1Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention [of you] in our prayers;
1Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention [of you] in our prayers;
V11Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace..This letter does not come from Paul alone. Silvanus and Timothy are co-senders. This is quite understandable, for they have laid the foundation of the church in Thessalonica together with him. Don’t you think that the Thessalonians, while reading these three names, felt great thankfulness rise in their hearts? These were the men who brought them the gospel by which they got to know the Lord Jesus. The enormous change that it has brought about is presented in this letter in an appealing and therefore vibrant way.
Paul must have been very grateful for the support of these two men. Silvanus – that is how Paul calls him in his letters; in Acts Luke calls him Silas – was a faithful brother who accompanied Paul during his second missionary journey. He came from the church at Jerusalem, where he was a leader and a prophet (Acts 15:22,27,3222Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren,27“Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word [of mouth].
32Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message.). Paul finds in the young Timothy a companion to whom he was very attached (Phil 2:20-2220For I have no one [else] of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.21For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.22But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child [serving] his father.). Here you see how older believers beautifully go together with a young, dedicated believer. There was no generation gap between them.
Notice that Paul introduces himself only by his name. That is remarkable, considering that in the other letters he presents himself as an apostle. In this letter he does not. This is because he writes this letter to a newly started church. In chapter 2 you will see how he compares himself to a mother and a father. That attitude is much more appropriate for someone who addresses babies in faith, than the formal approach of an apostle.
There is something else remarkable in the greeting. The word “church” means ‘the called-out ones’. In their case the point is that they were called out from the pagan idolatry. Those who form the church of the living God have indeed been ‘called out’ from the world, but surely not to live in a vacuum. Therefore the church in Thessalonica is addressed as “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. That is unique. This way of addressing appears only one more time in the second letter to the same church. This also fits with the ‘target audience’. The senders want to let this young church feel that they are a companionship of believers that is safe in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ.
This means a great encouragement. What a privilege to be allowed to call God your Father! That is because they have been born of God and possess the Son as their life. When they become fully aware of this, it may be of great comfort to them amid all the oppression in which they find themselves. Additionally they all have the same relation to the Lord Jesus. He is mentioned here with His full name. He is the humiliated Man Jesus, but He is also the Anointed (that is the meaning of the name Christ) of God Whom God made Lord and Christ (Acts 2:3636Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”).
It does not say ‘in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus’. The word ‘in’ is written here only once. Therefore God the Father and the Lord Jesus are closely connected together. Being ‘in’ God can never be without the Lord Jesus. It points to a certain sphere of life in which we dwell as in a certain space. It also indicates an intimate relationship. That relationship can only be experienced and sustained by the Holy Spirit Who is also regularly referred to in this letter (1Thes 1:5,65for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.6You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit,; 4:88So, he who rejects [this] is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.; 5:1919Do not quench the Spirit;).
This is no question of fake mysticism as if there would be a kind of entering into the Godhead. Being ‘in’ is not the result of human effort. It is a Divine gift. They did not become a (local) church by an official permission of people from another church, but simply because God had called them out of the world to be one.
In order to give substance to that it is a blessing to know that you, together with your brothers and sisters of the local church, are in Divine Persons. The Thessalonians – and we too – can be sure that they have been received and hidden in an atmosphere of Divine love, care and power. I think that this is beautifully reflected in Isaiah 40 (Isa 40:1111Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry [them] in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing [ewes].
The writers close the salutation with the blessing “grace to you and peace”. It is the wish that the Thessalonians will experience grace and peace in their lives. It is a great grace to be assured that you have been saved from hell and that you are a child of God. But here it is about noticing the grace of God in your daily life; that that grace is enough for you in all circumstances, also in the very tough ones (2Cor 12:99And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.). If that is the case, you will have peace in your heart, even in the hardships you have to endure and which you sometimes do not understand.
It is an actual awareness of standing in the full grace of God (Rom 5:22through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.), with peace as its fruit. Then you can say to yourself: ‘In whatever way God leads me, I will have peace in it.’
