When the apostle Paul wrote his first-recorded letter to “the church of the Thessalonians” (1 Thessalonians 1:1), they were a changed people. They were not the same people whom he had met when he initially went to that city to preach the unsearchable riches of the Christ (Acts 17:1-9).
In what way had the Thessalonian saints changed? What kind of life were they now living, and to what were they looking forward? The words of 1 Thessalonians 1:9,10 show us a magnificent change in their lives:
(9) For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, (10) and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
What do we learn from these verses about our brothers and sisters in Thessalonica? Here are four facts that summarize their past, present, and future:
They had turned from idols (1:9). In their pre-Christian life, they had served idols. That is not surprising, as idolatry was one of the sins that plagued much of the ancient Gentile world. Many first-century congregations of God’s church were comprised of people who formerly worshipped images, material objects, and man-imagined “deities.”
The world of our today is still filled with idolatrous practices, and every single idolater needs to hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus so they, too, can learn to forsake their idols! Today we have devoted brethren who have left behind their idols and are strong in the faith. They are a great encouragement to us and a great help in reaching out to others in their communities and own families who still are caught up in idolatry. The great news is that idolaters can be forgiven (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The biblical portrayal of the Thessalonian saints reminds us that when one comes to the Lord, he must leave behind his sinful habits. In order to be saved, out of godly sorrow one must repent of his sins – all of them (2 Corinthians 7:10). No one can truly come to the Lord and please Him if that person is still trying to hang on to his old ways. The old man and all of his sinful ways must be forsaken. Like the Thessalonians did, lost people must come out from their sinful past.
They had turned to the living and true God (1:9). It is not enough for a person to stop committing a certain sin. To be saved, one also must take the next step, which is turning to the Source of salvation – the true and living God. The saints in Thessalonica had gone from false gods to the true God and from a life without hope to a life filled with hope! It is not enough for a drunkard to give up his bottle: he also must turn to the Lord. It is not enough for the thief to stop stealing, the liar to stop lying, or the fornicator to stop committing fornication: forgiveness can be received only when they turn to the living and true God for the cleansing that only He can supply. It is not sufficient for a person to make improvements in his lifestyle. To be saved and have the hope of heaven, he must be born again (John 3:3-5), then act like a new creation in the Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
They now serve that living and true God (1:9). That is just what Christians do. We live to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28). With no sense of shame and without the slightest hesitation, we acknowledge that we are servants of the King! Of course, if that is our confession, then we need to live a life which shows that our claim to serve the Lord is not hollow.
How were the Thessalonian disciples doing in their service to God? They were not flawless, yet there are indications that they had gotten off to a great start. In the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians, we see that, though they had been in the Lord for only a relatively-short period of time, they had become good examples (1:7), had sounded out the Lord’s word (1:8), and had a faith that was well- recognized by others (1:8).
They are waiting for God’s Son from heaven (1:10). So, they had turned from idols, turned to God, served God, and waited for someone to come. When the Bible says that they turned to God to “wait,” that does not mean that they were sitting down and doing nothing. Staying with “w” words, we, like they, not only wait, but we also watch (Mark 13:35) and work for the Lord as we wait (1 Corinthians 15:58).
How does Paul describe the one for whom the brothers and sisters in Thessalonica were waiting? He is the Son of God (1:10), He is the one whom God has raised from the dead (1:10), He is Jesus (1:10), and He is the Deliverer from the wrath to come (1:10). Our Lord lives! We serve the risen Son of God, who is the great Deliverer! And, He is coming to take us home to a place of eternal rest.
Like the Thessalonians, we may have had an ugly past, but we are blessed to serve the living and true God. What a glorious future awaits us in heaven!
— Roger D. Campbell