The Astonishing Work of the Word of God
1 Thessalonians 2:13-16
Truth Taught- The Gospel message, found in the Scriptures, comes to us from God through human spokesmen.
A few weeks ago we looked at what Paul thanked God for concerning the new Christians in Thessalonica. This was his first thanksgiving…
1 Thessalonians 1:2–5 (ESV)
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.
He thanked God for their unwavering faith. He highlighted their work of faith, labor of love, and steadfast hope. Also, included in his first thanksgiving was their election. He praised God because He had chosen them.
Now we’ll see together Paul’s second thanksgiving concerning the new Christians. If you remember from last week, in his defense he laid out for us one overarching truth and that was that he preached to them the true Gospel, which he called, the Gospel of God. He is thankful to God because when these people heard this message they responded in faith. So, Paul thanks God for their response.
Why does he thank God for their response? An Arminian would not thank God for the response of someone to the Gospel because in their mind anyone can respond on their own. The problem is, that’s not what the Bible teaches at all.
Lets look together at a few passages as we lay the groundwork for Paul’s second thanksgiving concerning the Thessalonian’s response to God’s Word/Gospel. Please notice the importance of prayer and God’s work to enable us to respond properly to God’s Word.
Psalm 119:18 (ESV)
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law.
Psalm 119:36 (ESV)
36 Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
Ephesians 6:17–18 (ESV)
17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
2 Thessalonians 3:1 (ESV)
3 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you,
1 Thessalonians 2:13–16 (ESV)
13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God,
Thanksgiving was the result of the Word of God coming to those in the City of Thessalonica and the response to God’s Word. The Word is a synonym for the Gospel.
1 Thessalonians 1:4–5 (ESV)
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.
I think the best place to begin today is to realize something about God. Our God is the God who speaks in redemptive ways to us. He is in no way obligated to speak to us. There is no external force prompting God to speak. He is never coerced or forced to say anything. So, when He speaks it comes to us from the sovereign God of the universe who loves us.
Even though God’s Word comes to us through human spokesmen it is in no way less God’s Word than if we heard God Himself speak. This is a massive point that we must realize. As God’s apostle Paul is given divine authority to speak to us for God. It is very merciful for God to speak to us through a human spokesman otherwise we could not endure it.
Exodus 20:18–19 (ESV)
18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”
God speaks in redemptive ways and yet because mankind is so sinful we cannot bear even to hear His words of kindness and love. So, He uses divinely ordained spokesmen like Moses and like the Apostle Paul to speak to us.
Now, it’s not surprising that sinful mankind would say things like, well if God wanted to speak to me He should do it Himself. The Bible is just a book written by people.
The Word he speaks to the Thessalonians is the Gospel. We’ve already seen that he gives thanks to God for them. So, with that dynamic in mind he is acknowledging God’s sovereign work in them so their coming to faith is not their work but God’s. God alone receives the glory for our salvation…
God the Father will not get the fullest glory that he should have as the Father unless we come to terms with the fact that he chose me apart from anything in myself. The glory of the Father’s grace in choosing me will not shine as brightly as it ought to until we realize that I was chosen before I was born or had done anything good or evil, according to Romans 9:11.
Romans 9:11 (ESV)
11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—
The Holy Spirit will not get the fullness of his glory if we do not say to him, “We know that by your power alone I was so conquered in my dead, rebellious heart that Christ was made to appear irresistibly beautiful. It was by your work alone and by nothing in me!”
Nothing in me contributed to the fact that Jesus became irresistibly beautiful to me. That’s all the work of the Holy Spirit illumining my mind, stripping away the blindness, and giving me eyes to see. So let the Holy Spirit have the fullness of his glory for my seeing Christ as compelling so that I freely fly to him for forgiveness.
And Jesus Christ will not get his glory if we do not realize that on the cross he bore my sin in such a way that he secured that privilege that the Holy Spirit worked in my heart.
So the point to stress in sharing the gospel is, “I want you to hear the best news in all the world, namely that Christ died for your sins such that if you will believe on him you will be saved. And the way that God gets all the glory in that is for you to realize that he chose you, the Holy Spirit decisively overcomes your deadness, and Christ really did cover all of your sins such that he secured for you even the faith that you are now about to exercise. Would you not believe in this glorious Christ?”
This is God’s Gospel…
His message was the simple and pure Gospel; no frills, nothing fancy, no seeker sensitive watered down message. He did not depend on manipulation, gimmicks, or anything from man’s wisdom. The reason was that he preached the Gospel of God. This was Paul’s standard practice. Just preach truth and watch God work.
1 Corinthians 2:1–5 (ESV)
2 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
We read from our text that those who heard this message of Good News from the missionaries realized that the message they were hearing from men was really a message from God.
that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God.
