Several days ago, the Lord led me to do a study in 1 Thessalonians. In His sovereignty, this study comes at a perfect time with the worlds current events.
I Thessalonians speaks about REAL HOPE in the midst of the trials and tribulation that surround us.
Warren Wiersbe written commentary on 1 Thess., “Be Ready” really sums up what we face ahead.
Aquarium/Fishbowl Experience –
What do you do with an aquarium? What do you do when you visit an aquarium? I just look. The fish, for the most part are oblivious–could care less.
I remember when first married and we were as poor as a church mouse. An aquarium sat on a stand in our duplex style apartment, with not much else in the room. It was Valentine’s Day, and unable to afford much except exchanging Valentine cards, my wife said, “Did you notice the aquarium?” “No,” I replied. “Why?” “Just go look,” she said. There on the outside of our aquarium, on the outside of the glass, was a heart drawn in pink lipstick–“I LOVE YOU”. But there’s more! For fourteen cents, my wife bought an angel fish. I must have watch that fish swimming around behind the glass for hours. Even days later, that angel fish reminded me of my wife’s love for me and it wasn’t the amount spent, but the LOVE behind the gift. “For God so loved the world that He GAVE…” John 3:16.
As Christians, we live in a spiritual fishbowl. People are constantly examining us and looking at us, especially in times of stress and discomfort. They let us know when we misspeak or mess up entirely.
There’s another reason why they watch us. The problem is…we’re often oblivious–like fish in a bowl–we could care less what they see or even read on our social media page; which means they may be viewing the wrong things.
The Barna Group–“Knowledge to navigate a changing world” says there’s “no difference between believers and unbelievers.”
That’s tragic–it’s no wonder Christianity as we know it isn’t growing like it should.
This was definitely not the case with the Thessalonians.
Here was a church who realized they were being watched on all sides. Paul hears about their reputation/testimony, and writes to them.
There’s a LESSON here for us. Our reputation is at stake and the world is watching us; they need to see a DIFFERENCE is us.
1 Thessalonians 1 BACKGROUND:
This was a fledgling church (Paul was there but 3 weeks). Paul had been kicked out, riots going on, their pastor was gone. They were familiar with persecution. I can imagine it was like being a Christian in Afghanistan or Iraq today.
You would think they wouldn’t be too concerned with their reputation, but the opposite is true.
Here was a CHURCH whose reputation was faultless. They had an incredible TESTIMONY.
WHAT OTHERS SHOULD SEE WHEN THEY LOOK AT US:
“Your work of faith” – salvation (V. 3)
Philippians 2:12 (NIV)
“Therefore, my dear friends; as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
In our spiritual journey on this earth, FAITH gets us on the started on the right path. Notice what Paul says about our FAITH:
1 Thessalonians 1:4-6:
 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. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.  You became imitators of us and of the Lord, in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
ELECTION makes our FAITH possible — Vs. 4: “He has chosen us” not vice versa.
John 15:16 (NIV):
 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
Somewhere in eternity past, God chose us to believe on Him. ELECTION makes our FAITH possible, but not automatic.
That takes us to the next step:
CONVERSION makes our FAITH actual “because”– Vs. 5:
“BECAUSE our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.”
“Because” shows why Paul is so convinced that God CHOSE them. He sees their changed life, their “conversion.”
The Gospel isn’t just some fancy speech we mouthe that most don’t understand.
No amount of persuasion can “convince” someone to turn to Christ Jesus.
What makes our FAITH actual is the powerful work of the Holy Spirit exhibited in our lives.
Colossians 2:13 (NIV): “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.”
Our conversion, the transformation of our OLD dead nature, to our NEW nature in Christ, is what makes our ELECTION sure.
The Thessalonian church didn’t just HEAR the Gospel message, they experienced the Gospel! It transformed their lives!!
ELECTION makes our FAITH possible while CONVERSION makes it actual.
But there’s even more. We need to have a WORKING FAITH, a VISIBLE FAITH.
ACTION makes our FAITH visible–Vs. 6 (AMP):
 “…become imitators of us and [through us] of the Lord Himself, for you welcomed our message in [spite of] much persecution, with joy [inspired] by the Holy Spirit.”
THEY, the church, became IMITATORS (of Paul and the Lord). They acted out their FAITH and they welcomed the message with JOY (in suffering).
A baby learns by imitating/children playing “copy-cat.” The same is true in our spiritual lives (we learn by imitating).