V22We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention [of you] in our prayers;. It must have been also an encouragement for the Thessalonians to hear that Paul and his companions always give thanks for all of them. That means that they regularly go to God in prayer and give Him thanks for what He has worked in the Thessalonians. Giving thanks is: giving glory and honor to God. It is a lofty form of answering to God. It is an appreciation of the blessings that have been given to us and the appreciation of Him Who blesses. When Paul gives thanks for them, he regards them as a gift of God. How do you regard your fellow believers?
Thankfulness is a disposition of the believer. It is not an inferior activity. In Luke 17, only one of the ten cleansed lepers returns to give thanks to the Lord Jesus (Lk 17:1515Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice,). The Lord says about him that he gave glory to God. Ungratefulness is one of the characteristics of the last days (2Tim 3:1-21But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.2For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,). Giving thanks puts you in the right position before God to be able to pray. Otherwise prayer becomes the visit to the complaints office and can even be misused to accuse fellow believers before God.
Despite many worries, Paul could always give thanks for them. He is not selective at this point, but he gives thanks for all of them. He is also not vague but he mentions concrete points for which he can give thanks. Here he gives thanks for the way they practiced their faith. In chapter 2 he even gives thanks without ceasing that they received the Word of God (1Thes 2:1313For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted [it] not [as] the word of men, but [for] what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.). In chapter 3 it is as if he is searching for words to tell God about the joy they brought him by what he saw with them and heard of them (1Thes 3:99For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account,). There is always something for which he can give thanks. He does so always, without ceasing.
Giving thanks and prayer belong together (Eph 1:1616do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention [of you] in my prayers;; Phil 1:3-43I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,4always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,). After thanksgiving comes praying. Giving thanks together and praying together creates a strong bond between those who pray together as well as between those who pray and those who are being prayed for. Its power is often underestimated, which is why prayer meetings are so poorly attended. Therefore the result is that not much is being achieved concerning God's work in a needy world and in churches that fall prey to the world.
When you read this from Paul and his companions, it may seem that they did not travel that much since they were always on their knees (1Thes 3:1010as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?). Isn’t it true that we are more in action than on our knees? That can change, but you must be willing to make the effort, that is: it requires willingness from your side. You can start practicing by saying good things of your fellow brothers and sisters to the Lord. After that you can tell Him about what you find hard about them. It will make your prayer life richer and the Lord will use it to glorify His Name.
Now read Thessalonians 1:1-2 again.
Reflection: What shows the loving way in which the senders approach these young believers?
3constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, 4knowing, brethren beloved by God, [His] choice of you;
V33constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father,. When Paul gives thanks and prays for the Thessalonians, he is constantly reminded of the way in which they work out their lives as Christians. Their conduct shows that they are no opportunists, but Christians in the true sense of the word: those who belong to Christ.
The three major principles that give Christendom its real content are to be seen at full strength among the Thessalonians. It is the results of a genuine conversion. Not counterfeited, not pretended, but pure. Hence you notice so much freshness in their mental state. It really is something to be jealous of. And that's not a wrong jealousy.
Let’s have a closer look at the three things that are typical for Christendom, and consequently also for you and me. You find them in verse 33constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father,. They are “faith”, “love” and “hope”. These are the sources, the motives of Christendom in the world. They are not to be found in any other religion. These three things form our character as Christians.
Now you cannot see faith, love and hope. However, they can be made visible. And that is what the Thessalonians do. Therefore you read here about “your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope”. Faith is shown by works, love is shown by efforts made and hope is shown by perseverance. “Work” and “labor” and “steadfastness” have to do with the outside, with what is visible; faith, love and hope have to do with the inside, which is not visible.
Work and labor look very similar, but each of these words really has a different meaning. Work is related to ‘faith’. Faith focuses on what is not seen. A work of faith is a work that comes from what is not seen. Faith characterizes the spiritual condition that leads to that work. This work you see for instance in all the examples presented in Hebrews 11 and in the two examples in James 2 (Jam 2:21-2521Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?22You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;23and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.24You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.25In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?).
