The third book that was written in the New Testament was a very special letter from the Apostle Paul to one of his most beloved congregations, the Thessalonian Church. He wrote two letters to this church as most of us may know and obviously 1st Thessalonians was the first one. This was the place that motivated him and encouraged him more than any other. In fact, he didn’t have anything bad to say to this church like he did to other churches in his other letters, i.e. the Corinthians.
Right away, in verses 2 and 3, he starts off with a very loving and endearing encouragement. “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Why do I mention this? Paul continues right on with the reason as to why the Thessalonian Church was so faithful.
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”
The Greek word for chosen, here, is eklogh (Ekloge), which means “the act of picking out or choosing; Of the act of God's free will by which before the foundation of the world he decreed his blessings to certain persons the decree made from choice by which he determined to bless certain persons through Christ by grace alone; A thing or person chosen.”
This is the first instance in 1st Thessalonians that we see God’s sovereign choice being revealed by the Apostle Paul. Here, there is no guessing, no pondering, no speculating, no conversation about whether or not the Thessalonian believers were God’s chosen children. Paul is authoritative and clear: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you…”
How is Paul so sure of this? Well, as we will find out in his other letters to various churches, he already has a strong stance on God’s sovereignty in salvation. He does give some indication, though, as to how it could only be God who selected these people.
In verse 5 he says, “Because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”
This portion is so rich and so compelling when you understand what Paul just said. He said the gospel didn’t just come in his articulation, which is the first way that it is presented, it came in power, it came in the Holy Spirit, and it came in full conviction. Let’s just unwrap the significance of this.
What does it mean that the gospel came in power? As Paul indicates in his later letter to the Romans, he was not ashamed of the gospel “because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”
Paul says to the Thessalonians that he knows they were chosen because the gospel came not only in Paul’s word, but in power! The power of God was at work in the gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation. To the Corinthian Church, he wrote to them saying “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Again we see the crucial underlying point here that these people weren’t convinced or persuaded with anything humanly clever. The only way people respond to the Gospel in faith is when God works his power through the unadulterated and un-watered down Gospel.
Remember what else he told the Corinthians in his first letter?
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (2:1-5)”
This is a beautiful and harmonious summary of a legitimate Gospel presentation and it takes us right to the second point that Paul mentioned earlier in our 1st Thessalonians passage. Paul says that the Gospel also came to the Thessalonians in the Holy Spirit. This passage we just read brings light to the fact that the gospel is effective because of the Holy Spirit, the power of God.
In the case of the Thessalonians, Paul can say that he knows that the Thessalonians were chosen by God because of how it took hold of them in power and the obvious work of the Holy Spirit. It was not just because Paul presented the gospel in some kind of lofty and persuasive speech, which caused people to dedicate their works of service to the local church. It was deeper than that. It was divine. It was true repentance and faith in Christ for salvation from sin and death.
Paul’s final point was that the gospel came to them in full conviction. Again, this is a revealing indication that the Lord God had opened the hearts of the people to be receptive to the message, which convicted them greatly. This is why Paul knows they were chosen by God because God did the work and initiated the relationship with them and convicted them with the gospel message, which again is the power of God Himself and the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul happened to be the humble vessel that the message came in, for as it says later in Romans 10, “How are they to hear without someone preaching?”
Paul knew it wasn’t him that made it happen. It wasn’t Paul’s words that won them over, though he did preach the Word, which is necessary for people to hear it (Rom. 10:14), but he knew that the real work of conversion and repentance was because of the power of the Holy Spirit.
Just as we saw in James, how our assurance of salvation can only come from understanding this powerful work of God, we can see here that it helps us to not place our faith in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
What does Paul indicate here in the beginning of his first Thessalonian letter? That these people were clearly chosen because they heard the Word of God and were moved by the Spirit of God in the power of God and were genuinely convicted and moved to repentance and salvation. Amen.
This first verse had so much richness to it that I am going to stop here for now. The next post will touch on the other areas of 1st Thessalonians and we’ll continue to see how much the doctrine of election is weaved through Scripture.
Feel free to post any comments relating to the topic at hand. Stuff like this is oftentimes best “discussed” to get a good grasp on it and to clarify anything that needs to be clarified. God bless!
In His Sovereign Grip,