Lesson 3: Part 1 of 2 (series: Lessons on 1 Thessalonians)
by John Lowe
Lesson 3: THEIR RECEPTION OF THE GOSPEL (1Th 1:5-7)
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:5-7 (NIV)
5 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.
6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
5 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.
Paul wants these fellow Christians to remember that he and his co-workers preached the Gospel to them, and they responded by believing and receiving that Gospel. It was because of their faith in the message and their wholehearted reception of the Gospel, that Paul labored, suffered and gave his best to them; he was motivated by love and a fervent desire to see the church advance. Therefore Paul labored, endured affliction and persecution—not for fame and vainglorya, but “for Christ’s kingdom and Glory.” He literally lived to please God!
“Because our gospel came to you not simply with words”
Paul proceeds to give his reasons for knowing that the Thessalonians are elect, but without showing in what their election consisted. In verse 5 these reasons are chiefly subjective, relating to the experience of the preachers. In verse six he turns to the effects in the lives of the Thessalonians, and for this, he goes back to the time when he and his companions had first preached the gospel in Thessalonica. The “gospel” means the content of the preacher’s message, the good news of what God has done in Christ to bring salvation. On occasion Paul can refer to “the gospel of God” (2:8, 9b etc.), stressing the divine origin of the message, or “the gospel of Christ” (3:2c; also, Romans 15:19, etc.), pointing to Christ’s sacrificial death on a cross; which launched the gospel and is its heart and soul. “Our gospel” directs attention to the fact that it was what the preachers had preached and that they had made it their own. Only out of his own experience of salvation through the atoning work of the Savior can the preacher deliver a message that rings true and is really his own (Romans 2:16).
Paul knew the Thessalonians to be elect (or, “chosen”) because “the Spirit was in us who preached, and in you who welcomed the word.” By saying “our gospel came” instead of “we came with the gospel” (2 Corinthians 10:14), Paul puts the emphasis more upon the message as the means of realizing God’s call than upon the bearers of the message. For though preachers must come and speak the message of salvation (Romans 10:14d), it needs more than a declaration in “word only” to bring the dead to life (Ephesians 2:1e). “Our gospel” means that it was theirs by divine commission and personal experience. They had not come to them without being sent, nor had they casually spoken of things they knew nothing about—two essential qualifications for effective preaching.
But also with power, with the holy spirit and deep conviction.
The gospel is “power.” Sinful people do not wish to be told how to be better. They do not even wish to be told that Christ has died for them (unless there is a work of grace in their hearts). But whenever the gospel is faithfully proclaimed, there is power. Not simply exultation but power, and that power can break down resistance.
Now there are various kinds of “power,” and not all work for good. The second point, then, is that this “power” is associated with the “Holy Spirit.” This is no evil power deluding people with false promises. It is the Holy Spirit of God, leading them into the salvation that God has prepared for them.
The third point is that the gospel came “with . . . deep conviction” (“Christian certainty”). “With the Holy Spirit” is very closely linked with “with . . . deep conviction,” meaning that the Thessalonians had the assurance in their own hearts that, as they were evangelizing, the power of God (the “Holy Spirit.”) was at work. The “Spirit” was working a work of grace.
In verse 5, “power” refers to the clothing of the preachers words with that vital force which had brought salvation to the Thessalonians⸺“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16; also, 1 Corinthians 2:4). This benign power is always associated with “the Holy Spirit,” whose unique privilege it is to make the gospel meaningful to men⸺“Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). These preachers were so conscious of the assistance of the Holy Spirit in their ministry that they were fully convinced that God’s word would accomplish the work for which He sent it forth⸺“So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). It is accompanied with a divine energy; it is the power of God to salvation:
You know how we lived among you for your sake.
Paul now appeals to what the Thessalonians know of the kind of ministry that he and his companions exercised among them as a sufficient reply to the accusations of their opponents (2:3-12; 17-20). It seems reasonable to assume that the unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica were responsible for these attacks upon their integrity. Apparently, they had said that the missionaries would never return to their deluded converts because they were nothing but wondering teachers who scratched-out a living by imposing upon the gullible from place to place. Verse 5 and verse 9 both indicate that there were those who said that Paul was in this business of preaching the gospel for what he could get out of it. The trouble in the early church (and today as well) was that there were people who did attempt to cash in on their Christianity. To that end, they sought to offset the effects of the message they hated by discrediting its messengers. Believe me; I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes when they must stand before the throne of Christ on the Day of Judgment.
a Vainglory―pride, vanity.
b “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” (1 Thess. 2:8-9)
c “We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God's service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith,” (1 Thess. 3:2)
d “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14)
“And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” The meaning is, that there is no faith in Christ without hearing of him; as it is in human, so in divine faith, there may be believing without seeing, but not without hearing;
e “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,” (Ephesians 2:1)