Always Thanking God
Copyright © Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, Nebraska
GR1114 - 1st Thessalonians 1:2-5
The following text is taken from sermons preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff and may contain some material from adjacent sermons in the series.
Review I Thessalonians Introduction
In our last study, we examined the background of the foundation of the church at Thessalonica in Acts 17. As one will recall, the church was founded by Paul and Silas on the second missionary journey. They stopped in Thessalonica and Paul preached the gospel message in the synagogue for three successive Sabbaths. Over this course of time, there was tremendous opposition to the gospel message, until it was so great that Paul and Silas were forced to flee and go to the city of Berea.
When they arrived at Berea, Paul immediately began preaching the gospel of Christ in the synagogue. However, unlike Thessalonica, the Jews were open minded, and many (Jews and Gentiles) came to believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
When news of Paul's preaching reached the Jews at Thessalonica, they sent men to Berea to stir up opposition to Paul's ministry, and they were successful in having Paul driven out of Berea.
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. 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; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-5
After Paul left Thessalonica, he did not forget about the Christians he had left there. He is re-united with Timothy and sends him back to find out how they are doing. When Timothy comes back with an excellent report, Paul is filled with overflowing joy and appreciation of God's work in their lives. This is the reason he writes this epistle. He wants to express his thanksgiving for standing firm in their faith.
There are also some charges that he needs to refute. As we will see during our study of this letter, Paul's opposition will accuse him of being a traveling speaker who only wants money. Not only this, they will also charge him with being a coward because he fled Thessalonica. Paul will address both of these attacks and show that he himself provided for his own support, and that he was not a coward.
A key theme in both the first and second letters to the Thessalonians is the second coming of Christ. In the first letter, the idea seems to revolve around the rapture of the church. In chapter 4 we will see this theme unfold very clearly. In the second letter, Paul will develop the second coming of Christ to earth to set up His Kingdom.
As one will recall, we examined verse 1 of 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 in our last study. It was noted that the church was "in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." These were words of encouragement to them. They were those who God had called apart to be part of Himself in a special, unique body. They have this security and comfort in the midst of persecution and opposition. They know and understand that they are a group of people called out from the world to live as God's people in a personal, intimate relationship with Him as their Father. He is responsible for their care and protection, while the Lord Jesus Christ is responsible for their leadership. He is sovereign and is in control of their lives, and the events that shape them.
One of the striking things about the first letter to the Thessalonians is the amount of doctrine that Paul addresses. Remember, these people are new believers, yet Paul discusses the Doctrine of Election, the Second Coming, and other related matters. Sometimes we drag our feet. We don't learn as fast as we should. But the Thessalonians had an advantage. They were under persecution and opposition, which, in a sense, cause one to mature at a much faster pace.
In verses 2 through 4, Paul's theme is thanksgiving. He is going to develop the matter of being thankful, and offer thanks to God on behalf of the Thessalonians. He does this in three phases. First, he says, "...making mention of you in our prayers" (vs. 2). Secondly, "Constantly bearing in mind..." (vs. 3). And finally, "knowing...His choice of you" (vs. 4).
Verse 2 says, "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers." It is customary for Paul to begin every epistle (except Galatians) with an expression of thanks. He wants his readers to know that he directs his gratitude toward God for what has been accomplished in their lives. This is stressed in the letter to the Thessalonians. He is thankful to God for them.
We see this truth in 2 Corinthians 4:15 as well, where Paul says, "For all things are for your sakes, that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God." When God's grace is bestowed, it results in thanks being given to God, which brings glory to God. Thanksgiving should be a characteristic in the life of every believer. Why? Because giving thanks results in glory being brought to God, which is the goal of our Christian lives. If a believer is not giving thanks, and instead is grumbling about his life, he is not bringing glory to God.
How often are we to give thanks to God? For many believers, giving thanks to God is a once a week, Sunday morning activity. But Paul says we are to give God thanks "always. " Our thanksgiving is not to be sporadic. It cannot be "on" and "off." It is to be a constant appreciation expressed to God.
