Notes of Readings: 1 Thessalonians 1

1 Thessalonians 1
IT is very blessed to get back to the beginning of things. We come to the first epistle written to see what was given and the character of the people formed from it. We get precious and fundamental truths, and a people who are acting in great simplicity. It is refreshing; in the midst of so much denial of the truth it is exceedingly refreshing to get into the word, and there we are in a different atmosphere.
Here we find " the church which is in God the Father." There was no bringing out of God as Father before the resurrection of Christ; Christ could say " My Father," but there was no bringing Him out as such for us-we could not say " God our Father " until the resurrection. When Christ was raised from the dead He was made the Head of the church. It is now that we have the full revelation of God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father. You see how that is brought out in Ephesians, " Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." We have in the first chapter of Ephesians God's counsels as " the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," in regard to our heavenly place, His having sons in glory-sons unto Himself. You see how it is that the church is spoken of as being in God the Father.
Now also the full title of Christ is brought out. Jesus was His human name; when He is raised on high He is made both Lord and Christ; thus we have the full revelation of Him in resurrection, and the church is linked with Him there. So we become the occasion of the fullest, most wonderful revelation of God and of Jesus Christ. When the church loses the sense of its ground and place, all truth gets lost. No wonder, because it contains in its very idea and position all truth.
Then we have what is common in the epistles, the announcement of " grace and peace," not mercy; mercy is used in connection with "grace and peace" in epistles which are individual, as Timothy, Titus, Philemon, etc. You would gather from that, that there is a difference in the church in its standing before God, and the man who may need mercy in regard to the body and his daily walk, and even though the church may be in failure and be doing badly, yet God always says " grace and peace." Suppose I find my children all in confusion and in a quarrel, and I go among them to quell the disturbance. Of course, if I have not peace myself, I cannot make peace; but if I have peace I can bring peace, because I have it in my own heart. When Christ sent out the twelve to preach among the Jews, He said, " Into whatsoever house ye enter, say peace be unto this house." God is the God of peace, and He announces peace. Here then, peace is from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the church.
The first thing is thanksgiving. Necessarily one might say, I might be thankful if I were going out-among a parcel of heathens, because I would have the truth to tell them. But supposing men have received the truth and have come into their place; then I am more thankful still. Here everything is simple and sweet, and it is all thankfulness, "We give thanks to God always for you all," It is a company composed of those only who are saved; no mixed multitude there. " Making mention of you in our prayers." He had the care of all the assemblies. He always had them before him. He was the minister of the church; he is the one to whom was given a distinct ministration of the church. The more one enters into Paul's truth, the more he will have the state of the church on his heart.
We find in the third verse the three things that constitute Christian character and life, "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope." Now we have these three things spoken of; they are the foundation characteristics of the Christian, "faith," " love " and "hope." You remember it says in 1 Cor. 13 "Now abideth faith, hope, love; the greatest of these is love." They abide, they belong to the Christian as such. In Romans we get their origin, " Being justified by faith, we have peace with God." In looking back on the cross we see what is done for us. The perfect work of Christ has given us peace, perfect peace. And then comes hope, " We rejoice in hope of the glory." There is also our present standing, " By whom we have access unto this grace, or favor, wherein we stand." We stand in the position of favor before God. We have love exercised towards us in that position of favor in which we are. Faith gives peace, but the present position is the result of love. We are standing in Christ. Thus we have, in that same connection, " The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts." It is God's love.
All these things are perfectly certain. I am just as sure in regard to the future, as to the past. I know Christ has come and died for me, and I am safe, the word of God gives me that with perfect certainty. Then Christ has assured me He is coming again. It is not hope in the sense of uncertainty; never do you get in Scripture the idea of uncertainty in regard to hope. There are three kinds of assurance spoken of, " the assurance of faith," " the assurance of hope," " the assurance of understanding." I am perfectly certain because I believe what God says. I am perfectly sure in regard to the past, because God has told me that Christ died, and the result of that death, and that is faith. I am perfectly sure in regard to the future because God has told me that I am to be with Christ in the glory, and that is hope. I am perfectly sure in regard to the present because I understand what God has told about this mystery of Christ and the church, and I know about it, and therefore I am assured; it is the common and constant condition of the child of God during the present interval. I am assured in the past, present and future. " We are always confident." Now is not that wonderful? These three things, "faith, hope and love," are seen here in exercise. There is the "work of faith" and the "labor of love," and the "patient endurance of hope."
