Introduction: Our third week of Bible notes introducing 1 Thessalonians must focus on the fruit of God’s electing grace shown to that church. It was because God had chosen them (verse 4) that Paul was able to celebrate the fruit of such election in terms of the Thessalonians’ faith, love and hope in Jesus Christ. As he puts it in his prayer of thanksgiving in 1 Thessalonians 1: 2-3:
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.
May we likewise this week be filled with thanksgiving as we survey God’s great, saving work, especially in the matter of working faith into the hearts and lives of His people.
Monday/Tuesday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3 and Romans 1:1-5. We begin with Paul’s thanksgiving in verse 3, where he highlights the activity of the Thessalonians’ faith, describing it as “the work of faith.” Now, Paul is not contradicting what he says elsewhere in his letters about the passive, receptive nature of saving faith. As our Westminster Confession’s chapter on ‘Justification,’ XI, paragraph 1 puts it: “We are freely justified… not for anything wrought in us, or done by us…, nor by the act of believing or any other evangelical obedience… but for Christ’s sake alone.” In this sense of being the instrument of our justification, faith is said in paragraph 2 to be simply a “receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness.”
But such saving faith, resting on Christ, is also empowered by the Holy Spirit to get up and to be active – not as if we could contribute one iota to the finished work of our salvation by our actions of faith – but because the new life which we have in Christ is one in which faith becomes active in our hearts, minds and bodies. Even our feet begin to walk by faith! So, let us fix this in our minds: Faith in its expression in the life of the believer is never inactive. When God the Father gives faith; when His Spirit applies Christ’s work of redemption by working faith in our hearts, it is always with the goal of producing a faith which will work, obey, and respond to God’s every impulse and command. For other examples of the “work” of faith, look at:
- Romans 1:5, where Paul calls people “to the obedience that comes from faith.”
- Romans 16:19, where Paul declares that “everyone had heard of the Romans’ obedience, so that I am full of joy over you.”
- Romans 16:25-26, where Paul describes the purpose for which God revealed the Gospel, in order that “all nations might believe and obey God.”
Meditate and Pray: Lord Jesus, it is your great finished work of salvation which is applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom you have sent. We would ask today, for the sake of the ongoing well-being of our whole church family, that you, Jesus, would also be mightily at work to make our faith an active, decisive, productive and effective grace. Please enable us, like the Thessalonians, to persevere in the work of faith. Amen.
Now let’s use the words of hymn # 585 in our Trinity Hymnal to give us resolve to be up and doing by faith:
Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.
Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.
Wednesday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3 and Acts 16:10-15. It is no accident that first on the list of graces which Paul thankfully discerns in the lives of the Thessalonians is their faith. Faith is not only the sole instrument of salvation; it is also the first real proof of the life of God taking root in the heart and soul of men and women. Without such faith, it is impossible to please God (or be successful in any work in the church). How wonderful, then, that the first fruit which Paul sees after being called to go to Macedonia is that of God “opening the heart” of one of the prominent “charter members” of the Christian church in Macedonia: Lydia, the seller of purple, so that she, in her own words, becomes a “believer in the Lord” in Acts 16:15. Though she was not Thessalonian, she is worth some detailed study in this week’s notes, as an example of the work of faith which Paul highlights in 1 Thessalonians 1:3.
Consider further how Paul’s missionary faith and Lydia’s saving faith coincided in Acts 16:10 and 16:14. It was because Paul’s faith expressed itself in terms of ready obedience, (prompting him in Acts 16:10 to immediately follow God’s call) that Paul was in the position of being used by God to speak the gospel to Lydia in Acts 16:14 – and to sow the seed of Gospel faith which began to bloom in her life!
Meditate and Pray: Lord, thank you, that when you are planning a great work of faith in a place like Macedonia, you not only prepare the way by softening the hearts of those who will hear the Gospel, you also stir up believers like Paul, Timothy and Luke to be used by you. What great news for the lost, dark Province of Macedonia: “We got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” May the Lord likewise stir our hearts anew, and guide our feet to new opportunities for Gospel witness. Amen.
