“And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come” (NASB)
The believers in Thessalonica were relatively new to the faith but the joy and zeal they shared with each other was astounding. Paul had heard of their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. . .” (Vs. 3), and he was full of joy and thankfulness at the persistent and perseverant manner in which they lived for their new found savior. These young converts become imitators of Paul, the Lord, and other churches because of the suffering they endured as followers of Jesus. They became examples to other believers around them for being steadfast in the faith and for being a faithful gospel witness to the watching world around them.
What gave them so much joy? What inspired them to persevere through suffering? What gave their hearts the courage to tell others about the “living and true God? Jesus promised that He is coming back for his beloved (John 14:1-3)! The joy and expectation that is expressed in verse 10 is expected and should be anticipated in those who have, as they have, “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.” Idols do not necessarily need to be fashioned out of gold, wood, or any other material thing for us to be in bondage to them. We are very creative in setting up idols in our own hearts (Ezekiel 14:3).
Reflecting on these scriptures should “re-awaken” our longing for the Lord’s return. They remind us that we are to live our lives in faithful anticipation of this event. What a joy it is to read: “he delivers us from the wrath to come.”
Larry G. Stump Jr.
Prayer: Our Father, we rejoice in God our savior. We admit that we have not lived each day in light of the truth that Jesus is coming back for us and will make all things right. Help us, O Father, to live our lives from this day forward in joyful anticipation of being with our savior. Amen.
17 “But we, brothers and sisters, having been orphaned from you by absence for a [w]short while—in [x]person, not in [y]spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 [z]For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, [aa]more than once—and Satan hindered us. 19 For who is our hope, or joy or crown of pride, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His [ab]coming? Or is it not indeed you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.”
Brief intro: In our last study we took notice to Paul’s second note of thankfulness for these believers (1:2; 3:13). Paul was thankful for their reception of the Word of God, receiving it as such, and enduring the sufferings that they were going through as a consequence for following Christ. We also took note of Paul’s charges against his own countrymen who sought to undermine the spread of the gospel (2:15).
In this study we will again witness Paul’s love for these believers and the frustration he dealt with in not being able to see them face to face and minister to them.
FOCUS ONE: Paul, moving on from his charges against those who seek to stifle gospel growth, now begins to express his frustration at not being able to see them face to face again. These verses (17-20) reveal Paul’s heart for this young persecuted church. He loves them. He has such a yearning to be with them again physically; to minister to them, encourage them, and strengthen them in their faith. Perhaps there are rumors circulating around that Paul has no intentions of ever coming back, but Paul with these emotional words, lay’s such rumors to rest.
For Paul and his companions, being forced out of Thessalonica and having to leave these people behind, was equivalent to the feeling parents would have at losing their children. It was heart wrenching for him. His only comfort was in the hope that this separation would be short-lived and that he would soon be able to be with them again.
Take notice to Paul’s switch in the plural usage of “we” up to this point, to the singular “I.” Paul desires to set himself apart from his co-laborers here and stress how he personally made every effort to to go back to them but was “thwarted” or prevented from doing so. It is of importance to notice who Paul says prevented them from going back to Thessalonica, “Satan Thwarted us” (vs.18).
It is time for a brief *SOS study. In Acts 16:6-10 Paul’s plans are frustrated as well, but there he credits the Holy Spirit for “forbidding” them to speak the word in Asia. He saw this as God’s leading of them in their missionary efforts. Now, back to our text. Here in 3:18 Paul see’s no other explanation of the opposition facing them but Satan himself. Exactly what it was that hindered them we can only speculate, he doesn’t mention anything here, so it is probably best not to surmise what it could have been.
In verses 19 and 20 Paul seems to break out in untethered joy as he thinks upon their friendship and brotherhood under the banner of Christ! These folks are the cause of his joy and confidence as he thinks upon the Lord’s coming again. To him, these believers (1)“will be a kind of victory prize. They will be his ‘crowning glory’ on that day and the source of unspeakable joy.”
