1 Thessalonians 1

After his salutation the Apostle, as usual, gives thanks to God for them all, making mention of them in his prayers, as he says: “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.” From the outset we find the eminently practical shape which the truth had taken; as indeed must always be the case where there is the care and activity of the Spirit of God. There is no truth that is not given, both to form the heart, and to guide the steps of the saints, so that there may be a living and a fruitful service flowing to God from it. Such was the case with these Thessalonians; their work was the work of faith, and their labor had love for its spring; and more than that, their hope was one which had proved its divine strength by the power of endurance which it had given them in the midst of their afflictions. It was really the hope of Christ Himself, as it is said “patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.” Thus, we see, all was kept in conscience before God; for this is the meaning of the words—“in the sight of God and our Father.”
All this brings them before the soul of the Apostle in confidence, as being simple-hearted witnesses, not only of the truth, but of Christ the Lord. “For our gospel,” he says, “Came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” The Apostle could unburden himself, and speak freely. With the Corinthians he could not so open his heart: there was such fleshly vaunting among them that the Apostle speaks to them with no small reserve. But here it is otherwise, and as there was fervent love in their hearts and ways, so the Apostle could speak out of the very same love; for assuredly love was not less on his part. Hence he could enlarge with joy on that which was before him—the manner in which the gospel had come to them; and this is of no small consequence in the ways of God. We should by no means pass by a due consideration of the manner in which God deals either with individual souls, or with saints, in any special place. For all things are of God. The effect of a storm of persecution, accompanying the introduction of the gospel, could not have been without its weight in forming the character of the saints who received the truth; and, yet more, the way in which God had wrought—particularly in him who was the bearer of His message—at that time would not be without its modifying influence in giving such a direction to it as would be for the Lord’s glory and praise. I doubt not, therefore, that the Apostle’s entrance among them, the notable accompanying circumstances of it, the faith and love that had been then tried—of course, habitually there, but, nevertheless, put at that juncture to the proof to a remarkable degree at Thessalonica—had all their source in God’s good guidance; so that those that were to follow in the wake of the same faith, who would have to stand and suffer in the name of the same Lord Jesus at a later day, were thus strengthened and fitted as no other way could have done so well, for what was to befall them.
The Apostle, therefore, does not hesitate to say, “Ye became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit: so that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” And this was so true that the Apostle did not need to say anything in proof of it. The very world wondered how the word wrought among these Thessalonians. Men were struck by it; and what impressed even people outside was this—that they not only abandoned their idols, but henceforth were serving the one living and true God, and were waiting for His Son from heaven. Such was the testimony, and an uncommonly bright one it is. But, indeed, simplicity is the secret for enjoying the truth, as well as for receiving it; and we shall find always that it is the sure mark of God’s power in the soul by His Word and Spirit. For there are two things that characterize divine teaching: real simplicity, on the one hand, and, on the other, that definiteness which gives the inward conviction to the Christian that what he has is the truth of God. It might be too much to expect the development, or, at any rate, a large exercise of such precision as this among the Thessalonians as yet; but one may be sure that if there was true simplicity at first, it would lead into distinctness of judgment ere long. We shall find some, features of this kind for our guidance, and I hope to remark upon them as they come before me.
But, first of all, take notice that the first description which is given of them, in relation to the coming of the Lord, is simply awaiting the Son of God from heaven.
We do not well to fasten upon this expression more than it was intended to convey. It does not appear to me to mean anything more than the general attitude of the Christian in relation to Him whom he expects from above. It is the simple fact of their looking for the same Saviour who had already come, whom they had known—that Jesus who had died for them and was raised again from the dead, their Deliverer from the wrath to come. Thus they were waiting for this mighty and gracious Saviour to come from heaven. How He was coming they knew not; what would be the effects of His coming they knew little. They of course knew nothing about the time, no soul does; it is reserved in the hands of our God and Father; but they were, as became babes, waiting for Him according to His own Word. Whether He would take them back into the heavens, or at once enter on the kingdom under the whole heaven, I am persuaded they did not know at this time.
It seems therefore a mistake to press this text, as if it necessarily taught Christ’s coming in order to translate saints into heaven. It leaves the aim, mode, and result an entirely open matter. We may find ourselves sometimes forcing Scripture in this way; but be assured, it is true wisdom to draw from Scripture no more than it distinctly undertakes to convey. It is much better, if with fewer texts, to have them more to the purpose. We shall find ere long the importance of not multiplying proof-texts for any particular aim, but of seeking rather from God the definite use of each Scripture. Now all that the Apostle has here in view is to remind the Thessalonian saints that they were waiting for that same Deliverer, who was dead and risen, to come from heaven. It is likely that as His coming is presented in the character of Son of God, it may suggest more to the spiritual mind, and probably did suggest more to them at a later day. I am only speaking of what is important to bear in mind at their first conversion. It was the simple truth that the divine person, who loved them and died for them, was coming back from heaven. What would be the manner and the consequences they had yet to learn. They were waiting for Him who had proved His love for them deeper than death or judgment; and He was coming: how could they but love Him and wait for Him?