Paul spent a turbulent couple of weeks in Thessalonica. Recorded in Acts 17:1-9, the apostle attempted to reason with the Jews of the city and to convince them that Jesus was the Christ that they had been searching for. His work was not as successful, at least by numbers, as it was in other places. Days later in Berea he would speak of Jews who were “more noble” than those in Thessalonica (Acts 17:11) because they were willing to search the Scriptures and compare Paul’s teaching to those of the Old Testament.
Nevertheless he did find some who were willing to leave the Judaic system and become Christians. These brethren would be the recipients of two epistles from Paul. In the first letter, we find a simple but powerful formula for a faithful Christian life.
“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, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10).
The Thessalonians Turned
Paul says the brethren in Thessalonica turned from idols. Located on the Greek peninsula, the people were steeped in idolatrous religions. It was in Athens, about 300 miles south, where Paul was overcome with the paganism and found even an altar “to the unknown god” (Acts 17:166 ff). The lives of the people were against Jehovah and wholly devoted to idol worship and its associated wickedness. It was from this kind of life and wickedness that the people of Thessalonica had turned.
This word, translated “turn” is used by Paul to speak of turning from evil things to God (Acts 14:15, Galatians 4:9). You and I are called to turn as well. Jesus demands turning, or repentance (Luke 13:3, 5). Peter demands that we repent too (Acts 2:38; 2 Peter 3:9). The idea, expressed in two different Greek words, is that we leave an old way of life for something new. You would never find one of these Thessalonian brethren falling down before an idol. They had turned, they had left, an old way of life.
For us, we must also turn. Not simply being sorry for sin but actually turning and leaving a sinning way of life.
The Thessalonians Served
Service is at the heart of Christianity. As Christ served us, so we too serve others (John 13:14-15). But here, the serving is anchored in service to God, which the brethren were doing. This word is the verb form of DOULOS, or servant. Paul frequently used this word as a description of himself. He was a servant of Jesus Christ.
Jesus made plain that serving others actually serves him. Consider Matthew 25:35-46 with special emphasis on verse 40:
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
We serve Jesus by serving one another. The brethren in Thessalonica understood this principle and served by God through their service to one another. Truly their worship was service to God as well.
I frankly fear that some in the church have missed the whole concept of service. As one writer recently said, “Your primary call in the church is to contribute, not just to consume.” Those who fail to serve mankind, fail to serve Christ.
The Thessalonians Waited
I am not very patient. I want things now. But there are things worth waiting on. Namely, the return of our Savior. In our short texted Paul notes that the brethren were waiting on the Son of God. These good people never saw Jesus personally. Like us, they only heard of Jesus from those who had seen him. Paul was their witness as he is ours. They were waiting for him to be revealed.
Some were troubled however and thought that because their loved ones had died they had missed Jesus. This was an error that Paul was happy to fix (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). We can be encouraged by one another as we wait. The Lord is coming and we will see him. Even the arrogant atheist will see the Lord in glory (Revelation 1:7) and every knee will bow (Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10).
The Thessalonian Process
The process is simple and straightforward. Turn. Serve. Wait. If we would be content with such a simple process we would be blessed. So I wonder, as we wait, are we serving? Have we even turned? It’s not too late.