Updated: Oct 21
Have you ever noticed how young children will imitate those around them? The other evening, my youngest daughter and Bren had a campout with their American Heritage Girls troop. After work, I ran by their camping place and enjoyed a hotdog with them. A young toddler was there, and with her bright red hair, she was as cute as she could be. She was a bit young to be with the other girls and was very content playing with some toys her mom had packed for her. When they started blowing bubbles, this caught her attention. It wasn't long before the older girls put their bubbles down and ran to the next adventure. She quickly made her way over to a bubble bottle left on the ground and came up to me, saying bubbles just as clearly as she could. I said, yes, can you blow bubbles? She blew as hard as she could, trying to imitate what the other girls did with her best effort. Young children will often imitate what they see.
In (1 Thess. 1:6), Paul says that the church became imitators of himself and his missionary companions and the Lord. Considering our text, I would like to notice the power of the gospel.
In our last study, we looked at (Acts 17) as we explored a bit of the context in which this young church was established. The church was established in Thessalonica amid trials, jealousy, and hardships. Paul and Silas had to make a hurried departure under cover of night (Acts 17:10) because of a mob that had formed. However, despite the difficulties, some Jews, God-fearing Greeks, and quite a few prominent women of the community were obedient to the good news of Christ. A young church was established amid hardships.
As we begin our studies, I want to notice the basic structure of the letter. 1 Thessalonians can be divided into two main movements. Chapters 1-3, Faithfulness, and 4-5, A Challenge to Grow. The beginning of the letter opens with a prayer of thanksgiving (1:1-5). The final prayer is in (5:23-28), and the two movements are connected by prayer (3:11-13). It's a beautifully designed letter. As we will notice from his prayer of thanksgiving, Paul will link themes that develop later in the letter.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
1 Thessalonians 1:2–5
"We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake."
In this prayer, the apostle Paul highlights their work produced by faith, their labor of love, and endurance inspired by hope. Paul will develop these key themes in more detail later in the letter. He also mentions the gospel and how the gospel was received not just in words but also with power and deep conviction through the Holy Spirit.
This is Good News
The word "gospel" is a word we use often in the church, but what was Paul proclaiming? What does this word mean? The Greek word, εὐαγγέλιον, euangelion, means "good news" or "glad tidings." It was not just a church word but a proclamation or declaration of good news.
Dr. Tim Mackie, "shares an interesting historical ancedote: a birthday announcement from a historical source called the Calendar of Priene. It's an old royal announcement from the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar, and it uses the Greek word for "gospel," εὐαγγέλιον, evangelion, meaning "good news."
"Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him." (The Calendar of Priene, Caesar Birthday announcement)
Dr. Wright says this historical announcement reveals a very interesting historical narrative. The Roman emperors continually decreed that they had brought peace and justice to the world through violent and political power. These emperors used the same language and vocabulary as the gospel authors when they proclaim Jesus of Nazareth as the one who brings true peace and justice to the world." (What Does The Word Gospel Mean, BibleProject)
Gospel was a word used in the first century and was associated with Roman emperors. The mob back in (Acts 17) was stirred up about this. Notice their words:
"But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus."
Paul and Silas were proclaiming the good news of King Jesus. Christians in Thessalonica had received the message of King Jesus with power and conviction. They had pledged their allegiance to Jesus. Today, when we accept the gospel of Christ, we are surrendering and submitting to King Jesus. We align ourselves with His kingdom and the good news of His kingdom.
Evidence of Faith
Their faith and allegiance to Jesus were evident through the power of the gospel and lives that were changed.
1 Thessalonians 1:7–10
"And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell 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 rescues us from the coming wrath."
The testimony of this church and the Christians in Thessalonica stretched beyond their borders. Their faith had become known to the extent that they became a model for other Christians. Their faith was a faith imitated. In Paul's letter of (2 Corinthians), he speaks of their joy in the Lord and their generosity even though they were in poverty; how they gave beyond their means (ref. 2 Cor. 8:1-5).
The good news of Jesus "rang out" from them. They became somewhat like an amplifier. The good news of Jesus, proclaimed by Paul, was a message picked up and sounded forward. Their transformed lives, in turning from idols to serving the living God, were like loudspeakers that reverberated the message of Christ. Their hope and confidence in Jesus, who was raised from the dead and who rescues, became a volume control knob set on high. Despite the intense suffering, trials, and hardships the young church at Thessalonica experienced, their lives became amplifiers of the message of Christ.
Crossing The Context
As we look at the words penned by the apostle Paul concerning the church in Thessalonica, what can we learn from them and imitate in our lives today? What can we learn from these first-century Christians for our lives today? I want to consider three examples to imitate:
First, I would like to consider a transformed life. The good news of Jesus affected change in their lives. The church abandoned the worship of idols to serve the living God. They put away practices that were not aligned with Christ's Kingdom. As we consider our lives today, are there practices we participate in that are not aligned with Christ's kingdom? Are there things in our lives we need to turn from?
Second, Christians in Thessalonica had a confident faith. We mentioned how, despite their poverty, these Christians shared an attitude of generosity. Despite trials and hardships, they became an amplifier of the message of Christ. They trusted Christ and the gospel's message, allowing them to see beyond their circumstances. Have we limited our faith, only focusing on our present circumstances, or do we share a vision of the kingdom's message beyond today?
Third, they had an established hope. Christian hope is not wishful thinking. Christian hope is based on the reality of Christ's resurrection from the dead. This reality allows us to live in confident expectation of His return. Through Christ, we have been rescued, and our lives are to be lived in confident expectation, in hope. This hope affects today. It affects our actions and our interactions with others. Does our actions and interactions reflect the hope we have in Christ?
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).