Summary: Three comments Paul makes about the church.
In our study of 1st Thessalonians, we became quite acquainted with this wonderful group of believers from the city of Thessalonica. I want you to take a stroll with me back through what we have learned about them so far. There is something very satisfying about working systematically through a whole book of the Bible so that you have a grasp of the whole message and how the different parts fit together to make the main points. A deep and joyful confidence comes into the mind of a believer whose knowledge of Scripture is not second hand and piecemeal but instead is textually based and orderly. I hope that you will continue to read these letters and be familiar with their teachings so you might make better application of them, and as we all do so, may God be pleased with our willingness to study and know Him.
Remember that Luke told us in Acts that during Paul’s second missionary journey through Asia Minor he had made a stop in this city to preach and teach and try to win converts to Christ so that a church could be planted there for that same purpose. The Bible tells us that he was in Thessalonica for a short while, but by the time he had left he had caused quite an uproar in the city. Now, this is no small thing considering that there were somewhere between 250 and 350,000 people in the city.
When was the last time you heard of someone’s preaching and people getting saved causing an uproar in the city? Even a small city? Well that’s exactly what happened. Many of the chief people there repented of their sin and placed their faith in Christ. Lives were being changed and people were forsaking long established lives of sin, sins that the city’s economy was built upon. When the locals couldn’t stand it any more, they ran Paul out of town and wanted very much to kill him. But even though they chased him out of town, the damage was done – a group of believers, how large it was we don’t know – had been gathered together to form the church at Thessalonica to which Paul would later write our two letters.
In the first letter, Paul addressed a number of subjects that we have already covered. He thanked them for their love and fervent labor for the Lord, and he was thankful to God that they had stood strong after he left in the face of such strong opposition. I think their stand was admirable considering that these were new believers, quite young in the faith. Even in their infancy they had a great zeal for Christ that would see them through some dark moments. Their lives had been changed for sure, so much so that they were gaining a reputation throughout the region for their example of faithfulness. They were willing to work and do what needed to be done to continue to win more and more people to Christ, and they had great reason to, for they truly believed that they would see the return of Christ during their lifetime.
Now I suppose many people object to Christianity at this point and say that for 2,000 years people have always believed that they would be the ones to see the return of Christ, and He still hasn’t come; so he must not be coming, right? Well, that’s what faith is all about isn’t it? No matter how far removed we may find ourselves from the cross, our expectation for the imminent return of Christ stands firm, our hope is in Him, and our faith grows stronger as we are opposed time and time again.
Paul continued to brag on this church as he pointed out that they were growing and continuing in tribulation. They were staying true to the gospel message in a polytheistic culture. That may not sound like a big deal, but it was just as big a deal then as it is today. Today we live in a world that claims that your way of salvation is just as good as mine and that your God is my god and that all roads lead to heaven. I’ll tell you, churches are finding it increasingly difficult to stay true to the faith once delivered to the saints, but stay true they must, which is what our Thessalonian friends did.
They had a right understanding of the biblical teaching that God has called every believer into the ministry, not just preachers, the ministry of reconciliation, so they gave their lives to this end, touching other lives in the process by their willingness to give, their willingness to suffer and die and be exiled. These people were treated harshly for their faith in Christ, a treatment you and I know little about, and their faithfulness was a great testimony to the reality of the change that had taken place in their lives and it communicated a great authenticity about what they believed. You see, it is one thing to say I trust Christ when things are going fine, but it is another thing altogether to say I trust Christ when there is a gun to my head.