The late author and theologian John Stott introduced me to the wonderful phrase, “holy gossip.” In contrast to gossip that wounds people and splits churches, holy gossip happens when news spreads about the work God is doing.
In the apostle Paul’s ministry, he heard holy gossip about the Thessalonians, and he wrote about it in his first letter to that church. In the process, he gave a memorable description of the fundamental calling of the Christian life.
Early Christian Growth
Paul began his first letter to the Thessalonians by thanking God for his work within these people. When the letter was written, the church was only a few months old, and Paul had seen and heard convincing evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit among them.
Paul described how the Thessalonians began their Christian lives. They first received the word of the Lord with joy, though with much tribulation (1 Thess 1:6). In this way the people became imitators of Paul, his companions, and the Lord (1 Thess 1:6). Believers in nearby areas pointed to this church as an example (1 Thess 1:7).
Though the church was young, God was using them mightily. The word of the Lord “sounded forth” from them, and news of their conversion and faith was the holy gossip of the day (1 Thess 1:8).
Verbs for the Christian Life
Here is what Paul heard regarding the Thessalonians.
For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9–10)
Paul’s verbs in these verses give us a compelling summary of a Christian’s calling.
First, the Thessalonians turned to God from idols. Conversion always involves a turning around, whether from a life of violence and addiction or disinterested religious observance.
The word “idols” may evoke images of carved, wooden figures, but we’re better off thinking of an idol as anything we worship instead of God. Comfort, success, relationships, health—these can all be idols.
A turn to God from idols might not be immediate, but it is decisive. Once we realize the water glass at our lips is full of sand, we can’t help but run to the fountain of living water.
And though this decisive turn happens at the beginning of our Christian lives, the implications reverberate through our remaining years. Walking faithfully with God means developing a habit of turning to him from idols.
The Thessalonians didn’t just change their religious allegiance. They turned from idols to serve the living and true God.
Conversion is not merely a shift in our religious thought life; it is coming alive from the dead. And the clearest evidence of our new life is our service to our new king.
The order here is crucial. Our service to this “living and true God” does not gain us his love. We are not loved because we serve; we serve because we are loved. When we wake from the dead and see how we have been bought with a great price, we cannot help but love and serve our God and Father (1 Cor 6:20). Of course, this service to God also involves loving our neighbors (Matt 22:34–40).
The most surprising verb in Paul’s list might be the last one. The Thessalonians turned to God from idols to serve and to wait. This is a hard command for impatient people.
Faith in God always has a forward-looking element. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we have great hope for the future. We long for our true home, our true family, our true king, and the glorious end of the curse. And since the future is not the present, we must wait.
This is not a thumb-twiddling, foot-tapping, bored-and-yawning sort of waiting. We’re waiting for a person—the Son of God! Paul describes this Son in verse 10.
First, he is in heaven. He is on the throne, in power, having ascended to his rightful place. Also, he has been raised from the dead. He was crucified and shut behind a stone. But death could not triumph over Jesus.
Finally, Jesus is the one who delivers us from the wrath to come. Wrath is coming, and we all deserve it. But Jesus will rescue those who are his from this terrifying end. We wait for the one who experienced wrath in our place.
Look to Jesus
This summary of our Christian calling might sound like an impossible task list. And if we separate this summary from the gospel of Jesus, that’s exactly what it is. But God never intended that separation.
We will fail to turn, serve, and wait perfectly. But Jesus has turned, served, and waited in our place!
Jesus never worshiped an idol (1 Pet 2:21–25). He turned away from idols toward God without fail.
Service was the foundation of Jesus’s life (Mark 10:45). He served the living and true God through obedience, love, and sacrifice.
Finally, Jesus waited. While on earth, he longed to return to his father (John 17:11, Luke 9:51), and he waited three days for his resurrection. He looked toward the future with hope like no one ever has.
As we look to Jesus, let’s help each other to identify and turn from our idols, to serve God and our neighbors, and to wait for his Son from heaven. Living this way will generate more holy gossip than we could imagine.