In the excerpt below from 1 & 2 Thessalonians in the Christ-Centered Exposition Series, author Mark Howell discusses the very first verses of I Thessalonians. Central to these initial verses is the idea that the gospel of Jesus Christ can transform a people and impact a city.
A common misconception people on the outside of the church have about people on the inside of the church is that people on the inside are somehow insulated from or unaffected by the real struggles of life. Many attenders perpetuate this idea by observing the unwritten rule that when attending church, if you pretend that your life is perfect, you may just be able to convince others that it is. They could borrow a line from the old commercial on a certain deodorant: when in church, never let those in the pews around you “see you sweat.”
Of course, those on the inside know from personal experience that Christians are real people who live in a real world and experience real struggles. The variable changing the equation for a believer is not the absence of these struggles, but a personal, life-changing encounter with a real God through the person of Jesus Christ. From the moment you embrace the gospel, the entire picture and pursuit of your life is radically transformed. The gospel goes far beyond reforming character or insulating you from life’s challenges; it brings about the transformation of your heart.
If ever a city needed this kind of transformation, it was Thessalonica. This city was full of real people who were overwhelmed with real struggles and desperately needed a life-changing encounter with a real God. Thessalonica had a burgeoning population of more than 200,000 Romans, Greeks, and Jews. It was also the temporary home of thousands of sailors, travelers, and immigrants who visited its bustling port or traveled its busy highways. A vibrant economy, a strategic harbor, and a prime location on the Roman Empire’s Egnatian Road made Thessalonica one of the most influential cities of the first century. It was the New York, Houston, or Boston of its day—yet for all its assets, Thessalonica was a lost city. The Greeks filled the temples, the Jews attended the synagogue, and the Romans paid homage to Caesar, but a pervasive spiritual darkness covered the city. As Gene Green puts it, the Thessalonians were afloat “in a sea of great religious pluralism and confusion” (Green, Letters, 32).
The apostle Paul knew that for the gospel to break through the religious fog of the city, it first had to shine in the hearts of the people. He was convinced that if a church could be planted in this strategically located and culturally diverse city, the gospel could spread to Rome in the West and to Asia Minor in the East. He and his colleagues, Silvanus and Timothy, had personally experienced the transforming power of the gospel. They were now passionately committed to bring this good news to the people of Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9).
About the Author:
Mark A. Howell has served as Senior Pastor at First Baptist, Daytona Beach, Florida since September 2011. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, TN. While at Carson-Newman he was privileged to play linebacker on the 1986 National Championship football team. He also holds both the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
About the Editors:
David Platt is pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. He holds a Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of the best-selling book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.
Daniel L Akin is the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He holds a Ph.D. in Humanities from the University of Texas at Arlington and is the author or editor of numerous books and Bible commentaries including Theology for the Church and the New American Commentary on 1, 2, and 3 John.
Tony Merida is lead pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He earned a Ph.D. in preaching from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His books include Faithful Preaching and Orphanology.