Red Village Church

The Work of God – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Good morning! For those of you who haven’t met me, my name is Wes Grim. I’m a pastoral assistant here at Red Village Church. If you have a Bible, go ahead and open up to 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. I’m going to read the passage and then ask for the Lord’s help, and we’ll work through this passage verse by verse.

1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 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. 6 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, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 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. 9 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, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

The letter of 1 Thessalonians was written by the Apostle Paul near the year 51 AD, a little less than 20 years after the time of Jesus’s incarnation. 1 Thessalonians is one of the earliest of Paul’s epistles, written several months after his first visit in Thessalonica with Timothy and Silas during their 2nd missionary journey across the Roman Empire.

During this time, Thessalonica was a very interesting place. It was a strategic port city in modern-day Greece that was the capital of Macedonia with a population of about 200,000 people. The city was known for its trade but was also known for its loyalty to Caesar, giving it many privileges that other cities did not have.

Spiritually, Thessalonica was filled with a lot of idol worship from the Greek and Roman influence within the city. Thessalonica was so devout that it was even known for its practice of emperor worship. There was also a sizable Jewish population living there that had established one or more synagogues for Jewish worship and practice within the city.

But the majority of these Jews were very hostile to the Gospel and actually persecuted the Thessalonian Church after it was established. So, in society’s eyes, this city was very successful and prosperous, and favored by the royal emperor! But spiritually, the city of Thessalonica was a very dark place, devoted to non-living idols and man-made practices and establishments.

Yet God in His abundant grace sent Paul, Silas, and Timothy to go to this city and preach the Gospel there for about 3 weeks. Acts chapter 17 records the details of their visit, telling how Paul went into the local Jewish synagogue and reasoned with the people that came there on three different Sabbath days, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.” The passage says that a large number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of leading women, were persuaded by the message of Christ and joined Paul and Silas.

Not long after, the Jews in Thessalonica became jealous and formed a mob that started a riot in the city against the Christians staying in a believer’s home named Jason. The mob looked for Paul and Silas to take them to the public assembly but could not find them, so instead they dragged Jason and others before the city officials, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, and Jason has welcomed them.”

They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another King named Jesus.” The crowd and city officials then, in anger, took a security bond from Jason and the others as a punishment and then released them. As soon as it was night, the new Thessalonian believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea, where they would yet again face conflict from the Thessalonian Jews who pursued them all the way to Berea to stop them.

And that’s the beginning of the Thessalonian Church! Imagine planting a church within a 3-week span and having multiple believers confess Christ, only to have the local Jews start a riot in the city against the small group of believers and have the missionaries who brought that message flee in the night. Not an easy start, to say the least. You can imagine Paul must have feared the worst for the Thessalonian Church after leaving.

And we actually see this in Chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians, where Paul expresses his great desire to return to the Thessalonians to see them face to face. But Paul says Satan hindered them from doing so. Paul later says in Chapter 3 that he had feared that the tempter had led them astray and that their labor might be for nothing. But several months later, Paul sent Timothy to check on the believers in Thessalonica and found not only were the believers still holding the faith, but they were actually growing in their faith and love through Christ in the midst of increasing persecution!

After hearing the good report, Paul pulled out his ink and pen and got to work on this letter, which focuses on encouraging the Thessalonian believers in their faith and addressing some misunderstandings they had regarding the return of Christ.

Which brings us to verse 1 of our text: Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

Now, at first glance, this may just look like a classic greeting from Paul, but given the context I just gave you, there is something very significant here in Paul’s greeting. Paul addresses this letter to the “church of the Thessalonians”. This is significant because a few months prior, there were no believers in the province of Thessalonica. And when Paul had abruptly left, there was a relatively small number of believers who had only been Christians for a few weeks or even days.

But now, as Paul wrote this letter, there was now a healthy, thriving, growing body of believers that made up the Church of Thessalonica. That alone is an incredible work of God that I’m sure Paul rejoiced in as he addressed this letter. As we work through this passage, we will see that the faithful work of God in Thessalonica is a significant theme that Paul desires to remind the Thessalonians of as he begins his letter.

The Church is a work of God’s power and grace, that comes from Him alone, so that none can boast.

And we, as Red Village Church, must remember that as we near our 13th year anniversary of being planted in Madison, Wisconsin. The only reason we are here is because of the grace and work of God that He has done to bring about a body of believers in the Madison area for His glory. Pastor Aaron and his family simply listened to the call of God to come here, and God showed up, and by His grace, He has continued to sustain Red Village Church to this day.

