Summary: some churches are closer to the NT ideal than others. The church at Thessalonica was in that category.
TEXT: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
TITLE: WHAT EVERY CHURCH SHOULD BE
No doubt you have heard people say, “If you ever find the perfect church, please don’t join it. If you do, it won’t be perfect any more!”
Since local churches are made up of human beings, saved by God’s grace, no church is perfect. But some churches are closer to the NT ideal than others. The church at Thessalonica was in that category. At least four times in this letter, Paul gave thanks for the church and the way it responded to his ministry (1:2; 2:13: 3:9; 5:18).
Characteristics of The Ideal Church
First we notice verse 3. “Your work of faith.” The meaning of this is “Your work which springs form faith.” Paul is very emphatic that salvation is a matter of faith, not works, and he uses the very strongest of expressions to make it clear that man is not saved by works at all. But he also speaks of good works that characterize the life of faith. Faith, for Paul, is a warm personal trust in a living Savior, and such a faith cannot but transform the whole of life, and issue in “work” of many kinds. Read James 2:14-18. It has been said, “We are not saved by faith plus works, but by a faith that works.”
Second, we see the words, “labor of love.” Paul is saying that out of love they have labored to the point of weariness. The word expresses the cost of their love, not its result. With or without visible success, love gives itself unstintingly.
Third, we see the words, “patience of hope.” “Patience” is better rendered “steadfastness”. What is meant is not a quiet, passive resignation, but an active constancy in the face of difficulties. As William Barclay says: “It is the spirit which can bear things, not simply with resignation, but with blazing hope.” This springs from hope, that hope which is more than pious optimism. It is a solid certainty. In the NT hope is always something which is as yet future, but which is completely certain.
Fourth, let’s look at verse 5. They received the Word. The Gospel came to them through the ministry of Paul and his associates. The Holy Spirit used the Word in great power, and the Thessalonians responded by receiving both the message and the messengers. In spite of the persecution in Philippi, Paul and Silas had been “bold...to speak…the Gospel” (2:2); and the people believed and were saved. They never lost that eagerness for the Word of God. Chapter 2:13 says, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”
The gospel “came…in power.” In many places we see evidence that the gospel is power, for God is in it. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…” It is not simply that the gospel tells of power, though this, too, is true. But when the gospel is preached God is there and God is working. The gospel is power. Whenever the gospel is faithfully proclaimed, there is power.
Fifth, look at 6a. They followed their spiritual leaders. The word “followers” is actually “imitators.” These new believers not only accepted the message and the messengers, but they also imitated their lives. This led to severe persecution. It is important that young Christians respect spiritual leadership and learn from mature believers. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey them that have the [spiritual] rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls.”
Sixth, 6b – “having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.” The word “received” is that used for the reception of a guest, and it includes the thought of giving a welcome.
From the beginning there had been opposition to the word in Thessalonica. Thus Paul refers to the welcome the converts had given to it “in much affliction.” The word for “affliction” outside the Bible usually denotes literal pressure, and that of a severe kind. The corresponding verb, for example, was used of pressing the grapes in wine-making till they burst asunder, and so metaphorically came to mean very great trouble. It is not mild discomfort, but great and sore difficulty.
But their affliction was “with joy of the Holy Spirit.” It is certain that the believer will experience tribulation (John 16:33), but it is equally certain that he will have an inner serenity, even a joy, which nothing in the world can give and nothing in the world can take away (John 16:22). Suffering is always unpleasant, but for those who have been saved through the sufferings of their Lord it has been transformed. Paul and Silas knew something of this joy (cf. Acts 16:25), and so did those who, in an earlier day, went out from the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name” (Acts 5:41).