In this section of 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5a we will begin to hear of these : Faith, Love, Hope, Power, Assurance, Choosing/Election. If you missed week one, you can find those notes here.
This week’s study led to some encouraging conversation, this is truly a letter that is still being used by the Spirit to build us up in our faith. It is good to remember that much more of Christianity than we Americans sometimes admit is meant to be corporate. Epistles were enjoyed together!
Epistle as genre.
Letters had a common pattern in Paul’s time, yet he changed it here by adding Thanksgiving and blessing. He gives thanks, and prays for those he is writing to. (The only epistle where no thanks are mentioned? Galatians). This is new, not part of other ‘letters’ in this era, a new thing in Christian epistles.
Paul, Silvanus and Timothy wrote, inspired by the Holy Spirit. And with this first epistle they also begin a new pattern for Christian discourse and correspondance.
1:1, In God, Lord, Christ; why were these titles important then? Are they still important now? Is it worth our time to ponder each one? Indeed it is, beloved! It is important to recognize that Paul’s Christology was firm and robust from the beginning of his preaching, and through all his writing. It was not something he developed–he preached what he received from the Spirit. We grow in our understanding–but the New Testament church had the full spectrum of Christology revealed from the beginning.
Lord. Ruler, to Whom we humble submit. The One to Whom belongs glory and honor and power; whom we enthrone in our hearts, and who is seated at the right hand of His Father in the heavens.
Christ. Messiah. Anointed, for what–for the redemption of God’s people, for the atonement, for being the propitiation for our sins. He came to die for our sins. Our sins separate us from God, He is the Way to the Father, and none come to the Father except through Him. (John 14:6)
Grace and peace, the blessing! Jewish custom was to greet one another with Shalom which brings with it ideas of flourishing. This peace brings with it the promise that we are no longer at enmity/war with God or one another! He Himself is our peace, who has torn down everything that divides us. Grace, only available in Christ! In this grace in which we stand (Romans 5!).
How should this impact the way our greetings and interactions reflect the Gospel? Do we write/text/message/call just like the world; or are our interactions reflective of our own experience of this grace and peace?
“Always for all of you.”
Verse 2-5 runonsentance! Paul is not exaggerating when he said they always pray for the Thessalonians. Make mention, pray for, while constantly bearing in mind… What do we bear in mind as we pray for one another? And while praying, we ought to follow this example and pray for our whole church body, and for the church all over the world.
What can we do to grow in this spiritual discipline of prayer? Turn your thoughts into prayers, let your day be one long conversation with God who is always near, always abiding in you. Abide, beloved! The most helpful book for me was one simply titled “Prayer” by John Bunyan.
Faith, love, hope.
The three graces. These three are also bookends in this letter. Our life in Christ is displayed in these; they are the essence of the abundant life He gives.
Work and labor? No real difference, do not try to figure out if/whether Paul was implying one thing of faith and another of love. The truth: faith without works is dead, faith works through love, love manifests itself in serving others, love is either shown or non-existent. Love gives itself to/for others. (Romans 5:8)
Steadfastness of hope. Endurance inspired by hope. This Paul also prays for the Thessalonians in his second epistle: that they would be led into the Steadfastness of Christ. In Colossians 1 and Romans 15 we see that it is by the power of the Spirit that we are made steadfast. This is evidence of the Spirit at work; one who is truly in Christ cannot remain hopeless or continue in a ‘natural disposition’ of despair; the Spirit renews our inner man (2 Corinthians 4).
Beloved by God, His choice of you!
Verse 4 ESV: for we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, because…
Of Benjamin he said, “The beloved of the LORD dwells in safety. The High God surrounds him all day long, and dwells between his shoulders.”Deut 33:12
Election: Take a look at Matthew 22:14, 9:13, 11:25-28. Sinclair Ferguson says of these verses that they point to things beyond our understanding. To be chosen or elected is unto fellowship, unto being known (cf Galatians)–taking away the fear of ever hearing ”depart from Me, I never knew you.”