3 “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it best to be left behind, alone at Athens, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the benefit of your faith, 3 so that no one would be [a]disturbed by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 4 For even when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; [b]and so it happened, [c]as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I also sent to [d]find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be for nothing.”
FOCUS TWO: Paul “cannot endure it any longer,” and so he sends Timothy to them. The constant thought of these beloved people just seems to be a pressing burden to his soul. Remember, Paul and his companions were forced to leave Thessalonica much sooner then they would have preferred, and as a result they were not able to teach them as much as they would have liked and felt necessary (Acts 17). So, after being forced out of Thessalonica they traveled to Berea, founded a church, and then under pressure again, Paul leaves and travels to Athens and from there he sends Timothy to them.
Timothy is a “brother” in Christ, and a “fellow worker’ in the proclamation of the gospel. He is a man that Paul loves and values and so trusts with the mission of traveling back to Thessalonica with the goal of strengthening and encouraging these young believers. He has great confidence that Timothy will complete that mission. This church was going through a time of suffering and facing various trials in their day to day walk of faith. Paul is concerned for their welfare and that they would stand firm and not “be deceived” by the afflictions they face.
Paul knew that they would go through such times (3:4). He wrote Timothy some years later: “yes, all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). It would be very naïve to think the world would accept those who follow Christ (John 15:18). And so, this is why Paul just had to know if their faith was genuine, if it was holding up.
6 “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, 7 for this reason, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; 8 for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 9 For what thanks can we give to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice because of you before our God, 10 as we keep praying most earnestly night and day that we may see your faces, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?”
FOCUS THREE: Timothy returns! What a joy Paul feels as his good friend and faithful co-laborer returns safely from his journey. Not only that, he brings good news with him (vss. 6-10)! Paul’s questions are finally answered, his concerns alleviated. It seems that Paul wrote this letter rather quickly as his heart was elevated with emotions of thankfulness and praise! Their faith remained steadfast. Their love toward and kind affection for Paul remained. And imagine the joy in Paul’s heart to hear that they longed to see him again just as he did them! Paul is elated, “for now we really live, if (since) you stand firm in the faith.”
Paul then expresses for a third time (vs. 9) his thankfulness for them. It sounds as if Paul, believe it or not, was temporarily at a loss for words in how to express his thankfulness to God. (1) “This is a rhetorical question expressing the thought that no act of thanksgiving can equal the joy Paul experiences as he thinks of the Thessalonians.”
But even so, Paul reflects back to his desire to be with them again and minister to their needs. He knows that they are young in the faith and he desires to “complete what is lacking in your faith” (vs, 10). By that Paul means that even though they have started out well (1:3,7; 2:13,14;3:6), there is always room to grow (2 Peter 1:5-15).
13 “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of mere men, but as what it really is, the word of God, which also is at work in you who believe.14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and [r]drove us out. [s]They are not pleasing to God, [t]but hostile to all people, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always [u]reach the limit of their sins. But wrath has come upon them [v]fully.”
In our last study we discussed the integrity of Paul and his co-laborers as they ministered among the Thessalonians. We discussed the opposition they faced and the suffering they endured in order to bring the gospel to them. This week we will meditate on the manner in which these people received the gospel, and Paul’s charges against those who seek to stop the spread of the gospel.
FOCUS ONE: It should not go unnoticed that Paul again expresses thankfulness for this young church, as he does in 1:2 and 3:9 as well. I mention it because I believe it helps us to understand the “tone” of the Apostle Paul in this letter to the Thessalonians. This letter is not written to correct some deviant theology or to rebuke ungodly living (1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians). The church in Thessalonica was young in faith and did not have the pleasure of any extended amount of teaching from Paul (Acts 17); and yet they were relatively sound in what they did know, and it appears, growing in and living out their faith with much joy and zeal.
Paul’s tone is one of affection and thankfulness. As he reflects back in history and remembers his work among them as well as Timothy’s service to them, he is elated at their spiritual growth and their perseverance through suffering as a result of their new found faith in Christ. These people have already proven to be faithful servants of Christ and for that Paul is deeply thankful. And so, with that in mind, Paul writes them these words from Corinth.
