I. An Authentic Message for an Authentic Community (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10)
I. An Authentic Message for an Authentic Community (1:1-10)
1:1 Paul addresses his letter to the church of the Thessalonians, which is an impor-tant greeting. The word translated “church,” ekklesia, means a “called-out group.” In the first century, any time people gathered for a common purpose, especially to address legal matters (as in a town hall meeting; see Acts 19:39-41) it was called an ekklesia. Paul takes this everyday word and gives it new meaning: we as believers are the “called out ones”—called out from the agenda of hell to a kingdom agenda that executes the rule of heaven on earth. And the caller is none other than God the Father.
1:2-3 Immediately Paul begins to show us what this called-out community should be doing. We are to be characterized by work produced by faith . . . labor motivated by love, and . . . endurance inspired by hope in Christ (1:3). Faith, love, hope: these are the three Christian virtues that are the product of the gospel message. When people truly receive the grace and peace of Jesus (1:1), faith, hope, and love start radiating outward from them.
Understand: these are not merely feelings. You have a working faith, a laboring love, and an enduring hope. What will distinguish you in a cold, indifferent world is not how many Bible verses you quote, or how intense your emotions are, but how you tangibly serve others with your faith, hope, and love.
1:4 As brothers and sisters loved by God, we remember that our salvation happens because [God] has chosen [us]. God saved you—and all you can say is “thank you” because God certainly did not have to do it. You are saved to serve God by choice, not by chance. God found you before you found him. And that choice was for fulfilling a divinely ordained purpose on earth.
1:5 Even though the gospel reached you because of God’s choice, it also came through people. Someone had the courage to have an awkward conversation with you—and thank God he or she did! But Paul says the gospel did not come to you in word only (though it certainly did come through words), but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with full assurance.
Don’t miss Paul’s statement, You know how we lived among you. His life was an open book. Just as our words tell people the good news about Jesus, our lives need to show them the good news too. Have you ever been to a movie when the picture turns off but the sound is still on? Audio alone proves insufficient, because you need both the sound and the picture to grasp the full scope of the film. The world needs to hear the gospel from our mouths and to see the gospel in our lives.
1:6 If you believe the gospel can transform you, then you believe it can transform others. That was happening in Thessalonica, because, as Paul says, the Thessalonians became imitators of us and of the Lord. This is no problem-free gospel or fairy-tale gospel in which believers just name and claim whatever they want and Jesus gives them miracle after miracle. This gospel may be accompanied by severe persecution. In fact, if you are an authentic Christian, you will experience tribulation (see 2 Tim 3:12). You are going to be resisted and rejected.
Nevertheless, even in tribulation, an authentic Christian community has joy from the Holy Spirit. In spite of rejection, in spite of difficulties, in spite of hard times, you have internal stability that external troubles can’t touch because you have the Spirit.
1:7-8 You became an example to all the believers (1:7). The Thessalonians were an example—the Greek word tupos means “type” or “pattern”—allowing other people to see Jesus by looking at them.
If you want to show off a new clothing line, you put samples on a beautiful model. The model’s role is to make the clothes look good. Similarly, the Thessalonians wore kingdom clothes—godly attitudes and actions—well. When they reacted to tragedy, they made Jesus look good. The language they used made Jesus look good. The way they conducted themselves at home made Jesus look good. Do you wear kingdom clothes well?
1:9 Paul mentions that the Thessalonians turned to God from idols. We might think this statement doesn’t apply to us, but there are still idols today. An idol is any unauthorized person, place, thing, or thought that you look to as your source. An idol is anyone or anything, other than God, that holds your confidence, trust, and allegiance. While many American households lack idols of stone, many of us drive idols of steel. And though we don’t have idols of wood, we stash idols of paper in our bank accounts. Further, even though we don’t have idols of gold, we put all our hope into particular people in our lives. Everybody has a god. Everybody has a master. The only question is this: what (or who) is yours?
The alternative to serving idols is to serve the living and true God. Don’t miss that word serve. Our footsteps, just as much as our mouths, show the world whether we believe in the God of the Bible.
1:10 We will see this theme come up again, but it is significant to note that already in this first chapter Paul brings up the second coming of Christ. We wait for [God’s] Son from heaven. An authentic Christian community becomes an expectant community. And if we are truly waiting for him, we’ll be about his kingdom work.