COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 1:4 Knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. 5For 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." (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 NKJV)
There are undeniable evidences of the work of God in the children of God. Our text declares some of them. It is comely when men and women of God recognize these traits, and commend the saints for their presence. It brings great encouragement to their hearts when believers are reminded what a great work has been accomplished in them. It is of even greater value when that work is traced back to the choice of the Almighty God. There is, in my judgment, a great need for a return to this type of thinking and speaking: a recognition of who the people of God are by what has been done in them. Faced with a Christian emphasis that has nearly removed God from all proclamation, this verse stands in stark contrast to what most believers hear. Notwithstanding, it is the truth, and possesses remarkable power. As we probe this text, your faith will bring great confidence and assurance to your heart. You will see more clearly that what has been wrought in you can only be traced back to God. You will also find that the clearer the choice of God becomes to your heart, the more aggressively you will live for Him, doing so with a thankful and rejoicing spirit. The choice of God is always accompanied with power.
KNOWING YOUR ELECTION BY GOD
" 1:3a and 4 Remembering . . . knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God." NKJV The Apostle now explains why he remembered "without ceasing" their "work of faith," "labor of love," and "patience of hope" (v 3). These commendable traits confirmed their "election by God." Other versions read "His choice of you,"NASB "that He has chosen you,"NIV and "He chose you to be His own people."NLT The word "election" means chosen, picked out, or selected. In its varied forms, this word is used seven times in Scripture and ALWAYS refers to God's choice-never man's (Acts 9:5; Rom 9:11; 11:5,7,28; 1 Thess 1:4; 2 Pet 1:10). The word "elect" refers to those who are elected, or chosen, and occurs twenty times in Scripture (Isa 42:1Messiah; 45:4Israel; 65:9,22Israel; Matt 24:22,24,31believers; Mk 13:20,22,27 believers; Lk 18:7believers; Rom 8:33believers; Col 3:12believers; 1 Tim 5:21angels; 2 Tim 2:10believers; Tit 1:1believers; 1 Pet 1:2 believers; 2:6Jesus; 2 John 1,13believer. "Elected" is used once, and also refers to believers (1 Pet 5:13). This is not, then, a strange word. It should certainly cause no offense among the people of God. Once again, "election" refers to God's choosing. It is a selection made by God and at His discretion.
Although this doctrine is heavily contested among men, there are few teachings marked by such clarity as this one. Scripture identifies individuals that God "chose," or elected. Among them are Abram (Neh 9:7), Saul (1 Sam 10:24), David (Psa 78:70), Solomon (1 Chron 28:5), and the twelve Apostles (Lk 6:13), Paul; (Acts 22:14). Some are said to be chosen by God "from the womb," or before they were born. Among them are Samson (Judges 13:5,7), Jeremiah (Jer 1:5), and Paul (Gal 1:15). Jacob is also said to have been loved before he was born, "neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth" (Rom 9:11). All of the Prophets were chosen, and none were volunteers. Jesus also reminded the Apostles, "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you" (John 15:16).
One of the premier examples of God's election is the nation of Israel. God reminds them they were "chosen" (Deut 7:7; 14:2; Psa 105:6; Isa 41:8-9; 44:1). The priests were "chosen" (Deut 18:5; 21:5; Num 16:7). Moses was "chosen" (Psa 106:23). Aaron the High Priest was "chosen" (Num 17:5-6; Psa 105:26). Zerubbabel was "chosen" (Hag 2:23). Of all chosen ones, the Lord Jesus ranks the highest. He is referred to with endearing words that are unmatched. "Behold my Servant, whom I have chosen; My Beloved, in whom My soul is well pleased" (Matt 12:18). When the early brethren set out to select an Apostle to take Judas' place, they asked God to show them the man whom He had "chosen"(Acts 1:24). Those in Christ are referred to as a "chosen generation" (1 Pet 2:9). There should, then, be no doubt about the reality of Divine choice, election, or selection.
