Paul was constantly thanking God for the Thessalonians. Why? Because they had received the gospel for what it truly is, the very word of God and not of man. The word was at work in their lives, and they were bearing fruit to that fact. If you have ever led someone to trust Christ and then witnessed them “grow in grace, and in knowledge of our Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:18) then you understand Paul’s heart of thanksgiving.
From the first verse of the text we can see the process that Paul, Silas, and Timothy followed in their evangelistic ministry, and it is the process that all pastors and churches should imitate.
The Process – 1 Thessalonians 2:13
Notice that Paul said they “received the word of God…which ye heard of us…which effectually worketh in you.” It’s a study in prepositions, but it also displays the process: The Word of God (not man) from us to you. This is the process that Paul and his colleagues followed, and it must be the process to which we adhere. We are to be heralds (v. 9 – “preached” - kēryssō - “proclaim as a public crier; publish) of the gospel. We have been entrusted with it, not to hide it away, not to “keep it secret, keep it safe,” as Gandalf demanded of Frodo. Instead, it has been entrusted to us for the purpose of sharing and proclaiming it to others. From us must be preached the word of God so that it may do its work in you. That was the process in Paul’s day, and it is the process we are to imitate today.
It is important that we understand the message is not “from us” in the sense of being our own philosophy, our own word. It is the word of God that is to come from us. Now, none of us are apostles, and none of us have ever or will ever receive any new revelation or new message from God. There is no need for one because the Bible is the message that is powerful, sufficient, and complete. The “holy scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus…given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, [and] for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16; c.f. 2 Peter 1:20-21). From us the word of God must be preached so that it may be properly received and applied.
Paul’s dedication to this process was anchored in his conviction that the message he was proclaiming was the truth, the word of God. Our churches cannot do without this same conviction. The NT commentator Leon Morris writes,
“The Church cannot do without this conviction. To preach interesting little moral essays can never prove and adequate substitute for the word which comes from God.”
- It saves them – 1 Peter 1:23; 2 Timothy 3:15; James 1:18
- It sanctifies them – John 17:17
- It matures them – 1 Peter 2:2
- It frees them – John 8:31-32
- It perfects them – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
- It counsels them – Psalm 119:24
- It edifies them – Acts 20:32
- It ensures their spiritual success – Joshua 1:8-9; Psalm 1:2-3
- It gives them hope – Psalm 119:147; Acts 20:32
God’s word must be central in our lives and in our churches. The gospel must be proclaimed in our prayers, songs, and preaching/teaching. There is no room and/or need for entertainment when the church is gathered!
How hungry are you for God’s word? Consider these examples:
- Job desired the word more than FOOD – Job 23:12
- David desired the word more than SLEEP – Psalm 119:148
- David desired the word more than MONEY – Psalm 119:72
God’s word is precious because, in the words of my old pastor D.W. Sparks,
“it converts the sinner, convicts the sinful, challenges the saved, and comforts the suffering.”The Product – 1 Thessalonians 2:14
The word of God from us in you is the process, and the product is seen in the transforming power of the gospel in the lives of the converted. The Thessalonians were progressing spiritually because they believed the message of the cross and that belief powerfully affected their daily lives. The word must be received and applied, just as James 1:22 says.
The product of the process was seen in two ways.
First, the Thessalonians had become “followers”, not only of Paul’s example, but also of the true churches which were persecuted for the Lord’s sake; specifically the churches in Judea according to Paul. Of course, by this time the Judean churches would be the most senior and mature of all the churches that had been planted. Those Judean churches were a bold and unflinching witness for Christ who sacrificially loved and served one another.
The word used for “followers” means “imitators” (mimētēs - English – “mimic”; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). And this young church was imitating the truthful example of their sister churches who were older and more mature in the faith. You can never lead souls heavenward unless you’re climbing yourself. One of the best ways to learn anything is to follow the example of someone who is further along than you; imitate their example. Of course, you must be careful who you imitate; not any old example will do!
Pause for a moment and suppose that a delegation from some sister church were to visit your church for a while. You must ask yourself, “What would we give them to imitate? What would they find as the distinctive hallmarks of our church?” It would be awful to discover that that from us they learned how to be divisive, critical, disillusioned, complacent, and unloving. Conversely, it would be fantastic to know that from us they learned to be united, rejoicing, and expectant, progressing, giving, trusting, and evangelizing!
One characteristic in which the Thessalonians were imitating the Judean churches is also the second byproduct of the process.
