Summary: A message urging a young church to emulate the Thessalonian Christians as they anticipate the future.
ONE YEAR LATER
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
One year ago, we held our first service as a congregation of believers seeking to serve the Risen Son of God. We did not know precisely what the future might hold, but we were confident that God was blessing us as we sought to fill a void in the religious life of the communities about us. It was not then, nor is it now, our intention to condemn the state of religion in our communities; however, there remains a great work before us.
We have much in common with the Thessalonian Christians. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul spoke of their character and how they were viewed throughout the world. Reviewing that letter, I see much of what characterises our own congregation reflected in Paul’s assessment of the Thessalonians. Consequently, the Apostle was moved to thanksgiving upon reflection of what God had accomplished among these early believers. Similarly, I am moved to thanksgiving by what I witness in the work God has performed among us.
WHAT HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED — In our text, Paul gave thanks to God for the Thessalonians. In particular, he writes of their “work of faith,” of their “labour of love,” and of “the steadfastness of hope” that he saw evidenced in their congregation life. He writes that these saints had received the Gospel in word, in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction. Believing the Word, they became imitators of what they saw lived out by the apostolic band. Thus, they were commended for standing firm in the face of opposition and expressing joy despite the hardship they endured. The Apostle speaks with pride of how they aggressively evangelised throughout Macedonia and Achaia, even serving as a source of encouragement to fellow believers found throughout the entire world.
When Paul would later write the Corinthian Christians, he would teach them that the hallmarks of the Christian life were “faith, hope and love” [see 1 CORINTHIANS 13:13]. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the Apostle anticipated what he would teach the Corinthians because he had witnessed these sterling qualities in the Thessalonian congregation. Faith, hope and love are evidence that a congregation gets it! These graces are evidence that the people truly understand who they are and that they are aware of the power that is at work among them.
Before looking at what God has done among us, focus on what the Apostle has said concerning these Thessalonian Christians. First, their lives were characterised by faith, love and hope. Paul knew they were people of faith because they worked. We are not saved by faith plus works, but we are saved by a faith that works. People who continue to live as they once did, with a mere pious nod to Christian service, effectively deny that they are saved regardless of what they may profess. Faith results in work. The individual who fails to serve, or who serves only when it is convenient, effectively reveals his or her lack of faith. One of the hard sayings of Jesus that is frequently ignored within modern evangelical Christendom is that which baldly states, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” [JOHN 14:15].
Many Christian memorise EPHESIANS 2:8, 9 soon after being born from above. That passage testifies, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” However, we fail to fully instruct those who profess Christ if we fail to insist that they must also memorise the tenth verse: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” [EPHESIANS 2:10]. An old saying among the saints instructs the faithful, “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Real faith results in work for the cause of Christ.