By Dr. Robert E. Picirilli
There’s a story behind 1 Thessalonians. Paul, Silas and Timothy brought the gospel to Thessalonica in the year AD 50. But their ministry was cut short (Acts 17:1-9). They left the city with some uncertainty about the future of the young church there (1 Thessalonians 3:5).
Moving on to other places, Paul carried with him the dissatisfaction and burden of an unfinished task (3:10). He made plans on at least two occasions to return—plans that were thwarted at the hand of Satan (2:77, 18).
Paul had sent Timothy to Thessalonica (3:1, 2). By the time Paul penned this letter, Timothy had returned with a report of the Thessalonian church. What joy and relief: the Thessalonian believers were by Timothy’s report standing firm (3:6-9).
Paul received Timothy’s report while in Corinth, probably within six months or so after founding the church in Thessalonica. He wrote immediately to express his joy, to review his ministry there, and to deal with the needs Timothy had discerned.
The letter opens in with the customary pleasantries (v. 1) These included three items:
1. The writer: Paul, with Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy.
2. The addressee: the church of Thessalonica.
3. The greeting. In this case the greeting is a distinctly Christian one: Grace and peace to you, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.
Verses 2-5 can be called Prayerful Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians. Underlying this is the fact that Paul and his companions had a regular prayer life (prayers . . . without ceasing). They faithfully prayed for all those to whom they ministered.
It is apparent in his letters that Paul wasn’t content to win people and then simply leave them. Any truly successful ministry will be bathed in prayer. In his prayers, Paul thanked God (“Remembering . . . in the sight of [before] God”) for the spiritual work at Thessalonica. Paul was thankful for several things:
• He was thankful for the evidences of their faith, labor, and hope (v. 3). Paul often referred to these things as the essence of Christian character (see 5:8). Here in verse three, faith produces work, labor produces love, and patience produces hope. All three of these have “our Lord Jesus Christ” as their object.
• He was thankful for their election (v. 4). Every believer acknowledges that he or she is an object of God’s gracious choice (compare John 15:16). And note that election is rooted in God’s love (“beloved . . . of God”).
• He was thankful for the powerful work of the Holy Spirit demonstrated during his ministry at Thessalonica (v. 5). That work produced assurance. Paul notes “what manner of men we were among you.” Paul uses us, but only if we let Him shine through us as Paul did.
Verses 6-10 contain Commendation for the Thessalonian Church. Notice the three they say about their own conduct while in Thessalonica:
1. They were an example (vv.6, 7). They were examples to all the believers in the area (Macedonia and Achaia). They were examples by following the pattern (“followers” means “imitators”) of the apostles and the Lord Jesus despite the affliction they experienced. The Greek word for affliction literally means pressure, the pressure of resistance and opposition. The Thessalonians had certainly experienced this (see Acts 17:5-9). People who take a stand to live like Jesus will always go against the currents of their culture. But that’s only part of the story: with affliction there is also joy. Above all, don’t forget the joy.
2. They spread their testimony and witness (v. 8). Their witness was spreading both at home and abroad. Because of their witness, Paul and his co-workers didn’t have to tell their story. Most importantly, they spread two things: (1) “the word of the Lord” (The word about the Lord Jesus) and (2) their experience of faith. You’d be hard pressed to find a better summary of what witnessing ought to be than in this single verse.
3. They gave evidence of their own conversion (vv. 9, 10). This is as good a picture of conversion as you’ll find anywhere. All the essentials are here, all built around the key word “turned.”
Negatively, they turned from the idols. Positively, they turned to the living and true God. Genuine conversion is always an about face, renouncing whatever one has worshipped (whatever one puts before God) and submitting to the God of Jesus Christ.
They turned to God to do two things: (1) to serve Him and (2) to wait for His Son. Both of the verbs here are in continuing action. Action is the way of life of a truly converted person. The word for serving used here is the same word that was used for a slave’s service in biblical times. Like a slave, the Christian lives in obedient submission to God’s revealed will.
Being a Christian means waiting and living in expectancy of Jesus’ return. Have we lost sight of that fact? If we have, something essential to Christianity is missing. The verb “delivered” isn’t limited to past time. Yes, Jesus provided for our deliverance on Calvary. But our deliverance did not end there. We experienced it in first measure when we are converted. We will not be delivered in full measure until He returns and delivers us from the final outpouring of God’s wrath on the wicked at the end of the age (compare 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). Jesus is our past, present, and future Deliverer from the wrath to come. That is the meaning of our salvation.