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1 Thessalonians 1 Encouragement to a church

1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, 3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, 4 knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. 5 For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.

6 And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. 8 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. 9 For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Opening Verse

To begin, let us first look at who wrote Thessalonians. The author and fellow apostles involved in this letter, or at least in this first chapter (as we know it), of the book, were, Paul who needs no introduction and was dictating this epistle. The second name mentioned is Silvanus (noted by commentators to be they same person as Silas as found in Acts 16:25

"But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed."

Obviously a man of note, willing to sing at a time of being imprisoned as a witness to the other prisoners and guards. In this vignette we see both Silas and Paul as men in whom the power of God is clearly visible, a reminder of God's work in those who are continually faithful to him. The third person mentioned, Timothy, we know from the two letters Paul wrote to him, a young man, a person who also was faithful, and dedicated to serving his Lord.

So from the opening verse we can see that three, powerful in faithfulness, men, sending their greetings to the church in Thessalonica, a town on the coast of what we know as northern Greece, but part of Macedonia, at around AD 51. Paul did not have a such an enjoyable time in Thessalonica, because of the behaviour of the Jews there in their treatment of the new Christians. This can be seen in Acts 17: 1 - 10

"Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ." 4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. 5 But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, {NU-Text omits who were not persuaded; M-Text omits becoming envious.} took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. 7 "Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king--Jesus." 8 And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. 9 So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea.

Thessalonica was made up with the main body of believers being Greek - that is, Gentiles. These believers remained faithful to the gospel as taught to them, despite the Jewish persecution, and we see from the opening paragraph, that this was recognised and commended by Paul and his companions.

His opening line is in its format a benediction with a repetition. We know when we see repetition in the scriptures in such close proximity, that this is an important point. Paul writes: To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, a clear emphasis on who they - Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, and who the Thessalonians were serving and worshiping, the emphasis being that of the believers allegiance and alliance. In its own way, it is an emphasis on the church as being a Christian one. Further, the opening statement has two very clear, and very powerful thoughts. The first is that of conferring grace, the second peace, both of which are found in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Note that Paul uses in the repeated words the whole name of Jesus.

We tend to talk of Jesus, and can be quite casual about the name. However, often, using the name Jesus only, is like calling the Queen merely Elizabeth, which if you are a monarchist would be somewhat disrespectful. The use of the title, the Lord Jesus Christ, is a respectful term, one that demonstrates in the name itself, who the Lord Jesus Christ is, and where He sits. It also, in combination with God the Father, demonstrates why Paul can offer this greeting to them, that of grace and peace. Paul here offers in a single sentence, a greeting, an acknowledgment of the God in whom the believers have faith in, and what can be attained through that faith.

God's grace we know is that of the forgiveness, acceptance, and, adoption into His own family, all undeserved, unmerited, and impossible for us to grasp, without it being from God, and, through our Lord Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection made all this possible.

Peace, is spoken of here of a harmonious existence with each other, and can be seen as a harmonious relationship between man and God. We may learn from this, that a most important spiritual attribute can be gained from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, that of a harmonious relationship with God and with each other, this being achieved through the grace of God. This can be found also in Philippians 4:6-7:

(6) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; (7) and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Verses 2-6

Verse two moves into the state of the Thessalonica church, as expressed in a prayer

(2) We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, (3) remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father"

What a statement made by these leading men of the church! We can see in this sentence that they give thanks to God always, and one would imagine that "always" would mean on a daily basis, and this remembrance is not just a passing thought - the Thessalonians are mentioned in their prayers, by name.

Who do you remember in your prayers? More interestingly, are you mentioned in anyone else's prayers - always? Maybe, we need to be looking at why Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy remembered the Thessalonians in their prayers on a daily basis. The remembered without ceasing the works of faith found in the church, the labor of love that was evident, and the Thessalonians' patience in looking forward to the hope that we too should be focusing on, not on our here and now, but the hope found in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Thessalonians were faithful souls, but more than that they were workers: one can see that they would need to fit the maxim found in James 1:22 "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only". How encouraging that would be, to be remembered in the prayers of these men, and for these reasons! What an example to strive for, so we too may at some stage receive a letter from a dear brother or sister, noting that we are in their prayers, being remembered as doers of the Word, faithful and patient to the end! These people will most truly have said to them something along the example found in Matthew 25:23 "His lord said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant". A commentator states that: Christianity is not a life to be endured for duty's sake, but a Person to be served for love's sake. To be His slave is perfect freedom, and "love for Him makes drudgery divine." Compared to love, the profit motive is a cheap, tawdry inducement. Love for Christ draws forth service that the dollar could never inspire. The Thessalonians were living testimonies to this fact[1] This is how the Thessalonians lived their faith, with love, and therefore working for God to the benefit of others, in the work that God gave them to do.

Verse 4 goes to say "knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God." The term election here is that of a noun, meaning picking out (Vine) that is, an action by God. For clarification of this we can refer back to Ephesians 1:4 "just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love". The commentaries note that Paul is talking to the individuals in the Thessalonian church, that they, through their lives, as described in the preceding section, demonstrates that they were indeed chosen by God, they were God's elect, and therefore the prayer could be said as written. 2 Peter 1:10 can also be introduced at this juncture, for it makes the point for all readers, and Thessalonians can be held as the example: "Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."

