1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 ESV
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.
In today’s text, the apostle Paul described the work that the church at Thessalonica was doing after they turned to God from idols. He specifically said that the church was doing two things: serving God (vs. 9), and waiting (vs. 10).
For the Thessalonians, it was not the serving part that was the problem; it was the waiting part.
You and I may have the same problem. We need waiting lessons.
The Bible is filled with stories of saints who proved their commitment to the LORD by waiting for him to save his people. Noah waited for God to bring the judgment of the flood, and then waited for God to rescue him and his family from that judgment. Moses waited for God to rescue his people from Egypt, then waited patiently for his people to prove that they were worthy of the miracles God did on their behalf. The prophets waited for God to bring judgment upon their own people for rebelling against God, and waited for the restoration and blessing that God promised when their people repented. For generations the Israelites waited for the promised Messiah, and he came quietly to a little town called Bethlehem.
Seen in the light of biblical history, our long wait seems perfectly consistent with how God works in the lives of his people. In fact, there appear to be some lessons God is teaching his church that are only learned through the slow process of waiting for what he has promised.
The early Church had only been waiting for a few years when they began to be discouraged by the fact that the Savior they were proclaiming had not returned. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians responds to that feeling of discouragement. In these five short chapters, Paul reveals some important lessons for those of us who find ourselves waiting.
Merely longing for “pie in the sky by and by” is not a Christian thing to do. We are right to expect an eternal life, because the Bible promises it. But part of the significance of that eternal life is the relationships with others that we will have then – relationships that can begin now. This is what Paul was getting at in 1 Thess. 2:19-20, when he said “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” For Paul, the joy of eternity consists of the chance he had to win people to Christ, so that they could share eternity with him. The Thessalonians were important to Paul because he had befriended them, enjoyed their friendship now, and looked forward to the mutual eternal relationships they could give each other.
In light of this, Paul explained in chapter 4 that the believers in Thessalonica who had already died were not going to miss out on the great reunion. He explained that Jesus was going to return visibly, publically, and gloriously. When he returns, the first thing he will do is raise the believing dead (4:16). Then the reunion begins “in the air” (4:17). What makes this event so special is not just that you or I as individuals will be “with the Lord” but that all believers will be together with the Lord, and that that eternal togetherness will never end.
The friendships we enjoy with believers today are destined to be eternal relationships. This is all the more reason for us to pray for our friends regularly, to invest ourselves in their lives. We may have encountered these people “by chance” but God was working behind the scenes, bringing about those chance meetings. He has a plan for us, and his plan includes our being part of each other’s lives. So, while we wait, we have an opportunity to invest ourselves in these eternal relationships.
Often a long wait causes people to get distracted, and forget matters that were important to them at the beginning of the wait. Many of the New Testament epistles were written because the churches had gotten sidetracked by false doctrines, or internal conflict, or fear of persecution, or things like that. That appears to have been part of the problem in Thessalonica.
Paul encourages the Thessalonians with this prayer: “and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (3:12-13). The prayer reflects a key idea in the theology of Paul: that true faith produces reciprocal love which in turn produces holiness.
Look anywhere in the writings of Paul to the churches and you will see this theme.
Paul tells the Romans of being justified by faith (5:1), and then tells them that because of our faith “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (5:5). He tells the Corinthians “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). He tells the Galatians that what counts is “faith working through love” (5:6). He commends the Ephesians because “because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints” (1:15). He prays that the love of the Philippians “may abound more and more” (1:9). He praises the Colossians for their faith in Christ and their love for all the saints (1:4). As for the Thessalonians, Paul is grateful that Timothy has informed him of the good news of their faith and love (1 Thess. 3:6).
Christians between the two advents should be people who allow the Holy Spirit to transform them. Our long wait should not be spent on selfish pursuits or mindless ritual. Instead, we should concentrate on loving one another, and loving the watching world. This is what it means for the Master’s servants to “occupy” until he comes (Luke 19:13 KJV).
In chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians, Paul described the time we are living in as a long night, in which Christ may return at any time suddenly as a thief. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to live in such a way that they would never be caught off guard by the Lord’s return. The world around them will be lulled into sleep by a false sense of security, or distracted by drunkenness. But the church of Jesus Christ is not to live in that darkness. The day of Christ’s return should not surprise us like a thief.
As we wait for our Savior, believers have the opportunity to learn how to live soberly. We should “stay alert and be clearheaded” (5:6 NLT). By doing so, we testify to the world around us that the second coming of Christ is a serious matter, and should be prepared for. Sadly, for most of the world Christ’s second coming will not be a day of joy and praise. It will be a day of destruction and pain (5:3).
The world around us is busy entertaining itself into a state of drunkenness – or drug induced deadness, unaware of this tragic destiny that awaits them. They are the walking dead. Believers should live differently. We should live intentionally, not just from weekend to weekend. Every day of our lives should be invested in eternity. While we wait for justice from on high, we should be sowing justice and kindness in our personal fields. While we wait for the restoration of all things, we should be seeking broken things and broken people to reconcile and restore ourselves.
If we have to wait for another 150 years for our Master to return, may he find us living by these lessons. May he find us waiting faithfully.
LORD, teach us how to wait for your Son from heaven, whom you raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. Help us to live soberly, and to invest ourselves in eternal relationships by loving others.