Rev. Haak is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan and radio pastor for the Reformed Witness Hour, on which this message was aired.
“For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.”
In this chapter of I Thessalonians the apostle Paul states that he knew that the believers in Thessalonica had been eternally chosen of God unto salvation. He says to them in verse 4, “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.” How was it that Paul was able to know that they were the elect of God? Was Paul given by God a look into the Lamb’s Book of Life, the registry of God’s eternal election, where God recorded the names of those whom He would give to Christ? No, Paul did not look into that registry. Paul knew their election because he saw the fruits of election in their lives.
The truth of election is not only that God chose who will be saved and did so from eternity, based only on His own grace, but also that God determined to work in these elect to bring them to faith and to the fruits of faith. We read in, “According as he hath chosen us in [Christ] … that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” We read in that God has chosen us to salvation “through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” The truth is this: God, with an unchangeable and eternal decree of election, not only determines who shall be saved but determines also that in them He will work His good and holy pleasure, so that they will bring forth the fruits of saving faith.
What were the fruits of faith that Paul saw in the Thessalonians? He says in verse 3: “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.” That is, the apostle saw the great trio of Christian graces (faith, hope, and love).
But more. The apostle says that he recalls how they had received the preaching of the Word of God. That, especially, was an evidence to him that God had worked faith in their hearts. He says in verse 5, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” The gospel came to these Thessalonian Christians not merely as a discourse on religious issues, but, in the power of the Holy Spirit, as the very Word of God, it had given them unshakable assurance. Paul sees the effect of the gospel that was preached. He sees the effect that it had upon their lives and especially the effect that it produced in their witnessing. He says, “for from you sounded out [or echoed] the word of the Lord.” Having received the Word of God, the believers in Thessalonica began to echo that Word of God. It reverberated from them to others.
Now Paul is reasoning back from effect to cause. He sees that the Thessalonians showed faith and love and hope. He sees that the Thessalonians had received the gospel in all of its power. He sees that the believers of Thessalonica engaged in sincere evangelism and witnessed of the truth of the gospel. And all of this, says the apostle, could be true only if God had first elected them unto salvation. A fruit of God’s sovereign election is that He works in us the desire to echo forth the Word of the Lord.
It is alleged that those who believe in the doctrine of God’s eternal election are people who do not evangelize. The truth is that those who are elected of God show their election by evangelism. Nothing is lovely, attractive, or catches our eye in the gospel unless God wills of His grace to soften our hearts so that we receive the Word. But then God also makes the believer a sounding board to echo the word that he has heard. This, in fact, was the reason for our election. God has, from the beginning, chosen us in order that we might show forth His praise. The church built by God’s sovereign election, the church that is built because God from the beginning chose it to salvation out of His own free grace, will also, by the power of God’s grace in them, become an echo of the Word of God.
The Thessalonian church echoed. The Word of God reverberated from them.
We want to answer this question: What is the connection between the life of the Thessalonian church and their witnessing? Usually we think of evangelism or witnessing in terms of special activities: going door-to-door with tracts, or holding special classes. These are good and profitable. But these activities are not first and are not most important. The Word of God teaches us that the spiritual condition of the congregation is most clearly seen in the witness that the congregation gives to the community. Our witness does not begin when we go forth in various activities. But it begins in how we live together as fellow believers in the church, and how we stand towards the Word of God. Jesus said, “Ye are the salt of the earth.” But a church that loses its salt, its savor, is good for nothing.
You see, we leave a witness before we go out, before we speak. In all that we do and at all times, we leave a witness. It is not a question of whether or not we witness. It is a question of what kind of witness we leave. And everyone plays a part in this, as members of the church: children, youth, adults—all the members of the church. Witnessing is, first in the way of living a sanctified life, a holy life together in the church, under the Word of God, obeying that Word of God.
From this chapter we learn that there were a number of things that characterized the life of the church in Thessalonica that are given for our example.
First of all, they genuinely received the Word of God as it was preached to them. In this chapter Paul is reminiscing. He is recalling how the gospel he preached to the Thessalonians had been received. He says that it came not only in word, not only some new philosophy or fad. But it came in power, a power of the Holy Spirit, even as Jesus had promised. And it came in much assurance, so that the people came under conviction. As Paul preached to them, the Holy Spirit of God worked in their hearts, and that Word possessed them and brought them assurance and conviction and joy of their salvation.
And they had received that Word, says Paul, in much affliction and joy. That is, that Word came at a cost to their families and to their business. They had to suffer for the Word of God. But the very power of heaven broke into their souls through the gospel as Paul preached it to them in all of its truth and wonder. By the Holy Spirit, their hearts were opened so that they embraced it.
