1 Thessalonians 1
4 Things You Need to Know
1. One of the oldest books in the NT. Scholars date it at approximately 50-51 AD, meaning that it was written only 18 years after Jesus’ life and death. As such it is one of the earliest pictures we have of the Christian church in the very beginning. It is, in fact, our earliest missionary document. The only books that may be older than 1 Thessalonians are Galatians and James.
2. One of the shortest books in the NT. It contains only 79 verses. You can easily read it in 30 minutes.
3. It is one of the easiest books to understand. Unlike Romans, there is no complicated theology to ponder. Everything Paul writes is simple, clear, and direct. It is not a doctrinal treatise that raises many hard questions. It is a short letter to a young church.
4. One of the most practical books in the NT. In 5 short chapters Paul deals with a wide range of truth. Some of the topics include true conversion, integrity, compassion, the Word of God, heavenly rewards, suffering, prayer, moral purity, hard work, the Second Coming of Christ, the role of spiritual leaders, dealing with difficult people and testing spiritual gifts. Because it is so clear, it is a great book to preach. Everyone can understand its message.
Some Background You Should Know Acts 17: 1 - 9
Thessalonica was a seaport town in ancient Greece. It was an important crossroads for East-West travel. The port contained a superb harbour that attracted ships from every part of the Mediterranean. The famous highway system that connected Rome with Asia to the east passed through Thessalonica. It was a strategic centre. Whatever happened there would soon spread everywhere.
The population consisted of 4 main groups: Greeks, Romans, Jews and Orientals. Most of the people were idol-worshiping pagans. Paul visited Thessalonica on his 2nd missionary journey. After preaching in the local synagogue he was forced to leave town under pressure from the Jews who stirred up the local rabble.
Paul’s brief ministry resulted in a small congregation made up mostly of converted Greeks along with a few believing Jews and some leading women of the town. It was clearly a predominately Gentile congregation.
In order to understand the letter you need to know one important fact: Paul left Thessalonica before he really wanted to. His premature leaving caused many of the younger believers to wonder about him and his ministry and some were tempted to give up their faith under the continuing pressure.
After leaving Thessalonica Paul went to Athens. From Athens he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how the church was doing and he (Paul) went on to Corinth alone. Timothy eventually reported back to Paul regarding the state of the young church. He told Paul that the church was doing well but was under intense pressure to give in. Certain rumours against Paul were being spread because he left town so suddenly. There were also various moral and doctrinal problems in the church. Although Paul wanted to return, circumstances prevented him. So he wrote a letter of encouragement to this young church. That letter is the book we call 1 Thessalonians.
The Heart of a Great Apostle 1: 1 - 3
To me, this letter reveals the heart of Paul more than any other letter. If you want to know what he believed, read Romans. If you want to know what he was like as a person, read 1 Thessalonians. How encouraging these words must have been to that young congregation made up entirely of new believers. If they wondered how Paul felt about them, and if they were tempted to doubt God’s work, they need only re-read these opening verses.
The next few verses deal with the subject of their conversion. Step by step Paul recounts how these former pagans became fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
1. The Preparation for Conversion v. 4, 5
“What must happen first?” In order for a person to be converted 2 things must happen—something from God’s side and something from the human side. God’s side must always come first.
A. The Divine Side
God must choose you. The doctrine of election simply means that God chooses those who will be saved. Salvation begins with God’s choice of us—not with our choosing God. Although we sometime stumble at this truth, it should not bother us in the least. Election flows from the love of God. That’s why Paul calls these new believers “brothers loved by God.” Election is not a device for sending men to hell but for rescuing them from hell.
I do not claim to understand all the mysteries of this doctrine but conversion begins with the work of God in eternity—his divine choice to save men and women.
B. The Human Side
Lest we should become unbalanced, Paul immediately adds the human side of conversion. God’s election was made effective through the preaching of the gospel. The Word was preached with the power of the Holy Spirit, producing deep conviction in the hearts of the hearers.
Have you ever wondered why 2 people can hear the same message and respond in opposite ways? It happens because 1 heard words while the other heard the message. It is the Holy Spirit who takes human words in preaching and makes them “come alive” inside the human heart. That’s why we ought to pray for the preaching of the Word, that it might be accompanied with the power of the Spirit. For without that power, even the best preaching is useless to change the human heart.
2. The Evidence of Conversion v. 6 - 8
“What should we look for?” The answers to that question all revolve around how you respond to the Word of God.
A. Receiving the Word
The Thessalonians were so glad to be saved they couldn’t be stopped, not even by persecution. True conversion means that you continue to follow Christ even when the going gets rough. Jesus never invites us to receive him on a trial basis, although some try to do just that.
B. Living the Word
Thessalonica was the capital city of the province of Macedonia so anything that happened there would eventually spread across the region. Just as people talk about what happens in Cape Town or Durban, they were talking about what was happening in Thessalonica.
