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Nov 17, 2013

It's All About Shelf-Life

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-19

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: I Thessalonians--Empowered Expeditions

Keywords: eternity, the word, spiritual parenting, investing, future, persecution


This message deals with the only two eternal things we deal with daily in this world--the Word of God and the souls of people. In the latter part of I Thess 2, Paul connects our response to the Word with persecution and eternal an eternal perspective on investing in people. He calls us to spiritual parenting of others as the key to present hope and fuller joy and glory in the future.


It’s All about Shelf-Life

I Thessalonians 2:13-19

November 17, 2013


Intro: Shelf life of different items—depends on what they are.  Here are a few items I grabbed off the shelf at home today.

  • Milk—Nov. 18…1 more day. I saved my family from certain death this morning by finishing it!
  • Mustard—I’ve got 3 months to finish this Dejon bottle.
  • Canned soup—March 2015.  I think I can do that.
  • My own honey from my yard--Thousands of years!  No problem.

In today’s text in I Thess. 2, Paul talks about the shelf life of two things that outlast and outlive anything you and I can possibly know in this universe.

  • Both of them are in this very room today.
  • Both of them will be with us in some capacity until the day we die.
  • Both of them can radically change the experience we have for the rest of our life on earth…and for eternity in heaven.
  • Both of them can be damaged but never destroyed.

Know what I’m talking about?

I’m talking about the Word of God and the souls of people. Paul talks about both of them in that last half of 2 Thess. 2 and the very interesting interrelationship they have with each other.

Let’s start reading in vs. 13. Actually, I’m going to ask you to do something today that may change your learning a bit. Close your Bibles. Put away your smart phones and electronic devices.

Put yourself in the place of these Thessalonian believers 1,960 years ago who, when they gathered together some Sunday, A.D. 51 or so, had no Bibles they brought to church. The church was new. It was probably about the size of our group this morning. The New Testament was mostly unwritten. The cultural environment had been hostile to them over the past months.

But word had spread that they had received a new communiqué from their spiritual father, Paul of Tarsus. So how do you suppose they listened that day to the reading of the word of God?

ILL: I’ve had the privilege of visiting different places around the world where the word of God is “rare.” By that I mean that the printed word of God, the Bible, is in short supply. I’ve watched what people do who don’t have 6 copies of the Bible in their house, who don’t have 4 versions at their fingertips, who don’t have a single copy of the Bible in their home or place of work or even village.

It was July 4, 1975. A group of 3 of us--a teacher and 2 recent high school graduates—had just been dropped off in downtown Moscow, Russia at the Moscow Baptist Church. We had managed to ditch our communist government tour guide and gotten a ride to an event they never would have approved of our going to—an evening church service. Communism was in full swing. Being a state approved church, the government controlled what was said and not said. The pastors, to retain their positions, were required to inform the authorities who was there. Anyone under the age of 18 was there illegally.

We arrived late to the service, were ushered up the flight of stairs you see in the far right corner and given seats in some very hard, straight-backed pews in the front row of the far upper right corner of this photo. The church looked exactly like this…except more full. The walls were lined with people, many of them young people as they gave their seats to the elderly men and women.

As I scanned the audience, I could not find a single Bible. But people did have notebooks. The rhythm of the service was that there would be a song, then a scripture reading (from the pulpit Bible) and then a 20 minute sermon followed by another song, Scripture reading and sermon. This happened 3 times.

The most electrifying moments of that entire evening were the reading of the Scriptures…and the singing of the songs. When the pastor rose to read from the big pulpit Bible, people took out their notebooks and began writing. The reading was slow and deliberate. The writing was fast and furious. Those notebooks were the only Bibles I remember seeing—hand written, compiled piece by piece, of greater value to those people than any book they would ever obtain.

And then they would sing like I’ve never heard singing before—full throttle, as if it were the last time they would sing God’s praises on this earth, over 1,000 voices singing to the God for whom some had lost jobs, others promotions, others the chance of a college education, others undoubtedly family members themselves and years of their lives in prison.

There was a sort of holy, electrifying, anticipatory energy and spirit about it all that left the 3 of us laughing, smiling and nearly oblivious to the downpour we walked to the subway in later that night.

