The Sermon for Sunday, October 22nd, 2023, the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 96; Malachi 3:6-12; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
The Text: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
The Topic: Exemplary Faith
Robert Browning once wrote a poem entitled “Pippa Passes” about an Italian girl. Because of her poverty and destitute family, she was forced to work every day during the entire year in the silk mills, but on New year’s Day she was given the day off. In sheer joy, she walked through the streets of her town in northeast Italy, singing a song of faith with words that said:
The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in his Heaven –
All’s right with the world!
As she walked down the narrow streets, her thankful heart free and overflowing, her song reached people just at a critical moment in their lives. An unwed couple were moved to make some changes in their lives. An artist on the verge of losing his temper was calmed. An anarchist intent on assassinating the Austrian emperor was halted. A churchman planning to murder a child for money was smitten with remorse.
Pippa returned home from her walk later in the day, unaware of the unseen effects of her attitude and her song.
1 THESSALONIANS 1:1-10: GIVING THANKS FOR THE EXAMPLE OF FAITH
Our Second Lesson today recounts the reasons for which Ss. Paul and Silas give thanks to God for the Thessalonian Christians. When we read this passage, let us note what a powerful effect the Thessalonian Christians’ example of faith had on the rest of the Church. These were not lackluster Christians with a weak and stagnant faith, but they were dynamic, strong in faith, hope and love, and well-known for their bold witness to Christ the Lord.
THE MARKS OF EXEMPLARY FAITH
What, then, were the distinguishing characteristics of the Thessalonians’ faith in the Lord?
First of all, the effect of their example was so remarkable that St. Paul and Silas (Silvanus) gave thanks always to God for them all whenever they mentioned them in their prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2). Why were they always thanking God for the Thessalonian Christians? Paul and Silas continually remembered three things: their work of faith, their labor of love and their patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ before God the Father (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
To appreciate this statement more fully, we must remind ourselves of how the Thessalonians first came to faith. Acts 16 contains the account of how Paul and Silas encountered such opposition at Philippi that they were beaten and jailed. After the conversion of the jailer and the magistrates’ release of Paul and Silas, they continue on the next leg of their Second Missionary Journey through Macedonia and arrive in Thessalonica. There they preach the Gospel in the Jewish synagogue, with the result that some Jews believe, many Greeks, and some of the prominent women of the city. But the Jews that did not believe stirred up the city, and after Paul and Silas had been released by the authorities, the Thessalonian Church sent them away to Berea by night (Acts 17:10). The Thessalonian Christians came to faith through St. Paul’s preaching, and turned wholly to the Lord, but they did so in the face of persecution from the Jews at Thessalonica, and still they stood firm in their new faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul and Silas had spent such a short time there preaching the Gospel, that their bold and determined reception of the Gospel and their immediate response in faith were powerful in their effect on all who heard the account of how they came to faith in the Lord.
The faith of the Thessalonians was indeed a work of God the Holy Spirit, who had caused them to turn from idols (at least the Greek believers had done so) to “the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). When I speak of faith as a work, it is the work of God in the hearts of people, not their own good deed or work. Faith is a work of God as much today in the midst of a culture that is becoming increasing hostile to Christianity as it was in the Roman Empire during the first century A.D. But, though faith is the work of God, Christians have a share in it since they must make the decision to believe in the Gospel after hearing it. The phrase “your work of faith” both honors God for his work in giving birth to the faith of the Thessalonian Christians and acknowledges the Thessalonians’ momentous decision to turn away from their idols, to believe in Jesus Christ, and to receive and follow him as Lord.
In addition, the Thessalonian Church was exemplary for its “labor of love” (1 Thess. 1:3), since their coming to faith had demonstrated their supreme love for God, and their love for the missionaries who had preached the Gospel to them, as well as their love for one another and for all to whom they in turn brought the good news of the Gospel. Their love for St. Paul and St. Silas was clear from the way they cared for their safety in sending them to Berea at night (Acts 17:10) to save them from violence at the hands of their Jewish persecutors.
The third aspect of the Thessalonian Church’s exemplary witness is the patience of their hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God the Father (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Their hope refers to their patience in joyfully waiting for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. These three aspects of the Thessalonian witness demonstrate the fact that God has elected them to be faithful Christians and inheritors of God’s eternal kingdom (1 Thessalonians 1:4). This election by God is demonstrated not only in the mere preaching of the Gospel, but in God’s power, in the Holy Spirit, and in the great assurance with which the Gospel was preached and received (1 Thess. 1:5). The result of this powerful preaching was that the Thessalonians became followers of the missionaries, Ss. Paul and Silas, as well as followers of the Lord, when they received God’s word in great tribulation (persecution by their fellow-citizens) but with the joy given by the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:6). The result of this was that the Thessalonian Christians became an example to all the faithful in Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess. 1:7-8). Part of the reason for this was that Thessalonica (Saloniki today) stood at the center of an important Roman road, the Ignatian Way, and was an important trade hub and commercial center in the Roman Empire. The news of their faith could travel fast to all of Macedonia and Achaia, because of Thessalonica’s position on the Ignatian Way that connected Macedonia and Achaia.
Now the last aspect of the Thessalonian Christians’ example is waiting for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven (1 Thess.1:10). We misunderstand this waiting, though, if we think it just means giving up work and the duties of life on earth simply to wait for the Lord Jesus Christ to come again. Rather, while doing our duty in the state of life to which God has called us, we live our lives in the hope of the Lord Jesus Christ’s Second Coming, for this is also the hope of our resurrection to life eternal. If we are to live in this hope, we must ensure that we live our lives according to God’s will, to please him in all that we do.
CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
How will you live your life, so that your witness to Christ may be a good example to the faithful for which they continually give thanks to God?
 p.277, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Illustrations. Dallas, Texas: Thomas Nelson, 2007.