1 Thessalonians 1

They were not formally incorporated as "a church." Had some ceremony been usual the sudden and violent ending of Paul's work in their midst would have precluded it. No, they became the church, that is, the "called-out-ones," of God by the very act of God in calling them out of the world through the Gospel. The Apostle can own them, young converts though they were, as an assembly of God, gathered in the happy knowledge of God as Father, and in subjection to Jesus as their Lord. To know the Father is the characteristic feature of the babe in Christ, according to 1 John 2: 13. To acknowledge Jesus as Lord is the way into salvation, according to Romans 10: 9, 10.

Paul looked back with much thankfulness to his brief sojourn in their midst, and now absent from them he remembered them continually in prayer. From verse 3 to the end of the chapter he recounts that which he had seen in them of the working of the power of God, and thus there is furnished for us a striking picture of the wonderful effects produced in character and in life when men are soundly converted.

It is worthy of note that the first place is given to the character that was produced IN them, a character summed up in three words, faith, hope, love. Character however can only be discerned by us as it expresses itself in our actions and ways, hence their work and labour and patience (or endurance) are referred to. Their "work of faith" was evident to all, in keeping with that which James writes in his epistle, "I will shew thee my faith by my works." Note that both here and in James 2 the works spoken of are the works of faith, whereas in Romans 4, a chapter erroneously supposed by many to be in conflict with James, the works spoken of are "the works of the law"-an entirely different thing.

If faith comes to light in its works, love is expressed in labour. It is characteristic of love to labour unsparingly for the good of its object, as we all know. Hope too, expresses itself in patient endurance. Only when men become hopeless do they readily give up: they endure as long as hope is like a star shining before their eyes.

These things were clear and distinct in the Thessalonian believers, and led Paul to the confident conclusion that they were amongst the elect of God. It was not that, when he stood up in the synagogue at Thessalonica those three Sabbath days, he could have put a mark on the back of each who would believe before he began to preach, as having private access to the Lamb's book of life and knowing in advance the names of those who were chosen of God. Paul's knowledge was arrived at from the opposite direction. Knowing the powerful way in which the Gospel reached them and the results produced in them by the Spirit of God he had no doubt in his conclusion that they were chosen of God.

In this connection notice the opening words of the Apostle in his first epistle to the Corinthians. In their case he can only thank God that grace had visited them by Christ and that they were a gifted people. The possession of gift does not however of necessity mean that its possessor is a true believer, as witness the case of Judas Iscariot. Hence the searching words of warning he utters in the latter part of his ninth and the opening of his tenth chapter. To them he spoke of being "a castaway," because of the element of doubt there was in his mind as to some of them, in spite of their gifts. The Thessalonians were in happy contrast to this.

There are "things that accompany salvation" (Heb. 6: 9), and the "labour of love" is specified directly after as one of them. In our passage three things are mentioned and the labour of love is one of them. No gifts may be manifested, but if these things are present we can be sure that salvation is possessed, and that the people in question are the elect of God.

If verse 3 gives us the fruit produced in these believers and verse 4 the Apostle's confidence on beholding this fruit, verse 5 indicated the way in which the fruit was produced. Firstly, the Gospel reached them in word: it was boldly preached by Paul. Secondly, his preaching was supported by his devoted and holy life. Thirdly, and largely as a consequence, the Gospel came in power and in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit wrought mightily through the Word. The Apostle alludes in much detail to what manner of man he was amongst them in his second chapter.

The Gospel also came to them "in much assurance." This is very significant when we turn back to Acts 17 and note that the particular form that Paul's preaching took in their city was that of reasoning with them out of the Scriptures; showing them that when the true Christ of God appeared He must die and rise again, and that these predictions had been so perfectly fulfilled in Jesus that the conclusion was irresistible-Jesus is the Christ! In other words, amongst these people he had very specially based his gospel proclamation and appeal upon THE WORD OF GOD; hence the MUCH ASSURANCE in the converts.

Let us take good note of this. If an Apostle, able himself to give forth inspired utterances, appealed to the Scriptures with such solid and lasting result, we, who have only the Scripture to appeal to, may well make it the basis of all we preach. "Preach the Word," is the great word for us. There is no assurance outside it. The preacher may persuade us that things are as he states, upon the strength of his personal assurances. The converts may tell us that they have every assurance because of the happy feelings that they experience. But there is as little real assurance in the one as in the other. We can only really be assured of anything as we have the Word of God for it.

In verses 6-8 we find what the Gospel made of these who received it. We saw in the first place the three-fold character it produced in them. Now we see the three-fold character it stamped UPON them. They had been made into "followers . . . of the Lord," "ensamples [or patterns] to all that believe," and they "sounded out," like trumpeters or heralds, thus advertizing the Word of the Lord.