The Word of God was precious to those people…and they didn’t have much of it to read.

My mind flashes to a very different scene just 7 years ago. It was raining as well. But Sandy and I were in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. We were one of a handful of pale skins among hundreds of very dark skinned Fotaba people who had been dancing, praying, singing and giving speeches all morning.

Now, each family who had paid the $1.50 required to purchase a Bible were, for the first time in their lives, holding onto a copy of the New Testament (and a few O.T. books that had been translated too). Each couple or adult who had purchased a Bible was presented with it by the elders of the church along with a charge to not neglect it. This went on all day, punctuated by periodic processions of villagers singing and dancing their way up to Neil and Carol Anderson’s house where the boxes of newly arrived Bibles were kept. Then, in the rain, the villagers would dance and sing their way back down the hill to the covered stage where more people would be presented with their Bibles. It was an amazing sight and experience.

So imagine that all the Word of God you are going to get for this week or perhaps even this month is what I’m going to read to you this morning? Here goes.

13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.

ILL:     I don’t know about you, but how do you feel when you are charged with communicating someone’s message to someone else…and you know the person who gave you the message is listening in on your conversation relaying the message? It’s no big deal if you’re just telling them “hello” for that someone. But if you are communicating the message from, say, a head of state or Bill Gates to all of Microsoft, you probably want to make sure you get it right.

Paul is informing us that when he preached the Gospel to people, he understood that he was communicating a message he had received from God. And he was always delighted when recipients of that message treated it as from God as well.

            When we speak the truth about Christ to other people, we are not engaging in normal, every-day conversation. At that moment, we are standing in the place of God, delivering truth that can radically alter the entire life and eternity of the one we are talking with. And when they welcome it, that message becomes THE most powerful and effective message they will ever receive.

            Paul said, “…when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”

Here’s the key to the transforming word of God: it must first be “welcomed” into our hearts as from God himself and then it must be “believed” or put to work.

Could we PRAY about that right now? [Pray.]

Here’s what Paul tells his spiritual kids next: 14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, 16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.

WHEN the Word of God goes to work in the people of God, not everyone is going to love you for it.

You would think that people becoming better people…people getting right with God and thus living out their true personhood in Christ…would make those around them happy as clams. Men stop drinking and yelling at their wives and kids. Women stop nagging or fighting with their husbands. Kids stop mouthing off to parents. Neighbors start lending a hand and taking interest in neighbors. Seems like a better world to me!

            But there is one small problem. People who love darkness don’t like you to turn on the lights…even a low-wattage one! People who don’t want their sinful behavior to be shown up for what it is just hate living around people whom Christ is transforming. It’s too convicting! It’s sometimes embarrassing. It is perceived as a threat to the status quo and to whatever illusion of power they have.

  • That’s why a spouse who comes to Jesus before their partner does will usually find marriage more difficult rather than easier.
  • That’s why coworkers will single out for special treatment someone who starts talking about the change Jesus Christ is making in their lives.
  • That’s why bosses will go after Christian employees far more than secular unbelieving employees.

ILL: Just this week I heard a brother share what happened to him one day in a large plant in which he worked as an electrician. He shared that he wrote on his work gloves, “In Jesus Name” just to remind him to do everything in the name of Jesus throughout the day. So every door he would open into another section of the plant to go fix or check on something electrical would be a reminder to pray as he entered that room that Jesus presence and Lordship would go before him into that place. And, of course, he shared the Gospel when he got a chance in the lunchroom or during breaks with others in the plant. But his boss, the plant manager, hated God-talk and anything about Jesus.

            So one day Neil gets summoned into the plant manager’s office. The manager proceeds to pull out a series of charts, some about plant production, some about accident on the job, some about down times on equipment. Every single chart shows that when Neil is on duty, his shift is the consistently the most productive, has the fewest accidents, the least equipment failures. It doesn’t matter if it’s the day shift, the swing shift or the night shift he’s on. The singular common denominator is his presence on that shift.

            So the plant manager says to him, “But you know, Neil, I’m sick and tired of hearing you talk about Jesus. So…you’re fired. Clean out your locker and leave.”

            Not what you would expect for increased productivity and cost savings, no? But when you hate the light, anyone who brings that Light near you will be hated too.  

