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1 Thessalonians 1

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Verses 1-2


When the apostle Paul, during his second missionary journey, comes to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1) and preaches there, a church comes into existence. However, not only a church starts, but also persecution. Opposition from satan is often proof that a real work of God is happening. There is no doubt that God was working in the Thessalonians. They witnessed to the Lord Jesus. You can then be certain that satan will come into action. You will hardly experience any opposition from satan if you do not live the life of a Christian.

The brethren advise Paul to flee (Acts 17:10). He has been there for a very short period, only three sabbaths. He managed to preach the gospel and to teach the new converts in, at the most, four weeks. From his first letter to them it appears that he, despite his short stay, had been able to pass on much of the truth of God.

After Paul has fled from Thessalonica he comes to Berea. And also persecution starts there, because also there Jews from Thessalonica stir up the crowds against him. Paul also left this city at the advice of the brethren (Acts 17:14). You see that Paul was not trying to play the hero and he also did not consider the advices of the brethren below his dignity, but accepts them.

He goes to Athens while his companions Silas and Timothy stay in Berea. In Athens Timothy must have joined Paul again, because from there he sends Timothy to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-Exodus :). He himself leaves Athens and comes to Corinth (Acts 18:1), where Silas and Timothy join him again (Acts 18:5). Besides, Timothy had news about the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 3:6).

To Paul it is a great comfort when he hears the good news about them from Timothy for which he give thanks to God. Servants are not made of stone; they do have feelings. Paul is refreshed by the news. Timothy’s report also makes it clear that certain issues need to be addressed. Paul doesn’t want to wait for another opportunity to visit them. No, he writes this letter immediately after he has heard the good news. Therefore we have, just like the Christians through the ages, a document of invaluable value at our disposal.

You may consider Paul’s letters to the different churches to be means by which the apostle watched over his work. Each letter has its own character, which is in agreement with the state of the church he writes to. God has used this to record what would be necessary for the church as a whole through the ages.

The two letters that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians are the first ones he wrote. The first letter to them was written as a complementary to what he had already orally passed on to them. In that way he provided in what was lacking in their knowledge. His second letter was necessary because false teachings arose concerning the coming of Christ. When they would open themselves up to these false teachings they would seriously undermine their faith and that would lead to disgraceful practices. Therefore his second letter is corrective in character. He exposes the false teachings to prevent them from suffering shipwreck concerning their faith.

The central theme in both letters is the return of Christ, though not only as a formal doctrine. Christ’s return is connected to all spiritual and natural relationships in which we find ourselves. It is expressed in all circumstances in the life of the Christian.

Each of the five chapters of the first letter ends with a reference to that coming, though every time from a different aspect:
1. In chapter 1 the expectation of that coming is also the goal of our conversion (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
2. The end of chapter 2 refers to the coming of Christ as the event in which the believers will see the fruits of their work (1 Thessalonians 2:19).
3. Chapter 3 concludes with His coming in connection with the holiness which will then be seen in all its real value (1 Thessalonians 3:13).
4. In the last part of chapter 4 the coming of Christ is presented as comfort for believers who had to bury loved ones (1 Thessalonians 4:13-Job :).
5. In the conclusion of chapter 5 the coming of Christ is connected to the unexpected judgment that the world will meet – as the first part of that chapter describes – and the sanctifying effect that it should have on the believer (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

We now go back briefly to the first acquaintance of Paul with the Thessalonians. In Luke’s account of it in Acts 17:1-2 Samuel : he describes vividly what that was like. He also mentions details regarding Paul’s preaching and how it was received.

According to his custom Paul first goes to a synagogue because he wants to preach the gospel to his ‘brethren after the flesh’ first. He converses with them starting from familiar Scriptures. On that basis he explains and shows that Jesus is the Christ, Who had to suffer and rise again from the dead. Some of them are convinced. Also among the Gentiles people come to faith. But that does not please satan. He succeeds by inciting Jews and wicked men to cause an uproar.

A procession starts to the house of Jason, who apparently had provided accommodation to Paul and Silas. When the crowd doesn’t find them there, Jason has to pay the price. Jason and some other brethren are dragged to the city council. A twofold charge was brought, namely: the people Jason has given accommodation to, cause turmoil in the whole world, and they preach another King than the emperor, namely Jesus (Acts 17:6-Judges :).

