Introduction: Any beginning to Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians must include his call to that city, as God opened a door for service there in Acts 16:9-10. It was only when God decisively opened doors in his life that Paul was to go forward to serve. May the Lord likewise decisively guide us through His Word in our day that we might be stirred afresh to follow Him in service, wherever He takes us.
Monday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2. Thessalonica was a strategic regional capital of Northern Greece – a city which Xerxes used as his naval base in attacking that land. Paul’s call to take the Gospel to Thessalonica was directly from the Spirit of God, who led him to that city, and the Province of Macedonia in which it was located (Acts 16:9-10). Thessalonica was an urban, commercial and military center with an excellent harbor. Like Corinth, it was given over to the wealth, busyness and idolatry of Greek and Roman culture. Yet, the Lord sustained His people in that environment. May we likewise see God use the book of 1 Thessalonians to stir us up with new courage to face the challenges of living in our urbanized, worldly culture – much akin to the fast-paced worldliness of Thessalonica.
Meditate and Pray: May we see Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians, in their evil environment, also answered in our lives, as we shine as lights in the darkness of this world: May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it (1 Thess. 5:23-24).
Tuesday: read Acts 16:6-10 and 1 Thessalonians 1:1-4. It is remarkable to see God’s fore-ordained missionary plan set in motion by the Holy Spirit as that Spirit guided Paul to Divinely chosen places for missionary activity. Twice in Acts 16:6-7, Paul is forbidden from preaching the Gospel – first in Asia (Acts 16:6), then in Bithynia (Acts 16:7). How Paul must have rejoiced, therefore, after such a perplexing time of not being able to preach at all, to see the door opened by the Lord to the Province of Macedonia (and the cities like Thessalonica it contained), in Acts 16:9-10!
Meditate and Pray: How we need to be reminded each and every day of our undeserved privilege in having the Gospel brought to us – all because God opened the door and smoothed the way for that “Good News” to reach our ears. More than that, how we ought to treasure the Grace of God which enabled us to understand and receive that message unto salvation – when so many hear without any Grace-enabled response of faith. Look at how hymn # 469 in our Trinity hymnal puts it, written by Isaac Watts:
How sweet and awesome is the place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores!
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?
“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”
Wednesday: read Acts 16:6-10 and 1 Thessalonians 1:4. Have you ever stood by a mountain stream in spate, tumbling down through a mass of boulders in the spring-time: one cataract after another, waterfall followed by waterfall; the sound of water drowning out your voice as you stand there next to it? You marvel at the force of the water to move rocks and carry away yards of stream-bank! In just this way, the book of 1 Thessalonians is the work of the God whose sovereign will, like a force of nature, carries all before it in the quest to “have mercy on whom He will have mercy and harden whom He will harden.” This book stands as a tribute to the force of the Gospel, carved out of the mass of human unbelief, by a God who sovereignly “passes by” some sections of the river of humanity in Acts 16:6-7 in order to gouge new water-courses of life and salvation in the soil of Macedonia, to which Paul is sent in Acts 16:9-10.
Meditate and Pray: How awe-inspiring for us as well as the Thessalonians to consider the closed doors of God – to realize how many do not hear the Good News in a saving manner; to realize that God is under no obligation to send the Gospel with success into every human heart – but then also at the same time to see that Gospel, by enabling Grace alone, having success in our lives and bringing the water of life coursing into our hearts! Even though we are as undeserving and as lost as those who refuse it! Oh, to hear the Apostle declare to us as he did to the Thessalonians: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you” (1 Thess. 1:4).
Thursday/Friday: read Acts 16:6-8 and James 4:13-16. Paul, like us, lays his plans and sets his goals but must first append to every plan he sets in place: “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15 ESV). His initial plans on his second missionary journey included going westward on the Roman road towards Ephesus, with a view to preaching in that part of Asia. (If you study any map of Paul’s missionary travels, you could trace Paul’s intended route from Lystra in south-east Asia, where Paul chose Timothy as a fellow-worker in Acts 16:1-5, straight west to Ephesus.) But God forbade Paul to follow this route or to preach while he was in Asia (Acts 16:6), which led Paul to turn away from this main route towards Ephesus, going instead to the north in the direction of Bithynia. But once again, God closed the route north to Bithynia in Acts 16:7 – this time with even more forceful language, i.e., whereas God’s prohibition in verse 6 forbade Paul to preach in Asia while he travelled through it, now in verse 7 God forbids Paul from even setting foot in Bithynia! Thus we encounter the mystery of God’s decrees, and must bow with a perplexed Paul before the sovereign plan of God to build His church – often in a far different way than we can understand.
Meditate and Pray: Let us enter in to Paul’s perplexity as his spiritual nose must have ached after having doors to Asia and Bithynia closed in his face! As William Ramsay, in his great book entitled, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, put it on page 200:
Point after point, province after province are hurried over… The natural development of Paul’s work along the great central route of the Empire (West towards Ephesus) was forbidden, and the next alternative that rose in his mind (North to Bithynia) was forbidden: he was led across Asia from the extreme south-east to the extreme north-west corner, and yet prevented from preaching in it; everything seemed dark and perplexing…
Prayer: Lord, sometimes we do not understand your closed doors, and the way being blocked toward what we think would be a timely ministry in the lives of nations, friends, neighbors and even loved ones. Help us to learn to bide our time until you open the doors and send us through. Give us grace especially when you forbid us from going through some doors at all. Give us grace to say with hymn # 686:
Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be;
Lead me by Thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me.
Smooth let it be or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight, it leads
Right onward to Thy rest.
I dare not choose my lot;
I would not, if I might;
Choose Thou for me, my God,
So I shall walk aright.
The kingdom that I seek
Is Thine: so let the way
That leads to it be Thine,
Else I must surely stray.