Monday Reverb – 23October2023

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From the TRANSCRIPT …  


Gospel Greetings

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (ESV)

Today for our passage we have the opening greetings of one of Paul’s letters.  You may be thinking, what can we learn from just the greeting and opening comments of a letter?  Quite a bit, in fact.  When we write a letter, or more often these days, an email, how we begin that message will say a lot about what will follow.  For example, if your letter is a complaint, it is probably safe to say you will not open with warm fuzzy comments.  If you need to compose a formal request, you will avoid informalities in your greeting.  The recipient of the letter will also affect how you begin your message.  You will probably start a letter written to your sweetheart very differently than one written to your boss.  Letter-writing in the days of antiquity was not much different.  The tone, form, and words chosen at the opening of a letter in the days of Paul would set the tone for what would follow, and it would aim to reflect the relationship between the sender and receiver.  So, it may seem odd to have an entire sermon devoted to the introduction of one of Paul’s letters, but as we will see, this greeting is loaded with anticipation of the gospel.

Let’s begin with the opening line.

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. (1 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV)

The first thing we see is a greeting from the author.  We do not have to speculate as to who wrote this ancient letter, it’s Paul.  However, we also see included two other names, Silvanus, and Timothy.  If you read through the entire letter, you will see Paul referring to “we” over “me” throughout.  He is writing from a place of community.  He does not address his church apart from his relationship with those who serve alongside him.  You will also see throughout the letter many references that point to the Triune God.  He clearly presents God not as a solo god among many, but as the only God who exists as Father, Son, Spirit.  It is apparent, even here in Paul’s introduction of himself, Silvanus, and Timothy, that he understands that the God he serves is a triune God who seeks community and loving relationships.  We can expect all that he will say going forward will be from this foundation.

Then we see Paul name his recipient as “the church of the Thessalonians.”  We will have to do a little history to know who these folks were.  But in short, they were a church Paul founded on his missionary trip into Macedonia.  Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia and was a large city with many trade routes.  That’s the context in which Paul began a new church.  It would be like planting a church in Atlanta or Tokyo.  We can expect that there would be added pressures in such a large city of such importance and economic opportunities.  In the Roman Empire, it was expected that its citizens would support and go along with many of the ideologies promoted by Rome, particularly, idol worship.  In that society, it was understood that for the good of the empire and the city you lived, everyone should honor the gods, the more the better.  If you did not get behind this ideology, you would be considered someone who did not have the best interest of others in mind.  You would be branded as a bad citizen.  In today’s language, such nonconformity could get you canceled.  But notice how Paul addresses this church.  He doesn’t just call them the Thessalonians.  He calls them “the church of the Thessalonians.”  They may live among the Thessalonians, but they are called out as a church.  Paul doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to greet this church as “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  He is affirming their truest identity.  Yes, they are people called to be a church of the Thessalonians, but their deepest reality is being a people in GodThat’s where their deepest belonging resides.  This is an important reminder of identity for a church that faces such strong pressure to find their identity in the culture in which they live.

With this background, we can see that we have a lot in common with the church of the Thessalonians.  We too have certain idols of ideology, more observable now than ever.  Corporations these days must toe the line with certain ideologies, so they aren’t canceled or suffer financial persecution.  We are witnessing businesses having to get behind the latest ideological push that is purported to be good for the nation.  It doesn’t matter as much how good your product is; what is important is how good your image is on current talking points regarding social or political concerns.  Our education system from grade school to college pressures teachers and administrators to indoctrinate their students with ideologies that have nothing to do with a sound education.  The schools that kick-back on these pressures are typically reported in a bad light if they get any attention at all.  We are also seeing many churches cave to these cultural pressures.  Idol worship is alive and well.