Now, for us we must ask, Do I view the Bible as God’s Word? We understand that it was written and spoken by men and we realize these men were divinely authorized to speak and write for God. They were prophets and apostles called by God and given this specific task.
When God speaks through a prophet or an apostle then His Word carries with it divine authority. God doesn’t just say things, His Word comes with the mandate to be believed and acted upon.
So, how do we know the early Christians viewed the words of Paul as the Word of God? They were changed by it to such a degree that their actions and behavior reflected their new belief in Jesus Christ.
which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,
God’s Word was at work within them causing them to turn from idols, to walk in Christ, and to bring glory to God. If we accept God’s Word found in the Bible as coming from God then we must be diligent to do what it says because it comes with God’s authority and is ethically binding on us.
Do your actions prove you believe God’s Word?
Children, it’s so important for you to understand that the Bible is the very Words of God. It’s important that you begin reading it yourself, praying through its pages, learning God’s demands and truth, loving it because it is the words of life for us.
The proof that they accepted the Word as coming from God wasn’t found in what they professed to believe but what they did as a result.
God’s Word was at work within them causing them to do what God desired. What were they doing that proved their faith was real and God was working within them? They became imitators of Christ. Here again is the Pauline doctrine of imitation. They were turning from idols to the true God and they were beginning to imitate Christ as they saw Paul and the others also imitate Christ. They were beginning to follow Christ and live and act like Him as they saw this behavior modeled before them by the others.
Specifically here, their imitation was corporately. This infant Church was imitating the Church in Jerusalem as they suffered because of their belief in Jesus Christ. The Church in Jerusalem was suffering great persecution at the hand of the their own countrymen, the Jews. Now, so were the new believers in the City of Thessalonica. The Church in Jerusalem was imitating Jesus in His suffering and now, the infant Church was also enduring suffering because of the truth they believed. So, they were imitating Christ in how they lived and how they endured suffering.
It is clearly the doctrine of perseverance of the saints that is being taught.
John 8:31–32 (ESV)
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Even more specific was the fact that they were suffering at the hands of their own countrymen just like the Church in Jerusalem.
For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,
Here is further proof of their genuine faith. It caused their very own people to turn on them. Families were divided because of Christ. Friends could no longer remain friends, all because of the fact that these new Christians were called to follow Christ, following Christ will never be tolerated by lost friends and family. There will always be some level of persecution because of your love for Jesus.
Matthew 10:34–36 (ESV)
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.
15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
Paul’s desire is to show these new Christ that what they are suffering at the hands of their countrymen is very similar to what God’s people had suffered throughout the centuries. He is speaking here about National Israel, the Jews.
I’m sure, today this would be called anti-Semitic but the reality is that Paul didn’t hate the Jews because they were Jewish, he was a Jew, himself, but was pointing out their evil actions. He accuses them of five things…
-who killed both the Lord Jesus
The fact that the Romans were also involved does not exonerate the Jews. They killed Jesus and they knew it.
Matthew 27:25 (ESV)
25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
-who killed the prophets
Matthew 23:29–30 (ESV)
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’
-drove Paul out of Thessalonica
and drove us out This short phrase ranks Paul with divine authority like the OT prophets whom they killed. They were trying to kill Paul as well but he escaped. This also indicates that it really wasn’t Christianity they were against but God Himself. That’s why they would kill His prophets in the OT.
-they displease God They do so by rejecting His Messiah.
-they are hostile toward all others
and oppose all mankind
The apostle then goes on to explain that their hatred of all others is evident as they oppose the Gospel message going out to the world.
Because of their opposition to the spread of the Gospel, Paul also speaking as God’s Apostle writes,
so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
The wrath and judgment of God was now upon them. Paul may be speaking of the famine now in Judea AD 45-47, Or perhaps the brutal massacre of the Jews in the temple in AD 49 and in the same year the removal of the Jews from Rome. Because 1 Thessalonians was written in AD 50 these events were very fresh in Paul’s mind.
When we read the Bible we are reading God’s very Word. Of all the things God could have said to us He chose to say what is written in the Bible. He is a God who speaks to us by way of Prophets and Apostles because we could not bear actually hearing His voice. He has preserved His Word for us throughout the centuries. When we read the Bible we are reading the very Word of God, what the Bible says, God says.
I pray that as you read God’s Word it will be seen by you not as the word of man but what it really is, the Word of God.
This week as you work through the Daily Worship Guides pray that God would work and make His Word…
Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
John Stott, The Gospel and the End of Time
1 and 2 Thessalonians by Robert Cara
1 and 2 Thessalonians by G K Beale
1 and 2 Thessalonians by Leon Morris
1 and 2 Thessalonians by FF Bruce
1 and 2 Thessalonians by G L Green
 John Piper