1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

How the Gospel Impacts the Church

Those who know me well know I can be a very critical person. And I confess that there are times when I’m critical of this church. Some of you may have some criticisms of our church as well. After all, churches are composed of sinners. There is room for improvement in any church, but overall I think we have much to be thankful for at First Free. When the gospel has an obvious impact on a church, we have legitimate reason to be thankful and reason to be encouraged. 

After Mike’s sermon last week, as we sang the closing song, I was filled with emotion. I turned around to my friend Alex Kice after the service and said with enthusiasm, “I love this church.” One reason for my emotion was the fact that I continue to be amazed by the gospel, which Mike is so faithful to preach week in and week out. The fact that Christ has died to save sinners never ceases to amaze me. But there was more. As we sang the closing song last week I had a deep sense that the gospel is what holds us together as a congregation. I didn’t just feel like an individual impacted by a sermon last week. I had a deep sense of belonging to a community that has been impacted by the gospel. I was thankful for this church and I was encouraged.

I think we have a lot in common with the church at Thessalonica. They too had their set of problems which Paul deals with in this letter. But the major emphasis in this first chapter centers on the remarkable impact the gospel had on the whole church at Thessalonica. The evidence of this impact gave Paul cause to be thankful and gave cause for the Thessalonians to be encouraged. 

The church at Thessalonica was one of the churches planted on Paul’s 2nd Missionary journey. To give us some context for our text this morning, I’d like to briefly walk through Paul’s 2nd missionary journey, as we find it in the book of Acts. Paul and Silas left Antioch, in Syria to visit and strengthen the churches founded on his 1st missionary journey in Galatia (Acts 15:40; 16:5). When they came to Lystra they met up with Timothy who accompanied them on their journey. After strengthening the churches in Galatia, Acts tells us the Holy Spirit prevented them from ministering in Asia Minor and from going to Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). In Troas they were called to go over to Macedonia.

Acts 16:9–10 (ESV)

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 

It is important to note that God was the one behind the mission to Macedonia; therefore, we are not surprised when we find out that the gospel had an impact in Thessalonica.

So, they sailed from Troas to Macedonia and preached the gospel first in Philippi. After the church at Philippi was established, they met persecution and were driven further south to Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia. We can pick up the story in Acts 17.

Acts 17:1–9 (ESV)

         Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, here there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. 

Keep this persecution in mind, for it plays an important role in the letter to the Thessalonians. As a result of the persecution the new converts at Thessalonica sent Paul and Silas away (Acts 17:10). They traveled west to Berea where another church was planted. But the Jews from Thessalonica came to Berea and stirred up more trouble there, causing Paul to be driven further south, to Athens. 

This is all very important for our understanding of Paul’s words in our text this morning. The newness of the Thessalonians’ faith, coupled with persecution, caused Paul and his associates to be concerned. They had to know if their gospel had made a lasting impact on the church. So, Paul and Silas sent Timothy to get a report. 

1 Thessalonians 3:1–2 (ESV)

         Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 

By the time Timothy returned with a report, Paul had already journeyed further south to Corinth in Achaia. It was at Corinth that Paul received the report and penned his first letter to the Thessalonians. 

The report contained some concerns – as a report from any church would. Apparently the church had a few in its number who weren’t following Paul’s teaching on sexuality purity and the importance of working for a living. The church also had some theological questions about what happens to Christians if they die before Christ’s return. Paul addresses these issues (and others) in his letter; however, the resounding report of Timothy was good news! It was obvious to Paul after hearing Timothy’s report that this church had indeed been impacted by the gospel, for there was much evidence. And so Paul was very thankful for the impact the gospel was having in Thessalonica. Our passage this morning makes this very clear.

1 Thessalonians 1:1–10

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, 

         To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 

Grace to you and peace. 

         2We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because 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. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For 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. 9For 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, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. 

Here is my sermon in a sentence: When there is evidence that the gospel has made an impact in our church we can be encouraged and thankful.