Paul expresses his thankfulness for several things:
Their reception of the word of God
Receiving it as His word, not men’s
Their enduring sufferings for following Christ
I think it is time for an “SOS” (Step Outside Study). By that I mean that we need to step outside of this letter and travel back to Thessalonica at the time Paul was their sharing the gospel and ministering to them. For that we need to go to the book of Acts where Pauls missionary travels are recorded.
Acts 17 records their reception of the Word. Paul, as was his custom, went to the synagogue first when he came to a new town, that is if they had one in place. Thessalonica had an active synagogue, and so he went to it and for “three sabbaths reasoned with them from the scriptures” (vs. 2). Some were persuaded, including a great number of Greeks and leading women (vs. 4). Instantly they were engrossed in persecution and Paul and Silas were sent away to a place called Berea (17:5-10).
Now, back to our letter. Back in 1:5 Paul mentions that the gospel (the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ) came to them in “power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” These people “heard” the spoken word of God, in this case, the gospel. That is the message that burned within Paul, and why he went though all the hardships he did on his various missionary journeys. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ “ (Romans 10:17). The Thessalonians received Paul’s message not as a message of a man or from men, but for what it truly was, “the word of God” to them. God, in His amazing grace, did a mighty work of salvation in their hearts. Counting the cost, forsaking much of what they knew, they sacrificed it all for the gospel Paul preached (1:5-6)!
FOCUS TWO: As Paul continues to reflect back to when he was with them proclaiming the gospel, he makes mention of the suffering they endured, and are still still enduring at the time of his writing, for embracing the gospel he preached. In their suffering, Paul says, they have become “imitators” of the churches in Judea (vs. 14). This is the second time that Paul mentions that they are imitators. In 1:6 we find the first expression of this term; I spoke to that in our first study (The Gospel arrives). In chapter one Paul says that they are imitating the Apostles and the Lord Himself! But here, he says that they are imitating the churches in Judea.
How are they imitating all these people? Is there a common link? There is: in their suffering they were following in the same footsteps of those who have come before them. What happened to Jesus for proclaiming “the kingdom of God is at hand?” For proclaiming “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-30)? What happened to the disciples after Christ was crucified, buried, and rose again? Persecution happened (Acts 4; 5:17-42; 7:54-8:3).
(1)“Paul tenderly reminds these brothers and sisters that they were not the first to be afflicted. God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus” were the first and through their patient endurance “had become an example of what Jesus predicted about the suffering entailed in discipleship” (Matthew 10:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). The churches in Judea were persecuted by their own “fellow- countrymen,” and so too were the Thessalonians. Ironically, Paul himself, previously known as Saul, was the one persecuting the regions of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1-4). Praise God his persecution of those churches was short lived, as the Lord saved Paul’s soul along the Damascus road (Acts 9).
FOCUS THREE: Paul’s charges against his own countrymen (vs 15):
They killed the Lord Jesus
They killed the prophets
They drove out the Apostles
They are not pleasing to God
They are hostile to all men
The Romans, in fact, carried out the gruesome task of beating, scourging, and nailing Christ to the cross, Paul knows that, but he also knows that it was the religious leaders of the day that sought to get rid of Jesus and formed the plot for his demise (John 11:53;Acts 2:36).
Paul’s claim of their killing the prophets is not baseless. Steven, in his defense, boldly makes the same claim (Acts 7:51-52). And Jesus Himself stated this historical truth about the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:29-36).
These same people “drove out” Paul and Silas from Thessalonica because they did not want them to speak to the people and proclaim the gospel of salvation unto them (Acts 17: 5-10).
Paul here also asserts that the Jews are not pleasing to God in their behavior. Rather than living lives that are in subjection to God’s will, they are hostile to him. And as a natural repercussion they are hostile to all men, not only others, but their own people as well. This hostility grieves Paul and causes much pain within his heart (Romans 9:1-5). Paul’s purpose here is not to slander them, He would be willing to take their place in judgement if only they would turn to Christ! Paul is pointing out that by their actions, i.e., opposing God’s servants, and rejecting their message, they are “filling up the measure of their sins,” in other words, one sin is being piled onto another sin until the “measure” or full amount God will allow reaches its fullest.
