Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 2 : 9 : The Work of God
1 Thess 1:4,5 For we know, brothers 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 with deep conviction.
Yes, we have noted something of these verses before but now we consider them in far more depth. There is a sense whereby it would have been better to take this meditation ahead of the previous one but we are simply going to follow the order the verses are found in the letter. The previous verses were about the motivation that steers us through the Christian life; these verses spell out how the Christian life comes into being.
Paul speaks, first of all, about these believers in Thessalonica being “loved by God.” Now I think there is a sense whereby God loves every human being as a member of His created world, hence, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) and one reason God does that is because, “God IS love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and therefore everything that God thinks, says or does comes out of love. Even when we witness the discipline or even the judgement of God, it comes out of love (and therein we really need to enlarge our understanding of love).
However, I would suggest that when Paul says they are “loved by God” in the context of what follows, he means that everything they are experiencing is an expression of God’s love. It’s as if he is saying, “I see you are being loved – and are experiencing the practical outworking of love – through the things I witness about you.” This love isn’t just in the mind of God, it is visibly being worked out in the lives of these people.
Then he says, “he has chosen you.” There are those who would wish to take the application of this expression to mean God chose and MADE these people respond and thus rejected everyone else. People take such verses as, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated,” (Mal 1:2,3) and “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad–in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls–she was told, “The older will serve the younger,” (Rom 9:11,12) and of Pharaoh, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” (Rom 9:18) and use these to suggest a sovereignty of God that precludes human free will, yet free will is very clearly revealed in scripture.
The answer to this conundrum comes when we read, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) God knows from the outset everything that happens. God’s knowledge of all things is seen throughout scripture. So when Peter spoke of God’s “set purpose” he was speaking of the plan of God that was formulated before the foundation of the world with the knowledge of all that will follow.
It may be worthwhile to quickly note that:” Jn 17:24 you loved me before the creation of the world, 1 Pet 1:20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, Eph 1:4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world, Rev 17:8 The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world, Rev 13:8 the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world, 2 Tim 1:9 This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, Tit 1:2 eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time. Six times we are told that God formulated salvation BEFORE the creation of the world because He KNEW what would happen and what would need to happen.
We struggle to understand how God can have such knowledge and it was C.S.Lewis who painted the picture of life and history being like a road through the desert and above it, looking down on it and seeing it all in one go, is God. Of course He is above it and sees and knows all and also comes down and interacts with all that is happening on this ‘road’.
So who does God “call”? He “calls” those He knows will respond to the news about His Son, Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Romans the apostle Paul summed up the process: “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Rom 8:30) Predestined comes to mean ‘those He knew from before the foundation of the world who would respond to Him and His news about Jesus.’. These ones, at their point in history He calls by His Spirit. We were convicted and acknowledged our need and surrendered to Him. Paul recognized this happening with the Thessalonians who are now the church: “our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. When they spoke the Gospel they found it came with power and it brought deep conviction that brought the Thessalonians to their knees before God. They surrendered and were born again and they were justified and as they received the indwelling Spirit so they were glorified. The glory of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, now dwelt within them. The were new creations and from now on the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, would lead and guide them and teach them. They would have the apostolic teaching which we now have in print and as the Spirit helped them receive and understand that so they experienced that crisis and process we call sanctification. Certain facets of that apostolic teaching we will examine shortly in these studies.