As has often happened in the history of Christendom, also here the charge is in fact a compliment to the Christians who are not ashamed for the gospel. A clear testimony concerning the Lord Jesus causes turmoil. People do not like to be confronted with their sinfulness, even if this is done to have them confess that they may be saved.

Also the preaching of Christ Who is glorified in heaven, is an offense and an annoyance. You only have to tell the people around you that you have submitted your life to the authority of the Lord Jesus. Tell that the power is not in the hands of the world leaders, but that all power in heaven and on earth has been given by God into the hands of Him Who is despised and murdered by the world. Tell, like the Thessalonians, that you have converted and that you want to live for Him and under his commandments. That’s what the world responds to.

The Thessalonians have, imitating what the Lord Jesus did before Pilate, witnessed the good confession (1 Timothy 6:13). The Lord Jesus witnessed before Pilate that His kingdom was now not of this world (John 18:36). His kingdom is still to come. He will establish it at His return. And that is what the Thessalonians confessed. The true hope of everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord – and thereby confesses to be a subject of that Lord – is focused on the return of Christ to establish His kingdom.

All these things are not only for the advanced believers. The Thessalonians were newly converted. With them you see the youthful freshness of a living faith that in all circumstances counts on God. It is something that makes one jealous. Their example is embarrassing and encouraging at the same time.

Greeting, Blessing and Giving Thanks

1 Thessalonians 1:1.This letter does not come from Paul alone. Silvanus and Timothy are co-senders. This is quite understandable, for they have laid the foundation of the church in Thessalonica together with him. Don’t you think that the Thessalonians, while reading these three names, felt great thankfulness rise in their hearts? These were the men who brought them the gospel by which they got to know the Lord Jesus. The enormous change that it has brought about is presented in this letter in an appealing and therefore vibrant way.

Paul must have been very grateful for the support of these two men. Silvanus – that is how Paul calls him in his letters; in Acts Luke calls him Silas – was a faithful brother who accompanied Paul during his second missionary journey. He came from the church at Jerusalem, where he was a leader and a prophet (Acts 15:22; Acts 15:27Acts 15:32). Paul finds in the young Timothy a companion to whom he was very attached (Philippians 2:20-Song of Solomon :). Here you see how older believers beautifully go together with a young, dedicated believer. There was no generation gap between them.

Notice that Paul introduces himself only by his name. That is remarkable, considering that in the other letters he presents himself as an apostle. In this letter he does not. This is because he writes this letter to a newly started church. In chapter 2 you will see how he compares himself to a mother and a father. That attitude is much more appropriate for someone who addresses babies in faith, than the formal approach of an apostle.

There is something else remarkable in the greeting. The word “church” means ‘the called-out ones’. In their case the point is that they were called out from the pagan idolatry. Those who form the church of the living God have indeed been ‘called out’ from the world, but surely not to live in a vacuum. Therefore the church in Thessalonica is addressed as “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. That is unique. This way of addressing appears only one more time in the second letter to the same church. This also fits with the ‘target audience’. The senders want to let this young church feel that they are a companionship of believers that is safe in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This means a great encouragement. What a privilege to be allowed to call God your Father! That is because they have been born of God and possess the Son as their life. When they become fully aware of this, it may be of great comfort to them amid all the oppression in which they find themselves. Additionally they all have the same relation to the Lord Jesus. He is mentioned here with His full name. He is the humiliated Man Jesus, but He is also the Anointed (that is the meaning of the name Christ) of God Whom God made Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

It does not say ‘in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus’. The word ‘in’ is written here only once. Therefore God the Father and the Lord Jesus are closely connected together. Being ‘in’ God can never be without the Lord Jesus. It points to a certain sphere of life in which we dwell as in a certain space. It also indicates an intimate relationship. That relationship can only be experienced and sustained by the Holy Spirit Who is also regularly referred to in this letter (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:61 Thessalonians 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:19).

This is no question of fake mysticism as if there would be a kind of entering into the Godhead. Being ‘in’ is not the result of human effort. It is a Divine gift. They did not become a (local) church by an official permission of people from another church, but simply because God had called them out of the world to be one.

In order to give substance to that it is a blessing to know that you, together with your brothers and sisters of the local church, are in Divine Persons. The Thessalonians – and we too – can be sure that they have been received and hidden in an atmosphere of Divine love, care and power. I think that this is beautifully reflected in Isaiah 40 (Isaiah 40:11).