That’s been the history of this faith we hold to.

  • In over 60 countries of the world today, being a Christian will likely cost you your freedom and possibly your life.
  • 100 million Christians will be persecuted in our world this year.
  • One is being killed every 3 minutes.
  • 75% of the world lives in areas with severe religious restrictions.

Just listen to what has happened in just a few places around the world in just that last few months to our spiritual siblings in Christ.

  • Saturday, November 16th, 2013--A source has reported that the Boko Haram terror group has taken credit for the abduction of a French Catholic priest in Cameroon last week. Boko Haram is engaged in a campaign of religious cleansing in an attempt to establish Sharia rule in Northern Nigeria. They have also been abducting Christian women, forcing their conversion to Islam, and marrying them to Islamist commanders against their will.
  • In Somalia, where apostasy, or leaving Islam, is punishable by death, Christians must meet secretly to avoid death. A Christian pharmacist, Abdikhani Hassan, was shot 7 times and killed by two Muslim assailants on October 20th last month for talking too much about Jesus Christ. The group believed to have been responsible, Al Shabaab, is the Somali cell of Al Qaeda. They have vowed to rid Somalia of its Christians. The group is suspected of also killing Fatuma Isak Elmi, 35, on Sept. 1 inside her home in south-central Somalia (see Morning Star News, Sept. 9). Her husband had received a threatening note that morning believed to be from the Islamic extremists and was away at the time of the murder.
  • Wednesday, November 13th, 2013--At least five children were killed by a mortar attack on a school in a largely Christian area of the Syrian capital of Damascus. While random mortar attacks have become commonplace the focused attack on the school has had a jarring effect on the Christian community. The situation for Christians remains dire in the country and the readily identifiable marks of Christianity have made the Christian community particularly vulnerable to continued assault.
  • In late October, a Christian in Nepal was lured to the house of a Hindu radical where he was murdered. The Hindu radical had claimed to be in pain and had asked for healing prayer. After visiting the Hindu man and praying for him three times, the radical murdered the Christian man with a knife in his own home. The growth of a Christian community in Nepal has led to a new wave of persecution against the Church there.
  • Word came out last week of the mass execution of about 80 “criminals” in North Korea in 8 different cities across the country. Among these “criminals” were Christians who were “guilty of possessing a Bible.”
  • What originally appeared to be a weekend raid by Fulani Islamists in Nigeria against a Christian village has seemingly developed into a sustained offensive, with over 5000 jihadists cutting a swath through East-Central Nigeria. Almost 40 persons have been reported killed thus far, and thousands displaced as the outmatched Nigerian security forces are unable to slow the rampage.
  • Four Christian men in Iran have been sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking communion wine. The Iranian government says that this reflects the ban against imbibing alcoholic beverages in the nation's theocracy. The United Nations says this is yet another example of the Islamic republic's systematic persecution of non-Muslims.

These contemporary persecuted brothers and sisters are our leaders to follow in our own culture that will become increasingly hostile to the light of Christ in days to come. These believers, usually materially far poorer than we Western Christians, have a wealth of spirit and vision that makes us look poverty stricken.

When it came to persecution of the Thessalonian church, Paul pointed to the Judean church as a model for them to follow. While perhaps poor economically, Jewish converts to Christ were rich in persecution experiences that had much to teach the rest of the Christian world that would be facing persecution.  There are certain Christ-like qualities that only persecution can bring to believer’s lives.

            We American Christians will need, in the coming days, to learn from our Chinese brethren, our Middle Eastern brethren, our North African and Indonesian and Burmese and East Indian brethren HOW to suffer for Christ’s sake. We’ll need to draw from their wealth in the area of a theology of suffering, in care for families left destitute because their bread-winner is in prison…or martyred. Caring about and praying for the persecuted church is not something that is just a nice thing to do. It is something that we must do to prepare ourselves and our children for the same hardships that will come to Christians in America as God continues to allow judgment to fall on this land as we continue to turn our backs as a nation on Jesus Christ.