Paul himself was a pattern man (see, 1 Tim. 1: 16), hence he could rightly ask believers to follow him. Even so, it was only because of the fact that he followed Christ; so that it was indeed the Lord whom they followed. In this connection it is recorded that, though they now followed with joy begotten of the Holy Spirit, they had first known the power of the Word piercing into the conscience and producing repentance toward God with its accompanying affliction of heart. It is ever thus. The deeper the work of repentance the brighter the joy and the more sincere the discipleship of the convert. Let those who preach the Word aim at a deep work in heart and conscience rather than at showy and superficial results and they will not fail of their reward in the day of Christ.

Following the Lord comes first; it was because of their discipleship that they became examples to their fellow-believers in surrounding provinces. Paul could point to them and say, "That is the kind of thing that the grace of God produces where it is received as the fruit of a deep work of repentance towards God." This is indicated by the words, "so that," at the beginning of verse 7. The little word "for" which opens verse 8 shows us that what follows is also connected with this matter. Their evangelistic fervour also made them an example to others. They not only received the Word to their own blessing but they sounded it forth to others, so much so that their faith in God became notorious not only in the nearer districts but further afield. The whole work of God was so effectually advertized by its wonderful effects in these people that there was no need for the Apostle himself to say a word.

Nothing so effectually advertizes the Gospel as the transformed lives of those who have received it. This fact has been often noted by careful observers, but here we find that Scripture itself recognizes it. Conversely nothing so effectually stultifies the proclamation of the Gospel as breakdown and sin on the part of those who profess to have believed it. In the light of this, and of the sad conditions prevailing in the Christianized nations, can we wonder that the evangelist in these lands finds himself confronted by hard and difficult conditions today? May God give help to each one of us so that our lives may tell in favour of the Gospel and not against it.

In the closing verses we find a third thing. Not now the character wrought in them, nor the features stamped upon them, but that which was being done BY them. Their conversion was in view of service to God and patient waiting for Christ.

"Ye turned to God from idols." Here we have a Scriptural definition of conversion, which is not only a turning, but a turning to God and consequently from idols. Idols are not only the ugly images venerated and feared by the heathen, but also anything, whether elegant or ugly, which usurps in the heart of man that place of supremacy and dominance which belongs of right to God alone. Idols are before the face of every fallen sinner, charming his heart, and God is behind his back. Conversion takes place and lo, God is before his face and idols are behind his back!

Converted to God our lives are to be now spent in His service. Has it ever occurred to you what an extraordinary favour it is, and what a tribute to the power of the Gospel, that we should be permitted to serve Him at all? An earnest worker in a slum district notices very definite signs of repentance in one of the worst occupants of a thieves' kitchen one Sunday evening. He very greatly rejoices, though with trembling. Yes, but how would he feel if early on Monday morning the poor thing arrived on his doorstep and with many tears avowed her thankfulness for the blessing

received and announced her desire to express her gratitude by entering his service-cooking his meals and dusting his house? Stamped upon her he sees disease, dirt, degradation and, until yesterday, drink. What would he say? What would you say?

We have not overdrawn the picture. What we were morally and spiritually just answered to the case supposed. And yet we have been brought into the service of the thrice-holy God as redeemed and born again. But then how mighty must be the moral renovation which the Gospel effects! And even so, remembering that we still have the flesh in us and are consequently very liable to sin, how great a favour it is that we should be taken into the high and holy service of God. We are actually permitted to serve His interests, His purposes and plans made before the world began. If we realized this there would be no desire to shirk His work. We should eagerly and joyfully run to fulfil it.

While we serve we wait. We are saved in hope of the fulness of blessing which is yet to be introduced. We are not left to await death, which is our departure to be with Christ, but to await His coming for us. We await God's Son from the heavens. This is as far as the Apostle goes for the moment: when we reach 1 Thess. 4 we shall find disclosed what is involved in this statement.

However we will not anticipate; for the moment we will only note that it is God's Son who is coming, that He is coming from the heavens where now He is seated, and that His name is Jesus, whom we know as our Deliverer from the coming wrath. The verb is not in the past tense-"delivered"-as in our Authorised Version. It is rather, "Jesus, who delivers us" or "Jesus, our Deliverer." The point is that Jesus who is coming from heaven will deliver us from the wrath that is coming.

Again and again in both Testaments the word wrath is used to denote the heavy judgments of God which are coming upon this earth. We do not for one moment deny that in several New Testament passages the meaning of the word is enlarged to take in the penal judgment of God which stretches out into and embraces eternity. Still the main use of the word is as we have indicated, as may be seen if the book of Revelation be attentively read. Men and nations are heaping up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath, and the opened eye can see that day of wrath approaching with silent and stealthy tread.

What a joy it is for the believer to know that though wrath is coming Jesus also is coming, and coming as Deliverer! Before wrath swoops like an eagle upon its prey Jesus will come and we shall be delivered out of the very spot where the wrath is going to fall. For the details of this wonderful event we must wait. Meanwhile we can rejoice that the event itself is a glorious certainty and fast approaching.