We all know that a satisfied customer is always the best advertisement for any product. The best place for you to make an impact for Christ is right where you are. You don’t have to go overseas to be a missionary. You can start by living for Christ and showing others the difference he makes on a daily basis.
C. Speaking the Word
As the Thessalonians shared Christ, the message reverberated throughout the entire region. Here, then, is the evidence of conversion clearly explained. First you receive God’s Word gladly, then you live it on a daily basis. As you do, the message of the gospel reverberates in every direction. And those around you begin to sit up and take notice.
3. The Testimony to Conversion v. 9, 10
“How does it happen?” This is where truth must become personal for you and me. 3 Tenses of the Christian Life - describe the past, the present, the future of those who have been converted.
A. In the Past
They had been idol-worshipers before coming to Christ. Suddenly their lives were dramatically and utterly transformed. How had it happened? They “turned to God.” This is what conversion is all about. The Bible uses the term “repentance” to describe this act.
The word means to turn around or to change your mind - “to turn to the Lord with all your heart.” Repentance means to change your mind about something. It has to do with the way you think about something. You’ve been thinking one way, but now you think the opposite way. That’s repentance—the changing of the mind.
A Decisive Change of Mind
Suppose a man wants to learn how to parachute. He goes to a parachute school and they show him how to rig up his gear, how to pull the rip cord, how to land safely. Finally the day comes when they take him up in a plane. He’s scared to death but he’s afraid to let on. The moment comes when he is to jump. He goes to the door of the plane and looks down to the ground. His legs grow weak, he’s about to throw up and somebody behind him is trying to push him out of that plane. At the last second he says, “No. I’m not going to do it.” They say, “Go ahead, you can do it.” He says, “I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to jump.” And he doesn’t. That man has repented. He’s changed his mind in a decisive way.
That’s how repentance works. Repentance is a change in the way I think that leads to change in the way I live. When you really change your mind about something, it’s going to change the way you think about it, talk about it, feel about it and act about it. True repentance is more than just a little game you play in your mind. Repentance is a decisive change in direction. It’s a change of mind which leads to a change of thinking which leads to a change of attitude which leads to a change of feeling which leads to a change of values which leads to a change in the way I lead my life.
B. In the Present
Where once you served sin and self, now you serve the living and true God. Where once you bowed down to the idols of pleasure, power, material gain and worldly approval, now you bow the knee to Jesus Christ. Where once you served the dead gods of this world, now you serve the living God. Once you followed falsehood, now you serve the true God.
This in many ways sums up the whole truth of the Christian life. We are here to serve God day by day and moment by moment. We are his servants, put here to do his will, always seeking his best interests and hoping always to please him. You either serve self or you serve God.
C. In the Future
We turn, we serve, and we wait for Jesus to return. This tells us that the 2nd Coming is not some esoteric doctrine which we may believe or not depending on our preference. It is the fundamental motivation for the entire Christian life.
Conversion begins when you turn to God. It is nothing more or less than “an intentional turning of oneself to God.” Because it is intentional it does not happen by accident. Nor does it happen automatically. Nor can anyone else turn for you. You yourself must decide to turn to God. No one can make that decision for you.
Conversion also means turning from your idols to the living and true God. You can have your idols or you can have God but you can’t have both. The Greek religion was filled with various idols. All the heroic gods who supposedly dwelt on Mount Olympus were nothing more than detestable idols. The religion built upon these idols was degrading, obscene and perverse. It generated fear, vengeance, immorality, demonism and slavery. This idolatry was the foundation for government, religion, amusements and everyday life. It permeated every aspect of society.
For a Christian to reject all that and follow Jesus Christ meant rejecting the very foundation of society itself. Yet that is what Jesus calls us to do and that is what the Thessalonians had done.
Not all idols are made of wood, stone or metal. We have our idols today—only they are more sophisticated. An idol is anything in the world which we look to as an ultimate source of value. A job, a house, a car, a title, a position, a possession, a prized relationship—any of these may become idols when we look to them for our sense of worth and values.
How can you be converted? The answer is simple. You must transfer your trust away from yourself and place it fully upon Jesus Christ. You must turn from self-worship, good works and every idol in your life and wholly depend upon Jesus Christ and him alone as your Lord and Savior. The Christian life begins with conversion! Without conversion there is no Christian life and if you are not converted, you are not a Christian at all.
I urge you to turn to God. If you have the slightest desire, turn. If you want to be converted, turn. If you seek a new life, turn. I urge to turn to God. Turn from your sin. Turn from your idols. Turn from your past. Turn from your self-worship. Turn from all that is evil. Turn to God and say, “Lord Jesus, I transfer my trust to you as my Saviour and Lord.”