After pointing out that the Thessalonians were chosen by God because of His love for them rather than any great characteristic of their own, Paul points out how this truth brings security and assurance in their position with God and works itself out in godly living. Godly living does not work out in salvation, but salvation works out in godly living. 1 Thessalonian 1:5b-7 says, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.  And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” Paul had mentioned that they had delivered the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone to the Thessalonians with “full conviction” (verse 4). In other words, their certainty of God’s love for them and their confidence in their eternal destiny had changed them from the inside. This conviction affected the way they lived and related to other people. The Holy Spirits’ job is to open the minds and hearts of people to God’s love expressed in Jesus Christ. Could this be why Paul refers to the “joy” of the Holy Spirit?

Paul suggested that they became the men that they are because of the Gospel of God’s love for them. It wasn’t the law that changed them and made such an impression on those in Thessalonica. It was God’s love. The law might change one’s behavior on the outside, but it doesn’t do anything to change one’s character. Love changes one’s character from the inside. The law works in our lives to inspire strictness with ourselves and with others. Everyone knew that the Pharisees did their best to keep all the laws of the Old Testament, and they were merciless in their judgment of others who may fail in any way to keep the law. Even today, a Pharisee, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.” It goes on to say that when used today, it refers to “a self-righteous hypocrite.” So, when Paul, a former well-known Pharisee, arrived in Thessalonica, he stunned the congregation by bringing a new message of God’s love for sinners.

It was the radical change in Paul that made such an impression on others. They knew what kind of person he was before receiving God’s love through Christ, and they now know what kind of person he and his partners have become after receiving God’s love. This is the “kind of men they proved to be.” The Thessalonians were so moved by their example and testimony that they, too, believed in Jesus. Thus, they followed Paul’s example. Legalists don’t face persecution. They are the persecutors. That’s the way it is by the very nature of the beast. But Jesus, Paul, and now the Thessalonians were all experiencing persecution from the religious elite of the day as well as the pagan rulers. There are different kinds of suffering in our world today, but there are only two kinds of responses to it. First, we can get angry and bitter and blame God for the pain in our lives. I have had many, many conversations with non-believers who argue that they could never believe in a God that would allow so much suffering. The other way is Job’s way. He said, “though he slays me, yet will I trust Him.  Naked, I came into the world, and naked from it, I shall go. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” I would argue that love is the thing that makes the difference between the first way and Job’s way. God demonstrated His love for us in this, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus demonstrated His love in that He gave His life without complaining. We can accept pain and suffering when we know that God loves us, and we can trust Him to make it all right in the end, just as He did with Job. When the Bible speaks of God’s love, it uses the Greek word “Agape.” That’s unconditional love. It isn’t dependent on any quality or character of the object of love. It’s just freely offered. This is the way God loves us. When we receive God’s love, we can return it. And only then. Without it, God will always be a brute who allows pain and hardship in our lives.