For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you; for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (RSV)
When I sit down to comment on verses like these, the first thing I do is check out different version. This gives me the opportunity to see the differences or commonality between the versions. When I write, I usually rotate between quoting different versions to make sure the publishers don’t come back and demand a royalty because I’ve quoted a whole chapter or too many verses. Sometimes I skip using a version in the rotation because it is not clear or even has a different meaning than other versions. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 is no exception. My usual versions (ESV, NIV®, NASU, NKJV, NLT, RSV, KJV, and NASB) had two versions with significant difference in only one phrase and that is regarding who loves the brethren.
Brethren Beloved by God
When I read the NKJV “knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God” (vs. 4) (the KJV is similar), the clear indication is that Paul says he has a deep love for the people in Thessalonica. All the other versions are very specific that it is God who has this deep love for the people. The difference cannot be attributed to using a different compilation of the Greek text. Both the Textus Receptus and the Nestle are identical in this verse.
At this point, you may wonder what the big deal is. It is big because the whole concept of how the Gospel came to the Thessalonians is at stake. If this is only Paul’s love for them, they are missing a huge reason why they were chosen, the Word came to them, the power of the Holy Spirit came, they were convicted, and the God sent good men to them. This all came because God loves them.
I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called “Not my loved one.” I will say to those called “Not my people,” “You are my people”; and they will say, “You are my God.” (Hos 2:23 NIV®)
There is no consistency between Bible translations for this verse in Hosea. Some say God will show his mercy, compassion, or pity rather than love. However, Paul quoted it in Romans 9:25 as beloved so I chose the version that says God shows his love; the principle carries forward in 1 Thessalonians 13. The Thessalonians were Gentiles and before Jesus came, they were considered to be forsaken by God. They were not loved, not God’s people, not belonging to God. But when Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica, they discovered that God loved them and they had the opportunity to join in God’s family. When they received the Gospel, they became part of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV). Think about that for a while. Before our salvation, we were dead (Eph 2:1), we were enemies of God (Rom 5:10), without hope (Eph 2:12), and the worst part was we didn’t even know it. But God loved us and brought the right person, sermon, verses, book, tract, circumstances into our lives so that we were regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) so that we believed and confessed Jesus as our Lord (Rom 10:9). That’s what it means to be beloved by God.
For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls. (Rom 9:11 NASU)
What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened. (Rom 11:7 NASU)
I’ve written on God choosing us several times, as it has come up in almost every book of the Bible I’ve discussed on this blog. It is amazing how many times the subject appears in Scripture. Most often, it is simply sated as Paul did in 1 Thessalonians 1:4, as if it were common knowledge or assumed. Other times, he makes it the subject of his discourse. Such is the case in Romans 9 and 11.
However, when looking up how often this Greek word is used in the New Testament, I found that Peter warned us to make sure we were called and chosen by God (2 Peter 1:10) by our works. This is a bit puzzling. How could someone be called and chosen but not have it certain?
But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. (Matt 22:11 NKJV)
In Jesus’ parable, this man was called to the wedding for the king’s son. He wasn’t one of the initial invitees but was a second choice. If the first guests who did not respond represent Israel, then this man would represent Gentiles. He got into the banquet but later, he was tossed out because he wasn’t dressed properly. What is the message for us? Is it possible to be called, accept the invitation but still not chosen? Other verses in the Bible reveal God chooses and He also keeps those He has chosen (John 10:27-30, Eph 1:4, 13-14). Perhaps what Jesus was teaching in this parable is that the invitation is universal (John 3:16), and some who decide they want a free meal show up without any desire to be obedient to the Lord. It would be those who say they are “spiritual” or want to honor God, but they don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus (John 5:23). They join a church and enjoy the blessings of the community tasting the good things that the Holy Spirit does through His people (Heb 6:4-5). Some may even accomplish wonderful things in the name of Jesus but never get to know Jesus. Some organizations that call themselves churches are filled with these people. Unfortunately, they will hear Jesus say, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God's laws” (Matt 7:23 NLT).
This still leaves the question whether people will accept the invitation if they are not chosen. I would have to say that based on the rest of Scripture, they will not accept the invitation. They heard the message of life, the Gospel, but never responded with sorrow for their sins and true repentance. They believed but did not trust Jesus for their salvation (James 2:19). How could that be unless they were not chosen? “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy” (Rom 9:14-16 RSV).
Why did Peter warn us to make our election certain? If we are chosen, should it be automatic that we will be in the banquet properly dressed? No, we may be just like the man who was not properly dressed or people in churches thinking they are Christians when they have made no profession of Jesus’ lordship over them. They have not really accepted the invitation. We may have a lot of knowledge about Jesus but demonstrate that we don’t know Him by our actions. We all need to stop and assess our calling and election lest we discover we haven’t really accepted the invitation.
