1 Thessalonians 1: 9-10
1 Thessalonians is generally considered to be one of the first epistles written by Paul. Thessalonica was an important port city, strategically places by the Aegean Sea, therefore a very good trade route. Paul recognised this made the city a very good place to spread the gospel. In Acts 17: 1-9 we read that initially Paul’s message was well received but after three weeks this changed. The frustrations of the people were taken out on Jason, one of the first converts. In the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians Paul continued to think of the Thessalonians with thanks. Their reputation needed no defending. ‘For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.’ (1 Thessalonians 1: 8). The Thessalonians had made good progress in the faith.
What can we learn from the Thessalonians?
First, they turned to God from idols, ‘you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9). This is a picture of repentance.
Secondly, the turned away from idols. This tells us they were likely to have been Gentiles. In Greek culture, the twelve main gods were set in gorges in Mount Olympus. Each of the gods would have had a temple. People would have looked to Mount Olympus and would have been reminded of these gods. But the Thessalonians ‘turned away’ from their idols. Every family would have had their own personal idol, something that had been important to them in their past, but now they had turned away from these.
In our society today there are many idols, such as love of money. The Thessalonians had not only turned away from their idols but they had turned to God. They replaced idol worship with worship of the one true God. They had a purpose in their lives. We too need to have a purpose in our lives, a focus for our existence. Following true conversion the Thessalonians acted differently. They found real life comes from the God of the Bible.
The Thessalonians served a living, true God. Slavery was common practice of the day. However, this was not slavery as we think of today. In Greek culture, slaves were cared for by their owners. The slaves did the menial tasks but there was a reciprocal relationship. At the end of their period of service a slave could opt to remain in their master’s service. Whole-hearted service was to serve a master who was so good the slave would want to remain with him. We are in service to a Master who really cares. Ownership came at a great price – Christ’s death for us as He set aside His glory. God’s justice had to be met. Once we are His we are always His. We can never pay back the price. ‘And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.’ (John 10: 28-29).
There are two descriptions of God: ‘you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9). The people serve a living God. This is in contrast to the inanimate idols. We have a relationship with God which deepens over time. Scripture tells us Jesus is the only way we can obtain access to God. We can come to God in different ways; some have a sudden experience, like Paul on the road to Damascus, others have a gradual awareness, like Timothy. We each have an individual relationship with God.
God is also described as ‘true.’ The idols were false gods. Our God is eager to help. It is a liberating experience.
‘Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; oh deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!’ (Psalm 47:1) The Psalmist is being taunted and slandered by his enemies but his plea comes in verse 3: ‘Oh, send out Your light and Your truth! Let them lead me; Let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your tabernacle.’ By appealing to God’s truth, the Psalmist is vindicated. No matter what accusations Satan throws at us, Jesus Christ’s blood vindicates us.
The Thessalonians had a desire to serve God. There’s an internal change. They waited. Doesn’t that grate on our human nature? They waited – not sitting idly around, but waiting expectantly for the return of Jesus Christ. ‘For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.’ (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). The term ‘wait’ comes from the Greek ‘perusia,’ awaiting a royal visit. There is great debate about what form the second coming will take. There are even suggestions what some American airlines will not allow two Christian pilots to fly together in case the rapture occurs. Whatever one believes, what is clear is that Christ will return and Christians should eagerly await His return, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20).
The second coming also brings with it judgement. We will be judged by what we have done in Jesus’ service (Matthew 25:21). No-one knows when Jesus will return, ‘But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.’ (Mark 13: 32). We need to live our lives as if Christ would come today, always looking to do God’s Will in our lives, which Wayne Grudem refers to as ‘responsible egesis.’
We know there is a day coming when Jesus will return. Accept the Lord Jesus as your Saviour. ‘Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.’ (Luke 21:28). The Thessalonians were going about the Lord’s business as if He would return at any moment. We should be living as if Jesus is on the point of returning now.
The Thessalonians turned from idols to God, they repented of their sins and looked to the living God. They sought to serve God whole-heartedly. Critically, they lived their lives in the knowledge that Jesus will return again. On that day Christians will be protected from God’s wrath. We need to know Jesus will most certainly return again. Let us all echo the closing prayer of Revelation, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20).