Commentary by Walter Albritton
I Thessalonians 1 – 3.
Key Verse: We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father. – 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 3.
Evidently, word came to the Apostle Paul that his friends in the new church in Thessalonica were having a pity party. They may have felt that Paul, who had left town because of trouble, had deserted them. They also may have been persecuted for their new faith in Jesus Christ. Pagans have a way of pestering new Christians in an effort to dislodge them from their faith. Whatever their problems, they were distressed and needed to hear from their mentor and friend, Paul.
Paul could speak frankly, even harshly, sometimes, as he did in his Letter to the Galatians. However, his message to the Thessalonians is heartwarming and encouraging. The apostle knew when to use honey instead of vinegar. He begins by assuring his friends that he prayed for them constantly, thanking God for their faithful service to Christ.
Prayer was a great source of strength to Paul. He prayed for fellow disciples because he loved them. He loved them more because he prayed for them. Our love for one another leads naturally to praying for each other. For believers, it is impossible to love people without praying for them. Lifting one another up to the Father is as natural as breathing for disciples of Jesus.
This is one strong characteristic of a lively, growing church – people pray for each other. Worship is incomplete unless there is earnest prayer for others – not simply the sick but all who are in need of mercy, comfort, or strength from the Father. Personal devotions should include a time of thanking God for others – family members, fellow believers, friends, missionaries, and persons who are seeking God.
God honors prayer. He answers prayer. When he does, people have a sense that God is at work in the church. This breathes life into any congregation! There is an air of expectancy, excitement, and enthusiasm. People are eager to worship, not out of duty, but because they see the evidence that God is working in the lives of people. When there is no sense of God at work, the church feels dead, and there is no expectancy, and no joy.
Observe that for which Paul praises the Thessalonian believers. He celebrates their “work” of faith, love, and hope. He notes the power that enabled their good work – the joy of the Holy Spirit, which they received despite their “affliction.” Such ministry is obviously different from “church work.” Monotonous church work kills the spirit while the joy of the Spirit energizes believers so that faith grows, love results in humble service, and hope becomes contagious. When God is at work, the church is alive, lives are being changed, and everyone is wondering what God is going to do next.
What a tribute Paul paid the church at Thessalonica –
“your faith in God has become known everywhere” (NIV). People in other towns
had heard how they had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true
God.” The result, Paul says, is that you have become “a model to all the
Paul knew what was going on in the church at Thessalonica because Timothy was a bearer of good news. He shared with Paul how the love of the people had resulted in generous charity, so Paul commends them for caring for others despite their own poverty. When people know and love Christ, they reach out to people in need, in their own community and across the world. Since “missions” is God’s middle name, it is impossible to love and serve him without sharing the missionary enterprise of Jesus for the redemption of the whole world. Even the people who sometimes hate Christians, like fanatical Muslims, we are commanded to love, evangelize, and invite into the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we are not called to go, then we must pray for and support those who do go to distant places as missionaries. Otherwise, we become a mission field ourselves!
As a Pharisee, Paul was legalistic and narrow. As a Christian, he became a man of joy on a mission for God. He found joy in the faithfulness of new converts. He found joy in praying for others. He found joy in seeing God at work. Happiness is usually superficial. It offers only momentary satisfaction. Joy, God’s joy, is lasting, provides us with genuine fulfillment, and will only become richer in heaven where we will share the joy of the angels and the family of God eternally. Until then, with joy we must carry on!
+ + + + (Walter may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)