Walking the streets of New York city with my daughter our ears heard the hum of many languages. Listening to the different dialects was interesting. We played a game of trying to guess the nationality of the speaker, I'm sure we missed more times than we were correct! New York City is a place of many people, many languages, many cultures. The Port of New York is the third largest in the United States. In one year the port receives close to 4,000,000,000 cargo containers. New York City also has a heavy concentration of air traffic with 800 flights arriving at JFK each day. Approximately 1,000 flights take off and land at LaGuardia any given day. (panyin.gov) New York City is certainly a hub of activity! Ancient cities had their own types of traffic and activity.
Thessalonica was a flourishing sea port city in the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. The city was the chief seaport of the Roman province of Macedonia. It also had the main road from Rome to the Orient running right through its center. Because of this contact with important cities via land and sea Thessalonica was a multicultural city. With the many cultures came many beliefs.
Paul first preached in Thessalonica while on his second missionary journey. He went to the region after having a vision of a man calling him to come to Macedonia. As was his custom he first went to the Jewish synagogue to preach the Good News about Christ. We learn in Acts 17 that some Jews believed and joined Paul and Silas, as well as "many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women." (Acts 17:4) However many of the Jews became jealous of Paul and Silas and began making trouble for them. The believers in the young church urged Paul and Silas to leave before the trouble makers harmed them. This quick exit prompted Paul to write his letter. He wanted to make sure the young Christians were remaining faithful despite the persecution they were enduring.
Like most ancient letters, Paul began with the greetings of grace and peace. A quick glance through the letters found in the New Testament will show that these two entities are nearly always listed in this order. Because of God's grace we can have His peace. God's grace is His free gift to all who believe in and accept Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. Many call grace God's unmerited favor, meaning we did nothing to deserve this gift. We are unworthy in our own merits to receive His grace. Isaiah tells us:
"We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind." Isaiah 64:6 NLT
And Paul tells us:
"All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23 NIV
We are unworthy, but praise be to God, Jesus makes us worthy! It's the reason He came, to bring "many sons and daughters to glory" (Hebrews 2:10) Jesus Himself said:
"I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25
In Acts 16 Paul and Silas declared to the jailer:
"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved - you and your whole household."
This chapter goes on to describe the jailer’s salvation experience. He received God's grace because he believed the message Paul and Silas preached about Jesus Christ. Have you received this grace? It isn't something you can earn through good deeds. God's grace must be received by faith but when we open our hearts and minds to believe what Jesus did on the cross for us, we receive this grace and our souls are at peace.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 1:1 is:
Receiving God's grace leads to soul peace.
What evidence is there in your life that you have received God's grace? Have you received this gift? If not, will you today? How has God's grace manifested His peace in your life?
Paul goes on to tell how thankful he is for the Thessalonians and specifically what he is thankful for. He says in verses 2-3:
"We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul is commending the Thessalonians for the work they were doing for God. He says this work was produced by their faith. Receiving God's grace should naturally lead to works done for God. James tells us:
"What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don't show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, 'Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well' - but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn't enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, 'Some people have faith; others have good deeds.' But I say, 'How can you show me your faith if you don't have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.'" James 2:14-18 NLT
Our good deeds don't save us; only faith in Christ can do that, but our good deeds are evidence of our faith.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 is:
Receiving God's grace leads to loving others and doing good.
How has your faith produced good deeds? What labor of love have you done this week?
For whom are you thankful? For what about this person are you thankful? For whom are you praying? What are you praying? Will you send a text, an email, or even an old fashioned handwritten note letting them know how thankful you are for them and specifically what you are praying for them. Your words may be the encouragement they need to keep going!
Verse 4 raises the question of election or predestination. I am not a theologian nor did I go to seminary so I will not try here to explain this doctrine. However, the truth I see clearly in this verse is that God chooses people for special tasks. We see this throughout the Old Testament and into the New. God chose Noah to build an ark and preserve the human race along with the animal population. He chose Abraham through whom to form the nation of Israel. He chose Joseph to preserve the nation of Israel in a time of famine. He chose Moses to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He chose David to be king. In the New Testament we see God choosing Mary to give birth to a baby. God chose these people and this nation for one purpose: to bring His Son into the world. It was His plan from the beginning.
As Jesus began His earthly ministry we see Him choosing people for special tasks as well. He chose twelve ordinary men to be His disciples. Of those He chose three who were His closest friends. He chose seventy-two people to go out two-by-two into the towns He would visit. God has a purpose for every person He creates. He chooses us for these special tasks in order to further His Kingdom on earth. We learn this in several places:
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." Ephesians 2:10
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." 1 Peter 2:9
And Jesus Himself said:
"You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you." John 15:16
Gathered Manna from 1 Thessalonians 1:4 is:
Receiving God's grace sets us apart for His special purpose.
