Introduction: We continue this week to marvel with the Apostle Paul at how well the infant Thessalonian church weathered intense persecution almost from the start of its existence. Even when the Apostle himself was not able to be with the Thessalonians in their trials, having been “torn away” from them in 1 Thess. 2:17, he could still gratefully recall how the Lord Himself, by His Spirit, had persevered in Thessalonica when all other forms of spiritual support had been run out of town. This week we seek further explanation of the Thessalonians’ amazing survival by tracing their strength to the profound bond of mutual love which this church shared. May we increasingly experience this bond of the Spirit in its unbreakable power as the Lord Himself binds us to each other in Christian love.
Monday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-7. One sure way for the Apostle Paul to reassure the Thessalonians that his Gospel work was not a failure was by reminding them of the strong affection which had been created between them through the Gospel. 1 Thess. 2:7 even declares that this bond was as close as a mother and her children! If God expended so much effort in abundantly pouring His love into the Thessalonians’ hearts so as to bind them maternally to the Apostle, how could He now let these bonds of Christian family love be broken?
To use a quaint illustration from John Owen about gathering firewood in the midst of a cold winter: If the Lord Jesus goes out into the world to gather something far more valuable than firewood, namely, the souls of the elect, will He carelessly jumble these new Christians into his arms like a careless wood-gatherer who doesn’t care about dropping logs on the way home? No! Like a hard-worker in the forest who carefully ties the “bundle” of wood on his back so as not to lose one piece of hard-won tinder, so Jesus carefully carries the church on His back … bound with the unbreakable cord of the Holy Spirit … in unity and peace! See Ephesians 4:3!
Meditate and Pray: Ask the Lord Jesus to keep the bonds of Christian love strong within your church, using hymn # 342 in our Trinity Hymnal:
Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone,
chosen of the Lord, and precious,
binding all the Church in one;
holy Zion’s help for ever,
and her confidence alone.
To this temple, where we call thee,
come, O Lord of Hosts, today;
with thy wonted loving-kindness
hear thy servants as they pray,
and thy fullest benediction
shed within its walls alway.
Tuesday/Wednesday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-7 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. In the first few verses of 1 Thess. 2, Paul declares that his Apostolic ministry among the Thessalonians aimed not at pleasing the world of men but the God who “tests” hearts. The word “tests” is used of testing metal in order to determine if it is, for example, genuine gold or genuine sterling silver. Paul’s ministry, in other words, had been tested in the fire of suffering in Philippi in verse 2 and had come through the trial as proof that it was genuine: genuine especially in its heart-motivation from God’s love. The very wounds and scars which Paul carried with him to Thessalonica were like ‘love letters’ commending Paul’s Gospel. “If this man is willing to suffer so much for the Gospel he is preaching to us” (the Thessalonians could reason as they listened to Paul), “then what he says about Jesus Christ must be true.” In a nutshell, this genuine Gospel ministry arose from Paul’s heart disposition towards the Thessalonians: a heart disposition which demonstrated a love that was willing to give, do and even suffer whatever was necessary for the Thessalonians!
Meditate and Pray: “Lord, let the church of our day hear the challenge to “love from the heart” like the Apostle Paul. Save us from the kind of unloving attitude from which Paul distances himself in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. We ask you, Lord, to kindle within us the kind of deep love for Christ’s church which Paul demonstrated, and which will distinguish us as real Christians from all other false religions with their great (but loveless) miracles, good deeds and earthly privileges. Amen.”
Thursday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:6-9. We will have opportunity in future Bible notes to examine the sad necessity for Paul of defending his work from the accusations of false teachers in 1 Thess. 2:3-6. For now, we see in verses 6ff. how Paul found great consolation in the face of these enemies of the Gospel as he recalled the heartfelt atmosphere of mutual love between himself and the Thessalonian church. In particular, this mutual love was characterized by the great Christian quality of generosity:
As Paul puts it in 1 Thess. 2:8: God poured a generous love into him, so that he gave the Thessalonians not only the Gospel “but his very self.” Conversely, Paul was also the recipient of such generous love from the Macedonian churches in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. In another of his letters, Paul wrote that the churches in Macedonia gave “as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (2 Cor. 8:3)! And when Paul was impoverished in Thessalonica, compelling him to make tents in 1 Thess. 2:9 in order “not to be a burden to anyone,” it was the Philippian church who came through repeatedly with material support – as he gratefully acknowledges in Philippians 4:15-16. What a joy to be involved in such a mutual spirit of self-giving in a loving church family! What joy for me as your Pastor when I see such love reflected in our church life here in Vermont!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the promise of Jesus from Luke 6:38 which came true in Paul’s life, namely, “Give and it shall be given unto you.” As he poured himself out as a love offering on behalf of new Christian churches such as that in Thessalonica, they were moved to be generous in return!
Friday/Saturday/Sunday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, 1 John 3:16 and 1 Peter 1:7-9. How is it possible that Paul so cheerfully entered into extreme suffering for the fledgling churches of Macedonia – enduring shameful treatment and even “insult” in Philippi – and remaining bold as he journeyed to Thessalonica to tell the Gospel there “in spite of strong opposition” (1 Thess. 2:2)? The answer must be that Paul had a sense of spiritual blessing and joy from God which persecuting mobs could never strip from him! He was willing “even to lay down his life for his brothers,” as 1 John 3:16 puts it, precisely because his real life, wealth and security were laid up securely in God’s kingdom!
Let’s put it another way: How is it that Paul can describe his ministry in 1 Thess. 2:1-11 as full of confidence and delight despite all the dark opposition and even hatred which he faced everywhere he went? The answer must be that, in response to each day of heartbreak, physical affliction and abuse at the hands of godless men, God provided Paul with a fresh sense of access and welcome into His Kingdom of joy, light and hope. Isn’t that, in fact, what Paul promises in 1 Thess. 2:12, where he writes that we are to be “encouraged, comforted” (in living lives worthy of God) because God continuously “calls us into His Kingdom and glory?” God is literally the timeless “Caller” who continually ushers us into His presence for succor and strengthening in the warfare of this world.
What an incentive to joyful, holy living! We can be encouraged like Paul was, living in God’s Kingdom in a hostile world, precisely because God’s invitation and call are every day made new! We are, as it were, just like the thief on the cross in Luke 23:42-43: We can each day cry out in our troubles, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And each day, He will in turn respond: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Though we wait for Christ’s return “from Heaven” in 1 Thess. 1:10, and though we “do not see Him now,” yet we nevertheless, “believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for we are receiving the goal of our faith…,” (1 Peter 1:8-9). Even now we enjoy the fruits of Kingdom life!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the inspired grammar of His Word here in 1 Thess. 2:12, which requires that we be thankful not only for His effectual ‘once-for-all’ calling of us out of darkness and into light, but also for His daily reminding us of our status and calling as heirs of the Kingdom of God! Let’s taste of these Kingdom fruits even now, with the help of Isaac Watts in hymn # 700:
Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne.
The men of grace have found,
Glory begun below.
Celestial fruits on earthly ground
From faith and hope may grow.
The hill of Zion yields
A thousand sacred sweets,
Before we reach the heav’nly fields,
Or walk the golden streets.
Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
To fairer worlds on high.