Philosophers call one branch of their discipline epistemology. This is the branch of philosophy that seeks to answer the question of how we know what we know. And then, how do we know that we know that? For them it is a matter of figuring out an intellectual problem, which is a big part of their problem. Knowledge is grace. It is a gift. It is the kindness of God. Knowledge is not something we attain; knowledge is bestowed.
“PAUL, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father . . .” (1 Thess. 1:1–10).
Summary of the Text
Paul begins with his standard greeting of grace and peace (v. 1), but in this he is joined by Timothy and Silvanas, who was most likely Silas (v. 1). The church of the Thessalonians was located in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 1). Paul always gave thanks to God for them in his prayers (v. 2), never forgetting what a hard-working bunch of Christians they were in the sight of God (v. 3). They were characterized by the work of faith, the labor of love, and the patience of hope. Paul was confident of their election by God (v. 4). Not only did he know their work, he was confident that they also knew his work. They knew what kind of men made up Paul’s entourage. The gospel came to them, not just in words, but in power, in the Spirit, and in much assurance (v. 5). They decided to follow Paul’s band, and the Lord also, having received the word in much affliction (v. 6). Notice that the same word is used to describe much assurance and much affliction. The two go together. This is part of God’s routine. What the devil wants to use to unsettle us, God uses to settle us. They also received it in the joy of the Holy Spirit, which also is fitting (v. 6). They were good examples to all believers throughout Macedonia and Achaia, which was northern and southern Greece respectively (v. 7). Word about their faith had spread even past Greece to regions beyond (v. 8). What was spreading was news about their faith in God so that Paul did not need to say anything—although he probably would have if he had needed to. Other people tell Paul the story of how the Thessalonians received him, and how they turned from idols to the living God (v. 9). The Thessalonians had also been taught to wait for the Son from heaven, the same one whom God raised from the dead, and who delivered us all from the wrath to come (v. 10). Remember there is a connection here—much assurance and coming wrath.
The Church in Thessalonica
When Paul and Silas first came to Thessalonica, they went to the synagogue of the Jews, and Paul reasoned with the Jews there for three consecutive sabbath days (Acts 17:1-2). He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, showing how it was necessary that the Christ had needed to suffer and rise from the dead, and that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact that same Christ (Acts 17:3). Some of the Jews believed, and a lot of Greeks, and more than a few of the leading women in the city (Acts 17:4). So these were the people that Paul is writing to in our letter.
But the unbelieving Jews were moved with envy, it says (Acts 17:5), and so they got some unsavory fellows from Rent-a-Mob, and set the whole city in an uproar. Hard to believe, I know, but whole towns can get in a churcn. They hauled Jason and some other brothers in front of the rulers of the city (Acts 17:6). They made some jumbled accusations (Acts 17:6-7), enough to trouble the city rulers (Acts 17:8). The officials took some sort of security from Jason and the others and let them go (Acts 17:9), and Paul and Silas were sent off to Berea by night by the brothers (Acts 17:10).
Knowledge is a Gift
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: But fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7) “For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD” (Prov. 1:29) “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).
The first stair step of knowing rightly is to know God rightly, and to fear Him. To hate knowledge is the same thing as not choosing the fear of the Lord. And knowledge of the holy is the foundation of all understanding.
Your knowledge of things is not your attainment. A baby is born knowing how to suck—did he figure that out? Knowledge is a grace; knowledge is a gift. And as you meditate on these passages from Proverbs about knowledge, remember that knowledge is also a moral activity, and denial of knowledge an immoral one.
When the gospel comes in power, it brings much assurance (v. 5). But it is also true that when the gospel comes in power it disrupts the status quo, and if there is one thing we know about the status quo, it is how much it dislikes being disrupted. The status quo hates that.
Remember how the church at Thessalonica was planted. Paul came to town and preached the gospel for three successive sabbaths. In that very short space of time, the Thessalonians received the word, with much assurance, in the midst of much affliction. A biblical epistemology has little or nothing to do with sitting quietly in a library somewhere, thinking great and lofty thoughts, with lots of time for calm reflection.
And what was accomplished in the course of those three weeks? They were delivered from the wrath to come. What was riding on which direction they broke during those three weeks—quite an inadequate time for extended research, don’t you think? There was study and research all right (Acts 17:2). Paul did reason from the Scriptures. But then there came a time—and it was a very, very brief time—when he rolled up the scroll and asked them what they thought of Christ. Did the Christ have to suffer and rise? And this Jesus of Nazareth—was He this Christ? The train is leaving now, and if you stay here the wrath of God remains on you (John 3:36). Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.
And so, friend, what do you make of this Christ?