This epistle is generally considered to have been the first of those written by St. Paul. The occasion seems to have been the good report of the stedfastness of the church at Thessalonica in the faith of the gospel. It is full of affection and confidence, and more consolatory and practical, and less doctrinal, than some of the other epistles.
The faith, love, and patience of the Thessalonians, are evident tokens of their election which was manifested in the power with which the gospel came to them. (1-5) Its powerful and exemplary effects upon their hearts and lives. (6-10)
Verses 1-5 As all good comes from God, so no good can be hoped for by sinners, but from God in Christ. And the best good may be expected from God, as our Father, for the sake of Christ. We should pray, not only for ourselves, but for others also; remembering them without ceasing. Wherever there is a true faith, it will work; it will affect both the heart and life. Faith works by love; it shows itself in love to God, and love to our neighbour. And wherever there is a well-grounded hope of eternal life, this will appear by the exercise of patience; and it is a sign of sincerity, when in all we do, we seek to approve ourselves to God. By this we may know our election, if we not only speak of the things of God with out lips, but feel their power in our hearts, mortifying our lusts, weaning us from the world, and raising us up to heavenly things. Unless the Spirit of God comes with the word of God, it will be to us a dead letter. Thus they entertained it by the power of the Holy Ghost. They were fully convinced of the truth of it, so as not to be shaken in mind by objections and doubts; and they were willing to leave all for Christ, and to venture their souls and everlasting condition upon the truth of the gospel revelation.
Verses 6-10 When careless, ignorant, and immoral persons are turned from their carnal pursuits and connexions, to believe in and obey the Lord Jesus, to live soberly, righteously, and godly, the matter speaks for itself. The believers under the Old Testament waited for the coming of the Messiah, and believers now wait for his second coming. He is yet to come. And God had raised him from the dead, which is a full assurance unto all men that he will come to judgment. He came to purchase salvation, and will, when he comes again, bring salvation with him, full and final deliverance from that wrath which is yet to come. Let all, without delay, flee from the wrath to come, and seek refuge in Christ and his salvation.
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 . ADDRESS: SALUTATION: HIS PRAYERFUL THANKSGIVING FOR THEIR FAITH, HOPE, AND LOVE. THEIR FIRST RECEPTION OF THE GOSPEL, AND THEIR GOOD INFLUENCE ON ALL AROUND.
1. Paul--He does not add "an apostle," because in their case, as in that of the Philippians authority needs not any substantiation. He writes familiarly as to faithful friends, not but that his apostleship was recognized among them ( 1 Thessalonians 2:6 ). On the other hand, in writing to the Galatians, among whom some had called in question his apostleship, he strongly asserts it in the superscription. An undesigned propriety in the Epistles, evincing genuineness.
Silvanus--a "chief man among the brethren" ( Acts 15:22 ), and a "prophet" ( Acts 15:32 ), and one of the deputies who carried the decree of the Jerusalem council to Antioch. His age and position cause him to be placed before "Timothy," then a youth ( Acts 16:1 , 1 Timothy 4:12 ). Silvanus (the Gentile expanded form of "Silas") is called in 1 Peter 5:12 , "a faithful brother" (compare 2 Corinthians 1:19 ). They both aided in planting the Thessalonian Church, and are therefore included in the address. This, the first of Paul's Epistles, as being written before various evils crept into the churches, is without the censures found in other Epistles. So realizing was their Christian faith, that they were able hourly to look for the Lord Jesus.
unto the church--not merely as in the Epistles to Romans, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, "to the saints," or "the faithful at Thessalonica." Though as yet they do not seem to have had the final Church organization under permanent "bishops" and deacons, which appears in the later Epistles Second Timothy). Yet he designates them by the honorable term "Church," implying their status as not merely isolated believers, but a corporate body with spiritual rulers ( 1 Thessalonians 5:12 , 2 Corinthians 1:1 , Galatians 1:2 ).
in--implying vital union.
God the Father--This marks that they were no longer heathen.
the Lord Jesus Christ--This marks that they were not Jews, but Christians.
Grace be unto you, and peace--that ye may have in God that favor and peace which men withhold [ANSELM]. This is the salutation in all the Epistles of Paul, except the three pastoral ones, which have "grace, mercy, and peace." Some of the oldest manuscripts support, others omit the clause following, "from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." It may have crept in from 1 Corinthians 1:3 , 2 Corinthians 1:2 .
