1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 A Prayer of Thanks


In most of the apostle Paul’s letters, the greeting is followed by an expression of thanks to God. Since 1 Thessalonians is an entire letter of thanks for the readers’ faith, Paul expresses his gratitude throughout the first three chapters. This thanksgiving begins with a long sentence that runs from 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5, in which Paul rejoices over the proofs of their salvation: “For we know, brothers loved by god, that he has chosen you” (v. 4). Paul had been concerned about the reality of the Thessalonians’ faith when he was forced to hastily leave them in the midst of trials, and he thanks God for proof of His grace in their lives.

Assurance of salvation is based on biblically sanctioned evidences, and in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 Paul identifies the proofs that mark the Thessalonains as God’s elect: “your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). In doing this, Paul identifies the qualities of a healthy church and a thriving Christian life, while also noting the graces for which believers should pray to God.

Before commending the proofs of their salvation, Paul assures his readers of his fervent prayers on their behalf: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (v, 2). This statement is one of the many references in his letters that present Paul’s commitment to prayer. One of the keys to Paul’s prayer is the word “constantly.” Paul seems to have maintained an incessant prayer vigil for his persecuted friends in Thessalonica. Paul would have kept the practice of formal prayers at least three times a day, as he did in his former days as a pharisee. We too, would benefit from regular periods of prayer in our daily schedules. Like Paul, we should pray for a wide range of family, friends, and servants of Christ.

Moreover, our prayers, like Paul’s, should be richly adorned with thanks, realizing that, as James put it, “every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17). Thanksgiving is a distinctive mark of Christian prayer. Paul, Silas, and Timothy are daily filled with fervent thanksgiving to God as they think of what His grace has wrought in the lives of the Thessalonians. We too, through our faith in Christ, have ample reasons to pray continually with thanksgiving because of the saving grace that has flowed to us from the cross of Christ and from the throne in heaven where He reigns for us. As Paul writes toward the end of this letter: “pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:17-18).

Paul’s opening prayer identifies the marks of grace that bear testimony to the believers’ salvation. He writes to express his joy over the report that Timothy brought back from Thessalonica, noting their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope” (v. 3). Readers familiar with Paul will recognize the threefold virtues about which he often spoke: faith, love, and hope.

The first evidence of salvation is faith as it is observed through good works” “your work of faith” (v. 3). Some Christians become alarmed whenever the concepts of works and faith appear together in the Bible. Paul makes clear in his writings that sinners are justified by faith alone, apart from any good works (Gal. 2:16). As sinners, we could never cover our guilt before God with any number of good works, since works cannot erase the record of our sin. Being imperfect, they cannot merit salvation. Instead, God justifies us through the finished work of His Son, Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty of our sin on the cross and achieved righteousness for us by His perfect life of obedience. While we are most certainly not saved by works, Paul specifies that we are certainly saved to good works.

Second, Paul rejoices in the Thessalonians’ “labor of love.” Paul rejoices that the Thessalonains were willing to serve in costly ways because of the love that had arisen from their faith in Christ. Paul envisions love in labor among fellow Christians, in esteem for spiritual leaders, in concern for Chrisitians in other places, and “for all”, which includes non-Christians. The gracious love of God works in the hearts of those who receive it, so that we begin to see others as God sees them and to love them without thought of gain or cost to ourselves. Hearing of the “labor of love” among the Thessalonians, Paul rejoices at this evidence of God’s saving power at work within them.

Third, Paul notes their “steadfastness of hope” (v. 3). The hope to which he refers is not mere wishful thinking, as when we say, “I hope is snows on Christmas morning!” Rather, biblical hope is the certainty of receiving what God has promised, including forgiveness of sin and an inheritance in eternal glory. Like love, hope springs from a living faith in Christ and His Word. The result of this hope is the ability to remain steadfast in the face of present trials, knowing that by persevering in faith we will be saved. The steadfastness of Christian hope is not a grim, stoic resignation to hardship but a believing fortitude that faces trials in the certain expectation of victory through Jesus Christ.