You may say, "Well, I can handle that. I give thanks to God always for my wife and children. Just don't tell me I have to be thankful for everybody at my church because I can't stand some of them." Well, sorry to bring you the news. Paul says he gives thanks "...for all of you." His thanks included all of the believers at Thessalonica. And this would be the same as all of the different kinds of characters who are part of the churches we have today. There were all kinds of people with different backgrounds, personalities, characteristics, and problems. Yet Paul was thankful for every single one of them.
The key to Paul's thanks is the little phrase "to God." His gratitude was directed towards God because these believers are a product of the grace of God. The fact that they have come to salvation in Jesus Christ means that there are abundant reasons for Paul to offer thanks to God on their behalf. When we stop seeing each other in light of the work of God's grace in our lives, we begin to see aspects of one another that are not desirable. We begin to complain and grumble about one another, denying God the glory that He deserves.
Paul offered his thanks to God on behalf of the Thessalonians by "making mention of you in our prayers." He constantly remembered them in his prayers. This doesn't mean that Paul was constantly in prayer for the Thessalonians. There were many churches and saints that Paul had to pray about. But every time Paul did pray about the Thessalonians, it was a prayer of thanksgiving to God.
Three areas are brought to our attention in connection with the Thessalonians and Paul's thanks for them in verse 3. Paul says, "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 God and Father." The three areas that Paul focuses on are their "work...labor...steadfastness... ." These are the things that Paul focuses on when he remembers them in his prayers.
He starts out saying, "constantly bearing in mind your work of faith... ." This is referring to the work which is a result of faith. Because the Thessalonians have come to believe in Jesus Christ, they are actively working for the Lord. Living saving faith produces works. James 2:26 illustrates this truth quite well; "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." Just as certain activities are a result of being born into the human family--eating, breathing, sleeping, works are a result of being born into God's family. It was by faith that Abraham was able to carry out the work of offering Isaac up to be sacrificed.
The second area that causes Paul to be thankful is their "...labor of love... ." The word "labor" goes beyond the physical. It encompasses the idea of the over all cost that is involved in the activity, including strenuous toil, exertion, and fatigue. It is the type of labor that drains everything out of you. In I Thessalonians 2:9 Paul says, "For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God." Paul is reminding them that he and Silas worked hard when they were in Thessalonica. They didn't simply work, they labored.
First Thessalonians 3:5 addresses this subject as well. Paul says, "For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor should be in vain." Do you know how Paul built a church of believers at Thessalonica? He toiled and labored to get it done. This does not mean he did everything on his own. God was operating in his life, and gave him the energy that was needed to establish the church. And in this verse, Paul is concerned that all that work was for naught. If he had left, and the Thessalonians did not stand for the Lord, it would have been a waste of Paul's time and labor.
I think most of us would have been worn out if we had tried to keep up with Paul. But he didn't do it because he was Superman. He did it because he drew upon the power of God and disciplined himself to obey His Word.
We need to recognize that this type of labor is a unique characteristic of a believer. It is not a labor of personal gain. Rather, it is a labor that is motivated by love. The earth is full of unbelievers who work very hard to achieve wealth and power. So, hard work is not unique to believers. What is unique is the reason behind a the hard work of a believer. The Thessalonians, for example, were not motivated by personal gain. They were motivated by love (agapao love)--putting the needs of other believers ahead of their own. This type of love was perfectly demonstrated in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
This love that God has for us is to become the pattern for how we live our lives as believers. Unfortunately, one of the most distressing things about us is how often we are selfish. We are to have the same love toward one another that Christ has for us. This type of love knows no bounds. 1 John 3:16 says, "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." The picture here is of a complete, self-sacrificing love. We are to allow ourselves to be molded into the character of Jesus Christ, manifesting His perfect, agapao love, and meeting the needs of other believers.
Where do we get the ability to love in this manner? 1 John 4:7 says, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and every one who loves is born of God and knows God." God is the source of this self-sacrificing love. The issue is that the very character of God is love. When one becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, and partakes in the character of God, that character is seen in him. The understanding that Christ loved us enough to die for us should change the way we live our lives. The focus needs to be off ourselves and towards the needs of other believers in the body.
