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Let's turn to first Thessalonians. Paul, the apostle, on his second missionary journey had taken Silas with him, who was commended by the church in Jerusalem as one of the leaders. When they got to Derbe, Timothy joined their evangelistic team. As they journeyed on, they came to Troas and Paul's desire was to go to Bithynia, but the spirit forbade him.
And there, in Troas, as Paul was sick, he had a vision. And there was a man of Macedonia calling him to come and help. And so Paul immediately got a ship, crossed the Aegean and came to Macedonian, the area of Philippi, at which point Luke joined Paul's team. Whether or not Luke was the man that Paul saw in his vision, we do not know. It is quite possible that it was Luke that Paul saw. Nonetheless, they came to Philippi and they began to share Jesus Christ there in Philippi by the river with ladies who would go there for prayer. And a lady who was a merchant, whose name was Lydia, was converted along with many others.
There was a young girl in the area of Philippi who was possessed by evil spirits and Paul, through the power of Jesus Christ, freed her. And this caused a ruckus among those men that were controlling this young girl and actually profiting by her divination, a gift that she had through the demon powers. And so they created an uproar; they had Paul and his company arrested. They were beaten and thrown into the dungeon of the prison. At midnight, an earthquake opened the doors and the Philippine jailer, when he awoke finding the doors open, was ready to commit suicide when Paul stopped him and he came trembling and said, "What must I do to be saved?" And Paul shared the gospel with him. He took Paul home; Paul shared the gospel with his family.
And then the magistrates of the city found out that Paul was a Roman citizen, as was Silas, and so they said, "Hey, tell your friends to just get out of town." And Paul said, "Look, they beat us publicly, they made a big public display of the whole thing; let them come down themselves and deliver us." You know. So, Paul forced the issue and they came down, asked Paul to leave Philippi.
So, Paul with Silas, Timothy and Luke began to follow the Roman highway south from Philippi. They came through Amphipolis. They pass through Apollonia and they came to Thessalonica, which was a principle Roman city, and is an important city today. In modern Greece, Salonica is the same as the Thessalonica of the Bible. It was here where Paul went into the synagogue, and for three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures proving that Jesus was the Messiah. And many of the Jews believed; some of them did not.
Those who did not believe stirred up a ruckus against Paul, and Paul escaped from the city of Thessalonica and went on down to Berea. And there, they again shared until certain of Jews, who had created the problems of Thessalonica, came to Berea, and so Paul went on to Athens. Later, Luke and Silvanus, who is also Silas, and Timothy joined Paul and they journeyed to Corinth, but Paul was concerned about the believers in Thessalonica. So Paul asked Timothy to go back to Thessalonica to find out how the believers were doing.
Now, from the record it would appear that Paul's ministry in Thessalonica was a very short ministry, as short as possible, just four weeks. As they mentioned that three weeks ministering each Sabbath day, for three Sabbath days in the synagogue, and then the trouble that was created. And so it would appear that Paul's time there among them was extremely short. When Paul and his company came to them, they were probably still pretty-well blood . . . well, not bloody, but swollen and bruised from the beatings that they had received in Philippi. Their clothes probably ripped, they probably looked pretty much a mess, but yet, Paul speaks about its coming to them in afflictions. And so, the marks of the beatings still upon him, still very obvious there on his body when he first came to Thessalonica.
Timothy came back to Thessalonica to find the welfare of the church, found it in good health, found them really going on in the Lord, and returned to Corinth to share with Paul how that the church was prospering and going on in the Lord. And so Paul then wrote this letter, which is probably the first letter that Paul wrote to the churches. He wrote from Corinth back to Thessalonica this first epistle, as he seeks to correct some of the misconception that had arisen.
Now, the interesting thing to me is that from the gist of this letter of Paul, one of the most important truths that Paul had emphasized in that very short ministry was that of the coming again of Jesus Christ. And all the way through the first epistle, he is making mention of that hope of the coming of Jesus Christ. And of course, next week in our lesson, as we get to chapters four and five, we'll be dealing with Paul's teaching on the rapture of the church, and all, as he is writing to the Thessalonians concerning the things that he had been teaching them and some of the misunderstandings that had arisen from his teaching. But I am amazed at what a tremendous foundation Paul was able to lay in the word of God in the hearts of these people in such a short time, as is evidenced by this epistle.
So, with that kind of a background, the year's about fifty-three, fifty-four. Paul is on his second missionary journey; he's just arrived in Corinth, has begun his ministry there, which will continue for one year and six months, as the Lord spoke to him in Corinth and said, "Stick here, Paul. I've got a lot of people that are gonna believe on Me in this place." And so, he is sent back now to Thessalonica, he has heard from Timothy the welfare of the church, and he immediately writes them this letter.
