Welcome to Mining the Word!
This is the fourth part of an ongoing series in which we take an in-depth look at scripture. We’re currently working our way through Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to go back and read part one, ‘Introducing 1 Thessalonians‘, part two, ‘1 Thessalonians 1:1‘, and part three, ‘1 Thessalonians 1:2-3.’
Now, let’s take a look at 1 Thessalonians 1:4
1 Thessalonians 1:4 – A Brief Summary of Paul’s Thanksgiving (Continued)
“…knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you…” – Thessalonians 1:4
While going through trials, it’s easy to feel like nobody cares. This is especially true when we face opposition from others. We can begin to feel like everyone opposes us. It can create feelings of loneliness and even hopelessness.
The Thessalonians were facing this kind of opposition. We know from Acts that Paul was run out of Thessalonica because certain people in town were accusing him of treason (See Acts 17:1-9). It’s not a stretch to imagine that some of these same people would have opposed this newborn congregation. So what could Paul say to encourage them? How do you inspire people who feel like foreigners in their own hometowns?
Paul’s solution to these questions was simple. He reminded them that, though everyone might oppose them, God was on their side.
A History of Brotherly Language
Paul calls these Thessalonian believers ‘brothers.’ And in doing so, he acknowledges that they are members of God’s family. The practice of using sibling-language for the people of God goes all the way back to the book of Exodus. While still part of Pharaoh’s household, Moses “went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren” (Exodus 2:11).
Throughout the Old Testament, ‘brethren’ and ‘brothers’ are consistently used to refer to others who are part of the family of God. It’s worthy of note though, that in the Old Testament, most of these people were blood relatives. They were all descendants of Abraham. So they really were, in a sense, brothers.
So when the Gentiles were incorporated into the family of God, it might have made sense to call them something other than brothers. But as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). God created one family, including both Jew and Gentile.
Jews and Gentiles, One Family
As a result of this, Gentiles are fully brothers and sisters. And Paul wants these Gentile Christians to know that.
There are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. If you’ve entered by faith, you are a full heir.
What better news could there be for a group of believers who are living under opposition and potential oppression?
If they were ever tempted to feel alone or cast off, all they had to do was remember that they were part of God’s family. They were brothers and sisters.
The same is true for us today. When we’re discouraged or feel like no one cares, we ought to return to this simple fact. Through faith, God has introduced us into his family. We are sons and daughters of God. We are brothers and sisters in the household of God.
But that’s not all…
Beloved By God…
Over a thousand years before Paul wrote this epistle, Moses told the people of Israel something similar.
“The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
Moses emphasized the fact that God loved Israel. In fact, he explicitly says that God chose Israel purely out of his love.
This thread of ‘God’s love’ weaves its way throughout both the Old and New Testaments. And it finds its ultimate fulfillment in that familiar verse from John’s gospel, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God does not choose us based on our ability, our good behavior, or our good looks. He chooses us because he created us and he loves us.
What good news this must have been to the Thessalonians. Even if everyone else opposed and hated them, God loved them.
And what’s even more glorious is that it’s just as true for us as it was for them.
God loves us.
When it seems like we’re surrounded by nothing but hate and hostility, there’s no greater words to hear than, “But God loves you.” And this is what Paul is saying to the Thessalonians. God loves you.
But, one might ask, how do we know God loves us?
We know God loves us because he chose us.
His Choice of You…
What Paul Isn’t Saying…
The word translated ‘choice’ by the NASB is translated ‘election’ by the KJV. This is one of those topics that we could spend our entire lives discussing and debating. But I’d rather not. Instead, I want to focus on a couple of thoughts that might help us better grasp what Paul is saying here.
We need to understand that when Paul talks about God’s ‘election’ or ‘choice’, his point is not to create a theoretical doctrine. His point is to comfort believers and point them to the calling God has placed on their lives. Too often, theologians have taken Paul’s simple, practical words and constructed grand theologies that do little more than divide. This isn’t to say that theology isn’t important. But it is to say that we ought to be careful about making the main thing, the main thing.
Paul isn’t teaching a theology class here. He’s comforting persecuted believers. To put it another way, too many people have made Paul one of Job’s comforters – more concerned with explaining esoteric theological ideas than grappling with the complex reality in which he lived.
What Paul is Saying…
Paul wants to remind these believers that God has chosen them.
As I reflect on my life, I can remember times when someone chose me. While in elementary school, I won a drawing contest that our local library put on. They chose me. And as a result, it encouraged me to draw more than ever. Likewise, I remember asking my wife out on a date when we were in college. When she said ‘Yes’, I experienced an unusual excitement. And I wasn’t only excited, it made me want to be around her more. Why? She chose me.
Likewise, the reminder that God has chosen us, should thrill us! Who are we, that God would choose us? And yet that’s exactly what has happened.
The almighty Creator of heaven and earth chose us.
What a thought!
If we keep Paul’s words here in context, we’ll see that Paul was reminding the Thessalonians about who they were.
They were members of God’s family.
They were loved by the Father.
They were chosen by God.
These are the things we most need to hear when we’re going through difficult times. In fact, I believe we need to hear these things all of the time. If we can remember these things, we’ll desire to persevere. We will want to give God our all. We will draw ever closer to him.
For Next Week…
Starting in verse 5, Paul details the history of the Thessalonian congregation and his relationship with them. You can go ahead and read 1 Thessalonians 1 again in order to prepare. I’m not sure how far we’ll get. In the meantime, reflect on the thoughts we’ve uncovered this week. There’s much to consider and more to come.