Monday, May 16, 2016

Turn from Idols to God – 1 Thessalonians 1:8-9

The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia — your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 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. (NIV)

The Lord’s Message

The Lord has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God. (Isa 52:10 NASU)

I missed the first three words of Paul’s statement about the Thessalonians’ faith until I looked at Isaiah 52:10. The Lord is the focus of both of these passages. Our message is worth nothing and will be ineffective unless it is the Lord’s message. We must focus on the fact that it is His message and not our own. After all, His message is in the Bible. We can’t add to it or subtract from it without getting in trouble with Him (Prov 30:6).
If the Lord’s strong arm is not behind the message, it will be ineffective. The message rang out from Thessalonica because it was God’s doing. He enabled them first of all to believe. Jesus saved them through His blood, shed on the cross. His resurrection furnished proof that their sins would be forgiven when they turned to Jesus in faith. God did all of this when they turned to Jesus for their salvation and their lives were transformed in such a dramatic way that the Lord’s message rang out to their neighboring districts and everywhere else also. Here we are almost two thousand years later, about half way around the globe and their faith in Jesus, “the salvation of our God” (Isa 52:10) is still resounding to the ends of the earth.

No Need to Speak

And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15 NKJV)

Since Jesus commanded us to preach the Gospel to the whole world, why would anyone think that he doesn’t need to tell others about his faith? Paul certainly preached to everyone about his faith. However, I can see him going to another city and part of his testimony is to give examples of other who have received salvation through Jesus. He starts to mention the Thessalonians and someone stops him saying they already know about them because travelers have already told us about them. Wouldn’t that be something if it happened to us? I can’t say that has happened to me. I’ve shared the Gospel with many people and some have put away their past lives just as the Thessalonians did. But I have yet to meet anyone who has said they heard about the transformed life of one of these people. It doesn’t mean that they are not telling others but it does make me stop and realize that follow up and discipleship is part of the process of evangelism.  

You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. (2 Tim 2:2 NLT)

If we do not make disciples who are going to teach others, then Christianity will disappear within one generation. While I’m sure that the Lord would never let that happen (Matt 16:18), because His Word will never disappear (Matt 5:18), it is still something to think about. He has entrusted His Word to us so we can spread it to the world. We need to speak and act in such a way that others will know why we have turned from idols to serve the living and true God. When there are no more Christians left on earth or we are so persecuted that we are unable to spread the Word, God will use other means such as the angel in Revelation 14:6, “Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and tongue and people” (RSV). But that time has not yet come. We still have open doors all over the world, whether in person, radio, television, or internet. So let us speak out.

Turned from Idols

We know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. (1 Cor 8:4 NASB)

We often read the Gospels and relate to the way Jesus came to Israel confronting the Pharisees and other religious people who thought they knew God but were lost. Yet this is only part of the story. The Thessalonians may have never heard about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, or any others of the Hebrew legacy. They may have known about Jews living in their city, people who worshiped only one God. Just like today, they probably knew very little about Judaism because they were wrapped up in their own gods. They probably thought the Jews were very strange because they worshiped a God who could not be seen. They didn’t have an image or idol representing Yahweh. Everyone else had and idol and they bowed down before them offering sacrifices of various kinds. 

For many years, when we witnessed to neighbors, they were people who had a religious background. Our culture in the U.S. was saturated with Christianity. You can still see it some places. “In God we trust” is on our currency. LAUS DEO is inscribed on the top of the Washington Memorial. Moses, with two tablets in his arms, is the largest and center figure on the eastern pediment of the Supreme Court building. Hermon A. McNeil, the sculptor of the eastern pediment did not put Moses there because of his religious influence but because he was a lawgiver. None the less, when we see a statue of a robed, bearded man holding two stone tablets, we used to recognize him as Moses and know the bigger story with the moral implications that has influenced this country. The doors of the Supreme Court courtroom have I – V and VI – X engraved on them, an obvious reference to the Ten Commandments.

Unfortunately, we now have a generation in this country that doesn’t recognize the symbols. Many have never heard of Jesus or Moses; and I’m not talking about immigrants from other cultures. I’m talking about a generation that can trace their ancestors within the U.S. for a hundred or more years. They are people who have been raised in schools where they cannot mention God. They are like the Thessalonians before Paul arrived. They are pagans. The very definition of pagan is changing. According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary:
1:  heathen 1; especially :  a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome)
2:  one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods :  an irreligious or hedonistic person
3:  neo-pagan [a person who practices a contemporary form of paganism (as Wicca)]

Compare that definition with the Encarta Dictionary: English (North America) that pops up when looking up words in Microsoft Word:
1. an offensive term that deliberately insults somebody who does not acknowledge the God of the Bible, Torah, or Koran. [There is no other points in the definition.]

According to the description of Encarta on, it supposedly defines words in the way they are currently being used. If this is so, the definition of pagan is a subtle shift toward viewing monotheism as intolerant. We are increasingly living in a pagan culture where reminders of Christianity are under attack.

And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. And the idols shall utterly pass away. (Isa 2:17-18 ESV)

Fortunately, we know that this shift towards paganism will not last forever. While paganism is linked to idols, Isaiah 2:17 reveals that man’s pride is the reason they worship idols. Sure, Satan is also behind idol worship (1 Cor 10:20), but he uses man’s pride and arrogance against the living God otherwise he would fail. 

Living God

His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation. (Dan 4:3 NIV)

The only cure for idol worship, whether it is the neo-pagans of today, pagans of ancient Rome, or the irreligious who seek pleasure is to turn to the living God. Isaiah says that the Lord will be the only one worshiped in a future day (Isa 2:17). God is the only one who endures. He isn’t a dead god but He is the same today as when he created the universe and even before time began (Heb 13:8). Why would anyone ever want to serve other gods, whether they are the creation of man, Satan, or our own desires? Doesn’t it make sense to turn from all these things to serve the one that has always been alive and will be in the future? There is nothing that will ever happen to change that. The best part is that serving the Living God is not a burden, but a joy with peace (Matt 11:28-30).

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1:17 NASU)

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