A Commentary by John Stott

1 Thessalonians 1:9b.  b)….to serve the living and true God.

The claim to have turned to God from idols is manifestly bogus if it does not result in serving the God to whom we have turned. We must not think of conversion only in negative terms as a turning away from the old life, but also positively as the beginning of a new life of service. We could say that it is the exchange of one slavery for another, so long as we add that the new slavery is the real freedom. In this way authentic conversion involves a double liberation, both *from* the thraldom of the idols whose slaves we were and *into* the service of God whose children we become.

c)….and to wait for his Son from heaven (1:10).

It is immediately noteworthy that ‘serving’ and ‘waiting’ go together in the experience of converted people. Indeed, this is at first sight surprising, since ‘serving’ is active, while ‘waiting’ is passive. In Christian terms ‘serving’ is getting busy for Christ on earth, while ‘waiting’ is looking for Christ to come from heaven. Yet these two are not incompatible. On the contrary, each balances the other. On the one hand, however hard we work and serve, there are limits to what we can accomplish. We can only improve society; we cannot perfect it. We shall never build a utopia on earth. For that we have to wait for Christ to come. Only then will he secure the final triumph of God’s reign of justice and peace (2 Pet.3:13). On the other hand, although we must look expectantly for the coming of Christ, we have no liberty to wait in idleness, with arms folded and eyes closed, indifferent to the needs of the world around us. Instead, we must work even while we wait, for we are called to serve the living and true God.

Thus working and waiting belong together. In combination they will deliver us both from the presumption which thinks we can do everything and from the pessimism which thinks we can do nothing.

In this first reference of the letter to the Parousia (which is hereafter mentioned in every chapter of both letters), Paul tells us two truths about him for who we are waiting.

First, Jesus is the one, *whom he {God} raised from the dead*. The Resurrection not only publicly declared Jesus to be the Son of God (Rom.1:4) but was also the beginning of God’s new creation, the pledge that he will complete what he has begun. The resurrection from the dead assures us of the return from heaven.

Secondly, *Jesus* is the one *who rescues us from the coming wrath*. This statement is surely a play on the name ‘Jesus’, which means ‘saviour’ (Mt.1:21). Already he has delivered us from the condemnation of our sins and the power of our idols. But when he comes, he will accomplish the final stage of our salvation: he will rescue us from the outpouring of the wrath of God. God’s wrath is neither an impersonal process of cause and effect (as some scholars have tried to argue), nor a passionate, arbitrary or vindictive outburst of temper, but his holy and uncompromising antagonism to evil, with which he refuses to negotiate. One day his judgment will fall (cf. Rom.2:5, 16). It is from this terrible event that Jesus is our deliverer.

It is evident that Paul has a lofty view of the Person for whose coming we wait. In verse 10 he calls him both ‘Jesus’ (his human name) and ‘God’s Son’ (his divine dignity), adding that he is the Saviour who rescues us, and the Christ (1, 3) whom the Scriptures foretold. Putting these four epithets together, we have ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour’ or (in the Greek acrostic ICHTHUS, the word for fish which the early Christians chose as their secret symbol.

We are now in a position to summarize the report about the Thessalonians which was being widely disseminated, and so the essentials of Christian conversion, namely the turning from idols, the serving of God and the waiting for Christ. Some students have detected a correspondence between these and the triad of faith, hope and love. For the turning to God is certainly faith, and the serving of God could be seen as the fruit of love, while the waiting for Christ is the essence of hope. Be that as it may, Paul has shown us in the Thessalonians a model of conversion which is invariable. There will, of course, be different idols from which people need to turn, and different forms in which they will express their service of God, but always the break with the past will be decisive (‘you turned from idols’), the experience of the present will be liberating (‘to serve the living and true God’) and the look to the future will be expectant (‘to wait for his Son from heaven’). And without this turning, serving and waiting one can scarcely claim to have been converted.

Tomorrow: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10. Conclusion.
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.