They were faithfully enduring suffering; just as the Judean churches were suffering. We are not acquainted with this aspect of Christianity, but our text should serve as a reminder to us that in past generations, and in contexts different from our own, the impact of the gospel in a life has introduced people to extreme suffering. As Christians we should be thankful for God’s sovereign blessing in that Christianity has not been persecuted in this land. That may not always be the case, but we must be reminded that receiving God’s word and serving His Son is not a walk in the park. It’s a war; not against “flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
The Persecution – 1 Thessalonians 2:15
The Thessalonians suffered from their own countrymen, just as the Judean churches suffered from the Jews. This young and dynamic church also felt the sting of Jewish persecution (Acts 17:5-10). In 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 Paul makes some very graphic statements in regards to what the Jews had done. In v. 15 Paul, who was himself a patriotic Jew, lists five things the Jews had done.
1. – “They killed the Lord Jesus”
In today’s environment this would definitely be considered an anti-Semitic statement. Case in point is Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. Many claimed that movie blamed the Jews for the crucifixion. The fact of the matter is that those Jewish leaders (Annas, Caiaphas, etc.) were responsible. When Pilate said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it”. The Jews answered him, “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:24-25).
Peter preached on Pentecost and plainly stated that the Jews had murdered Jesus: “Him…ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23; 5:30). Obviously, the Jews are not solely to blame. We are all culpable for the Christ’s crucifixion. Our sin nailed Him to the tree. He was “made to be sin for us…that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21 – cf. Romans 5:8-9; 8:3; Isaiah 53).
While the blame is not only on those Jews, and it is not all Jews of all times that are directly responsible for Christ’s death; however, the contemporaries of Paul bore a unique responsibility for manipulating an embattled Roman politician and pressing for the Christ to be crucified. They called for the death of the One who died to save them. Only they rejected Him.
2. – “They killed their own prophets”
The Jews rejected the Messiah, just as they rejected the prophets who foretold of the Messiah. Stephen declared to the Sanhedrin, right before they stoned him, “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers,” Acts 7:52. (cf. 2 Chronicles 24:20-22; Matthew 23:29-35; Hebrews 11:37).
3. – “They persecuted us”
The word for “have persecuted” is ekdiōkō; meaning “to expel; drive out”. That happened to Paul and his colleagues wherever they traveled (Acts 17:10, 15).
4. – “They please not God”
Everyone who rejects Jesus displeases God and they bring judgment and damnation on themselves (John 3:18). God is not pleased with a Judaism that rejects Christ. He is not pleased with Gentile unbelief either. The Jews thought they were pleasing God by hindering the gospel. They were wrong!
Nothing is more displeasing to God the Father than the rejection of God the Son. It was the Father who said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5).
5. – “They are contrary to all men”
Their hostility (“contrary” - enantios - ”opposite; antagonistic; hostile”) was more religiously than racially motivated. They resented, even hated, any religion but their own, especially the gospel of Christ, whom they rejected as a counterfeit messiah (Matthew 12:24; Acts 4:18; 5:28, 40). Their antagonism was evident by the fact that they forbade Paul and his team to “speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved.” They did not want the gospel themselves, and they did not want the Gentiles to have it either.
The Jews’ persecution of the church and the missionaries led to Paul’s divinely inspired pronouncement of judgment.
The Pronouncement – 1 Thessalonians 2:16
Since they not only rejected but also intentionally opposed the gospel, Paul declared…
“They fill up their sins alway”
“They heap up their sins to the limit” is another way of phrasing it. God patiently waits as sinners rebel against Him, and He watches as their measure of sin and judgment fills up. When the time is up, God’s patience will end and judgment will fall.
I think that three passages must be considered when we discuss God’s patience and impending judgment.
- John 3:17 – “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
- 1 Timothy 2:3-4, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
- 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
As Christians we must beware of a forming a spirit of sanctimonious superiority, exclusiveness, and bitter dislike” for the sinners around us. Instead, we must diligently pray for those who reject the gospel in hopes that they will repent and receive it before it’s eternally too late.
You can be sure that Paul took no pleasure in making this pronouncement of impending judgment.
“For the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost”
Paul was not gleeful in announcing the doom of those who rejected Christ, specifically his own people the Jews. He dearly loved his “kinsmen according to the flesh” and he intensely desired their salvation (Romans 3:1-4; 9:1 – 11:36). This coming wrath was felt when Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. And then again in 135 A.D. when Julius Severus crushed yet another rebellion and Emperor Hadrian expelled all Jews from the Promised Land and renamed it “Palestine” in honor of the Jews hereditary enemies the Philistines. No Jewish state would again exist in the Promised Land until 1948. This wrath is also in reference to the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7) the time of Tribulation (Matthew 24:15-22). But the primary expression of God’s wrath points to the punishment of all people, Jew and Gentile, who reject God’s Son.
Today, as in Paul’s day, the choose between God’s blessing and His cursing remain; the blessing or cursing is bound up in whether or not you will receive or reject the gospel. Those who receive the Word, as did the Thessalonians, believing and obeying God’s Word; their lives will be preserved in eternal glory with the Lord. But those who reject the Word will ultimately suffer God’s wrath to the full. Beloved, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).