1 Thessalonians: Chapter 1:4-10

1-thessalonians1:4-5

(1 Thess. 1:4-5 ESV)  4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,  5 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.

Does it bother you when you stumble across a seeming Calvinist verse? I mean, what does “chosen you” mean if it doesn’t mean unconditionally elected by God for salvation before the Creation? It just sounds so Calvin!

But that’s because our 21st Century minds have been trained to think in these terms, even when we disagree. We see much of Christianity as a giant debate between the Calvinist and the “free will” or Arminian positions. And so we endlessly debate that 16th Century question. But Paul was no 16th Century writer. Nor was he a fan of Augustine, on whose speculations many of Calvin’s arguments are based. The trick to a correct understanding, therefore, is to think like Paul — a First Century Jewish rabbi, who studied at the feet of Gamaliel.

And to a First Century rabbi, “chosen” recalls the fact that Israel is God’s chosen (ekloge = elect) people.

In the OT God chooses Abraham (Neh 9:7) and his offspring, the people of Israel, after him (Deut 4:37; 1 Kings 3:8; Isa 41:8, 9; 43:10; 44:1, 2; 45:4; 49:7), in order to make himself known through them to the rest of humankind. 

F. F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word BC 45; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 13.

In other words, Paul is saying that the Thessalonian congregation has been chosen/elected by God in much the same sense that God chose/elected Israel.

Now, what did it mean for God to say the Israel has been “chosen” or “elected” by him? Did it promise that they would remain saved until they die (perseverance of the saints)? Hardly. Many Jews were ultimately rejected by God, so much so that he eventually allowed Babylon to destroy his Temple in Jerusalem and to take his people into captivity and Exile.

Rather, God’s covenant was with the nation, and it only guaranteed that a remnant would be saved.

(Rom. 9:27-28 ESV)  27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,  28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”

(Rom. 11:2-5 ESV) 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?  3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.”  4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 

Paul’s point is not “Your salvation is absolutely certain.” Rather, he’s saying, “You’ve been included in Israel, God’s covenant people, who’ve been chosen by God.”

Paul adds that they should feel assured of God’s election because the gospel was preached to them not only in word but “in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction [or great fullness].”

But the word found here (plērophoria) can also signify “complete fullness,” in this case the fullness of the divine work, and this appears to be the sense in the present verse. In this context the focus is on the divine operation in the apostolic preaching (“power . . . Holy Spirit”) and not on the conviction of the missionaries nor on the way the Thessalonians received the message (cf. 2.13). The proclamation of the gospel came “with miraculous power, with the Holy Spirit and with great fullness.” The Thessalonians heard the message of God and saw his power in the apostolic proclamation.

Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 96.

1:6-7

(1 Thess. 1:6-7 ESV)  6 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,  7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 

The Thessalonians received the gospel (the word) “with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” The result of hearing and believing the word should be joy. I never will understand why we so insist on making baptisms into serious, formal affairs in which everyone is afraid to smile. It should be a celebration — even if the convert suffers “much affliction” is deciding to follow Jesus.

In the church where I grew up, we could sing “O Happy Day!” at a pace and with an attitude that better befit a funeral — imagining that God was thrilled that we took everything oh so seriously!

Now, notice that Paul offers himself (and Timothy and Silas) as an appropriate example to follow for how to live the Christian life. In fact, his logic is: because you imitated us so well, so you have now become an example for others to follow.

This is not vainglory or hubris. It’s Paul being honest. He may be human and hence imperfect, but he is nonetheless a good example for others to follow — and one of the great mistakes we make as a Christian community is we fail to offer young converts an example to follow. We hand them a gold-leaved Bible and tell them to follow Jesus — as well they should — but we offer them no one in the church that actually does this. And so we have no coaching or mentoring relationships. We expect people to figure it out on their own as though no one else in church has gotten close enough to be an example. And that is very sad.

1:8-10

(1 Thess. 1:8-10 ESV)  8 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.  9 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.  

Imagine! Paul says that the faith of this congregation has become so well known that Paul no longer has to “say anything,” that is, preach the gospel. The gospel is preached by the great example of this congregation!

Paul then summarizes the gospel:

  • Leave idols and serve the Living and True God.
  • Wait for the return of Jesus, the Son, from heaven.
  • God raised Jesus from the dead — the resurrection is true!
  • Jesus will deliver his followers from the wrath to come.

It’s not complicated.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to 1 Thessalonians: Chapter 1:4-10

  1. Price says:

    Perhaps we don’t offer up examples in the church is because some believe that any example other than Jesus (perfection) isn’t sufficient. And he wants to be set apart as an example with that kind of expectation? The most influential folks I know had feet of clay and were willing to admit it which in turn allowed those of us with our own imperfections to relate both to mistakes but more importantly grace.