The writers close the salutation with the blessing “grace to you and peace”. It is the wish that the Thessalonians will experience grace and peace in their lives. It is a great grace to be assured that you have been saved from hell and that you are a child of God. But here it is about noticing the grace of God in your daily life; that that grace is enough for you in all circumstances, also in the very tough ones (2 Corinthians 12:9). If that is the case, you will have peace in your heart, even in the hardships you have to endure and which you sometimes do not understand.

It is an actual awareness of standing in the full grace of God (Romans 5:2), with peace as its fruit. Then you can say to yourself: ‘In whatever way God leads me, I will have peace in it.’

1 Thessalonians 1:2. It must have been also an encouragement for the Thessalonians to hear that Paul and his companions always give thanks for all of them. That means that they regularly go to God in prayer and give Him thanks for what He has worked in the Thessalonians. Giving thanks is: giving glory and honor to God. It is a lofty form of answering to God. It is an appreciation of the blessings that have been given to us and the appreciation of Him Who blesses. When Paul gives thanks for them, he regards them as a gift of God. How do you regard your fellow believers?

Thankfulness is a disposition of the believer. It is not an inferior activity. In Luke 17, only one of the ten cleansed lepers returns to give thanks to the Lord Jesus (Luke 17:15). The Lord says about him that he gave glory to God. Ungratefulness is one of the characteristics of the last days (2 Timothy 3:1-Exodus :). Giving thanks puts you in the right position before God to be able to pray. Otherwise prayer becomes the visit to the complaints office and can even be misused to accuse fellow believers before God.

Despite many worries, Paul could always give thanks for them. He is not selective at this point, but he gives thanks for all of them. He is also not vague but he mentions concrete points for which he can give thanks. Here he gives thanks for the way they practiced their faith. In chapter 2 he even gives thanks without ceasing that they received the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). In chapter 3 it is as if he is searching for words to tell God about the joy they brought him by what he saw with them and heard of them (1 Thessalonians 3:9). There is always something for which he can give thanks. He does so always, without ceasing.

Giving thanks and prayer belong together (Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:3-Numbers :). After thanksgiving comes praying. Giving thanks together and praying together creates a strong bond between those who pray together as well as between those who pray and those who are being prayed for. Its power is often underestimated, which is why prayer meetings are so poorly attended. Therefore the result is that not much is being achieved concerning God's work in a needy world and in churches that fall prey to the world.

When you read this from Paul and his companions, it may seem that they did not travel that much since they were always on their knees (1 Thessalonians 3:10). Isn’t it true that we are more in action than on our knees? That can change, but you must be willing to make the effort, that is: it requires willingness from your side. You can start practicing by saying good things of your fellow brothers and sisters to the Lord. After that you can tell Him about what you find hard about them. It will make your prayer life richer and the Lord will use it to glorify His Name.

Now read Thessalonians 1:1-2 again.

Reflection: What shows the loving way in which the senders approach these young believers?

Verses 3-4

Faith, Love, Hope and Election

1 Thessalonians 1:3. When Paul gives thanks and prays for the Thessalonians, he is constantly reminded of the way in which they work out their lives as Christians. Their conduct shows that they are no opportunists, but Christians in the true sense of the word: those who belong to Christ.

The three major principles that give Christendom its real content are to be seen at full strength among the Thessalonians. It is the results of a genuine conversion. Not counterfeited, not pretended, but pure. Hence you notice so much freshness in their mental state. It really is something to be jealous of. And that's not a wrong jealousy.

Let’s have a closer look at the three things that are typical for Christendom, and consequently also for you and me. You find them in 1 Thessalonians 1:3. They are “faith”, “love” and “hope”. These are the sources, the motives of Christendom in the world. They are not to be found in any other religion. These three things form our character as Christians.

Now you cannot see faith, love and hope. However, they can be made visible. And that is what the Thessalonians do. Therefore you read here about “your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope”. Faith is shown by works, love is shown by efforts made and hope is shown by perseverance. “Work” and “labor” and “steadfastness” have to do with the outside, with what is visible; faith, love and hope have to do with the inside, which is not visible.

Work and labor look very similar, but each of these words really has a different meaning. Work is related to ‘faith’. Faith focuses on what is not seen. A work of faith is a work that comes from what is not seen. Faith characterizes the spiritual condition that leads to that work. This work you see for instance in all the examples presented in Hebrews 11 and in the two examples in James 2 (James 2:21-Lamentations :).

