Reasons for Thankfulness

Introduction: Paul went to Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. He and Barnabas had separated (Acts 16:36-40), Silas went with Paul. In Lystra, Timothy joined Paul and Silas and in Troas Luke joined the group. God had stopped their intention to go to Asia and Bithynia and led them by a vision Paul had to go to Philippi (Acts 16:6-10). God gave them gospel success in Philippi and also suffering. Paul and Silas were arrested, whipped, and imprisoned there. At some point during the time of the arrest Paul and Silas became separated from Timothy and Luke. They left and went to Thessalonica. Apparently, Timothy has rejoined them by this time, but we no longer read “we” or “us” until 20:5. At Thessalonica, Paul reasoned for three Sabbaths in the synagogue proving from prophecy that Jesus was the Christ. Some were persuaded, and a large number of the devout Greeks “and not a few of the leading women” were converted. The unbelieving Jews began making accusations of insurrection and rebellion against Paul and Silas causing a riot. They taught that Jesus was Lord and King. This accusation was a purposeful political mangling of Paul’s teaching them about the return of Christ in glory. Surely this constituted a threat to Caesar’s present position!  Some of the new Christians were taken before city authorities to answer for these charges. Paul and Silas were sent off to Berea, apparently along with Timothy, under cover of night. Though the time line is not given in detail, it appears that Paul could not have been in Thessalonica more than a few weeks. Having had to leave with such rapidity and in secrecy, he did not have much opportunity to give extended instruction or even to gain any mature sense of the spiritual state of the new Christians. For that reason, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to “strengthen and encourage” them in the faith. Timothy’s report was greatly encouraging (3:6-8) and Paul wanted to see them to “complete what is lacking in your faith” (3:10). This letter, then, gives Paul’s expression of love for the church, warns them to expect persecution, and seeks to give further doctrinal instruction. In his Word Pictures, A. T. Robertson wrote, “this is the earliest one [of Paul’s letters] that has come down to us and it may even be the earliest New Testament book, unless the Epistle of James antedates it or even Mark’s Gospel.”

I. Greeting

A. From whom: Paul and Silas, and Timothy had been there at the founding of the church. Timothy has been sent back to give them further instruction. It is important that the Thessalonians see that all three of the founding apostolic team have maintained the faith, have persevered through opposition and affliction, and still are concerned for the Thessalonians’ eternal safety and prosperity.

B. To whom:

    1. They are addressed as a church, a group of those called out of the world to know the living and true God, to worship him, trust his redemptive work in Christ, and serve him.
    2. Their sphere of existence as a church and as redeemed persons is in God the Father. Father by nature in his eternal trinitarian relation and Father to them by redemptive privilege. Now they may cry “Abba,” Father when they call upon him (Galatians 4:6, 7)
    3. Also, they are in the Lord Jesus Christ, who has united himself to them by nature in his humanity and by redemptive work. “In him we have redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7). The eternal wealth involved in knowing God as Father on account of the work of the Son is inexhaustible in duration and unsurpassable in value and beauty.

II. Paul expresses gratitude for spiritual fruit in their lives.

A. “Work of faith” – This work to which Paul refers arises from faith; faith is the power that produces it. Their work, therefore, has the same qualities of faith because arising immediately from it. Their work does not look to itself for merit but only to the merit of Christ.

B. “Labor of love” – Such labor arises from love, is produced by it. Like the work of faith, this labor is not valued on its own account as meritorious but as a natural response to a love for God and as a recognition of the blessing of God’s infinite love to sinners. “Love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:8).

C. “Patience of hope” – Patience in the trial, inequalities,, sufferings, and disappointments of this life arises from hope. This hope is an objective reality based on the promise of God, who cannot lie, that in Christ we have eternal life. And this Christ will return to give the final touches to redemption. The “blessed hope” is the glorious appearing of the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who will change our suffering, weak, and tired bodies to be like his glorious resurrection body (Titus 2:13; Philippians 3:20, 21).

