In Trassenheide, Germany, designers Klaudiusz Golos & Sebastian Mikuciuk made a project called ”The world stands on its head”. It was no ordinary house as everything in it, including the house was designed upside down! They said, they “didn’t built the house for a reason, they just wanted to do something different.”  Similar houses have been built in various other places across the world.
The last couple years have forced us to view the world and our life differently – as “upside down”. Many threats and dangers have increased: global terrorism, natural disasters, along with the economy dropping.
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal (Ruth Simon & James Hagerty, 11/24/2009) says that
More than 23 percent of people with mortgages owe more on their properties than they are worth, according to a report released Tuesday by research firm First American CoreLogic.
Another 2.3 million homeowners are within 5 percent of being underwater, bringing the total of those who are upside down or close to it to about 28 percent.
So we have entered a world where we need to think upside down. But how does a Christian live in an upside down world? We are embarking on a new series that will be called “Upside Down Living”. It will challenge us to realize that God calls Christians to think, feel, look, and be set apart from the rest of the world. Perhaps your world has been turned upside down recently. This series will explore how to be an upside down Christian in a world that is far different then the one we are preparing for in eternity. In preparing for this series we will allow Scripture to be our guide as we study through the book of 1 Thessalonians. It was said of the early Christians who were in Thessalonica in Acts 17:6
“These men who have turned the world upside down have come here…”
It was said this of them because they would not bow to conventional ways of thinking or living; according to secular values and morals. They did not bow to Caesar as king but spoke of a greater king – king Jesus. When Jesus is Lord your life is drastically different from the world.
In effort to introduce the idea of upside down living we will examine the life of the writer of this Biblical letter, the man Paul.
1 Thessalonians 1:1 “Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.”
Upside Down Living engages missionally.
When you consider Paul’s life you cannot help but think about his missionary journeys. Even before he came to faith in Jesus Christ he was a zealous missionary seeking to convert others to Judaism and persecuting those who were Christians. When Paul encountered Jesus his life changed to help others see clearly the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He worked with others [Silas and Timothy to name just two] to accomplish his work.
This is seen when Paul enters Thessalonica in Acts 17:2-3, “As his custom was, Paul… reasoned from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”
In his letter to the Thessalonians 2:8 he says, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” Later he urges them to do the same in 4:1 “brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.”
Paul viewed all of life as a platform to share the gospel. Whether he was in the market place making tents or if he was in the synagogue, he lived missionally to display and declare the gospel. Ultimately, he obeyed Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28, “As you go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Upside Down Living endures difficulty.
As a traveling missionary, Paul went through many challenges. Life was not easy for him. There are some who follow God and instruct others to do the same that if they do so they will not experience difficulty. I believe the Apostle Paul would have much to say differently. Listen to him recount his difficulties:
“We do not want you to be uninformed brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead…..I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own country men, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Cor. 1:8-9; 11:23-28)
While in Thessalonica we see that Paul and his friend endured the pursuit of angry mobs, Acts 17:5-9.
He tells the Thessalonians in 2:9 “Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” (also cf. 2:14-16).
|10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.|
|12 Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.|
|20 Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.|
Treasure in Clay Jars
|9 we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed.|
Reception and Opposition to the Message
|15 They killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and persecuted us; they displease God, and are hostile to everyone,|
“Difficult Times Will Come”
|12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.|
Upside Down Living embraces grace.
Thessalonica was a multi-cultural city. It was a political center under Roman reign, attracted major traffic by being centered along the Egnatian Way and having a natural harbor along the Aegean sea. As a major city, it would host major temples, including the large temple of Dionysius, and to the Roman emperors Julius and Augustus Caesar. The Thessalonians were not unlike many of us today who were faced with multiple religions and worldviews, self-indulgent pleasures through loose sexual immorality and false teaching.
As Paul writes to the Thessalonians, he calls them those who are “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…. Grace and peace to you” (1:1). Paul realizes those who live in an upside down world or those who want to turn the world upside down for Jesus must be found “in Christ”. They must embrace the gospel. And indeed, these Thessalonians did. Once they worshiped empty idols but now they have turned to “serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1:9-10). Even more, they were a church [ekklesia] who had embraced grace. Christianity cannot be lived out apart from being connected to a grace community.
There is one God who can rescue us from an upside down world and connect us to others. What separates Jesus from idols and false gods is that He is alive and He reconciles us to Him and each other. He is the God who identified with our sin and bore the payment for our sin and guilt through His death on the cross. Our connection with a true God is not one of works or religion but a relationship of grace and mercy. God’s grace is His unconditional love that He has for you. We do not have to earn it but simply embrace Him.
TAKING IT HOME
ð Do you feel like your life is upside down negatively?
ð What does it mean to be upside down living positively?
ð What does it mean to be engaged missionally? Paul was a tentmaker. How can you use your talents/abilities/job to share the gospel with others? If you are a Christian, are you engaged missionally?
ð When faced with difficulty, ask God, “What are you teaching me? How can my response resemble what God has done for us through the gospel?”
ð How is grace different from typical religion?
ð Is Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians more doctrinal or personal? What does this say about Paul’s life and what is the application for your life?