Credible evidences are important to Christian assurance, which is why those who do not live out their faith impractical godliness and love will often be tormented with doubts about their salvation. Yet the evidences are not the source or cause of salvation. Instead, Paul explains, these are signs of God’s saving work and even of a believer’s eternal election (v. 4). With this in mind, Paul concludes verse 3 by directing his readers to look to Jesus Christ and to God the Father for security of their salvation.

Notice that the Thessalonians’ faith, love, and hope are located “in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). This reference to Jesus is especially linked to the concluding matter of hope. Since Paul is writing to new believers who are struggling with persecution and other hardships, his particular concern is that they will press on in hope. This letter goes on to emphasize that believers’ hope is grounded in the promised return of Jesus Christ to complete the salvation of His people (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Anticipating Christ’s return, they are to “encourage one another” amid the brief struggles of this life (5:11).

Paul is wrapping up his expression of thanksgiving by first relating the believers’ hope to Jesus Christ and then reminding them that God sees and is glorified by their evidences of His saving grace. In this respect, Paul emphasizes the fatherhood of God for believers, who are His children in Jesus Christ. As children, we are reminded of our responsibilities by the presence of our Father. But even more so, we are encouraged by the love, support, and provision of our Father. Just as children want their earthly father to be present for baseball, or soccer games, drawing strength and encouragement from his supportive presence, so Christians are emboldened in the work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope by their awareness of God’s love, acceptance, and provision. The Father’s presence motivates us to glorify Him through lives transformed by the grace He gives.

The record of the Thessalonians, who had only recently become believers, shows that everyone who is born again in Christ has God’s power for radical change. Trusting Christ therefore calls us to strive in God’s Word and in prayer to realize this potential and grow in God’s grace. In raising Christian children, we likewise should aspire to far more than keeping them from getting into trouble or abandoning the faith. Instead, we should minister God’s Word in confident expectation of divine blessing, setting an inspiring example through our own transformed lives and praying fervently that God will empower our children in the “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope” in Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, Paul’s example in prayer should inform our own intercessions. We should think frequently of other Christians and also of the well-being and ministry of the church, constantly bearing their needs in prayer before God. We should pray in keeping with the priorities of Christ’s kingdom, in which the things that really matter are faith, love and hope. And we should often thank God for the evidences that His saving power is at work among us.

A successful Christian is not one who has attained to a high position in society but one who has advanced in evidences of God’s grace. A rich Chirstian is not one who boasts of a great deal of money but one who abounds in faith, love, and hope through Jesus Christ. As Paul remembers the evidences of salvation among the Thessalonians, we realize that a life worth remembering is one sketched out on the canvas of Paul’s prayer of thanks.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 Study Questions:

As Paul looks back and gives thanks to God for the Thessalonians, he knows that God was indeed at work in them as the word of the gospel was preached. Why is Paul convinced that God has chosen these believers?

In verses 3-4 Paul recalls the signs of life he observed among the Thessalonian church, even in the short time he spent with them. What might an accomplishment of faith, the hard work of love or the patience of hope look like in your life or that of your Christian community?

1 Thessalonians 1:1 To the Thessalonians

Everyone can use a little encouragement. Encouragement is so valuable that even the apostle Paul needed it. Having recently arrived in the decadent port city of Corinth, the apostle could only have been discouraged by his recent experience as an evangelist. Landing in Greece at the city of Philippi, he had gained noteworthy converts such as Lydia and the Philippian jailer. But after a false arrest and savage beating, Paul and his colleagues were asked to leave the city (Acts 16:11-40). Moving along the Aegean coast, he next came to Thessalonica. After preaching in the synagogue there, some Jews and “a great many” devout Greeks came to faith in Christ. This success roused the anger of the Jewish leaders, who raised a disturbance against the Christians, so that once again Paul left town after only a short stay. Then Paul went to Berea and then Athens, where he preached a famous sermon on Mars Hill but once again had to leave only a small band of converts behind.

From Athens, Paul sent his young assistant Timothy back to Thessalonica to minister to the believers whom they had left there (1 Thess. 3:1-2). Shortly after Paul arrived in Corinth, Timothy returned with news that lifted Paul’s spirits: “Now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love…we have been comforted about your faith” (1 Thess 3:6-7). For we now live,” Paul exclaimed, “if you are standing fast in the Lord” (1 Thess 3:8).

Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to express his joy in the believers’ faith. Based on information from the book of Acts, scholars date this letter during the year A.D. 50 or 51, making it one of the oldest New Testament documents, with only Galatians and James likely to have been written earlier. 1 Thessalonians is one of Paul’s most encouraging writings, expressing his relief and joy.

First Thessalonians follows the ancient practice of first identifying the author(s): “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy” (v. 1). These opening words remind us that this book is not an abstract theological treatise, but a letter. The teaching given here is not intended for highly trained specialists but for ordinary Christians of all kinds. The letter served to bridge the gap of space between apostle and church for the sake of ministry. The same letter bridges the gap of time between Christians today and the apostles who were charged to provide the foundational teaching of doctrine and practice for the followers of Christ.

After identifying the senders, ancient letters typically stated the recipients. Paul addressed this letter: “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which has the general meaning of “assembly.” In the Greek society of Paul’s audience, this word evoked images of the great democratic assemblies in which free citizens met for shared rule. Speaking generally, an ekklesia was any body joined together for political, social, or other purposes. The Christian church is a unique kind of assembly that has turned to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul’s later writings will convey the distinctiveness of the church by referring to his readers as “saints,” that is, holy ones who have been separated by God for faith, godliness, ministry, and worship in Christ’s name.

Having identified himself and his partners, and then having biblically defined his audience, Paul concludes his salutation with an expression of divine blessing. Writing out the encouragement that they had given to him, Paul encourages the Thessalonians with God’s rich blessing: “Grace to you and peace” (v. 1). Paul interjects theology into all his greetings, and here he notes the two great themes of salvation: grace and peace.

When we think of the peace of Christ’s salvation, we should first think of receiving peace with God. The Bible shows that mankind’s greatest need is to be restored to a relationship of peace with the God whom we have alienated and offended by our sin. The great problem of humanity is not caused by illiteracy, disease, or bad government. Our true problem is that, having rejected God’s rule, we are at war with the sovereign Creator. Paul writes that “sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). As a result of our guilt for breaking God’s law, all men and women are justly condemned under God’s wrath (Eph. 2:1-2). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Paul laments, with this dreadful result: “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

With the great problems of alienation and condemnation, our great need is the peace with God that Jesus came to provide. Jesus reconciled sinners to God by dying to pay the penalty for our sins, so that through faith we may be justified before God. Along with peace with God, Jesus ministers the peace of God in our hearts. Jesus gives a true and abiding inward peace, producing unity and harmony among men and women. Inner peace comes only through the resurrection power sent by the exalted, reigning Jesus Christ, who restores us to God and gives us His own peace. Peace with God comes by confessing your sin to God, trusting Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for your salvation, and surrendering your life to “the God of peace,” who will “sanctify you completely” through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:23).

It is wonderful to know that we can have peace with God and especially encouraging to know that this peace comes as a gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. This is why Paul blesses the Thessalonians with the greeting, “Grace to you and peace.” It is by grace that we receive the peace of God through Jesus Christ.

One way for us to think about grace is as a description of what God is like. Grace is often defined as “God’s” unmerited favor.” This is true, but it doesn’t go far enough. Grace is God’s favor to us when we have merited His condemnation. We have earned God’s hatred and wrath, yet He causes us to be forgiven and makes us His precious children. God gives that which is most precious to Himself, His only Son, that He might remove our guilt on the cross, reconciling us to His love. The measure of God’s grace is the costliness of His gift, and in the giving of Jesus to die for our sins, God has shown Himself to abound in grace for sinners.

How encouraging it is for beleaguered Christians today, like the Thessalonians of old, to know that our salvation is the free gift of God, according to His sovereign and eternal plan of grace. We may therefore rely utterly on God’s grace, giving God all the glory for our blessings in Christ. Though we have all sinned, believers “are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

Finally, grace is God’s power working in us for newness of life. Later in this letter, Paul will exhort the Thessalonian believers to live in a holy manner that pleases the Lord. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification,” he will announce, “that you abstain from sexual immorality” and “that no one transgress and wrong his brother” (1 Thess. 4:3-6). The Thessalonians were no longer to live in the sinful and harmful manner in which they had previously lived as unbelievers.

