

v. 9a “for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.”

 οἷοι ἐγενήθημεν [ἐν] ὑμῖν δι᾿ ὑμᾶς

Grk “what sort of entrance we had to you” (an idiom for how someone is received).

Now, you’ve got to set that response to these apostles against the response the towns people of Philippi and the towns people of Thessalonica had come up with if you’re ever going to understand the genuineness of these Thessalonians’ faith.

It demonstrates a heart-change having taken place in those people.

This was what repentance looked like.

But what is genuine repentance?

Well, we say it is turning, but there’s more to say than that.

It is two turnings in particular … two essential elements in repentance.

BOTH turnings are essential to Biblical repentance.

Turning TO

v. 9b “They tell how you turned to God …”

Now, this always looks like the easy bit to get sorted out.

You can much more readily get people to do this first essential element in genuine conversion to Christ tan the next bit.

‘Turn to God!’ ran the appeal of the 1980s to easy-believe-ism … but it wasn’t Biblical Christianity.

The Apostles are about to unpack that a bit but simply ‘turning to Jesus’ is not something they would have been encouraged to see in these new Thessalonian believers.

And yet ...

Turning … ἐπιστρέφω

1) transitively 1a) to turn to 1a1) to the worship of the true God 1b) to cause to return, to bring back 1b1) to the love and obedience of God 1b2) to the love for the children 1b3) to love wisdom and righteousness 2) intransitively 2a) to turn to one's self 2b) to turn one's self about, turn back 2c) to return, turn back, come back

We’re going to see that the Apostles are dropping hints that a lot of these Thessalonians are from a pagan background originally, but language such as ‘turn’ is straight from the OT.

It is the verb commonly used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament (LXX) to denote conversion to God or negatively when people turn AWAY from God in apostasy.

Famously in Acts 26:18 Paul speaks before King Agrippa of his conversion experience where the Lord sends Paul to the Gentiles: “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

It is the essential purpose of Paul’s ministry, you see?

His mission from God is to turn people like the bulk of this congregation at Thessalonica from their pagan ways to Christ.

But turning TO God always, always, ALWAYS meant turning from what people already clung fast to.

Turning to always means also turning from.

Turning FROM

v. 9b “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”

Majority world commentators are often much more helpful at this point than Western commentators because for many of them, their former idols are much more clear, plain and stark than the idols of Western people like us.

So Nijay Gupta quotes Beverly Gaventa who writes: “Paul’s words about turning FROM idols to serve God imply that faith in the God of Israel Who is the Father of Jesus Christ IS NOT AN OPTIONAL PRACTICE to be added on to previous values and commitments. One cannot serve this God alongside idols; they must be put away. The claims of Christian faith are all-encompassing.”

Justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, and solely to God’s Glory.

Idols are things you lean on instead of Him!

So, you might be saying, 'That’s not an issue for us, then. Preach that sort of sermon in Africa!'



That is ENTIRELY missing the point!

Let’s talk about idolatry.


v. 9b “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”

The Apostle Paul consistently shows us that discerning, exposing and destroying idols is essential to Gospel preaching, not just in a pluralist culture but in any culture … because not all idols get made by a craftsman.

We’ll get to that.

In Acts 19 the rioters at Ephesus, furious at Paul’s preaching, had really caught the point of the Gospel.

There is no account of the Apostle’s sermon at all in this passage, so Luke obviously felt the objectors had caught the point perfectly!

In Acts 19:26 Demetrius the metal worker (a man making LOADS of money as were many others out of creating little silver models of the goddess Artemis.

The Lady of Ephesus, 1st century AD, Ephesus Archaeological Museum

Artemis was linked to agricultural production and prosperity) stood up to whip the rioting crowd into a frenzy and said of Paul:

“He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all.”

Now, Ephesus had a thriving economy based on the MASSIVE Temple of Artemis/ Diana there … which was SEVEN times the size of the Parthenon!

But there is no doubt that Paul was addressing DIRECTLY the idols of that culture … and the word used by the Apostles here in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 is not a word that pagans would use of their statues … it is a pejorative term.

Gk. εἴδωλον

1) an image, likeness 1a) i.e. whatever represents the form of an object, either real or imaginary 1b) used of the shades of the departed, apparitions, spectres, phantoms of the mind, etc. 2) the image of an heathen god 3) a false god

From Homer onwards the word meant a ‘shadow’ or a ‘form’ … an EMPTY thing.

Paul was discerning and EXPOSING these things

And it wasn’t just Ephesus that he saw this as essential to his ministry, it was EVERYWHERE.

Paul had been not long since in Athens, where he was greatly troubled by the idols that were EVERYWHERE (Acts 17:16).

We believe he was in Corinth as he wrote this letter to the Thessalonians.

In a great ironic twist, some of the believers in that city would famously fail to grasp later that an ‘idol’ is a ‘nothing’ … and those who were to do that get described in 1 Cor. 8:4-13 as ‘weak’ in the Christian faith.

Paul consistently discerns the local idols then takes on and exposes them.

We need to discern the idols in OUR culture because this is an essential part of exposing and dealing with them … Paul knows that, and he, Silas and Timothy are super encouraged to see having no truck with idols in the Thessalonians because that was a clear indication that those Thessalonians wee God’s chosen, saved people FOR REAL.