‘Labor’ is work, but with the characteristic that it is very intensive work. There is great effort attached to it, even to the edge of exhaustion. For labor ‘love’ is needed, because only love is willing to make great effort and great sacrifices. ‘Labor of love’ is not a matter of feeling. It is a strain, an effort and care for others. Love gives itself. The Thessalonians showed that they possessed Divine love, which is a giving love.
‘To persevere’ is to carry on even under the greatest trials and sufferings. An unbeliever can persevere by giving himself a pep talk or by seeing the necessity of something. That has nothing to do with biblical hope. Biblical hope is also not to be found in stoically saying: ‘You can only hope for the best.’ Biblical hope is always a well-founded hope, a certainty; because it is based on God’s Word and focused on a Divine Person.
For the Thessalonians the motive of the perseverance lay in the hope that the Lord Jesus will return. That may also be the case for you and me. Just to be clear: hope is called hope because it has not yet been fulfilled, not because it is not certain.
Therefore ‘hope’ brings forth ‘perseverance’ as its fruit. What is inward brings forth fruit. In that way faith produces work and love produces labor. The one cannot exist without the other. Without the inner motives there will be no fruit. But the other way around is possible. Then there is activity, but it does not come from what God has worked. But then it is not good.
You see that in Revelation 2 (Rev 2:22‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them [to be] false;). The Lord Jesus in His judgment of the church in Ephesus speaks to them only of “your deeds” (or: works), “and your toil” (or: labor), “and perseverance” (or: steadfastness). Concerning ‘faith, love and hope’ he says nothing. He Who knows the deepest motives of every man, notes that the Ephesians only cared about the appearance, the observable activities. The Christian motivation was lacking. They had left their first love. Therefore it had no value to the Lord and He appeals to them to repent and to do their first works (Rev 2:55Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.).
The three sources that form our character as Christians are not isolated. They need an object on which they focus. Therefore immediately the Son and the Father are mentioned again after that. Perseverance in the hope only makes sense when the Lord Jesus is the object of that hope. Your heart rests in Him and expects Him. In Him is the source of all blessing for your soul. From Him you receive strength and in Him you will find what nourishes the spiritual life.
It says also “in the presence of our God and Father”. That places your work, your labor and your steadfastness in the presence of God. Why is that important? Because then the exercise of your conscience takes place. If you live consciously in the presence of God, you think about what you want to do or say. You wonder whether in your plans the three different characteristics of your life as a Christian may become visible.
If you get anxious of the thought that God sees you always and everywhere, you may ask yourself why that happens. Do you still want to do something which you know would grieve Him? And if you sincerely do not want to grieve Him, but you are still afraid of him, remember that God is your Father.
That Paul is referring here to these two Persons of the Godhead, is intended as a support for arranging your life as a Christian. He does point to the Lord Jesus to give you confidence that He is coming soon so that you can be calm in the circumstances. He does point to God our Father in order that you are preserved with good conscience in the light.
Both are of great importance for a lasting peace in your heart and the growth of your faith life. You could say that the two blessings are representing the two sides of the Christian life: living by faith in the Lord Jesus and being able to give account to God for everything you do.
V44knowing, brethren beloved by God, [His] choice of you;. Paul can list all those wonderful things of the Thessalonians in his giving thanks to God and in his prayers (verse 22We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention [of you] in our prayers;) because he knows they have been “elected”. Should he have had insight into the records of God and seen their names listed there? No, of course not. Nevertheless he knows that they are elected. How is that possible? Because he sees their way of life.
The word “knowing” indicates that this knowledge is not the result of revelation or intuition, but of observation, of seeing and hearing. Even of your election there is no other evidence than your life as a Christian. Whoever is elected, is showing in his life the life of Christ, and will strive for having a conscience without offense toward God and men (Acts 24:1616In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience [both] before God and before men.).
