And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.1 Thessalonians 2:13 NKJV
Here, we see a transitional phrase, and we also… or for this reason… which leads Paul to describe his consistent and constant prayers for them because of their open reception of the Gospel. Their “reception” or receiving of the word, implies that the oral transmission of the gospel by those who preached it, namely Paul, Silas, and Timothy, was welcomed, much like the soil of the parable that was tilled, fertile, and received the seed from the Sower. For this reason, not that they were obstinate or hard-hearted, but open and welcoming of the word in their hearts, Paul gives constant thanks to God in prayer.
As he proceeds, Paul then describes the word which the Thessalonians received as, not the word of men (anthropos), rather as what it really is, the Word of God. Here we see a critical and defining statement that sets the gospel message, the truths that Paul, Silas, and Timothy spoke, apart as not simply their own words, opinions, thoughts, rather as the word of God. This is a profound statement and one that should never be made lightly. In our day, we are prone to hear false teachers claim that they are speaking the word of God and we are prone to have men preach their opinions only to support them with a similar statement claiming to preach the very word of God. How then can we delineate whether Paul is simply using this phrase to prop up the teaching of the trio in Thessalonica or whether it is a truthful statement that the words they spoke were more than the words of men?
Here, we need to return to earlier in the letter where we find an expansion upon these summary thoughts encountered in 2:13. There, we find the following
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 1:5
First, we see that Paul, et.al. can claim to be speaking the Word of God because it was accompanied with power, the Holy Spirit, and was full of conviction, all of which we discussed earlier. These accompaniments distinguished their words from those of men to those coming from God. Clearly, all involved knew that there was a divine authority accompanying their preaching.
Second, in our verse we read that this word of God was effectually working in those who believed. Returning to chapter 1, we find evidence of the effectual working of God’s Word in the heart of those who believed in that they received the word with joy, despite being in the midst of affliction. In doing so, they had become imitators of the missionary trio and more importantly of the Lord Himself. Next, we recall that not only were they following the pattern laid down before them, but they became a pattern for others to follow as well. Simply put, they were fulfilling nothing less than the commission given by Christ to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). To make learners; followers of Christ; to be a godly example for others to pattern their walk with the Lord after. Finally, returning to the opening of the letter we see specific fruits identified in the lives of the Thessalonians, fruit explicitly tied to the effectual working of God’s word in their hearts. Specifically we read of their 1. Work of faith 2. labor of love 3. patience of hope. From here, the word of the Lord (1:8) was not only received and then effectual, but it sounded forth, or reverberated, from the Thessalonians.
The claim to be speaking the word of God is not a trivial claim; it’s not a last ditch effort to convince the Thessalonians of the mission validity. Paul, along with Silas and Timothy can make such a claim because of the authority granted them by the resurrected Christ, authority that alongside the other apostles was a declaration that they would be His witnesses. Furthermore, we’ve seen how this word was accompanied with power, the Spirit, and brought conviction.
Finally, we note the effects of the Word of God preached, that it produced fruit which was evidenced not only by those who heard first-hand, but by those who had heard of the faith and love of the Thessalonians. Simply put, the Word of God is effectual and always serves its purpose (Isaiah 55:11). It will either soften the sinners heart or further harden the already rebellious heart (Matthew 13:10-17). While we may not be first century apostles, we can nevertheless speak the Word of God when we communicate the truths of God’s Word, inscripturated for us in the collection of 66 books we call the Bible, accompanied with power and the Spirit, bringing conviction that causes the hearers to receive the Word with joy, producing fruit, and becoming an example in the faith.
The Word of God has always and will always be effectual, from, “Let there be light” to “Enter the joy of your Master.”