For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. (verses 4-6)
As Paul reflects on his friends in the Thessalonian church, the place he starts is with the love of God. Of course, how could he not? This is where their spiritual lives began. Indeed, Jesus himself made it clear that this is truly the starting point for all of us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16) – God’s love is ground zero.
If our own love for the Lord is a true sign of spiritual health – and it is – we need to affirm that the only way to get there is through God’s love, given first. “We love because he first loved us” – it’s the foundational reality of the Christian life.
So, Paul addresses the Thessalonians with this basic descriptor: “brothers and sisters loved by God.” He is confident of this reality because he knows that Almighty God has chosen them – indeed, they were chosen “in him before the creation of the world” (Ephesians 1: 4). How does Paul know? He knows from what he’s seen.
Here it is. As described in Acts 17, Paul only visited Thessalonica briefly – indeed he preached in the local synagogue on three successive Sabbaths, and then shortly thereafter was run out of town. That’s not very long for a radical change of life to take place. And yet, that’s what happened in the lives of these Thessalonians. Some were Jewish (from the synagogue itself), others were not – indeed, they “turned to God from idols,” as verse 9 makes clear.
In it all, Paul saw the mighty working of God. He preached the gospel, which he loved deeply, and watched as it was received by the Thessalonians in its full goodness, as more than mere words. The Holy Spirit was at work. His power was present. Revelation was happening, and “deep conviction” gripped the hearts of those who heard. Jesus made it clear that no one comes to faith in him without the direct intervening work of the Father – “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). As Paul saw these Thessalonians embrace faith in Jesus, he knew, clearly, that the Father had chosen them, called them to himself, and opened their hearts to his Son.
But there was more. These new believers changed their behaviour. They shaped their new life after the example of the Apostle and his co-worker, Silas. More importantly, they shaped their lives by becoming imitators of Christ himself. Such transformation evidenced the active working of the Spirit within them, changing them from one degree of glory to another.
Further, they pressed forward in the renewing message of the gospel, filled with joy from the Spirit, even amid the persecution and suffering which resulted. Opposition to Paul was stirred up by jealous synagogue leaders, a mob was formed, and a riot launched. Some of the supporters of Paul found themselves at the very centre of hostilities. Yet these new believers persevered. They helped Paul and Silas escape from Thessalonica, but they themselves remained. This hostile environment itself became the incubator of growth in Christ, such that Paul would later say, “we were encouraged … because of your faith … since you are standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:7-8).
It’s all rooted in the Lord’s own love and in his divine choice. “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-5), Paul would later say. This is what the Thessalonians experienced.
It’s the reality for every one of us who has embraced the good news of Jesus and received new life in him. See what God has done. Look for the signs in your own journey of faith. Then press into him for more. Imitate him fully, love him more deeply.
And give thanks, for what was true of the Thessalonians is true for you. You are loved. You are chosen.
Lord, thank you for your grace. Thank you for all you have worked in our lives. Praise you.
Reflect: Look back through your own journey of faith to see how the Lord has been at work. Name the changes. Give thanks. Where you see need for more, put it in the Lord’s hands.