In Verse 2, Paul gives thanks to God for the Thessalonian Church by saying, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.” Each time I read one of Paul’s epistles, I am deeply challenged by Paul’s love and intentionality for each church. Paul doesn’t say he prays for the Thessalonians once in a while when it comes to mind, but rather he is constantly mentioning the Thessalonian church in prayer with Timothy and Silas. Always giving thanks to God for what He has done in the spiritually dark city of Thessalonica.

Paul and the other church leaders during the early church period were men of prayer. If they were praying always, that means that they were disciplined in prayer, making it a constant priority in their lives. You can bet that they laid out specific times throughout their day-to-day ministry where they were praying for the body of Christ in many different locations. They understood that God hears the prayers of His people and acts on behalf of them for His glory.

They understood there is power in prayer. And we, as the body of Christ today, should certainly reflect their example as men and women who are devoted to praying for the body of Christ. And not just the local body of Red Village Church, but the Church of God as a whole. Praying for other Churches and ministries both in Madison and across the world who are proclaiming Christ to the lost.

But in order to do this, we need to lay out a specific time and place when we will pray for these things, otherwise, the distractions of life will crowd this out of our lives, and we’ll only pray when convenient. Which, for most of us, is not constant.

So, may we be disciplined in prayer and always give thanks for the work that God is doing among His people around the world. Paul goes on to say in verse 3 that he remembers 3 specific qualities about the Thessalonian Church before God the Father. Their work of faith, their labor of love, and their steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.

These three qualities are seen linked together in many different places throughout scripture, but here in the text, Paul is reminded of how the Thessalonian Church is already displaying these Christlike values. Which had to be a great encouragement to Paul! In the first quality, their “work of faith,” Paul is pointing out that the Thessalonians’ faith was not void of good works; rather, their faith in Christ was resulting in godly works that were both benefiting the Thessalonian Church and impacting those around them.

Verse 7 has more to say about their impact that we’ll get to here in a little bit. Works of faith are what God does within every believer that places their faith in Christ; they are then led by the Holy Spirit to do good works in accordance with God’s Word. For as James says, “Faith without works is dead.” You can’t have one without the other.

The second quality that Paul mentions is the Thessalonians’ “labor of love.” The CSB translation puts this as “labor motivated by love,” which I think is a helpful way of putting what Paul is saying here. The word Paul uses for love is Agape, which is the word that is often associated with how God loves. So, Paul is saying he also remembers the Thessalonians’ hard work motivated by how God loves.

The Thessalonian Church did not have their heads up in the theological clouds while their feet did nothing. Rather, the love of God motivated them to do something! To reciprocate the love that they had received from God to those around them, just as they were shown from Paul, Silas, and Timothy when they arrived.

Which is a laboring task, it means we have to be intentional, hospitable, charitable, forgiving, selfless, in order to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But we do this not because we have to, but because God’s incredible love through Jesus Christ motivates us to do so.

The last quality that Paul mentions that he sees in the Thessalonians is their steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the same way that their labor is motivated by love, their steadfastness, or ability to endure as believers, is dependent upon the hope that they have in Christ. Since the beginning of the Thessalonian Church, hardship and persecution have followed them in their city as a result. So much so that it only took a few weeks before a riot was formed in the city against them. Yet the Thessalonian Church continued to endure because of hope.

Hope is often misused in today’s society. Hope is dependent upon whatever you are hoping in. So, if you say, “I’m just hoping that Jordan Love will pull off this win against the Denver Broncos.” That wouldn’t be a great hope! Because Jordan Love is still a rookie and learning how to bring home the win. But if your hope is in something that you can depend upon, something that won’t fail and will remain true, then that hope becomes a powerful motivator to help us press on and remain steadfast when things get tough. That is what hope in Christ does.

In Christ, we have every good and perfect thing that we need for a life of godliness, and we can have full confidence that what we hope for will come through. Because Christ has promised to never leave or forsake His people. He is a solid foundation for anyone that puts their hope in Him that cannot be shaken.

It is this kind of hope in Christ that allowed the Thessalonian Church to remain steadfast in their faith and persevere. Moving to verse 4, Paul continues to encourage the Church by saying, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.”

Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that the fact they have come to know God through the gospel means that they are personally loved by God and chosen by God. They would not know God or know anything about the Gospel of Christ if God didn’t love them and choose them to come into a relationship with Him through His Son.

