Give Thanks For God's Work In People's Lives
Whenever Paul uses 'ought' (Gk. opheilo), he is talking about a divinely inspired duty. He owed God a debt of gratitude for bringing the Thessalonians to faith in Jesus. Out of all the people in Thessalonica who heard the gospel, God chose some to be in the first 'harvest' in that city. They were the 'first-fruits' of the gospel. Exodus 23:16 says that the firstfruits should be brought to the Lord to thank Him for what He had done. It was not for the farmer to assume that he had achieved a fine harvest by himself. It was God's work motivated by love, just as when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and thousands of people trusted in Jesus: Pentecost was the Jewish feast of firstfruits.
The clear implication of 'first-fruits' was that there would be a much larger harvest subsequently. The scale might be different but the process of spiritual transformation would be the same. Of course, it was Paul who explained the gospel message to them, and he rightly described it as 'our' gospel – in that they had believed it, lived by it and preached it. But the apostolic team, including Timothy and Silas, had been working with God, under God, for God and in the power of God. The team brought the gospel information, explanation and application together with persuasive motivation … but the Holy Spirit enabled the Thessalonians to believe the gospel and gave them a clean conscience (Hebrews 9:14).
The founding and building of the church in that city was evidence that the Lord had worked through the apostolic messengers, transforming many lives (Acts 17:4), and that many more would be saved in the future. These believers were more than a struggling group of persecuted people – they were destined to share God's glory. He had chosen them, called them, justified them and would certainly glorify them (Romans 8:30). This was a great reason to celebrate and to give thanks even though He has many co-workers (1 Corinthians 3:9).
Have we forgotten our responsibility to thank the Lord for working in people's lives? However faithful and eloquent the preacher may be, that person is merely a servant of the church under God's authority to present God's Word in its powerful fullness (Colossians 1:25). So, our obligation is to praise the Lord, not the preacher or pastor, for every act of spiritual transformation. Have we forgotten that the believers we see are part of a greater harvest all destined to share God's glory? Churches must never become proud human empires, monuments to pastoral effort. They are God's workmanship (Ephesians 2:10): that is why we thank Him for every sinner saved and walking in faith. Praise is the great antidote to pride and the prelude to Glory. Praise is our duty which honours the Lord and puts us all in our right places. Whatever Your role in the church, make sure you give God the glory for His transforming work in people's lives.
© Dr Paul Adams