2. ( Romans 1:9 , 2 Timothy 1:3 .) The structure of the sentences in this and the following verses, each successive sentence repeating with greater fulness the preceding, characteristically marks Paul's abounding love and thankfulness in respect to his converts, as if he were seeking by words heaped on words to convey some idea of his exuberant feelings towards them.
We--I, Silvanus, and Timotheus. Romans 1:9 supports ALFORD in translating, "making mention of you in our prayers without ceasing" ( 1 Thessalonians 1:3 ). Thus, "without ceasing," in the second clause, answers in parallelism to "always," in the first.
3. work of faith--the working reality of your faith; its alacrity in receiving the truth, and in evincing itself by its fruits. Not an otiose assent; but a realizing, working faith; not "in word only," but in one continuous chain of "work" (singular, not plural, works), 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 , 2:22 . So "the work of faith" in 2 Thessalonians 1:11 implies its perfect development (compare James 1:4 ). The other governing substantives similarly mark respectively the characteristic manifestation of the grace which follows each in the genitive. Faith, love, and hope, are the three great Christian graces ( 1 Thessalonians 5:8 , 1 Corinthians 13:13 ).
labour of love--The Greek implies toil, or troublesome labor, which we are stimulated by love to bear ( 1 Thessalonians 2:9 , Revelation 2:2 ). For instances of self-denying labors of love, see Acts 20:35 , Romans 16:12 . Not here minis terial labors. Those who shun trouble for others, love little (compare Hebrews 6:10 ).
patience--Translate, "endurance of hope"; the persevering endurance of trials which flows from "hope." Romans 15:4 shows that "patience" also nourishes "hope."
hope in our Lord Jesus--literally, "hope of our Lord Jesus," namely, of His coming ( 1 Thessalonians 1:10 ): a hope that looked forward beyond all present things for the manifestation of Christ.
in the sight of God and our Father--Your "faith, hope, and love" were not merely such as would pass for genuine before men, but "in the sight of God," the Searcher of hearts [GOMARUS]. Things are really what they are before God. BENGEL takes this clause with "remembering." Whenever we pray, we remember before God your faith, hope, and love. But its separation from "remembering" in the order, and its connection with "your . . . faith," &c. make me to prefer the former view.
and, &c.--The Greek implies, "in the sight of Him who is [at once] God and our Father."
4. Knowing--Forasmuch as we know.
your election of God--The Greek is rather, "beloved by God"; so Romans 1:7 , 2 Thessalonians 2:13 . "Your election" means that God has elected you as individual believers to eternal life ( Romans 11:5 Romans 11:7 , Colossians 3:12 , 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ).
5. our gospel--namely, the Gospel which we preached.
came--Greek, "was made," namely, by God, its Author and Sender. God's having made our preaching among you to be attended with such "power," is the proof that you are "elect of God" ( 1 Thessalonians 1:4 ).
in power--in the efficacy of the Holy Spirit clothing us with power (see end of verse; Acts 1:8 , 4:33 , Acts 6:5 Acts 6:8 ) in preaching the Gospel, and making it in you the power of God unto salvation ( Romans 1:16 ). As "power" produces faith; so "the Holy Ghost," love; and "much assurance" ( Colossians 2:2 , full persuasion), hope ( Hebrews 6:11 ), resting on faith ( Hebrews 10:22 ). So faith, love, and hope ( 1 Thessalonians 1:3 ).
as ye know--answering to the "knowing," that is, as WE know ( 1 Thessalonians 1:4 ) your character as the elect of God, so YE know ours as preachers.
for your sake--The purpose herein indicated is not so much that of the apostles, as that of God. "You know what God enabled us to be . . . how mighty in preaching the word . . . for your sakes . . . thereby proving that He had chosen ( 1 Thessalonians 1:4 ) you for His own" [ALFORD]. I think, from 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12 , that, in "what manner of men we were among you," besides the power in preaching, there is included also Paul's and his fellow missionaries' whole conduct which confirmed their preaching; and in this sense, the "for your sake" will mean "in order to win you." This, though not the sole, yet would be a strong, motive to holy circumspection, namely, so as to win those without ( Colossians 4:5 ; compare 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ).
