An Exceptional Church

1 Thessalonians 1:1b-10

All the basic ingredients that Christ would want in a young congregation can be found in the church at Thessalonica. It contains no reference to the number of members. It does not tell us about their goals, kind of sermons, programs, number of children, etc. Yet, Paul’s epistle tells us that they were off to a great start.

An Exalted Church

In verse one Paul gives a dual location of the congregation: “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1b ). First, it is the church or “called out” congregation located in the city of Thessalonica. This is the physical location of the local believers who make up the church which met in that city. The Greek word for “church” is ekklesia. It was used to describe an assembly called out of their homes into a public gathering. This term was used by both the Greeks and the Jews. Sometimes the spiritual reference is to the church as a whole. Here the term is used to reference a local assembly at a given location. Next, the apostle shows the spiritual location of the church is in God. Notice that it is in both the Father and the Son. This is why the church was referred to as the “church of God” and “church of Christ.” Jesus is called Lord. This recognizes His authority in the church (Eph. 1:22,23). He is the uncontested Head of the church whether it be the local congregation at Thessalonica or the church universal.

A Eulogized Church

Next Paul sends the church his greetings: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1c). Paul combines the common Hebrew greeting “peace” or shalom with a variation of the Greek greeting. Instead of using the Greek word chairein meaning “greeting,” he used charis which is “grace.” The saints which made up the church at Thessalonica had this blessed relationship in God and Christ through divine unmerited favor. Through God’s grace they were forgiven of the enmity which had existed between them. Now through Christ they are reconciled into a peaceful relationship. This peace is an outcome of God’s grace. The Greek word for “peace” is eirene. It represents the wish of Paul that they have health both spiritually and physically with safety and blessings. It is not a wish for them to be free from conflict but to have an inner calm even if the storms about them are raging.

These blessings come from both God the Father and the Son. Paul makes it very clear concerning the equality of both in relation to the church and the origin of grace and peace. This three- fold description of the Son of God identified the various roles He has played in the scheme of redemption. As “Lord” He reigns as ruler over His dominion. The meaning of the name “Jesus” is “savior.” He is the Savior of the church (Eph. 5:23). He is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament passages about the coming Messiah and is thus called the “Christ.”

Paul further expresses appreciation for the congregation: “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers” (1:2). Notice the twofold request implied by this statement. Paul not only expresses thanks to God for them, he also prays to God about them. This was not a one time event in the life of Paul but part of his continual practice of “always” praying for and about them. “We” shows that Timothy and Silas also were praying on their behalf.

An Energetic Church

Part of the prayer of thanks to God concerning the Thessalonians is “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” (1:3). Paul joined faith, hope, and love as a triumphant triad of virtues in the Christian life. He often used this trilogy of virtues in his letters (Rom. 5:1-5; 1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 5:5,6; Eph. 4:2-5; Col. 1:4,5; 1 Thess. 5:8) and other New Testament writers have done the same, Heb. 6:10-12; 1 Pet. 1:3-8, 21,22).

The three terms “work,” “labor,” and “patience” all demonstrate the effort or energy they were exerting in their growing relationship with the God. God has done His part through grace. Now Paul tells of the responsibility they are fulfilling. Weaver noted “work proceeds from faith, labor proceeds from love, and endurance proceeds from hope” (48).

The term for “work” is ergou which is the idea of vocation instead of toiling at a job. Christians have a vocation or job. They are to have a working faith. The saints do not merely believe in some facts about God and Christ, but they are to live out that belief in day-to-day life.

On the other hand, “love” does require toil and effort. “Labor” is from “the Greek word kopos, which denotes an arduous, wearying kind of toil, done to the point of exhaustion” (MacArthur 17). This love is not the emotional love of mere friendship or brotherly love, but agape love. It is the kind of love Christ demonstrated for us with His toil upon the earth which resulted in His death on the cross (Rom. 5:6-8). It is the same love shown toward our enemies (Matt. 5:44f). This love acts whether or not it feels like acting. It acts in the best interests of the person. Agape is not dependent upon reciprocation. A very irate husband said during marriage counseling, “I’m sick and tired of giving, giving, giving, and getting nothing in return.”

The Greek term for “patience” is hupomone and can be translated steadfastness or endurance. It is the sustaining of our hope. The concept of hope is not mere desire but desire plus expectation. This is not a passive despair in regard to the future. It is not the hope of the lazy college student who bemoans: “I hope I can ace this chemistry final so I can pass the course.” Instead, it is the energetic stick-to-it mentality that the future blessings are going to be theirs.

All this energetic effort in Christ is seen by the Father. Our toil is not going to be unnoticed. The saints must maintain their job of a working faith, work hard at loving God and others, and stand firm in the hope of reward when Christ returns.

An Elect Church

Paul reminds the Thessalonian church “knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God” (1:4). This is not the same “election” taught in the doctrine of Calvinism. It says that God determined which specific individuals would be saved in Christ before the world was ever created. Those who were not so blessed by God to be the elect are condemned as the reprobate chosen from the beginning of time for damnation.

The election is determined on the basis of those who respond to the call of the Gospel by believing in Christ. Believers are chosen by God. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Paul remembered when they were made brethren beloved by God who chose them and added them to the church as the were being saved (Acts 2:47).