How did Paul preach to them? He tells us in Acts 17 that he reasoned out of the Scriptures. Still more, he says to us inthat he left out nothing. He spoke the whole counsel of God—all of the truth of the Word of God—as the truths of the Word of God are all arranged around one center, all hanging upon one line. That one center and line is the glory of God—the absolute sovereignty of God! That means that God is almighty, that all things are of God and by God and unto God, as we read in .
That Word the Thessalonians eagerly received as the Holy Spirit worked in their hearts. Not only did they receive the Word preached to them, but they also lived it with a reverent, vibrant faith.
That sounds very strange today. That is the missing element so often today, the element of reverence. Many in the Christian church feel put off by reverence for God. But the Thessalonian faith was, above all things, reverent. They stood in awe of God. Their faith was not a giddy, superficial, flippant, surface faith, but a reverential fear and knowledge of God. Their faith was genuine because they had been brought before God in His majesty and in His grace. They saw that they were dead sinners, and that they had no claims upon God, and that they could not lift themselves up by their own will out of their debt. They saw that all of their salvation was of God’s grace working in their hearts. And they embraced that not as a mere doctrine, not with stiff formalism, but with a reverence and a godly awe of the Almighty.
What was the nature of that church? This was the nature of the church that echoed out the Word of God: there was a loving reception of the Word preached to them, and there was a faith that breathed out a reverence for the majesty of God. When those two are in the congregation of the Lord—a reverence for God and a love for His Word preached—then the results will be that the congregation echoes the Word of God. “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord,” says the apostle, “not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.”
“Echoed,” is literally “sounded out, reverberated, resounded.” The picture is this: Through the life and witness of the Thessalonians, the Word of the Lord was resounding throughout the region. As sound waves or as an echo goes out over and over again, being heard everywhere, extending ever broader and farther, so the Thessalonians, in their life as they went forth upon the roads, upon the sea-lanes, in the shops, with their friends, and as they traversed the Mediterranean world, echoed forth the Word of God. So much so, Paul says, that we need not say anything. The apostle is not saying that his work as an apostle and preacher of the gospel was no longer needed, no longer necessary, that he could just as well be quiet. No, but he means that, as far as reporting, giving an explanation of the faith and zeal of the Thessalonians, he did not need to report or explain to other Christians what had happened in Thessalonica because it became evident from the Thessalonians themselves. It was very plain to all that Christ’s church was established in Thessalonica because the believers echoed the Word.
The Word of the Lord that the Thessalonians (and we) speak did not originate with them or with us. An echo does not create the sound. It repeats the sound. They had received the Word. They spoke that which they had seen and heard.
Still more. An echo reinforces. It passes the sound on with power. An echo is not a muffler. The power of the Word went on. The Christian, you see, does not simply absorb the sound of the Word of God. Oh, we do absorb it. By the grace of God, we pull it into our hearts. But then the child of God becomes an echo of the Word of God.
If the Word of God does not live within you, it is purely academic and outward. Then you hear it and it sinks into the gray matter and it peters out and you become absorbed in all of your own things. But when the Word of God is received in the soul, then that Word echoes in your life. It reverberates, going out farther and farther, so that our witness goes on and passes from one to another. You never know where that Word is going to end up. God does. But we never know.
I am reminded of what we read in II Kings 5, during the ministry of Elisha, of how Naaman was told that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal him of his leprosy. That word came to him through a little girl who was carried captive—a little girl of Israel who became a maid to Naaman’s wife who, almost in an off-hand way, said to Naaman’s wife, “Would God, my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria. For he would recover him of his leprosy.” Just the word of a little girl, repeated by a wife to her husband, and Naaman heads off for Israel. That is the power of God’s Word.
Your calling as a member of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is to live a holy life in your neighborhood, in your school, in your office, in order that your holy life and your words may be as an echo of the truth that God is God.
From you, says the apostle, echoed forth the Word of the Lord. Are you one who has received the Word of God? Have you been brought to know the truth of your salvation, that it was founded in God’s eternal election, not in you, not in your will, not in your choice, but that it was God alone who, from all eternity, chose and determined who would be saved and, by grace, rescued you out of death so that your salvation is not built upon something you did or you decided but upon what God has done? As a result of that election, has God, then, continued to work in you so that you receive and love the Word of God? Then the Word of God will also echo from you—wherever you go, wherever you are. Your life will be as an echo of the living Word of God. And it will be said of you, “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord.”
May God so graciously grant this to you and to me.