We can see Paul laying out some important theological truths here in the text. It’s not because the Thessalonians were lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time to hear the Gospel and come to know Christ. It’s not because they were smart enough to figure out their need for Christ and their need to repent and believe. The only reason that any of the believers in Thessalonica came to know God through repentance, belief, and faith is because of God’s love for them and His choosing to reveal Himself to them. God is the author and perfector of our faith.

As Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” And this is true for all who come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Salvation is a gift of God as a result of His love as He chooses to reveal Himself to the lost and undeserving, which is all of us in this room. Now, how can Paul know that this is true for the Thessalonian believers?

Well, he goes on to say in verse 5, “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” Remember, Paul and Silas were only in Thessalonica for around 3 weeks, proclaiming Christ to a community that was worshipping idols and was deeply devoted to the emperor of Rome. Yet when the Gospel came to them, it came with power!

What power, you may ask? The power to open spiritually dead hearts, deaf ears, and blind eyes to the life-giving message of the Gospel. To change a sinner’s spiritual state from dead to alive. This is a work that only God can do through the Holy Spirit as He indwells each person that believes in Christ.

And the Holy Spirit does this through a deep conviction within a person to understand that they have sinned against a Holy God and are separated from Him. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, pointing them towards their need for Christ. And this is exactly what happened to the believers in Thessalonica when they heard the Gospel message from Paul and Silas.

And God is doing the same thing today through His people as they proclaim Christ to the world around them.

Understand that when you share the Gospel, you’re not just sharing a message with information and words. You’re sharing a powerful, life-giving message that the Holy Spirit uses to change a person from death to life!! It is the power of God for everyone who believes!! Knowing this, we should be all the more eager and confident to share the Gospel with the lost around us today!

Paul goes on to say, “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.”

Now, Paul is not being prideful or boastful when he says, “you know what kind of men we proved to be among you.” Rather, Paul knows that the three weeks he and Silas spent with the Thessalonians, they conducted their lives in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel. In everything that they did, or said, or taught, they sought to give a Christ-like example that the Thessalonian believers could follow.

If you’re taking notes, write this down: The way you live for Christ has negative or positive impacts on those who watch your life. If you are a believer in Christ, whether you know it or not, people are watching how you live. They are watching what you say and what you don’t say, what you do and what you don’t do. What you teach and preach and if you actually follow up on what you teach and preach.

People are watching. For the parents in the room, I’m sure this hits close to home. Kids are watching everything that you do and say, whether you want them to or not. And the way that you live for Christ impacts what they will do because we, as people, imitate the lives of those we want to follow.

If we are not careful in the way that we live, this can impact those who are watching us negatively and cause them to wander away from Christ. For leaders in the church, there is even more of a responsibility placed upon how they should live their lives because more people are watching the example that they give.

Paul understood this well, and although he was not perfect because all of us are sinners, he was a man of integrity who sought to live a Christ-like life that could be imitated by those watching. And the result, as we can see in our text, made a huge impact on the Thessalonian believers where they didn’t just become imitators of Paul and Silas, but also of the Lord!

This is a key principle of discipleship. It’s not just what you say that makes disciples, it’s what you do and the example you give for others to follow Christ. This is exactly what Jesus did in His ministry with His disciples, and it’s exactly what Paul did for the Thessalonian believers and for many other Churches that God led Paul to establish. Paul says the Thessalonian believers “received the Word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit”.

Again, we can see the sovereignty of God in establishing the Thessalonian Church that even in the midst of much persecution from their city and neighbors, they received the Gospel with joy that only comes from God through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said this to His disciples in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” In the midst of persecution coming from the Thessalonian believers’ own home, instead of feeling distraught or discouraged or afraid, they felt the joy of their God, for they had come to know the God of all creation.

Look with me at verse 7, this is what Paul says had been happening as a result of their imitation of Paul and Silas, and of the Lord: “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.”

Do not miss this, this is a huge praise from Paul!! Not only have the Thessalonian believers been following the example of Paul and Silas in following Christ, but they themselves have become an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. Macedonia and Achaia made up the two primary provinces that cover all of modern-day Greece today!

Which is comparable to the state of Wisconsin, approximately 50 to 60 thousand square miles of land. Of course, there were way fewer people in those areas compared to Wisconsin today, but still an incredible range of area!

In only a short time of several months, believers all across this area were hearing about the Thessalonians’ faith in Christ and the work that God was doing through them, despite the afflictions that they were enduring in Thessalonica. This included the Philippian Church, the Corinthian Church, the Church at Athens, the Church at Berea, and many other Churches that were established by Paul and Silas during that time.