APP: What does God want you to do to support your spiritual family in persecuted nations? Start praying for one of them by name? Start reading more about persecution of Christians? Start getting emails on a regular basis that tell you how to pray and who to pray for? Writing periodically to one of our brothers or sisters imprisoned in some hell-hole of a prison somewhere on this sin-scarred earth? Ignoring those persecuted elements of the church will not keep persecution from coming to us. It will only leave us woefully unprepared for the persecution that surely must come, and soon, to the American church.

Paul ends this second chapter of I Thessalonians by explaining to the Thessalonians how deeply he longed to renew the bonds of fellowship with them, face to face. Persecution had torn him from them and, according to his own words, Satan had hindered him from returning to be with them “time and again” (vs. 18).

            There really is something about absence making the heart grow fonder, BUT only if there was a deep and heartfelt bond of love there in the first place. If that’s not there, then we all know what happens. That’s how “love affairs” happen. Whether it’s a spouse traveling away from home who forgets the value of what he or she has in their spouse and children back home OR whether it’s a young couple who never really bonded together with more than passing infatuation, if someone is not truly your “pride and joy” in life, absence will make the heart to wander.

            Whether it is a marriage, a family, a good friendship or people God is calling us to live and die for in His Kingdom, the eternal lives of PEOPLE must be infinitely more important to us than anything around us that is not eternal. Remember I started today talking about the two things in life that have an eternal shelf-life? The everlasting Word of God was the first. And here again Paul tells us, people are the second and only other eternal thing we will ever know in this life.

            Paul ends this chapter with these words about his Thessalonian brothers and sisters in Jesus.

19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

            For Paul life and ministry really was all about people—people he had only know for a few weeks but for whom he labored night and day. People who were not immediate family but who had become family to him. This man who, just years earlier was a murderer of Christians was now a spiritual mother and father to converts. God had made such a major transformation in his life that he was absolutely and totally convinced that the only good and appropriate expenditure of whatever remained of his life was to pour it into spiritual children. Everything else became simply a means to that end of leaving behind spiritual offspring who would one day join him before that great and glorious throne of God that shines brighter than ten million suns.

I want you to fast-forward with me in your mind’s eye for a moment. Life is over. It’s the year 5013, 3 thousand years in the future. Your body has long since decomposed. Your house is nothing but dust somewhere in the atmosphere or tangled trash in a long-forgotten landfill. Everything you and I will see today and for the rest of our lives is no longer standing, no longer worth a dime, no longer valued by anyone anywhere. In fact, there are very few memories that still stir your heart from those years you will have spent on earth.

            You’re standing in a world that every second is millions of times more beautiful than the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen in this world. You’re there with people and angelic beings who are more amazing and genuine and beautiful than you could ever have hoped for. And above, around, under and before all this is the very presence of God himself, a presence that is totally indescribable were you to have 10,000 volumes of books to write about it.

            As you bask in these indescribably sights and sounds and feelings, you notice that everyone around you is somehow related to someone near them. Everyone is someone’s child. There is this amazing sense of love, of pride, of joy flowing between every generation of parent and child. This is a family reunion the likes of which you had no idea could even possibly exist. And every one of the relatives is completely and deeply enjoying every one of the distant relative.

As you gaze on this amazing scene, you are intuitively aware that some of these family lines end with one generation of offspring. Some of the people there only know the joys of being offspring. They are truly blessed, joyful and glorious. Their life is not incomplete but it is different.

The difference is intuitively known as well. For when you look at others, you see some whose families have 2 or 5 or even 8 children. And their children and children’s children for dozens of generations have more love and joy and happiness in each other than you ever imagined possible in family lines you used to know on earth so many years ago.

And you realize that while those people whose family lines ended with them are in no way empty or unfulfilled, you also know that those whose family lines you now see extend into the thousands somehow have a joy and glory that matches the increased size of their family line.

19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

What I am about to say may sound a bit strange in some of your ears. Before I was married, I loved the single life. I had wonderful and deep friendships with so many truly wonderful people, many of whom I am still blessed to call my close friends today.

            And then I met Sandy, fell in love with her and made the decision to embrace married life. And in that decision, I’ve found a form of love and joy and blessing that I now cannot imagine ever being content without.

            And then we decided to have children. Joanna came first, and we discovered a new type of love we had never experienced before—the love of a parent for a child. We sometimes wondered how we could possibly love another child like we loved her. We secretly wondered if that love we knew for her would be halved by adding another child or in any way diminished.

