/ Jeffrey A Stivason

God's Good Work

Consider the following logic. A Biblical injunction to pray for the brethren are prayers that God’s kingdom might come. Now, if that is true there is an entailment that we ought not miss. God has chosen us in order that He might do something in us, that we might become something. And that something is not hard to figure out even if you’ve only read the New Testament moderately. Read these lines form Romans 8:29, "For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…" And that is everywhere in the New Testament. In fact, that is what Paul is telling some new Christians in the first chapter, specifically verses 5-8, of his first letter to the Thessalonians. But more than that, he walks them through what such a thing looks like.

What the Spirit Provides

So, what does the Spirit provide when we are united to Christ? If we had the chance to ask the Apostle Paul that question, we might have received some information that is lingering in the background of this first letter to this new church. Paul might have said, "The Holy Spirit provides guidance."

But we might have pressed him saying, "In what sense do you mean?" And he would likely have said, "Don't you remember?  I had been trying to enter Asia but the Spirit did not permit it. And so, when I was unsure about where to turn next the Spirit gave me a vision in the night of a Macedonian man saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’" And so, had we asked Paul in particular this is how he might have stated his answer. The Spirit provided me with guidance.

Now, when we think of these opening verses in Thessalonians, we can't help but wonder does Paul's confidence that the Thessalonians are chosen by God, at least rest in part, in this guidance of the Spirit. Perhaps, but not entirely and not even necessarily.


Because of what else he goes on to say. Paul tells us in this first letter to the Thessalonians that the Spirit also accompanies the proclamation of the Word. In the beginning of verse 5, Paul writes, "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…" Now, it's clear that the gospel came in the form of proclamation. That is not in dispute.

But let’s pause for a minute. This assurance of the fullness or completeness of God's work in the Thessalonians did not lead them into complacency. In other words, it did not lead them into spiritual laziness or depression. Instead, it led them to work, labor, and persevere. Responses that were motivated by their faith, love, and hope. Do you see what I'm after? If God chose the Thessalonians, and that is indisputable, it was for the purpose of developing in them His kingdom. Perhaps you are discouraged in your Christian walk. Then, know this, God is at work in you, even in the difficulties.  He is fashioning you into the likeness of His beloved Son. He is building his kingdom and you are part of that glorious body.

What the Spirit Produces

Listen to Paul in verse 5, "just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you…" Now, the idea here is consistent with what has gone before. If the Holy Spirit worked powerfully to provide the Thessalonians with assurance that God had done a complete work in them, then would it not stand to Biblical reason that the same Spirit had worked in the messenger. And if the Spirit had done that work, then would it not be visible? In other words, wouldn't there be evidence of a changed life?

That is beautiful. However, if that weren’t enough, notice how Paul finishes what he said in verse 5, "just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." In other words, in part, what is happening in Paul and his company was happening as a demonstration for others to see and follow.

Now, this means that the Thessalonians not only saw the Spirit at work in Paul, but they could see that same Spirit at work in themselves. And this is not surprising, because Paul invited them to follow him as he followed Christ.  But what does that imitation look like? The answer is in verse 6. Paul says, "You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit."

Let me put it this way. They imitated Paul in the way they received the word. And that imitation was in the midst of tribulation and with joy. This letter is a good reminder. God is working in us even during hard providences by and through His word. He has His hand upon us. He is growing His kingdom in us. We can be joyful because we know that we are His and He is doing a good work in us. And He will bring that work to completion whenever He so chooses.

Jeffrey A Stivason

Jeffrey A Stivason

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor (Grace RPC, graceingibsonia.org) and NT professor at RPTS in Pittsburgh, PA. He is also editor at placefortruth.com.

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