    An Embracing Church

    Paul continues his remembrance of their election by God through the means of their embracing the Gospel they preached to them: “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” (1:5). Paul not only preached the Gospel, but it came to them in power. Since this power is coupled with the Holy Spirit it may be referring to the miracles which often accompanied the proclaiming of God’s Word. Throughout his ministry he performed various miracles to confirm that he was speaking forth the very Word from God. The Gospel comes not only “in word,” “in power,” “in the Holy Spirit” but also “in much assurance.” This could mean several things but in light of the general context of this epistle, Paul is perhaps referring to the example set forth by him and his co-laborers in the Gospel. They did not just preach and do miracles, theses preachers of the Word lived it out in their lives. They were not the type of men who came in as fast-talking, here one day and gone the next religious hucksters.

    An Emulating Church

    The result of embracing the Gospel preached, confirmed, and assured by Paul was that the Thessalonian saints “became followers of us and of the Lord” (1:6a). The word translated “followers” is mimetes, from which the English word “mimic” is derived. The Thessalonian Christians were not just talkers; they were true imitators. They did not merely talk about their experience with the Gospel, but something to be emulated when observing the conduct of Paul, Silas, and Timothy.

    An Enduring Church

    Not only was Paul aware of them embracing His message and emulating his faith, but they also had to endure suffering as a result: “having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit” (16b). It has well been said, “a faith that cannot be tested is a faith that cannot be trusted.” From its inception the church did not have it easy. When a mob sought for Paul and his fellow preachers they came to the house where they had been staying. “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’” (Acts 17:6).

    Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23). The Holy Spirit enables believers to endure persecution with joy. This is a peculiar coupling of suffering and joy. R. Leonard Small wrote, “joy is the standard that flies on the battlements of the heart when the King is in residence.” Suffering is part of the Gospel experience. Jesus suffered (John 15:18,20), Paul suffered with joy and singing (Acts 16:25; Col. 1:24), and Christians should not be surprised that they will endure persecution and trials. Paul said, “…what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”(2 Tim. 3:11b,12). However, they can rejoice in that they were counted worthy to suffer for the cause of Christ (Acts 5:41).

    An Exemplary Church

    The result of their joy in suffering was that they “became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe” (1:7). “Example” is tupos from which comes the English term “type” As the mark left by the striking of a hammer on the wood when you missed the nail. The impression left by a seal, a pattern, etc. This young church was leaving quite an impression on the saints throughout Greece. Thessalonica was the main city of Macedonia. Achaia is the region of Greece to the south of Macedonia which included the cities of Athens and Corinth. Perhaps Paul was writing from Corinth at this time.

    An Evangelistic Church

    Through the example of the Thessalonian Christians they became a soul-winning congregation. “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” (1:8). The word for “sounded forth” is exechetai, from which we get the English word “echo.” The verb actually means “to sound as a trumpet.” When it came to the Gospel, the Thessalonians believed it, lived it, and shared it. They were both “receivers” and “transmitters.” Trumpeters of the Word in every place. So effective was their evangelism that Paul did not need to preach. This of course is a hyperbole to demonstrate their effectiveness of sharing the Gospel in Greece. “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you” (1:9a). A recent survey of church growth indicated that seventy to eighty percent of a church’s growth is the result of friends sharing with friends and relatives with relatives.

    An Exchanging Church

    Not only was the Gospel and the work of Paul being trumpeted forth to others, but the news of the repentance of the Thessalonians was spreading. “And how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1:9b). Thessalonica was only fifty miles from Mount Olympus. It was supposedly the residence of the Greek gods. The turning of these pagans to the true God would have been front page news. Apparently, the Gospel is powerful enough to bring about this great transformation.

    Idolatry is still a major feature of American culture. A Chinese man who visited here and was asked upon his return to China whether Americans worshiped idols. “Yes, they do,” he reported. “They have three of them. In the winter they worship a fat man in a red suit. In the spring they worship a rabbit. And in the fall they sacrifice a turkey!” Many worship money and others sex. The greatest god of all is “self.”

    These Christians did not just turn away from idols but to the “living God.” God is often called “the living God” in contrast with idols, which have no life at all. Our God is not a fake or counterfeit. Christians are “children of the living God” (Rom. 9:26). Their bodies are the “temples of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16). The church is “the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:15).

    An Expectant Church

    Throughout this epistle Paul emphasized Christ’s Second Coming. “And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1:10) The Thessalonians were turning from Idols to serving God and waiting for Christ’s return. To “wait” means “to await someone with patience and confidence, expectantly.” The Second Coming is the object of their hope.

    God is a just God who will punish the disobedient. Just as the return of Christ is strong motivation for the saints to turn, serve, and wait so is the wrath of God (Jn. 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 9:22; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:5,6; 2 Th. 1:6-10; Rev. 11:18; 14:19; 19:15,16). Knowing that Christ is coming gives me a sense of urgency about sharing the good news with others (2 Cor. 5:11).

    We should turn from sin to God because Christ is coming to judge the earth. We should be fervent in our service because we have little time before Christ returns. We should be waiting for Christ to return and always be ready because we don’t know when He will come.

    – Daniel R. Vess

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