            So we took a chance. We decided to have another child, Daniel. And then we discovered that the capacity to love children grows with the addition of every child. And today, we cannot imagine what life would be like without any one of our six children.

            If I am totally honest, I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to have had a family of 9 children…or 12…or 15. Something in me tells me God would have just given more love…and life would have been all that much richer, just as it has been with the addition of every one of our children. And the miracle continues as we have barely begun to experience the joy and warmth of loving yet another generation of grand-children coming into our lives.

I think that God has hard-wired humans so that with increasing family offspring comes increasing capacity to love and rejoice and glory in those offspring. I think He did that so that we all might know, at whatever level of family relationship we’ve experienced, just a taste of what it will be like in eternity to be surrounded by spiritual children and grandchildren.

19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.

This is why I am unapologetic about calling every single one of us to engage in sharing the Gospel of Christ with as many people as we possibly can.

This is why I am unapologetic about urging every one of us to become spiritual parents in this world—to fall in love with people who have responded to the love of God in Christ and are looking to someone to help them grow up to be loving, committed, reproducing spiritual adults in their generation.

This is why I keep urging and exhorting and challenging you (and myself) to step into the lives of people needing Jesus, whether here in some downtown ministry…or in your workplace or school…or with your neighbors where you live… anywhere where God wants to make you a spiritual parent and grandparent for untold generations of spiritual family you will love and enjoy and rejoice over forever.

            Whether I die today or 40 years from now, I will die a deeply satisfied and joy-filled man knowing the love and joy and happiness our little family of 8 has experienced in Christ together.

            And if my heart overflows with joy in this sometimes sorry world with just these 8 I have shared that journey with for just 3 decades of life on earth, what will an eternity with untold spiritual offspring be like in the presence of our Heavenly Father who rejoices over us as His family…forever?

So I’m asking you again today to MAKE a few decisions and TAKE a few steps further into spiritual parenting.

1.)    Do you know for certain that you are a child of God today by faith in Jesus Christ? None of us will ever be able to pass along what we have not already first experienced ourselves. If you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ by faith as your own Savior and Lord, then that is your greatest and most urgent need. You must become a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ. It is as simple as starting a relationship. Jesus Christ died to reconcile you to God. His perfect sacrifice for your sin against God is what you need to trust in and accept. So let me invite you to do that in prayer right now. (Prayer of faith in Christ: Our Father, I recognize that my sin has separated me from you but the Jesus came to earth to take the punishment due me on himself. I repent of my rebellious heart towards you and I ask you to receive me into your eternal family as your son or daughter through my simple faith in Jesus and what he has done to reconcile me to you. Please come into my life, take control of my life and fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may live the rest of my existence both here and in eternity loving You. Amen.

2.)    If you are already a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ, have you made the decision to become a spiritual parent yet? Have you decided that you will make the sacrifices and take the time to pass on this life in Christ to other people—your family, your neighbors, your friends and coworkers and peers at school and elsewhere? If so, I want you to take some time before you leave today to indicate that decision on the map on the wall. We do have stickers this week. Let me encourage you to write your initials on the dots and put them in those places where you are telling God, “I’d like to spiritually parent in that block, that building, that school, that office building.”

Some of you are thinking, “I don’t really know that I have the tools to spiritually parent. I don’t know how to share the Gospel clearly with someone. I don’t know how to help a new believer in Jesus to grow in Christ.” If that’s you, the only thing that stands between you and the solution is a decision. We are constantly offering training designed to help you answer every one of those questions I’ve just mentioned. But we can’t make the spiritual parenting decision for you. If you want to be a spiritual parent, you will probably need some “parenting classes”. That’s why I think every session of Conduit on Monday night should be filled with people wanting to learn how to share Christ and spiritually parent others. It’s time to “fish or cut bait” on this one. Every person around us without Christ needs us to stand up and step out in sharing our faith. The time is short. The door of opportunity is closing. (Show of hands???)

Mosaic Fellowship exists to help more people become children of God and every child of God to become a spiritual parent to others. Ask us how you can do that if you are at a loss for the next step for you.

[PRAY for a full and productive shelf life in the Kingdom of God.]