Verse 1 gives us a standard greeting for a New Testament letter. The authors are the missionaries who planted the church at Thessalonica: Paul, Silas (Silvanus here), and TimothyPaul was most likely the primary author. The recipients are the church of the Thessalonians. The word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia which simply means gathering. But this wasn’t just any gathering or group of people. This was a group that was brought into existence by God the Father, through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peace with God is only possible through faith in the work of Jesus Christ. We are given peace with God by grace alone through Christ alone. “Grace to you and peace” would have reminded them that they were a church formed by the gospel and being formed by the gospel.[i]

After hearing Timothy’s report, it was clear to Paul that the Thessalonians were genuine believers and were gathered into a genuine church, and so he is thankful. Verse 2 says, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.” On what basis did Paul know they were genuine? And on what basis did he give thanks?

We will examine two ways the gospel impacts the church this morning. The two ways the gospel impacts the church also serve as evidence that a church is truly rooted in the gospel. As we examine this evidence, I invite you to consider whether or not these are present in this church and whether or not they are present in your life.

The gospel produces churches where faith, hope, and love are evident. (1-3)

The gospel had produced in the Thessalonians Paul’s classic triad that accompanies genuine conversion: faith, hope, and love. But notice Paul doesn’t merely list faith, hope, and love. He says in verse 3, “We give thanks to God… remembering… your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith, hope, and love are productive. Paul lists three corresponding ways they are productive. 

Good works are produced by faith directed toward God. Faith is not a work, but it produces good works (NIV). We’re saved by faith alone, but genuine faith will never be alone. If you have genuine faith you will bear the fruit of good works. That fruit includes love toward other people.

Ministry is prompted by love directed toward others. Love for other people is obviously predicated on a belief that God first loved us, as seen in the gospel. And if we love other people, we will be prompted to labor in service to them – both those within the church and those outside of the church. We see clearly in chapter 4 that the Thessalonians were doing this.

         Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. (1 Thessalonians 4:9–10)

I see much evidence of this happening at First Free as well. I will give two simple examples related to food. It is a common practice in this church to provide meals for families who have experienced significant illness, or families who have lost a loved one. Meals are even given to families like mine when they have babies. The blessing of a meal is not just the obvious provision of food, but the knowledge that we belong to a community who cares not only for our spiritual needs, but our physical needs as well. Food is also provided in generous supply for those outside of this church. Many in this congregation have provided hundreds of meals for the Young Lives and 12. These meals provide an opportunity to extend Christian hospitality to those who don’t yet know Christ, but they also communicate that this church is interested in ministering to those outside of our walls both directly and indirectly.

I don’t share these examples so we can have a reason to boast in ourselves, but they are some evidence that God is at work; this church has been impacted by the gospel in such a way that we love others by ministering to them.

Endurance is inspired by hope directed toward Christ’s return. The fruit of faith also includes hope in the return of Jesus Christ. And hope produces steadfastness, or it inspires endurance (NIV). Life is hard for anyone, and especially for Christians. In America we’re not being persecuted for faith in Christ, like the Thessalonians, although we may be some day. But perseverance in the faith is hard even without persecution. There is a constant draw away from faith, hope, and love, and towardthe world, the flesh, and the devil.[ii] It requires hope in the return of Christ to endure until the end. The Thessalonians were showing that they had endurance in the face of affliction.

I’d like to do a little exercise. Will everyone in this room who has been a Christian for more than 40 years please stand. Look around. This is endurance and perseverance. It only comes through the work of God and the hope they have in the gospel. Also, bear in mind this church is 60 years old. During a time when statisticians are telling us about the mass exodus of people from the church, I’m encouraged by the many in this congregation who have endured not only in their faith in Christ, but in their commitment to the local church. This exercise is not to give praise to men. Instead it is a testimony of the impact the gospel has on people; it is evidence that he who began a good work is the one who will carry it on to completion (Phil 1:6).

I hope this brief exposition has shown that the gospel had an impact on the Thessalonian church and has had an impact on First Free as well. This is evidence that this is a genuine church and should encourage us as well as cause us to be thankful. Let’s look now at a second way the gospel impacts the church.

The gospel produces churches where God’s salvation is evident. (4-10)

Verse 4 states that Paul knows the Thessalonians are brothers; that is, they belong to God’s family; they are loved by God and chosen by him. Or in other words, it is evident that God has saved them into his family. What is the basis for Paul’s knowledge? He gives three reasons for his assurance.

