River Corner Church

To The Church: Encouraging, Equipping, Empowering (Acts 17)

September 03, 2023 Jeff McLain
River Corner Church
To The Church: Encouraging, Equipping, Empowering (Acts 17)
Show Notes Transcript

On Sunday, September 3, Pastor Jeff McLain started our series, To the Church, by looking at Acts 17 and beginning to dissect Paul's letter of 1 Thessalonians. Through this series, we find some principles and priorities from Paul that should still empower us today.

Our series, To the Church, will dissect Paul's first letter to the Thessalonian Church. By dissecting 1 Thessalonians we explore ways for the church to be more intentional with our faith, community, and our relationships. Paul's letter will challenge us to invest our efforts strategically, to know our scriptures in a transformative way, and to collaborate with God’s Spirit to bring about great results through small investments. Through the example of Paul and the Thessalonian Church, we will see how proclaiming the good news should be a bold declaration that challenges the status quo of the world. Paul also models a way that of encouraging other churches and missionaries. Living in a world of tension and properity, but with trials, tension and troubles reminds us to be both heavenly minded and earthly good. Despite the inevitable moments of pain, problem, and persecution, we are encouraged to find new ways to come together and grow in our faith.  The Thessalonians had an intense time of persecution, and the letter was meant to help them lose their troubles and focus on their faith. Paul wrote to them to encourage growth, to continue walking with them, and to remind them of the principles that should guide their lives as followers of Jesus. Those same principles should empower us today.

Who we are together.
River Corner Church is a growing church community of everyday people who gather to worship God, follow Jesus, and journey through life together.

What we practice together.
Our small church community is uniquely caring, simple, laid-back and intergenerational. As a church we want to be a welcoming, safe and healing community for those who are seeking, hurting, or need a place to belong. Our practices are contemplative (reflective) and charismatic (Spirit-driven), conversational and informative. The times we share together are intentional and intimate, and a mix between modern and traditional. We want to be a place in which love and honor are lived out, where humility is central, and where hospitality is woven into the threads of our community. There is room at the table.

When we gather together.
River Corner Church gathers weekly on Sunday mornings at 10:00 AM to worship and experience God, study the scriptures, journey through life together and to partner with the Holy Spirit. We meet in a a simple worship meeting house at 524 River Corner Road in Conestoga, Pennsylvania. You are welcome as you are, just be yourself. There are other times that we hold small groups, events and more.

Our Pastoral Leader.
Jeff McLain has served as our pastoral leader since April 2022. He is currently a doctoral student at Fuller Seminary, where he also has earned two masters degrees - one in Theology and Ministry and another in Leadership. Jeff also holds a Graduate Certificate in Non-profit Management from City Vision University. In addition to serving River Corner Church, Jeff serves full-time as the Director of Pastoral Ministries at Water Street Mission. In addition to over 13 years of pastoral ministry, Jeff has enjoyed event promotion, leadership coaching, blogging and podcasting. For over 17 years, Jeff has been happily married to Katie. Jeff, Katie and their three wander-filled daughters, are avid fans of road trips, baseball, boardwalks, beaches and books.

Learn more about us at rivercornerchurch.com.

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Over the next few weeks, we are going to be in a new series, To the Church, which will be looking at (or dissecting) the Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church. This morning we will be looking more at an introduction to Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonian church more so than any singular or actual passage. At first glance, you may say, “why? This isn’t history class.” Don’t check out yet. My answer for giving an introduction to this series is this (1) context matters to understanding intent (2) the context has a lot to teach us about our own approach to troubling times as a church (3) I think Paul’s actions towards the Thessalonian church give us a Jesus-inspired posture to live by and (4) those of us who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it – and the same can be for churches. 

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is considered by many to be one of the earliest letters by Paul that we have today.[1] It was probably written about 50 A.D., just about 20 years after the resurrection of Jesus.[2] Additionally, Paul probably wrote this letter fairly shortly after the churches in Thessaloniki were first formed.[3] His intent in writing the letter is evident in his letter. He starts his letter by saying “To the church of the Thessalonians.”[4] He ends his letter with a command to “have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.”[5] His commands are around how they are to love each other, acknowledge each other, live at peace for each other, and keep each other accountable. Paul is not or only just concerned with them as individuals, he is also concerned with them as a church. We have lost a communal faith in many ways in the Western World. We have individualized it. The church lived well together, flourishes. There is significant importance, power, and witness to being part of a community that journeys together. Their church, though probably small and struggling, becomes a powerful witness that Paul says to them that “your faith in God has become known everywhere.”[6] They had a witness together, a communal witness. The church cannot be just a place where we come together to worship and have community together. As we dissect this letter, I hope we are encouraged to be more intentional about finding new ways to gather together.

