1 Thessalonians 1:2-5 - God's Choice 3 - Objections and Misunderstandings

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2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

Target Date: Sunday, 16 January 2022

Word Study/ Translation Notes:

4 – know – this participle (knowing) is in the active perfect tense. This means it was accomplished in the past and continues in effect.
4 – beloved – this verb (participle) is in the passive voice and the perfect tense. It is passive because it is something God does for them. It is a perfect tense because is it fully-realized.
He doesn’t refer to them as those who God is loving, nor as those who God loves. He chose this tense to indicate that God had loved them, and that His love is complete, not growing in their regard.
The participle in the present verse lays more emphasis than the adjective on the active exercise of God’s love as already consummated and resulting in a fixed status of being loved (perfect tense).
4 – He has chosen you – chosen=election.
By election is meant that act of free grace by which God destines individuals to become believers in Christ. Thus the Thessalonian converts were chosen or elected by God from among their heathen countrymen to become Christians. The ultimate reason of their Christianity was their election of God.
It is the relationship initiated by God to bring you from being an enemy of His to adoption as sons and daughters. What He did, He did when the only thing certain about you is that you were guilty in Adam – He saved you through the sacrifice of His Son.
??? The third descriptor follows quite closely from the second: God chose them (1 Thess 1:4). The focus here (eklogē) is not a kind of one-sided election (i.e. “predestination”), but more a testimony to how precious they are in God’s eyes. Imagine a couple passing by an alley and noticing a poor, homeless child lying on the ground half-dead. Their heart goes out to the child and they rush over and carefully scoop her up and find her care, later adopting her into their family. They were not forced to shelter her, but they went out of their way to rescue her and she becomes precious, one-of-a-kind, an object selected through persistent attention and interest. No doubt, in the midst of their trials and tribulations, the Thessalonians felt ignored by God. Perhaps they felt rejected. Paul responds tenderly: he chose you then, he loves you now.
??? No man is elected to be destroyed. You take the fatherhood out of God, you take the crown off the majesty of God, when you suppose that he could fore-ordain or elect any soul to wander in darkness. If he did I should abandon his altar and hate him. This word “election” is always used in relation to the temporal, and the immediate, and the superficial, always in the sense of setting in a certain direction, investing with certain responsibilities, and giving chance of certain destinies.
Calvin - “By faith,” say they, “we obtain salvation: there is, therefore, no eternal predestination of God that distinguishes between us and reprobates.” It is as though they said—“Salvation is of faith: there is, therefore, no grace of God that illuminates us in faith.” Nay rather, as gratuitous election must be conjoined with calling, as with its effect, so it must necessarily, in the mean time, hold the first place.
We should observe how Paul uses this concept here. It seems that Paul has two goals in using this doctrine of election in his prayer of thanksgiving. First, Paul is saying that God’s choice of these Thessalonians was the reason why they had faith, love, and hope. If we believe in the importance and reality of grace, we would not want it any other way! We would never want to say that God’s choice of these Thessalonians was based on their own faith, love, and hope. If we do that, we turn these virtues into works that gain God’s favor, and we certainly do not want to do that. So Paul was thankful that God chose these Christians and that God’s choosing them produced the fruit of faith, love, and hope.
Paul is using the doctrine of election to bring them assurance! How odd that is, at least to our way of thinking. The doctrine that often causes disputes in the Christian church is used by the Apostle Paul as a source of comfort. But remember, it is not comfort because we know the eternal plans and decrees of God. It is comfort because we see that plan unfolding before us in history. The Holy Spirit has brought the gospel to us, and we are following Jesus as disciples.

Thoughts on the Passage:

