Changed to Serve, Living in Hope

Posted on October 15, 2011 by

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Christians must always be reminded of their responsibility to live out lives reflective of the high calling of God (Eph. 4.1; Phil. 3.14). There is a tremendous passage in 1 Thessalonians 1.9-10, which provides the Christian with the basic aspects of Christian living. Here is the passage:

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thess. 1.9-10 ESV)

Let us examine this passage, and reflect on the four aspects of this passage: (1) reception of the word, (2) conversion, (3) consecrated service, and (4) hope of deliverance. First, let us consider some background information.

The Background

After leaving the city of Philippi, Paul and Silas travel (horseback?) some 100 miles on the Egnatian Way through Amphipolis and Apollonia only to pause their trip in Thessalonica.[1] Being on the heart of Roman travel and communication in Macedonia, ancient Thessalonica was connected to the Roman world; so much so, that William Barclay succinctly says, “East and West converged on Thessalonica”.[2]

The Book of Acts chronicles Paul’s initial evangelistic efforts in that great city (Acts 17.1-9), as he enters into the synagogue and presents various elements of the gospel message as found in the prophetic writing of the Old Testament. From there he makes the affirmation that Jesus of Nazareth is the embodiment of these prophetic utterings. Luke observes the response of those that believed, “some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (17.4).

Unfortunately, a number of Jews responded to the missionaries with political manipulation and leveraging. These Jews, operating out of jealousy, enlisted the worst of society and orchestrated a riot, and attacked and arrested Jason who was hosting Paul and his company (17.5-6).

When presenting their case against Jason and the Christians, this mob describes them with politically subversive language. They are those “who have turned the world upside down” (17.6), “they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar” (17.7a), and “they are all… saying that there is another king, Jesus” (17.7b). Due to this charge, Jason is released to Paul and Silas on the conditions of a payment of bail (“security”) and their departure (17.8-9). Paul later describes this as being “torn away” from them (1 Thess. 2.17).

Reception of the Word

Sometime after leaving Thessalonica, Paul was restless and sent Timothy to Thessalonica for a report. Timothy returns with an encouraging report of their faithfulness (1 Thess. 3.6). This faithfulness began when they believed Paul’s preaching in the synagogue:

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thess. 2.13 ESV)

The “makings” of a Christian begin when the gospel is heard not as just another philosophy, or religious message. Instead, as Paul recalls, before one becomes a Christian it is imperative that the preaching is regarded as the very word of God. This is the foundation; if this is not believed spiritual failure is surely looming in the distance.

Conversion: Turned from Idols

The actual term for “turned” (Gr. epistrepho) carries the idea of turning around and directing this motion towards new object or a person. In this passage, as a result of accepting the word of God as authoritative and believing the gospel message, the Thessalonians turned to God; moreover, they turned to God, “from idols” (1 Thess. 1.9).

Children of God must remember their conversion was a choice. The usage of this word suggests: “an immediate and decisive change, consequent upon a deliberate choice; conversion is a voluntary act in response to the presentation of truth”.[3] They chose to leave their sins behind; they did not take them along in their new life as God’s people.

Consecrated Service

The Thessalonians did not bring their old life with them, where they served “idols” of their past life; instead, they were changed “to serve the living and true God” of their present life. In fact, Paul writes that “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4.7). Service to God is expressed in the rejection of “the passions” of the past which reflects a rejection and of God (1 Thess. 4.5).

Christian service is a demonstration that the things which were important and governed the fundamentals of our pre-Christian lives no longer function in this way. Christians are not to lean upon their non-Christian past; instead, they are to be “standing fast in the Lord” (1 Thess. 3.8).

In other words, Christians are to live lives devoted to serving God over our own ambitions. In fact, this is the “how to” in our service to God, to allow God to sanctify his people completely:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 5.23 ESV)

As a result of being converted, Christians are washed, consecrated, and made righteous for service (1 Cor. 6.9-11; Eph. 2.10).

Hope of Deliverance

Paul is very clear in the description of the Christian life, when he affirms that there is a future point of hope and deliverance for which Christians wait for (1 Thess. 1.10). Christians live lives of consecrated service to God, and hope for Jesus Christ’s second coming. Such an expectation is to frame the terms of our living (2 Pet. 3).

Ultimately, Christians are not to fear the second coming despite its association with “the wrath to come”. The reason is laid clear by the apostle, because Jesus is described as he “who delivers us from the wrath to come”. There is a day of wrath coming (2 Thess. 1.5-12), but the faithful servant of God will be rescued from all the tribulation of that day.

Sources

  1. J. Carl Laney, 1998, Concise Bible Atlas (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson), 229.
  2. William Barclay, 1975, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, revised edition (Louisville, Ky: Westminster), 180.
  3. W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr., 1968-1980, Vine’sComplete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville: Nelson, 1984), 2:647
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