“..for they themselves report what happened when we visited you. They tell 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 rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess. 1:9-10).

We have seen the tremendous change in the lives of the Thessalonians when they received the gospel from Paul and his co-workers. We noted that God has chosen them and the gospel came to them in the power of the Holy Spirit and with deep joy and conviction; we saw also how the church in Thessalonica became a model church, and the message of the Lord rang out from them far and wide. And their positive testimony continued in the midst of suffering and persecution. Spiritual reality was seen in their work of faith, their labour of love, and their endurance by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We now consider in a nutshell the report concerning them: they turned from idols to serve the living and true God; they waited for the Son of God from heaven, the Lord Jesus, raised from the dead, the Saviour and Redeemer who rescued them from the coming wrath.

First of all, they turned from idols. In all likelihood, the city of Thessalonica was riddled with many ‘temples’ and worship of various ‘gods’ and idols. For them to turn from idols was remarkable, as this had been their way of life for many years. In our modern context, idols may not take the form of statues, but anything that replaces God in our lives and requires our worship is an idol.

An uncontrolled self is a deadly force. It wills to defy or ignore God and tries to take the place of God – let us not forget that this took place in the fall – idolising, exalting, celebrating, and indulging oneself as one’s god is the root cause of all the shame, folly, decadence, and moral blindness that mark humankind subsequent to the fall.

Human idolatry is the direct rejection of the two greatest commands – to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and mind, and to love our neighbour as much as we love ourselves. If we direct our whole being toward love of God, and if we give as much value to our neighbour as to ourselves, if not more, the project of gaining control of self is well under way, and the fruit of the Spirit includes the habit of behaving in this manner. But human idolatry seeks to worship the self – it seeks approval from others; it desires prestige, position, wealth, power, such that the self sits on the pedestal and others around would look up with admiration and adoration. But do not be mistaken – idolatry can also thrive in moralism, in religious activities, in spiritual endeavours – for the motive and inclination that drive all these is the glorification of the self – and this is outright idolatry in God’s eyes.

But the believers in Thessalonica turned from idols to serve the living and true God. The Triune God became their Master and King – and they delighted in serving Him – and this was manifested in their work of faith, labour of love, and their endurance and perseverance in hope. Their hope was to wait for the return of the risen and glorified Son of God from heaven, and this hope did not waver with the passing of time, and in the midst of intense, severe, sufferings and persecutions. They persevered in hope and with the joy of the Holy Spirit – it was not just ‘gritting their teeth and enduring’ but they manifested the joy, peace and victory of the Lord as they went through the ‘fiery furnace’ and came forth as ‘pure gold’. They were not lukewarm Christians; they did not just have a name that they were spiritually alive but in reality were dead; they did not lose their ‘first love’ – hence they became a model and a wonderful example to all the churches around. No one needs to ‘announce’ this – the Lord’s message and their testimony rang out from them to ‘everywhere’ – what a witness! The gospel ‘rang out’ not just in their response and living, but the power and the reality of the Spirit of God was without doubt.

The Thessalonian Christians were mindful of the coming wrath and judgement of God upon the world and they themselves were assured that they were rescued from these through their Redeemer and Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. This confidence, together with their hope of their future inheritance, sustained them in their situation in their present context. We need to learn to go through the present circumstances with our spiritual eyes looking up to the coming culmination when all will be under the feet and rule of the Son of God. Hence, we need not lose hope and despair.