Geneva Bible: Knowing, beloved brethren, that ye are elect of God.
The NIV mistakenly places a paragraph break at this point despite the fact that vv. 2–4 string together three adverbial participles (“mentioning,” “remembering,” and “knowing”) that all modify the verb found in the main clause of v. 2, “We always thank God for all of you.” Therefore we should understand v. 4 as part of the sustained thanksgiving of the opening section of this book.
Paul is able to reinforce the connection between their new Christian way of life and the certainty of their salvation at the parousia or public manifestation of Christ.
In what is literally the first sentence written in the New Testament, the full responsibility of God in salvation, through His election, is confirmed and demonstrated.
In telling this to the church at Thessalonica, Paul and his partners were also reaffirming the hope they have in Christ, built not on how good they were, but built solely out of God’s election.
They were thankful to God for His election of the saints in Thessalonica.
They recognized that election through the evidences listed before, but that is because we cannot see the heart.
Like when you place a seed in a pot to germinate, you cannot see the work in the seed directly. But when you see the root or stem emerge from the soil, you know the work inside the seed has been a success. And yet, it is not due to anything you did other than putting it in the dirt – God caused the growth.
The Thessalonians had begun well in the gospel, but these evidences proved that they were growing well.
The election of God was in the distant past, rather than in the recent past:
Some would locate God’s choice of the Thessalonians at their conversion or thereafter by defining the elect as “those who are continuing in faith and who are persevering in obedience” (Arnold E. Airhart, “I and II Thessalonians,” Beacon Bible Commentary [Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1965], 9:443). Yet Paul speaks of their election as a thing of the past, not as dependent on any human response, whether initial faith or subsequent faithfulness.
Knowledge of this prior choice by God was the root of Paul’s thanksgiving.
If this had been election based on their choice, the word would have been “confirmation” rather than election.
Matthew Henry - Observe, [1.] All those who in the fulness of time are effectually called and sanctified were from eternity elected and chosen to salvation. [2.] The election of God is of his own good pleasure and mere grace, not for the sake of any merit in those who are chosen. [3.] The election of God may be known by the fruits thereof. [4.] Whenever we are giving thanks to God for his grace either to ourselves or others, we should run up the streams to the fountain, and give thanks to God for his electing love, by which we are made to differ.
From the word translated chosen (eklogēn) comes the English “election.” That God has chosen to bless some individuals with eternal life is clearly taught in many places in both the Old and New Testaments (e.g., Deut. 4:37; 7:6–7; Isa. 44:1–2; Rom. 9; Eph. 1:4–6, 11; Col. 3:12; 2 Thes. 2:13). Equally clear is the fact that God holds each individual personally responsible for his decision to trust or not to trust in Jesus Christ (cf. John 3; Rom. 5). The difficulty in putting divine election and human responsibility together is understanding how both can be true. That both are true is taught in the Bible. How both can be true is apparently incomprehensible to finite human minds; no one has ever been able to explain this antinomy satisfactorily. This task transcends human mental powers, much as seeing angels transcends human visual powers and hearing very high-pitched sounds transcends human auditory powers. The Thessalonians’ response to the gospel message proved that God had chosen them for salvation.
We will not know, this side of heaven, WHY God has chosen us, but we can be assured of His choice when we persevere.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption - 1 Corinthians 1:26-30
The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers - Deuteronomy 7:7-8
He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will - Ephesians 1:4-5
join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity - 2 Timothy 1:8-9
God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30
we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, - Ephesians 1:11
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. - Acts 13:48
Note that the evidences of this election were the work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. No “special” evidences were given, such as tongues, healings, or other miraculous events.
Even in the next verse, the fact that their conviction came in “power and in the Holy Spirit”, this gives no indication to any charismatic gifts that were in evidence. Those who wish to see that will, no doubt, assume it, but if those “spiritual gifts” were given as evidence, specific mention would have been made of them, at least in example.
If Paul’s (et al) intention was to detail the reason for their confidence in the salvation of God given to those chosen Thessalonians, it would be odd indeed if ecstatic manifestations of the Spirit were omitted if they had been present.
Not everyone we pray for will be saved, but, anecdotally, I see a great many that do become believers.

Sermon Text:

