2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 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. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 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, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Not much is worthy of our imitation these days. One need not think too much, or look too far, to be convinced of that – that is, if one has eyes to see. Integrity and principled living are rare finds. Faithfulness and commitment, especially when painful, is largely absent. Read a newspaper, watch the news, follow a sports hero or political campaign; again and again we find ourselves disappointed if not discouraged by the lack of honesty and naked sincerity. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find men/women who demand imitation.
Much the same could be said regarding churches. It’s not my intent to church bash, but only to state the obvious. It’s a sad thing to see with frequency how churches pattern themselves after the world. Though there’s a social aspect to the church, the church is not a social club. Though there’s a business aspect to the church, the church is not a business. Her leaders are not CEOs or managers, she has nothing to sell, only tell; and though health and wealth mark the pursuit of many (and unto damnation), health and wealth are, when understood biblically, had by those who relish and possess the riches of Christ.
Because our desire is to be a God-centered, Christ-exalting, scripture reflecting church, we need not reflect other churches – that is not, nor should it be our concern. We need to pattern ourselves after churches commended in the NT. The church at Thessalonica was such a church. It was exemplary. As such, it’s a church worthy of imitation. We see how Paul with his companions gives thanks to God for it. Its work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope fill their prayers. It’s without question these three phrases demand much attention and deep reflection. Apathy did not mark this church. Lethargy was no descriptor. And through thick and thin, hope remained. Theirs was a faith that worked, a love that labored, and a hope in Christ that endured. There was an energy to this church, a vitality, a life together that could not be missed. And Paul gives thanks to God for it. He gives thanks to God, the Giver of all life, the Granter of faith, the Source of love, and Fount of hope.
Praying, Knowing Their Election
We move on today to the next verse. And in that next verse, in verse 4, we learn that Paul, together with Silas & Timothy, prayed with a great confidence. He prayed for this church, this fellowship in 1st century Thessalonica, knowing of their election. “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.” If anyone knows his bible, he cannot deny the fact – election is taught. God chooses whomever he chooses. He elects whom he elects for salvation, to be the recipients of special, saving, redemptive, sin-freeing, God-entrancing grace. In love, the Father predestines unto adoption those who will be his sons and daughters. In love and in Christ, the Father, before the dawn of time, before the foundation of the world, before the creation of universe, chooses a select few to draw to himself.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14. “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation…”
Romans 8:29. “…whom He foreknew [i.e. whom God foreknew. God foreknew a people, not the choices of a people] ‘…whom he foreknew [i.e. whom he foreLOVED, which is how the bible defines foreknew] “…whom he foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” Do not think of election as simple eternal security. If you think that way, you miss it, and you misunderstand it. Election is predestination unto the image of a Person, namely Jesus Christ, not merely unto the other side of the ‘River,’ as it were. (Which is why we need to understand this whole law/sanctification thing – so, come to Sunday school.) “Grace,” as Spurgeon says “does not choose a man and leave him as he is.”
2 Timothy 1:9. “[God] has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted to us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”
Ephesians 1:5. “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace…In Him (v. 11)…we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”
Election: His will, not ours; His purpose, not ours; His grace, not our works; His love, not because we are loveable, not because He owes it, not because we loved Him or chose Him.
‘Loved before the dawn of time/ chosen by [their] Maker/ hidden in [their] Savior/ [They were His and He was theirs]/ Cherished for eternity’ (S. Townend). When Paul prayed for these guys, he prayed knowing this to be true of them, that they were the beloved choice of God Almighty, that God had, before the dawn of time, singled them out for no other reason than His own purpose and grace. He knew this, not because they were somehow attached to some special group, not because of their ancestry, not because they had the right parents, or went to the right church, and not because they used the right words and sounded churchy and religious and dare I say, were covenant children. Paul knew because of two things. He knew this because of their response to the gospel preached (1). (2) He knew this because of their exceptional, exemplary conduct.
The Success of the Gospel Preached
Just look at it. “4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” These folks were not unmoved by the Word. In the fullness of time, when it was appointed to them both hear and believe, they did so. They were greatly affected by the gospel. It changed them immensely. Once faithless, hopeless, worshipers of worthless, pagan idols, so in step with the world, they were now ‘anything but.’