‘Labor’ is work, but with the characteristic that it is very intensive work. There is great effort attached to it, even to the edge of exhaustion. For labor ‘love’ is needed, because only love is willing to make great effort and great sacrifices. ‘Labor of love’ is not a matter of feeling. It is a strain, an effort and care for others. Love gives itself. The Thessalonians showed that they possessed Divine love, which is a giving love.

‘To persevere’ is to carry on even under the greatest trials and sufferings. An unbeliever can persevere by giving himself a pep talk or by seeing the necessity of something. That has nothing to do with biblical hope. Biblical hope is also not to be found in stoically saying: ‘You can only hope for the best.’ Biblical hope is always a well-founded hope, a certainty; because it is based on God’s Word and focused on a Divine Person.

For the Thessalonians the motive of the perseverance lay in the hope that the Lord Jesus will return. That may also be the case for you and me. Just to be clear: hope is called hope because it has not yet been fulfilled, not because it is not certain.

Therefore ‘hope’ brings forth ‘perseverance’ as its fruit. What is inward brings forth fruit. In that way faith produces work and love produces labor. The one cannot exist without the other. Without the inner motives there will be no fruit. But the other way around is possible. Then there is activity, but it does not come from what God has worked. But then it is not good.

You see that in Revelation 2 (Revelation 2:2). The Lord Jesus in His judgment of the church in Ephesus speaks to them only of “your deeds” (or: works), “and your toil” (or: labor), “and perseverance” (or: steadfastness). Concerning ‘faith, love and hope’ he says nothing. He Who knows the deepest motives of every man, notes that the Ephesians only cared about the appearance, the observable activities. The Christian motivation was lacking. They had left their first love. Therefore it had no value to the Lord and He appeals to them to repent and to do their first works (Revelation 2:5).

The three sources that form our character as Christians are not isolated. They need an object on which they focus. Therefore immediately the Son and the Father are mentioned again after that. Perseverance in the hope only makes sense when the Lord Jesus is the object of that hope. Your heart rests in Him and expects Him. In Him is the source of all blessing for your soul. From Him you receive strength and in Him you will find what nourishes the spiritual life.

It says also “in the presence of our God and Father”. That places your work, your labor and your steadfastness in the presence of God. Why is that important? Because then the exercise of your conscience takes place. If you live consciously in the presence of God, you think about what you want to do or say. You wonder whether in your plans the three different characteristics of your life as a Christian may become visible.

If you get anxious of the thought that God sees you always and everywhere, you may ask yourself why that happens. Do you still want to do something which you know would grieve Him? And if you sincerely do not want to grieve Him, but you are still afraid of him, remember that God is your Father.

That Paul is referring here to these two Persons of the Godhead, is intended as a support for arranging your life as a Christian. He does point to the Lord Jesus to give you confidence that He is coming soon so that you can be calm in the circumstances. He does point to God our Father in order that you are preserved with good conscience in the light.

Both are of great importance for a lasting peace in your heart and the growth of your faith life. You could say that the two blessings are representing the two sides of the Christian life: living by faith in the Lord Jesus and being able to give account to God for everything you do.

1 Thessalonians 1:4. Paul can list all those wonderful things of the Thessalonians in his giving thanks to God and in his prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2) because he knows they have been “elected”. Should he have had insight into the records of God and seen their names listed there? No, of course not. Nevertheless he knows that they are elected. How is that possible? Because he sees their way of life.

The word “knowing” indicates that this knowledge is not the result of revelation or intuition, but of observation, of seeing and hearing. Even of your election there is no other evidence than your life as a Christian. Whoever is elected, is showing in his life the life of Christ, and will strive for having a conscience without offense toward God and men (Acts 24:16).

The three major principles of Christendom, faith, hope and love, that are active among the Thessalonians, give proof of their election. Faith, love and hope are the result of God’s election. Election itself can be called a ‘family secret’. It has been an intention of God to adopt certain people, elected by Him, to make them to become His children and to include them in His family circle. That you and I may belong there is pure grace. Only if you belong to the family, you can see that.

Therefore the sinner has nothing to do with this family secret. To him the call is to repent. It is important not to mix these two – the grace of God and the responsibility of the sinner– but to differentiate them.

The lives of the Thessalonians are overflowing with what they have found in Christ. It is therefore no wonder that Paul could say that they were “brethren beloved by God”. God must have looked with special feelings of love at them, because in their lives so much was visible of His Son. Don’t you also long for Him to look at you like that with such feelings?