What is the work of faith? What is faith itself? Faith takes me away from any trust in myself and casts me upon what God tells me about Jesus Christ having died for me. I get this and have peace; " He was delivered for my offenses and raised again for my justification." There is the whole thing. Believing in God I get peace. What would be the work which would flow out from that? It would be the continued abandonment of self. I would not expect to find anything in man. I have found everything in Christ, and what He has done. Take the case of Abraham; he believed God; then God came to Abraham and said, " Take thy son Isaac whom thou lovest, and sacrifice him." Now God had told him that He was the Almighty God, and he believed Him; on that account he could take his son Isaac and say, If the Lord kills Isaac He can raise him up again, yes, twenty times, if necessary. The work of faith is letting go of my present things of sight, and just resting on God's word. You will see the character of this in the ninth verse of this chapter, "They turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven." Do you not see how sad it is in this day that nine-tenths of professing Christians do not know that they are saved, they have not peace, they are not getting God's word in regard to it, and are not settled? Who gives them the assurance of salvation among those who teach them? I have ground in God's word for perfect peace, and now I let go of myself and rest on Him, and thus let everything go, self, world and all.
Then comes " the labor of love." Now it is God's love shed abroad in my own heart. It is not my love, because human love is not worth anything. Having become a new man in Christ Jesus, His love is shed abroad in my heart, and that is the love I trade with. The "labor of love " is God's love going out in ten thousand forms towards others. It is expressing itself towards the brethren and men outside in all forms. He could look at these people and say, I see all these things; you are resting in God and have peace, and I find that love is there and it is going out in various forms; it is shed abroad in the heart.
Then there is their "patient endurance of hope." He says in Rom. 5, " We rejoice in hope of the the glory of God," and then " rejoice in tribulations." The moment I see this is not my home, as a man of faith, I am apart from it, but I may pass through tribulations of various kinds; I have this hope and I can bear it patiently. Take the case of Christendom today; people have not the hope of His coming, nor peace with God, and how can they bear these things? They are sorrowful and weighed down, and people who are nominally Christians, and perhaps real believers, are tossed about in their minds, and anxious and careful, and as much seeking after the world as anybody, just because they do not have this hope, the waiting for the Lord Jesus to come. Supposing you are constantly waiting for the coming of the Lord, expecting Him the next minute, or hour, and a man cheats you. You can say, "I have enough." If I find you acting in that way, I know that some good news has come to you. I know that the word of God has come to you and has power over you. These people had been heathen only a little while ago. Outside of them were heathen. They were in trouble and anxious, and in all sorts of things which were evil, and these men were brought from all that by the blood of the cross, and were looking forward to the glory. They cared for no future here on the earth. They were strangers to all these things. Their love flowed out; it was grace towards everybody. It is necessary that these three things should be found active in the Christian life. Here they are. You find in regard to the Thessalonians that they were in great tribulation, and Paul himself was driven out of Thessalonica.
Q. Is there a difference between believing in the second coming of Christ, and hoping for His coming?
A. Yes; the second coming with many is a matter of doctrine which has not any power over the heart or conscience; it is the formula of what I believe The hope expresses the desire and the heart is fastened upon it. I have not a thing here, it is all up there. It is not simply a dry intellectual proposition that we believe in the coming of Christ, and that HE will come sometime, but I am reaching out toward Him. These people were actually looking for His coming. The apostle in writing the epistle to them found them there, and he closes up the epistle, and he tells them they are right. He even spurs up their hearts more and more, and gives them more clearly to apprehend that He may come at any moment. He does not say, Now I know He will not come for eighteen hundred years. No; he leaves them more intent for His coming. People sometimes say, "Did the Holy Ghost not know when the epistle to the Thessalonians was written that He was not coming for eighteen hundred years?" But that is not it. He teaches you at the beginning and up to the end that He is coming. The proper Christian condition of heart should be waiting for the Lord; it is to be absolutely waiting and longing for Him. I know that the objection is often brought that the Thessalonians were wrong. If Paul by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost wrote this to them, it must be true, and the right truth to tell them. Why did he not tell them if he knew that eighteen hundred years must elapse? No, he kept them there. You follow this through and see if you do not find more argument for the Lord Jesus Christ to come than you do at the beginning of it.