For the last few weeks, we have been looking at this single, remarkable statement Paul and his fellow evangelists make in verse 4:
We know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you.
If you recall, over the last few weeks, we have been looking at this great doctrine in detail –
That is, the doctrine of God’s election, meaning God’s choice, of those who will be saved.
I would remind us all again that we do not measure our progress in understanding the doctrines of our faith by how many verses we go through in a period of time.
And this particular doctrine, the doctrine of God’s election, is foundational to all others we proclaim.
We see that in the primacy Paul gives it here, in the second sentence ever written of our New Testament.
And I would remind you that these opening sentences of this first epistle are primarily a summary of the teaching Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy had proclaimed in Thessalonica.
And so because this doctrine is crucial to so many other doctrines, I feel that it warrants a far greater treatment than can be possibly done in a single sermon, no matter how long that sermon might be.
In fact, in the common acronym describing what is commonly called Calvinism – TULIP – this doctrine of God’s election encompasses four of the five points:
The TOTAL fallenness of man.
The UNCONDITIONAL election of God.
The LIMITED (particular) atonement of Christ.
And the IRRESISTABLE grace of God’s effectual call.
Without this great foundational doctrine, we saw in the prior weeks, there are many who find assurance of their salvation to be impossible because so much of their salvation is depending on their continued obedience.
Without a belief that God begins and accomplishes justification, we could not in good conscience pray for the salvation of anyone, since their will would necessarily be involved.
And if you place any responsibility for salvation on a person’s worth or acceptance, you have added needless, useless, vain works to the free grace God brings through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is for this reason that the first thing we looked at in this verse is what it means to be “elected by God” to salvation.
You will remember that it meant first that salvation is completely a matter of God’s choice and it is His work in its entirety.
Secondly, it means that salvation is given particularly to persons who are called by God and made alive by Him for God’s own reasons.
Then thirdly, that salvation is entirely without regard to the works or the merit of those God elects.
Then last week, we began to look at some major objections to this doctrine.
“Major” in that they are held by many people, and so you may encounter people who reject this doctrine outright.
Not “major” in that they provide difficulty for the Scripture, or that there is any real ambiguity in what Paul means here or other places.
In fact, last week we looked at two fundamental errors that people who deny this doctrine often fall into:
1. That there is something in the unredeemed will of man that must, in some way, reach out or cry out to God for salvation.
Or 2. That there is some work, perhaps even a work of faith, that a person must muster in themselves to be saved by God.
So last week, I went through many passages that addressed these errors, and each time we were brought back to the Scriptural doctrine of God’s election.
This morning, I would like to begin to take a look at some misunderstandings people may have with the doctrine of God’s election.
I call these ideas misunderstandings because they don’t really DENY this doctrine, but they tend to lead us to misapply it.
The objections we considered last week overtly deny God’s election of people to salvation;
But the things we look at this week may very well bother those who hold entirely to this doctrine.
The 1st misunderstanding we will look at this morning is that this doctrine denies man’s free will or personal responsibility.
The idea goes like this:
If God chooses people to be saved, then man has no say in the matter. So God, because He did not call a particular sinner, cannot hold him responsible for his sin.
Put another way: if man is truly incapable of coming to God any other way except being chosen and called, then they cannot be held responsible.
This misunderstanding is similar to one that we will deal with next week, God-willing, called Reprobation.
We won’t look at that subject here today because there are more things that must be considered with that one that make it deserving a full sermon of itself.
So for this morning, we will look at the simple charge that God’s election somehow removes man’s free will.
To address this misunderstanding, I would like to first point out that the problem addressed in Scripture is not that man has NO will, but that man’s will is entirely FALLEN.
Your problem is not that you have no will, but that the one you have is so utterly corrupt apart from Jesus Christ that you will not ever seek God.
In our natural, fallen, spiritually-dead state, it is the fact we HAVE a free will that is our problem:
That will is entirely incapable of choosing things that please and honor God.
You may recall I said this a few weeks ago about the sin of Adam, but it is equally true with our own choices:
Even when unconverted people choose the right things to do, they still cannot please God because those represent the supremacy of THEIR will over God’s in their hearts.
So the billionaires can give away every penny, and the virtue gurus can preach their ethic at the top of their lungs.
And even if they are, in themselves, really in control of their sin, so that at most every point they choose to do the right thing and follow the Ten Commandments with their lives;
Even if they did all these things, but they are not done through faith in Jesus Christ,
it is all done from THEIR will, not God’s.
And it is tainted, sinful.
This was the very state of the Pharisees, who practiced the Law with all the ardor they had. But Jesus pronounced His judgment of their efforts:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. – Matthew 23:15
So, what is man’s responsibility for his own sin? It is his own, and he can never repay the debt it has incurred for him.
God is right even if every man, woman, and child stood condemned in front of Him.
He is just if every person who ever lived was consigned to an eternity in hell.
That is the beauty of God’s grace – He gave it when we were completely unworthy.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:6-8
And even after we have come to Him, truly come to Him, we still battle with the old will inside us – what the New Testament calls the “flesh”.
walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. – Galatians 5:16-17
We see in this passage the willfulness of the flesh opposed to the will of God through His Holy Spirit.