With that measure of sin filled up, God’s wrath, Paul says, “has come upon them.” What does Paul mean by God’s wrath? Wrath in the Bible has various forms or meanings. Consequential wrath is what we find in “sowing and reaping.” A person living in a lifestyle that is sinful will suffer consequences reflective of their sinful choices. Those consequences are viewed by some to be a resulting wrath or judgement reflective of the consequences of their choices.
Cataclysmic wrath (Hurricanes, earthquakes, severe famine, floods, etc) is evidenced in the Bible in Genesis with the worldwide flood in Noah’s day and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
John MacArthur points to Romans 1 as another type of wrath: the wrath of abandonment. A point in time when God turns away from a group, society, or individual (Romans 1:14,28).
And then there is eternal wrath. This is the ultimate form of wrath from God. As horrific as the others may be, this wrath is far worse because it is eternal and unrelenting. This punishment sees unbelieving mankind cast away from God forever and placed in hell because of their rebellion against Him (Matthew 25:41-46).
Or is he referring to eschatological wrath? The judgements of God that will take place on those who are living during the Tribulation period? While some commentators hold various views as to which of these are possible answers, it seems most likely that Paul was referring to either eschatological wrath or eternal wrath. These seem the most likely if we are keeping in mind other things Paul has said in this epistle, in which those contexts are always dealing with Christ’s second coming and believers being delivered from “the wrath to come” (1:10; 5:9-10).
My personal opinion is that this context is speaking in regards to eternal wrath. (2)“God’s promised eternal wrath for unbelievers is so certain that it is spoken of as having come already as does the Apostle John (cf. John 3:18,36).”
Paul may appear to have no hope for his jewish brethren, but that is certainly not the case. Many Jews have already come to faith in Christ and others will in the future. And according to Paul in Romans 11:25-29, Israel is going through a “partial hardening” until the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” God, Paul is saying, is not through dealing graciously with His people the Jews!
Conclusion: Just as Paul sought to encourage and comfort these believers that were going through much suffering as a result of their faith in Christ, so too, we should be encouraged and comforted. Let’s not be overwhelmed with the thought that we may suffer for the cause of Christ, even by our own families, neighbors, or countrymen. The Bible tells us this will be so. Let us, in light of Paul’s words to these believers, move ahead in faithful obedience to our Lord knowing that we will soon rejoice in the fruit of our labors at His coming!
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
How can we express thankfulness for other believers?
How is a person saved? What is the gospel message and what does it perform in us (vs. 13)?
Is our suffering always a result of following Christ? Why or why not?
Can we expect some level of persecution in our life if we follow Jesus Christ? Does the thought of persecution for following Christ cause you shrink back? Why or why not?
Do you find it hard to share the gospel when you think people will reject you? If so, what scriptures strengthen you and encourage you to be a witness anyway?
Robert L. Thomas, Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol 11
2 “For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our [a]reception among you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been treated abusively in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God [b]amid much [c]opposition. 3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or [d]by way of deceit;4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not intending to please people, but to please God, who [e]examines our hearts. 5 For we never came [f]with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext [g]for greed—God is our witness— 6 nor did we seek honor from people, either from you or from others, though [h]we could have [i]asserted our authority as apostles of Christ. 7 But we [j]proved to be [k]gentle [l]among you. As a nursing mother [m]tenderly cares for her own children, 8 in the same way we had a fond affection for you and were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own [n]lives, because you had become [o]very dear to us.”
9 “For you recall, brothers and sisters, our labor and hardship: it was by working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, that we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how devoutly and rightly and blamelessly we [p]behaved toward you [q]believers; 11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”
Brief recap: In our first study (1 and 2 Thessalonians) we saw the beginning of Paul’s thoughts toward these believers in Thessalonica. Paul is thinking back to the time that he was personally with them ministering to them. He reflected on their own suffering (Silas, Timothy, and himself) in bringing the gospel to them (Acts 16-17). He expressed how the gospel came to them in “power and in the Holy Spirit” (vs. 5), and how they, under “much tribulation,” received the gospel and turned “to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (vs. 9). He reflected on their strong testimony to others; those in their local community, and those in the surrounding regions (vs.8). And being encouraged by Timothy’s report of their well being, mentioned with much joy their watchfulness and perseverance as they waited for Christ Jesus to return. Paul with much love and joy in his heart for these new believers in this newly formed church, commends them for their faith and their application of it in their daily lives.