Q. It has been a question with me whether Paul expected the coming of the Lord in his day?
A. Why, of course, as much as you and I do. Paul was not the Holy Ghost. He did not know anything but what he was told; the Holy Ghost did not tell him He was not coming. It was the proper Christian state; it was just as much their Christian state as to know that they were saved. Do you wonder whether Paul knew he was saved? If he did not know that he was not fit to teach anybody. How could he tell about a present salvation if he did not know it himself How could he talk about the coming of the fiord if his own heart was not there? Paul is not reserving anything; he is not handling the word of God deceitfully. He has been telling of the coming of the Lord as the specific hope. It is one thing for me to be waiting for the coming of the Lord to-day, and another thing for me to know that it is the thing for the Christian to do. I have been asked why I think Christ may come at any moment now? Well, it is what the Holy Ghost places before me there as the hope. There may be reasons for one saying he expects Him very soon. In Matt. 25, when the virgins were at last waked up, the bridegroom came directly. I know that God is waking up the people by the cry of " behold the bridegroom." As soon as they went out to meet Him He came.
Q. " In such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh." Does that mean the same?
A. No; that is not the coming of the Lord; He is " Lord " to us, but " Son of Man " to the world.
Q. Is it not common for people to put death between them and the coming of the Lord?
A. They make too much of death then. I ought not to think of death, for it is out of God's vocabulary. In Heb. 9:2727And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: (Hebrews 9:27), it says, " It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment,' but I have ceased to be that man, I am a new man I used to look as a sinner for that which was appointed to me, " death " and then "judgment;" but now it is not to the new man " death" and then "judgment," but it is the anticipation of Christ,-for it says " So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation." He take up those that are alive and remain to His coming the people who have gone to the Lord are waiting for His coming, they will be raised and we are to b€ changed. We are to be conformed to His image soul and body. Then, I am a new man in spirit, but I have not the body of which we learn in Phil. 3, the body of glory. If I depart to be with Christ, that is not the same as having the resurrection and the body o glory, therefore if I depart to be with Christ I am waiting for Him. Christ is waiting for it. Those who do not depart shall be caught up.
Q. Will not those Christians who are not looking for Him lose in some way?
A. He could not take up part of His body and leave others. He ceases to deal with His own down here in the world the moment the resurrection comes.
Q. It says " Unto them that look for him, shall He appear the second time?"
A. It has not anything to do with the intelligence of looking. "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment." The natural condition of the unbeliever is, he is going to death and judgment. He anticipates it and he looks for it. I do not say that he looks for it intelligently, but it is before him. Now he becomes a new man, and the coming of Christ is before him. It is not the intelligence of looking. We have now come into a condition in which it belongs to us that we are to be looking for Him.
Q. How about the ten virgins?
A. Well, at first they were looking for Him; they all fell asleep, but that is not death; they all got indifferent. It was the difference between the Thessalonian condition when they were all waiting patiently and what we have seen since for eighteen hundred years, except in a dry doctrinal way, a second advent way, that He would reign. Now the voice goes forth, and every day the company is becoming larger and larger, and we are having it as the Thessalonians had it. It is a little company; there were five only of the ten virgins who were really ready. There was the oil, the Holy Spirit having its place, and giving light; the others were not ready. They were professing Christians, but they did not have the Holy Ghost. They were not Christ's at all. It is not a question of intelligent looking there, but it is a question of being saved. They had not any oil, and the oil sets forth the Spirit. They were professing, because they were virgins. There was a little portion ready, but they were all asleep at one time. The whole professing church has been asleep on the question of the coming of the Bridegroom. They have not been asleep as to the doctrinal statement of the second advent of Christ. That has been believed in all ages. That is looking more into the subject of prophecy, and it has not the power over the heart and conscience. This is not a looking for the reign of Christ at all. The Bridegroom does not reign, he comes to the bride. It is a matter of the heart altogether. It is that character of the coming of Christ which was lost, and not that which you get in Matt. 24
Verse 4. " Knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election." " Beloved of God," we are entitled to know that we are beloved of God. Well, in one sense the sinner is, for " God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth should not perish, but have everlasting life; " but if God has made me His own child, brought me into relationship to Himself as a child, and I am linked forever with his Son, He loves me as a son.