But Paul did not cave or cater to such pressures.  He stood firm on the gospel, even when it landed him in prison or got him run out of town.  Which is exactly what happened to him in his short time with the Thessalonian church.  Once he was run out of town, he became worried about the new community of believers he had to leave behind.  So, he sends Timothy to check on them, and he returns with a glowing report.  It is after hearing this report that Paul wrote this letter.  You can see Paul’s tender concern and care for this church.  Unlike some of his other letters, like Corinthians, Paul is not aiming to be corrective.  He is not having to remind them of his authority or come down hard on a particular issue.  He is writing like a concerned parent.  He is also thankful for what the Spirit has done and how the gospel has had effect.  Here, too, is a lesson for us all.  Paul will later refer to the Thessalonians imitating him.  We also can imitate Paul’s steadfast devotion to Christ, not bowing down to the idols of our time.  We can also imitate his concern for other Christians, our sisters and brothers, who face the issues of our times that bring challenge to our faith.  And in it all, we too have much to be thankful for as we see God work powerfully in others as they receive the gospel.

Paul is using the ancient letter format of this time by writing an initial “greetings,” which is followed by a blessing or a thanksgiving.  Paul tweaks this formulation by changing the usual use of the word “greetings” to the word “grace” and then adds the Jewish greeting of “peace” as he so often does in his letters.  Grace and Peace.  This is the life we are called into and the life we can live out with each other in our various church communities.  

Now we will look at the thanksgiving section Paul writes.  This section gives Paul the opportunity to remind the Thessalonians of their relationship.  However, his reminder is grounded on the gospel throughout.  Their relationship has everything to do with the bond created from Paul bringing the gospel and the Thessalonians receiving it.  So, he is not just recounting the events of their relationship like a slide show at a class reunion.  No, he highlights the gospel as the center of their relationship by stressing the result of the gospel in their lives, the presentation of the gospel to them, and a reminder of the content of the gospel once again.  As we go through this section, may we remember that our relationships with one another spring from the gospel and are sustained by the gospel.  When we try to build our relationships around other interests, we are settling for lesser substitutes.  Nothing will develop the fellowship of a church more than remaining centered on the gospel – on Jesus Christ our Lord.  This becomes clear in Paul’s words of thanksgiving in verses 2-10 (1 Thess.1:2-10).

Result of the Gospel (vv. 2-3)

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 ESV)

The first thing Paul wants to say to his beloved church is to let them know that he is thankful for them. Also, he wants them to know that he is constantly praying for them. Here are two hallmarks of Christian fellowship. Prayer and thanksgiving. We may want to ask ourselves how often this is the first thing we want to do for one another? How often are we thankful for all our brothers and sisters in Christ? Always, or just when they are scratching our back? And are we thankful for all our fellow believers or just the ones we enjoy? And do we spend time in prayer for each person God has gifted us with in our Christian circles? When someone tells you they are praying for you, it is such an encouragement. Not only does Paul pray for those in the Thessalonian church, but he lets them know he is praying for them.

Paul also uses prayer as a time to remember what God has been doing through them. The translation is not a good one for this text as it leaves us thinking that it is the Thessalonians work of faith, love, and hope that is being remembered. But the actual Greek wording of this passage would go more like this:

…remembering your work of the faith, and labor of the love, and steadfastness of the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Can you see the difference between “in” our lord and “of our Lord? Whose faith, love and hope is Paul remembering? It is not the Thessalonians work of faith, love, and hope, but rather it is the faith, love, and hope of Jesus Christ that is working in and through them. Paul is not looking at his flock with a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately point of view. He is looking back at the result of the gospel working in them. On this basis, he is thankful for them as Jesus is working out in them Jesus’ own faith, love, and hope. Paul is seeing the results of Jesus in their lives. How often do we recall in our thanksgiving to the Lord the growth he has produced in the lives of those we fellowship with? Are we thankful for the effect the gospel is producing in our brothers and sisters, or are we only thankful when they produce something for us?

