Good trips are always over too soon, aren’t they? A lovely day out, a restful holiday – and suddenly we find it’s over… if only it could last just a bit longer! St Paul had a similar experience in Thessalonica. (You can read about it in Acts 17:1-9.) Having just been released from prison in Philippi, Paul and his friends travel on to Thessalonica and have a very fruitful trip sharing their faith. Lots of citizens became followers of Jesus (17:4).
But it didn’t last long. They had just 3 weeks before opposition swelled and they were run out of town. Imagine Paul’s anxiety at the fate of the new believers he’d left behind. They’d had very little instruction, and possibly a lot of troubles faced them. Would they survive, spiritually or otherwise?
So he writes back to them as soon as he can, and this becomes the letter that we now know as 1 Thessalonians, whose first chapter is our passage for today. Imagine his relief, then, when he gets encouraging reports back from his friend Timothy, who says that the new church is staying strong and keeping going.
But how was this new Christian community birthed in Thessalonica? What prompted such a fruitful response? Paul gives us some clues in verses 4-6. First and foremost, what he has to share is good news (v5) – that is what the word ‘gospel’ means. And it is good to remind ourselves that what we believe is good news! It offers forgiveness, peace, hope, purpose. It tells us the remarkable truth that we are chosen by God (v4), and therefore special to Him.
This series, though, is focused on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and what we see here is that this message of good news needs more than just good presentation. It also needs the Holy Spirit, at work in two ways (v5). First convicting our hearts – we looked at this in John’s gospel a few weeks ago. The message goes beyond just words to something which captures our soul, creates that sense that God is speaking directly to us.
And second, there is real power. This likely refers to demonstrations of God’s supernatural activity – whether through acts of healing, or sharing of information which couldn’t have been known to the sharer, but which blesses the hearer. I have been privileged to witness some of these occasions when God confirms the message through signs of His presence. It reminds us that the message is not just true, but real.
And this sense of a real faith is manifested with one further sign of the Spirit – unexpected joy (v6). These new believers faced much opposition, but God in His grace gave them a wonderful gift – joy. May that joy be ours today – whatever our circumstances, however long we’ve followed Jesus. Why not ask God to fill you again with ‘joy given by the Holy Spirit’?