It is in Acts 17 that we read about the establishment of God’s church in the city of Thessalonica. As part of his second-recorded preaching journey, the apostle Paul joined with other brethren to preach the gospel in Thessalonica. Some in that community, including Jews and devout Greeks, accepted the gospel (Acts 17:1-4). Thus began God’s church in that city of idolatry.
Not long after the beginning of the Lord’s church in Thessalonica, Paul wrote a letter, an epistle we call “First Thessalonians,” to the newly- established congregation. He described it as “the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:1).
Of course, the new converts who comprised that local church were not sinless. They still needed to grow, and they had issues which they needed to work to overcome. But, there are indicators in the opening section of Paul’s first letter to them that they were people who were off to a great start in their service to the Lord. Consider what we read about them in 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8:
(6) And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, (7) so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. (8) For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.
Whatever good things are said about them, we need to ask ourselves, “How can I imitate them and incorporate those things into my life?” What positive characteristics do we see in the description of the Thessalonian saints? Here are seven items:
(1) They received the word, even though they had to face “much affliction” (1:6). There is a sense in which Christians are to continue to receive the word of God (James 1:21), but the reference here in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 is to how they had received the word when they initially heard and obeyed the gospel. They did so despite the opposition they faced and the affliction that came their way. It takes faith and courage to say, “I do not care how others react or how they will treat me, I am going to obey the Lord Jesus so I can be saved and live for Him.” It is not so difficult when everyone around us gives us moral support to serve the Lord, but when we know that no one among our family or close friends will be happy about our decision to do what the Lord wants, it takes conviction. The saints in Thessalonica had it.
(2) They received the word with joy of the Spirit (1:6). Again, this is talking about their initial reception of the gospel. They received it with joy, just like the Jews on the Day of Pentecost who gladly received the word Peter preached and were baptized (Acts 2:41). There is no greater joy than the joy of having our sins cleansed by the blood of the Lamb! May we never lose the thrill of having been brought out of the devil’s darkness into the light of the Lord!
(3) They became followers of Paul and his companions (1:6). The word “followers” means imitators [Greek word “ mim t s”; Thayer, word 3402]. They believed and obeyed the same saving gospel Paul did, and in the process became servants of the Lord Jesus, just like Paul had. God has something called “the way of truth” (2 Peter 2:2), also recognized as “the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). Paul submitted to that “way” in his life, then later the Thessalonians followed suit.
(4) They became followers of the Lord (1:6). Again, they became imitators of the Savior. Jesus wanted to do the Father’s will (John 6:38); so did the Thessalonians. Jesus wanted to do what God’s righteousness required (Matthew 3:15); so did the folks in Thessalonica. There is no better choice than choosing to imitate the Son of God!
(5) They became examples to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia (1:7). In life, we see some examples that are lousy; others are excellent and worthy of emulation. Obviously, the Thessalonian brethren were the good kind of example, “a pattern of good works” (Titus 2:7). Every child of God should strive to be such an example, regardless of where he is and regardless of who is watching and listening.
(6) From them sounded out the word of the Lord, not only locally, but in other places, too (1:8). We call it “evangelism” . . . communicating the gospel to lost people. Keep it up, you people of God in Thessalonica! Do not grow weary in sowing the seed (Galatians 6:9)! Do not let your fire go out! Let us have a heart that “cannot wait” to tell the good news of God’s salvation to lost people who need Jesus.
(7) Their faith was well-known (1:8). They were not trying to impress anyone, but their faith caught people’s attention, just like the faith of the early brethren in Rome was widely spoken of (Romans 1:8). Is our faith alive or dead? Active or stagnant?
— Roger D. Campbell