Presentation of the Gospel (vv. 4-8)

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. (1 Thessalonians 1:4-8 ESV)

Having focused on the results of the gospel, Paul now revisits how the gospel was originally presented to them by Paul and his companions. Notice how Paul’s description is giving credit to the gospel itself and not to their presentation. Although Paul and his companion came preaching the gospel, he recalls that the “gospel came to you.” This shows that the gospel does its own work. Preachers can hone their skills and aim to be as inspirational all they want, but unless the Spirit is at work in those hearing the gospel, nothing will come of it but maybe some goosebumps and watery eyes. But nothing of lasting change. Paul may have presented the gospel in word, which is our calling to do, but that is not what amounted to it coming in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. That is the work of Jesus himself by the Spirit working in those he is calling to himself. These Thessalonians responded to the gospel with “full conviction” meaning for them everything was changed. They didn’t just agree to add another god in their culture’s repertoire of deities to bow down to. No, they came to know in a real and personal way that this God presented in Jesus Christ is the only God to worship. Their lives were set on a whole new course that would not leave room for all the other gods of the Roman Empire. Paul knows he is not capable of gaining such a response by his presentation skills. That only comes by the power of the Spirit presenting Christ.

It is apparent that the Thessalonians, against all odds, quickly accepted and believed the message Paul and his companions presented. As Paul notes, they were already imitating him. They did not need to be urged to imitate him as was the case in some of Paul’s other letters. This is a work of God in which Paul can only be thankful. The Thessalonians did not shy away from the suffering that would come on account of following Jesus. As a result of their acceptance and imitation of the Lord, especially in their suffering, the Thessalonians themselves became an example to imitate for other believers, locally and beyond. They became a sign of what it looks like to belong to the Lord in a world that resists him. This is a beautiful picture of Jesus making disciples who make disciples.

Content of the Gospel (vv. 9-10)

For 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. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 ESV)

As Paul concludes his words of thanksgiving, he relates the report that has been going around about the Thessalonians receiving the gospel. In this report, we get a short presentation of the content of the gospel. We could go as far as to see it as a creedal statement. In short, there is a turning to God. A turning from idols. And a waiting for the return of Jesus. That’s a pretty concise presentation of the contents of the gospel as you could get.

First, we see that there is a turning to God from idols. This is what we call repentance. The gospel calls us to turn to God, and in that turning we will turn away from all that competes with that central place that only God should have. That is what we see in the Thessalonians’ example of turning from idols. Idols are anything that we put first over God. It can be good things, but once they lay a central claim on our lives, they become idols. And the more noble and good the idol is perceived, the more dangerous the temptation. However, the gospel tells us that we are not turning to another lifeless or generic god, rather this God is the living and true God we are reconciled to by the sacrificial death of Jesus. When we see who God is, turning to him and away from all our idols becomes a fitting response. Why would we not turn to him when he has exposed all other gods for the empty pursuits that they are?

What lays at the heart of the gospel is the return of our Lord Jesus. Paul reminds us to wait on him. Jesus changes the end of the story, and that shapes how we live in our present time, turning toward him and away from all that God is delivering us from. This world with all its idols, is coming to a glorious end. The Lord has taken death and undid it. He was raised to life, and he is bringing that resurrection life to us from the future. Since God is dealing with all the evil, sin, and death in our world, we can live in hope as we await his return. And that in a nutshell is what Paul is thankful for. His little church in the midst of the spawning metropolis of idol worshipers, was living out the gospel in worshiping the Lord, being a witness to him as they faithfully awaited his return. May it be with us as well.



1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (NKJV) 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (ESV)

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,  

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:  

Grace to you and peace [a]from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  

We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, 3 remembering without ceasing your work of faithlabor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. 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.  

And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.   

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.   

For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  

Paul, 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, constantly[a] mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers[b] loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.   

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.   

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.   

For 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, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.   


Small Group Discussion Questions

From the Sermon

  • What stood out to you in Paul’s greeting in his letter to the Thessalonians?
  • Paul used his greeting to remind the church of Thessalonians of their identity as belonging to God. Discuss the importance of reminding our brothers and sisters of who they are in Christ and as part of the church. In what ways can we do this?
  • The Thessalonians had to turn from idol worship upon receiving the gospel. What forms of idol worship do you see in our culture today?
  • Paul indicated that Jesus was the center of his relationship with the church of Thessalonians.  What ways do we sometimes seek our relationship with others on some other center?
  • Discuss the importance of thankfulness for each other in our churches.
  • Discuss the importance of praying for one another.
  • In what ways do we sometime trust our presentations of the gospel more than we trust the gospel itself to get its own results?
  • How does knowing Jesus is returning to undo the evil of our world shape how we live in it today?






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