D. In our Lord Jesus Christ -Faith, love, and hope (see 1 Corinthians 13:13) are all produced in the believer by the finished work of redemption. “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. …And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. … And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5: 1-5).

E. In the presence of our God and Father. Though we maintain the utmost reverence and awe in our approach to God, we do not shrink from him as one under whose condemning prerogative we wrestle with fear, but we have confidence in him as the perfect Father. Even as he eternally is God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, so, by adoption, we receive the Father’s love even as his Son does (John 17:26). We are “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17) because of electing love (Eph 1:4), and regenerating love (Eph 2:4), and unchanging persevering love (Romans 8:37-39).

III. Paul expresses confidence in their election.

A. The way in which the word came to them

    1. Temporally, it came to them as a result of Paul’s missionary team having been driven from Philippi after having suffered there in the establishing of a church. Paul looked at God’s providential arrangement of events and knew that scattered among the inhabitants of Thessalonica were some of the elect of God. Paul was in Corinth when he wrote, (Acts 18:5) and had received a visionary assurance from God that, in spite of opposition, his work would be attended by the calling out of “many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:10). Paul knew that his suffering labors were to be blessed with gospel success in Corinth as had also occurred in Thessalonica.
    2. The immediate and sustained effect of the preaching was consistent with an effectual calling of the Spirit.
      • He knew the truthfulness and saving content of the message he preached—“our gospel.” Paul never wavered from the conviction that the gospel revealed to him was revealed from God himself, and was derived from a full grasp of the person of Christ and the necessities implied in prophecy (Acts 18:2, 3). Paul’s gospel was God’s gospel.
      • The obvious spiritual effect that this preaching went far beyond the mere hearing of a message—“did not come to you in word only”—but had revolutionary impact. The felt power of the Holy Spirit was among the hearers of the word and their persuasion of its truth was profound and life-changing (Acts 18:4). They “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” not a dead, unhearing, unspeaking, inactive false god (1:9).
      • The Baptist Catechism: “Effectual calling is a work of God’s Spirit, wherein convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he persuades and enables us to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the gospel.”

B. Imitated the apostles in their suffering (5b-7). From the beginning they knew saw that believing the gospel would cause suffering and a willingness to endure it for the sake of Christ. Forsaking the gospel under pressure meant no faith from the beginning.

    1. The Thessalonians saw the moral character of the gospel preachers and also saw that had endured opposition and life-threatening situations in order to come to them and preach this message from the Scripture—“what kind of men we proved to be among you.”

If we have died with him,

We also will live with him.

If we endure,

We will also reign with him;

If we deny him,

He also will deny us;

If we are faithless,

He remains faithful,

For he cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 2:11-13

    1. They drew the proper conclusion that the way of truth in the gospel was a way contrary to the world’s values and affections (verses 5b-7)
      • Not only did they see and hear that one must take up his cross and follow Christ, and that each should lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets, and that they go with Christ “outside the camp” to the place of death and squalor” bearing “the reproach he endured” (Hebrews 13:13), but they imitated that calling.
      • They saw such a denial of the world and an embracing of Christ’s reproach in the ministry of Paul and his cohort, that they knew that to receive the gospel message meant to imitate the gospel life—“imitators of us”. If the message had brought on Paul the anger of the world to the point of accusation and abuse, their reception of the message meant their reception of its unpopularity and opposition.
      • Only through malice, misrepresentation, and an unjust sentence of death did Christ make a way of salvation—“and of the Lord.” He was despised and rejected of men, .. yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; … stricken for the transgression of my people” (Isaiah 53:3, 4, 8). To trust him in his work of redemption means also to follow him in the path to heaven; If we fear to follow heavenly truth now, we will not see it in full glory and power in eternity. If we prefer the company and approval of the slanderer now, we will have his company forever.
      • They themselves had experienced immediately the hostile response of the world to gospel truth: “having received the word in much tribulation” (6). This response is seen in Acts 17:5-9 – “taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason.” The church at Thessalonica knew the reality of tribulation from the nature of the gospel message, the example of Jesus and the apostles, and through personal experience.
      • “With the joy of the Holy Spirit” – As Moffat remarked, this is the “paradox of experience,” that tribulation brings joy. Paul argued that “we rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3), for such suffering eventually blossoms into the objective reality of hope, a preference for the coming and glorious presence of Christ over all worldly acceptance and affirmation. This joy is a particular fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) mentioned immediately after “love,” The first and actually the sum total of the fruit since “God’s love has ben poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

IV. Paul describes the external impact of their faith (7-10).

A. Its scope – Paul was expansive in his description of how widespread the news was of their suffering with joy for the faith.

