Thessalonica was a city in Macedonia; today it is known as Salonica. On his second missionary journey, Paul visited this city and founded a church as is described in Acts 17:1-10. He met with opposition from unbelieving Jews there and was driven away. The situation was such that he was unable to return to Thessalonica to check up on the new church there, so he sent Timothy instead.
Timothy brought back an excellent report which thrilled Paul and moved him to write the letter we know as I Thessalonians. In I Thessalonians 1:9 Paul joyfully recalled that the Thessalonians “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” They had been guilty of worshipping gods of wood and stone. Paul presented the Gospel to them and they responded to the message by “turning to God… from idols.” This order (to / from) is no accident.
James 4:7 states, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The emphasis in this very practical verse is also on the positive action. It is clear that resisting the devil is possible only after and, in fact, only because of submission to God.
In Exodus 33 we read of an interesting occurrence in the wilderness experience of the Israelites. “Operation Exodus” was over. The chosen people had marched two million strong out of the land of bondage In a time of crisis they had walked through the Red Sea. Now, as usual, they didn’t know what was going to happen next, so Moses asked the Lord. God answered his questions, but not in the way Moses desired. Moses wanted a road map; he wanted to know God’s will in advance. The Lord simply told him: “I’m going with you, Moses. That’s all you need to know.” Then thick-headed Moses finally began to understand and made this very important observation:
Exodus 33:16 “For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.“
What was it that “separated” the people from unbelievers? It was their identification with the Lord. It was not determined primarily by anything negative. They positively identified themselves with the true and living God and this positive separation to Him resulted in their negative separation from the world. Positive action, negative reaction.
So simple. Yet, so many fail to discover this life changing principle.