Gospel in Word and Power
So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isa 55:11 NASB)
We need to look at the Gospel when we think about invitations and election. God clearly states the power of His Word. What God decrees to happen will happen. There can be no doubt about this. If we are obedient to tell others about Jesus’ death for our sins and His burial and His resurrection on the third day (all according to His Word), and that He appeared to the Apostles and 500 other people (1 Cor 15:3-6), then we can be assured that this message will not be in vain. We will proclaim it to everyone because we don’t know whom God has chosen. When those He has chosen hear it, they will believe and respond appropriately so that they will be saved. We don’t know if they will respond immediately or if they must hear it several times – maybe even hundreds of times. God’s promise is that His Word will not be thwarted. The people in Thessalonica who were chosen, accepted the Gospel and were saved. Those who were not chosen formed a mob and set the city in an uproar (Acts 17:1-5). The same Gospel with the same power was heard by many in the city but only a few responded positively. Their positive response only results when God’s choice is accomplished, otherwise everyone would respond negatively.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Matt 10:34-35 ESV)
Some preach a gospel of peace between all people. This is not the Gospel that Jesus brought. He brought a Gospel of peace with God. For those who are called, we have Christ’s peace ruling in our hearts when His Word dwells in us (Col 3:15-16). Unfortunately, those who oppose the Gospel often do it violently or expel those who accept it. This does not negate the power of the Gospel because the power is for those who are chosen.
Conviction and the Holy Spirit
When he [Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment. (John 16:8 NIV)
What happens when people of the world, non-Christians, are convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit? In my experience, one of two things happens. The best response is that they become sorry for sin, not for being caught. It is because the Holy Spirit has revealed that sin is an offence to God no matter how heinous or slight. That sorrow is demonstrated in repentance. Salvation has come to that person. The Holy Spirit does this in a number of different ways. One person may experience guilt and recognize his need for salvation because he has not believed in Jesus, the worst sin. Another one may look at her life and realize that it isn’t righteous compared to God’s righteousness instead of comparing to others around her. Then there is the one who suddenly understands that he will be judged for his sins and go to hell. God meets each person where he or she is and the Holy Spirit convicts and saves (Titus 3:5).
You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. (Matt 10:22 NASU)
Then there are those who feel the conviction and turn on the ones God has sent with the message through His Word. The sad part of this is that these people are often the ones that are closest to us, our family members. These are the ones that we want to be saved more than any others, yet they often reject or scorn us along with Jesus. This isn’t a new problem for it has existed since Cain killed Able (Gen 4:3-8).
The Lord warned people in the time of Isaiah that those who respected and honored the Word of God would be hated by their brothers (Isa 66:5). The brothers most likely refers to the nation of Israel, not just a person’s relatives. We can see that the hatred that comes with conviction extends well beyond family lines.
I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:14 NKJV)
Jesus gave us the Word from the Father and this brings about hatred from the whole world. When we accept the Word and we are saved, we are no longer part of the world system. We have become citizens of the heavenly realm (Eph 2:19). Conviction by the Holy Spirit causes those who have rejected His Word to hate those who are different from them. Just as we see hatred between races and nations, people who are different, so the world has a natural (sinful) hatred of Christians because we are different. If we are not different, then there is no conviction and we have lost our saltiness, our witness is gone because there is no distinction between the way the world acts and the way we act.
What Kind of Men Are We?
You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now I have done the Lord's work humbly and with many tears. (Acts 20:18-19 NLT)
Paul was always able to point to his own life while spreading the Gospel as an example to other. He wasn’t perfect (Acts 15:39) but the point being that he didn’t give people reason to ignore the Gospel because of his personality, greed, or sinful lifestyle. When they rebelled against the Gospel, it was for the reasons mentioned above not because of his lack of integrity. This ability to be humble and work with people, even to the point of crying over their sinful condition or lack of growth in Christ is not easy. It is based on a desire to be a servant. Paul said, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake” (2 Cor 4:5 RSV). He said he didn’t preach himself, but his life as a servant of Jesus spoke just as loud as his testimony about Jesus. If they didn’t match up, then there would be no witness for Jesus but reason for the world to ignore the message.
We need to look closely at the way we conduct our lives around those we are trying to influence for the Gospel. It starts in our families. Are we being the godly spouse that the Word says we need to be? How about being a parent that doesn’t “exasperate” (Eph 6:4 NIV®) his or her children? What about work or neighbors, does even the way we keep up our yard demonstrate our care for others? As our circle of influence expands to those in other countries, how we behave has a significant impact on whether or not a person will be open to the Gospel.
Our poor behavior does not negate the power of the Gospel or the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Our good behavior does not overrule God’s election either. But we are part of the equation and the ones that spread the Gospel. So lets do it the way we should.
I don’t normally do this in my blog, but I did ask how we treat those in other countries. Those who have so much less than we have. I have started a fundraiser to get schoolbooks for poor kids in a Christian School in Pakistan. If you want to help demonstrated God’s love to these kids, please donate. I’ve been to the school; the story is on the fundraiser page (https://www.youcaring.com/proverbs-three-nine-foundation-557847) and on Proverbs Three Nine Foundation’s blog (http://proverbsthreenine.org/blog/urgent-need-schoolbooks-for-poor-kids-in-pakistan). Donations can be sent through the fundraiser or at Proverbs Three Nine Foundation’s contact page (http://proverbsthreenine.org/contact.html). Please help and show God’s love to these kids.