Can you imagine the impact this must have had on all the other believers throughout Greece?! That despite the hardship and persecution, the Thessalonian church was joyfully and powerfully making Christ known and growing in their faith, their labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in Christ. This had to have been such an encouragement to the believers that heard about them, to keep laboring in love and remaining steadfast in hope.

I can only imagine all the incredible stories of God’s work at Thessalonica that were circulating among other believers. And Paul says their impact didn’t stop there, but actually their faith in God had gone forth everywhere!!

Now, when Paul says this, it is most likely a hyperbole to express how far across the Roman Empire news about the Thessalonians’ faith had traveled.

But obviously, their faith in Christ was impacting a lot of people!! Paul says that this happened from the Word of the Lord sounding forth or ringing out from the Thessalonians. Meaning they were bold and intentional in their witness for Christ! Their church served as a hub for believers to be built up, and then sent out with the Gospel message ready on their lips. Like a trumpet sounding out the call for salvation to all who have ears to hear it.

Paul tells the Thessalonians that their example and impact on everyone around them speaks for itself so that he and Silas didn’t have to add anything to their credit. For the reports about the church themselves show how much they had applied what Paul and Silas taught them.

Looking at the 2nd half of verse 9 and verse 10 of our text, Paul goes on to say how the reports about the Thessalonian Church had also testified to how they had turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and now wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

Paul ends our passage of study with an incredible summary of what has happened to the Thessalonian Believers. But why does Paul repeat this testimony here in this letter? Isn’t this already obvious for the Thessalonian believers? I mean it is their testimony?

What God is doing here in verses 9 and 10 in His written Word through Paul, is zooming out to see the big picture of what has occurred in Thessalonica.

Alright, so everyone listen in, because this is where it gets good. (Read slow) People, like you and me, sinful and separated from God, spiritually dead, heard this incredible message of Jesus, and something happened. God turned on the lights (snap) for these people in Thessalonica as they believed in the message of Jesus and made Christ the Lord of their lives.

They turned to God, 180 degrees away from where they were going, which is Hell, a place of eternal separation from God, that we all rightly deserve because of our sin. Turned away from the dead and worthless Idols that society celebrated and said was normal and worthy of their worship. And instead of doing that, they began to worship and serve the living and true God – The only true God.

The God who stepped down from heaven into this existence that we all live in, breathed the air we breathe, ate the foods we eat, experienced life as all of us experience life with its joys and with its hardships. And in doing so, He never sinned, never rejected God the Father in heaven as His authority, never stopped loving God the Father and loving those around Him as Himself, never stopped glorifying the LORD of heaven and earth.

And yet, although He had done no wrong, He willingly accepted the false accusations that came against Him, willingly was mocked and beaten and humiliated, willingly was placed upon a tree and crucified by the people that He loved.

This Living God died on a tree, to take the judgment that you, me, the Thessalonians, and everyone on the earth deserves because of our sin against a holy God. But because He had done no wrong, death could not hold Him.

Three days later, in the cool of the morning, The Living God rose again from the dead, proving He is the only True God in all of existence! After doing this, He then ascended back into heaven at the right side of the Father where He now intercedes for all who receive Him.

And through this work that He accomplished on the earth, He now extends forgiveness of sins and communion with the Living God, both now and forever, to anyone that would receive Him by Faith. Turning away from what is dead, to serve the Living and True God. As verse 10 reveals, this is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath that is to come.

This is what God has done among the Thessalonian people that have received Him. And now they eagerly await for the Son of God, Jesus, to return from heaven. When He will reunite with His people and wipe every tear from their eyes and dwell with them for eternity.

This testimony of the Thessalonian Church is incredible because God’s redemption of mankind is incredible. There is nothing that we have done to deserve God’s love that He has shown us through Christ.

If you are here and are not a Christian, my prayer for you is that God would do this incredible work within your heart, where the lights would come on for you and you would understand your need to repent and turn to Jesus as the living and true God. Understand that judgement and wrath are coming to those who do not believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

But for those who are here and who have received Him, Jesus has taken that wrath upon Himself, and now we eagerly wait for His return. Be encouraged that the work that God did in Thessalonica for the Thessalonian Church is still happening today through the powerful Gospel message. Know that you are chosen and loved by God because the Gospel came to you in power through conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Pray constantly for the body of Christ. Imitate the Godly men and women as they imitate Christ. So that you may be an example to all the believers and everyone that God places in your life. And finally, remain diligent in Godly works produced from your faith, keep laboring in love that comes from the love of God, and remain steadfast in the Hope that is anchored in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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