Big Idea: After praying that the Thessalonians would experience God’s grace and tranquility of soul, Paul offered thanksgiving for these believers because they continued to develop in faith and love. This church, although experiencing hardship, was an example to other churches because of their community life and brotherly kindness.
1:3. Paul’s opening statement, “We ought always to thank God for you”, sounds a bit like grinding duty. While obligation is felt in these words, it is not guilt-induced. Paul did, in fact, feel a duty to give thanks, but the duty was not to the Thessalonians, but to God. Paul literally had an outstanding debt before God, and it was a debt of thanks. Hearing of the spiritual life and development in the Thessalonians, he knew that God’s faithfulness undergirded their progress. Consequently, an ongoing offering of thanks was due God. The Thessalonians were the occasion of Paul’s thanksgiving, but God was the source, for it was God working in partnership with them “to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13), which had caused their faith and love to increase. Faith refers to the outworkings of Christian belief. It is not just doctrinal dogma, but coherence of belief and action. Love, action to meet the needs of others, was continually increasing like a river overflowing its banks. This overflowing was demonstrated by all the Thessalonian believers. We often find it easy to select certain people whom we will love or befriend, maybe those close to our own age who share similar interests. But Paul praised these Thessalonians because they expressed love indiscriminately toward all the brethren.
1:4. This is a transition verse, combining delight with a hint of what will follow, as Paul turned his attention to the hardships these believers confronted each day. Despite some of the internal problems of the church, such as laziness and misconceptions about Christ’s return, Paul recognized some sterling qualities in these believers. He encouraged them by pointing these qualities out: we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. Love (v. 3), faith, and perseverance (made possible through hope), form the eternal triad. Paul not only commended them for these qualities, he also spread the news to other churches. He was thrilled at the genuine nature of their faith. The persecutions and trials they encountered were varied, yet unspecified. These could have been anything which resulted from faith in Christ and from seeking to live righteously in a hostile culture. Their perseverance was not a meek “I can take it” but a steadfast, heroic strength from God. Such continuance under difficulties results from an abiding trust in God’s goodness and sovereignty.