It is quite true that only the Lord knows all who are truly His. As it is written, "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His" (2 Tim 2:19). When Elijah wept under the juniper tree, thinking there were no faithful ones but himself, the Lord reminded him, "I have reserved to myself seven thousand men" (Rom 11:41; 1 Kgs 19:18). It should not surprise us that this condition exists in our day as well, whether it appears to be true or not.
However, our text will confirm that there are certain evidences of God's election. Through them, the election of God can be confirmed, bringing solace and strength to the heart. The Thessalonian brethren, we will find, were undergoing severe trial, and needed to be built up in the most holy faith. Few things will fortify the soul like knowing you have been elected by God, and are His chosen ones! In Second Thessalonians, Paul again reminds these believers of this truth. "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (2 Thess 2:13).
This Divine choice, or election, was implemented through means-the sanctifying work of the Holy spirit, and their belief of the truth. In our text, the recollection of the faith, love, and hope of the Thessalonians was also a confirmation of their election. Those traits evidenced the choice of God! They were not mere human effort, but God working in them both to will and to do of His own good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).
THE WAY THE GOSPEL CAME TO THEM
" 1:5a For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance. . . " NKJV The apostle elaborates on his knowledge of their "election by God." He did not know this by revelation, but by evidence. Being familiar with the manner of the Kingdom, He knew some of the evidences of Divine choice. As we will see, the touchstone of confirmation was not their identification with a religious sect, or a particular denomination. It should not surprise you that myriad of professed believers have no other way of identifying those they imagine are accepted by God, than identity with the organization to which they belong. This was the error of the Jews, who thought Divine approval hinged upon their national identity (Rom 2:17-20). Behold now the remarkable evidence of God's election.
NOT IN WORD ONLY. The Gospel preached by Paul ("our Gospel") did not come to the Thessalonians "simply with words."NIV He delivered a message, but not merely a message. The Gospel was preached in words, but not only with words. Words are important, to be sure. In fact, they are essential-"the word of the Gospel" (Acts 15:7)! But if the message does not get beyond words, no essential change will be made in men. There were words in the Old Covenant, but they were referred to as a "letter" that killed (2 Cor 3:6). Emphatically, we are told, "For the kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power" (1 Cor 4:20). There are altogether too many places where the Gospel has come in "word only." The truth has been declared, but nothing has happened.
BUT ALSO IN POWER. How, then, did the Gospel come to the Thessalonians? It was preached in words, but was experienced "in power." By this, Paul does not mean he preached in a powerful way, or that his preaching was attended with powerful manifestations, although both are probably true. The confidence of the Thessalonians, however, will not be anchored to the manner in which the Gospel was preached, or to any accompanying signs and wonders. The idea here is that the power of the Gospel (Rom 1:16) was effective in them. What the Gospel promised was experienced by them. The deliverance it announced was wrought in them. The remission it proclaimed was realized by them. The reconciliation heralded by it was perceived and experienced by them. They tasted of the Lord, that He was gracious (1 Pet 2:3). Satan lost his hold upon them (Col 1:13)! Their conscience was purged from dead works (Heb 9:14). They were "quickened," or made alive to God (Eph 2:5). The eyes of their hearts were "enlightened" as they were "illuminated" to the truth of the Gospel (Heb 6:4; 10:32). Their "stony hearts" were removed, and they were given a "heart of flesh" (Ezek 36:26-27). The law of God was "written" upon their minds and "put" into their hearts (Heb 10:16). All of this, and more, confirmed their "election by God."
IN THE HOLY SPIRIT. The preaching of the Gospel was also attended with the power of the Holy Spirit. His convicting power was present, as they became aware of their sin, Christ's righteousness, and the overthrow of the devil (John 16:8-11). The comforting power of the Spirit was present as they found hope instead of despair (Acts 9:31), and were given the "garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (Isa 61:3). The Spirit, who fills believers with "all joy and peace in believing," filled them, and they abounded in hope through His power (Rom 15:13). They obtained the joy, and sorrow and their sighing fled away (Isa 35:10). The regeneration and sanctification that come through the Spirit were realized by them (John 3:8; 1 Pet 1:2). Not the least of this point is the power of an energized Gospel, or doctrine. God once said, "My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew" (Deut 32:2). The idea is that it would generate refreshment and growth, life and spiritual vitality.