There are a number of things to be gleaned here. First, we must see how election evidences itself. Indeed it does. Paul knew of their election because their election bore fruit. When the gospel came to them by way of missionary endeavor and preaching, it was successful. We’ve already made something of their work of faith and labor of love and so forth. But here, and before that work of faith, when the word, the gospel, was preached to them, it fell upon them, it came to them, it landed upon them not as a naked word. But it came to them in word, to be sure. It came to them ‘not only in word,’ which means it in fact came to them by way of word.
Don’t miss this. In a day and age when words are discounted and undervalued and pushed aside for other things, like images, we must hold to the divine design. The word is the method. The word of the gospel is the means by which God saves His elect. Being nice, neighborly, friendly, funny, throwing fellowship parties, eating together: all these things have their place. But salvation comes by hearing, and hearing by a word. Of course you know, or maybe you don’t know, what that word is. That word is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Do you know this good news? Are you able to articulate it? If asked, could you repeat it? It is, after all, a word. Paul’s gospel came to them by word. It should shock us to learn of elders who could not answer this question of the gospel. Indeed, I know of this. If one cannot give answer to this gospel question, he should not occupy that office. One wonders if that one is even a believer, if he can’t answer the question. We need not go far to see the answer. It’s made explicit for us in 1st Corinthians 15. There we are told in concise terms what the good news is, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” That is good news. Christ died for our sins; the just for the unjust; the sinless for the sinner. He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God. Christ was born under the law that He redeem the chosen from the law; it was for freedom that Christ set them free!
“To Him that loved us, gave Himself,And died to do us good, Has washed us from our scarlet sins In His most precious blood: Who made us kings and priests to God His Father infinite: To Him eternal glory be and everlasting might!”
‘Our gospel came to you not only in word,’ Paul writes. It came to them in word, a clear word, a spoken word, a preached word. But that word was not alone. It wasn’t a naked word. It came to them clothed with divine power, in power from on high. This has nothing whatsoever to do with how energetic the preacher may or may not be. Paul says nothing about that. His subject here is not the man, but the message. The word came in power, not the fleshling. In fact, the preacher may be in great fear and trembling. He may rather boast in his weaknesses than glory in his strength. Isn’t that what Paul said of himself? Did he not say to another church that he determined to know nothing but Christ and him crucified, and that he was among them in weakness and in fear and in much trembling? Paul was nothing impressive; the success of one’s ministry does not rest upon the man, but upon the message. Paul’s message to the Thessalonians, because it was clothed with power from on high, was neither impotent, nor ineffective. Those who heard it did not merely hear the sound of it, but felt it. They were affected by it. They weren’t as those who sat in some grade school classroom, or some university lecture hall, bored out of their skulls. What they heard gripped them. It affected them. There was this power, this gravitas, to what they were hearing. As they heard all about the things of God, how Christ came and lived and died and rose again, how they must because of that fact turn from sin, be turning from sin, trust in Christ, and be forever trusting in Christ, more was going on than vibrating eardrums. Minds were stirred! Consciences were pricked! Hearts were warmed! One wonders if that which the two on the Emmaus road said could be heard years later in Thessalonika: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking to us…?” “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking to us…?” 4 … we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power…” Paul prayed for them knowing they were chosen by God, that they were the beloved of God, how? The gospel came to them not in word only, but in power. “Grace,” as Spurgeon says “does not choose a man and leave him as he is.”
In The Holy Spirit
But there’s more; that’s not all. “…we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit…” What does it mean for the gospel to come upon a people not in word only, but also in the Holy Spirit? It means this: the word comes not as a dead word, but one that gives life! Word minus Holy Spirit equals nothing! Word minus Holy Spirit equals no conviction, no contrition, no joy, no response, no salvation, no anything! How many of our churches are but dead carcasses, full of corpses, “hot-beds of formalism,” and mere petri dishes of traditionalism and joylessness! Why aren’t more entranced and intoxicated by this grace, this amazing grace we find in this book? Is it because God has chosen not to attend the preaching of His Word? Do you pray for this? Are your prayers filled by this request, that God by his Spirit attend the proclamation of his truth? We pang and pine and long for this, even that our own church be full of spiritual life; do we, are we, praying, on our knees, begging God to garb His truth to us with His Spirit?