Now read 1 Thessalonians1:3-4 again.

Reflection: What did Paul and his companions see with the Thessalonians for which they could give thanks and pray?

Verses 5-8

Followers and Examples

1 Thessalonians 1:5. You have seen in the previous part that with the Thessalonians the evidence of the new life was manifested impressively. To Paul it was unmistakable that people who live in such a way, are children of God. It provided him the clear evidence that they were elected. Paul will now justify that determination. That’s why he starts with the word “for”, i.e. now comes an explanation on the previous statement.

What the Thessalonians revealed in their lives of faith was not due to a training where they learned how you could live as a Christian. No, the gospel had come to them, not with mushy talks like it is often preached today. In such a preaching you hear nothing about repentance and confession of sins before God. ‘That only drives people away’, is what they say. The purpose of that kind of preaching is to adopt a Christian pattern of behavior which gives you added value and enables you to become successful, better than the people around you. Words are then a big box of tricks out of which you can present what people like to hear. But that is not what Paul has taught them.

He of course has used words to preach the gospel. Yet he did not do it as if it were a friendly offering that could be accepted or refused at will. Convinced as he was of the seriousness of the preaching, he preached powerfully. The power of his preaching has nothing to do with his vocal tone, producing a considerable amount of decibels. The power has also nothing to do with miracles which he might have done. That is absolutely not the case here. No, he preached in the consciousness of God's power, the power of the Holy Spirit. Only through Him hearts can be convicted. It goes even beyond that. The Holy Spirit could work through them so fully that Paul and his companions preached “with full conviction” without a shadow of doubt.

And notice that he does not say ‘how we have preached among you’, but “what kind of men we proved to be among you”. He also points to his life that they had seen when he was with them. His life and teachings form a whole. His life supported his preaching. What he preached to others, he achieved in practice himself. In all that, he did not seek his own interests, but the interests of the Thessalonians – he did it for their sake.

1 Thessalonians 1:6 The effect of a preaching that is so full of assurance and that is performed by people who are fully committed themselves, is considerable. They had “received the Word” and that “with much tribulation”. In the parable of the sower the Lord Jesus tells about someone “who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy”. The Lord explains that such ‘seed’ has no root and that with the very first adversity this ‘believer’ quits (Matthew 13:20-Ecclesiastes :). That was quite different with the Thessalonians. The effect on them was not ambiguous. You did not need to wonder whether they were truly converted.

There are some remarkable effects that are noticeable. First, they have become “imitators” of the preachers and of the Lord. Newly converted people first see the preacher and through him they see the Lord Who is being preached. In Acts 3 you see an illustration of that. There Peter says, with John, to the lame: “Look at us” (Acts 3:4). Then the healed lame man entered with them into the temple (Acts 3:8). And some verses further it says that “he was clinging to Peter and John” in going into the temple (Acts 3:11).

In order for you to know how to live as a Christian you must orientate yourself. You need someone as an example. It is the same as with learning in physical growth. A child learns to walk and talk by imitating. A good model or example is therefore of great importance. Do you also have good examples? Go after them, whether in your environment or in biographies of people who consistently have followed the Lord Jesus.

If there is a healthy spiritual growth, the preacher will more and more disappear out of the picture whereas the Lord gets more and more attention. The preacher will never point to himself, unless he can refer directly to the Lord Jesus Himself (1 Corinthians 11:1). The preacher will never want to tie people to himself and want to make them dependent on him. The preacher is just a man who can also go wrong.

The Thessalonians know what they have let themselves in for. They have received the Word while great pressure was exerted on them. I am afraid that many Christians in our part of the world have no understanding of that and therefore achieve so little of a life full of devotion to Christ. Instead of succumbing to the pressure and picking up their old life, the Thessalonians had experienced the “joy of the Holy Spirit”. You see here that external oppression and inner joy go together. These things cannot be explained well. That is something you have to experience. Have you ever experienced that joy?

1 Thessalonians 1:7. They therefore became an example themselves for all other believers in a wide surrounding area, after they had received the Word and became followers. Besides, the word “example” is written in the singular. That seems to indicate that the Thessalonians were not so much individual examples, but that they were an example as church. If you looked at them, if you looked at their whole church life, regarding their conduct and confession, their way of dealing with each other and their attitude towards the world, then you could have seen what being a Christian really meant.