Paul, and Silvanus, [another name for Silas] and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ ( 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ):
The church in God, the church in Jesus Christ. And presently Paul is going to be talking about the power of the Holy Spirit with which the message came to them in much assurance. So again, the Father, the Son, the Spirit in which the church was established.
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ ( 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ).
Notice how often Paul is relating God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ together. If Jesus was not God, such a relationship and relating their names together constantly would be blasphemy. Some people say, "But why doesn't he also include the Holy Spirit?" Well, you remember that Paul's epistles are actually inspired by the Holy Spirit and Jesus said, "When the Holy Spirit is come, He will not testify of Himself, but He will testify of Me." And so, it is sufficient that in the inspiring of this writing by the Holy Spirit that there is joined those two persons of the Godhead: the Father and the Son.
Paul's "grace and peace unto you" are typical Pauline greetings. The grace and peace, the Siamese twins of the New Testament, they're always coupled together; wherever you find one, you'll find the other. And they are always in that order: grace and peace, because you cannot experience the peace of God until you understand and have received the grace of God. The understanding of the grace of God is essential to knowing the peace of God in your heart and life.
For years I had peace with God, but I did not have the peace of God, because I did not know the grace of God. I related to God in a legal way. My righteousness was predicated upon my good efforts, my devotional time, my prayer life, and my study of the word. I had a legal relationship with God.
Then I came to an understanding of the grace of God, and I came into a loving relationship with God. And when I did, I suddenly experienced the peace of God, something I'd never known in my Christian life. And what a blessing it was to know the peace of God within my heart, as I now rest where God rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ. And so, the gospel came to me with much assurance, only after I experienced the grace of God. Up until that time, the gospel . . . I had no assurance in the gospel. I didn't really know if I was saved or not from one week to the next, but the much assurance came with the grace.
We give thanks unto God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers ( 1 Thessalonians 1:2 );
And again, how Paul does refer to his prayer life in each of his epistles. Paul was a man of prayer. As we look at the men that God has used in the New Testament, those men that were used mightily of God, we find that there are certain things that are endemic to all of them. And one is that they were men of prayer. If you want God to really use your life, it is necessary that you be in close communion with God. And prayer, of course, is that means by which we remain in close touch with him.
Prayer is not a monologue, though so often we make it such, but prayer should always be a dialogue. In fact, as the years have past, I have spent more time in the listening side of prayer than I have the talking side of prayer. When I first started my communication with God, I did all the talking, very little listening. But as years went by and my relationship with God grew, I did less talking and more listening, for I am convinced that what God has to say to me is much more important than anything I'd have to say to Him. And so I've learned to listen to God, and I've sought to listen before I speak, in order that God might speak to my heart what is His purpose, His will, His desire in a particular matter, so that I may make that my prayer. Paul, a man of prayer, and thus God used him; making mention of you in our prayers.
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope ( 1 Thessalonians 1:3 )
Again, as in Galatians, as in Ephesians, and as in the Corinthian epistles, Paul links these three: faith, hope, love. Remember in first Corinthians thirteen? "And now abide these three: faith, hope, love." And so, he is constantly relating these three things.
First of all, they had the work of faith. If you have true faith, there is that work that is the natural result of faith. And if the faith does not affect your actions, then it is not a true faith. A person with true faith, that faith will affect what they do. It has an effect upon their actions, upon their works; it is producing a work in their life. And so the work of faith. Faith is not a work, but faith does produce a certain result in us: the work of faith.
The labor of love. Now, the word labor, as we pointed out to you last Thursday night as we studied this word in the message of Jesus to the church of Ephesus in Revelation two, the word means to labor to the point of weariness or exhaustion. And only can bring that kind of labor.
And how many times do we see this exemplified in a mother going around the house laboring to the point of exhaustion, especially when the children are little and there are all those responsibilities? And yet, it's a labor of love, because you look at those beautiful little faces, and you don't really think, "Oh my, I'm so tired and all. That dirty little face, just throw it in bed, you know, and let it go." But you can't help but just go in and get the warm wash rag and the towel and come and wash the hands and wash the face and kiss the cheek, though you are as tired as can be because all that you've done all day long, but that's the labor of love.
And how glorious when our love for God is such that we don't really consider the weariness of our own bodies. But as Paul, the love of Christ just constrains me, and that labor of love . . . and again, that's the only motive that God will really accept. Remember, that was the problem of the church in Ephesus: they were laboring, but without love, and that's what the Lord really spoke to them about. And He said, "Unless you begin to love, unless you return to that first love, I'm gonna take the candlestick and move it out of its place." And so, the only labor that God really accepts from us is the labor of love. For though I give my body to be burned, sell all I have, and bestow on the poor, if I have not love . . . profits mean nothing. The labor of love.
And then the...
Patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father ( 1 Thessalonians 1:3 );
So that patience, learning to wait upon God. Boy, what a time I have with that. I don't know why that should be so difficult, and yet, to me, it's one of the most difficult things in my Christian experience, to wait upon God. I, so often, am giving God time limits. "Lord, I'll give you till Saturday to work this thing out, and if you don't do something by Saturday, then I'm gonna have to step in and do something myself." But to just wait upon God; you see, to wait upon God takes great faith. I have to believe that God is in control and that God is working, though I may not see it.
How many problems have been created because we didn't wait upon God? How many times with Abraham do we move to take things into our own hands, knowing what God has purposed, knowing what God has planned? God has not done it in the timeframe that I feel He ought to do it, and so Lord, we know you wanna do it, but obviously you can't do it without our help and so we're gonna help you out, Lord. And oh my, what problems we create when we step in to help God out. But that's been the problem, I think, through the century, is patience of hope; just waiting upon God, waiting upon His time, waiting on Him to work in His time, knowing that He is going to work, confident that God is gonna work.
Now, there are many exhortations to patience. "You have need of patience," we are told in Hebrews, "that after you have done the will of God you might obtain the promise." We are told that those of the Old Testament who through faith and patience inherited the promises of God. And then James exhorts us to patience into the coming . . . waiting for the coming of the Lord. Establish your souls, be patient, for the Lord is waiting for the complete fruit of harvest. So, they were patient in their hope, laboring in love. They were...had the works of faith. And all of this, after just one month of Paul's ministry to them.
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God ( 1 Thessalonians 1:4 ).
Now, this is a doctrine that we usually don't teach new believers. We usually wait until a person is pretty-well founded in the scriptures before we broach this theological problem of divine election. But Paul saw it necessary to teach divine election unto these new believers in Thessalonica. He speaks of them knowing the fact that they were elected by God.
People have problems with divine election. They have a problem with God making choices. However, we surely do appreciate the fact that God has given to us the capacity of choice. I was glad that the Lord allowed me to choose the one I was to spend the rest of my live with as a companion. He just didn't throw anybody at me and say, "Here, take that." But He allowed me the choice, and He also allowed her the choice when I gave it to her. So that we're not forced into the company of someone with whom we might be completely incompatible or someone that we really have no real attraction to.
Now, if God has given to us the choice of those whom we are going to have as our companions or associates, why shouldn't God have the right to choose those He wanted to be with? And indeed He has. Now, that doesn't trouble me at all. It thrills me that He chose me. And so knowing that God has elected. Jesus said to his disciples, "You didn't choose me. I chose you and ordained that you should be my disciples, that you should bring forth fruit that your fruit should remain. That whatsoever you should ask the Father in my name He may give it to you" ( John 15:16 ). "I've chosen you," He said.
So the scripture does teach divine election. It never teaches divine election apart from the foreknowledge of God. Whom He did foreknow, He did also predestinate, that they shall be conformed in the image of His Son. And so Paul taught the doctrine of divine election to the church in just a month's time.
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance ( 1 Thessalonians 1:5 );
I think that that's probably the weakness of the gospel today. Is that so many times we are proclaiming the gospel in word only, and it lacks the power and the work of the Holy Spirit and that assurance with it. Paul, you remember, went from here to Corinth. Later, when he wrote to the Corinthians, he said to them, "And my preaching was not with the enticing words of man's wisdom, but with the demonstration of the spirit and power." We need more of that kind of preaching which is a demonstration of the power of God.
[The word came] unto you not in the word only, the gospel came not in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as you know what manner of men we were among you for your sake ( 1 Thessalonians 1:5 ).
So, what manner of men we were for your sakes, men ministering through the power of the Spirit.
And you became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit ( 1 Thessalonians 1:6 ):
And so, again Paul here makes mention of the fact of his probably physical appearance: the beating that he had received at Philippi, and yet they received the word in the joy of the Holy Spirit.
So that ye were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything ( 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ).
Marvelous. The church here could not be more than six months old and yet, from them already the word of the Lord was sounding out to all of the area around them. Their faith toward God was spread abroad, the reputation of their believers there.
For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you ( 1 Thessalonians 1:9 ),
So, just their . . . it shows with what power the Holy Spirit was working in Paul and those companions of Paul as they came to this church. It was really miraculous that this church should be so effective, and yet so young. And it can only be attributed to the fact of the power of the Holy Spirit in the church.
