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The theme of thanksgiving is a repeated one in 1 Thessalonians. Paul opens this letter by giving thanks for the church (1:2) and, in the text before us (2:13–16), again expresses thanks for them (2:13). He will again express thanksgiving in 3:9 before exhorting them to give thanks in all circumstances in 5:18. The gospel gushed gratitude in Paul’s life.

In 1:2–3, Paul was thankful for the church’s “work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the text before us this morning, he expresses thanks for the fact that “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” He was thankful for the evident work that the word was displaying in these believers’ lives.

The word was “at work” in this church. The term carries the idea of effectual work. It was making a difference. It was bearing fruit. And in the remainder of the section, Paul offers three evidences of the fruit it was bearing—and three evidences of fruit we should always see in the lives of those who have truly received the word as the word of God and not of men.

First, the word worked in these believers a commitment to imitating good. Paul already thanked the Lord that these believers had become imitators of him (and his fellow missionaries) and of the Lord Jesus himself (1:6), but now he expresses gratitude that they had also become “imitators of the churches of God that are in Judea.”

There is a sense of solidarity envisioned here. Churches saved by the same gospel are transformed in the same way by the same Spirit. Since the gospel is indeed the gospel of God, it is not surprising that God’s Spirit produces the same fruit in believers’ lives regardless of where they are in the world. Many of the saints in Thessalonica had probably never met a Judean Christian, but they were living the same way because they were being transformed by the same Spirit.

Second, the word worked in these believers a willingness to suffer for the name of Christ. In fact, this is the primary way that the Thessalonian believers were imitating the Judean believers. As the Judean believers suffered persecution from the Jews, so the Thessalonians suffered persecution “from your own countrymen.” As the Jews hopefully endured persecution, so the Thessalonians were hopefully enduring persecution for the sake of the gospel.

The truth of the gospel produces in people willingness to suffer. In Jesus’ parable of the sower, the seed that fell on rocky ground represented the person “who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation of persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:20–21). But when the word of God takes deep root in the heart of good soil, that believer is willing to endure suffering for Christ’s sake.

Third, the word worked in these believers patient confidence in final judgement against their persecutors. They could endure persecution because they knew that the opposition worked “as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last.” Some translations translate the phrase “at last” as “to the utmost.” He idea is that the persecutors would receive the full measure of punishment that their opposition warranted. The believers should be prepared to suffer with faith that God would right all wrongs.

Enduring suffering is never easy. One reason it is not easy is because of our innate sense of justice. We know that it is not right for God’s people to suffer. We know that God is a righteous judge. We struggle, therefore, to understand why the righteous judge allows his faithful people to suffer unjustly. But it will help us to persevere when we realise that injustice will not ultimately prevail. Opponents of God’s truth will face the consequences of their opposition.

As you meditate on 1 Thessalonians 2:13–16 this morning, ask God to help you faithfully receive the Scriptures as the word of God, evidenced in your imitation of what is good, your willingness to suffer for Christ’s sake, and your confidence that he will ultimately judge every opponent of truth righteously.