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing…” (John 6:63). “Truly, truly, I say unto you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live” (John 5:25).
Word minus Spirit equals nothing, except maybe an interesting Sunday morning (or maybe a dull Sunday morning). But word clothed in the Holy Spirit equals life, spiritual life, faith, repentance, turning from sin (like pushing sexual boundaries) and turning from idols of all sorts – like yourself and your children (but that’s not quite yet…we’ll get there, to verse 9…sometime). But Paul knew they were chosen by God, that they were the beloved of God, how? The gospel came to them not in word only, but in the Holy Spirit. God attended his preaching to them. God was active. God was working. “Grace,” as Spurgeon says “does not choose a man and leave him as he is.”
With Full Conviction
And last but not least, the gospel came to them not merely in word, but with full conviction. This was, as I take it, an effect of the apostle’s preaching. The gospel preached by a word clothed in power and the Holy Spirit so that it landed upon these folks with great conviction. That’s how it came to them. They were convinced of what they heard. They were sure about it. They had full assurance and confidence of its truthfulness in all that it both declared and demanded. Paul’s preaching affected their minds. It changed the way they thought. It filled their hearts with a new conviction, and one that would set them at odds with the world in which they lived. Paul knew they were elect because of this. That which he had preached, that came to them in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction changed them. The message of the cross, the gospel, the righteous for the wrath – deserving, made them dead to the world and the world to them. After all, “Grace,” as Spurgeon says “does not choose a man and leave him as he is.” Which brings us to the second reason Paul knew of their election.
Their Exemplary Conduct
He knew they were elect, chosen unto salvation because of their exceptional, exemplary conduct. Election evidences itself. It is the mother of holiness, the fountain of godliness, the spring from which flow the waters of righteous living. We will not camp here today. But we must be mindful that there is no hint here of the unruly, disobedient, rebellious, and idol worshiper. Just listen to this: In verse 6, Paul says these folks became imitators of him, his companions, and the Lord Himself! Who do you look up to? Who do you pattern your life after? Who’s your hero? In verse 7, Paul says they became an example to all the believers in Macedonia. They were, in other words, worthy of imitation as a body of believers by other believers. That’s how Paul knew God chose them. That’s how he knew they were elect of God! That’s how he knew the gospel came to them not in word only, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. It changed them. It RADICALLY changed them. “Grace does not choose a man and leave him as he is.”
What should a church be known for? That is the question I’ve put before you. The answer is quite simple. A church should be known as the place where God gives evidence to his electing grace. It should be known for how the gospel has come to a people by means of a word clothed in the powerful activity of God, where God has unleashed his miraculous saving, life-giving power in concert with his word. Communication problem? There is no communication problem with this! Communication is not the problem! Too many times we default into thinking, ‘If I only said that better,’ or ‘Time for a new pastor,’ or ‘Let’s try this new program.’ Communication is not the problem. The Thessalonians heard with full conviction because God. They heard. They were converted because God. God was active. God attended the preaching of his word by his Spirit. What should a church be known for? Should it be known for compromise, for tolerance, for mimicking what others outside the church do?
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord …7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”
It isn’t safe to assume we’re amongst the elect, especially if grace hasn’t changed us. If grace hasn’t changed you, if you’re the same today as you were 5, 10, 15 years ago, don’t assume you’re loved before the dawn of time. Grace changed these people. The gospel came to them not in word only. You may have heard the gospel. But did it come to you in power? You may have been baptized. But did the word come to you in the Holy Spirit so that you started walking in holiness, with spiritual fruit produced not by you but him? Election is not something to be assumed if there’s no evidence of it. Believe the gospel. Behave accordingly. Love Christ. Obey the word. Walk by His Spirit. Make His calling and election sure with all diligence.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blacke, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.[/author_info] [/author]