Paul is writing to a significant city. In fact, Thessalonica was a great city.[7] It has always been a famous harbor.[8] Stories of trade, battles and governmental power fill this history of this town. It was a free city; that is to say, it had never suffered the indignity of having resident Roman troops live and rule inside it. It had its own popular assembly and its own magistrates.[9] William Barclay said the city was rising in its fame and popular, reaching 200,000 at one time. He also remarks that at one point there was a debate whether this city, or Constantinople, would be considered the “capital of the world.”[10] However, what kept it on the map was that the main street of Thessaloniki was integrated into the famous road of Rome, the Via Egnatia. The Via Egnatia was a significant part of Rome’s power and expansion, in fact there are parts of this road still stand today, and in this day, it was Rome’s link with the east.[11] They were at the center of trade between the east and the west, and this led to great wealth, prosperity and diversity. 

Paul had traveled the Via Egnatia a little before writing his letter to the Thessalonian church.[12] The importance of this town cannot be missed on the reason Paul may have traveled here to plant some of the first of his churches. Undoubtedly, if Christianity was established here, it would have the ability to travel east and west with the trades. Perhaps Paul knew that the coming of Christianity to Thessalonica was crucial in its spreading to the ends of the earth.[13]  As we dissect this letter, I hope we are encouraged to be more intentional about where we strategically invest our efforts.

These followers of Jesus came to know and believe in Jesus after Paul and Silas was in Thessalonica, embodying, demonstrating, and announcing the goodness and good news of God. Some speculate that Paul and Silas were only in the Thessalonian region for three weeks.[14] However, in those three weeks he sets a flame that will be quite important in the history of Christianity. In Acts 17, we see the account of Paul going in the Thessalonian region. One of his first stops was in the local Synagogue where he can begins to preach from the scriptures – the first or Old Testament – to systematically explain and prove a scriptural foundation that “the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead.”[15] Paul and Silas are challenging their wrong view of the scriptures, so that they may see the truth of Jesus. As we dissect this letter, I hope we are encouraged to know our scriptures in a way that can be transformative for others.

In his exegetical look at the scriptures in the synagogue, Paul delivers the punchline that “this Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.”[16] The teaching of Paul and Silas is enough to convince quite a few people, and Luke tells us in Acts that some of the Jews “were persuaded and joined,” but not just Jews it says that “a large number of Godfearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women” also began to follow Paul and Silas.[17] In this prominent town, some prominent people were led to faith. Interestingly, it also says there were prominent women that were convinced. Luke shares this as a celebration. In just three weeks, Paul and Silas set the town on fire in a way that Jew and Gentile, Rich and Poor, Nobodies are Somebodies encounter God’s Spirit. We know it was a powerful short three weeks because Paul says, he knows the Thessalonian Church was chosen by God for significant works because “our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.”[18]  As we dissect this letter, I hope we are encouraged that small investments can yield great results when we collaborate with the power of God’s Spirit.Churches are born and reborn with the Spirit’s power and neighborhood-shaking capacity.

This winning over of the rich and poor is celebratory for Luke and the early church in the Acts account, but this ability to convince both Jews and prominent people, upsets some of the other jews, and in Acts 17 it says that “they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city.”[19] Additionally, they raided the house of the people giving them hospitality, and drug them out into the street. The crowd arrested in them and made them post bond to go. The charge was that they were giving room and board to men who “caused trouble all over the world and now have come here.”[20] The trouble they were blamed for causing was “they are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”[21] This forced Paul and Silas to flee the city, and the new followers of Jesus in Thessalonica helped them escape to Berea.[22] Interestingly, when some of the upset Jews in the Thessalonian region learned that Paul was now preaching in another place, “some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.”[23] As we dissect this letter, I hope we are encouraged to personally and communally declare our good news in new places, proclamation should create problems for the status quo of the world.Far too often we have been convinced that living as the quiet in the land, something Paul will encourage us to do, means that we don’t prophetically stir the pot. Our gospel confronts this world, and we cannot lose that, or grow comfortable with it as we age, or grow out of that conviction.