No matter what else we do, if this kind of love doesn't characterize us, nothing else matters. Paul describes this type of love in detail in I Corinthians 13:4-8: "Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. It never fails." This is the measuring stick of our love. Do these traits characterize our love? This is the reason the Thessalonians were able to labor and toil. This is the reason we are able to give of ourselves in a self-sacrificing manner when there is no reward, no glory, and no recognition. It is like the love of a parent for their child. Parents give of themselves all hours of the day and night. Perhaps their child has been in an accident. Where do you find those parents? You find them beside their child, attending to their needs. Do you see them quit because they get tired? No. Do you see them quit because the ball game is on? No. They love their children with a self-sacrificing love.
Our love enables us to see. It causes the intangible to become tangible. We can't see faith, but we can see the work that it produces. We can't see love, but we can see the demonstration of love. If we have true hope centered in Jesus Christ, it will produce "steadfastness" of hope.
Also, this is the third area that Paul gives thanks for on behalf of the Thessalonians. The word "steadfastness" denotes strength or endurance in difficult situations. It means "to abide under something." If we have unshakable confidence in Jesus Christ, we are able to withstand circumstances that we would ordinarily run from.
If we don't have our "hope" fixed in Jesus Christ, we will not have "steadfastness." If we fall apart every time something goes wrong it is because we don't have our hope fixed in Him. We will not be able to withstand persecution or opposition. Our endurance exists only in our hope in Jesus Christ, and in His coming to earth. Remember, this is the key theme throughout 1 Thessalonians, and Paul will emphasize it at the end of each chapter. For example, 1:10 says, "and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus ,who delivers us from the wrath to come." In like manner, 2:19 says, "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?" This is our hope. Jesus Christ is coming again to take us to be with Himself. When we focus our attention on this truth, we will have "steadfastness" in our lives.
See also 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 4:17, 5:23
No wonder Paul was thankful! The world of the Thessalonians, humanly speaking, was falling apart. Their friends were now their enemies, their families were opposed to them, and many of them lost jobs. Yet they remained steadfast. This was incredible considering they had not been believers for very long. You see, it doesn't matter if one has been a believer for 20 years or 20 months. When we fix our hope on Christ, we will be made "steadfast."
Verse 4 addresses the Doctrine of Election. Paul says, "knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you." Paul calls the Thessalonians "brethren." This is a favorite expression of Paul's throughout his epistles. They are fellow heirs and members of the family of God.
Paul continues, saying that he knows the Thessalonians are "beloved by God, His choice of you." The word "choice" means "election" or "selection." And Paul says, knowing that the Thessalonians were "chosen" by God, this is a reason for him to be giving thanks.
Election is grounded in the sovereignty of God. He chose who would become a believer in the person and work of Jesus Christ, before He even created the world. This truth is seen in Ephesians 1:4 "just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him... ." The eternal destination of the elect was determined in eternity past, before the foundation of the world.
Second Thessalonians 2:13 illustrates the reason we are to be giving thanks to God. Paul says, "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification (setting apart) by the Spirit and faith in the truth." Again, we see that God has chosen us for salvation "from the beginning." God not only ordained the end, which is salvation, but He also ordained the means to that end through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the truth of His Word. The Holy Spirit sets apart those who have been elected to believe the truth of the gospel when it is preached. The "non-elect" go to hell for being unsaved sinners who have not believed.
Not everyone is elect for salvation. Revelation 17:8 says, "The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and to go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come." Just as God elected some people to receive eternal salvation, He also chose not to write everyone's name in the book of life. In Revelation 20, we are told that those whose names are not written in the book of life will be cast into the lake of fire.
See also Revelation 13:8
The truth of election is not limited to the New Testament. Psalm 139 says very clearly that God is totally sovereign. He has ordained everything in our lives before we are even born, including what we look like, how long we will live... etc. All of these things underscore the truth that we are either elected for salvation or not included in the book of life, and God made His choice before He formed the world.
