ADDRESSES ON THESSALONIANS
SERVING AND WAITING
"Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the
Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be
unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give
thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and
patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto
you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much
assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And
ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the Word in much
affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: so that ye were ensamples to all that
believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the Word of the Lord
not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward
is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves
show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God
from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from
heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the
wrath to come"-l Thess. 1: 1-10.
THE Thessalonian Epistles are the earliest of Paul's writings, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which the Lord in His grace has preserved for the edification of the Church. It is evident that they were written from Corinth after Paul had left Berea because of persecution. Timothy and Silas, at his request, had remained behind and gone on to Thessalonica. They then came to Paul to report on the condition of the young church. According to Luke's account in the book of Acts, Paul had preached the gospel on three successive Sabbath days in the Jewish synagogue at Thessalonica. How much longer he remained in the city we are not told, but it could not have been very long. The results of his short visit were remarkable. Quite a group were brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of these were Jews, but the majority were evidently Gentiles who had been brought to see the folly of idolatry and led to put their trust in the living God as manifested in His Son.
Paul was deeply concerned about these young converts. They seemed to be as sheep without a shepherd, though of course he realized the great Shepherd was ever watching over them. Paul tells us he had no rest in his spirit while he waited for the coming of Timothy and Silas, because he feared lest Satan might take advantage of those so recently brought to Christ. The word, however, that came to him was most encouraging and led to the writing of this letter.
It is an interesting fact that the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is referred to in some way in every chapter of this Epistle. Although the letter was addressed to babes in Christ, the apostle realized the importance of giving them clear instruction regarding this great theme. Often today we are told that the second advent is a doctrine with which generally Christians are not to be occupied. Many ministers never preach on it at all; many have no clear convictions regarding it. In the classroom of theological seminaries this doctrine often becomes just a theme for an academic discussion. But to Paul it was a tremendously important and exceedingly practical truth which needed emphasis because of its bearing on the hearts and lives of God's beloved people.
The first chapter tells how the gospel was received in Thessalonica. It closes by picturing for us a group of happy believers earnestly serving God while waiting expectantly for the return of Jesus Christ.
We have the apostolic salutation in the first verse: "Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." Note that Paul's fellow-labourers are linked with him in this greeting which he extends to these young converts. The expression, "The Church - which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ," is peculiar to the Thessalonian letters. Of course, it refers to the same Church which elsewhere is spoken of as the Body of Christ. But here the emphasis is upon the new relationship into which these young Christians had come. They were now linked up in infinite grace with God the Father; they were His children. They owed it all to the Lord Jesus Christ, who had given Himself for them.
It is not the grace that saves from judgment of which Paul speaks but grace that sustains from day to day. Neither is it peace with God that he has in view. That was settled already. He refers to the peace of God which is the abiding portion of all who trust in the loving Father and seek to walk in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. Vers. 2 to 4 are introductory. "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God."
It is remarkable how often the apostle speaks of bearing up God's people in prayer. He was a man of intense activity: preaching, visiting from house to house, often working at tent-making for his daily bread; and yet he found time to intercede with God in behalf of all the churches which he was used of the Lord to found, as well as remembering in prayer those of whom he learned, though they had not seen his face, as in the case of the Colossians. He links together in the third verse the three graces of which he was to write later in the Corinthian Epistle: faith, hope, and love. Here the order is different, and he speaks not simply of these graces as such, but of the spiritual, realities connected with them: the work of faith, the labour of love, the patience of hope. Faith, we are told elsewhere, worketh by love. James insists that faith without works is dead. These young converts manifested their faith by their work.
Love to be real must be self-sacrificing. Therefore we read here of the labour of love. It is one thing to talk about loving our brethren, loving Israel, loving lost souls in general, but our love is not genuine unless we are willing to labour earnestly for the blessing of those for whom we profess to have this deep concern.
The hope of the believer is the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but here the apostle speaks of the patience of hope. Often we may well long for the day when trial and tribulation will be ended, and Christ will take us to be with Himself; but we are not to be impatient as we await that glad consummation. He Himself is the Man of Patience, seated upon the throne of God. "The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain." During all the centuries since He ascended to heaven, as we count time on earth, He has waited patiently for the end of the Church's testimony. Then the Lord will descend in the air to call His own to be with Him. Thereupon that change which the poet has expressed will be true of all believers :
"He and I in that bright glory
One deep joy shall share:
Mine to be forever with Him,
His, that I am there."
The fourth verse is particularly interesting:
"Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God." How did he know this? Had he been permitted to look into the books of eternity and there behold their names written before the foundation of the world? Had God revealed to him His divine sovereign decrees? Not at all! He saw in their lives such evidence of the new birth that he had no question concerning their election. Paul knew that the fruit of the Spirit which was manifested in their lives was not of nature, but was the outflowing of the new life in the power of the Holy Ghost. It is in this way that our election may be made manifest.
