The word of the day is “chose.” Yesterday’s reading ended with Paul’s warning that the “man of lawlessness” (the Antichrist) who will appear at the end of time. But he should not deceive them (vs. 9). However, now Paul reassures the believers in Thessalonica that they are not among those who will perish in delusion and unbelief. The Apostle writes, “…God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (13).
The Greek term for “chose” is rooted in the thought of “taking something for oneself’” (#138, 8). The emphasis is not on favoring one thing over the other. The focus is on making something one’s own. This thought appears first in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God. The Lord your God chose you to be a people for Himself, special above all the nations of the earth (Deuteronomy 7:6).
Thus, the Almighty selected the Israelites as a people for Himself. The reason was not their greatness, for they were the least of all nations. But it was “because the Lord loves you and because He would keep the oath He swore to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 7:6-7).
Chosen for Sanctification
In our reading, we find that God chose the believers in Thessalonica for the same kind of holiness. Paul writes that God had done this for their “sanctification” by the Spirit. “Sanctification” is a process of becoming holy (‘agios). And holiness is the state of being set apart or consecrated for the sacred (Strong’s #383, 23). The Apostle in 1 Peter makes the logic of sanctity clear: “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct (1 Peter 1:16). If the people are to be God’s own, then they must share in his holiness. And that holiness is the result of “sanctification.”
Those who are becoming sanctified are the Church, which is “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. His [God’s] own special people” (1 Peter 2:9). The Church, therefore, is the “Israel of God,” as Paul teaches (Galatians 6:1). From the beginning, the Church has claimed the people of the Old Testament for its heritage. Justin Martyr wrote, “For the true spiritual Israel, and descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham… are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ” (Justin Martyr, Dialog with Trypho, Chapter 11.)
Chosen from the Beginning
Paul goes on to say that God chose the believers in Thessalonica “from the beginning.” A variant reading states that believers are the “first-fruits of salvation” in their city (vs. 13, Oxford Annotated). However, most texts translate the phrase with “from the beginning,” That reading means that God selected the believers from the commencement (‘arche) of the world (Strong’s #747, 43).
Why has God chosen them? The answer lies solely in the mind of God. St. John Chrysostom refers to the divine foreknowledge: “ For He who knows how to assay the soul, knows which is worthy of being saved” (Chrysostom, “Homily 16” on Romans NfPF1: 11). The preacher compares God’s action to a man who sees a “pearl lying in the mire.” Others fail to notice it. But he picks it up, and by adding “his grace” to its “noble free-will,” he makes it “approved.” Likewise, the judges of artworks have their own criteria. They often give awards to works that the public rejects. The preacher notes that “Jesus chose the publican, the thief, and the harlot; but dishonored priests, and elders, and rulers, and cast them out” (NfPf1: 11)
Three Works of Grace
Though we do not understand his reasoning, God does His works of grace for salvation in those he selects. Our reading teaches that He performs three different and interdependent actions. First, he calls His chosen by the Gospel. It is an “exterior” work of proclamation that requires hearing and “belief in the truth” (vs. 13). Second, he sanctifies them by the Spirit. It is an “interior” work of the Holy Spirit within the soul that requires the responsiveness of the heart. Third, he upholds the truth of the faith in the “traditions,” passed on by word or letter (vs. 15). It requires that the believers “stand fast” in what they were taught (vs. 13). Yet all of these are works of God, not our own. Chrysostom notes. “These are efficient causes of our salvation. It is nowhere of works, nowhere of righteous deeds, but through belief in the truth” (NfPf 1:13, 399).
With Paul, we are “bound” to give thanks to God on this national day of Thanksgiving. Of course, we must return our gratitude to God for the physical blessings that sustain us and the emotional bonds that support us. But most of all, we must, in humility, give thanks to God that He has chosen us for salvation. Without any merit on our part, He has put us on the path of deification and participation in the Life of the Holy Trinity. To the God of all grace who has chosen us for Himself, be thanksgiving, glory, honor, and praise forever.