It is in that old will, that old man of the flesh, that sin erupts in the believer – sin that must be put down, killed, mortified.
But we do this not by the supremacy of our will, but by seeking out and desiring God’s will above all.
Bringing our will into the will of God through Jesus Christ.
Not simply alongside it – like some simple “What would Jesus do?” question.
But the state described in Colossians 3:3:
your life is hidden with Christ in God.
The 2nd misunderstanding is that we must change the way we preach the gospel.
There are 2 equally-poor misunderstandings that can be seen here:
1. We must not say that God is calling on all men everywhere to repent since He will only call some. The idea being, we need to take out that word “all”.
2. We don’t need to preach the gospel at all since God will invariably save those who are His.
So, on the first question – do we need to take the “all” out of the gospel we preach?
I take you to Romans 10:12-13:
there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
This is one of those “whosoever” passages in the King James version.
Notice the “alls”:
Now, I won’t take a great deal of time to fully outline this passage, but you can see even from the context these “alls” are not saying the same thing:
The first “all” is saying that God is the Lord of both the Jew and the Greek, not simply one or the other.
The second “all” is everyone who comes to Him, not everyone period.
The “whoever” is Paul proving the previous “all” from Joel 2:32. You may recall Peter used the same verse in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:21.
So obviously the apostles who taught God’s election also used this all-encompassing call to repentance. That is because there is really no friction between these two at all.
We see the key in what Jesus says in John 6:44:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him
This isn’t the only time He talks about the choice of God or the election of God; this is simply one of the times.
When Peter made his confession that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus told him then:
flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 16:17
We also have this often-overlooked verse from the pen of Luke in Acts 13:48:
When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Paul had been preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Jews and had begun preaching the same gospel to the Gentiles.
But in this verse, the understanding and teaching of the early church is clear:
Preach the gospel to everyone;
As many as have been appointed (elected) to eternal life will believe.
This is what the Reformed saints have named the “effectual call” – the call of the gospel that is heeded by those who are the elect of God.
The second mistaken thought here, that we do not need to preach the gospel at all since God will save those He elects, we can see is just as flawed.
This is a Satanic idea propagated by lazy believers, and has nothing to do with New Testament doctrine, practice, or faith.
We need have no other command but the command of Jesus that we call the Great Commission in Matthew 8:28:
Go disciple all peoples
The heart of the mistake, I think, is the mistaken thought that our efforts, our preaching and evangelism, do the converting.
Certainly, those things are used of God in the process, but our job in evangelism is not to go out and MAKE sheep –
It is to find those sheep God has marked from eternity past.
And that is not an overstatement:
join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity - 2 Timothy 1:8-9
What is Paul saying to Timothy?
Continue to preach the gospel at all cost, because God has saved us and called us to this in Christ Jesus FROM ETERNITY PAST.
The 3rd misunderstanding is that it is necessary to believe this doctrine to be saved.
It may be difficult for some to hear, but understanding or adhering to the doctrine of God’s election is not a prerequisite for salvation.
Some saints of God may not come to embrace the goodness and beauty of this doctrine for a long time; some may never fully embrace it.
This is a very deep doctrine, and it is never given in Scripture as what a person must believe to be saved.
Repent of your sins and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation – that’s it.
As we have seen, this is a basic part of the discipleship ONCE the new believer was brought into the church,
but I am aware of no place in Scripture where the call to repentance is limited through this doctrine.
We see the gospel dividing those who hear between those who respond and those who do not, like those men who heard Paul’s great proclamation at the Areopagus:
God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” – Acts 17:30-31
Paul’s call was general, but the effect was particular.
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. – Acts 17:32-34
Too many believers – Reformed or Arminian – make doctrines like this a litmus test of faithfulness or salvation.
It should never be.
The gospel will not tolerate extra doctrinal baggage.
Remember, the Scriptures speak of those new to the faith as infants:
 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. - 1 Corinthians 3:1-3
Just like an infant will have little need for algebra, or even, for that matter, arithmetic,
Those are subjects for them to learn later –
When they have grown in capacity for understanding.
When they have the knowledge they need that precedes it.
And when they can put it to use in their lives.
This matter of the doctrine of God’s election, as we see in this current series, requires a good deal of explaining and understanding.
And even after we have been through this doctrine as thoroughly as I dare on these Sundays,
There may still be some who hear it and do not take it to heart,
Or who hear it and do not understand.
Or who hear it, but were not really listening.
That doesn’t make any of them unbelievers.
I would say, in general, we should avoid most, if not all, of arguments over these things.
If we are asked why we believe a doctrine like this, give a respectful answer in love.
But leave it there – speaking the truth in love and going no further than that.
Because even with those believers who do not embrace this doctrine of God’s election, we have significant points of agreement in the gospel:
1st – Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
For that reason, it is important to actively preach the gospel both at home and in missions to foreign places.
2nd – The gospel is preached to everyone, calling them to the salvation delivered through Jesus Christ.
Those who are called will be saved – the call will be effectual.
Those who are not called will not respond – but they will be responsible for their rejection.
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