During his second missionary journey, Paul made a visit to Thessalonica where he enjoyed some success in disseminating the gospel of Christ (Acts 17:1-9).
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.”
These believers formed a local church at Thessalonica to whom Paul wrote two epistles. In the beginning of the first epistle, Paul commends the Christians at Thessalonica for their faithfulness to God. In doing so he issued three statements of praise that are worth noting. He praised the Thessalonians for the following reasons.
Their work of faith
When Paul wrote this letter, the church at Thessalonica was very young. Paul wanted to spend more time with the brethren there, but he was forced to leave by hostile Jews who did not believe the gospel message (Acts 17:5-10). Paul was so worried about the state of the Thessalonians that he sent Timothy to them to see if they were withstanding the attacks of unbelieving Jews and Gentiles that encompassed them (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). What he discovered from Timothy was that the Thessalonians were doing just fine. Timothy brought Paul back “good tidings of faith and charity…” Faith was a characteristic that these Christians possessed, but it was not a dead or inactive faith. Instead, it was a faith that involved doing. Paul commended the Thessalonians for their work of faith. Saving faith works. Hebrews 11 testifies to this fact. “By faith Abel offered…” (ver. 4). “By faith Noah…..prepared an ark…” (ver. 7). “By faith Abraham…obeyed…” (ver. 8). “By faith Abraham…offered up Isaac…” (ver. 17). “By faith Moses….refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter…” (ver. 24). “By faith he (Moses) forsook Egypt…” (ver. 27). “By faith they (Israelites) passed through the Red sea…” (ver. 29). In all of these examples, faith and works are inseparable. Any faith that does not produce acts of obedience towards God is a dead faith (James 2:14-26). Would Paul ever commend Christians for having a dead faith? Would he, or more importantly, would Jesus, be impressed by a faith void of action? Of course not. Like the Thessalonians before us, let us demonstrate our faith by our works.
Their labor of love
Love is a key element of Christianity. Without love a Christian can be of no more use than an automobile without gas. We might have a shining exterior that is impressive to others, but we are worth little without the redeeming quality of love. Paul shows the importance of love in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
Can we not all see the importance of love. Love should be the motivation behind all that we do. We should obey God because we love Him (John 14:15). We should do right to our fellow man because of the love we have for him (1 John 4:7-21). Certainly, love is a characteristic that we cannot do without, nor can we have too much (1 Thessalonians 4:9, 10). And, like faith, love involves doing. Loving in word alone is not enough. To love in word only is to not love at all. John said, “My children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but indeed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). The Christians at Thessalonica learned this lesson. They loved, therefore they labored; thus, they are praised for their labor of love. Can we be praised for the same thing?
Their patience of hope
Hope is desire and confident expectation. Every Christian should have an overwhelming portion of hope. Heaven should not be something about which we are skeptical. Why should we doubt that which God has promised? “…be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” were the words of Jesus Himself. Peter said we have an inheritance that will not fade away (1 Peter 1:4). This does not mean that we cannot lose our salvation. The Bible affirms that we can fall from grace (Galatians 5:4; 1 Corinthians 10:12), but if we are living by the Bible, heaven is guaranteed. However, living by the Word of God takes patience. Patience has to do with having staying power, i.e., having endurance in the faith of our Lord. It involves working the works that God has given us to do, bearing the trials and tribulations that come our way, and withstanding the temptations cast before us by the devil. Thayer has this to say about patience: “steadfastness, constancy, endurance a) in the New Testament, the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.” The Thessalonians were able to maintain their hope even during persecution. Could Paul commend us for the same? How much patience of hope do we have?
The church at Thessalonica was young, but they possessed qualities that every Christian and every local church should strive to possess. Work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope are three things that would serve us well in our quest to go to heaven after a while