I have chosen this title for the first chapter because it is the way the apostle describes this remarkable company of believers, ‘ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia’, v. 7. Their lives gave indisputable evidence of a real work of God’s grace which was manifested in those beautiful virtues of faith, love and hope, of which he speaks in verse 3. It is interesting to note that when he introduces the letter he makes no reference to the qualifications of the authors, only their names, v. 1. It seems that they had no need to establish their authority but merely share their affection for each other. It was remarkable indeed that a church had been planted there in the first place, seeing they had only been able to stay in Thessalonica for such a short period of time, about three weeks. Yet, in that small space of time, the hand of the Lord had moved mightily among them. For, from Acts chapter 17 verse 4, we learn that, ‘some of them [Jews] believed … and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few’. So, in such a short time, many had come to faith in Christ, before God’s servants were forced to move on because of bitter opposition from the unbelieving Jews living there. The wonderful thing about this young company of believers was that they continued faithfully in spite of the opposition. What, then, was the secret of their success? How were they able to continue in the face of the severe attacks of the enemy? In this first chapter of his letter, Paul answers these questions.
Notice how Paul addresses them, ‘The church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’ – not in Thessalonica but ‘in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. What a lovely touch that is. They could be in no safer hands, the hands of the Father and the Son. Not only was He their God but their Father too, assured of His constant care and counsel. This reminds us of the words of our Saviour in John chapter 10 verses 28 and 29. What security! What shelter they would experience there. As the psalmist records, ‘He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty’,
Ps. 91. 1.
What a commendation he gives them in this verse. He speaks of three outstanding characteristics: ‘your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope’. Work of faith – their faith was not passive but active. Initially evident by their turning to God from idols, the God of whom they had heard but had not seen. The message they heard was a convicting, convincing and converting word. As Paul says in Romans chapter 10 verse 17, ‘faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’. But it was not only faith at work in their conversion but in their continuance, for, ‘we walk by faith, not by sight’, 2 Cor. 5. 7. Paul commends them further for their labour of love – this is summed up for us at the close of the chapter, in the words ‘to serve the living and true God’, v. 9. They had been worshippers of false gods but now they have found the true and the living God. Their idols were deaf, dumb, blind and lifeless, but the God they had turned to is alive, so much alive that we live through Him physically and, more so, spiritually by the strength and power He gives. That labour of love was expressed in two ways: in suffering; and in service.
‘Having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost’, v. 6. They encountered the blast of persecution from the earliest days of their conversion. The opposition was severe and so fierce that they persuaded the Apostle Paul to leave the city in peril of his life, Acts 17. It was no easy path for them; they would have to face the enemy without the help of God’s servants, but they did not mourn about it and complain. They experienced the joy of the Holy Spirit. Neither did they lie low for a time until the storm passed; they became emboldened by the Spirit and continued to serve.
‘For from you sounded out the word of the Lord’, v. 8. That is the opposite to keeping quiet about it! They heralded it forth; they preached the word! Not just in Thessalonica either, but throughout the whole area round about ‘Macedonia and Achaia’. What was the motivating power? It was love; it was a labour of love, for the Lord and also for the lost. They followed the example of Paul, who could say ‘the love of Christ constraineth me’, 2 Cor. 5. 14, and, again, ‘For to me to live is Christ’, Phil. 1. 21. What is our motivation in life? Is it Christ, self, or selfish goals, such as my home, my family, my work, my business, or my pleasure? Is this the reason we are living such defeated lives and seem fruitless in our endeavours? These saints prospered in their service, souls were being saved, lives transformed because their service was a labour of love, not some irksome duty that they felt they must perform. Perhaps our next point might help to throw light on our problem.
They ‘turned to God from idols’, v. 9. The Apostle John was concerned about this when he wrote his first letter, ‘Little children, keep yourselves from idols’, 1 John 5. 21. These dear believers had turned their back on the idols that once dominated their lives to serve the living and true God. They gave of themselves to His service. This was their number one concern and desire – all else must take second place, for an idol is anything in my life that takes the place of God. When the Lord was asked which is the first and greatest commandment, His reply was, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind’, Matt. 22. 37. Notice, in verse 6, Paul says, ‘ye became followers of us, and of the Lord’. Their eyes were no longer on the things around them; they were no longer interested in the old way of life, the way of the world – they followed in the way of the Lord.
Wait for his Son from heaven’, v. 10. What an occupation! What a prospect! They had new hopes and aspirations, all centred in the Saviour, whom they had come to love and serve. They could truthfully sing ‘Take the world, but give me Jesus, He is more than life to me’. 1 Here we see their patience of hope. Waiting for His coming at any moment, to see Him, to be with Him and to be like Him, to behold His glory, and to share in it by amazing grace. Are we waiting? We are nearer by 2,000 years than they were. We are closer than every other generation before us. Behold, the bridegroom is coming! Will we be ashamed at His coming? Will we be doing something, or be somewhere, where we would not like Him to find us? That would not be the case with these Thessalonian believers; they were eagerly waiting for and expecting Him to come!
‘Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come’, v. 10. Notice how carefully the Spirit guided Paul to write these words. ‘Delivered’ is in the past tense, not the future. Our being saved from wrath to come has already been accomplished! Paul reminds us in Romans chapter 8 verse 1, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’. At the cross, He paid the price to the full. Our debt has been settled forever. This verse is emphatic; we will not go through the great tribulation, the day of His wrath. The preposition ‘from’ could be better translated ‘away from’. So the church of God, which includes every believer in our Lord Jesus Christ, will be caught up to glory before that terrible Day of the Lord comes. Glory, everlasting glory be to Him who bore the cross!
1 Hymn written by Fanny J. Crosby.