When someone comes to Christ, they immediately begin looking at other professing believers to see how they behave; how they act. [ Prayer, church etiquette, sit in the back, express/hold our emotions, worship. ]
Who are you imitating? Your spiritual parents? Your Pastor? Are they truly IMITATING Christ?
1 Corinthians 4:16 (Paul says) “So I urge and implore you, be imitators of me.” He could say that because in Galatians 2:20 (NIV):
 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Paul commended the Thessalonians because they had a REAL working FAITH. In other words, they wore their FAITH on their sleeves, visible to everyone they came in contact with. There was a great difference between them and their pagan, unbelieving neighbors. So Paul didn’t need to defend them, he bragged about them!
People often wonder how we can know if someone is SAVED or not. Paul knew that God chose the Thessalonians for SALVATION because he saw the POWER of the Gospel in their lives. He also saw their transformation in their working, visible FAITH.
DO WE HAVE THAT KIND OF FAITH?
The world should see JESUS in us!
The WORLD should see our LABOR OF LOVE – Vs. 3: “Your LABOR should be prompted by LOVE”
Whereas FAITH gets us started on the journey, LOVE becomes the vehicle on our way.
Will Rogers once said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
What is the LABOR OF LOVE?
1 John 3:18 (NIV):
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
John 4:15 (NIV):
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
There are so many opportunities that are missed in our Christian life in reaching out to others with the LOVE of Christ.
- At WORK: working for the Lord or your boss?
- At HOME: patience? loving our families as Christ loves us.
- In SOCIETY: Lifestyle Evangelism? integrity?
- In CHURCH: seeking to meet others’ needs, rather than our own?
FAITH & LOVE go hand in hand. You can’t have visible faith without real love!
Galatians 5:6 (AMP):
“For [if we are] in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith activated and energized and expressed and working through love.”
The WORLD is watching us! Our reputation is framed and hanging on the wall!
They should see our working FAITH and our labor of LOVE in action.
V. 3…your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ
The WORLD should be able to SEE our everlasting HOPE!
Paul actually uses three qualities as bookends in the closing of this chapter (vs. 9-10 AMP):
 For they themselves volunteer testimony concerning us, telling what an entrance we had among you, and how you turned to God from [your] idols to serve a God Who is alive and true and genuine.
 And [how you] look forward to and await the coming of His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead–Jesus, Who personally rescues and delivers us out of and from wrath [bringing punishment] which is coming [upon the impenitent] and draws us to Himself [investing us with all the privileges and rewards of the new life in Christ, the Messiah].
FAITH gets us started on the journey, LOVE becomes the vehicle, and HOPE…? HOPE shows us where we’re going.
There’s a difference between HOPE & WISHING. This HOPE Paul’s referring too, isn’t like dropping pennies into a wishing well. This HOPE is like saying, “I hope tomorrow is Monday!”
The Thessalonian BELIEVERS had a real, visible, enduring HOPE.
They hoped for 3 things that we too, should hope for (VERSE 10):
#1. They HOPED for Jesus’ return! “…look forward to and await the coming of His Son from heaven.” (v. 10)
#2. They HOPED in Jesus’ resurrection, who He raised from the dead and because of the RESURRECTION, they knew too, and they will eventually conquer death and be raised to a new life in Christ. When Jesus returns, all those who HOPE in His resurrection can have confidence that we will live with Him forever!
#3. They HOPED in Jesus’ rescue from God’s coming wrath (v. 10). There’s coming a Day when God will return vengeance and wrath upon this godless and evil world we currently live in. Those who’ve chosen God, those who’ve been transformed, those who’ve a visible faith and a labor of love…have a heart peace from the HOPE they will be RESCUED from His great wrath.
SO, WHAT DO PEOPLE SEE WHEN THEY LOOK INTO… OUR “FISHBOWL”?
Do they see CHRIST in us?
Do they see a WORK OF FAITH? a labor of love? an enduring, everlasting LOVE?
Do they see a DIFFERENCE in us?
If not, why would they want to become a Christian?
Whether we like it or not, we are LIVING in a public aquarium, where we’re putting on a show for the world to see. How’s the show going?
We need to be ready for Jesus’ soon return.
In the meantime, we also need to be busy bringing people to Him by being imitators of Jesus, before it’s too late.
COMMENTARY: Enduring Word Bible Commentary: 1 Thessalonians 1 – Receivers and Responders.
PHOTOS: Google Image Search.
BIBLE TRANSLATIONS: New International Version (NIV), except where noted.