Brief intro: In this study we will be focused on Chapter 2:1-12. Paul, in remembering his time with them, now reflects back to their coming to them and reminds them of what it cost him and his friends personally to bring the gospel to them. He also reminds them of how they conducted themselves among them when they were with them.
Focus one: In verses one and two Paul reminds them of the manner in which they came to them in Thessalonica. We should take notice to the language Paul uses in this section (“For you yourselves know,” “You recall,” “You are witnesses,” and “just as you know”) are terms he uses throughout to express the correctness of what he is saying to them. These are things that they could not honestly deny. It appears that there may have been some false accusations floating around about Paul and his friends and their ministry, and so *“this defense gives us insight into the nature of the ministry of the gospel in the early church,” especially the beginning missionary efforts.
Paul and his companions had been “mistreated” in Philippi (Acts 16), and yet with unhealed wounds on their bodies from being beaten, hunger and weakness from imprisonment, and traveling approximately 100 miles to get to Thessalonica, amid “much opposition,” they boldly speak the gospel to them!
Should their motives be suspect as may have been falsely propagated? Not at all. These men acted with great courage in bringing the gospel to them. The physical, emotional, and mental struggles they had to face in order to be faithful to their calling were tremendous. If it were not for their divine calling they most likely would not have come to Thessalonica and thereby escape more abuse and harsh treatment.
They spoke with integrity. Their motives were pure. They did not use flattery, deceit, or cunning tricks to get them to believe their message. They did not suffer what they did for human praise, nor did they pretend to be their friends to get them to trust them. No, quite the opposite! They came in obedience to the Lord, to please Him not men (vs. 4). They came because they were called of God (2 Timothy 1:1) and “approved” by God to be entrusted with the gospel (vs. 4; 1 Timothy 2:5-7).
Focus 2: Not only were their motives pure, their methods were as well! They did not come authoritatively although they could have (vs.6). *“The thought of this passage is obvious: they didn’t even take what they had a right to because they were so motivated to get the gospel out.” Impure motives and methods? Obviously not. Pauls says that they “became gentle among them as a nursing mother cares for her own children” (vs.7). And exhorting, encouraging, and imploring them as “a father would his own children” (vs.11). These metaphors are of a loving, self-sacrificing relationship between a mother and father and their children, whom they care deeply about, and The apostles care and concern for these young converts. As a mother and father physically nurture and provide for their children in hope that they will mature, exercise wisdom and prosper in their lives, so these men spiritually nurtured and cared for them. They also prayed earnestly for their lives to be blessed of God.
Focus 3: Paul’s desire for these young believers was that they would “walk in a manner worthy of God” (vs.12). The New Testament widely uses this term “walk” in reference to our manner of conduct (2 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 2:10;Colossians 2:6;1 John 2:6). In other places in the New Testament we find other phrases that mean the same thing. For example: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). “So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10).
Paul is concerned about their fruitfulness or lack thereof at the return of Christ. He says: “so that you may walk worthy of the God who “calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (vs.12). “This is an incentive to a high quality of life.” The “God who calls” us is a God of holiness, righteousness, and goodness. He commands those He redeems back from the curse of sin to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-17). To be “imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). To have the “mind” of Christ (Philippians 2:5). In other words, to live lives that are reflective of His character and nature.
This is a manner of living that cannot be accomplished by our own efforts no matter how noble and zealous we may be. We can only walk in such a way if the Spirit of God indwells us. For that to happen we must be “born again,” i.e., saved or redeemed (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Corinthians 2:14). (Gospel)
As we proceed through these letters we will naturally sense more of Paul’s fatherly (spiritual) concern for these believers as we observe him comforting, strengthening, and discipling them in their walk of faith.