What is God's special purpose for your life? Do you know? If not, spend some time in prayer asking God to make clear the special task for which He has chosen you.
Once we have received God's grace and peace we are charged with the task of proclaiming God's truth to others. We are not all called to be ministers but we are all commissioned to take the message of Jesus to the world.
"Jesus came and told His disciples, 'I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'"
Paul, Silas, and Timothy were being obedient to this call. Are we? We don't need to travel half-way across the world to make disciples, we can begin in our own homes, our neighborhoods, our schools; we can and should make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ wherever we are. How do we do this? Paul gives us the perfect example in
1 Thessalonians 1:5:
"...because our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with full assurance. You know how we lived among you for your benefit." CSB
We make disciples of Jesus by surrendering to the Holy Spirit and living the Gospel message in front of them. How we live matters. Jesus said people will know we are His by our love for others. While on this earth Jesus ate with sinners, touched lepers, and talked with women. Jesus loved people and He calls us to do the same.
The Passion Translation renders the latter part of verse 5:
"Surely you remember how we lived our lives transparently before you to encourage you."
Transparent is a word we throw around a lot. Maybe it is used too much in Christian circles. But when I look at the definition I am encouraged to be transparent for Christ. dictionary.com defines transparent as: "having the property of transmitting rays of light through its substance so that bodies situated beyond or behind can be distinctly seen."
"I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life." John 8:12 NLT
When we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior He comes to live within us through the Holy Spirit. This means we have His light in us. When we live a life of transparency before others, allowing them to see our flaws as well as our good points, we build authenticity with them. Far too many Christians try to portray a life of perfection when what the world needs to see is a life of surrender. When we surrender to the Holy Spirit's lead He begins to transform us into Christ-likeness. As we become more and more like Jesus we are able to become transparent with those around us. Sharing our spiritual struggles with others helps them know they aren't alone. Living a life of transparent transformation allows nonbelievers to see the reality of daily surrender to Jesus Christ. When we admit our mistakes, shortcomings, and sin; the light of Christ shines through those cracks and draws others from the darkness of their own sin.
In his book, "The Passion Generation", Grant Skeldon tells the story of asking an older, more mature Christian to disciple him. This man's answer was: "Follow me as I follow Christ." Just like Paul, Silas, and Timothy, he knew: We make disciples by living out our faith in front of people, inviting them into our lives in real time. Disciples aren't made in small groups once a week or at coffee shops once a month. Disciples are made on a day-to-day, "come into my life and see the good, the bad, and the ugly" type of transparency. When we do this others begin to imitate us as we imitate Christ. We all start this spiritual journey imitating another Christian. As we grow in spiritual maturity we move from imitating another person to imitating our Lord.
This is what happened in the lives of the Thessalonians. When they first came to faith they watched and imitated Paul, Silas, and Timothy. As they grew in their knowledge of Christ they began imitating Him to the point that others began seeing Christ in them. They were living lives of transparent transformation.
The Amplified Version translates verse 8:
"For not only has the Word concerning and from the Lord resounded forth from you unmistakably in Macedonia and Achaia, but everywhere the report has gone forth of your faith in God [of your leaning your whole personality on Him in complete trust and confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness]. So we [find that we] never need to tell people anything [further about it]."
I love the thought of leaning my whole personality on Him. I'm an introvert by nature. Being in front of people is not my forte yet when I lean on God in complete trust and confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness He gives me all I need to stand and teach His Word. His Spirit in me enables me to do the thing He calls me to do despite my introverted tendencies.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 is:
Receiving God's grace allows us to live lives of transparent transformation and be witnesses for Him.
How are you living in transparent transformation? What parts of your life still need to be transformed into Christlikeness? What do you need to surrender to the Holy Spirit to enable this transformation? How will you do this? Who needs to see the good, bad, and ugly of your life; to see you being transparent in your spiritual struggles? How can being transparent help you be a better witness for Christ?
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 1 is:
Receiving God's grace fills us with His Spirit transforming our lives for His purpose, witness, and glory.
I pray we are all learning to live lives of transparent transformation, allowing others to see our spiritual struggles as well as our successes. And in so doing may we carry out the Great Commission and make disciples wherever we go!
Until next time keep gathering manna, growing deeper, and gaining intimacy!
God bless and keep you,
1) Read 1 Thessalonians 1. Mark all references to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in a distinct way. Also mark references to Paul, Silas, Timothy, and the Thessalonians. Underline in a different color what each person did.
2) Prayerfully answer the questions in this lesson.
3) Read the following Scriptures and record everything you learn about God's grace.