Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10
Paul is continuing to give thanks to God for these believers. He begins that praise in v2. In the statement of Divine sovereign election to salvation Paul makes in v4, there is an important aspect of the praise of God in the Christian life. Christian joy and praise in large measure is the expression of thanks to God for His saving mercy and the works of His grace.
In v3 he references general evidences of grace in their lives that prompt him to praise God.
- Work of faith, v3. Faith to be thankful for is active/‘energetic’. Cp James 2:14-20. Paul gives prominence to the faith that originates in God here. See 2Pet 1:5-11.
- Labour of love, v3. The activity becomes more intensive. Labour > ‘to toil’. The ideas of beating and grief are here. Sorrowful, excruciating labour is in view. To have this associated with the expression of Christian love is striking indeed. To express Christian love often involves such difficulty and self-denial. Cp Eph 5:25, 1Cor 13:4, 7. Even against such a backdrop, true Christian love show itself. See Heb 6:9-10.
- Patience of hope, v3. The spirit of endurance marked their endeavours. Here is a key evidence of true conversion to Christ, Matt 13:20-21, Heb 10:38-39. It was fuelled by confidence in Christ. Cp Heb 6:18-20.
- In the sight of God…, v3. An awareness of Divine oversight. The wicked are marked by an absence of any fear of God, Ps 10:4. Divine grace produces and instills such an awareness. Paul gives thanks in the sight of God; they had labored in the sight of God. Cp Heb 6:10.
In v4 he considers a more specific matter—their election to salvation—yet this too touches upon every aspect of their lives and behaviour. He praises God because he ‘knows’ what he states in v4. He is led to this conclusion and knowledge by a detailed consideration of the evidence for it which is stated, v3, 5-10. He rehearses in detail what he knows and why so that they might know this about themselves too and rejoice in the mercy of God as Paul does for them. Christian joy springs from a certain assurance that I am one of God’s elect, and this assurance is based on the solid evidence Paul discusses in this passage.
THANKSGIVING IS PROMPTED BY AN ASSURANCE OF THEIR ELECTION.
Election of God. The doctrine of Divine election is a Biblical reality. God had from all eternity chosen sinners in Thessalonica whom He purposed to save. The following Scriptures state the matter clearly:
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14. That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.
2 Timothy 1:9. Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. The point to underscore here is that the call of God is not based on our works. Many try to define God’s electing grace as based on a foresight of faith or obedience by the sinners He chooses. This is not what the Bible teaches at all! The saving choice of God is free, sovereign and entirely in mercy.
Ephesians 1:4. According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love. The saving purpose of God involves choosing sinners in Christ before their creation. This was not a choice that any man had input to but was a result of the counsels of the eternal Father with the eternal Son.
Matthew 11:25-26. At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. The Father as Lord of Heaven and earth determined who would see and understand the gospel; and who would remain in the darkness of nature with the gospel remaining hid in their case. This is a doctrine that is to cause joyful praise to God! Christ sets the example which Paul follows in the passage before us in 1 Thessalonians.
Acts 13:48. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. A definite number is in view here. Every one who responded in faith to the preached word, did so because they were ordained ( ‘assigned’, or ‘disposed’) to eternal life. That ordination is the sovereign work of God alone.
1 Peter 1:2. Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. The purpose of God is stated here and the means He uses to accomplish that purpose. His purpose is to bring sinners to obey the gospel and to have them cleansed and pardoned by the blood of Jesus. The means to accomplish this are: first, His foreknowledge and election; and second, the powerful work of the Holy Ghost to apply Christ’s work of redemption to elect sinners. An understanding of this truth is the means of grace and peace being multiplied in the life of the Christian.
This truth is foundational to the prayerful gratitude of the Apostle here! He praises God for a sovereign work of grace and mercy. In this way the praise for salvation belongs exclusively and entirely to the Lord—not the preacher, not these converts. Failure to recognize Biblically defined electing grace robs God of His glory and silences thankful prayer.
Paul was certain of the election of God in the life of these saints. …knowing, v4. The decree of election is the secret counsel of God in eternity past. It was worked out in the counsel chambers of eternity with the eternal Trinity. Yet it may be confidently known, recognized and discerned. Just as when I have an x-ray taken at the hospital, I cannot see the x-rays, nor the bones they expose, but I can see the visible evidence of them having been at work as I look at the developed x-ray negative. There is a deep mystery that is made visible! In the gospel, the mysterious and secret sovereign work of God is made visible in man’s spiritual experience by certain evidences. We can be absolutely sure of God’s choice by considering the Biblical evidence for it.
Romans 8:28-30. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. The certainty of God’ purpose being worked out in His elect is clearly stated here. His sovereign choice leads inevitably to glorification in the likeness of the Saviour.
2 Peter 1:10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: The these things he references are the graces which God’s people are promised v3-11; which the power of God applies to them; and which they must strive after. This is a matter that we can know and personally be sure of. The visible evidences of grace that Paul immediately goes on to consider in the following verses are such as to enable this assurance.
John 6:37, 44. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out….No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. Salvation, here stated from the human perspective of coming to Christ, is the direct result of Divine choice. No man has the power of himself to come to Christ. He must be drawn and enabled by irresistible grace that makes him both willing and able to come in faith to Christ.
Paul refers to these elected saints as beloved brethren…, v4. There are two thoughts suggested here:
- Electing grace is based on sovereign love. The word order of the translation may be altered to read alternatively, ‘brethren beloved of God’. See Romans 9:13-16: As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. The choice of God to save some and reject others must be understood an act of love and mercy when all deserve to be left. It is only a false sense of entitlement that leads men to dispute this! When men feel they deserve something better than to be passed by and left to wrath they dispute God’s right to save who He pleases. I have heard misguided Christians dispute this doctrine and say: But surely every sinner deserves a chance to hear. No! No sinner deserves anything but eternal wrath. I have heard it stated that it is hard to understand why God should hate Esau. That is easy to understand. What is truly hard to understand is how God could love Jacob who was equally a sinner by nature.
- Those who give the evidence that they are elect are beloved brethren. See 1 John 5:1: Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. Those who give evidence of election are to be regarded as in the family of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, and loved accordingly.