A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 1:4 c). The church is a community which is loved and chosen by God.
To whatever denomination or tradition we may belong, the doctrine of election causes us difficulties and questions. To be sure, it is a truth which runs through Scripture, beginning with the call of Abraham (Gn. 12:1ff.) and later his choice of Israel ‘out of all nations’ to be his ‘treasured possession…a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ (Ex.19:5-6). This vocabulary is deliberately transferred in the New Testament to the Christian community (E.g. 1 Pet 2:5, 9-10). Moreover, the topic of election is nearly always introduced for a practical purpose, in order to foster assurance (not presumption), holiness (not moral apathy), humility (not pride) and witness (not lazy selfishness). But still no explanation of God’s election is given except God’s love. This is clear in Deuteronomy: ‘The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you…’ (Dt.7:7-8; cf.4:37). Similarly in 1 Thessalonians 1:4 Paul unites the love of God and the election of God (As in 2 Thess.2:13 and Eph.1:4). That is, he chose us because he loves us, and he loves us because he loves us. He does not love us because we are loveable, but only because he is love. And with that mystery we must rest content.
But before we leave this subject, we need to note the assertion made by Paul, Silas and Timothy that they *know* their brothers and sisters in Thessalonica to have been loved and chosen by God. God’s election, however, is essentially a secret known to him alone (2 Tim.2:19). So how could the missionaries possibly dare to claim that they knew it? They tell us. They give two bases for their knowledge, the first in the following verse (5), relating to their evangelism, and the second in the previous verse (3), relating to the Thessalonians’ holiness. Both were evidences of the activities of the Holy Spirit, first in the missionaries (giving power to their preaching) and secondly in the converts (producing in them faith, love and hope), and therefore of the election of the Thessalonians. This shows that the doctrine of election, far from making evangelism unnecessary, makes it indispensable. For it is only through the preaching and receiving of the gospel that God’s secret purpose comes to be revealed and known.
Here, then, is Paul’s threefold delineation of the church. It is a community beloved and chosen by God in a past eternity, rooted in God and drawing its life from him, and exhibiting this life of God in a faith which works, a love which labours and a hope which endures. What stands out of Paul’s vision of the church is its God-centredness. He does not think of it as a human institution, but as the divine society. No wonder he could be confident in its stability!
The fourth part of Paul’s representation of the church is that it is a community which receives and transmits the gospel. But this belongs to the next section, as we turn from the church of God to the gospel of God.
Tomorrow: 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 2). The gospel of God.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|