In 2 Tim. 1:99Who 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, (2 Timothy 1:9), we get " Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began." God has a purpose with all the people He saves now. He has connected them with his thoughts before the world began. The Old Testament saints had not this purpose of grace pointed out to them. We have it. " He has called us with a holy calling." In Heb. it is the " heavenly calling." It is the distinctive character of the salvation of the present day, the day of the Holy Ghost. We have a place with the risen Man in heaven. Israel was beloved too, but the peculiarity of our place is marked out in our relation to God, " Knowing, beloved of God, your election." How does he know it? He knew it by certain things going out. Grace formed their character. No one except he is taught by the Holy Ghost can ever speak to God as his Father.
Verse 5. " Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance." There are three things-with power, with the Holy Ghost, and with much assurance. It is the primitive condition of things: the gospel came in a primitive way, " with much assurance." The gospel should be preached every time so that it should give the assurance of eternal life to every one that believes; it should be presented to him in such a way that in believing he may know that he is saved. No one ever preaches the gospel scripturally except he does that. Any one who leaves a man in uncertainty, is not preaching the gospel as. God gives it now.
Verse 6. Here was the result: " Ye became followers of us and of the Lord." A gospel given with much assurance and in the Holy Ghost, must result in this and make character, so they became followers of the Lord Jesus. But he says, too, " of us." Paul's place was in connection with the heavenly glory: he stood as the representative of the heavenly truth. To become a follower of Paul was to get outside of the world completely and take the heavenly place. It is not simply taking Christ to be a leader, but it is that I have known what it is to pass through death and to be joined to Him, to be risen with Him -it is to be another man. There was one thing which intensified it, Paul himself was very much persecuted in Thessalonica: they received it through much persecution. It does not hurt the word or us if there is a little trial in getting it. Where the gospel and the truth of God is given, it results in trial of that kind.
Verse 8. " From you sounded out." He did not have to tell people what he preached, for each one who heard him was an epistle, a gospel. It ought to show out. Think of the way it is spoken of in the Phil. 1:2727Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; (Philippians 1:27): " Only let your conversation be as become the gospel," your whole habit of life. All conduct speaks: so the trade I take up; the tone of all I do. I have heard good news from home, good news from the glory, and my conduct is to be that of a heavenly man: it is not to be under the law, though it does not allow any shade of immorality, no not the least. Well, this was what the Thessalonians were. It changed them from poor heathens to be heavenly men.
In verses 9 and 10 it tells you what it was, " Ye turned to God," that is always the first: we always turn to, before we turn from. People say you have to stop drinking and swearing, etc., and then pray to God and He will forgive you, and so on; but it is the other way-they turn to God first. I can never stop sinning until I am a new man. You cannot make yourself acceptable to God by stopping sinning. They had be n idolaters and they turned to God: their idolatry had a thousand forms of moral evil: they turned from that, but first of all to God. " Turned to God from idols," that is the beginning. Now what is the middle? " Serve: " they had Him then as the living God and they were serving Him. Of course, serving God is not serving my own self, or doing as I please, but it is getting the thing from God and knowing what I am to do: it is God I serve; God in resurrection.
" And to wait for His Son: " How simple that is. They served the living and true God, ready to stop at any moment and be caught up. In chapter 4. you will find that was to come, and, therefore, they were ready at any moment to stop; they served, not to make things better, or improve the world, but the living and true God. You must never think of results or success, but of the person you are serving. Then we have this "waiting for His Son." Is not that simple? Keep waiting.
In connection with this, there are two things, " Jesus whom He raised from the dead." He is actually up there, and so emphatic is that, that he begins an argument with—it in the 4th chapter, " If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him." They believed that He was raised up from the dead. They look up into heaven and know that all condemnation is gone. " Jesus whom He raised from the dead hath delivered them from the wrath to come."
My place is to see Him where He is on His Father's throne. How did He get there? He was raised up because God was satisfied with His work for you; He took your sins in His own body on the tree. In Rom. 6:99Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. (Romans 6:9), we are told that death hath no more dominion over Him. Jesus was raised from the dead, and He delivered them from the wrath to come.
He is declared to be the Son of God, and He says He is the same Jesus who was down here. We had these three things pertaining to Christian life, faith, love and hope. Then we had the character of the gospel coming with power, the Holy Ghost and much assurance. Then their receiving it, and the result of it, " they turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, even Jesus, whom He raised from the dead, who delivered them from the wrath to come." T.