Introduction: Paul the Apostle has much to rejoice in as he prays with gratitude for the work of salvation in the Thessalonians in 1 Thess. 1:2-3. He in particular cites proof of the Thessalonians’ new-found life in Christ in verse 3:
We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
This inward heart work of faith, hope and love was proof for Paul that the Thessalonians had truly come under the sway of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Their Christian life began with the “grace and peace” which flowed from the finished atoning work of the Lord Jesus (verse 1); it continued with the progressive work of the Spirit in the Thessalonians, as they grew in faith, love and hope – until news of their powerful conversion “rang out” (1 Thess. 1:8) everywhere. May we rejoice in this week’s notes as we are reminded that Jesus Christ still exercises His Lordship in and through His church, and may we be encouraged to participate in what He is doing by imitating the prayers of Paul which so triumphantly sound out in the first chapter of this letter.
Monday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 and Acts 17:1-4. It is not surprising that Paul’s prayers focus first on the “work of faith” evident in the Thessalonians. This same “faith-focus” characterized his early preaching in Acts 17:2-3 as he reasoned with the Thessalonians from the Scriptures, proving that Jesus was indeed the Christ. The Lord Jesus used this preaching to illuminate the Thessalonians’ minds, change their hearts, and persuade them to embrace Jesus so freely offered in the Gospel. No wonder Paul begins with thanksgiving to God for the work of faith! Faith is always the instrument by which the blessings of salvation come to us.
Meditate and Pray: Let us stand up in our day, when faith is wrongly thought to flow out of our humanity and the “divine spark” which we carry within us, and let us assert that faith is a supernatural gift founded alone on Jesus Christ and His unique saving work. There is no such thing as “people of faith” arising from all sorts of religious traditions. There is only one sinless Jesus, to whom we are united by faith, and which is wrought in us by the same Holy Spirit who worked faith in Him. Sing about this unique gift of faith in hymn # 394 from our Trinity hymnals, which celebrates the New Creation accomplished through Jesus Christ:
This day at Thy creating Word
First o’er the earth the light was poured:
O Lord, this day upon us shine
And fill our souls with light divine.
This day the Lord for sinners slain
In might victorious rose again:
O Jesus, may we raisèd be
From death of sin to life in Thee!
This day the Holy Spirit came
With fiery tongues of cloven flame:
O Spirit, fill our hearts this day
With grace to hear and grace to pray.
All praise to God the Father be,
All praise, eternal Son, to Thee,
Whom, with the Spirit, we adore
Forever and forevermore.
Tuesday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, Acts 17:3. Glance again at Paul’s preaching in Acts 17:3. What was there for the Thessalonians to latch onto? Was it not especially that Jesus Christ “had” to suffer? This language of necessity means that it was God the Father’s will for Jesus Christ to suffer. It is used throughout the Gospels as Jesus repeatedly says of Himself as the Son of Man:
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31).
Everything written about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again. (Luke 18:31-33).
Meditate and Pray: No wonder Paul’s prayers focus on “giving thanks… before our God and Father” in 1 Thess. 1:2-3! He sees that it was the Father’s will which was accomplished in the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ. He sees that there is a salvation in Thessalonica to rejoice in only because God the Father decreed that His own Son must suffer in our nature on the Cross! What good news! We don’t merely celebrate “grace and peace” from Jesus in 1 Thess. 1:1 – we affirm that this grace and peace comes from “God the Father” as well!
Wednesday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 and Romans 5:5. Paul not only gives thanks for the Thessalonians’ faith. He also rejoices in another Divine gift which has come to expression in the Thessalonians’ lives, namely, their “labor of love.” As new Christians, they have expended enormous effort to show others that same love by which they had been saved. To understand this phrase “labor of love” in verse 3, consider what scholar Leon Morris says: We use the expression “labor of love” to denote small service we render without hope of reward. But Paul’s term is a strong one, and he means that, out of love, the Thessalonians have labored to the point of weariness… With or without visible success, love gives itself unstintingly.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the great resource and reservoir of love which we have within us as Christians, which we can endlessly draw upon in order to show love to others in Jesus’ name. As Romans 5:5 puts it, And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.
Thursday/Friday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:3-8. We have focused this week on Paul’s thankfulness for the two graces of faith and love in the Thessalonian church. We will have more to say about the third fruit of hope, for which Paul gives thanks in verse 3. But we end this week’s notes with Paul returning to give thanks to God for the faith of the Thessalonians in verses 3-8. Paul rejoices in their faith and the glory which redounds to God and His Gospel as news of their faith reaches throughout the world! For Paul, and for us, there was nothing like the Lord Jesus’ bestowal of new life upon dead sinners, and the real repentance and faith expressed in such newly-regenerated lives. For further proof of the high value which Paul places upon the Thessalonians’ faith, consider the following verses:
- He remembers this faith constantly, (v. 3);
- He treasures this faith as proof of the Thessalonians’ election, (v. 4);
- He labors in verses 5-6 to provide an example for their faith to follow;
- He rejoices in verses 7-8 in the proclamation of their faith throughout the world.
- Finally, as we shall see in 1 Thess. 2:1-13, Paul will even go to the lengths of defending his own ministry among the Thessalonians – precisely because it was through that ministry that the Word of God began its work in “you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).
Meditate and Pray: Amazing! There are some Christians who don’t put such work into their own faith which Paul puts into building up the faith of others! Do we have a deep gratitude to God for the faith of others, and a joy in their progress as reflected in our prayers on their behalf? Do our prayers transcend ourselves? Paul is so full of gratitude for the Thessalonians’ faith that he doesn’t even mention his own trouble until 1 Thess. 2:2, and doesn’t even request prayer for himself until 2 Thess. 3:1! Ask the Lord to give you and your church family such an outward-looking thankfulness and concern for the progress of the faith of others. May this selfless perspective replace obsession with ourselves and our own Christian lives, so that the experience of this hymn by Paul Gerhardt might be ours:
The duteous day now closeth,
Each flower and tree reposeth,
Shade creeps o’er wild and wood:
Let us, as night is falling,
On God our Maker calling,
Give thanks to Him, the Giver good.
Now all the heav’nly splendor
Breaks forth in starlight tender
From myriad worlds unknown;
And man, the marvel seeing,
Forgets his selfish being,
For joy of beauty not his own.
His care he drowneth yonder,
Lost in the abyss of wonder;
To Heav’n his soul doth steal:
This life he disesteemeth,
The day it is that dreameth,
That doth from truth his vision seal.
Awhile his mortal blindness
May miss God’s lovingkindness,
And grope in faithless strife:
But when life’s day is over
Shall death’s fair night discover
The fields of everlasting life.