In churches where God’s salvation is evident…

1. The gospel is preached in truth, with conviction and power. (5)[iii] In verse 5a Paul says, “Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” We must pay close attention to Paul’s wording here. The gospel came to the Thessalonians “not only in word, but also in power…” While the emphasis here is on the power of the gospel, Paul is not pitting the words of the gospel against its power. Words are very important. Words carry truth and God’s word is truth. If truth matters, then words matter. Remember, when the missionaries originally shared the gospel with the Thessalonians they “explained and proved” that it was necessary for Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, etc. Explaining and proving require words and reason – they require the mind. So, Paul is not saying words, and the mind, don’t matter, he’s saying they are insufficient for salvation in and of themselves. They must be accompanied by power, and the Holy Spirit, and full conviction.[iv]

The Holy Spirit is the source of power. The Holy Spirit convicts sinners and brings them to belief and repentance. It is also the Holy Spirit who gives gospel preachers full conviction to preach the Bible for what it is – the word of God (2:13). The gospel must come in the power of the Holy Spirit in order for sinners to be saved. 

But that is not all. The Holy Spirit not only saves sinners, he also transforms sinners. We’ll see this was the case for the Thessalonians (vv. 6-10), but it was also the case for Paul and his associates. Look at verse 5b. “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” Not only was their message preached in power, the messengers had been changed by the powerful message and therefore gave credibility to it. 

Paul knew firsthand the Thessalonians received the gospel in truth, conviction, and power. And he knew that for genuine conversion to take place the gospel of truth must be accompanied by the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. We believe this at First Free as well.

Each time I prepare to preach God’s word I have four goals in mind – they are written above my desk. First, I want to be faithful to accurately represent both the content and the intent of the text; Secondly, I want to be clear in my explanation of a text; and thirdly, I want to show the relevance of the text to our lives. Those three goals are all subservient and related to the fourth. I want the Holy Spirit to be at work throughout my preparation, in the preaching itself, and in our lives as we faithfully attend to the Word.[v]

It is my prayer that when we hear a sermon from this pulpit that we would not hear the words of man, but the very words of God (2:13). I want the point of my sermon to be the point of the text. I want the word of God to accomplish its intended transformative purposes in the life of this church, through the preaching and teaching ministries of this church. I know that Mike shares this same conviction, for I have learned it from him. I wish I could say that we accomplish these goals every time we teach the Word, but I don’t. But I can say we are committed to these goals and hope to continue to improve in each of them. And I can also say I am thankful for this church because the gospel is preached here week in and week out. I don’t take that for granted. It is a privilege to serve in a church that has a legacy of upholding this conviction. This is evidence in my mind that the gospel is impacting this church.

Paul’s 2nd reason for his assurance that salvation had come to the Thessalonians is 

2. The gospel is received with joy, courage, and obedience. (6-7)[vi] The gospel was received by the Thessalonians in such a way that their lives were changed.

1 Thessalonians 1:6 (ESV)

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.

Why does Paul say they “became imitators of us and of the Lord”? He says this because they“received the word in much affliction,” just like Paul and Jesus, who both suffered greatly. But it was not their suffering alone that made them imitators of Paul and the Lord, it was how the suffered. They suffered “with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” This reminds me of Hebrews 12:2.

Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

When someone has been genuinely impacted by the gospel they begin to become more like Jesus, through the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. So in the face of suffering it should not surprise us that the Thessalonians suffered with joy and courage, remaining obedient to the Lord – because that’s what Jesus did. 

Whenever I talk with a Christian who is going through a hard time one of the things I want to know is how their situation is affecting their faith. I recently spoke with a woman in our church whose father has been diagnosed with stage-four prostate cancer. When I asked her how this was affecting her faith she said it has been hard, but she also has been drawn to the Scriptures during this time and finds comfort in singing hymns and worship songs. I also recently spoke with Susie Eastman at the hospital. I asked her how David’s cancer was affecting her. I was blown away by the joy and hope that permeated her response. After I finished listening to her perspective I said, “Susie I came here to encourage you, but your faith has encouraged me.” Two weeks ago I sat with Leland Doty at Wesley for a few minutes. It was obvious he was suffering, and it was hard to understand his words. But even as Leland faced death, I could still see his trademark smile which communicated he had not lost the joy of the Lord. I’m persuaded that the gospel has impacted this church because I see people in this church imitating the Lord in the face of suffering.