The three major principles of Christendom, faith, hope and love, that are active among the Thessalonians, give proof of their election. Faith, love and hope are the result of God’s election. Election itself can be called a ‘family secret’. It has been an intention of God to adopt certain people, elected by Him, to make them to become His children and to include them in His family circle. That you and I may belong there is pure grace. Only if you belong to the family, you can see that.
Therefore the sinner has nothing to do with this family secret. To him the call is to repent. It is important not to mix these two – the grace of God and the responsibility of the sinner– but to differentiate them.
The lives of the Thessalonians are overflowing with what they have found in Christ. It is therefore no wonder that Paul could say that they were “brethren beloved by God”. God must have looked with special feelings of love at them, because in their lives so much was visible of His Son. Don’t you also long for Him to look at you like that with such feelings?
Now read 1 Thessalonians1:3-4 again.
Reflection: What did Paul and his companions see with the Thessalonians for which they could give thanks and pray?
5for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.
V55for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.. You have seen in the previous part that with the Thessalonians the evidence of the new life was manifested impressively. To Paul it was unmistakable that people who live in such a way, are children of God. It provided him the clear evidence that they were elected. Paul will now justify that determination. That’s why he starts with the word “for”, i.e. now comes an explanation on the previous statement.
What the Thessalonians revealed in their lives of faith was not due to a training where they learned how you could live as a Christian. No, the gospel had come to them, not with mushy talks like it is often preached today. In such a preaching you hear nothing about repentance and confession of sins before God. ‘That only drives people away’, is what they say. The purpose of that kind of preaching is to adopt a Christian pattern of behavior which gives you added value and enables you to become successful, better than the people around you. Words are then a big box of tricks out of which you can present what people like to hear. But that is not what Paul has taught them.
He of course has used words to preach the gospel. Yet he did not do it as if it were a friendly offering that could be accepted or refused at will. Convinced as he was of the seriousness of the preaching, he preached powerfully. The power of his preaching has nothing to do with his vocal tone, producing a considerable amount of decibels. The power has also nothing to do with miracles which he might have done. That is absolutely not the case here. No, he preached in the consciousness of God's power, the power of the Holy Spirit. Only through Him hearts can be convicted. It goes even beyond that. The Holy Spirit could work through them so fully that Paul and his companions preached “with full conviction” without a shadow of doubt.
And notice that he does not say ‘how we have preached among you’, but “what kind of men we proved to be among you”. He also points to his life that they had seen when he was with them. His life and teachings form a whole. His life supported his preaching. What he preached to others, he achieved in practice himself. In all that, he did not seek his own interests, but the interests of the Thessalonians – he did it for their sake.
V66You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, The effect of a preaching that is so full of assurance and that is performed by people who are fully committed themselves, is considerable. They had “received the Word” and that “with much tribulation”. In the parable of the sower the Lord Jesus tells about someone “who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy”. The Lord explains that such ‘seed’ has no root and that with the very first adversity this ‘believer’ quits (Mt 13:20-2120The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;21yet he has no [firm] root in himself, but is [only] temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.). That was quite different with the Thessalonians. The effect on them was not ambiguous. You did not need to wonder whether they were truly converted.
There are some remarkable effects that are noticeable. First, they have become “imitators” of the preachers and of the Lord. Newly converted people first see the preacher and through him they see the Lord Who is being preached. In Acts 3 you see an illustration of that. There Peter says, with John, to the lame: “Look at us” (Acts 3:44But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!”). Then the healed lame man entered with them into the temple (Acts 3:88With a leap he stood upright and [began] to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.). And some verses further it says that “he was clinging to Peter and John” in going into the temple (Acts 3:1111While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement.).
In order for you to know how to live as a Christian you must orientate yourself. You need someone as an example. It is the same as with learning in physical growth. A child learns to walk and talk by imitating. A good model or example is therefore of great importance. Do you also have good examples? Go after them, whether in your environment or in biographies of people who consistently have followed the Lord Jesus.
If there is a healthy spiritual growth, the preacher will more and more disappear out of the picture whereas the Lord gets more and more attention. The preacher will never point to himself, unless he can refer directly to the Lord Jesus Himself (1Cor 11:11Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.). The preacher will never want to tie people to himself and want to make them dependent on him. The preacher is just a man who can also go wrong.
The Thessalonians know what they have let themselves in for. They have received the Word while great pressure was exerted on them. I am afraid that many Christians in our part of the world have no understanding of that and therefore achieve so little of a life full of devotion to Christ. Instead of succumbing to the pressure and picking up their old life, the Thessalonians had experienced the “joy of the Holy Spirit”. You see here that external oppression and inner joy go together. These things cannot be explained well. That is something you have to experience. Have you ever experienced that joy?
V77so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.. They therefore became an example themselves for all other believers in a wide surrounding area, after they had received the Word and became followers. Besides, the word “example” is written in the singular. That seems to indicate that the Thessalonians were not so much individual examples, but that they were an example as church. If you looked at them, if you looked at their whole church life, regarding their conduct and confession, their way of dealing with each other and their attitude towards the world, then you could have seen what being a Christian really meant.
Being an example for other believers implies that other believers have yet to learn new things or to unlearn unwanted things. But Paul did not have to write about that to the other believers. What the Thessalonians were reflecting, said enough.
I must admit that I am jealous of that. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the local church to which you and I belong had such an image? But I think we can recognize ourselves more in “all the believers in Macedonia” to whom the Thessalonians were held as an example, than in the church of the Thessalonians. Let the example be a spur for you and me to live our lives as Christians just like the Thessalonians did.
V88For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.. The word “for” at the beginning of verse 88For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. shows in what way they had become examples. The Thessalonians did not withdraw themselves in isolation to enjoy only for themselves what they had received. After they were convicted by the power of “the Word of the Lord”, they trumpeted the same Word forth. That is the meaning of “sounded forth”.
The Word of the Lord (and not their own opinion about it) has done its work in their lives. There is an expression that it is applied to people who speak about the gospel but do not live accordingly in practice: your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say. With the Thessalonians it was different. Their actions spoke so loudly that everyone could hear the gospel of the Lord.
I would like to conclude this part with a word about “the word”. This is already the third time that we hear about ‘the word’. In verse 55for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. it is about the word of the gospel, i.e. the content. In verse 66You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, it is the Word that has been accepted, which caused their lives to be changed and made resistant to any pressure. Here, in verse 88For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything., it is “the word of the Lord”. That puts the emphasis on the origin. Because of the addition 'of the Lord’ ‘the Word’ also points to the authority of Him Who is its source (see also Acts 15:3636After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, [and see] how they are.”). You will also encounter other additions, for example: the Word of God (2Cor 2:1717For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.; 4:22but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.), the Word of His grace (Acts 14:33Therefore they spent a long time [there] speaking boldly [with reliance] upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.; 20:3232And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build [you] up and to give [you] the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.), the Word of life (Phil 2:1616holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.) and the Word of faith (Rom 10:88But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”— that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,).
We live in a time of words. Words bring revolutions in countries and histories. We have been granted the privilege to possess a Word that is more powerful than any human word. It is a Word that works powerfully. It is a Word of life. Therefore: Read the Word and live accordingly!
Now read Thessalonians 1:5-8 again.
Reflection: Can it be said of you that you have become a follower of Paul and of the Lord?
9For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, [that is] Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.
V99For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God,. Verse 99For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, also starts with the word “for”. Then the explanation follows of the fact that Paul and his companions did not have to say anything to others of the faith of the Thessalonians. The whole area knows all about it. When you observe such Christendom, it need not be emphasized by words. Good wine needs no bush, so to speak. Paul could refer to it and did not need to say anything else.
What has happened to the Thessalonians can be seen by everyone. They have no pious talk about their faith in God, but they show in their lives that they have been radically changed in their direction. Instead of focusing on idols and putting their trust in them, they now believe in God and put their trust in Him.
It must have made him very happy to be able to write in this way to and about these young believers. He does not need to tell others about them. It is already known. Those others know exactly how the gospel that Paul has preached has found entry with the Thessalonians.
That entry also has got a way out. In their lives it is evident that a radical reversal has occurred. Everyone has noticed how much these people have changed. They are dealing with people who have given up idolatry and now are worshiping the only true and living God. They no longer live as slaves to their desires and greed, which is idolatry (Col 3:55Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.)
The word ‘idol’ means ‘a thing of nothing’. In a speech at Lystra Paul says to his audience that they should repent of the ‘useless things’ – which are their idols – to the living God (Acts 14:1515and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM.). Once you are converted, you know that an idol means nothing (1Cor 8:44Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.). But only when you are converted you become aware – for before that time you were blind to see that – that honor given to an idol, was in fact brought to demons (1Cor 10:19-2019What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?20[No], but [I say] that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.). John concludes his first letter with a warning concerning idols. In the context of his letter it becomes clear what an idol is: an idol is everything that takes the place of the Lord Jesus as the true God and the eternal life (1Jn 5:20-2120And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.21Little children, guard yourselves from idols.).
The Thessalonians have abandoned idolatry. But it is not sufficient to do away with something. Something else has to be put in its place. That ‘something else’ must be God; otherwise you go from bad to worse. Repentance does not stand in itself. Repentance has a purpose and that is to serve the living and true God. Therefore the conclusion is not only repenting of, but also converting to.
But what exactly is ‘conversion’? It’s not just a change of mind about certain things. It is also not a change in your behavior. Conversion is that you honestly say to God that you have sinned. That is called: confessing your sins. You also acknowledge that what is within you, in your heart, is not right. You will have to mention your sins by name and ask forgiveness to God and also to him or her to whom you, for example, have lied. You agree therefore with conviction that you are indeed not to be trusted. You realize that you deserve the punishment of God because of those sins. You realize that it would be righteous if God threw you into hell for your sins.
Therefore conversion is not a superficial matter, but a profound work. It is not about your feelings, but rather about your conscience. That has to come into the light of God. You could say that conversion is: going to God, in order to condemn yourself before Him. It also implies that you confess before Him that you have not been obedient to Him up to that moment and that due to that, your life was thoroughly wrong. You will also show remorse for having lived such a life.
‘To be remorseful’ is inextricably connected to conversion. It has got nothing to do with a shallow expression of regret. With real remorse, something in the inside has happened; an inward change has taken place. You have been totally changed in your thinking about yourself and about God. You may have done very well in your own eyes in the past. That has been ended with your conversion: with a remorseful heart you condemn yourself. In the past you had your own thoughts about God and you therefore so to speak, bended Him to your own advantage. With remorse that has been ended: with remorse you acknowledge Him in His full righteousness. Whoever repents does not live his life anymore with his back turned on God, but on the contrary, he has turned himself to God. This is what happened to the Thessalonians.
The proofs of a real conversion are for example that you love the Lord Jesus, that you desire to know Him better, that you have the need to pray and to read in the Bible and that you want to talk about Him with others who do not know Him yet. The love for the Lord Jesus is seen in the obedience of His Word.
Of the Thessalonians it is said that the proof of their conversion is that they served God. The word that is used here for ‘serve’, means to serve as a slave. That implies the unconditional fulfillment of all obligations that go with the life of a Christian. It means: doing everything that God says, any time that it is required. The control over everything that you are and have and over every minute of your life, lies with God.
At your conversion you delivered yourself to Him and with much delight, for God is absolutely different from the idols. Those are dead idols (Psa 135:15-1815The idols of the nations are [but] silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
16They have mouths, but they do not speak;
They have eyes, but they do not see;
17They have ears, but they do not hear,
Nor is there any breath at all in their mouths.
18Those who make them will be like them,
[Yes], everyone who trusts in them.
), while God is the “living” God. He is also the “true” God. Everything that He says is true, while the demons that make use of idols, are deceitful. Think about greed. Advertising relies cunningly on that. The intention is to fool you that a life without the advertised product is just pitiful. This is how they stimulate your desire for it. Your greed must be fulfilled. Once you’ve purchased the desired product, you often notice that you’ve been deceived.
God alone gives in a way that does not disappoint. He wants to give you everything you need to serve Him. He is also truthful in everything that He has said. You can fully count on Him. In an appealing comparison Jeremiah puts God and the idols against one another (Jer 10:1-161Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel.2Thus says the LORD,
“Do not learn the way of the nations,
And do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens
Although the nations are terrified by them;
3For the customs of the peoples are delusion;
Because it is wood cut from the forest,
The work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool.
4“They decorate [it] with silver and with gold;
They fasten it with nails and with hammers
So that it will not totter.
5“Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they,
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot walk!
Do not fear them,
For they can do no harm,
Nor can they do any good.”
6There is none like You, O LORD;
You are great, and great is Your name in might.
7Who would not fear You, O King of the nations?
Indeed it is Your due!
For among all the wise men of the nations
And in all their kingdoms,
There is none like You.
8But they are altogether stupid and foolish
[In their] discipline of delusion—their idol is wood!
9Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish,
And gold from Uphaz,
The work of a craftsman and of the hands of a goldsmith;
Violet and purple are their clothing;
They are all the work of skilled men.
10But the LORD is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King.
At His wrath the earth quakes,
And the nations cannot endure His indignation.
11Thus you shall say to them, “The gods that did not make the heavens and the earth will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”
12[It is] He who made the earth by His power,
Who established the world by His wisdom;
And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens.
13When He utters His voice, [there is] a tumult of waters in the heavens,
And He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth;
He makes lightning for the rain,
And brings out the wind from His storehouses.
14Every man is stupid, devoid of knowledge;
Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols;
For his molten images are deceitful,
And there is no breath in them.
15They are worthless, a work of mockery;
In the time of their punishment they will perish.
16The portion of Jacob is not like these;
For the Maker of all is He,
And Israel is the tribe of His inheritance;
The LORD of hosts is His name.
V1010and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, [that is] Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.. You have therefore totally abandoned your past, you have turned your back on the idols. In the present you enjoy the privilege to serve the living and true God. Besides that, you still have the future. That also looks wonderful. Instead of fear for the future and the wrath to come over the world, you are looking forward to the coming of the Son of God.
Serving God and waiting for His Son is the twofold purpose of conversion. They belong together inextricably. When you lose sight of the coming of the Son of God, it has disastrous consequences for the testimony of the Christians. The Lord Jesus speaks about it in a parable (Mt 24:48-4948But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’49and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards;). He says that whoever forgets His coming or puts it in the far future, will start with beating his fellow servants and with eating and drinking with the drunks. You see that they on the one hand start to beat the ones whom they should go together with and on the other hand they go together with those they had to remain separated from. Whosoever does not wait for Him daily, will start to live for himself.
Isn’t it great to look forward to the coming of the Lord? It is all about Him Who entered death for your sake and Who was raised by God. That is the very reason why you have received a living hope: the prospect of a new heaven and a new earth (1Pet 1:33Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,; 2Pet 3:1313But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.). After His resurrection He was received up into heaven (Mk 16:1919So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.; Heb 9:2424For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a [mere] copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;). There He occupies the place of the highest authority (1Pet 3:2222who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.). From there He will surely return to claim His right to the earth (Psa 2:88‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the [very] ends of the earth as Your possession.
He will do that as “Jesus”, as He is called here. This is the Name that refers to His life in humiliation on earth. That Name will be terror for the world. That Name is full of love and glory for you and me. It is Him Whom we are waiting for from heaven (Phil 3:2020For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;) to take us up to be with Him. That is the guarantee that we shall be saved before God’s wrath will strike the earth (Rev 3:1010Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that [hour] which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.). What a great prospect!
Now read 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 again.
Reflection: What have you been converted from, how do you serve God? How does the thought of the coming of the Son of God affect you?