Rejoicing Over Salvation
1 Thessalonians 1:5–8
The apostle Paul did not preach on the power of positive thinking to the Thessalonians. He did not use skillful oratory, philosophical arguments, clever expressions, or enticing words of human wisdom. Nor did he proclaim that Jesus would supply wealth, health, or deliverance from political oppression.
Paul’s message was simple. Using prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures, he showed that the Messiah had to suffer, die, and be resurrected from the dead. The response was tremendous. Jews and Gentiles alike came to salvation in Christ.
Paul simply presented the gospel. He taught that God the Father, through His sovereign grace, provided salvation through the Messiah’s substitutionary death and bodily resurrection and that all who place their faith in Him are granted eternal life.
First Thessalonians 1:5–8 presents the process of the Thessalonians’ salvation and its impact on those who were receiving Christ, as well as the effect the Thessalonians’ commitment to their faith had on people throughout Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond.
The Thessalonians’ Election
Paul was convinced the Thessalonians who came to Christ at his preaching of the gospel were chosen by God to be saved because he witnessed the life of Christ in them (v. 4). The apostle provided evidence of their election: “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake” (v. 5).
The word for in the phrase for our gospel should be translated “in that” or “because” and gives the reason why Paul was sure of their election: because the Holy Spirit empowered the preaching of the gospel, resulting in their salvation. The Lord accomplished His plan of salvation through men like Paul, saving the Thessalonians by grace through faith, not due to any work on their part.
The words our gospel (good news) do not mean Paul and Silas originated the message or proclaimed a different message from the other apostles. It was theirs in that they personally received it from Christ and were committed to it by faith.
The phrase did not come to you in word only stresses three thoughts about the gospel:
- It came to the Thessalonians through Scripture, not through the practice of rituals or routinely repeated religious chants.
- God used men like Paul and Silas, not angels or spirits, to bring the message.
- The Thessalonians were not saved by Paul’s eloquence, no matter how compelling or persuasive it was. Rather, the Holy Spirit energized Paul’s words, making them effective (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1–5).
Paul used three phrases to explain this fact: but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance (1 Th. 1:5).
The Greek word for “power” (dunamei) is the English word for “dynamite.” Thus the gospel had inherent dynamite through the Holy Spirit’s enablement.
Furthermore, their preaching was done “in the Holy Spirit.” It was united to the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who gives the gospel spiritual power and makes it effective in lives. Thus it was the Holy Spirit who used Paul’s message to convict and convince all those who heard it. Paul and other preachers knew the Holy Spirit was working in them when they preached and that His transforming power was using their words to bring the Thessalonians to salvation.
The phrase in much assurance means the Holy Spirit gave Paul and Silas abundant confidence that the message they preached was from God. This is how they came to know without a doubt that the Thessalonians’ election was real and God’s work.
Paul then asked the Thessalonians to recall his message, character, and conduct, as well as that of his companions: “as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake” (v. 5). The Thessalonians knew with certainty that each member of Paul’s delegation was above reproach, both in word and walk. They also knew how faithfully the men proclaimed the gospel message received from God concerning salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
The Thessalonians’ Experience
It was of great importance to preach the gospel, but it was also of great importance to receive it. The Thessalonians’ response gave Paul more evidence that they were God’s elect. He noted three reasons why he was assured of their salvation.
First, they “became followers [imitators] of us and of the Lord” (v. 6). The change in their behavior was observable. They patterned their lives, conduct, and character after the missionaries, which gave evidence of their true conversion.
Second, they “received the word in much affliction” (v. 6). After receiving the Word of God and Christ, they immediately experienced persecution. Notice, it was “much affliction” from the beginning of their salvation (cf. Acts 17:5–8; 1 Th. 2:14; 3:2–3). They suffered rejection by family and friends. They lost their jobs and homes and were driven out of town, imprisoned, and martyred for their faith.
Third, though they suffered such affliction, they did so “with joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Th. 1:6). In the midst of tribulation, their hearts were full of joy and gladness. Their joy was not superficial or self-made but was produced by the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. He was its source. Thus, in the midst of the trials and hardships that often come with being a Christian, believers can possess peace and joy that transcend suffering. This is something the world cannot comprehend.
The Thessalonians’ Example
Others also recognized the Thessalonians’ testimony: “You became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe” (v. 7).
The word you refers to Christians who became “examples” (models or patterns) to others because they became role models of morality in character and conduct. They had patterned themselves after Paul, Silas, and Timothy and absorbed what these men had taught from the Scriptures concerning how to live out the Christian life.
Their testimony inspired Christians throughout “Macedonia and Achaia,” once part of ancient Greece but then under the Roman Empire. These believers suffered great affliction yet never lost their commitment to and joy in the Savior. Their godly conduct and victorious walk in Christ left an indelible mark on other Christians throughout the area. This is the only church Paul mentioned as a model church in all his epistles, and it is an example all churches should imitate today.
The Thessalonian church played a huge part in spreading God’s Word and faith in Christ throughout the known world of that day. Not only had the Thessalonians’ salvation impacted others, but so, too, did their dramatic change in conduct due to their faith. Paul wrote, “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything” (v. 8).
Two things emanated from them: the “word of the Lord” and their faith. The gospel message of Jesus Christ and how salvation could be experienced through belief in Him went far and wide. It “sounded forth [rang out] ” (v. 8), like the blast of a trumpet that reverberates in the air. The trumpet’s sound is unmistakable and recognizable. The proclamation of the gospel message emanated with similar strength and clarity.
The Greek verb for “sounded forth” is in the perfect tense, meaning the results of the message continued on far and wide. In fact, most commentators believe maritime merchants who did business in Thessalonica heard about these Christians and spread the news throughout Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond.
Reinforcing the previous thought, Paul said, “Your faith toward God has gone out [forth]” (v. 8). The Thessalonians’ faith is now pictured traveling in every direction. The total message is presented: the gospel from God offered to man and man’s faith embracing the gospel. The object of their faith was the true and living God, whom they received and served.
A number of stories about the Thessalonians may have been widely circulated: the story of their faith in Christ, the story of their continual joy through severe affliction for their faith in Christ, and the story of being falsely charged with “acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus” (Acts 17:7). All these reports would have put their lives in jeopardy.
Paul concluded his thought: “So that we do not need to say anything” (1 Th. 1:8). He had received so many reports from every direction concerning the Thessalonians’ faith that he did not need to mention their commitment to others; others already knew.
The Thessalonians’ salvation stands as an example of how God works in bringing people to life in Christ from the early days of Christianity to today. It is a testimony that should speak to true believers everywhere.