I Thessalonians Bible Study
I Thessalonians 1:1-4
Greetings, Blessings, Prayers
How many times have you read the first verse of one of Paul’s epistles, and just sort of skimmed through it thinking, “nothing of substance there. Just the routine basics like who is writing, to whom, a greeting…” I often do just that. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t sure what there would be to teach on and study, much less apply, with just these first four introductory verses.
But, then…. I really looked at verse 1. I studied commentaries and prayed over the passage. When I really paid attention, I found that in just these few words, Paul had woven in some very deep theological truths for the Thessalonians.
I Thessalonians 1:1 “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and Peace.”
First, Paul says that they are the church, IN God the father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The first striking implication of this verse is that Jesus Christ and God the father are one. They are equal in authority. This was ground-breaking theology for this very early church. Jesus, who walked the earth, was crucified and rose again, is now ruling as one in equality with the father in heaven.
He is still there today!
Moreover, John MacArthur, in his commentary on I Thessalonians, points out that this phrase refers to the inextricable union that believers have with God through their salvation. Because they are IN God, they participate in the very life of God and the very life of Christ.
Wow! I don’t often consider that the things that I do in my life are participating in the life of Christ, the life of God. Yet, isn’t that the teaching of the vine and the branches in John 15? When we are redeemed, we become branches attached to the vine who is Jesus Christ. Our whole spiritual life depends on that attachment. Any branch that is separated from the vine withers and dies. So our eternal life depends on that union. But also, the life of the vine is carried out THROUGH the branches. It is the branches that grow out from the vine, reaching in all directions and extending that vine. The vine gives life through the branches to produce fruit. Thus, the branches participate in the life of the vine, and the vine in the branches. An inextricable union for eternity. The church IN God the father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Already that’s a lot of theology and application just from one little word in verse one! But, there’s more!
Grace and Peace
Paul continues with a wish for the Thessalonian believers: grace and peace. Once I slowed down my reading and really considered these words, I again found a wealth to ponder and learn from this opening passage. Grace and peace are such wonderful spiritual gifts for all believers. At the time of salvation, grace saves every believer. In that instant, we all who are in Christ, receive the entire, eternal quantity of God’s grace needed to save us for eternity, which results in peace with God.
Believers already have all of that. But Paul wished that they would have more of these traits. What does he mean by wishing this for the church, when they already have been saved by grace and are at peace with God? Paul knows that grace and peace are not only something that each believer receives at salvation, but also something for them to grow in. More grace and peace in our lives are a part of our sanctification. As we walk through this life, maturing in our faith, we grow in grace, and we grow in peace.
Saved by Grace – Ephesians 2:8-9
Sanctified by Grace – II Peter 3:18 tells us to “grow in grace…” As we mature as believers through our earthly lives, every aspect that becomes more like Christ, every desire that we have for things that are holy, and every supernatural win over evil is a fresh gift of grace in our lives.
Glorified by Grace – I Peter 1:4-5 describes how, eventually, we will be glorified and made like Christ for eternity. This is also an act of grace.
At salvation, God’s imparts his infinite grace to us. We don’t get more grace with time, but through our sanctification, we grow in our understanding and application of this grace to our lives. One day, we will stand before Christ, fully experiencing the grace of God that has redeemed us for eternity.
Peace with God — Romans 5:1 At salvation, we have peace with God. Christ ransoms us from our “cosmic treason” (as our pastor likes to say). He pays our debt, so that we are no longer God’s enemies.
Grow in Peace — II Corinthians 13:11 But, part of our sanctification is also to grow in peace– We learn to live in the peace of Savior, not the turmoil of the world.
Colossians 3:15 says that we are “called to peace” and we are to “let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts”.
Hebrews 12:14 says that we are to make every effort to live in peace with everyone.
Philippians 4:7 says that the peace of God… guards our hearts and minds.
Future Peace — Isaiah 9:6 Eventually, we will live in eternity, in perfect peace forever with our Savior who is the Prince of Peace.