Thursday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3 and Acts 16:14-15. We note that Lydia’s new-found faith had a specific content as she confesses herself to be a “believer in the Lord” in Acts 16:15. It is this same Lord who “opens Lydia’s heart” in Acts 16:14. This must mean Jesus Christ opened her heart. After all, the whole purpose of the Book of Acts is to continue the narrative of what “Jesus began to do and say” (Acts 1:1) in the Gospels. And it is the Lord Jesus Christ to whom Paul points Lydia’s fellow Philippian, the jailer, in Acts 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved – you and your household.”
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the LORD Jesus Christ, who came down invested with the full authority of God’s personal name. Though all mankind had lost the knowledge of the LORD, we rejoice that the LORD Jesus Christ represented the return of the LORD to His people. No wonder Paul continually introduces His Savior, not merely as “Jesus Christ,” but as the “LORD Jesus Christ”! Just go to the beginning of all of his letters (Romans; 1 & 2 Corinthians; Galatians; Ephesians; Philippians; Colossians; 1 & 2 Thessalonians; 1 & 2 Timothy; Titus and Philemon) and see His greeting: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.”
Friday/Sat./Sun: read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5 and Acts 16:14-15. The question which naturally arises when we read about the “opening of Lydia’s heart” so that she became a “believer in the Lord” is: What did the Lord Jesus do in order to open Lydia’s heart and to give her that living faith which is our focus in this week’s notes? Well, there are innumerable works which Jesus, the Lord of human hearts, must do in order to open the heart of unbelief in all of us. He must convict us of our guilty and lost condition and point us to our only hope in the Cross; He must illuminate our minds so they agree with the good news which we, along with Lydia, hear from the Apostles; He must move our affections to desire Jesus Christ to be our Savior and Lord, and He must create within us a loyalty and a hearty trust by which we declare, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” All this was involved in the Lord’s “opening the heart of Lydia,” and in her welcoming both the Gospel and the Apostles into her home in Acts 16:15.
But most fundamentally, let us not forget the sovereign power implied in the opening of Lydia’s heart. Through all the events of Acts 15 and 16, leading up to Paul’s Macedonian call to preach the Gospel, the stress falls on the Lord Jesus’ power and sovereign purpose, as He prepared the way for the Gospel to travel into Macedonia… in a mission which He had planned even from the beginning of the eternity, and which He shared with His Father! For example, consider how the following verses apply to the Lord Jesus’ power to open doors and hearts:
- Acts 15:17: “… that the remnant of men may seek the Lord… Known to God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (KJV).
- Acts 15:25-26 and Acts 16:4: Paul was chosen to take the church’s gospel directives to the Gentiles because he had “risked his life for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He then obeys this commission, travelling from town to town in Asia in Acts 16:4, taking with him once again the sovereign name of the “Lord Jesus.”
- Acts 16:14-18: Not only did Paul invoke the name of the Lord Jesus to open the heart of Lydia, he also used that mighty name to deliver one enslaved to Satan in Acts 16:18, leading to Paul’s imprisonment, his witness to the jailor and the conversion of that man’s whole household!
- Acts 16:25-31: And how does Paul end his time in Philippi in Acts 16, as a prelude to going to Thessalonica in Acts 17? He witnesses the same power which had opened Lydia’s heart, also lay waste the prison bars and walls which had sought to imprison him! The earthquake of Acts 16:26, we may be sure, was from that same mighty hand of the Lord Jesus!
Clearly, then: whatever it means to “open the heart” so that people like Lydia believe in the Lord Jesus and are saved, we know that it is the power of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ which alone can do that opening. He alone can break our stony hearts and deliver us from prison!
Meditate and Pray: Let us praise God that He has granted “all authority and power” – even to the opening of human hearts – to King Jesus. No other world power can hold sway in the throne of the human heart like the Lord Jesus. Sing about this power, by which the “work of faith” is begun, in hymn # 453:
All authority and power,
All the nations owe him worship,
All the time he will be with us,