Believers are examples to one another of living for God
“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; 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 1:9, 10).
What comes to your mind when you hear the words “teenage driver”? Most likely words such as “risky,” “dangerous,” “reckless,” “accidents,” “tickets,” and “expensive”—as in insurance rates—come to your mind.
Sometime in the annals of driving history, someone sat up and took notice: teen drivers are a high risk. So insurance companies generally assign higher premiums for policies that include teen drivers.
Some state governments, too, noticed teens are high risk drivers, and they made laws to help teens gradually gain more driving experience. Some stipulations for young drivers are (1) required hours of adult supervision while driving, (2) additional training requirements after a crash or ticket, and (3) mandatory driver education. All of these requirements expose the teens to adults who teach them to be safe, conscientious drivers.
As teens prove they are safe drivers, insurance companies will begin to lower their rates. It’s as if the company is saying, “You’ve changed. You’re a more mature driver. You take responsibility, and your parents can now keep more of their money.”
The believers in the church in Thessalonica changed drastically after their salvation, and Paul noticed the changes. He began his letter to the young believers by letting them know he recognized the differences in their lives and liked what he saw.
1. Name someone you know who changed dramatically after he or she was saved.
2. What were some of the changes you noticed in his or her life?
3. What changed most dramatically in your life after you were saved?
Paul began his letter by naming himself, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy as the senders. Actually Silas and Timothy were co-senders who had ministered with Paul in Thessalonica.
Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, which he identified as “in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:1). This means the believers there had a significant relationship to God and Jesus: they were God’s children because they had been born again spiritually.
Paul prayed that the Thessalonians would receive grace and peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ. The request could be paraphrased, “May God be gracious to you and give you peace.” The word order of the prayer, grace before peace, is meaningful, since it is grace that brings peace. As we will learn in our study, the Thessalonians desperately needed both grace and peace because of the persecution they were enduring.
When Paul prayed, he thanked God for the Thessalonians “always” and “without ceasing” (vv. 2, 3). Obviously Paul did not pray for the Thessalonians every waking moment, but he did spend a significant amount of time praying for them. “Without ceasing” was used in the original language to refer to a nagging cough. It takes little to set off a nagging cough and much to constrain it. Similarly, it took little to set Paul to praying for the Thessalonians, and it took much to constrain his praying. He was compelled to pray for the Thessalonians every time he thought about them.
4. If you were a Thessalonian believer, how would you have been affected by Paul’s testimony of praying “without ceasing” for you?
Faith, love, and hope
In his prayers Paul remembered three spiritual qualities that were present in the Thessalonians’ lives (v. 3). The first quality he remembered was their “work of faith.” Paul was not saying that the Thessalonians’ salvation came through, or resulted from, works. Rather he was conveying that the believers’ energetic works resulted from their faith.
5. Read James 2:14–17. What does this passage say about the relationship between faith and works?
The second quality present in the Thessalonians was their “labour,” or hard, demanding work. Paul was emphasizing the effort the Thessalonians put into their service for the Lord.
6. Read 1 Thessalonians 1:3. Why did the Thessalonians put so much effort into serving God? What motivated them?
7. What are some other reasons, good or bad, that believers today might serve the Lord?
The Thessalonians’ labor of love was an evidence of God’s love in their hearts (Romans 5:5). God’s love flowed through them to each other (1 Thessalonians 4:9) and to the lost (3:12). Only true believers have a pure, genuine love for each other and for the lost that expresses itself in determined, hard labor.
The third quality exhibited by the Thessalonians was “patience of hope” (1:3). Under difficult circumstances, they had an enduring constancy produced by their hope in Christ and in the Father. “Hope” means “earnest expectation.” The Thessalonians fully expected Christ to return. What they didn’t know was when He would return. Regardless of their ignorance of the timing, their hope in Christ’s return helped them endure hardships and persecution.
We would expect love, not hope, to be the last virtue that Paul listed (1 Corinthians 13:13). However, in their situation, the Thessalonians most needed hope. The persecution they faced and the false teaching they were trying to combat threatened their hope. Paul knew that without hope in Christ and His imminent return, the Thessalonians would give up their labor and compromise their faith.
8. What would it have meant to the Thessalonians to have Paul commend their faith, love, and hope so early in his letter to them?
Paul was confident that the Thessalonians were believers because of the faith, love, and hope he saw in their lives. He knew that God had elected, or chosen, the Thessalonians to salvation (1 Thessalonians 1:4). The Thessalonians had been persuaded and had believed when they heard Paul’s message, because God was working in them (Acts 17:4). He caused them to respond in faith. The three qualities for which Paul thanked God in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 were the results and evidence of the Thessalonian believers’ election.
The words “brethren beloved” (v. 4) tell us that God was motivated by His love for the Thessalonians when He chose them to be saved. The young Thessalonian believers could have easily thought that getting saved was turning out to be a cruel trick. As believers, they faced persecution and hard labor, while the lives of relative ease they had enjoyed before believing the gospel were no more. God’s love for them and in them helped them endure. Reminding the Thessalonians of this tremendous truth was important for their continued spiritual health as they faced difficult trials.
9. Read Romans 8:35–39. How does this passage encourage those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake?
The word that the missionaries preached came to the Thessalonians in an effective manner (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Their preaching came in word as all preaching did, but not in word only. Paul’s preaching also came with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance.
These three features seem to be related. First, the gospel came with power, or the capacity to accomplish something in the hearers’ lives. The gospel came with this capacity because it was accompanied by the Holy Spirit. Since Paul’s preaching came with a Holy Spirit capacity, Paul was assured of its effectiveness. Paul added that the Thessalonians knew how the missionaries had behaved while they ministered in Thessalonica. Their conduct did not conflict with their preaching.
10. What would have happened to Paul’s testimony in Thessalonica if Paul had started complaining about the hardships he had endured, particularly those he faced in Philippi in the days prior to going to Thessalonica (Acts 16:16–24)?
11. Besides complaining, what other subtle actions can ruin a believer’s testimony?
The Thessalonians had to eventually notice the stripes on Paul’s back, which resulted from the beating he received in Philippi (Acts 16:22, 23). No doubt Paul moved gingerly to avoid the pain his wounds would still be causing him. The Thessalonians would have watched Paul to see if he was going to complain about his wounds. Most certainly he did not. By not complaining, Paul showed his sincerity and underscored the importance and power of his message.
Seeing Paul respond to persecution with joy and humility, the new Thessalonian believers became imitators of him and thereby imitators of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 1:6). In essence, the young believers learned to handle persecution from watching Paul as he imitated Christ.