“The Thessalonians' Example”
The first epistle to the Thessalonians begins with a thankful remembrance of the faith displayed by the recipients of the letter. It impresses us with the power of our actions. Even the great apostle Paul was astounded by the faith of these brethren. Genuine faith can reach beyond the limits of our known geography. Paul explains, “you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. 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 1:7-8). Their faith caused God’s word to echo throughout the land, and throughout time – even today their example speaks volumes. We should listen and learn.
Paul noted a special trio displayed by the Thessalonians – “remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father” (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
- Work of faith – The gospel preached to them by the apostle led to their faith (cf. Romans 10:17). This sincere conviction in the truth of Christ, and corresponding trust in Him as their gracious Savior manifested in activity. They walked in the good works prepared by God for them in Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:10).
- Labor of love – The work that sprang from their faith in God was laborious. Their activity was burdensome. Effort of this kind is not borne by anything less than an intense love for God (cf. 1 John 4:19). It is the spirit (disposition) of love which God has given to us that “nerves the soul to great enterprises, and sustains it in the deepest sorrows” (Barnes) (cf. 2 Timothy 1:7).
- Patience of hope – As faith produced work, and love motivated intense labor, their hope produced “steadfastness” (NASB, ESV). Tribulation was a concomitant of their faith, but their faith was the substance of their hope (cf. Hebrews 11:1). Despite the weight of adversity, they bore up under it in faith knowing the surety of God’s reward (cf. Hebrews 11:6).
Furthermore, Paul mentioned how they followed the apostles’ example in that they “received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). When the brethren accepted the gospel Paul preached, they signed up for tribulation (cf. Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). Truth comes at a cost, but it pays dividends. There is “joy and peace in believing” as we are made to “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
Specifically, the resounding example of the Thessalonians which reached even Macedonia and Achaia regarded their noble reception of the gospel and its proclaimers. “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Paul later explained, “when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
As they had great evidence (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:5) to believe the word spoken was not of earthly origin, but that from heaven, they acted upon it in dramatic ways. They completely changed their lives. Idol worship and everything surrounding it characterized their entire existence, and they threw it all away to “serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Oh, that we would have the same mindset to change our ways for God.
Finally, as they had repented of their sins and been converted, “times of refreshing” came from the Lord’s presence (cf. Acts 3:19). Once duped by false gods who could offer nothing, they were begotten again to an eternal inheritance (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-5). From that point they anticipated with great confidence, faithfulness and joy the day they would see their Savior (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:10).
The Thessalonians’ example speaks to us today. Do we reflect their work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope? Do we receive the word with great joy despite the tribulation which accompanies it? When the word is preached in truth, do we acknowledge it is not the man’s opinion or wisdom who speaks it, but it is the Divine will of God? Do we unhesitatingly repent when we are convicted of sin? Are we eagerly waiting for the coming of Jesus with penetrating focus? Let us imitate the Thessalonians’ example.