For many of us, the grace of God seems like an abstract concept that has little relevance to our lives. When we look at Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, it becomes clear that God’s grace plays a key role in going before our peace, faith, and maturity. God is the one who saves, sanctifies, and keeps us.
God’s Grace Precedes Faith
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. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (1 Thessalonians 1:4–5)
In these verses, Paul’s emphasis is not on the actions of the Thessalonians, but on the action of God. Before the Thessalonian believers did anything, God chose them. They were converted not merely because they heard the gospel with their ears but ultimately because of a convicting, powerful, heart-changing act of the Spirit of God. God’s grace opened their eyes.
God drew each of them to himself through an act of regeneration; he took what was dead and made it alive. God’s grace preceded their faith.
In a similar way, God’s grace has preceded our faith as well. Our faith did not originate within us. Rather, God worked through the Holy Spirit to draw us to himself.
God’s Grace Precedes Maturity
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. (1 Thessalonians 1:6–7)
After their conversion, the believers in Thessalonica went from mimicking the actions of Paul to being an example to other believers. Their imitation led to maturity. When we imitate older men and women in the faith, we should eventually become an example to younger men and women.
This growth in maturity is only possible through the work of the Spirit. It is God who both saves us and sanctifies us through his grace. We cannot attribute this work to ourselves or our mentors, but to God who works in us. As believers, we should find older believers to imitate, knowing that God’s grace empowers us in the pursuit of maturity.
God’s Grace Precedes Peace
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. (1 Thessalonians 1:1)
Throughout his letters, Paul consistently uses the greeting, “Grace to you and peace.” While this was probably a common greeting of the day, it has particular relevance to the Christian. Grace always comes before peace. Peace cannot exist apart from God’s grace.
While these words are used consistently throughout Paul’s epistles, they are specifically relevant to the situation at Thessalonica. Paul is writing this letter to encourage believers he met during his second missionary journey.
In Acts 17, we learn that after Paul visited them, many of the people were persuaded by Paul’s message. Immediately after their conversion, a mob broke out and the city was in an uproar. When these men and women believed in Christ, it cost them peace with the Jews. The grace of God may lead to earthly turmoil and even suffering, but God promises that it will bring eternal peace.
The Power of God’s Grace
The example of the Thessalonian believers reminds us of the grace of God in our lives. In the same way that God’s grace preceded their peace, faith, and maturity, so also it goes before us. In the past, God’s grace led to our response in faith. In the present, God’s grace is leading us to maturity. In the future, God’s grace will lead to peace forevermore.
We put our hope not in ourselves but in the grace of God, a grace that was demonstrated supremely in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.