Monday Reverb – 06November2023

WELCOME and THANKS for joining us.



The theme this week is divine paradoxes.   


Expect the Unexpected
Greg Williams

We typically don’t like the unexpected.  We don’t like it when our car unexpectedly refuses to turn over, or our computer unexpectedly crashes.  Worse, an unexpected loss of employment creates great turmoil and loss of personal confidence.  And we certainly don’t like unexpected health difficulties.  But these are the realities we face, and we quickly learn to expect the unexpected along with all the frustration and heartache it can bring.

However, not all things unexpected are bad.  An unexpected gift or raise can turn a sour day around in a hurry.  I’m sure we can all remember with joy some unexpected blessing that came our way, large or small.

So, here’s a question. What should we expect from the Lord?  Is he full of unexpected surprises?

The biblical witness seems to present … well, an unexpected answer to that question.  We are presented with a God who is unchanging, yet, at the same time, full of unexpected surprises.

Listen to Psalm 107 the paradox of God’s unchanging nature described by images of unexpected natural events.

31 “Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man!  32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.  

33 He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, 34 a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants.  35 He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.  36 And there He lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in; 37 they sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield.”   

Psalm 107:31-37 (ESV)

It’s interesting how the psalmist refers to the Lord’s steadfast love but then equates that steadfastness with images of great reversals.  It appears that the Lord is steadfast in bringing the unexpected.  But did you notice the direction of the unexpected?  It was always for blessing.  We can expect the rivers of evil to run dry, while also expecting the deserts of His children to become fruitful.

With God, there is always good news ahead.  Rivers run dry, but he refills them.  Deserts become springs of water.  Sinners become believers and followers of Christ.  It’s easy to look around and get discouraged at the state of the world, so Jesus tells us to lift our eyes and gaze upon HimHe is the restorer of all things.  He is the one who works his blessings in unexpected ways.

As we wind down the season of Ordinary Time and enter the season of Advent, let’s continually look to him and learn to expect the unexpected.  Ordinary Time ends with Christ the King Sunday – and no one expected the King of kings to enter our world as he did.  God loves to surprise with the unexpected – it’s part of the mystery of who he is.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.


God’s Word at Work

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 (ESV)

Today for our message we have a short passage from Paul’s letter to the church of the Thessalonians.  Paul has been writing this letter with passionate thankfulness of what he sees the Lord doing in the lives of these new believers in the striving metropolis of Thessalonica.  Paul wasn’t able to stay with the church very long before he was run out of town by those who did not like his message.  So, Paul was concerned about these new believers, moving him to send his traveling partner Timothy to find out how they were doing.  Timothy brought back a glowing report to which Paul responds with his letter.  In this section, he is going to remind them of the time they had together when he first brought the gospel to them.

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9 ESV)

It may seem odd to our ears when we first hear this verse.  It sounds like Paul is bragging about himself in how he conducted his affairs when he was with the Thessalonians.  Is Paul trying to build his reputation with the Thessalonians?  Is he trying to obligate them in some way based on his past actions?   What’s going on here?

Perhaps you have heard a wise pastor pray something like this before delivering a sermon: “Lord, may I get out of the way so you can be seen.”  Or, “Lord, may my words only be what you are saying today.”  Or some variation of that.  The pastor is praying that he will not distract or become an obstacle to hearing God’s word.  That prayer conveys what is of most importance for the speaker and the hearers – God’s word, not man’s.  It’s the same recognition John the Baptist had when he said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  This is essentially what Paul is saying here.  He is reminding the Thessalonian believers that when he came proclaiming the gospel to them, he did not want to get in the way of the gospel message.  He did not want to be a burden to them while proclaiming God’s word.  So, he labored and toiled, night and day, to take care of his own needs.  Paul was following his own principle stated to the Corinthians, that he would “endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor.9:12).  We could say Paul was working awfully hard to get out of the way of the message.

We may ask, how does Paul working night and day avoid being a burden, or a barrier to the gospel he was proclaiming?  The first thing is it would free them of additional financial burdens.  But it probably goes deeper than that.  Paul also may have in mind the common practice of traveling philosophers who would charge the listeners for their messages.  Some of these philosophers were charlatans.  Perhaps Paul does not want the Thessalonians to assume that he was just another traveling philosopher peddling his thoughts.  Paul may see that this cultural practice could become a hindrance if he appeared to be doing the same.  So, instead of asking for financial support, he worked to provide his own support in order to share the gospel.  This would distinguish him from being a possible false philosopher.  Paul knows that what he is bringing is God’s word of grace and truth.  It can’t be sold or bought.  It is a gift to receive.  And it can be trusted.

Paul knew he had a right to compensation for his services, though he did not always invoke that right (1 Corinthians 9:7-18).  Also, at that time Paul was also receiving aid from the Philippians (Philippians 4:16).

