A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 1:5-10. 2). The gospel of God.
It is true that the message which Paul often called ‘the gospel’ (e.g.2:4) he sometimes named ‘our gospel’ because he and his companions proclaimed it (5; cf. 2 Thess.2:14; 2 Cor.4:3) and even ‘my gospel’ (Rom.2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim.2:8) because its distinctive truth that in Christ Jews and Gentiles are equal had been disclosed and entrusted to him (Eph.3:2-7). Nevertheless, he knew that above all it was ‘the gospel of God’ because he had revealed it (2:2, 8, 9; cf.Rom.1:1) and the ‘gospel of Christ’ because the good news focused on him (3:2; cf. 2 Thess.1:8; Gal.1:7). Thus God was the author, Christ the substance and the apostles the primary agents (as we are secondary agents) of the gospel.
It was natural for Paul to move on in his mind from God’s church to God’s gospel because he could not think of either without the other. It is by the gospel that the church exists and by the church that the gospel spreads. Each depends on the other. Each serves the other.
In verses 5-10 the apostle outlines in three clear stages the progress of the gospel in Thessalonica. First, ‘our gospel came to you’ (5). Secondly, ‘you welcomed the message’ (6). Thirdly, ‘the Lord’s message rang out from you’ (8). Thus it came to you, you received it, and you passed it on. This sequence is God’s continuing purpose throughout the world.
a). Our gospel came to you (1:5)
Of course, it did not come by itself. It did not drop by parachute from heaven. No, Paul, Silas and Timothy brought it. Before they arrived in Thessalonica there was no church; when they left, the church had been planted and had taken root. How did this happen? The planting of the church was the direct result of the preaching of the gospel, which Paul now depicts by four expressions.
True, the gospel did *not* come *with words only*, but it did come to them with words. For the gospel is itself a word or message, indeed ‘the word’ (6, RSV), ‘the word of the Lord’ (8, RSV) or ‘the word of God’ (2:13, RSV). So we must not acquiesce in the contemporary disenchantment with words. Words matter. They are the building blocks of sentences by which we communicate with one another. And the gospel has a specific content. That is why it must be articulated, verbalized. Of course it can and must be dramatized too. For images are sometimes more powerful than words. Yet images also have to be interpreted by words. So in all our evangelism, whether in public preaching or in private witnessing, we need to take trouble with our choice of words.
(ii)…also with power.
Words by themselves are seldom enough, even in secular discourse. Because they may be misunderstood or disregarded, they need somehow to be enforced. This is even more the case in Christian communication, since blind eyes and hard hearts do not appreciate the gospel. So words spoken in human weakness need to be confirmed with divine power. The reference is probably not to external miracles which are normally designated by the plural word ‘powers’ (*dynameis*), but to the internal operation of the Holy Spirit. It is only by his power that the Word can penetrate people’s mind, heart, conscience and will. Paul wrote the same thing to the Corinthian church (1 Cor.2:1-5), and it is from Corinth that he is writing to the Thessalonians. We must never divorce what God has married, namely his Word and his Spirit. The Word of God is the Spirit’s sword (Eph.6:17). The Spirit without the Word is weaponless; the Word without the Spirit is powerless.
Tomorrow: Thessalonians 1:5-10 (iii)… and with deep conviction.
|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.|