In Jeremiah 1:5 God says, "...Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. And before you were born I consecrated you." The word "formed" in the context of the Old Testament means to know someone with favor or choosing. When God chose to elect some to eternal life, He gave us His favorable knowledge in choosing.
Often the first question that someone asks regarding election is, "Is it fair that God chooses who will receive eternal life?" But what we have to understand is that election really reveals the mercy, grace, and love of God. Do you know why? Because without election, not one person would trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ and turn from their sin. This is the reason Paul is so thankful for the election of the Thessalonians. All of us human beings are so sinful and depraved that we would never choose God for ourselves, therefore He chose us for Himself.
Romans 3:10-13 illustrates this truth; "As it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of Asps is under their lips." This is the character of every human being that has ever lived, lives, or will live. We are a totally depraved, sinful race.
See also Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:5
Now, from among our sinful race God graciously selected some for salvation. This is different than the idea of most people. We are not an innocent, caring race. We are a people who turn our faces from God by our very nature. David said that we were conceived in sin--we are sinners from birth. Therefore, it is not unfair for a completely righteous and holy God to judge us accordingly. The fact that He chose not to judge all of us is simply a display of His incredible grace.
And the point is, none of us want salvation. This is a characteristic of sin. We are like the angels who rebelled against God with Satan. They don't have a chance to change their minds anymore. They rebelled against God and they will spend eternity in hell, period. But guess what? They don't even want to be saved. They are still rebelling against God.
The human race is in the same boat. None of us seek Him. We want nothing to do with God. But God, in His mercy, chose some of us tobelieve in the person and work of His Son, giving to us eternal salvation and the forgiveness of sins. You see, it was not enough that God provided a means of salvation for human beings. He also selected those who would be saved as well, because we would not choose salvation on our own.
The real question raised in Scripture is not "Why are so many people lost," but "Why are any saved?" It is easy to understand why sinful, depraved human beings go to hell. God clearly says that the wages of sin is death. The amazing thing is that God, in His loving grace, provided redemption and salvation in His Son that is adequate to save those who believe.
God predestines those who He has elected to be placed as sons, according to "the kind intention of His will" (Ephesians 1:5). None of us deserves to be saved, but God chose some, from among the human race, to be saved. In effect, God is saying "After counseling with myself, I decided to pay the debt of sin for this person, this person... etc." It has nothing to do with us "deserving" to be saved.
This tends to put us on the defensive sometimes. We don't mind if salvation is a 50/50 proposition. We don't even mind a 60/40 split. But when we are told that we had absolutely nothing to do with our own salvation, we become somewhat insulted. We say, "What do you mean I had nothing to do with my salvation? I decided to accept Christ didn't I?" No. God decided, before the foundation of the world, that you would believe. He foreordained the time and place when Jesus Christ would die on the cross in our place.
In Acts 2:23 it says, "this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." The " predetermined plan and foreknowledge" of God are the same thing. Many people think that "foreknowledge" means that God looked into the future, saw who would believe, and then elected them. But according to the sentence structure of Acts 2:23, God's "foreknowledge" is no different than His "predetermined plan." God didn't look into thefuture and see that Christ was going to be crucified, and then send Him to earth to die. Nor did He look into the future and see that we would believe in His Son, so based upon that, He made His choice. That would be ridiculous. God is in complete control of everything, and He has foreordained everything.
That brings us to another question. If God is in complete control, why does He find fault with mankind? If He is in control, then it is His responsibility, right? Paul addresses this question in Romans 9:20-21. He says, "On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use?" The point is, God is completely sovereign. The Doctrine of Election always raises questions. People ask me things like, "What if my children are not elect?" Or, "What if some of my children are elect, and some are not?" As believers, we can be sure that God is in complete control of every situation.
In verse 5, Paul sets forth the reason he knows those in the Thessalonian church are elected. He says, "for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." Notice that Paul calls it, "our gospel." The gospel is always intentionally personal to Paul. He doesn't mean that it is his private possession, or that it originated from him. Rather, he simply means that it was the gospel that he preached. This is the message that Paul had committed his life to, and trusted for his eternal salvation, and this was the message that he proclaimed to the Thessalonians.