It is the Holy Spirit who makes the word of the Gospel productive. Where He is not quenched and the Gospel is believed, very real effects are produced. These effects, as briefly outlined above, confirm the election of God. They cannot be produced apart from God's election, and thus are the evidence of it. Men do not make these things happen, but they are the work of God, confirming His gracious choice.
ASSURANCE AND KNOWING THE KIND OF MEN
" 1:5b . . . and in much assurance; as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake." NKJV Not only did the Gospel, preached with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven (1 Pet 1:12), come with power and the working of the Holy Spirit, but it came "in MUCH assurance." The text does not say the Thessalonian brethren grew and advanced into a state where "much assurance" was realized. Rather, the Gospel "came" to them with that accompaniment. It did not come with some assurance, but with "much."
Much religion of our day is merely cerebral, or intellectual. It centers in the mind. True religion centers in the heart, for "with the heart" we believe "unto righteousness" (Rom 10:10). Assurance belongs to the heart, not the mind. While the mind is involved, it is secondary, not primary. When we "know we are of the truth," we can "assure our hearts before him" (1 John 3:19).
"Assurance" is "deep conviction,"NIV or "full conviction."RSV "Conviction" here means we have been convinced of what the Gospel announces-persuaded of its reality and applicability to us. The word used here means "entire confidence or full assurance." The Basic Bible English version reads, "you were completely certain of it." This is like being certain enough to step out of the boat and walk on the water (Matt 14:29). It is being certain enough to pick up your bed and walk, even though you are impotent, and have been a long time in that condition (John 5:8-9). "Much assurance" moves people to act upon the word of the Lord. It convinces them that what the Gospel promises can be experienced by them. The Thessalonians had "MUCH assurance." That is how they started their life in Christ Jesus.
Isaiah said the "effect of righteousness" is "quietness and assurance" (Isa 32:15). Here a calmness of heart and a boldness of spirit are joined together. There is a "full assurance of understanding" that propels one into a confident understanding of the rich resources that are in Jesus Christ (Col 2:2-3). There is also a "full assurance of hope" that buoys up the human spirit in times of stress and hardship (Heb 6:11). We must not forget the "full assurance of faith" that enables the believing soul to come confidently to God, convinced of their acceptance by Him (Heb 10:22). The Thessalonians had such assurance, and it confirmed they had been elected by God.
YOU KNOW WHAT KIND OF MEN WE WERE. Later, Paul will remind the Thessalonians they had recognized who he really was-a messenger from God who spoke the word of God: "ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God" (1 Thess 2:13). He said much the same thing to the Galatians: "but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus" NKJV (Gal 4:14). In saying the Thessalonians knew what manner of men they were among them, Paul was telling them they recognized he had been appointed to bring them to the knowledge of salvation. They did not perceive Paul as a superman, or a holy entertainer, or some unique achiever among men. All too often this is precisely how men perceive effective messengers from God.
However, Paul was given "power," or authority, "for edification" (2 Cor 10:8; 13:10). His appointed role was bringing men to realize the power of God unto salvation, and to make them stable in the grace of God. To put it another way, the Apostle's work was to persuade men that God loved them, had reconciled them to Himself in Christ, and had provided a glorious inheritance for them. The Thessalonians had seen this, and thus availed themselves of the Gospel which he preached.
Paul doubtless also referred to his total lack of confidence in the flesh as he ministered the Gospel. As he said elsewhere, he came "in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling" (1 Cor 2:3). He did not rely upon "enticing words of men's wisdom," but came "with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor 2:4). He also did not "shun to declare" unto them "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).
All of this was for the sake of the Thessalonians. Paul did not preach for his own sake, or for the sake of a lifeless institution. He preached for their sake-to bring the salvation of God within their grasp. And it did not end with them believing and obeying the Gospel. Paul's contact continued, confirming his genuine interest in them.