Read: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Paul established the church in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey around 51 A.D. Thessalonica, located in modern Greece, was one of the largest commercial centers in southeastern Europe—a port city on the Aegean Sea and on the major east west Roman road.
The city had a large Jewish population, an active synagogue, and a large number of Gentiles, called “God-fearers,” who accepted Scripture’s religious and moral vision without converting to Judaism. Paul ministered in the local Jewish synagogue for three Sabbaths.
The responsiveness of the Gentiles to Paul’s message about Jesus Christ caused certain of the Jewish leaders to become so jealous that they staged a riot. The intensity of the Jewish opposition and persecution caused Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus (Silas) to cut short their ministry to the new converts there.
From Thessalonica they traveled to Berea, and after ministry in Berea they traveled on to Athens. At Athens, Paul, deeply concerned about the spiritual well-being of the new converts at Thessalonica, decided to send Timothy back to check on them.
He was primarily concerned about their faith (1 Thes. 3:2, 5-7). Paul writes this letter in response to Timothy’s report when he rejoined Paul in Corinth. In chapter one, after offering the standard salutation, Paul opens his letter by telling the Thessalonians how much he thanked God for them and that he continually kept them in his prayers (1:1-2).
However, as chapter 3 makes plain, there were aspects of the Christian faith and conduct about which the Thessalonians lacked knowledge (3:10). Paul intended to supply much of the lacking information in his letter.
However, before doing so, he rejoices and praises the Thessalonian believers for their steadfast faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul Describes Their Present Spiritual Condition (1:3-4)
Paul speaks specifically about four significant facts about their spiritual condition: their faith, love, hope, and election of God (1:3-4).
A FAITH THAT WORKED
“remembering without ceasing your work of faith” (1:3a)
The first Christian virtue Paul mentions is the activity produced by their faith. The Thessalonians showed the genuine nature of their faith by the works that followed their profession of faith in Christ.
Paul, through out his other letters, is very emphatic that salvation is a matter of faith, not works, and uses strong expressions to make it clear that people are not saved by works of any kind (Eph. 2:8-9).
However, Paul also fully agreed with James that “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26).
A LOVE THAT LABORED
“and labor of love” (1:3b)
The second Christian virtue Paul mentions is their labor prompted by love.
The focus of their love was first and foremost toward their God and Savior, Jesus Christ, and secondly toward Paul and their fellow Christians.
This love was inspired by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5) and expressed itself in a self-sacrificing, others-oriented desire to see God’s will accomplished in the lives of those for whom Christ died.
A HOPE THAT ENDURED
“and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3c)
The third Christian virtue Paul mentions is their steadfast endurance inspired by true “hope.”
Hope focuses on the future, and expresses itself in “confident assurance” because it is based upon what God has said He will do.
AN ELECT STANDING WITH GOD
“Knowing brethren beloved, your election of God” (1:4)
To understand election, one must factor in the following data:
- election is Christocentric — the Father chose us in Christ. Christ is both the focus and the foundation of election (Eph. 1:4);
- election is corporate — the Father chose “us,” a group, the corporate entity of those who will be saved (Eph. 1:4);
- election is to a commission — the Father chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless (Eph.1:4);
- election is potentially comprehensive — election includes all potentially (1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10), but actually includes only those who put their faith in Christ (2 Cor. 5:19).
The Father chose us in Christ. Christ is both the focus and the foundation of election.
The fact that Paul speaks of the Thessalonians being “elect,” indicates that they were truly born again.
Paul Describes Their Past Conversion and Consequent and Spiritual Influence (1:5-10)
After describing their present spiritual condition, Paul describes the means of their conversion and the consequent spiritual influence of the Thessalonian believers.
A RECEPTION OF THE GOSPEL IN POWER AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
“For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance.” (1:5)
The Gospel message Paul and his fellow missionaries preached is the “living Word of God, powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12).
Spiritually hungry men and women were convinced of its truth, received it, and had their lives radically transformed by it.
A GENUINE IMITATION OF THE LORD
“You became followers [imitators] of us and of the Lord.” (1:6a)
Receiving Paul’s message as it truly is, God’s Word, they began to actively express in their own lives the characteristics they had observed in the lives of the missionaries.
They embraced the truth and sought to live it the best they knew how.
A JOYFUL ENDURANCE IN TRIBULATION
“having received the word in much affliction, and with joy of the Holy Spirit” (1:6b)
The Thessalonian Christians were not treated well by the Thessalonian community. To confess Jesus as their Savior meant social rejection and suffering. Their genuine salvation enabled them to endure persecution without losing the inner joy of the Holy Spirit.
A BEHAVIOR THAT IS EXEMPLARY
“So you were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord.” (1:7-8a)
The Thessalonians found in their new faith a supernatural power that enabled them to be kind and loving to those who treated them badly.
Rather than becoming bitter, or turning away from Jesus Christ, they were emboldened to share their faith with others.
As a result, their joy amidst suffering and persecution drew the attention of the Roman world and was a cause of the rapid spread of Christianity in the area.
A TOTAL TRANSFORMATION FROM IDOLATRY
“how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1:9b)
One of the sure evidences of becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is turning away from the former life of paganism and sin. Their lives demonstrated a complete turn-around.
They not only abandoned everything contrary to God’s Word, but also gladly embraced the new information being preached. They demonstrated their new spiritual life by pledging themselves and their allegiance to serve Jesus Christ, the living and true God.
AN EXPECTANT LOOKING FOR THE RETURN OF JESUS CHRIST
“And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” (1:10)
Early in the discipling lessons for new converts, Paul taught them about Jesus’ second coming. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead established the grounds for belief that Jesus will return for His own as promised (Acts 1:11). The Thessalonians viewed this as something to be actively expected in the near future.
This anticipation of Christ’s return seems to have characterized the Christian church from its very beginning.
Sadly, much of modern Christianity has lost this expectant waiting for the return of Christ.
Commentators debate the meaning of the statement, “which delivered us from the wrath to come.” Some argue it is referring to deliverance from God’s eternal wrath in hell which is the ultimate lot of all unrepentant sinners.
Others say it is speaking of the wrath of God poured out upon the world during the Great Tribulation. It seems to me that Paul is speaking of both. God does not intend to pour out either His eternal wrath in hell or His Tribulation wrath on His children.
His wrath is reserved for the rebels who spurn His love and His offer of forgiveness and salvation through the death, burial, and resurrection of His beloved Son. The believer is delivered from both events (1 Thes. 1:10; 5:9; Rev. 3:10; 6:16).
Every true believer is characterized by a faith that works, a love that labors, a hope that endures, and an elect standing with God (1 Thes. 1:3-4).
Receiving the gospel message requires a break with a sinful past and a subsequent life of obedience and faithful service to God.
As a result, the true believer has the living hope of deliverance from the wrath of judgment through the return of Christ (1 Thes. 1:5-10).
Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.