1 “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. 2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 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; 4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. 5 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.
6 “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost. 7 So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. 9 For they themselves shew 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; 10 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 book was completed by or about 52 AD. Jesus had scarcely been gone back to Heaven for 20 years, and the church at Jerusalem was flourishing and exporting the Gospel via men like Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus. The Roman invasion of 70 AD was still some 20 years away, the Gospel was exported freely, and the churches were popping up everywhere. This church in Thessalonica kind of just popped up, we are told in Acts 17:2; Paul was there preaching for just 3 Sabbaths, about 21 days. There are some scholars who think he was there for a bit longer, maybe 3 months, but nonetheless, whether 3 weeks or 3 months, this church was quick to materialize. And it is obvious that Paul did as much as he could do, but there was more to be done after he left, and this letter was written just a few months after he left.
As with many Greek churches and converts, the idea of idolatry had to be dealt with. People, even many religions today, are accustomed to having some form of statue or idol to focus on. In many ‘churches’ even today, you can see idols that they claim depict Jesus, Peter, Mary, and a host of other Biblical characters. We need to be careful about this, but in our modern Baptist churches, we can be just as idolatrous of the piano, or the architecture of the new building, or whatever is more important than Jesus. We often hear that if we don’t have the youth group or the young adults or the youth program or whatever, we cannot get people to come and stay. All too often, programs can become idols, and we go to a church and seek the program at the risk of doctrine.
This young church was facing persecution already, and Paul wanted to help them to keep their hope up. The Gospel attracts attacks. It is impossible for the devil to stand by and not take on a new local church to see if he can crush it and thwart any expansion ideas that they have. So, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul, now in Corinth, writes this first letter to them to encourage them. And now, almost 2,000 years later, he is encouraging us. Let us take a look at what he had to say to them and now us.
- God sees and knows your situation, verse 2-3
It is easy for us, myself included, to think that God has forgotten us or that God no longer cares for us because of the situation we find ourselves in. Often, these situations are not of our own making; rather, we are in a position that we are unable to fight, and no amount of pleading seems to work. We can’t get out. Paul writes to assure these young Christians that they are being prayed for every day. The situation they are in is being prayed about, and God knows what is happening. He has not abandoned you.
One of the hardest lessons to learn in life is that the vast majority of good things that happen are the fruit of some kind of suffering. It would seem that in the present, we humans are most productive under pressure. This seems to be the case even among the Lord’s churches. When things go well as they have for the past 50+ years here in North America, we see the expansion of churches all across the world. But hand in hand with that is a certain worldliness that has encroached into the local church.
Leisure breeds worldliness in churches, and persecution tends to thin the attendance but purifies the flock. People who are not truly saved rarely stick around for hard times in local churches. Shallow Christians have to make choices either to stay and grow or run and hide. But over the past 2,000 years of the New Testament church, persecution has done more to expand it than thwart it.
God will give us the grace to endure, and if necessary, to die for the cause and name of Jesus. We are to trust Him and stay the course. We are to trust that He knows who we are, where we are, and what we are going through. He has never been surprised, and we can trust His promise to never leave us or forsake us.
- God’s election, verse 4
Knowing our election gives us security in troubled times. Election is such a divisive doctrine in the Lord’s churches today and even back in Paul’s day. There are many who believe that some are born to go to Heaven and others are born to go to Hell. This is the ‘Cole’s Notes version of Calvinism: God made some for Heaven and the rest for Hell. The Gospel is not really Good News to everyone, only to the elect of Christ. To all others, it is just bad news, really. Jesus did not die for you, you are not a part of the ‘whosoever’ in John 3:16, and Jesus is The Way for the elect but not for you.
From the very beginning, one of the defining things about mankind has been the ability to choose. God gave us this. God gave Adam and his wife the ability to choose obedience or not and to suffer the consequences thereof. And, God in His Omniscience promised a plan to redeem man from his bad choices in Genesis 3:15. Choice is the very foundation of Christianity.
Joshua 24:15, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.”
Elijah’s call, “If God be God, serve Him, but if Baal, serve him.”
The three Hebrews boys chose not to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. Daniel chose to pray in Daniel 6. We can go on and on, but the choice is the very foundation of the Gospel. God has chosen the route for one’s salvation that is in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. See Romans 10: 9-10, John 3; 16-18, also John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father except through me [Jesus].” God’s election is about the method of salvation, NOT who gets saved. We have the choice to be saved, but only in Jesus; there is no other way. It is easy in times of persecution to think that maybe we are not saved. Maybe if we were saved, this kind of trouble would not come our way, and we would not be in this kind of hurt. Saved people live lives full of fun, money, no pain, and no suffering.
The devil wants you to think that you are not saved, and maybe if you just got saved again, added to the truth, or do whatever, the pain will go away. But Paul reminded these young Christians to look at the pure Gospel and have confidence in it. Did you place your faith in the person of Jesus? Did you trust His full payment for your sins? Did you trust that He rose from the dead? Then, according to Romans 10: 9-10, you are saved. Hold on; God has you.
Paul reminded them of the power they saw when he was there and that even at the very beginning, there was trouble as the Gospel was changing them (see verses 6-7). Don’t give up now: God has just begun a work in you.
- God is using you to spread the Gospel, verses 8-9
As I mentioned earlier, persecution and external troubles seem to somehow inspire expansion. The Gospel thrives in trouble. I can see that one of the reasons is that there is no fake profession in the midst of death threats. People have to choose Jesus in the midst of understanding that they could die when they choose Him. I think of our brothers and sister in Afghanistan and other places like China and many Muslim countries. They have to choose Jesus in the face of great danger, and they have to know that the choices they make can affect their kids and cause them great damage, loss, and pain.
But these Thessalonian churches or this one church had begun to export the Gospel to Macedonia. These were, for all intents and purposes, baby Christians, but they understood their responsibility to send the Good News of Jesus out to the world around them, and they did it at great personal risk.
When was the last time you shared the Gospel with someone?
I had the privilege of helping a young man ask Jesus to be his Saviour a few months ago, and I try to share the Gospel with those who will listen. But what about you? Are you actively sharing the Gospel? Are you prepared to share the Gospel? Do you have verses memorized, and can you take a person who wants to know on the journey from lost to saved? Christians in Thessalonica could and did in the midst of great persecution. Maybe what we need here in North America to expand the Gospel is persecution.
- God wants you to focus on Jesus, verse 10
I saw a great meme on FB the other day that there are no verses that command us to look for the anti-Christ. We can see the signs and know the times, but we are to focus on Jesus and His return. We are to live ready to meet Jesus. Paul encouraged these young Christians at Thessalonica to keep looking for Jesus. Keep focused on Jesus, and this will carry you through a lot of hard times.
This is not different for us today; Jesus and His return should be the focus that we have in all aspects of life. Do you want to be a better husband? Focus on Jesus’ return. Do you want to be a better dad? Focus on Jesus’ return. Do you want to be a better pastor, friend, worker, servant, and citizen? Focus on Jesus’ return. My family and the church I grew up in believed in the rapture so much that sometimes if my mom and I got separated in the grocery store, I would wonder if she had been raptured and I was left behind. The return of Jesus has been drilled into my psyche since I was a kid. You need to drill it into your kids, your church, and your mind. Jesus is the focus, His return is the focus, and this will carry us through some of the hardest times of life.
God bless you,
Dr. Sean Gooding
Pastor of Mississauga Missionary Baptist Church
PS: I will be away on vacation next week, and there won’t be any Bible study sent out.
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