“Word for Today” – 1 Thessalonians 1 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

November 23, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” This proverb was first penned by Gershom Buckley, a minister at a congregation in Wethersfield, Connecticut.  In his pamphlet “Will and Doom,” Buckley wrote, “Actions are more significant than words.”  Since then, this phrase, slightly modified, has become axiomatic, used to express the primacy of acting over speaking.

In our reading for today from 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul opens his letter to this Christian congregation with a commendation:  “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” (verse 5-6, ESV).  Paul here seems to be commending the Thessalonians’ actions in imitating him and, by extension, Christ.  “You’ve done what Jesus has done!” Paul seems to be saying.  “You’ve acted like Jesus acted!  And actions speak louder than words!”

But Paul’s commendation of the Thessalonians is not a matter of their actions only.  For Paul continues in verse 6:  “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.”  The Thessalonians imitated Paul not just in his actions, but by receiving the Word.  That is, they did not imitate Paul through pious works, charitable acts, or spiritual feats, though all of those things are certainly vital to and a noble part of the Christian life.  When it came to the Thessalonians’ imitation of Paul, however, and finally of Christ, it was to be found in their simple, faith-filled reception of the Word of God.

As we are reminded by Paul’s words to the Thessalonians, any and every action of a Christian is to be rooted in the Word of God.  This is why the Lutheran confessors upheld the primacy of God’s Word to guide all Christian action:  “In order that people do not resolve to perform service to God on the basis of their own pious imagination in an arbitrary way of their own choosing, it is necessary for the law of God constantly to light their way” (FC Ep VI:4).  The Lutheran confessors maintained that without the Word of God guiding his way, a Christian would have no idea what good works to do or what charitable acts to perform.  Indeed, without the Word of God guiding his way, a Christian would simply have to “make up,” as it were, what constitutes a good work.  That is why Martin Luther wrote that the Ten Commandments, as contained in God’s Word, “are to be exalted and extolled above all orders, commands, and works that are taught and practiced apart from them” (LC I:333).  God’s Word and commandments are to undergird every work that a Christian does.

“Actions are more significant than words.”  Perhaps Gershom Buckley was wrong, or at least incomplete.  Not because actions are insignificant, but because if it wasn’t for words – or, more specifically, the Word – there would be no actions for a Christian to perform.  So today, I would simply offer you this little exercise:  Read then Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17.  Ponder each commandment and ask yourself three questions.  First, ask, “Like the Thessalonians, do I receive these words from God with the joy of the Holy Spirit, or do I reject them in stubborn disbelief?”  Second, ask yourself, “How have I broken these words by my sinfulness and do I trust in the sure and certain word of God’s forgiveness in Christ?” For this word of grace is God’s most beautiful word.  Finally, after basking in God’s forgiveness, ask, “How can I better imitate in my actions the word that I have received in faith?”  Remember, without God’s Word, there would be no actions for you to perform.  So praise God for his Word today.  For long after our actions fade and falter, God’s Word remains.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Philippians 4 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – 1 Thessalonians 2 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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