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Understanding 1 Thessalonians – part 2
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Paul’s first letter to the Church at Thessaloniki – Study 2
Having opened the letter with a greeting and a statement of thanksgiving concerning the sincere commitment to Christ of the believers at Thessaloniki, Paul then turns his attention to the impact that the Word of God has upon people when it is faithfully preached. He therefore writes about:
A. The preaching of the Word of God. 1:5
We have already noted in our introduction to the letter that Paul travelled from Philippi to Thessaloniki. He was thus an itinerant preacher or more correctly an Apostle or Sent One. The bible teaches that the Word of God is carried to the world by preachers. These are raised up by God and without them the will and purpose of God cannot be fulfilled (Romans 10:14-17). However, a preacher has to have certain credentials because he is the custodian of the message of eternal salvation. That is, he must in every way reflect or embody the message that he brings. Paul understood this and therefore he reminds the believers at Thessaloniki of four things:
1. That he made the journey to preach to them.
How blessed are a people to receive a faithful preacher of God’s holy Word. Believe me these are not easily found and even Jesus acknowledged that the “harvest was plentiful but the laborers were few (Matthew 9:37-38).” We should therefore pray that God would raise up true laborers who will care for His flock and faithfully preach His Word.
2. That he preached in power
For the carnal heart to succumb to the call of Christ it must be broken by powerful preaching. Such preaching is effective because it comes from a preacher who knows that the things he is saying are true. That is, he preaches with conviction and zeal. A preacher who doesn’t must be avoided!
3. That he preached in the Holy Spirit
This means that he depended on the Holy Spirit to give him the right words to say and to guide him as to where he would deliver them. The human condition is different from place to place and only the Holy Spirit can guide us in terms of reaching the right people with the right words. So Paul demonstrated this when he heeded the Macedonian Call (Acts 16:6-10) and so did Phillip when he left a revival in Samaria and went down south to preach to an Ethiopian Eunuch as he traveled home (Acts 8:26-40). It was in fact the Macedonian call that came to Paul in a dream that in the end led him to Thessaloniki. True preachers must walk with the Holy Spirit because if not they will find themselves in the wrong place with the wrong words and consequently labor in vain!
4. That he preached with his life
That is, he lived out what he called them to follow. He certainly was not perfect but he did reflect Jesus to the extent that they could see Him in Paul and therefore were determined to follow Christ by following Paul. This is quite astonishing and constitutes a challenge to every person who would desire to be a preacher of God’s holy Word. Paul always called the people of God to follow him as he followed Christ (Philippians 3:17).
B. The hearing of the Word of God 1:6-8
We have already noted how important it is to preach the Word of God but what should be the correct response to it by those who hear it? Well the believers at Thessaloniki demonstrated this because the text affirms it when it states:
1. That they became followers of Paul and of Christ when they heard the Word of God.
2. That they received the Word with affliction. The message of Jesus is most certainly counter culture and consequently, when properly received it attracts resistance and opposition. Sin is so entrenched in the lives of people that when it is challenged by the light and righteousness of Christ it arouses hatred and anger. For this reason Jesus said that the world would hate us, just as it hated Him. The book of Acts well documents this and we should be really concerned about a form of Christianity that finds a warm welcome in the community. The real thing stirs up the carnality of people and brings affliction to those who embrace it. Wesley said to a well known doctor after he repented of his sins and gave his life to Christ, “I hope that by this time tomorrow your name stinketh.”
3. That they received the Word with joy and enthusiasm
The joy of salvation stamped upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit is a wonderful reality. It is supernatural, overflowing, and irrepressible (Romans 14:17). It also drives us to impart it to others so that they too can experience it. A church living in a dynamic relationship with Jesus will always become evangelistic. Actually, this is what revival is all about! Only Christians can be revived and when they are the kingdom of God expands automatically. So, the church at Thessaloniki “became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia and beyond (V7-8)”.
We should carefully meditate upon these truths and make sure that they are reflected in our lives and churches. Paul then concludes the first chapter by underlining the fruits or evidences of a true salvation experience. These are:
1. Turning to God from idols. 1:9
An idol is not only an image of some type but it is anything that is a worthless object of worship, and anything that takes first place in our lives before the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. This could be a hobby, a family member or even a career. The believers at Thessaloniki repented of these and so should we!
2. Expectantly waiting for the second coming of Jesus. 1:10a
A so called believer who has no interest in the subject of the second coming of Jesus is like someone attending a football match but having no interest in the game. We look for the signs of Jesus’ coming because by it we are transformed into immortality and swept up into the eternal kingdom of God. Indeed, as we take Communion we are enjoined by scripture to do this with a clear spiritual eye upon the second coming of Jesus. Paul put it this way, “For as often as you do this you do proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” I Corinthians 11:23-26).
3. Understanding what Jesus did for us on the cross. 1:10b
That is, that He endured the wrath of God on the cross on our behalf so that we, who fully deserve it, can be free from it and reconciled to God (John 3:36).