In verses 5 to 10 the apostle epitomizes the effects of his ministry among these Thessalonians. "Our gospel," he says, "came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake." The gospel of course must come in word. It is the business of the servants of Christ to proclaim the Word of the truth of the gospel to a lost world. "It has pleased God by the foolishness (the simplicity) of preaching to save them that believe." But the mere statement of gospel truth, apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, is not likely to produce such results as were seen in Thessalonica. It is true that God in His sovereignty may use His own Word, no matter who proclaims it, or even if it is found on the printed page; He has often done so. His general method however is to empower devoted men to set forth the Word with clearness and in the energy of the Holy Spirit. Then the results are assured. The Lord Jesus told His disciples, as recorded in Acts 1: 18, "Ye shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto Me" (marginal reading). Speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit is something that should never be ignored. To mistake human eloquence or oratory for preaching in the power of the Spirit of God is a great mistake. Someone has well said that, "Preaching is eloquence touched with fire." It was in this way that Paul and his companions proclaimed the gospel as they went from place to place, and the result of such a proclamation was not only that people were led to trust in Christ, but they also received "much assurance." It is a lamentable fact that a great deal that passes for gospel preaching today would never give assurance of salvation to anyone. Sermons may be theologically correct, but they make no true application to the needs of the hearers, and are, as someone has said, "clear as crystal, but cold as ice." When the Word is preached in simplicity and in the energy of the Holy Spirit, those who believe it receive the full assurance of faith.
The last part of the verse is exceedingly significant. "Ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake." They were careful to walk before God in holiness of life and in righteous-ness toward their fellow-men. A holy minister is a tremendous weapon in the hands of God for the pulling down of strongholds of sin. Emerson said of another, "What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." What a pitiable thing if this should ever be true, as, alas, it has often been true of ministers of Christ. Integrity of life, devotedness of heart, holiness of spirit should characterize the proclaimers of the gospel of grace.
The self-denying ways of Paul and his companions made a deep impression on these Thessalonians. He writes, "Ye became followers of us (imitators of us), and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." It may seem strange that he speaks here of himself and his companions before he speaks of the Lord, but we need to remember that these Thessalonians had never heard of the Lord, probably never would have heard of Him, if Paul and his companions had not gone to them. It was what these Thessalonians saw in Paul and his companions that led them to be interested in the things of the Lord, and so having trusted in Christ they took His servants as their examples, and in imitating them they were really following the Lord.
They received the Word in much affliction and yet in joy. This sounds paradoxical, and indeed it is; but the Christian may be sorrowful yet always rejoicing. The affliction to which the apostle refers may have been twofold. There was of course deep contrition as they recognized their sinfulness and mourned over their years of ungodliness and idolatry. Then, too, they knew that to decide for Christ would mean, in many instances, separation from loved ones, grievous misunderstandings, and even bitter persecution. But they were prepared for all this. They counted the cost and considered that Christ would mean far more to them than temporal comfort or worldly prosperity, and so they joyfully received the message which told them of sins forgiven and the hope of heaven.
So great was the change in their lives that others soon noticed it. They "were ensamples," as we are told, "to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia." Thessalonica was one of the chief cities of Macedonia; Achala was the neighboring province. To one city after another the word went forth of what had happened in Thessalonica, where Paul had labored so earnestly. They who had been converted through his preaching became, in turn, preachers themselves. From these preachers sounded out the Word of the Lord. Not only in Macedonia but in other places as well, the news was spread of what had taken place. It was not necessary for anyone to insist on the reality of their conversion; their lives made it evident that they were in touch with God.
In the last two verses we have two words which cover the whole Christian life-"serve" and "wait." Note the connection. "They themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God! and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come." This was real conversion. They turned to God, and in turning to God they turned from idols. We have a different order in Acts 14: 15. In speaking to the men of Iconium, Paul says, We "preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God." The two passages are not contradictory; both suggest true repentance upon which conversion rests. To repent is to change the mind: that is, to reverse one's attitude; and so these who had been idolators turned to the true and living God; they were through with idolatry. Today when men trust in Christ and bow before God in repentance they turn from the things of a godless world and yield themselves to the One who died to redeem them. following the conversion of these Thessalonians, as intimated above, two words set forth their new attitude. They sought to serve the living and true God while they waited for His Son from heaven. We are sometimes told that occupation with the second coming of the Lord has a tendency to throttle Christian activities. People become dreamers become taken up with prophetic questions, and they are interested no longer in living for Ged or seeking to win others for Christ. Frankly, my own experience teaches me the contrary to be true. The more this blessed truth grips the soul, the more one would be concerned not only about serving God but also winning others to Christ. It was true of these young believers. They lived day by day in the expectation of Christ's return; they looked for Him - the risen and ascended One -t o come back again as their Deliverer from coming wrath. 'The wrath referred to here, I take it, is not eternal judgment. From that they have already beenl delivered. But he refers to the wrath that is coming upon the world. This wrath is still in the future. But the Lord has promised to take away His own before the trumpets of wrath begin to sound and the judgments of the great tribulation fall upon the world. It is evident, to some extent at least, that Paul had intimated that such a time of trouble was in the future, but he also told them that Jesus would come to snatch His own away ere that wrath is let loose. His coming for His own is still the hope of His saints.
End of Chapter One
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