Both of these wonderful gifts of God have attributes that are past, present, and future. If the new Thessalonian believers mature in the grace and peace of salvation in Christ, they will be well on the way to living Christ-like lives in their pagan world.
As will we in ours.
I Thessalonians 1:2-4 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers, constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you.
In verse 2-4, Paul (with Silas and Timothy) begins a very extensive passage of thankfulness for the church at Thessolonika. We will talk more about Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for the church, because it goes on into chapter 2, but notice that Paul was always thankful for the churches that God entrusted to him. Even if he had to confront a church with things that they were doing wrong, he first expressed his thankfulness. I Corinthians chapter 1 exhibits this method of Paul’s. In verses 4-9, Paul expresses his thankfulness for the church, then in verse 10, he begins his correction.
There are 3 things in verses 2-4 of I Thessalonians 1 Paul says prompts his thankfulness.
1. When Paul mentions the Thessalonians in his prayers, it makes him thankful.
Paul is such an example of persisting in prayer. He constantly prays for the churches that he “fathered” and for the unbelievers of his beloved countrymen, the Jews. When he prays, he prays fervently for spiritual things. In his commentary on Thessalonians, G. K. Beale says,
Too often churches today tend to give thanks only for visible and quantifiable realities such as a new building, an increase in membership and an increase in giving. Paul gives thanks for more unquantifiable realities such as faith, love, and hope, which are needed to inspire good works on the visible level.
2. When Paul thinks about the actions of this church that shows forth their faith, it makes him thankful.
In Verse 3, Paul makes the observation of 3 things that the Thessalonian church was doing that made him thankful: working in faith, laboring in love, enduring in hope,
Each of these is an action, each implies effort, and each is supernaturally performed.
These things that Paul was seeing in the Thessalonians showed salvation… They were the evidence that they had received grace and peace and were in Christ.
Work of Faith–
Paul could see in the reports of these believers that they were doing spiritual work. They were exhibiting behaviors of true believers. The work of faith could include: sharing the gospel, teaching the word of God, even their belief itself. They were working the supernatural works of a believer.
Labor of Love–
Several commentators pointed out that the Greek word for labor was one that meant toil or hard work. Because these believers exerted themselves in love, Paul could see they were truly saved. Furthermore, the love that they showed was not the easy love that the world can show. The love that these new followers of Christ lived out in their daily lives was the difficult love that allowed them to love their enemies and their persecutors. This kind of selfless, supernatural love shines as unique in a selfish world.
Endurance of Hope–
I don’t normally think of hope as a work, but the context of these three things implies some effort spent on maintaining their hope. John MacArthur’s commentary says that the Greek word used here means continuing under pressure. These new believers were immediately subjected to suffering and persecution because of their faith. Yet, this new church was characterized by “hope” rather than despair. Hope in the face of persecution is a supernatural hope.
3. When Paul knows (with certainty) of their election, it makes him thankful.
Knowing God had chosen them.
Paul had only been with the church a short time, before he was persecuted and forced to leave the city. Later he had word from Timothy about the church. The things that he heard about the new faith of the believers here were things that caused Paul to KNOW that they were elect. Paul did not have special insight into who was elect and who wasn’t. God didn’t reveal this to him. He could tell by the way that they now lived their lives in faith, love, and hope… and more that we will see in the next lesson.
1. Try this week to embrace the wonderful truth that you are participating in the life of God and the life of Jesus as you go through your days.
2. Be thankful for unquantifiable things in others and in the church as a whole, such as the faith that works, the love that labors and the hope that endures.
3. Be thankful first, before being critical, or judgmental, even in situations which need correction.
4. Remember that your faith is a supernatural faith that shows itself to the world by works of faith, labors of love, and steadfastness of hope.
I hope that you will continue with me in my weekly study of I Thessalonians!
I love your comments and questions!
(All verses are the New American Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.)