The word of the day is “power.” Today we read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5. This passage begins the first epistle of Paul that is included in the New Testament. Paul established the congregation at the important seaport of Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. According to the Orthodox Study Bible, he wrote this letter from Corinth in 50 or 51 AD, about six months after he had organized the church.
Paul indicates that the work of building the church in Thessalonica had been exceptionally successful. He writes, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake” (vs. 5).
The Gospel in Words
From Paul’s brief description of the preaching, in Thessalonica, we learn what makes the Gospel’s proclamation effective. First, Paul says, it came in “word” (vs. 5). Words communicate a message from one person to another. Thus, Paul refers to “prophesying,” that is, to inspired speech that teaches the revelation of God (Strong’s #4395, 216). The words of such prophecy “profit” the hearer with some revelation, knowledge, or teaching (vs. 1 Cor. 14:6). But if the hearers do not understand it, it is like a flute that makes an indistinguishable sound (vs. 1 Cor. 14:7). Consequently, Paul says that he would rather speak “five words with my understanding so that I may teach others than ten thousand words in a [incomprehensible] tongue” (1 Cor 14:19).
The Gospel in Power
But second, the message came in words, but “not in words only but in power” (vs. 5). Here St. Paul is not thinking of the “signs and wonders that sometimes accompany the preaching of the Gospel (Mark 16:20, Romans 15:19). The Greek word connotes the force, ability, and potential of the proclamation itself. It only refers to miraculous events in a secondary way (Strong’s #1411, 73).
Thus, Paul is speaking of the forcefulness of the message itself. Something has power when it can produce an effect on something else. The degree to which it acts on its object is the degree to which it has power.
The prophet Isaiah applied this understanding to our confidence in the Word of God. He wrote, “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (vs. Isaiah 55:10-11).
The Gospel has this kind of innate capability. In fact, Paul calls the Gospel, “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes (vs. 1:16). So, when Paul says the Gospel “came in power,” he is saying that as the Word of God it was mighty in performing its mission. It was successful in producing its effects. It created the conviction of faith that results in the salvation of its hearers.
But why would the Gospel, or any Word spoken by God, have this effect? Surely, the power is not in the words themselves. The Gospel was “not in words only” as if Paul was a magician with a magical formula. No, the third point is that the Gospel was proclaimed “in the Holy Spirit” (vs. 5).
That is, the Holy Spirit inspired it. The words themselves can and do change with the speaker and the circumstances. But the Holy Spirit speaks within the words just as a flutist uses the flute as an instrument to sound her intended melody.
The Gospel in Full Assurance
Fourth, Paul and his associates preached the Gospel with “full assurance.” The Greek term expresses the utter confidence that Paul and his co-workers had in the message (Strong’s #4136, 204). They testified to their personal firm conviction in the truth and saving power of their message.
The Gospel from Reliable Witnesses
Finally, Paul writes, “as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake” (vs. 5). Their manner, attitude, and motivation showed that they were reliable witnesses and teachers of the Gospel that they proclaimed.
In one verse, we have found the fundamental characteristics of preaching that achieves its goal. That intention is to declare the grace of God and to teach believers in the way of salvation. Is it realistic for us to expect this kind of proclamation today? Besides the message itself, the most significant motivation of preachers is attentive and responsive hearers of the message. In response to today’s reading, let us resolve to be the good soil in which the seeds of the Word of God may be planted.