Though Paul and Silas began to preach in other towns, the young Thessalonian church had continued to experience hardship and persecution.[24] This is evidenced throughout the letter that Paul writes to the Thessalonian church. Imagine with me, that a church that only had perhaps three weeks with Paul and Silas, three weeks of discipleship and teaching, is now suddenly overwhelmed with trial, trouble, and tension. Statistically, a church like that is not bound to make it. Paul knows this and sends Timothy to check-in on the church. Timothy had just met up with Paul and Silas in Athens when Paul immediately sends him down to the Thessalonian church. Note the trust and authority that Paul already has with Timothy. He knows Timothy, though young, is able to get into this context and find ways to encourage them if they need it. In 1 Thessalonians 2:17, Paul mentions that “Brothers and sisters, when we [were] separated from you…we made every effort to see you.”[25] Paul does mention to them that they were only separated physically and “not in thought.”[26] This means Paul and Silas have been greatly concerned with these people they love and the discipling investment they have in them. The Thessalonian church has been in their thoughts and prayers. They had hoped to visit them and invest into them some more, but Paul says obstacles hit the road every time when they tried to travel. It seemed to happen so many times that Paul cannot help but see this as an attack of evil. Paul writes, “Satan blocked our way.”[27] Realizing they can’t go there, but still stressed about the church, they send Timothy. Paul mentions sending Timothy was because “they could stand it [their separation] no longer.”[28] They say they would rather be left alone in Athens, then neglect finding a way to encourage, equip and empower the Thessalonian church. So, Paul says, “We sent Timothy, who is our brother and coworker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to Strengthen and encourage you in your faith so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.”[29] As we dissect this letter, I hope we are encouraged to find a way to encourage another church or missionary effort.Paul invests in them in-person, by praying, by sending Timothy, and now sending letters. Support doesn’t have to be financial. However, Paul’s support and intentionality with the Thessalonian church leaves legacy. What legacy can we have as River Corner Church?

The letter Paul writes to them. In fact, this is the reason Paul writes to them, so that they can be encouraged by, equipped with, and empowered with a new operating system, or worldview and that they grow in their understanding of their faith. In this letter, Paul will give them a new way of living in the world around them, and he will give them a worldview or operating system that operates with heaven as a confident hope and goal. In our last series, The Time Has Come, as we looked at Mark, we saw the difference that the Kingdom of God, or God’s presence, rule and reign, can make in the here-and-now.[30] In this short letter, we are going to see how the hope and joy of heaven, God’s eternal rule and reign, is a promise that keeps us from getting depleted, depressed, and down in the midst of life’s trials, troubles and tensions. Paul tells them “we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death.”[31] Paul also tells them at the end of his teaching on heaven to “encourage one another with these words.”[32] As we dissect this letter, I hope we are encouraged to be more heavenly minded, but still earthly good.Paul doesn’t mean to distract with some fluffy idea of heaven that will keep them so heavenly minded that they only focus on that. Rather, he wants them to not be distracted by their grieving and mourning in a way that it stops them from being effective and earthly good today. His hope is to liberate them from their mourning amidst their persecution so they can get back to work with the stuff of the Kingdom. Let’s find a way to encourage ourselves and others with the tangible hope of heaven.

Lastly, Paul writes this letter because he doesn’t want them to plateau in their growth. We all must be intentional with our spiritual growth, or we will become complacent or think we have arrived. If we aren’t careful with our faith, we can grow cynical, or old and tired. I think one of the best purposes of the church is to encourage and challenge growth in each other. The problems Paul sees the Thessalonian Church facing has the potential to plateau them. The problems have a chance to snuff out the flame of their faith. It can reduce the fire to smoldering ashes. From the start, Paul was looking to walk with them in a way that is “encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his Kingdom and glory.”[33] He wants to write them now to continue to see their “love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.”[34] He writes that he wants to “strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy…when our Lord Jesus comes.”[35] He is writing so that they can grow “more and more” in God’s plan.[36] Paul wants to see this church encouraged, equipped and empowered in new ways of following Jesus, so they grow, rather than snuffed out. I want the same for us. As we dissect this letter, I hope we are encouraged to find new ways to grow despite our moments of pain, problem, and persecution.I think Paul gives these people, living in a prosperous town, some amazing practices to live as people and as a church. I think Thessalonians is one of those letters that directly applies to the church in the West.

For the past decade or so, I have often identified key verses for various years or seasons that I am in. I think making an intentional scriptural goal for growth is important. That is why we as a church have this key verse of Psalm 90:12, a verse that we get this prayer from Moses that says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”[37] That seemed like a fitting verse for our year as a church. I have two verses that I have identified as key verses for me this year. One, out of Isaiah 57, and one out of 1 Thessalonians 4. Both of these verses, in additional to our key verse Psalm 90:2 are on my door at work. I read them every day I go in my office. For a while they were above my computer, and I would read them as I sat down to log into my computer. I tried to keep these verses as reflections for my devotions, as points in my conversations with people and as realities I am living out. The verse from Isaiah was given to me as a prophetic word. It has since become a verse for a team I am on at WSM. The verse in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, has become my personal key verse that I felt the Holy Spirit highlighted for me – and I suspect or sense that this will be more than just a year verse, but a key verse for my season. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 reads, “…and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” To learn to settle down and focus. Model downward mobility in an era of upward mobility. In many ways I see this verse as a climax or main point of 1 Thessalonians. 