6. And ye--answering to "For our Gospel," 1 Thessalonians 1:5 .
followers--Greek, "imitators." The Thessalonians in their turn became "ensamples" ( 1 Thessalonians 1:7 ) for others to imitate.
of the Lord--who was the apostle of the Father, and taught the word, which He brought from heaven, under adversities [BENGEL]. This was the point in which they imitated Him and His apostles, joyful witness for the word in much affliction: the second proof of their election of God ( 1 Thessalonians 1:4 ); 1 Thessalonians 1:5 is the first
received the word in much affliction--( 1 Thessalonians 2:14 , 3:2-5 , Acts 17:5-10 ).
joy of--that is, wrought by "the Holy Ghost." "The oil of gladness" wherewith the Son of God was "anointed above His fellows" ( Psalms 45:7 ), is the same oil with which He, by the Spirit, anoints His fellows too ( Isaiah 61:1 Isaiah 61:3 , Romans 14:17 , 1 John 2:20 1 John 2:27 ).
7. ensamples--So some of the oldest manuscripts read. Others, "ensample" (singular), the whole Church being regarded as one. The Macedonian Church of Philippi was the only one in Europe converted before the Thessalonians. Therefore he means their past conduct is an ensample to all believers now; of whom he specifies those "in Macedonia" because he had been there since the conversion of the Thessalonians, and had left Silvanus and Timotheus there; and those in "Achaia," because he was now at Corinth in Achaia.
8. from you sounded . . . the word of the Lord--not that they actually became missionaries: but they, by the report which spread abroad of their "faith" (compare Romans 1:8 ), and by Christian merchants of Thessalonica who travelled in various directions, bearing "the word of the Lord" with them, were virtually missionaries, recommending the Gospel to all within reach of their influence by word and by example ( 1 Thessalonians 1:7 ). In "sounded," the image is that of a trumpet filling with its clear-sounding echo all the surrounding places.
to God-ward--no longer directed to idols.
so that we need not to speak any thing--to them in praise of your faith; "for ( 1 Thessalonians 1:9 ) they themselves" (the people in Macedonia, Achaia, and in every place) know it already.
9. Strictly there should follow, "For they themselves show of you," &c.; but, instead, he substitutes that which was the instrumental cause of the Thessalonians' conversion and faith, "for they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you"; compare 1 Thessalonians 1:5 , which corresponds to this former clause, as 1 Thessalonians 1:6 corresponds to the latter clause. "And how ye turned from idols to serve the living . . . God," &c. Instead of our having "to speak any thing" to them (in Macedonia and Achaia) in your praise ( 1 Thessalonians 1:8 ), "they themselves (have the start of us in speaking of you, and) announce concerning (so the Greek of 'show of' means) us, what manner of (how effectual an) entrance we had unto you" ( 1 Thessalonians 1:5 , 2:1 ).
the living and true God--as opposed to the dead and false gods from which they had "turned." In the English Version reading, Acts 17:4 , "of the devout Greeks a great multitude," no mention is made, as here, of the conversion of idolatrous Gentiles at Thessalonica; but the reading of some of the oldest manuscripts and Vulgate singularly coincides with the statement here: "Of the devout AND of Greeks (namely, idolaters) a great multitude"; so in Acts 17:17 , "the devout persons," that is, Gentile proselytes to Judaism, form a separate class. PALEY and LACHMANN, by distinct lines of argument, support the "AND."
10. This verse distinguishes them from the Jews, as 1 Thessalonians 1:9 from the idolatrous Gentiles. To wait for the Lord's coming is a sure characteristic of a true believer, and was prominent amidst the graces of the Thessalonians ( 1 Corinthians 1:7 1 Corinthians 1:8 ). His coming is seldom called his return ( John 14:3 ); because the two advents are regarded as different phases of the same coming; and the second coming shall have features altogether new connected with it, so that it will not be a mere repetition of the first, or a mere coming back again.
his Son . . . raised from the dead--the grand proof of His divine Sonship ( Romans 1:4 ).
delivered--rather as Greek, "who delivereth us." Christ has once for all redeemed us; He is our Deliverer ALWAYS.
wrath to come--( 1 Thessalonians 5:9 , Colossians 3:6 ).