Moving forward to verse 5: For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. Paul introduces the influence of the third part of the Trinity, having emphasized God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is an affirmation, from Paul, that what they had taught, what the Thessalonians had grasped and run with, and were demonstrating so faithfully, was not a gospel of just words, rather there was a power to the gospel, in the Holy Spirit. Paul reminds them of the way they lived when they were staying with them - as one commentator puts it, "He not only preached the gospel, but lived a consistent life. The best sermon is a holy life.[1]

Anyone can read the gospels. There are people in the world who not only read the gospels but write, and study, and critique them. People these days have PhD's in biblical studies, but, they are not all Christian. In fact some of them are anti-Christian in their stance. In the negative, one can deduce from Paul's affirmation of the faithfulness of the Thessalonians, that a person who knows the scripture, but has not felt the power of the Holy Spirit, affirming and changing their lives, with their lives reflecting what the scriptures teach, is not the real deal. He is pointing out to the reader that these Thessalonians were the real deal, in what they were doing. He was also highlighting that this can only come through the Holy Spirit, and through the grace and peace that only God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ can offer.

Having and reading a Bible is not the answer. At times it seems that much emphasis is placed on knowing the Bible, and many arguments rage about which version, or how to study, and other such questions about the book as such. They are good questions to ask, and things that need to be heeded but the Bible is only a book, unless one can see that the truth is found in it, and that the gospel has been received and lived, and where there is evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the heart of the reader, with the reader being "doers of the word". Then we see that the Bible has gone beyond a book, and has become the Word through which God speaks through His Son, a true assurance that the gospel is at work.

I will digress here for a moment, with a word of caution for all of us. We had a discussion the other day at bible study about the wrong spirit. There are some who appear amazingly spiritual, but the spirit is certainly not Holy. We are well warned in 1 Peter 5:8 that we are to "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." And in 2 Corinthians 13:5 "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?" and we find this same exhortation as Paul ends this first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5:21 "Test all things; hold fast what is good." Testing is in part, ensuring what is being taught or preached, is found in scripture. If a doctrine is being taught, and there are no scriptures that back the doctrine, then it is false doctrine, no matter how good the spin. Secondly, and what we are seeing here in the opening passages of this book, is that of the example being shown by the Thessalonians, and the example lived by Paul and Silvanus when they were with the Thessalonians. Their deeds matched the Word, and therefore the teacher was the Holy Spirit.

Verses 6-7

This is confirmed in Paul's next statement: verse (6) "And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, (7) so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe." Despite the treatment of the Jews towards them - the affliction as described in Acts: 17:5 as above noted "But the Jews who were not persuaded. took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason".

Here in verse 6 of this chapter we also see that Paul could see the Holy Spirit at work. First there was a joy in receiving the gospel. Are we joyful? I am sure this is not supposed to be a transient thing. We cannot say - yes I was joyful when I received the gospel, now what? Their joy, brought to them through the Holy Spirit, was visible, so not only were their actions that of reflecting the work of the Holy Spirit - a labour of love, but their demeanour - that of joy also reflected the work of the Holy Spirit, which led them to be examples to Macedonia and Achaia. Let us remember that there were no electronic media, no fast transport, so the impact they had on others, needed to be long lasting, being remembered and passed on, across the region, one may imagine like domino's falling. It had to be genuine, otherwise it would not have been remembered and passed on.

We as a church (small c) or congregation, gathering of believers, can learn from this. Are there people writing about us, that our influence, through the joy we have of being believers, through our work of faith, our labours of love, our patience in the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ; is this reaching to the South East, into the far North; is our example reaching out to those struggling in the drought stricken Far West? What a commendation given here by Paul!

Versus 8-10

Further, Paul adds an even greater commendation:

(8) For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. (9) For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, (10) and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Paul expresses that the Thessalonian example had influenced people beyond their own region, but also "every place". He states that because of their expression of faith, wherever Paul and his fellow workers went, they did not need say anything, because others told them about the influence that Paul and his entourage had had on the Thessalonians, and how Paul's influence and the message he gave them, of the Gospel turned them from being idol worshippers to that of worshipping the true God. A church should be this kind of influence, despite what persecution it may be under. We know that the church was being persecuted, yet Paul could travel and see that the declaration of the church's faithfulness was so loud, so clear, that all knew about them, and their serving of the Lord. How do we do in this area? How about in the workplace? What about in our local communities? Are we known by word of mouth, as faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, children of God the Father, under the power of the Holy Spirit? This chapter acts as a fine example of how a church can be influencing their surrounding area.

Included in this example, is that of the hope that the church had. Waiting "for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come". As we saw in Peter's writing, we see here in Paul's. A reminder that no matter the downside of being a true believer in this world, a world that will hate, persecute, try to destroy, there is a hope, and deliverance. Paul adds this, and it is a theme repeated throughout the book, to reassure the Thessalonians that despite false teaching about the resurrection, the hope remains, and still remains even for us, the reader in the 21st century. This is yet another sign of the true believer, that not only do they live what they believe, not only are they examples to others, shining forth with joy through the power of the Holy Spirit, but that they are also waiting with a known hope for the return of the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, being delivered from the wrath that is to come. As can be seen in Colossians 1:5

"because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel" and Romans 15:4 "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope."

Conclusion

In conclusion, we can see an opening to a letter, from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, whose opening is a credit to the believers in Thessalonica. We can see that these Gentiles (in the most in this gathering), grasped the truth, saw and copied the example of Christian living as shown by the apostles when they were amongst them, had true conversion from being idol worshippers, to that of worshiping the most High God, and lived the conversion in word, deed and as an example to others. There was no doubt that these people were Christian believers, and when people met Paul, they knew of his work with the Thessalonians, without needing to be told. We too, must take on the lessons of this text for our lives, and ask ourselves, as individuals and as a group, are we a living example, a positive example to others. Does joy exude from us? Do we work a labor of love? Is our faithfulness to our Lord and Saviour, and to God the Father evident in our walk?

 

[1] MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. 1997, c1995. Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments . Thomas Nelson: Nashville

Stephen B Simon (CCC)
August 2007
\Thessalonians\1 Thessalonians Chapter 1 (SBS)