Perhaps as we go through 1 Thessalonians, the Lord will highlight a verse for you, or your season, that will be an encouragement for you too – a key verse.

Next week we are going to jump into 1 Thessalonians 1, and begin to look at this letter, section by section. This letter to the Thessalonian Church unique. It doesn’t share some of the formatting of Paul’s other letters. We live in a world where there are lots of types of emails and messages sent. Paul similarly utilizes many different forms of communication and letter styles in all his different letters. In this letter, scholars say Paul is writing a friendly letter, one of thanksgiving, or comfort, or are parent-like letter, in which Paul is encouraging them but reminding them of some principles to live by. That parent-letter style will become evident as Paul even refers to himself as their spiritual parent. In this letter, Paul also utilizes some forms of letter writing that were called letters of praise and friendship.[38] Overall, Paul is interested in bringing the church together in vision, mission, principles of living despite their suffering and seemingly hard times.[39] Paul is unifying them around what he planted in them, and what the life of a Jesus follower should look like. We might borrow a song title from the Beatles, to make the point of Paul’s letter, “Come together, right now…over me.”[40]  As we dissect this letter, I hope we are encouraged to find new ways to grow and come together in new ways.

In looking towards Paul’s introduction to the Thessalonian church, I think sometimes we read the start of Paul’s letters as nothing but an introduction to his letter and end up missing some great richness that is in his introductions. It is my hope that as we look at 1 Thessalonians 1 that we discover some of the richness that is in this letter.

In Matthew 6, Jesus preaches, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."[41] Jesus gives this message so they can have their head in the game in the places they live, work, and play. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian Church, I think Paul also gives us a paradigm to not be bothered by worry, so the Thessalonian church can still be invested in present ways in the places they live, work, and play. We are liberated from our worries, mourning, and grief. We find a posture where we not only have the Holy Spirit, and a Heavenly view, but we also have the help of the church. Let me encourage you this week, River Corner Church, we are a church family, and we can only live into this thing God has called us to, that Paul celebrates, that the Thessalonians did well, if we let each other in. What worry do you need liberation from?

The King of Funk, James Brown, once said “When I'm on stage, I'm trying to do one thing: bring people joy. Just like church does. People don't go to church to find trouble, they go there to lose it.” The Thessalonian Church is set up with Paul, a worldview that reminds them the church is where we go to lose the troubles of the world. James Brown said that too. Perhaps we can quote James Brown and say, “I feel Good” when we fully live into the posture Paul gives the Thessalonian followers of Jesus. So, you are here with something that is worrying you, share it, only when we are together will you find ways to be liberated from it’s hold.



[1] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 1 Th.
[2] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 1 Th.
[3] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 1 Th.
[4] 1 Thessalonians 1:1 (New International Version).
[5] 1 Thessalonians 5:27 (New International Version).
[6] 1 Thessalonians 1:8 (New International Version).
[7] William Barclay, The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 208.
[8] William Barclay, The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 208.
[9] William Barclay, The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 209.
[10] William Barclay, The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 208.
[11] William Barclay, The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 209.
[12] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Egnatia
[13] William Barclay, The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 209.
[14] William Barclay, The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, 3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 210.
[15] Acts 17: 3 (New International Version).
[16] Acts 17:3 (New International Version).
[17] Acts 17:4 (New International Version).
[18] 1 Thessalonians 1:5 (New International Version).
[19] Acts 17:5
[20] Acts 17:6
[21] Acts 17:7 (New International Version).
[22] Acts 17:10 (New International Version).
[23] Acts 17:13 (New International Version).
[24] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 1 Th.
[25] 1 Thessalonians 2:17 (New International Version).
[26] 1 Thessalonians 2:17 (New International Version).
[27] 1 Thessalonians 2:18 (New International Version).
[28] 1 Thessalonians 3:1 (New International Version).
[29] 1 Thessalonians 3:1-3 (New International Version).
[30] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 1 Th.
[31] 1 Thessalonians 4:13 (New International Version).
[32] 1 Thessalonians 4:18 (New International Version).
[33] 1 Thessalonians 2:12 (New International Version).
[34] 1 Thessalonians 3:12 (New International Version).
[35] 1 Thessalonians 3:13 (New International Version).
[36] 1 Thessalonians 4:1 (New International Version).
[37] Psalm 90:12 (New International Version).
[38] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 1 Th.
[39] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 1 Th.
[40] See: https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/beatles/cometogether.html
[41] Matthew 6:34 (New International Version).

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