This letter follows on from the hurried flight recorded in Acts 17:1-11 and shows Paul’s great concern for this first church plant in Europe.
1) The Process of Salvation in Lives:
i) God the Father has chosen us (v.4),
ii) The Word of God concerning the work of Christ for us is presented (v.5a),
iii) The Holy Spirit works in His power to bring about conviction of the truth of the Word and the reality of sin in our lives, so we are born again (v.5b) => reality of our election is demonstrated by this occurring (v.4)
iv) We turn in faith from dead idols of sin to the living and true God (v.9) => shows the other aspect of election that it is not fatalism or determinism
v) We become imitators of Christ and mature Christians as we walk in the Christian life (v.6),
vi) This progression through the doctrine of salvation culminates as we await the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the resurrection from the dead in our eternal, incorruptible bodies (v.10).
You will notice the different persons of the Godhead are referred to a great deal in these few verses, which emphasises that the spread of the Gospel and salvation is God’s work which we participate in spreading by being living ambassadors of its reality.
2) The Reality of the Gospel:
- v.3 Our working out of faith, labouring in love and endurance/steadfast of hope all flows out of the reality of the gospel in our lives. Real faith produces fruits of good works (it is not dead!); real participation in the love of Christ and a desire to love others in Jesus’ name will produce incredible labours of pain and tears in us as we seek to share it with others; real steadfastness in the face of trouble, attacks, doubts comes from the reality that we have received Christ’s sustaining grace to help us perseverance to the end with the great hope of the resurrection and eternal life with Him. *Also notice this early formulation of Paul’s extolling the three spiritual virtues of faith, hope and love
- v.5 The Gospel comes not only as words or ideas, but in power as dead sinners are born again and made alive to God in Jesus Christ – conversion of souls is something you cannot argue against when you see it! In this sense the Gospel is self-authenticating (but that is to say nothing against the importance of apologetics).
- v.6 There is true joy found through the gospel as the Holy Spirit ministers to us in the midst of opposition and affliction, as we are counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. This suffering also serves to fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ (Colossians 1:24) – namely that proximately most of the world did not witness His death, but we bring His sufferings to them and show them the glory of the gospel as we share in the fellowship of His sufferings for His sake.
- v.8 the reality of their faith is seen in all the areas around as the gospel breaks new ground in Europe (“Macedonia and Achaia…has gone forth everywhere” v.8) so that the apostles “need not say anything”. People can see that these people have received the gospel and been changed by it in such a dramatic way – they don’t need to be told that something has happened. HOWEVER, they will still need to be told how and what the gospel means for these people in Thessalonica because the gospel needs to be proclaimed and explained.
- v.9 to abandon your idols in this culture was to make yourself a loner in society and an oddity. It would threaten family relationships, friendships, social positions, jobs. To take such a step would take a real belief in some glorious reality, which we do indeed find in the Lord Jesus!
There are three aspects to the Christian life that we all live (Saints, Sufferers and Sinners):
A) We are Saints: new born-again creations in Christ Jesus. We should seek to share the gospel and live out its reality to show the world that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. We also should await with anticipation His coming again (v.10)
B) We are Sufferers: we are still in a broken and cursed world. We should seek to experience the true joy that is unspeakable in Jesus, ministered through the Holy Spirit. We should seek to be abiding in Him and walking obediently with Him so our joy may be full (John 15) even in the midst of unspeakable pain. We should also ask for the Lord’s help and comfort and fellowship as we suffer for Him.
C) We are Sinners: there is still the inward battle between our sinful flesh and our new hearts. We should be continuing to repent of sinful idols, by turning from them to the living God. We need to pursue Him and Him alone. All the gifts He gives us should always end in praise and worship of Him – never in the gift themselves. We need to ask Him to help us see our heart aright, and come alongside others who can help us to see what we cannot see ourselves, for our hearts are deceitful.