The result of the Thessalonians’ imitation of Christ jumps off of the page at me. Look at verse 7.They “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” They became imitators of Christ to such a degree that they became imitatable;[vii] they became examples to others far and wide. When a church is impacted by the gospel it has a great impact on other people. Verses 8-10 show us how their example impacted others and is the third reason Paul knew salvation had come to the Thessalonians.

3. The gospel is shared and shown in repentance. (8-10). It is my prayer for this church that the gospel would grow in God’s people and go to all peoples for God’s glory. That’s what happened among the Thessalonians. Their faith, hope, and love produced good works, good ministry, and endurance in affliction – the gospel was growing in them. But it didn’t just grow in God’s people at Thessalonica, it went to other people.

Verse 8a says, the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia.”

They shared the gospel that had changed their lives. And that is the appropriate response to good news – to tell it other people. The Thessalonians got the good news out or the word of God got out. But that’s not the only word that got out. 

Verse 8b says, “…your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

Word had gotten out about how they had been impacted by the gospel. People everywhere were hearing about how the gospel had completely transformed their lives. 

Verses 9-10 say, “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, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

The Thessalonians were genuinely converted. They had turned from their former way of life and toward God. They had gone from serving idols, to serving God. They had gone from living for today, to waiting for his Son from heaven. There had been a complete 180 in the lives of the people who belonged to the church. And people everywhere were taking notice. The word of God that was going out of their mouths was supported by the work of God coming out in the lives of those who were sharing it. Can you imagine the impact! 

What if people all over the city of Wichita took notice of what God is doing at this church – transforming sinners into servants by his gospel? I get excited thinking about that happening – that would really be an answer to my prayer – that the gospel might grow in God’s people at First Free and go to all peoples for God’s glory! 

I actually think this is already happening in some measure. I was encouraged by a report I heard this week. Some parents from our church were attending parent teacher conferences at a Christian school here in Wichita. And the teacher said to the parents, “Kids from First Free are different. They seem to really know their Bibles, but that’s not all. They also understand how it relates to their lives.” In other words, they know the gospel and know the impact it can have on their lives. To me that is evidence the gospel is having an impact not only in the lives of adults, but in our children as well. And people are taking notice outside of the walls of this church. I am thankful for the work God is doing in our children’s ministry, in the youth ministry, and in the home. I hope this encourages you as well.

This sermon has been intentionally positive, in hopes that we will be encouraged by the impact the gospel has had, and is having, on First Free. However, I hope you have not heard me say we are great people who should glory in our great accomplishments. On the contrary, without Christ the outlook is quite negative for us. We are by nature idolaters who place other things in front of God’s rightful place of worship. We have all sinned and therefore deserve God’s righteous wrath and eternal death. The reason this sermon has been positive is not because we are great people but because we have been saved by a great God. 

God sent his Son into the world. Jesus lived a perfect life and then died upon a Roman cross to pay the penalty for our sins and deliver us from the wrath of God. God then raised him from the dead and destroyed the power of death. Jesus will one day return to put all things right. This is good news – the gospel. If we believe this gospel and turn from our sin to God, like the Thessalonians did, we will be saved. We will be impacted by the gospel. And if we have been impacted by the gospel then there will be evidence that God is at work within our church. I see much of that evidence and therefore I am thankful for this church and want us to be encouraged.

Some of you may be thinking, “I’m glad God is at work at First Free as a whole, but I don’t see evidence that God is at work in my life.” Maybe your life is not marked by love for others and a hope that enables you to endure life’s difficulties. Maybe you don’t have joy. Maybe you are not eager to share the gospel with others, and you’re not confident that others have noticed transformation in your life.

If there is no evidence in your life that you are being impacted by the gospel it could be that you are still lost in your sins. Or it could be that you are drifting in your faith. Either way the response is the same. We must turn toward God in faith. It is only the work of God in Christ that saves sinners and transforms them. Therefore, it is only through faith and repentance that we experience the impact of the gospel.  

Let us all continue to grow in the gospel as we daily turn to God. And as we see the impact of the gospel in this church, let us be thankful for his work among us, and be encouraged to press on. 








[i] Green, Gene, The Letters to the Thessalonians

[ii] Roberts, Vaughn. “Marks of a Real Christian.”

[iii] Stott, John. The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Scharf, Greg. Prepared to Preach.

[vi] Stott, John. The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

[vii] Ibid.