Christian life and faith. 1:4-10
In these verses, Paul continues his thanksgiving to God for the Thessalonian church. He began by thanking God for them in v2, and now he continues by thanking God for the wonderful way they responded to the preaching of the gospel.
v4. Addressing the Thessalonians as "brothers" in the Lord, Paul thanks God that they are "chosen" members of God's special people. Note the term "brothers"; it expresses the type of relationship that exists between Christians - we are family. Also note the use of the word "chosen". As Bishop Lightfoot pointed out, the "word was never used in the New Testament in the sense of election to final salvation". The word expresses the Old Testament idea of inclusion in a family, the family of God.
v5. Paul goes on to detail the reasons why the Thessalonians are indeed members of God's special family. First, he evidences the subjective experience of the preachers themselves. They felt that their mission in Thessalonica, and in particular their preaching of the gospel, came with an extraordinary dynamic. They weren't just proclaiming words. Paul makes three comments about their preaching: i] The gospel came in power - great power associated with their preaching; ii] The Holy Spirit was present - God was in on the whole thing; iii] They felt a deep conviction - they just knew that God was at work in the situation.
v6-8. Second, Paul evidences the effects on the lives of the Thessalonians themselves: i] "You welcomed the message with joy", v6. Despite severe suffering and opposition, they responded to the gospel with joy, a Spirit inspired joy. This joy was so powerful that it overwhelmed their present troubles, Acts.5:41, 2Cor.7:4, 8:2; ii] They took up the work of evangelism, v7-8. They were a model church community, especially in their work of evangelism. They got the message out, so much so that many people far and wide come to hear and respond to the gospel.
v9-10. Paul makes special note of the Thessalonians' testimony, a testimony which has spread far and wide and which has been reported to Paul: i] The Thessalonian believers spoke openly of how they received the gospel from Paul and his mission team. For them, it was a word from God, - "the Lord's message"; ii] They turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God. As one historian put it, "the attitude of Apostolic Christianity to the Polytheistic world was one of militant hostility." They rejected idols and entered into the service of a God who is living and true. God is a living God in that he is active, unlike the idols who do nothing. God is the creator of all things and orders all things both in heaven and on earth. God is also a true God, a real God, as opposed to false or counterfeit idols. Their service was to a God who exists; iii] They possessed a sustained and fervent expectation of the return of Jesus. They looked forward to the day when they would be rescued from the coming wrath of God. For the New Testament, "the wrath of God" is a notable feature of the coming day of judgment. It is a central part of gospel proclamation and was therefore emphasized in the preaching of the Thessalonian believers.
A model church
As far as Paul is concerned, the Thessalonians are a model church. I wonder how well we fit this model?
I remember some years ago I was with a group of believers who were trying to identify the characteristics of a New Testament church. Somehow the word got around and so we soon had input from a number of Christians who wanted to tell us about their church, since their's was a model church. We do tend to look at the outward features of a church, things like the orders of ministry or congregational rule, liturgy or free-form worship, and the like, but the New Testament model goes more to the heart of the matter. So let's look at some of the factors that make for a model church.
1. The "gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power." Paul's mission in Thessalonica intersected with the will of God and mighty things were beginning to happen. The crucial issue for any church is whether it is aligned to the will of God. Has it placed itself in the centre of God's active intention to establish his kingdom in power?
2. "You became imitators.... of the Lord." For a church community to image a Christ-like life is a mighty thing indeed.
3. "You welcomed the message with... joy." It is a wonderful quality to rejoice in trouble. It is clear that we should possess such a joy, seeking it as a gift of Christ's indwelling Spirit.
4. "The Lord's message rang out from you.... your faith in God has become known everywhere." A model church is devoted to the business of getting the gospel out, undertaking the work of evangelism, not necessarily doing the up-front work, but none-the-less committed to seeing to it that the gospel is communicated in our district and to the ends of the world.
5. "You turned to God from idols." How easily we get sucked into worshipping the idols of this age. How easy it is to get caught up into the materialistic milieu of our times and end up adopting the life-style of success. A model church stands against the ethos of its age.
6. You gave yourself "to serve the living and true God." It is not easy to willingly enter into servitude, yet our Lord asks us to undertake cross-bearing service, to be his servant in this age and the next.
7. You "wait for his Son from heaven." A model church is fervent in its eternal hope, sustained by Christ's return.
1. The members of the mission team sensed the Lord's presence in their mission to the Thessalonians. What did they feel? v.5.
2. The new Christians in Thessalonica found their lives greatly changed. What were the effects of the gospel on their lives? v.6-8.
3. What qualities did the new converts display? v9-10.
4. Discuss the title for Christians given in this passage and whether you think it should be used today.
5. Note the qualities of this "model" church and compare them with those of your own church.
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