Being an example for other believers implies that other believers have yet to learn new things or to unlearn unwanted things. But Paul did not have to write about that to the other believers. What the Thessalonians were reflecting, said enough.

I must admit that I am jealous of that. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the local church to which you and I belong had such an image? But I think we can recognize ourselves more in “all the believers in Macedonia” to whom the Thessalonians were held as an example, than in the church of the Thessalonians. Let the example be a spur for you and me to live our lives as Christians just like the Thessalonians did.

1 Thessalonians 1:8. The word “for” at the beginning of 1 Thessalonians 1:8 shows in what way they had become examples. The Thessalonians did not withdraw themselves in isolation to enjoy only for themselves what they had received. After they were convicted by the power of “the Word of the Lord”, they trumpeted the same Word forth. That is the meaning of “sounded forth”.

The Word of the Lord (and not their own opinion about it) has done its work in their lives. There is an expression that it is applied to people who speak about the gospel but do not live accordingly in practice: your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say. With the Thessalonians it was different. Their actions spoke so loudly that everyone could hear the gospel of the Lord.

I would like to conclude this part with a word about “the word”. This is already the third time that we hear about ‘the word’. In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 it is about the word of the gospel, i.e. the content. In 1 Thessalonians 1:6 it is the Word that has been accepted, which caused their lives to be changed and made resistant to any pressure. Here, in 1 Thessalonians 1:8, it is “the word of the Lord”. That puts the emphasis on the origin. Because of the addition 'of the Lord’ ‘the Word’ also points to the authority of Him Who is its source (see also Acts 15:36). You will also encounter other additions, for example: the Word of God (2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:2), the Word of His grace (Acts 14:3; Acts 20:32), the Word of life (Philippians 2:16) and the Word of faith (Romans 10:8).

We live in a time of words. Words bring revolutions in countries and histories. We have been granted the privilege to possess a Word that is more powerful than any human word. It is a Word that works powerfully. It is a Word of life. Therefore: Read the Word and live accordingly!

Now read Thessalonians 1:5-8 again.

Reflection: Can it be said of you that you have become a follower of Paul and of the Lord?

Verses 9-10

Turned to God, Serve and Wait

1 Thessalonians 1:9. 1 Thessalonians 1:9 also starts with the word “for”. Then the explanation follows of the fact that Paul and his companions did not have to say anything to others of the faith of the Thessalonians. The whole area knows all about it. When you observe such Christendom, it need not be emphasized by words. Good wine needs no bush, so to speak. Paul could refer to it and did not need to say anything else.

What has happened to the Thessalonians can be seen by everyone. They have no pious talk about their faith in God, but they show in their lives that they have been radically changed in their direction. Instead of focusing on idols and putting their trust in them, they now believe in God and put their trust in Him.

It must have made him very happy to be able to write in this way to and about these young believers. He does not need to tell others about them. It is already known. Those others know exactly how the gospel that Paul has preached has found entry with the Thessalonians.

That entry also has got a way out. In their lives it is evident that a radical reversal has occurred. Everyone has noticed how much these people have changed. They are dealing with people who have given up idolatry and now are worshiping the only true and living God. They no longer live as slaves to their desires and greed, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5)

The word ‘idol’ means ‘a thing of nothing’. In a speech at Lystra Paul says to his audience that they should repent of the ‘useless things’ – which are their idols – to the living God (Acts 14:15). Once you are converted, you know that an idol means nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4). But only when you are converted you become aware – for before that time you were blind to see that – that honor given to an idol, was in fact brought to demons (1 Corinthians 10:19-Proverbs :). John concludes his first letter with a warning concerning idols. In the context of his letter it becomes clear what an idol is: an idol is everything that takes the place of the Lord Jesus as the true God and the eternal life (1 John 5:20-Ecclesiastes :).

The Thessalonians have abandoned idolatry. But it is not sufficient to do away with something. Something else has to be put in its place. That ‘something else’ must be God; otherwise you go from bad to worse. Repentance does not stand in itself. Repentance has a purpose and that is to serve the living and true God. Therefore the conclusion is not only repenting of, but also converting to.

