The Respected Thessalonians
“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, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (vv. 9–10).- 1 Thessalonians 1:8–10
“Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” This aphorism, erroneously attributed to Francis of Assisi, is rooted in the conviction that our lives should testify to the truth of Christ. Of course, our works should confirm our profession of faith (James 2:14–26), but the phrase wrongly suggests that we can preach the gospel without words. After all, the gospel is the announcement in words of the person and work of Christ (Rom. 10:5–15). If words are not used, the gospel is not actually preached.
The first-century Thessalonians recognized this, as we see in today’s passage. Paul notes that “the word of the Lord” had “sounded forth” from the church at Thessalonica, a clear reference to the proclamation of divine revelation. He also notes that their “faith in God” had “gone forth everywhere” (1 Thess. 1:8). “Faith in God” might refer to the Thessalonians’ own subjective trust in the gospel—the Thessalonians’ belief in the gospel had become known. However, it more likely refers to the content of what they believed—the Christian faith was proclaimed from Thessalonica. Thus, the Thessalonians were known for enthusiastically preaching the gospel to as many people as possible. Their faith went forth “everywhere”; that is, Thessalonian believers had gone out from the city with the gospel in every direction, and they had evangelized their provinces so thoroughly that Paul did not need to preach the gospel in those regions any longer (v. 8). Indeed, the Thessalonians were vital players in the early spread of the gospel. Aristarchus, for example, traveled with Paul on some of his missionary journeys (Acts 19:29; 27:2).
The message that the Thessalonians obeyed is summarized in 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 as turning from idols to the only true and living God through Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the One who delivers us from the coming wrath and who will come again from heaven. Of particular note here is the reference to what theologians call the parousia (Greek for “arrival”), the return of Christ from heaven on judgment day, when He will shelter all those who trust in Him from the wrath of our holy God against sinners. In fact, Jesus has already saved those who trust in Him by bearing the wrath of God in His person on the cross, exhausting the Lord’s anger and providing for us to be declared righteous in God’s sight (Rom. 3:21–26). Thus, we need not fear God’s coming wrath on all who do not trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The gospel is the saving truth of God that we must believe, and once we believe, the gospel moves us to love others and serve them for the sake of Christ. John Calvin comments that “the doctrine of the gospel tends to this, that it may induce us to serve and obey God.” Proof that the gospel is doing its work in our lives is that we desire more and more to obey God through Jesus Christ.
Passages for Further Study