What a mistake we make today when we try to relegate this power of the spirit only to the Biblical days. What a mistake we make today when we place such and emphasis upon the enticing words of man's wisdom and seeking to establish people in the faith by just fancy speeches, clever talk. We need the dynamic of Spirit that the word of God might not come not just in word only, but in the power and the demonstration of the spirit of God. Because of that,
[they] turned to God from idols to serve the living and the true God ( 1 Thessalonians 1:9 );
In Greece, they had many idols. Paul, when he came to Athens, he'd found his spirit just torn as he looked at this metropolis and saw this city that was wholly given over to idolatry. It just really ripped him up inside to see the idolatry there in Athens. So he, though he was really trying to, you know, cool things down, he just had . . . I mean his reception in Europe wasn't with a lot of fanfare. They didn't have the band out to greet him and banners waving "welcome" you know. But in Philippi, he was beaten and kicked out of town. Came to Thessalonica where he had to leave town, and the people where he was staying got arrested and had to post bail, just because they kept Paul. Came to Berea and he had to leave Berea because of the riots that ensued in his ministry there. So they said, "Hey, look, we'll stay and help establish the church here in Berea. You, Paul, go on down and get an R&R in Athens, you know. Sort of lay low for a while. Tough sledding here in Greece."
So Paul went down to Athens, and seeing a city wholly given over to idolatry, he couldn't just kick back and lie still. His heart was burning, and so he started sharing with the Athenians. They said, "Come on up to Mars hill and we're gonna, you know, give ya your audience up there. You can speak to all of us and share this new religion." For the Athenians spent their whole lives just, you know, arguing and wanting to hear some new thing. So they gave Paul his day there on Mars hill. And as he begun his speech to them, he said, "I perceive that you are very religious people because as I've been going through your city down here I've noticed all of the gods that you have." And he said, "I came across one little altar and it was inscribed 'to the unknown god'. I'd like to tell you about that God."
In Greece, they had deified all of the emotions of man: the god of love, the god of hate, the god of fear, the god of peace, the god of joy. They deified everything. Some fella thought, "Well, we may have missed one and we don't want him to be angry with us so let's build an altar to the unknown god so he won't feel neglected, you know." But they worshipped Aphrodite, they worshipped Narcissus, they worshiped Bacus, they worshiped Zeus, all the various idols. But these people had turned from the idols to worship the true and the living God.
We usually think of idolatry as something of a past history of man or something that is only found in primitive cultures. Not so. We can even find idols in churches: images, statuaries, though it has been specifically forbidden in the scriptures, yet it does exist. When a person begins to worship an idol or a relic, it is a sign that that person has lost the consciousness of God and the presence of God. God, oftentimes, works through instruments. God worked through the cross to bring our salvation, but then to take splinters of the cross and begin to venerate splinters of the cross show that the people have lost the truth behind the cross.
God used the brass serpent in the wilderness to bring healing to Israel from the bites of these poisonous snakes. But there came a time in the history of Israel when Hezekiah was king that they were worshipping this brass snake. They had kept it. It had become a religious relic and people were coming and worshipping this brass snake. So that Hezekiah broke the thing and he said, "Nahushcan" It's just of a thing of brass; it's not God. But the worship of it indicated that loss of consciousness of God within their life, but also a deep desire to experience God again.
Now, the idols that they had made to these various passions, or the various emotions, or various concepts were more honest than people today. For we still have these as idols within our hearts, many times, though we may not have made some little form that we set on a table and put little flowers around and kneel before each morning and light candles before each night. But we can be burning incense in our hearts. There are those today who are worshipping Narcissus. There are those today who are worshipping Aphrodite, those today who are worshipping Bacus, Zeus; they just don't have idols, except within their heart.
Now they have turned from these idols to the true and the living 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 ( 1 Thessalonians 1:10 ).
Now, it is interesting to me that at the end of each of the first four chapters Paul makes reference to the coming again of Jesus Christ; an important part to a person's faith and belief system. For it is really the hope that sustains us. And so, the patience of hope and here he broadens out of it, "as they were waiting for God's Son from heaven whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come."
How much doctrine is involved in that little statement right there? The central message of the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead by God the Father, and the coming again of Jesus Christ to deliver us from the wrath to come. Now we are waiting for Jesus to deliver us from the wrath to come. That wrath to come could be a reference to the eternal punishment that God is going to visit upon those who have rejected Him, but it also could very well refer to the wrath to come during the great tribulation period. And as we go further in Thessalonians, we'll find that God has not appointed us unto wrath. Jesus is going to deliver us from the wrath to come.
During the period of the Great Tribulation when the sixth seal is opened and these cataclysmic judgments are taking place in the universe, awesome fearful things happening. "And the kings of the earth and the chief captains and all will be hiding, calling unto the rocks and unto the mountains, fall on us and hide us from the face of the Lamb, for the day of His wrath has come and who shall be able to stand?" ( Revelation 6:15-17 )
The wrath to come. There is coming the wrath of God upon this earth in the Great Tribulation, and I do not believe that it would be proper scriptural exposition to not include that in the deliverance of the Lord for His saints. I believe that it is an all-inclusive deliverance from the wrath to come, the Great Tribulation, as well as the future judgment of the unbeliever. More about that as we move into Revelation on Thursday nights, and more about that as we move into Thessalonians next Sunday night.
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany