Paul, together with Silvanus and Timothy, are writing to the Church in Thessalonica. The church could have been only be about a year or so old at the time. The church was going through difficult times, and Paul particularly wanted to encourage them to keep on as they had started.
Paul and his travelling companions had first come upon the Thessalonians after their time in Philippi.
In Philippi, Paul and Silas (Silvanus?) were arrested and beaten for helping a slave girl who was being exploited by her masters. They had spent a night in gaol with their feet in stocks, singing Psalms, until an earthquake threw the cell doors open. Then Paul kept the terrified gaoler from killing himself by assuring him that none of the prisoners had escaped.
The gaoler was amazed at Paul’s calmness and self-control. He saw that Paul had something that he did not have. He most probably heard the words of the songs Paul sang and he asked Paul what he must do to be saved. And Paul told him to “believe on (that is, trust himself to) the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, you and your household”.
The gaoler’s question, just like the rich young ruler’s question to our Lord Jesus about 20 years earlier, did not anticipate Paul’s sort of answer.
The Pharisaic Jew and the pagan gaoler both believed that they had to do something in order to appease an angry god or gods. The Romans particularly saw their lives as a series of religious doings to avoid offending one god or other, or at least, to patch things up after each and every error. Both the gaoler and rich young ruler were wrong about the God who is.
The True God, the one who IS, cannot be bribed by sinful people, but He has acted decisively and mercifully to appease his own just and right anger at our sin. He sent his only Son to live, die and rise as a human being — to do for us what we would not and could not do for ourselves.
Paul writes to express his thankfulness to God for the Thessalonian Church and the people in it. It is God who is to be thanked if there are Christians anywhere. Without God’s deliberate action in Jesus Christ, there would be no church, there would be no Christians, there would simply be condemnation.
When Paul and Silas arrived in Thessalonica, they still had the wounds on their bodies from the beatings they had received in Philippi. Nevertheless, they spoke with conviction and power regarding Jesus Christ. That this Jesus is God’s appointed Saviour. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who rescues any who will trust him. Some believed, some did not. Those who did not hired a gang of thugs to break up the fledgling church by attempting to get Paul and Silas arrested or killed.
After Paul and his travelling companions left Thessalonica, Paul wrote them a letter:
Paul was thankful to God for them all, making mention of them in his prayers.
- It is to God we may take our requests, but more than that, it is to him we can be unceasingly thankful.
- It was God who saved them by Jesus Christ.
- It is God who will keep them.
Ceaselessly recalling (before God and Father) their work of faith. Faith is hard, as Martin Luther once said. Why is faith hard?
- A God who saves is not what is generally expected (remember what the gaoler expected, and the pleasant surprise he and his household got.)
- The facts of Jesus’ Life are not ‘normal’ – His powerful deeds, his rising from dead would typically be dismissed out of hand (like Epicureans and Stoics would, see Act 17)
- Opposition to Christianity was determined and nasty – (To believe that God really loves you in such circumstances requires real faith.)
- Yet the Thessalonians believed!
Labour of Love (Love is hard work, too)
- This not ‘tough love’ in correcting others.
- Rather, it is loving those who are different from you (socially, ethnically, temperamentally different)
- Loving the unlovely
Patience of Hope
- Keeping your cool (remember Paul and Silas in Philippi)
- Keeping on with the Gospel despite troubles and opposition
- Keeping sight of the Glory to come. – i.e., This life is the worst it can get for a Christian, is the best it will ever be for a non-Christian.
All of these things (Faith, Hope and Love) were found in the people of Thessalonica because of God’s love to them through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Knowing (perceiving) your election by God.
God’s election is a central reason for thankfulness. The Thessalonians did not choose God, but God chose them before time.
This election produced an extraordinary change in the Thessalonians, but they were not chosen because they ‘would’ change. They changed because they had been chosen in Christ, and they had his saving work applied to them. This is what Paul goes on to say.
For, our Gospel did not come to you in word only…
Continued in Part 2