Serving and Waiting

“For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and...

“For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)

Wherever Paul went, reports about how the Thessalonians treated him and his fellow missionaries preceded him. It was evident throughout the region that the Thessalonians received the gospel with full conviction. Their reception of the gospel was a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts.

When the Thessalonians listened to Paul, they repented. They turned to God from their idols. This was a significant step, especially in Greek culture. It would have been an easy thing for the Thessalonians to say that they had accepted God and then add him to their pantheon of gods. But that is not what they did. They turned to God and turned away from all their other gods. They understood the exclusivity demanded by God. He is the Lord, and there is no other (Isa. 45:5). God will not let his glory be shared with any other (Isa. 42:8).

Whenever someone becomes a Christian, that person can’t simply add God to his life and expect to go on living as normal. The idols in that person’s life must also be removed. When we turn to God, we must at the same time turn away from our idols. What is an idol? It is anything in our lives that we glorify or praise in place of the one, true God. We can make idols of ourselves, our money, our possessions, our children, our culture, our heritage, our reputations, our friends, anything that takes our attention away from the one God who alone is to be worshiped and glorified.

The Thessalonian Christians turned from their idols to serve the living and true God. That makes all the difference. The idols of the Thessalonians were lifeless, but God is a living being. As a living being, God exists in a relationship with his people. He shows love to his people and expects love in return. He corrects his people when they go astray. Through his Spirit, he guides and guards our hearts. This was a new experience for people who had come from idol worship. Paul also described God as the true God. When the Thessalonians were serving their idols, they were following a lie. Whatever they thought their idols could do for them was all a lie. These idols came from human imagination, and nothing they believed about them was true.

The Thessalonians now served the living and true God. Because of this, the Thessalonian Christians not only were able to have joy in their current suffering, they had an eschatological hope. They could be certain about their future because they knew how God acted in the past. They knew that God created the world and was in the process of redeeming it. They knew that he prepared a people for himself, that he sent his own Son to die for his people. They knew that God raised Jesus from the dead as the first fruit of their own resurrection and that someday this Son would come again from heaven and deliver them from the wrath to come. This is still the Christian’s eschatological hope. We still “wait for his Son from heaven” (v. 10). We still live in confident expectation that our God will deliver us from the wrath to come.

(Excerpt from 1 Thessalonians, pp. 34-5)

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