    1. The word had spread from Macedonia to Asia and then “in every place your faith toward God has gone forth.” Though Paul was of the disposition to tell abut the work of the Spirit in various places among the Gentiles, this news had gone fast and far so that he did not need to bear the tidings personally.
    2. Even those who heard this news, shared it with others. They told how the apostles had gone to Thessalonica under a shadow of persecution from Philippi—a persecution arising from the powerful effect of the gospel at Philippi—and how the Thessalonians listened to Paul’s argument for several weeks and were persuaded by his presentation of Jesus in light of scriptural prophecy. He had demonstrated that Jesus was the Christ. As was common, a wide variety of persons from different ethnic backgrounds, different levels of society, and both men and women had embraced this same gospel message. The nature of this reception in this city was a matter of deep pleasure to believers in other places and they gladly extended the news of their belief as a platform for gospel proclamation.

B. Their escape from paganism (9b) – Some of the converts were God-fearers attending the synagogue to hear exposition of the Old Testament Scriptures. Others were local pagans, attending to the rites of a pagan lifestyle. The news of a dying and rising God, a presently reigning and eventually returning king, a completed redemption from the “wrath to come” absolutely radicalized their view of what it meant to know God and to find a propitious and merciful Father as one who lived, one who was the source of all truth. This revolutionary turning was another clear evidence of their election from eternity.

C. Their anticipation of Christ’s return. We find the comprehensive character of Paul’s preaching to which they responded (10).

    1. to wait for his Son from heaven – He had not taught that Christians were to overwhelm the political process of this world and seek to replace Caesar with Jesus. Jesus already is Lord, he rules among the sons of men and the temporal and temporary rulers of this age, overseeing their work according to his purpose and mounting up judgments against them for their godlessness. Jesus is seated “at the right hand of Gd the Father almighty, whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” The rebellion at Thessalonica against Paul’s proclamation of Jesus as Lord and Savior misconstrued, purposely, the message. The Christians are to wait with enduring hope for the appearance of God’s Son from heaven. Till then we demonstrate patience, in holiness, and in obedience to preach the gospel to every creature. We do not look to a uniting of the kingdoms of men and the kingdom of God on this earth until Christ comes from heaven and rules over all, quiets and then defeats all opposition, and brings in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
    2. “Whom he raised from the dead” -The invincible power of God over the world and the setting of Jesus as Lord of all has been demonstrated indubitably by the resurrection from the dead. The wages of sin are paid and accepted, so death is defeated by the satisfaction of Christ; death is defeated and there are no other foes with equal credentials of power. Death presently reigns over all men as a fearsome, lurking, omnigenerational tyrant, but Christians may say, “O Death, where is your victory? O Grave, where is your sting?” You have been defeated and stingerectomied. Raised from the dead! No other power remains to be laid low.
    3. “who rescues us” – under the sentence of death and in the slave market of sin, having it as a cruel taskmaster, Jesus’ resurrection has rescued his covenanted people. For them he set apart himself to death, lingered for a while under its power, by the Father’s glory and his own power to take his life back again, this bondage was obliterated and those for whom the price of death has been paid are rescued. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love” (Colossians 1:13).
    4. “from the wrath to come” – Our sins and our corruption in Adam laid us under condemnation as children of wrath. (Romans 5:12,Ephesians 2:3). But Christ was set forth as a propitiation for our sins—the wrath bearer who exhausted the divine displeasure at the sins even of his elect. Now, we are “not destined for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us” (5:9, 10).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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