Discerning idols

Just a quick word about discerning idols as part of the essential ministry of reaching our culture for Christ … and it comes from David Clarkson a 17th. Century Puritan preacher of great value:

(Born in Bradford, Yorkshire in 1622, he graduated from Cambridge University, and was a fellow of Clare Hall from 1645 until his marriage to a Miss Holcroft in 1651. 
He served as rector of Crayford, Kent from 1650 to 1655, and held the perpetual curacy of Mortlake, Surrey, from 1656 to 1661. 
For about a year, he served as assistant to Samuel Clark at St. Benet Fink, London, until the Act of Uniformity and the Great Ejection in 1662.
For the following twenty years he appears to have ministered in relative obscurity until July 1682 when he became colleague to the fast ailing John Owen, whom he assisted in Leadenhall Street, London, until the latter’s death in 1683. 
He ministered in Owen’s pulpit for only three more years until his own death on June 14 1686.

David Clarkson 

Clarkson has an unbelievably thorough treatment of our 20th century modern idols in his 3 vol. Works in a sermon called: ‘Soul idolatry excludes men from Heaven’.

His basic idea … which is spot on … is that metal, wood, stone or whatever idols are just a very small part of the human idolatry that keeps people from God because idols are anything you look to for protection rather than God alone.

Tim Keller in his address to The Gospel Coalition Conference in 2009 “Look to anything to give you what only God can give you; THAT is idolatry.”

And so, Keller goes on to show, an idol is anything in your life you cannot bear to be without … anything of which you say ‘if I have that thing, THEN my life has value’.

It could be religiosity, ministry success, career, family, spouse … child?

If you take a GOOD thing and make it an ULTIMATE thing … then you are in idolatry.

And here’s the thing … humans are by fallen nature, idolaters.

We have a tendency to want the material or the materially beneficial but Christian faith entails making Christ your hope, your provider, your very great reward because it involves putting all your trust ultimately in HIM.

Check out YOUR potential idols with this blog post from Joe Carter!

So you’ve got to discern your idols, expose them for the vanities that they are and DESTROY them or they will destroy your grip on the Christ who alone can save you.

And THAT will destroy you.

Your idols didn’t die for your sins.

In fact they turn violent and are destructive of human dignity and human life because whilst in themselves an idol is nothing they are used by the Enemy (not the friend but) the ENEMY of souls to do violence to you (the clue is the name there).

Your idols don’t help you even at your points of greatest need.

They didn’t die for your sin.

That’s why ultimately what I need is CHRIST.

Tim Keller

Keller again, at that conference, concluded: “We need to take the Gospel to the idols, because then and only then will we turn the world upside down.”

The Apostle here in v. 9 is rejoicing these Thessalonians show clear evidence that God had saved them because they turned to God from idols … with a very important and significant consequence …

You turn away from idolising anything or anyone outside yourself, and you turn from idolising yourself.

Turning from being your own boss

v. 9b “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God

Now look … this is really significant.

Gk. δουλεύειν θεῷ ζῶντι καὶ ἀληθινῷ

Firstly, δουλεύω

1) to be a slave, serve, do service 1a) of a nation in subjection to other nations 2) metaph. to obey, submit to 2a) in a good sense, to yield obedience 2b) in a bad sense, of those who become slaves to some base power, to yield to, give one's self up to

You give up on, you turn from, being your own jumped up little ‘boss’ … give yourself up to God.

Be your own boss?

How does that work?

Some days you don’t even know what you want!

And yet many, many people live as vassals of their vacillating self!

Idolising yourself

Idolising idols does you harm, but idolising your selfish self does you most harm of all. 

What the culture of many forms of modern therapy culture does is to idolise the individual, idolise the self as if to hep  by that means.

Much of it.

And in doing so it more deeply infects the would it purports to heal.

The Apostles are encouraged by the change in these Thessalonian believers because the saving work of God in them was evidenced not presumed nor just asserted, and it was evidenced because everyone could see in them what characterised a genuine, saving work of God: “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” … and then to live by faith in Him

“and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”


Paul, Silas and Timothy rejoice in this letter over the visible, practical, costly repentance of these Thessalonian believers because THAT is definitive evidence of the miraculous transformation of the human will which takes place when God saves a person.

It is characterised not simply by remorse or regret, but turning 

Turning to God 

Turning from idols

To serve the living and true God not yourself. 

These are very unnatural things, contrary to our sinful human nature.

Evidence of the strongest kind that a person has taken their trust out of their own resources to place their destiny in other hands which is what saving faith MEANS.

And it is accompanied MOST reassuringly by the miraculous work of God in human hearts that makes them PATIENT …

But for the moment let’s concentrate on turning to God from idols … material ones, soul ones and selfish ones, to serve 

the ONE (there IS only one)

True (the rest are false)

Living (the rest are empty things, phantoms used as his tools by the destructive, violent Enemy of your soul)

… to serve the One Who has given HIS all, for us.

Discern those idols, expose them, destroy them.

This is the vital characteristic of Gospel ministry, and the joy-inducing evidence of real salvation.

The podcast sermon on which these notes are based can be found on the link below here:

Ty'r Bugail online sermon 28/11/2020

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