Also, in the Greco-Roman world, societies depended on the patron-client relationship to operate.  The patron would financially support people of a lower class, but in return those people would have to pay allegiance to the patron.  This created an informal yet binding agreement between the patron and those he was supporting.  In short, it made the relationships between upper class and lower class contractual.  Perhaps Paul did not want the Thessalonians to presume they would be entering into such a social arrangement with him.  Whatever Paul had in mind, what is apparent is his desire not to allow anything to get in the way of hearing the gospel message for what it is.

We see in Paul’s action towards the Thessalonians an important reminder that God is at work in the world, and it’s about his work, not about oursPaul worked hard not to make the gospel about himselfThe center is Christ, not the messengers of Christ.  How often we are tempted to turn the finger away from Christ and point to ourselves!  This is not what we are called to do in proclaiming the gospel.  We are to point to Christ, not to ourselves, not to our churches, and certainly not to some social construct that everyone else is doing.  God’s word does not need any help from us.  Yes, by God’s grace we are given the privilege to participate in God’s sharing of himself to the world.  Most of us may not ever plant a church like Paul did.  However, we too must still remember to keep Jesus as the focus of our proclamation of the gospel.  How often are unbelievers invited to hear the gospel while being sold on our church programs or our amazing sanctuary and invigorating worship music or the inspiring and dynamic preacher?  These things may be great, but if they take center stage, we will be left with the results those things can bring which will be far less than the results which come by the power of God’s word.

You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12 ESV)

Again, it may sound to our ears that Paul is bragging about his character.  But he is reminding the Thessalonians that he did not need to conduct himself like many do in the surrounding cultureHe did not need to compromise his message by manipulating, lying, or pulling a fast oneHe let the gospel message do its own work.  There was no need to try and sell it or twist any arms.  Paul was proclaiming the gospel while trusting the gospel.  It’s when we don’t trust Jesus to call people to himself that we may be tempted to compromise in ways not becoming to the gospel message.  When we trust Jesus, our lives will be marked by holy, righteous, and blameless living.  And this too will be a witness to the one who has set us free to live in his freedom.

Paul then equates the way he interacted with the Thessalonians as a father would his own children.  By doing this he is serving as a pointer to the reality that they are really God’s own children.  As God’s own children they are to trust in the Father – made evident by walking “in a manner worthy of God.”  They are to walk in a manner that is holy, righteous, and blameless.  Paul piles up the words “exhorted,” “encouraged,” and “charged” to express the importance of walking in this manner.  He wants the Thessalonians to know that this is what it is all adding up to – living as children of God.  And notice that Paul doesn’t just leave it at “God,” but declares that this God is the one “who calls you.”  It’s not Paul calling them to the FatherIt is God himself who is calling us to him.  And the calling is in the present tenseIt is an ongoing calling.  This is the reality we face every morning.  Our Father is continually calling us to himself, as a loving Father calls his children.

Then Paul adds one more qualifier saying, God calls usinto his own kingdom and glory.”  His calling is not generic or up for negotiationIt is a calling into a very specific kingdom and glory — his kingdom and his glory.  This means that they are not called into the kingdom and glory of Rome.  Their walk will be very different from the walk of their fellow citizens in Thessalonica.

Ultimately, what Paul is exhorting, encouraging, and charging is for us all to live according to the reality that God and his kingdom are real.  There is no getting around it, and one day all kingdoms will bow to that reality.  So, Paul is passionately reminding them to continue to put their full trust in the gospel, in Jesus.  To live in a manner that takes that reality seriously.  If Jesus is Lord, then our walk will be in His footsteps, not another’s.

Paul will now conclude with another expression of thankfulness which is seen throughout Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV)

Paul has reminded the Thessalonians of how hard he has worked to not be a burden for them to receive God’s word.  So, it is fitting for him to conclude this section by giving God the thanks that this has indeed happenedThe Thessalonians heard the words of the gospel articulated from the mortal lips of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy; however, they received the words for what they really are, God’s wordWhat a paradox and miracle that God’s divine word to us can actually come by mere men and women proclaiming the good news that Jesus is Lord!  And Paul concludes by giving the glory where it belongs.  It is God’s word that is doing the work in the Thessalonians and among us.  It’s not Paul’s work, your pastor’s work or anyone else’s.  And for that we say, “Hallelujah, praise God!”


Small Group Discussion Questions

From the Sermon

  • How do you understand Paul’s statements that could appear as bragging?
  • Can you think of ways we can get in the way of others hearing God’s word?
  • How does putting our full trust in Jesus empower us to walk as holy, righteous, and blameless?
  • If our walk is different from the culture around us, what implications can be expected?
  • What does Paul attribute his thankfulness to at the end of this section (1 Thessalonians. 2:13)?


1 For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But [a]even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.  For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a [b]cloak for covetousness — God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.  So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.   

For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.  

10 You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; 

11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and [a]charged every one of you, as a father does his own children,  12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.   

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.   

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 [d]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.

1 For you yourselves know, brothers,[a] that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.  3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.  For we never came with words of flattery,[b] as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle[c] among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 

For you remember, brothers, our labour and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.  

10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct towards you believers.  

11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.  

13 And we also thank God constantly[a] for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 

14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in JudeaFor you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last![e]



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