For further thought:
What character traits are essential for gospel ministry?
What various methodologies for ministry do we find in churches today? Are some more helpful than others” More harmful? Why?
Should integrity matter in ministry? Why or why not?
How important is obedience in the Christian life (vss. 10-12)?
Paul had a gentle heart for people. He was willing to face opposition to get the gospel to others. Are you willing? Why or why not? What needs to change?
David Ewert Commentary on the Bible, Pg. 1072
Benjamin C. Chapman Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians
“To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
2 We always give thanks to God for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 constantly keeping in mind your work of faith and labor of love and [a]perseverance of hope [b]in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father,4 knowing, brothers and sisters, beloved by God, His choice of you; 5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sakes. 6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word during great affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place the news of your faith toward God has gone out, so that we have no need to say anything. 9 For they themselves report about us [c]as to the kind of reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from [d]idols to serve [e]a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from [f]heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is, Jesus who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 NASB).
One of the things that I find most attractive in this letter by Paul and his friends to this small group of believers is his genuine affection for them. His heartfelt sense of gratitude for their salvation and the resulting evidence of it on display for the world to see, elicits constant prayers to the Father in heaven on behalf of them. What a lesson for us already as we begin this study: our need to be diligent in prayer for those we shared the gospel with and thankfulness for the various evidences of it that we witness in their lives.
Throughout this study we must keep in the forefront of our minds one thing (not that there won’t be other things that will demand our focus along the way), and that is this: this is a relatively young church. Some Jews but mostly Gentiles are what makeup this newly forming congregation and they came out of of a city which became the capital of Macedonia, a Roman province. As such, the moral climate of the city left much to be desired. Immorality of all types was rampant, and up to this point in time, they did not know about God or His salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. The standards and practices of their pagan society had to be “put off,” and God’s standards, moral and otherwise, had to be “put on.” Being new in the faith and with only a small amount of teaching and instruction from Paul (see background here 1 Thessalonians Historical Context), proved to be a problem for them in some regards, in light of what he taught them about the second coming of Christ (Take notice to Paul’s mention of the 2nd coming at the end of every chapter, specifically the end of chapter four and beginning of chapter five). It appears that they believed it could happen in their lifetime.
With that said, let’s dive in to our study!
Focus one: The gospel arrives (1:4-5)
Paul mentions in these verses that “our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”
Obviously they spoke words to them, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), but words of men, any men, are inadequate and powerless to save, without the power of the Holy Spirit working through them, opening up the minds and hearts of the hearers to understand and believe those words. “We cannot explain the operation of the Holy Spirit which charges a bare verbal cable with high-voltage spiritual power. But we can ask what are the constituents (components) of a good cable” (R.A. Ward commentary).
These men proved to be good “components” of that spiritual power. We see that evidenced with the words “full conviction.” One of the clear evidences that a person is genuinely saved and called of God to share His truth, is just that, full or deep conviction in who they are and the message they have to share! This isn’t simply because they profess it to be so, but rather, because “the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). This testimony forges a deep sense of personal assurance and persuasion of the truthfulness of the gospel in their own lives. But this is not just proven by what Paul say’s, it is also manifested in the behavior these men exhibited among them while they were with them (2:1-12).
Focus two: The gospel received (1:6,9)
Paul and Silvanus (Silas) brought the gospel to Thessalonica “through much suffering” and “despite great opposition” (2:2,3; Acts 16 and 17), and that is the same manner in which these folks received it! They had received it “in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1:6), and in much suffering at the hands of their own countrymen (2:14). Paul says that their salvation was due to “His (God’s) choice of you” (1:4). By that Paul means that God is the one that takes the initiative in our salvation. Salvation is not a work of man nor is it by works of men, but is solely by His grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). (See GOSPEL).
How amazing is God’s salvation of sinners! “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” (Ephesians 1:4)! These folks heard the gospel from Paul and Silas and the Holy Spirit supernaturally empowered those words to bring forth a repentant faith in the risen Lord. He “regenerated” their hearts and made them “new creations in Christ Jesus” (Titus 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:17). In repentance they “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (vs. 9), and as a result their lives were forever changed!
