Monday, November 02, 2009

1 Thessalonians 1:4-6

V4-6 – 4For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Paul reveals, beginning in v4, why he is thankful to God for the Thessalonian believers, why he remembers before God their faith, love, and hope, and the fruits those virtues exude. It is because God “has chosen” them. Vincent Cheung says, “It is God who sovereignly chooses the elect, so that Paul says, ‘He has chosen you,’ and not ‘He has approved of your choice.’ If God merely accepts our choice, then he does not choose us in any real sense of the term.” In other words, Paul is thankful that God has chosen them; otherwise, Paul would have to be thankful that they first chose God. But this is not what Paul says or implies. Paul goes on in the next set of verses to reveal how he knows that God has chosen them:

First, in v5, Paul knows that God has chosen the Thessalonian believers “because our gospel came to you not simply [or only] with words.” In other words, the Thessalonian believers did not just hear the words and consent to their truth. Their conversion wasn’t merely intellectual assent, although it did include that. The rhetorical nature of Scripture has in view the importance of words as such. For example, Acts 20:32 says, “Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” God’s word is not to be belittled, but words can be empty if not understood, appreciated, and applied. Cheung concludes, “[Paul’s] preaching was not always accompanied by the power of the Spirit, in the sense that God did not always make his preaching effective; otherwise, all who heard Paul preach would have been converted.” But the gospel itself remains infinitely valuable as the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Thus, Paul saw his gospel come to the Thessalonian believers “not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” In other words, when Paul preached the words of the gospel, God poured out His Spirit and convicted His own among Paul’s audience, such that they responded to the gospel in faith, which was of course, worked out as Paul noted previously (v3). Sanctification was underway in the Thessalonians, and they were making good progress in it. They were persuaded and assured (by the Holy Spirit) that the message was true. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 has in mind the same concept as our passage when in it Paul says, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” So “your faith” comes from “God’s power,” not through the will or desire of man (Romans 9:16). And that’s why Paul thanks God for having chosen the Thessalonian believers. “It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

The final part of v5 reveals that the Thessalonian believers witness how Paul and his companions lived humble, joyful lives while in Thessalonica, despite significant persecution (see Acts 15-17). And then in v6, Paul recalls that the Thessalonian believers “became imitators of” them and of Jesus. And then he comments that, whereas false believers fall away when times get tough – consider the parable of the sower; two of the three soils that receive the seed do not last and produce fruit – true believers rejoice in suffering and retain their faith thanks to the Holy Spirit. The Thessalonians’ perseverance is yet another reason for Paul to celebrate and give thanks to God that they have been chosen by Him. Cheung concludes, “Faith embraces the gospel in spite of the dangers and consequences. The Thessalonians demonstrated the genuineness of their conversion by their joy in the face of severe suffering. Paul would certainly denounce those who compromise the faith that they claim to affirm because of financial losses, political threats, or pressures from relatives and friends. On the other hand, ‘No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life’ (Luke 18:29-30).”

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