  2. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    As you say Paul confirmed that the Thessalonians were able to do this, “In fact, his logic is: because you imitated us so well, so you have now become an example for others to follow”. Then follow that with this, “and one of the great mistakes we make as a Christian community is we fail to offer young converts an example to follow. We hand them a gold-leaved Bible and tell them to follow Jesus — as well they should — but we offer them no one in the church that actually does this. And so we have no coaching or mentoring relationships. We expect people to figure it out on their own as though no one else in church has gotten close enough to be an example. And that is very sad.”
    Why would you place the responsibility upon the community to provide this kind of relationships between bothers in Christ? Do you really think that the (community) (The Thessalonian Church ) was responsible for creating those individuals? If the The Church was what produced these dedicated imitators then you disagree with Paul. Notice again, who they used as their mentors.
    (1 Thess. 1:6-7 ESV) 6 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.
    The church was only the association (assembly) to which the members who lived with this imitation of us and of the Lord, who received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit in their lives associated with. The organized (church or assembly) was not responsible to create this mind set, the church became the accumulated expression of the members imitating Paul, Timothy,Silas and The Lord as well as The Holy Spirit. Did the Church at Thessalonica produce Paul, Timothy,Silas and The Lord? No. Were they instructed to do that? No. You see, Paul, Timothy,Silas and The Lord have been preserved in the Scriptures to display the same visibility to us which was known to those at Thessalonica. If we admonish our brethren into believing that, “we offer them no one in the church that actually does this”, we are misdirecting the authority. If we apply this message we are attempting to cause our brothers and sisters to analyze the messages of Paul, Timothy,Silas and The Lord by observing other members of the congregation to which we are in association. If we state, “And so we have no coaching or mentoring relationships”. We just as well say that we have no Christians, because a body of believers of whatever cannot be Christians unless they are examples of what they believe.
    If we really believe that, “We expect people to figure it out on their own as though no one else in church has gotten close enough to be an example”. We must surely believe that no one in the congregation or denomination is living an example of Christ. What would that make us? On the other hand if we as a body of Christ cannot uphold the teachings in the scriptures as an authority source for mankind of any education level, we must be the most lacking of all who claim to believe in the message from The Scriptures.

  3. Dwight says:

    Price, sadly those in the conservative coC don’t offer up examples in the church, except ourselves as “the example” of what a church is or should be.

    We must offer Jesus as opposed to the church as Jesus is the savior and the one to follow. In Acts 2 Peter argued for Jesus, then the people converted. Now we must help guide, but we must also recognized that our guidance is biased in that we will guide as we have been guided or as we believe and this might not be scripturally based information.
    In Acts 17:11 “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”

    The message of the apostles was compared to the scriptures to confirm them, so they used the scriptures as the authority and the guide and if the apostles agreed, then they held faith in the apostles teachings. Of course the signs and wonders also confirmed their message.

    In terms of pure example, what we find is often not a lot, as we like to talk more than act. I mean we talk a lot about helping others who are not saints in dire need, but actually seeing someone among the conservative coC go to homeless shelters, food shelters, etc and promote that is in short supply.
    As a congregation we talk about unity from the safety of our assembly and don’t make an attempt to unify with anyone, rather expecting others to unify with us.

  4. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    The result of hearing and believing the word should be joy. I never will understand why we so insist on making baptisms into serious, formal affairs in which everyone is afraid to smile. It should be a celebration — even if the convert suffers “much affliction” is deciding to follow Jesus.

    In the church where I grew up, we could sing “O Happy Day!” at a pace and with an attitude that better befit a funeral — imagining that God was thrilled that we took everything oh so seriously!

    Jay, surely you knew that uttering an “Amen” is the only authorized and approved form of rejoicing and affirmation. Everything else is sinful…I just googled it.

  5. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    And to a First Century rabbi, “chosen” recalls the fact that Israel is God’s chosen (ekloge = elect) people.

    In the OT God chooses Abraham (Neh 9:7) and his offspring, the people of Israel, after him (Deut 4:37; 1 Kings 3:8; Isa 41:8, 9; 43:10; 44:1, 2; 45:4; 49:7), in order to make himself known through them to the rest of humankind.

    F. F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word BC 45; Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 13.

    In other words, Paul is saying that the Thessalonian congregation has been chosen/elected by God in much the same sense that God chose/elected Israel.

    I am a big fan of Beale & Carson’s “Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.”
    It has a permanent spot on my Logos Bible study layout. In reference to V4:

    Paul addresses his readers with the striking phrase “loved by God.” As with the noun “church” (see commentary on 1 Thess. 1:1 above), here too we have an instance of language originally applied to Israel (e.g., Deut. 32:15; 33:12; Ps. 60:5; 108:6; Isa. 44:2; Jer. 11:15; 12:7; Sir. 45:1; Bar. 3:37) being reapplied to the Christian church. Especially in this context where the emphasis is on God’s election (“because we know, brothers loved by God, your election”), there can be little doubt that Paul’s application of terms originally reserved for Israel to the predominantly Gentile congregation of Thessalonica is not coincidental, but rather stems from his conviction that the church, consisting of both Jewish and Gentile Christians, now constitutes the renewed Israel of God (on this important concept, see commentary on 1 Thess. 4:1–12 below). As Marshall (1990: 262) observes, “It is clear [from the phrase ‘loved by God’] that by this early stage in his thinking Paul has already developed the concept of the church as the Israel of God. The conviction that God’s love is now extended to the church composed of Jews and Gentiles is already present, and it does not need to be defended in any way. The church has inherited the position of Israel.”

    Weima, Jeffrey A. D. “1-2 Thessalonians.” Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007. 872. Print.

  6. Mark says:

    I heard a rabbi in her Rosh Hashanah sermon preach on how Abraham was called (or chosen) but chosen to be different and then told to move to a strange place. Later, the chosen Hebrew nation found itself enslaved in Egypt needing a rescue. Everything about them was different than the people who surrounded them. Everything is still different and the people are still called to show God to the surrounding people.

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