A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 1:8. 3). The Lord’s message rang out from you.
The Greek word is *execheo*, which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is derived from *echos*, an echo or noise. According to TDNT, it can mean to ‘sound, ring, peal or boom’. It was used in LXX of bells, zithers, trumpets, and other loud noises. In the New Testament the weaker verb *echeo* relates to the noise of a resounding gong (1 Cor.13:1) and of the roaring sea (Lk.21:25; cf.Ps.65:7). Chrysostom thought that Paul was likening the preaching of the gospel to ‘the sound of a loud trumpet’. The verb is also used of ‘a great thunder’ (Ecclus.40:13; cf.46:17), and Jerome described Paul’s writings as *non verba sed tonitrua*, ‘not words but thunderclaps’. At all events, whether Paul is thinking of thunder or trumpets, the gospel proclaimed by the Thessalonians made a loud noise, which seemed to reverberate through the hills and valleys of Greece.
But there was something more than that: *your faith in God has become known everywhere* (8). We must notice carefully the threefold contrast in verse 8 between the two means by which the gospel spread from Thessalonica. The first is between ‘the word of the Lord’ (direct preaching) and ‘your faith in God’ (an indirect report). The second is between the loud ‘ringing out’ of the gospel and the much quieter ‘becoming known’ of their faith. And the third is between the local provinces of Macedonia and Achaia which the preaching reached, and ‘everywhere’ to which the news of their faith had penetrated (cf. Rom.1:8). Even if Paul’s ‘everywhere’ is hyperbole, he is certainly saying that the Thessalonians’ faith was becoming known far beyond Greece, maybe west by land to Rome and east by sea to Ephesus.
There is an important lesson to learn here. We are a very media-conscious generation. We know the power of the mass media on the public mind. Consequently, we want to use the media in evangelism. By print and tape, by audio and video cassettes, by radio and television we would like to saturate the world with the good news. And rightly so. In principle nobody should quarrel with this ambition. We should harness to the service of the gospel every modern medium of communication which is available to us.
Nevertheless there is another way, which (if we must compare them) is still more effective. It requires no complicated electronic gadgetry; it is very simple. It is neither organized nor computerized; it is spontaneous. And it is not expensive; it costs precisely nothing. we might call it ‘holy gossip’. It is the excited transmission from mouth to mouth of the impact which the good news is making on people. ‘Have you heard what has happened to so and so? Did you know that such and such a person has come to believe in God and has been completely transformed? Something extraordinary is going on in Thessalonica: a new society is coming into being, with new values and standards, characterized by faith, love and hope.
The result of such gratuitous publicity was tremendous. *Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us* (8b-9a). Better, ‘we do not need to tell other people about it: other people tell us…’ (JB). Not only were the media redundant; the missionaries felt redundant also! For the message was spreading without them, and everybody seemed to know it already.
Mind you, I think the apostle Paul may be forgiven for a little harmless exaggeration. He did not mean literally that he was no longer necessary. At least he did not resign, or apply for indefinite furlough. No. He carried on preaching the gospel, but especially where Christ was not known (Rom.15:20). For we take his point: the good news was advancing spontaneously.
Exactly what was the news which was spreading far and wide from Thessalonica? According to verse 8 it was their *faith in God*. But according to verse 9 what people were hearing and reporting was *what kind of reception you gave us* and how the Thessalonians were converted. Paul then goes on in verses 9b and 10 to give a three-part analysis of Christian conversion, which is arguably the fullest account of it in the New Testament. It indicates that conversion involves (1) a decisive break with idols, (2) an active service of God, and (3) a patient waiting for Christ. These three steps are summed up in the verbs ‘you turned…to serve…and to wait…’. Indeed, this succinct threefold statement has suggested to several commentators that Paul was making use of an already existing formula.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.