On Sunday, Mickey preached on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10.
I loved Sunday night. It reminded me how incredible the work God has done in me is.
It took a little digging to start to get the weight of this application. That digging work is not always easy. It takes practise. So I’ve written out my workings for you to follow.
I started by wondering…
Why does Paul start his letter to the Thessalonians like this (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10)?
It was clear on Sunday; Paul wants to encourage the Thessalonians to be more and more holy (1 Thess 4:1). He knows living more and more ‘like Christians’ is how they’ll stand through real pain (1 Thess 1:6), and the temptation of passions all around (1 Thess 4:4) , and be holy and ready for Jesus’ return (1 Thess 5:23)
But he doesn’t start with these things! He starts by reminding them that they really are Christians, which means God has done an incredible the work in them. Paul knows the Thessalonians; their suffering, their reputation. He wants to be personally encouraging. He says:
You really are Christians! He sees their work of faith, labour of love, and steadfastness of hope in Jesus (1 Thess 1:3) and he’s confident of their conversion.
That means that, in Christ, God has done an incredible work in you! He reminds them that God already loves them, he choose them (1 Thess 1:4). God has powerfully worked in them, as they heard the word, and as they prove examples to others (1 Thess 1:5-8). Serving the true God, they have the most secure, incredible hope: Jesus will deliver them through judgement (1 Thess 1:9-10)
We’re remarkably similar to the Thessalonians. We live after Jesus’ death. There is evidence we are Christians. And so the work that God did in the Thessalonians, he has done in us too! Everything that’s incredible, powerful, or certain about God’s work, is also true for us.
I still haven't answered my question: Why does Paul start his letter to the Thessalonians like this?
Why does it matter that the Thessalonians know this at the beginning of the letter? Why does it matter that we that we know it?
I started by thinking about the Thessalonians’ context, and whether that might help me understand Paul’s message. I wanted to think about how this passage might cash out in application. There were two ideas I explored (you’ll think of more):
The Thessalonians are in a position of pain and passions: Their circumstances meant they started and live as Christians in a consistent position of pain and passions. We’re in a similar position. That puts them and us in danger. How? It might be easy think our circumstances mean we have got something wrong. We think: If I was a real, genuine Christian, I wouldn’t be struggling with temptations, or sufferings in my life should have got better. Then application starts to bite. Because Paul says you’re a Christian. You can be confident; God, powerfully, wonderfully, and completely is doing the work of making you Christian. (Ongoing pondering: Where do I find my confidence as a Christian? Are external circumstances or God’s work defining how confident I am in my conversion?)
Paul is about to teach the Thessalonians how they should behave: Paul is writing a letter which needs to include lots on holiness. Throughout our Christian walk, we hear lots of teaching on holiness. But that puts them and us in danger. We can think: if I adhere to certain behaviours, they make me Christian; if only I was a better at that act of Christian service I would be certain I’m a Christian. Again the application really bites; Paul tells you the truth is that God has done a powerful work in you, which brought you to a position of serving the true God! You can be sure he’ll get you through the final judgment. (Ongoing pondering: Where do I find my confidence as a Christian? Does how well I’m performing affect how confident I am in my conversion?)
I am left asking God to help me understand.
I am left praising God for his work in Jesus.
Image by Flickr user Matthias Ripp used under CC BY-NC-SA 2