Focus three: The gospels affect
Let’s take a look at the changes in their lives as a direct result of the Spirit’s work within them. Instantly they became imitators of Paul, Silas, Timothy, as well as the Lord Himself and “the churches of God that are in Judea” (2:14). In what manner? In that just as they suffered for the sake of the gospel so are these new believers (1:6; 2:14). But despite the suffering they endured from their neighbors, they were said by others to be faithful witnesses (1:8) and godly examples (1:7) to all the believers and unbelievers in Macedonia and Achaia.
These folks were * “persecuted by the Jewish community that saw in the Christian gospel a threat to the very essence of Judaism,” and yet, they persevered with joy (1:6) and proclaimed the gospel by word and deed, so much so, that Paul’s testimony is that “the word of the Lord sounded or echoed forth. . . In every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything” (1:8). Instead of their faith being content solely with the fact that they had been saved, these Christians had a strong desire to live in obedience to their Lord and tell as many people as they could about their new faith in Christ and His mercy towards them. And as a result of their obedient faith their testimony went well ahead of them beyond their city into surrounding ones as well, proving to be a powerful catalyst for the gospel in those regions!
Their new found hope in Christ led them to live for Him daily as they waited for His return. Paul encouraged them to be “alert” and watchful for their Lord’s return (5:6), and with that hope before them they humbly, faithfully, and expectantly lived out the gospel for all to see!
For Further Thought:
Why was prayer such an important part of Paul’s life and ministry?
What are some positive things that come out of suffering for the gospel?
Name 5 ways in which Paul and Silas were positive examples to the Thessalonians. How can we apply these Examples in our own Lives?
In what three ways in verse 3 were the Thessalonians examples to Paul and Silas? How can we apply these examples in our own lives?
Are you living for Christ each day In hope and expectancy of His soon return?
What changes might have to be made in your own life to become a more Christ-like example to others?
*Evangelical commentary on the Bible, 1989, Pg 1074
I would like to take the next several weeks and invite you to join me in a study of two amazing and very practical short epistles that we find in our New Testament, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. How can letters written over two thousand years ago be helpful to us? How can they possibly relate to what is going on today in my life, my world? That’s the cool thing about the Bible, it is timeless. Its truth’s are eternal and unchanging because it’s Author is eternal and unchanging and therefore authoritative and instructive in any generation (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Numbers 23:19; James 1:17).
Although two thousand years have passed since this church was founded and these epistles were written, Christianity and its teachings have spread across the world, just like our Lord said it would (Acts 1:8)! The world that Paul, Silvanus, Timothy, and this young church were apart of has dramatically changed over the centuries (1 Thessalonians 1:1-2), just like it will in the centuries to come, Lord willing. Even so, there is a vast array of similarities between us and them that make this writing helpful, useful, and worthy of our time and attention!
If you take a glance at any solid outline in our study bibles today you will promptly see how little has really changed since then. Maybe we are not facing the things that they were in exactly the same way, but we also need encouragement from others. We need people praying for us (chapter 1). Paul’s integrity stands out in the way in which he served these people. His example serves as a reminder to us that we also need to be people of integrity (2:1-16). The encouragement and instructions to love, keep hope, to live godly lives in our current circumstances, to be at peace with one another, and the exhortation to live a virtuous life, are all found within the pages of these small, yet profound letters, written to a group of people in a newly formed church that needed instruction in the basics of the Christian life.
Another observation that I think should draw our attention to these short letters is their emphasis on the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ! At the end of each chapter you will find a statement about this event (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11,23). Paul wrote this letter with the return of Christ on his heart and mind. He wrote to correct some misunderstandings that the Thessalonian believers had in regards to the Lord’s return, and he wrote to comfort and encourage them by reminding them of His promise to return (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11).
No matter what day and age we live in, we all need these practical reminders and loving exhortations to persevere until our Lord returns. My prayer is that you will join me in this study, and together, by God’s grace we will grown in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)! See you next week.