In this passage we will encounter some marvelous encouragement on behalf of Paul, and catch a glimpse of the life of the Thessalonians since he and his company left them.
First of all, I do not think it is insignificant that he labels them as “loved by God.” A little later on in the passage, he mentions the “sever suffering” they are enduring, and one can only imagine what a temptation it was for the young Thessalonian believers to not believe that they were loved by God. Doubtless they did not feel loved by God. Certainly if God was as good and as powerful as Paul described Him, they would not be suffering the way they were.
But Paul is able to say, in complete awareness of their situation and with complete confidence in the veracity of his words, they were loved by God.
We should never mistake our situation in life for God’s level of love for us. We should never equate difficult situations for a lack of love, and we should never limit God’s love to blessed situations. If we live in blessing and success all our lives, the truth will still hold that we will never understand the height, depth, and width of God’s love for us.
Do you need to be reminded that you are loved by God?
Paul also notes that the Thessalonians imitated him and his company well since they have been gone. Commentators will sometimes label Paul as one of the most arrogant men in Scripture for this kind of passage. You do not need to read through many of his epistles before you come across this kind of language. But what is often overlooked is the historical context in which Paul encouraged imitation and the Scriptural context in which he mentions imitation. As for historical context, Paul and company were likely the only examples the Thessalonians had for Christian behavior and lifestyle. If they did not imitate Paul, who were they going to imitate? And as for Scriptural context, when Paul mentions imitation, he never stops with himself. As here in 1 Thessalonians, he is always quick to take the young Christians beyond himself to Christ. Paul is far from arrogant (in the sense of the vice of pride)!
In his letters, Paul uses a range of vocabulary to describe the kinds of suffering he and the early believers endured. Here, when he calls it “severe suffering,” he is using about the most violent imagery he can. The verb form of this word is the word used in Greek for crushing grapes to make wine. And yet, the Thessalonians received the Word with joy! What an amazing reality. Where Paul reminded them not to equate their difficulty with a lack of God’s love, they had already disconnected their trials from their sense of joy.
As one final brief note on this passage (see the audio version for the whole study), the topic of God’s wrath shows up at the end of this chapter. Because the issues of the Day of the Lord and the Rapture will come up later, I will make one brief observation. The NT uses basically two concepts/words for wrath or anger. Thumos is intended to convey the kind of anger which arises quickly and dissipates quickly. Orge, which is the word of choice in contexts dealing with God’s final wrath against sin, describes an anger which is more of a state of mind. It is the kind of anger which builds up for a long time and has a great deal of intent and deliberation behind it. God’s wrath upon sin is an orge kind of anger.
What is marvelous, though, about orge is that those who place their trust in Christ are sparred from it. As with 1:10, God saves those who know Him from His final outpouring of wrath.