Ferguson sums up Romans 9 thus: your salvation depends entirely upon what God has done, in choosing you, sending His Son to die for you, and drawing you into His kingdom through the Holy Spirit!”
When some hear “Election” their knee jerk reaction is to ask “what about free will?!!” But beloved, we were enslaved and dead. He freed us, and gave us life–and we beheld His glory and beauty, and then ‘freely chose’ what we then could see was our truest deepest longing!
Paul is not teaching about election here, most likely because he taught it previously, while he was teaching in the city. Here, he uses the word, which draws us to think about it–or at least it should. It should draw us to think about how this doctrine was cherished by the early church, what comfort it brings to us if we understand it. If we dare demand that God be all justice with no mercy, or all mercy with no justice “because anything less is unfair!” … what does this say of us?
We cannot cancel this word! Recently heard a friend say her pastor (not reformed) said “elect” never occurs in the Bible. I had to giggle because I’d already made this list!!! Don’t let anyone tell you Calvin invented this. This is important–this is true–but this is not the one truth we cling to, or the most important thing revealed in Scripture.
We first meet this doctrine by the sheer fact that God chose to create, chose to limit Himself by creating beings whom He would sustain, and redeem.
He revealed His choice of Abram, and as Abraham had children, He chose some over others–Isaac chose some over others–Jacob chose some over others… God reveals little by little that He set His affections on some, always protecting a remnant, etc.
He could have created robots, but would that be to His glory? Would that be real love? (In love He predestined us to adoption… Ephesians 1). He could have created and then annihilated, but would that be to His glory? Instead, He chose to have mercy on some.
And for the sake of the elect, (2 Timothy 2:10) we preach the gospel without distinction–because only God can bring someone to life, but He has promised to use His Word to do it, and has given us the ministry of the word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5).
For those who want the list, and to grow in understanding of God’s use of this word:
John 15:16, 19
1 Corinthians 1:27-28
Matthew 20:16 (Byzantine manuscript); 22:14; 24:22, 24, 31
Mark 13:20, 22, 27
Romans 8:33; 16:13
2 Timothy 2:10
1 Peter 1:2; 2:9
2 John 1, 3
Romans 9:11; 11:5, 7, 28
1 Thessalonians 1:4
2 Peter 1:10
Vs 5 our gospel came…
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy know the word came with power and in the Holy Spirit and in full conviction.
With power. Colossians 1:9ff; Luke 4; Ephesians 3:16 This is the Spirit’s power, not from within ourselves (2 Corinthians 4).
In the Holy Spirit. Not alone, not mere words. His Words. Isaiah 55. He sends them out, we cannot take them for our own purposes. We cannot plan for His words to ‘work.’ Remember in Acts, those who tried to copy Paul by speaking Jesus’ name. The demons answered…
Full conviction. Deepest conviction, assurance. Knowing, seeing the demonstration of the Spirit at work! Colossians 2:2-3` The Spirit works this assurance in the heart of all who are believers, bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8).
They, that is Paul, Silvanus, Timothy, and their neighbors knew, because the faith did not stay hidden, internal. It worked, it labored, it was made manifest; and the steadfast hope was shown and spoken of. Now all Macadonia can attest! (more on that next week).
Our Gospel, verse 5. The gospel! spoken, proclaimed, shared… (2:2, 9; 3:8) The Good News, which can NEVER be boiled down to three points, or to just one verse, or a tract. There is a fulness in what Paul preached, that he would spend weeks teaching, they spent hours upon hours listening… This was not one sermon. The Thessalonians heard a robust Gospel, and had a full and flourishing faith.
In light of all this, let us hold one another up in prayer this week, bearing in mind one another’s faith, love, hope; praying for our whole body and not just our favorite parts; asking the Spirit for that deep work of conviction in us!
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash