Introduction: Last week we realized that there can be no proper Thanksgiving without recognizing our blessings as purchased by Jesus’ blood. In this week’s notes we go further in our thankfulness by acknowledging God the Father’s love as the rock which stabilizes us even in the face of severe persecution. How the persecuted Thessalonians – and, indeed, all suffering believers including ourselves – need to hear the good news of the Father’s love from 1 Thessalonians 1:4: “We know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you.”
Monday: read Acts 16:22-17:5 and 1 Thessalonians 1:1-6. We can gauge how urgently the Thessalonians needed to be reminded of God’s love by considering the severity of the persecution which they faced. Just as Paul had come to Thessalonica only after being beaten and imprisoned by the city officials in Philippi (see Acts 16:22-24), so the new church in Thessalonica became the target of severe persecution from the Jews in Acts 17:5. Why, one of the new leaders of the Thessalonian church, Jason, was even dragged out of his house in Acts 17:5-9 and forced to post bond! Moreover, Paul clinches his description of the persecution which almost immediately fell upon these newly-converted Christian ‘lambs’ by calling it “severe suffering” in 1 Thess. 1:6. One shudders to think how such severe persecution would have overwhelmed these young lambs in the faith were it not for the “Holy Spirit” who accompanied the gospel which they heard in 1 Thess. 1:5!
Meditate and Pray: Father, what confidence you must have in the solid work of your Holy Spirit in the lives of young Christians like the Thessalonians. How could you let these “babes” in Christ face such hatred and violence? The answer rests solely on the mighty work of the “Comforter,” the Holy Spirit. Thank you for the promise fulfilled by Jesus Christ every time He sends the Spirit with stabilizing peace to suffering believers: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18) Amen.
Tuesday: read Acts 17:1-10 and 1 Thessalonians 1:1-6. Persecution forms the very occasion of the writing of this letter. As Matthew Henry puts it in his introduction, describing Paul’s harsh treatment in Macedonian cities to which he was sent: The apostle Paul…. in obedience to the call of God went from Troas to Samothracia, thence to Neapolis, and thence to Philippi, where he had good success in his ministry, but met with hard usage, being cast into prison with Silas his companion in travel and labour, from which being wonderfully delivered, they comforted the brethren there, and departed…. they came to Thessalonica, where the apostle planted a church that consisted of some believing Jews and many converted Gentiles…. But a tumult being raised in the city by the unbelieving Jews, and the lewd and baser sort of the inhabitants, Paul and Silas, for their safety, were sent away by night unto Berea….
Thus we see how persecution dogged Paul and his companions’ every step. It was the same experience for the Thessalonians whom Paul left behind when he fled their city. For Paul and for the Thessalonians, the coming of the gospel brought great joy, but also great suffering. Paul reminds his readers of this fact in 1 Thess. 1:6, where he highlights how they received the good news at a time of “great affliction.”
Meditate and Pray: Ask the Lord to gently help us not to be “unsettled by our trials” (1 Thess. 3:3). May the Lord give us the poise which comes from His Spirit’s presence with us. Give thanks that the pain of 1 Thess. 1:6’s “great affliction” was tempered greatly by the joyful presence of the Holy Spirit who came especially close during those painful days of opposition and will do the same for us.
Wednesday/Thursday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-6. Why is it so important to emphasize the love of God the Father for persecuted ones like the Thessalonian church? Because the Thessalonians needed such a strong, reassuring love from God the Father in order to “steady” them in the face of the stern persecution which they faced so early on! They needed a place of refuge to weather the storms of persecution! To illustrate how the love of God the Father provides such shelter for suffering believers, consider 1 Thess. 1:1 and the unusual phrase of greeting which Paul uses: To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In God the Father? What does that preposition mean? Usually most letters of Paul open with a greeting to “the church in Rome” or to “the church of God which is at Corinth.” But here in 1 Thess. 1:1 Paul described these persecuted Thessalonians as, “In God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” I think Paul aims here to comfort these young believers who had been severed from their pagan roots in Thessalonica; rejected by their communities as criminal followers of Paul and even falsely accused of no longer being good Romans, but those who “defied Caesar’s decrees” (Acts 17:7). But thanks be to God the Father’s love – they had One who claimed them as His own. They were not “people without a country” or without a royal protector! God the Father had chosen them in love!
Mediate and Pray: Thank God for the great discovery of the gospel that in God the Father we have all the love we need to stand firm against a hostile world. Though unbelieving foes of the faith know only God’s wrath against them (Romans 1:18), in the gospel there is revealed to us a Heavenly Father who is full of love towards us. This is exactly the security we need to face all the ups and downs which our trials bring upon us.
Friday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-8 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. The great discovery of the gospel begins with the love of God the Father. Paul celebrates this love in declaring to the Thessalonians not only their election, but their being “brothers loved by God” (1 Thess. 1:4). But the gospel equally emphasizes the grace of God as essential for our salvation. This grace is supremely found in Jesus Christ – so much so that, in almost every reference Paul makes to grace in his letters, he is referring to the “Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 13:14). We could even say that to be “in the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:1) means to be “in grace.” In other words, to be connected to the Lord Jesus means to enjoy a fullness of blessing from Divine grace. What exactly does this “grace” mean?
- It means free favor and acceptance with God and enjoyment of His favor – all through the atoning work of Jesus Christ which saves us “from the coming wrath” (1 Thess. 1:10).
- It means the Holy Spirit’s gifts and graces poured out upon us in all our trials, so that God’s grace is “sufficient” for us (2 Corinthians 12:9).
- It means a permanent adoption into the family of God by the righteousness of our elder brother Jesus – a permanent “standing” in the grace of God!
What we mean to say is that all these blessings come to us simply from being “in” the Lord Jesus Christ” by faith. When we are joined to Christ by faith, all the graces that belong to Him become ours!
Meditate and Pray: Thank the Lord Jesus that, though we are poor and always undeserving in ourselves, through being “in Christ” we receive “grace upon grace” (John 1:16, KJV) to help us in our daily walk and daily struggles. Sing about this daily portion of grace by which alone we stand and persevere in the faith from hymn # 695 in our Trinity hymnals:
By grace I am an heir of heaven:
Why doubt this, O my trembling heart?
If what the Scriptures promise clearly
Is true and firm in ev’ry part,
This also must be truth divine:
By grace a crown of life is mine.
By grace! These precious words remember
When sorely by thy sins oppressed,
When Satan comes to vex thy spirit,
When troubled conscience sighs for rest;
What reason cannot comprehend,
God doth to thee by grace extend.
By grace! Be this in death my comfort;
Despite my fears, ’tis well with me.
I know my sin in all its greatness,
But also him who sets me free.
My heart to naught but joy gives place
Since I am saved by grace, by grace.