I recently finished reading through 1 Thessalonians and found yet again that the Scriptures can never be exhausted, that their riches know no bounds. With this series of blogs, I wanted to share what the Lord shared with me in this tour through the first epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians.
In verse 1:3 we find the defining mark of many of Paul’s writings: faith, hope and love. “Your work of faith and your labor of love and steadfastness of hope . . .” Paul uses this combination of faith, love and hope in several of his epistles.
1:4 – In writing to the believers at Thessalonica, Paul uses several adjectives to define what a believer is. First, notice that Paul refers to these believers as “brothers.” It goes without saying that the Greek word “adelphoi” (translated “brothers”) applies to both men and women. Because believers have the same Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, then all believers can correctly be called “brothers” (and “sisters”). Also, we have a Brother in common, the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:11).
Second, all believers are “loved by God” (“beloved by God” NASB). While all people are created by God, only believers are described as “loved by God.” In fact, we find out in other Pauline writing that before we came to faith in Christ, we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10) and we were children of God’s wrath, just like everyone else (Ephesians 2:3). But now In Christ and because of Christ, we are loved by God with a love that can never be removed.
Third, we see that God has chosen the Thessalonians, just as He has chosen all believers. It is remarkable that in this letter to a fledgling church of suffering believers, Paul speaks without apology or explanation about the doctrine of election. While the ESV translates this phrase “He (God) has chosen you,” a more literal translation could be rendered, “You know, brothers beloved by God, the election of you” or even “His/God’s election/choosing of you.” The doctrine that Paul is teaching here is that God is the one who chooses us or elects us to salvation, and who is elect has been determined since eternity past in the secret counsels of God (see Ephesians 1:4-6; Romans 9:6-26). Again, it seems amazing, especially to doctrinally weak believers today, that Paul does not shrink back from declaring to these new believers in Thessalonica what we might consider doctrinal meat (“solid food” – Hebrews 5:12-14). The believer must embrace what the Bible makes clear, just as these Thessalonians did.
1:5 – What is it that could bring about these sudden and dramatic changes in these people? It is the Gospel that comes “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” Elsewhere “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). It is the gospel and the gospel alone that changes a man’s or a woman’s heart. This is what occurred among the Thessalonians and occurred with a power that even amazed Paul.
1:6 – As is often the case and as was promised by the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry, those who come to believe in Christ will be persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12; etc.). Certainly, this was the experience of the Thessalonians. They “received the word (of the gospel) in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” From both epistles to them, it is evident that the Thessalonians were under great pressure from their fellows because of their faith in Christ, but there is no indication that they shrunk back at all. As believers we are to accept this as the expected response from a world that hates Christ (1 Thess. 3:3-4) and not be surprised by this fiery ordeal (1 Peter 4:12), but the Thessalonians appeared to have withstood the heat without flinching, even though they were very young in their faith. Would we with many more years as believers do as well? Do we in America really expect to be persecuted for our faith? We must note that all believers are to expect persecution (2 Timothy 3:12) and are to bear up under it “with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” Not only did the Thessalonians endure, but they did so with joy because they were empowered by the Holy Spirit.
1:9 – These new believers “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” This is a clear indication that these were “GBB’s” – Gentile background believers. I will only mention this briefly now and will address this idea in much more detail in a later part of this epistle, but you will notice that, while these believers apparently used to be pagan, Gentile idol-worshipers, they are no longer “Gentiles.” Now that they are believers and are disciples of the Lord Jesus, they have crossed from death to life and are no longer “Gentiles.” This is because, in the New Testament, “Gentile” describes a non-Jewish unbeliever. A non-Jewish believer is a brother or a disciple or a believer, but he/she is no longer a Gentile. (This also applies to the “Jew.” “Jew” describes a descendant of (Abraham or) Jacob/Israel who is an unbeliever. If that person comes to faith, they cease to be a “Jew” and become a brother or a disciple or a believer.) The gospel comes with the power to turn a person away from idols that they and their ancestors have worshiped as a matter of enslaved tradition for years and maybe for centuries. The gospel comes with power and the idols are destroyed or they are burned in the fire and the one who was enslaved to that idolatry is set free (John 8:36). The believer rejects the idols that are enslaving them and turns “to serve the living and true God.”
1:10 – Now that the believer has turned to God from idols to serve God, what does he/she do? One thing that Paul mentions to these Thessalonian brothers is that they are to “wait for His Son from heaven.” The two letters to the Thessalonians are marked by much teaching about the return of Christ. In theology, this is a part of “eschatology,” which is the study of “last things.” From this verse, we can learn several things about the return of Christ. First, it is unmistakably obvious that CHRIST WILL RETURN. Don’t miss that point! It makes no sense for the Thessalonians “to wait for God’s Son from heaven” if Jesus Christ is not coming back. So, Jesus is coming back.
Also, it is apparent that waiting for Jesus to return is an active form of waiting. We are to be active in obediently doing what the Lord has called us to do as we wait for Him to return (See Matthew 24:36-25:13). And since Jesus is coming “from heaven,” it is obvious that He is divine. That’s where He went when He ascended (Acts 1:9-11), and that’s where He will come from when He returns.
Jesus is also the same one who was raised from the dead by God the Father. (“whom He raised from the dead”) This means that Jesus was more than a vision or an apparition. He was of flesh and blood and He was capable of suffering and of dying, because no person can be raised from the dead unless he has already died. Jesus is the crucified and risen-from-the-dead Son of God.
Finally, Jesus is the One who will deliver all believers from the coming wrath of God. In these simple words, this verse touches on huge theological doctrines. These ideas are unpacked in other parts of the Bible, but Paul presents them here in just a few words almost in passing, presumably because he does not have to explain these again to the Thessalonians. He taught them these things while he was among them and so does not need to review.
Two main ideas that are contained here are:
- Jesus is the Savior able to save His people from God’s judgment/wrath;
- God will bring His wrath on some portion of mankind. In other words, God is holy, and His wrath is against sinners;
In subsequent blogs we will look at the other chapters in 1 Thessalonians and see what other things the apostle Paul will teach us.
SDG rmb 6/1/2019