If you will look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Bible you will gain from Him the greatest encouragement of all as God’s grace invites you into His heavenly peace. For when you look to Jesus, the “star” of all history looks back to you with grace, revealing Himself as the Savior who died for your sins. Jesus invites you to believe in Him, to enter the church over which He is Lord, and encouraged by His grace, to extend His offer of peace to a sinful, broken world.

1 Thessalonians 1:1 Study Questions:

The church in Thessalonica is probably not many months old. Already they have faced great difficulties; they have been persecuted, and some have died. By way of rooting them firmly in the gospel, Paul reminds them of what happened when he arrived and preached there. What does Paul remember thankfully about the Thessalonians?

Do you know peace with God? Are you conscious of His favor and love? Do you love Him in return, longing to do His will and know Him better?


Paul’s letters to the church in Thessalonica provide an enlightening snapshot of the life and concerns of the earliest Christian churches. Paul vividly remembers his first impressions of the Thessalonian Christians to whom he writes. (The story of his encounter can be read in Acts 16 and 17.) They would suddenly understand what he was saying. It would grasp their hearts and minds. Paul and his companions, explaining the gospel to them, would become excited as they saw the message take hold, make sense, and begun its work of transforming hearts and lives.

Written from Corinth within weeks of Paul’s sudden need to depart from his beloved Thessalonian converts, the letters express the apostle’s joy that these believers excel in the most important of graces: faith and love. From this perspective, 1 and 2 Thessalonians set forth a vital teaching on what makes for a good church. Paul’s converts did not have political power, financial resources, or perhaps even great numbers. Buit having received the gospel “not as the word of men but as … the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13), they possessed true spiritual riches and power. In this way these two letters, among the earliest of the New Testament, provide an excellent primer on what constitutes a healthy and thriving church, even amid adversity and with a need for continued spiritual growth. These letters are vital for every Christian who longs for a healthy and growing Christian life.

The letters to the Thessalonians are particularly known, however, for their concentrated doctrinal teaching regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Paul’s eschatology in these letters is of primary importance for those seeking a firm understanding of end-times teaching. Paul’s teaching here, reproduces in a doctrinally clear fashion the teaching of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24-25 and Luke 21. Thessalonians also provides an essential doctrinal grid for approaching the book of Revelation. As such, the apostle’s clear and orderly teaching in these letters is a vital resource not only for properly understanding Christ’s return but also for inciting a joyful anticipation that agrees with the earliest Christians’ fervent desire. One of the great tragedies today is that so many Christians have been led to face the thought of Jesus’ return with fear and dread. But for Paul and his Thessalonian readers, Christ coming is nothing less than “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). This joyful expectation of Christ’s return is clearly communicated in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, so that a careful study of this material will lead to a life-and-death transformation of our hope for the future in the Lord.

These letters are among the very earliest documents we possess from the beginning of the church’s existence. They are already full of life, bubbling with energy, with questions, problems, excitement, danger, and, above all, a sense of the presence and power of the living God, who has changed the world through Jesus and in now at work in a new way by His Spirit. Those same qualities can touch us as well as we delve more deeply into them.

When the apostle Paul began his letter to the believers in Thessalonica, he recalled his first impressions of them. Thessalonica – modern Thessaloniki, or Salonica – was, and is, a thriving seaport in northern Greece, roughly two hundred miles north of Athens. Paul had come there after preaching in Philippi, further east, where he had been beaten and thrown in prison before pointing out that he was a Roman citizen.

Though Paul’s normal practice was to begin his preaching in the Jewish synagogue or place of prayer, it seems that most of the people who came to believe his message were non-Jews. For them, there was a double barrier to be crossed before they could accept the gospel. It was not only a crazy message about a man who was dead and then came to life again. It was a crazy Jewish message. Paul must have known, as he went from place to place, that most people who heard what he was talking about were bound to think him mad.

And yet the Thessalonians had not. Some in Thessalonica, as in most places he went, found that something happened to them when they listened to his message. A strange power gripped them – the power that, Paul would tell them, was the Holy Spirit at work.

What are some ways different people respond to remarkable experiences – reading an inspiring book, for example, or witnessing an uncommon event?