Chosen To Strive For Excellence
One of history’s greatest musical conductors was Arturo Toscanini. Born in Parma, Italy, in 1867, Toscanini died in his sleep in New York City in 1957. For years he conducted the National Broadcasting Company’s Symphony Orchestra in New York City. On one occasion Toscanini was rehearsing his orchestra, and he wanted the piece of music played perfectly. But it was obvious that the orchestra was not giving its best. Laying down his baton, Toscanini said quietly: "Gentlemen, God has told me how he wants this piece of music played and you are hindering God. God has given us His best; can we give Him less than our best?"
If there was one church that always came close of giving God their best, it was the church in Thessalonica. At least four times in this letter, Paul gave thanks for that church and the way they responded to his ministry. They were so different from other churches with their responses. In particular the people in Corinth, made life difficult for Paul and he had to admonish them on more than one occasion. His second letter to the Corinthians was called, “The letter of tears.”
After Paul and Silas established the church in Thessalonica, Paul went to three other cities in Greece. It was only 18 months later that he had the time to write to the Thessalonians. But he vividly recalled their faith and example. He commended them for having a good character in the midst of persecutions and influences from unbelievers.
Let's look at this first chapter of Paul's first letter. We learn first of all that 1 God Set Us Aside As His Own. Verses 1 and 4 tell us about the act of God when He had chosen us from the world. “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ...For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you...” What was the point Paul wanted to make to them? “God committed to you and all believers of generations to come when He chose people as His own. He wasn’t half committed when He brought forth His plan of making people His own.” Friends, let’s talk about commitment as we see it in our world. Not all people want to put their entire lives into something. They want to leave the back door open for just in case they realize they made a mistake.
It’s like the couple who planned their wedding in Reno, Nevada. When they got to the decision about how much to spend on wedding rings, the man said, “Let’s just rent rings and wait for two or three years and see how we feel about being married and then we can buy rings.” My friends appreciate the wonderful truth – God became fully committed to you and me. He made an investment in each of us without holding anything back. St. Paul referred to the Thessalonians as “...brothers loved by God...” He loved us so much that He chose us in Christ Who died for us. That’s how much you were worth to God.
There is a wonderful testimony of a minister, who shared his life story of how he became a part of God’s family when he least expected it. He served in the military and had a devout Christian as a roommate, while he received training in the Army College. Each night he saw his roommate reading the bible and devotionals. He heard him praying to God, but it went by him as something that wasn’t meant for him. The time came when they left for war and he fought at the side of his roommate. When they found themselves in a combat situation, he heard a bang and everything turned black before him. He was seriously wounded and it was just like a film of his life with dark images, was playing itself off before him. He thought that the end wasn’t too far away. He then saw images of his roommate praying to God and he could hear it so clearly. He regretted the fact that he didn’t turn his life over to God when he had the chance. Suddenly a light came on that drove the darkness away. The film of his life stopped and he saw his roommate praying over him. Then he realized how much God had a purpose for him. On the battlefield he became a follower of Jesus – one of God’s chosen ones. I want to believe that everyone in this sanctuary can affirm the following: “I was chosen by God from the darkness of the world to dwell in His everlasting light”
Why did God decide to choose people as His own? One theologian struggled with this thought and told himself over and over again – “God didn’t need to bring me into being; He didn’t need to bring any other person into being.” But then the light bulb went on for the theologian – it was 2 God’s Decision To Make People His Workers. Paul wanted to make it clear to the Thessalonians and each one of us – God chose you as a part of His team to serve. Verse 3, “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love.” Their “work of faith and labour of love” expressed the Thessalonians’ sharing of the Gospel with others. They were both “receivers” and “transmitters.” You see, the church of Christ is like a radio transmitter. You have to get a signal if you want anything to be transmitted. Each day of our lives we have to be in tune with what God is saying so that we can broadcast the news to others. You see, there is a wonderful network that God has established in His church – a network we witness here at Cooke’s, Langley PC and all other churches each time when we worship and have other events not affected by Covid-19. We see and hear the voice of God in the lives of our brothers and sisters and we want to be like them and they want to be like us. When children are young they want to do everything just like their parents – they sit the same way, they develop the same interests. They even use the same expressions. Spiritually it’s the same in Christians’ lives. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “You became imitators of us and the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” “Imitators of the Lord...”
There was never a better example and there will never be a better example than the one of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He never served to be seen or acknowledged. He told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of My Father Who sent me.” Each time when we do something, whether we lead a Bible study or play a piece of music or read a passage during worship, Jesus has to be recognized by others in our lives.
On a pulpit where I once preached from someone taped words that I will never forget, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Is it true that whatever we do as followers of Jesus, we do so that He is glorified? To always keep in mind – “It is His ministry He has called us to.” There is a wonderful thought about the way we are to serve in this passage. We read in verse 8, “The word of the Lord rang out from you.” Rang out in the Greek has the meaning of someone bringing tunes out of a trumpet. You see, all that we are supposed to do, is to continue with a melody to proclaim the glory of God through our service. Jesus was the composer of this melody. There isn’t really anything new we have to invent or establish when it comes to our service in the Lord. We are just affirming what the church has been doing over centuries.
There is a last thought from 1 Thessalonians 1: 7 – 3 Be A Role Model For God Through Your Service – “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” When we mention the word “model” the first comprehension in our time is a new car or a pretty girl walking up and down on a runway to show off new fashions. The “model” God wants in His world is a person who leads and lives by example. No glamour or prestige or honour to go with it, but only a live to draw others to Jesus Christ. We are to be role-models in our families; among our friends; at work or whatever the territory might be we found ourselves on. Wherever we go people have to be able to look up to us.
Catherine Marshall, the young wife of a missionary, was diagnosed with tuberculosis and lost her husband soon after she became ill. She decided to become a Christian author and speaker. She told a crowd in Boston, “God allowed my health to be taken away, but He gave me something far better – the privilege to testify about Him.” She became a role-model to many Christians around the world. My friends, what do others see in our lives? Are we the role-models God wants us to be? Are there those who will come and say, “Because of you, at the time God needed you to be there for me; you made the difference in my life.”
Let's reflect on this sermon. None of us are perfect, but by the grace of God, we can make a difference. We were Chosen To Strive For Excellence.
Rev. Willem H. van de Wall