But what exactly is ‘conversion’? It’s not just a change of mind about certain things. It is also not a change in your behavior. Conversion is that you honestly say to God that you have sinned. That is called: confessing your sins. You also acknowledge that what is within you, in your heart, is not right. You will have to mention your sins by name and ask forgiveness to God and also to him or her to whom you, for example, have lied. You agree therefore with conviction that you are indeed not to be trusted. You realize that you deserve the punishment of God because of those sins. You realize that it would be righteous if God threw you into hell for your sins.

Therefore conversion is not a superficial matter, but a profound work. It is not about your feelings, but rather about your conscience. That has to come into the light of God. You could say that conversion is: going to God, in order to condemn yourself before Him. It also implies that you confess before Him that you have not been obedient to Him up to that moment and that due to that, your life was thoroughly wrong. You will also show remorse for having lived such a life.

‘To be remorseful’ is inextricably connected to conversion. It has got nothing to do with a shallow expression of regret. With real remorse, something in the inside has happened; an inward change has taken place. You have been totally changed in your thinking about yourself and about God. You may have done very well in your own eyes in the past. That has been ended with your conversion: with a remorseful heart you condemn yourself. In the past you had your own thoughts about God and you therefore so to speak, bended Him to your own advantage. With remorse that has been ended: with remorse you acknowledge Him in His full righteousness. Whoever repents does not live his life anymore with his back turned on God, but on the contrary, he has turned himself to God. This is what happened to the Thessalonians.

The proofs of a real conversion are for example that you love the Lord Jesus, that you desire to know Him better, that you have the need to pray and to read in the Bible and that you want to talk about Him with others who do not know Him yet. The love for the Lord Jesus is seen in the obedience of His Word.

Of the Thessalonians it is said that the proof of their conversion is that they served God. The word that is used here for ‘serve’, means to serve as a slave. That implies the unconditional fulfillment of all obligations that go with the life of a Christian. It means: doing everything that God says, any time that it is required. The control over everything that you are and have and over every minute of your life, lies with God.

At your conversion you delivered yourself to Him and with much delight, for God is absolutely different from the idols. Those are dead idols (Psalms 135:15-Job :), while God is the “living” God. He is also the “true” God. Everything that He says is true, while the demons that make use of idols, are deceitful. Think about greed. Advertising relies cunningly on that. The intention is to fool you that a life without the advertised product is just pitiful. This is how they stimulate your desire for it. Your greed must be fulfilled. Once you’ve purchased the desired product, you often notice that you’ve been deceived.

God alone gives in a way that does not disappoint. He wants to give you everything you need to serve Him. He is also truthful in everything that He has said. You can fully count on Him. In an appealing comparison Jeremiah puts God and the idols against one another (Jeremiah 10:1-Nehemiah :).

1 Thessalonians 1:10. You have therefore totally abandoned your past, you have turned your back on the idols. In the present you enjoy the privilege to serve the living and true God. Besides that, you still have the future. That also looks wonderful. Instead of fear for the future and the wrath to come over the world, you are looking forward to the coming of the Son of God.

Serving God and waiting for His Son is the twofold purpose of conversion. They belong together inextricably. When you lose sight of the coming of the Son of God, it has disastrous consequences for the testimony of the Christians. The Lord Jesus speaks about it in a parable (Matthew 24:48-Ephesians :). He says that whoever forgets His coming or puts it in the far future, will start with beating his fellow servants and with eating and drinking with the drunks. You see that they on the one hand start to beat the ones whom they should go together with and on the other hand they go together with those they had to remain separated from. Whosoever does not wait for Him daily, will start to live for himself.

Isn’t it great to look forward to the coming of the Lord? It is all about Him Who entered death for your sake and Who was raised by God. That is the very reason why you have received a living hope: the prospect of a new heaven and a new earth (1 Peter 1:3; 2 Peter 3:13). After His resurrection He was received up into heaven (Mark 16:19; Hebrews 9:24). There He occupies the place of the highest authority (1 Peter 3:22). From there He will surely return to claim His right to the earth (Psalms 2:8).

He will do that as “Jesus”, as He is called here. This is the Name that refers to His life in humiliation on earth. That Name will be terror for the world. That Name is full of love and glory for you and me. It is Him Whom we are waiting for from heaven (Philippians 3:20) to take us up to be with Him. That is the guarantee that we shall be saved before God’s wrath will strike the earth (Revelation 3:10). What a great prospect!

Now read 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 again.

Reflection: What have you been converted from, how do you serve God? How does the thought of the coming of the Son of God affect you?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Thessalonians 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-thessalonians-1.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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