This is a constant theme throughout 1 Thessalonians. In chapter 2 Paul calls it "the gospel of God," and says he has been "entrusted with the gospel" (2:2, 4). Paul viewed the gospel as a trust given to him by God.
Paul reiterates again and again the simple message of the gospel of Christ. In fact, it is so simple, that it can be summarized in two points: Christ died for our sins and Christ was raised from the dead. This is the good news from God, and our eternal destiny rests upon our response to it. We either come to believe the message that Christ died on the cross, personally for our sins and was raised from the dead, and trust in Him as our Lord and Savior, or we don't. On that basis, we will either spend eternity in heaven or hell.
We can be sure that the gospel is the same today as it was 2,000 years ago. How? Because God spoke it, it is unchanging, and Paul takes any alterations of the gospel very seriously. Galatians 1:8-9 attests to this truth; "But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed." If someone preaches that in order to be saved you must believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ, plus be baptized, or have good works... etc, they are under a curse and are not saved.
Paul continues in verse 5, saying "our gospel did not come to you in word only." The gospel is more than just words saying Jesus died on the cross. Paul makes the point that the gospel was presented to them "...in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full convictions." 1 Corinthians 2:4 supports this truth. Paul says, "And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." Paul didn't preach the gospel with clever words and persuasive speech. Rather, he preached it in "power." The gospel is the very "power" of God.
Today, so many churches are denying this "power." They have become like those in 2 Timothy 3:5; "holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these." The vast majority of churches deny the power of God for salvation, and rely instead on man-made rituals and requirements. As believers, we are to avoid such people as these. A true believer should not sit for one week in a church that does not teach the Word of God, or deviates from it.
Now, the power that Paul refers to in verse 5 was evident in his own life as well. He is writing from his own experiences with Silas and Timothy as they shared together in the ministry at Thessalonica. They were conscious of the power of God at work in their lives. This is seen in Colossians 1:11, where Paul says they were "strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might." It wasn't the strength of Paul, Silas, and Timothy that allowed them to labor. It was the "power" of God, which worked within them.
What is the source of this "power?" Paul says it is the "...Holy Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 1:5). But the Holy Spirit is more than just some powerful source. He is a living person, a member of the triune God-head who personally indwells all those who believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This "power" is the result of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Peter said this concerning Christ in I Peter 10:38 "You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power...." In like manner, Romans 15:13 says, "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." The tragedy for us as believers is that we don't realize our potential in Christ. We have the Spirit of God residing in us to empower us, yet we stumble along during our earthly lives.
Finally, Paul says the gospel also came in "full conviction." The Holy Spirit was producing "full conviction" in Paul as he preached the gospel to the Thessalonians. They were given full confidence in their ministry. They knew that God was working and using His Word in their lives. This is the same word that we see in Colossians 2:2 where Paul says, "that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in true knowledge of God's mystery, that Christ Himself." That "full assurance" or "full conviction" is produced by the Spirit operating in our lives. God doesn't want us to be like reeds blowing in the wind. He wants us to have full confidence and assurance regarding our position in Christ.
See also Hebrews 6:11, 10:22
Paul offers himself as an example at the end of 1 Thessalonians 1:5. He says, "...just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." Paul was never ashamed to tell his converts to examine his life. He was confident that the life he led supported the gospel that he preached. Remember, there were false accusations about Paul that had been circulating in the city. But he says, "you know what kind of person I am. Go ahead and examine my life."
Have you come to believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? If you have, do you realize that it had nothing to do with you? Do you understand that only by the mercy and grace of God you have been elected to receive salvation? What a cause to give thanks to God!
And beyond that can you say, along with the apostle Paul, "Go ahead and examine my life. You know what I am like. I'm like this because of the Holy Spirit living within me, as an example to all of you."
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.
INDIAN HILLS COMMUNITY CHURCH
1000 South 84th St., Lincoln, NE 68510-4499...Phone: 402-483-4541...Fax: 402-483-6716
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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.
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