David reminded us that 1 Thessalonians shows Christians how to live well between the first and second comings of Jesus. First, he posed a challenging question: What are we becoming, as a church?
Although young in the faith, the Thessalonians already have a fine reputation. They are known among other Christians in Greece for their labours in faith, love and endurance. Furthermore, they have become imitators (of the Lord) and a model to other believers.
Identity is vitally important because knowing who you are profoundly affects how you live. Having affirmed the Thessalonians’ identity as the church of God the Father and of Christ, Paul adds two more markers: loved and chosen by God. In the midst of severe persecution, they must remember these truths. While not under-estimating the later problems raised by the doctrine of “election”, David stressed the impact this sense of being chosen would have had on the little group of new Christians. Deuteronomy 7 reveals that the Israelites were chosen simply because God loved them. John Stott clarified this beautifully: “God chose us because He loves us, and He loves us because He loves us. He does not love us because we are lovable, but only because He is love. And with that mystery we must rest content.”
Now, in AD50, non-Israelites form part of the Church. God has loved and chosen them, too, declares Paul. Therefore, for 21st century Christians in Belfast, this is our identity also. This is a powerful word of assurance, comfort, encouragement and hope. Since God has loved and chosen us, David urged us to live accordingly.
However, how can Paul be so certain these Thessalonians are loved and chosen by God? See verses 4 and 5. The gospel has impacted their lives. They have believed it, and their lives have changed. The way it has come to them is described graphically:
This provides a blueprint for the way we share the good news of Jesus with others today – and this is part of living in-between. In Mark’s Gospel, at the end of His earthly ministry Jesus said,
We share it with words, with His power, and with the Holy Spirit. He is the One who convicts and convinces and guides people into all truth. Therefore as Windsor Baptist shares the gospel, we need to pray that it will come not just with words and power but also with the Holy Spirit.
Lastly, the gospel came to the Thessalonians with deep conviction, i.e. with Paul, Silas and Timothy’s complete confidence. Do we have this?
Yet there is another dimension to communicating the gospel. At the end of verse 5 we read:
The lives of these early missionaries validated what they were saying. Another challenge for us!
The next two verses reveal that the new believers were imitators not just of Paul and his friends, but of the Lord Jesus Himself. This is the goal of the Christian life. Those who claim to live in God must walk as Christ walked. David asked us to consider whether there are areas of our lives where our imitation of Jesus is distorted.
Paul identifies these believers’ commendable attitude towards their suffering. They held fast to the gospel and knew a deep, abiding joy. Do we display joy in the midst of difficulty? In this the Thessalonians were a model to other Christians “everywhere”.
There is more! The church here had turned to God from idols to serve … God, and to wait for his Son from heaven. They had repented and were continuing to do so, and were serving him while waiting for his return. Let’s pray that we might model all this to others.